(From the Writer’s Digest Creative Writing Prompt Forbidden Basement)
It’s late when I finally arrive home from another long night at work. Nothing like the glamor of being a security guard for a government-run facility. I toss my boots and uniform in a pile in the corner of the room and slip between the covers of my bed. I don’t know that I actually did anything today, but a 12-hour shift takes it out of you regardless.
My eyelids are just starting to droop when I hear it, same as I have all week. Thuds, metallic clangs and scrapes. I open an eye and stare at the bedside clock. The green numbers glare at me in the darkness. 1:21 AM I roll onto my back, throwing my arm across my eyes and try to ignore the noises coming from the basement. Awful hard to do when it echoes up through the heating vents.
An abrupt crash downstairs rattles the windows, and with a few choice words I throw the covers back and get up. The hell with my landlord saying the basement is off limits. Whoever is making this racket needs to be told to shut it. Some of us need to sleep.
I belt my worn terrycloth robe as I walk through the dark house to the stairs. The entire house seems to creak and groan with my every step, but hey, the house was one of the first built in this colony when we settled on this moon more than a century ago. From what I understand, it’s a replica of some of those back on Ancient Earth that fell into the “Victorian” architecture.
The door swings open on silent hinges—probably the only thing in the house that doesn’t make noise—and I start down the stairs. The light is already on, a bare bulb hanging from the support beams that make up the ceiling. I can’t believe the view before me, even as I blink to clear my exhausted sight. There’s no way this is actually here, and even less of a chance that it’s legal.
A tiger. A huge, blue-eyed, albino tiger is facing me. A wooden crate that it must have been shipped in is back in the corner, splintered and broken. I shake my head again. “No way. How? Tigers have been extinct for centuries.”
A voice behind me, at the top of the stairs, startles me. “I told you the basement was off limits, Kevin.”
“Yeah yeah. Yeah. I know but…a tiger. How?”
“Little thing they discovered ages ago, Kevin. Cloning. We saved the tiger’s genome in the mainframe, and from that have been able to recreate one, for the right price, of course.” My landlord begins walking down the stairs, each step slow and deliberate. As measured as his words.
“Oh there are other animals we do as well. But tigers are special. Majestic. They’ve become as mythical as the dragons back in Ancient China. Only the most elite of our clients can afford one.” When he reaches the step just three above me, he pauses and shakes his head. “You should have listened to me.” He then grips the handrails and, lifting both feet, kicks me square in the chest with a force that has me flying backward, landing heavily on my back.
I grunt, try to draw a breath. The large cat growls and I hear its huge paws stalking toward me. I manage to roll over and push myself up before the tiger reaches me, but when I look up, its face is just a hair’s breadth from mine. Its lip curls as it growls.
“I haven’t fed it yet this week. Now it looks like I won’t have to, either.”
I scramble backward, fear at the realization of his words kicking me into action. The cat hunkers down, and before I can regain my footing and run up the stairs, it leaps on me. I feel its claws ripping open my flesh as its mouth closes on my neck. The fangs pierce my skin, and I can feel my strength draining with my blood. Darkness begins crowding my vision as my breath turns into gurgling gasps.
The stairs creak under my landlord’s feet as he climbs them, and his voice floats past the descending fog of my senses. “You shouldn’t have come down here, Kevin.” The door clicks closed, then my world turns into darkness.