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Murdoch Stanfield: Cartyne and the Vindictive Tiger

Murdoch Stanfield: Cartyne and the Vindictive Tiger

Murdoch Stanfield is a twenty-one-year-old creative who was born and raised on the west coast of Scotland. Murdoch was the recipient of a special mention of the Lewis Edwards Memorial Prize in 2021. Their work is centred around emotion and character, existing at the intersection of macabre and thriller; they make a sincere attempt to express and evoke emotional responses in their fullest capacity.

If you wish to get in touch with Murdoch, please send them an email.

Cartyne and the Vindictive Tiger was a piece I started writing when I was very angry, and full of grief. My childhood was made difficult by a lot of people, both children and adults, who didn’t like that I was different. To this day I mourn parts of myself that were lost to this. The Vindictive Tiger is an exploration of the emotions I had to keep in check as a child to survive, and an understanding that repressed emotions will always resurface, sometimes in manners unfair to the self and to others.

Cartyne and the Vindictive Tiger

Everyday, Cartyne walked the same path to school. A windy, worn path that led through the woods, and along the burn. As she walked, Cartyne liked to imagine what life would be like if she could change things, make them better, or, even just different. Take today, for instance, Cartyne imagined what would happen if she met a tiger in the woods. Maybe, the tiger would be friendly. And maybe, it would be hungry. In that case, she would send the tiger back in the direction she came from. It would crash through her living room window, bound up the stairs and promptly swallow her parents for breakfast.

In her classroom, Cartyne imagined what would happen if the tiger was still hungry. It would come bounding back, tracking her scent, so she could show it where to find its next meal. Cartyne would simply point to her malicious maths teacher, Mrs. Wallace, and snicker. Once the tiger had eaten lunch, it would saunter over and purr while she pet it. Her skinny fingers would sink into the soft fur as it paced along the edge of her desk. The cruel kids at her table would lift their legs, trembling in fear whenever it ventured near, and Cartyne would giggle as she sat and read her own book. Fingers spliced between the pages, she would imagine their next move. Maybe she would get it to eat Stacy and Jerome. They always tried to trip her during break and she was fed up with them laughing at her. Yes. They would make a good dessert for her tiger friend and she would enjoy watching them go. It was win-win.

After watching her foes get vanquished at break time, during history, the tiger could curl up under her desk and nap while her textbook bored her to tears. Mr. Thornsmith would come over, clear his raspy throat and loudly ask her what the problem was to knock her out her daydream. He would rap his knuckles on the desk, catching the attention of her classmates in an well-abused attempt to embarrass her, then wait for her to stutter apologies to satiate his ego. While his ritualistic motions distracted him the tiger would leap up to rip the seat of his trousers clean off. He would be humiliated, forced to leave and change. That’s when the real fun would start.

Cartyne and her tiger would escape via the fire escape behind the left stairwell to evade the janitor’s capture. Not that she could stop them, what with the tiger and all. But, unlike the others, she had always been kind to Cartyne. Cartyne didn’t want to hurt her. There was no need for senseless violence.

The tiger would charge out into the school yard with her on its back and head straight for the centre of town at high speeds. As they rounded the turn that ran along the burn, Cartyne would abandon her school books by flinging them in the water, shrieking with laughter as the wind tried and failed to rip her peach headscarf from her. The tiger, following its impeccable sense of smell, would lead them into town where Cartyne would demand entry to the restaurant at the end of the street. They didn’t allow kids. Her dad liked to talk about going there when she was finally old enough. Well, now Cartyne had a free pass whenever she wanted.

In the restaurant, Cartyne would be treated with the utmost respect and care. People always wanted to please you, when your best friend was a tiger. She’d slap her long feet on the table, recline back without an issue and eat like a king. Or an Empress. Cartyne liked that title. The people around her would learn to like it too, if she and her tiger friend had anything to say about it.

Their next mission would be to rid herself of the nasty, irritating, disgustingly mandatory uniform that her school required. She’d prance into the shop, declare it closed for everyone except her, then scratchy shirt and suffocating tie would go out the window. Cartyne would take one outfit from each display mannequin, just because she could. She would try on every outfit, dissatisfied time and time again until the frustration consumed her. She would hop on the tiger, angry and mismatched. She’d take the discarded clothes, even if she didn’t like them- they were hers, and make a detour to dump them into the burn. Maybe she didn’t want to wear them, but she’d be damned before anybody else did. What she really wanted to wear was her father’s kilt, but it was far too big. She’d seen him in it when her cousin got married and had wanted her own ever since. Nothing screamed Warrior like a kilt.

A quick trip down the high street, a ‘borrowed’ shirt from a stranger, and she got fitted with her own kilt at the tailors next to the pet shop. It was all complementary of course. A tiger really helped in business negotiations. World leaders should take a leaf out her book. Maybe that should be her next mission. World domination. She genuinely would be an Empress then. She would need a throne to lounge on while being fed grapes, or maybe cake. A blood-red carpet to line her marbled floors so she could parade barefoot while lecturing her subjects. A staff too, to help punctuate her more important thoughts. And to smack people over the head with when they displeased her and her tiger was full.

She was leaning down to whisper their next destination to the tiger when a yawn distorted her words. World domination would have to wait until tomorrow. The most pressing mission was the one of a good night’s sleep. She couldn’t expect to be crowned Empress when she was swaying on her feet; her crown would slip. Having read her thoughts- or her body language, the tiger crouched down to help her climb on. The steady thumping of the tigers paws striking the dirt as it took her back home slowly lulled her into a state of semi-consciousness.

The trees slipped past her into a dark green blur. Her eyes slid shut against the wind, only opening when she felt the tiger turn onto her street. She was preparing to dismount when she saw the glass. It was strewn haphazardly along the patio and down the pavement. The tiger skittered back and forth, looking for a path that wouldn’t shred its paws. The debris was left over from when the tiger had forced its way through the front window in its quest to eat her parents early this morning. Her parents, who were no longer there. Not there, because they wer- because sheNo. Cartyne called wordlessly for the tiger to swing round and start running again as she swallowed down the bile rising in her throat.

So what if her dad wasn’t there to make her dinner? She got to eat for free wherever she wanted. And, maybe her mum won’t be there to tuck her into bed at night- but the local bed and breakfast had tellys in their rooms and if there was no tucking in, then there were no bedtimes!  She could stay up all night and watch cartoons. Cartyne reached round to pet her tiger over its nose. The resulting growl trembled through her body; her hand made a hasty retreat. She should get it something to eat, lest she become its dinner instead.

The Bed and Breakfast was just as welcoming as Cartyne imagined. Which is to say not at all. The walls were painted a sickly green and the plump lady at reception was positively quaking in her ugly blue dress. She was eager to show them into the best room in the house, if only to get them away from her. As the heavy door swung shut behind them Cartyne glanced at the tiger, then around the room. ‘This will do.’ The blond woman visibly deflated. She was reaching for the door handle when Cartyne snapped her fingers in the lady’s direction. She didn’t like how nervous the woman was. The tiger didn’t even stop to chew.

‘Best room in the house’ was an overstatement considering everywhere in the building was floored with the same ugly carpet. The next place would be much nicer, Cartyne decided. She tried to persuade the tiger to hit the lights through egregious miming, but it just stared at her unimpressed, then hopped up onto the bed, circling to make itself comfortable. Cartyne sighed, wriggled off the bed and slumped towards the light switch. She’d forgotten to turn the lamp on and stumbled twice on her way back. She switched the television on with a click from the remote, and settled in against the tiger’s warmth. At least she still had her tiger. Even if it couldn’t tuck her in. She frowned. It didn’t matter. She didn’t need them. She didn’t need anybody. Her parents would have made her go to sleep hours ago.

Cartyne stayed up until she couldn’t, eyes numb and watering from her attempts to keep them open. The cartoons had ended a while ago; the screen looping a cheery ‘Tune in for more great shows starting at 7AM!’. It hurt when she blinked. The image printed itself into her retinas and haunted her into her dreams. She ran circles in her bedsheets and startled awake to feel the tiger hopping down onto the floor, having been kicked awake by her restlessness one too many times. She rolled over and settled back into her uneasy sleep. However, this time she was running in her dreams too.

She had been dreaming of chasing dark flies through a murky pond, following them through the fog as they flittered back and forth around her face and crawled up her nose. The sludge was sticking to her knees, slowing her movements as she tried to crush the flies with her comically large hands. She was seconds away from swatting her face clear when her hands melted off into the water below. Rusting orange under the surface, they morphed into weird clay blobs, growing larger and larger until they towered over her. Her feet were lead heavy and the ground was turning to mush beneath her. She tried to run but the ground slid backwards beneath her lethargic feet. The orange monster rumbled and reached a blobby hand over its chest to dig its blunt fingers in and crack open its ribs. They split like a pair of hinged doors. Static crackled from inside its ribcage, buzzing around her ears until it formed the deafening words ‘TUNE IN AT SEVEN AM FOR MORE GREAT DEATHS STARTING AT YOUR PARENTS’.

The ribs were splayed wide, displaying racks of sealed jars filled with viscous red liquid. The glass crumbled into dust. The liquid ran thick lines into the soft earth and Cartyne started sinking fast into the red meat of her mum’s heart. She felt it pulse velvet-soft against her face and she tried to sob, to claw her way out as she was sucked in between the slick flesh. Every action she took inflicted another blue bleeding wound onto her mum. She coughed and desperately tried to suck in air as blood filled her mouth. She was choking. Her chest was being crushed. She coughed again, trying to eject the liquid, to reject her death, their deaths.

Cartyne couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t remember opening her dry eyes but the water stained ceiling didn’t lie. She was awake and the pressure hadn’t let up. She couldn’t breathe. Cartyne struggled and shoved until her hands came into contact with a hard shoulder and shaggy fur. The tiger’s face loomed into view above her as it lifted the heavy paw that had been crushing her sternum. Her lungs stuttered as she choked in air, her chest fluctuated as she heaved onto her side. Light was streaming in through the blinds. Cartyne wondered how long she had been asleep. Or if she was going to throw up. It felt like seconds. And decades. The tiger growled from behind her. A not-so-subtle reminder of her rude wake up call. It was breakfast time apparently. She shuffled out of the clammy blankets and adjusted her clothing. The cold air licked her skin and she shuddered. Sleeping in her clothes had been a poor choice. Her skin was slick with sweat. She combed her greasy hair away from her face and grabbed her headscarf.

The air wrapped tightly around her legs, stunting her tense movements as she made her way downstairs. The corridor was cramped and suffocating. The tiger circled Cartyne slowly as she walked, setting an awkward pace that caused her to trip and stumble, bare feet catching on the worn carpet. The large room used for breakfast was barren, nothing had been set out. A peek into the kitchen revealed dirty dishes stacked high beside the grimy sink. Either the cleaners hadn’t been doing their jobs, or the owner had been struggling more than Cartyne had cared to know. Cartyne turned away from the kitchen. There was no changing it now. With no breakfast, the usual trickle of guests had already grumbled out the door to look for other options.

Her hand jumped to her heart when orange flickered into her vision. It was the tiger. She lowered her hand slowly. She was shaking. Cartyne slumped onto the nearest seat. She was tired. This was pointless. ‘Just go.’ She mumbled into her hand.

The tiger circled the room and stopped at her feet.

What was a kingdom worth without its subjects? Why did she take out the only people who cared about her?

A large paw landed on her trembling legs.

She peeled her heavy eyes open to glare at it.  ‘GO!’ She shouted, throwing her arm in the direction of the door.

It sat down and growled at her, clearly going nowhere.

‘Why won’t you leave?’ She whispered to it.

The tiger’s stomach rumbled and its tongue lolled out its mouth, as if to ask where its next meal was.

‘That’s not my fault,’ Cartyne said.

The tiger dug its claws into her leg. It hurt.

‘It’s not.’ Her eyes stung and the pain in her leg dulled as her chest panged, ‘Well, this wouldn’t have happened- we,’ She gestured between them frantically, ‘wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t eaten my parents!’

The tiger growled and snapped at her, its teeth catching on her shirt buttons.

‘It’s not my fault! Stop looking at me like that!’ She screamed.

The tiger pushed off her legs and paced round to face her, eyes large, consumed black by the pupil, legs tensed and ready to pounce.

Cartyne sobbed. The tears carved a river down her face. It wasn’t her fault. They wouldn’t be here if that stupid beast hadn’t killed them. She slid off the chair. Her knees smacked the hard floor with a dull thud. She doesn’t feel it. Her bare toes slipped backwards on the tiled floor. She braced them against the base of the seats behind her, to gain the stability needed to lunge at the tiger.

The tiger’s chest rumbled as it charged forward. Her nails scraped the floor as she threw herself to grab the tiger by the jaw.

The tiger roared and caught her arms in its mouth. Her wrists sank into and down its velvet-soft throat. Its teeth tore gouges into her biceps. The blood dripped down onto her kilt, and ran rivulets down her knees to mingle with her socks. Cartyne howled in pain.

The tiger slackened its grip, Its throat pulsing to pull her further in.

Cartyne felt the skin around her shoulder stretch and tear. Just a little further. If she reached deep enough she could save them. They couldn’t have been digested that fast. The tiger’s nose was cold and wet against her throat. Its breath slinked around her senses, warm and putrid. Her feet slicked against the tiled ground as she forced herself to reach further, to push through the pain and against the tiger’s teeth. Her blood squelched warm and wet between her toes.

The tiger unhinged its jaw like an unholy snake; skin and fur stretching around its mouth in a way that should have been impossible and was entirely disgusting. Cartyne’s feet slipped in her sticky-warm blood. The tiger’s skin was distended at the back of its jaw by her elbows. The pressure she’d been putting behind her arms released as the tiger’s teeth retracted from her flesh. Her feet finally stuck on the ground, tacky with her clotting blood. There was no sound, no screaming or denial as Cartyne tumbled forwards into the dark slick passage of its throat.

The tiger leaned forwards and stooped to lick the congealing blood from the tile, stopping occasionally to groom its fur. Belly full and sated, it jumped up on the couch in order to catch up on the sleep it missed during the night. From inside its stomach, Cartyne screamed and twisted in pain and fear. The darkness of the tiger’s digestive system had stolen her sight. She wanted to curl up and sob, but moving proved impossible. For this, her ending, she only had herself to blame.


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