HISSAC Highlands and Islands Short Story Association and Writing Competition

Burning Bright

Naomi Rossetter was born and bred in Fife.

She has a BA (Hons)in English from Stirling University, then taught English in Madeira, Spain for four years before raising a family.

2003 Naomi took a year’s PGCE in Edinburgh and now teaches full time.

I love my job - I get to hopefully pass on my passion for books and language every day - but writing has always been the dream for me.
HISSAC Highlands and Islands Short Story Association and Writing Competition

Jason was turning into a tiger. It wasn’t so much this fact that was beginning to disturb him; it was more that it was beginning to affect his work. Jason taught English in a large comprehensive, and his classes were big and noisy. He was increasingly concerned that as he became more tiger and less human he wouldn’t be able to stand the confines of the classroom. His other worry was that he might eventually eat a pupil and be sacked.
Pacing, he restlessly supervised his second years as they wrote an essay on the advantages and disadvantages of school uniform. Jason himself had to wear long-sleeved shirts now, and keep to darker colours to disguise the soft, stripy down which had begun to grow on his arms and chest.
“Mr Edwards!” Jason winced; his hearing was becoming very sharp.
“Yes, Lisa?” he spoke softly and padded over to where she sat.
“Kevin’s got my jotter.”
“No ah dinnae! The hairs at the nape of Jason’s neck stood upright and his voice was dangerously muted as he replied.
“Give it back.”
“Darren’s got it!” Kevin passed the jotter along under the table. Darren, in the next seat, opened his mouth to protest his innocence and join in the game but as Jason leaned closer something yellow gleamed in his eyes and Darren returned the jotter immediately. Jason’s stomach growled hungrily in response to the boy’s strong scent of sweat and meaty breath. It was over an hour until lunchtime.
In time, Jason found it difficult to use his computer or his desk; his emerging tail meant he preferred to crouch rather than sit. He moved silently, with a liquid grace, and pupils were often startled to find him behind them, checking their work, appearing apparently from nowhere.
Homework was never late – before he began his transformation Jason had often raised his voice and struggled to be heard as he tried to collect it in but now, although he spoke more quietly, no-one wanted to have to stay behind and explain one on one why their work was overdue. In fact, Jason had no discipline problems at all now. His claws were thick and yellow, and because he couldn’t retract them yet his pupils could tell he was becoming a tiger and were afraid of him.
One day after school the head came in for a chat. Jason was in his big cupboard. He liked it in there and had begun to spend more and more time inside. Whenever he could, he would pretend to look for a book or some paper, and would close the door behind him, relishing the dark and the privacy. He ate in there too. On the day the head came in, Jason had begun teaching from the cupboard, speaking to his classes through the closed door.
As the head approached, the low rumbling coming from inside the cupboard stopped. “Yes? Who’s there?” asked Jason quickly.
“It’s Mike King, Jason. Erm – is everything alright?”
There was a rummaging noise as Jason tucked in his tail and stood on his hind legs. He licked the back of his hand and quickly tidied his hair before opening the door. A strong smell of barely-cooked meat and various indefinable animal odours escaped from the dark interior.
“Hello, Mike.” Jason blinked slowly. “Everything’s fine, thank you.” An awkward silence ensued, during which Jason wobbled slightly – it was so much easier on all fours now.
“Well, if you’re sure…” Mr King seemed lost for words. Jason had never known him to be like this. Normally the head was a verbose, at times strident man who used his sheer presence to keep order. Standing on the threshold of the shadowy cupboard he almost seemed to shuffle as he wished Jason a nice weekend and retreated. Jason waited until Mr King was out of the room and, unzipping his trousers, quickly sprayed a small amount of urine on the spot where he had stood. Satisfied that his was once more the dominant male scent, he took a short nap in the welcoming darkness of the cupboard and went home.
He fought back frustrated tears as he sat on his beautiful tail in the car – driving was becoming very difficult. His strong, muscular tiger legs were too heavy on the pedals, and his ever-growing tail sometimes got in the way of his large striped feet. The car jerked and stalled twice on the short journey. Once home, Jason gratefully took off his clothes and lay in the garden, hidden by the foot-long grass he had allowed to grow freely since he had started to change. He stretched sumptuously, dazzled by the incredible colours of his luxuriant coat in the warm April sun. The grass smelled sweet and lush, and Jason relaxed. Lazily rolling onto his back he opened his eyes slightly, meeting the openly astonished gaze of his upstairs neighbour, Mr Williams.
“Hey! You!” Mr Williams’ face twisted in disbelief. “Whit d’ye think ye’re playing at?”
Jason leapt, on all fours, back inside. He swiftly dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, hearing nothing above the thunder of hot blood rushing in his ears. He gulped rapidly for air as he moved from room to room. The flat seemed smaller than before, more confining, until he moved a chair in the living room, and in the bedroom pulled his bed out from the wall so that he could move behind it. This created a roughly triangular path through the flat and Jason paced this route until his frantically hammering heart had slowed to a regular, even thudding in his chest. His breathing slowed, and he began to enjoy the potency of his long, sinewy tiger body, keeping his head low as he moved. He could smell years of spillages and dust as well as the wooly smell of the carpet and his own scent, which comforted him. It grew darker and Jason realised he was ravenous. He used his sharp white teeth to rip open a package of microwavable hamburgers, which he ate without cooking. He had developed a taste for these and often ate them at school in the privacy of his small retreat. Blood from the soggy meat ran down his sleek pelt as his powerful jaws ground together. Finally composed, Jason reflected on what had happened.
Mr Williams had seen him, but did it really matter? He looked at himself in the bathroom mirror. His face was changing – the stubble, which had been growing since his claws made it difficult to hold a razor, was developing distinctive black and amber stripes, and substantial whiskers were emerging at either side of his nose. Soon he would no longer be able to keep his metamorphosis to himself anyway. Eventually he pulled the covers and pillows off his bed and laid them in a corner. Climbing on top of this soft pile he turned in a circle a few times to flatten it slightly. Finally satisfied, he fell into an exhausted sleep.
On Saturday, the police came. They told him not to go into the garden without clothes any more. Jason nodded and agreed, but was confused - was it illegal to be a tiger? He wanted to ask the policemen but he didn’t want them in the flat longer than was necessary. The young one studied his face closely and made Jason uneasy. Still dressed in the jeans and sweatshirt he had slept in, he pulled at his whiskers and wished they would leave. He could feel tension building up in his shoulders, and his back ached from sitting upright in a human position. The policemen did not comment on his tail, which he could no longer hide. In fact, he had had to cut an opening in the back of his jeans to allow it through. Because he was sitting, the policemen hadn’t noticed this.
When he was alone again Jason slept for hours. He awoke very early on Sunday morning and lay in the dark feeling calm. He was all tiger now, and he liked it. He felt physically powerful for the first time in his life, and he had no fear about the future. Emerging from the bedroom only to squat over the toilet he dozed through much of Sunday, rolling over occasionally to shred the old woodchip wallpaper with his claws. He stretched, kneaded the floor and purred contentedly. Now and again he thumped his heavy tail against the floor just to feel the sensual snaking movement.
On Monday morning Jason went to work. He felt wonderful. He had fully and gratefully embraced his tiger-ness and no longer felt misplaced. As a human, he had worried a lot. His lack of confidence had led to poor discipline in his classes, which had resulted in parental complaints after stories had filtered home about pupils fighting. On one memorable occasion, the whole school had had to stand outside on a bitterly cold November morning after his fifth year Christmas leavers had set off the fire alarm with their cigarettes.
After this, Jason noticed whispered conversations that stopped when he entered the staff room, and he began to spend breaks and lunchtimes in his room. He left only to use the toilet. Then one day he overheard some pupils sniggering about ‘Creepy Edwards’ and they did not drop their eyes as he passed. Following this incident, Jason only went to the toilet at home, bringing the added worry that he might wet himself while teaching.
Now, though, Jason had no worries at all. He was a tiger, strong and beautiful and unafraid. He made his way to school through the park and quiet little alleyways. He no longer could – or wanted to – drive. Unable to balance at all on his hind legs, he knew that he would frighten people if he walked through town in broad daylight. Slinking stealthily, he approached the school’s entrance. It was early, and no pupils were about. He would teach from his cupboard today, and explain to his classes about his transformation through the door so that tomorrow he could come out and be among them and they would not be shocked. Pretence and disguise were useless now; Jason could no longer wear clothes as his coat was thick and glossy and his massive paws were square and too solid for any kind of shoes. Also, his ever-lengthening claws made any kind of fastenings unmanageable.
The corridors at last held no dread for him; he was exultant as he leapt up the stairs to his classroom two at a time. Sheer tiger joy coursed through him and he lifted his mighty head, opened his massive tiger jaws, and roared deeply. It was a powerful, low-pitched roar thirty years in the making, and the very structure of the building seemed to shake with its reverberations. Down on the first floor the janitor froze. He hesitated for a moment, then ran up to the third floor just in time to see Mr Edwards, naked, on grazed and bloody hands and knees, disappear into his classroom.

Once in his cupboard Jason decided to rest. It would be some time before the morning bell rang, and his first journey on all fours had drained him. He made himself comfortable and soon slept, oblivious to the growing volume of concerned voices beyond the door. In the warm darkness Jason’s magnificent tiger legs twitched and moved restlessly as he dreamed of running endlessly under a warm and leafy jungle sky.