Tiger

By Jenn Reese

Tales of the Chinese Zodiac #7 of 12

tiger icon

When she was five, Suyee wished for a sister, and in the Year of the Tiger, her wish was granted. The baby was born healthy save for one thing: it wouldn't open its eyes. Not after a week. Not after a month. Not after a year, or two years, or even five years.

Suyee and her mother and her sister traveled to the wide ocean and back seeking advice about the girl's eyes. Everyone suggested something different.

Old man Ko tried to pry her eyes open with rounded sticks dipped in eagle's blood, but it didn't work. One town's wisewoman suggested they surround the girl with beauty to tempt her eyes to open. Suyee and her mother tried, but as they were not very wealthy, their small pile of beauty wasn't enough. A doctor from a big city wanted to cut the girl's eyelids away, but Suyee's mother refused.

One day, Suyee was wandering through the forest collecting funny rocks when she encountered a tiger. Although the creature was huge and dangerous-looking, the tips of its ears were grey and its stripes had begun to fade. Just one large fang remained in its mouth.

"You're a tiger," Suyee said. "Are you going to eat me?"

"Not unless you run very slowly," the tiger said. "I'm old, and I'll soon join my sire in the Forest of Endless Night."

"Sounds nice," Suyee said, trying to be polite. In truth, she thought the forest was scary and night was altogether too dark. And then, because she was tired, she told the tiger about her blind sister.

He listened patiently, and when she was done, he said, "Child, come here and pull on my fang." It sounded like a trap to Suyee, but as she was a child, traps didn't scare her much. She walked to the tiger, wrapped one hand around its last tooth, and pulled. The fang popped out easily, trailing only a little blood.

"Put my tooth under your sister's pillow tonight," the tiger said. And with that, it closed its eyes and died.

Suyee decided not to tell her mother about the tiger's gift. Her mother was poor and tired, and had very nearly lost hope. That night, Suyee tucked her sister into bed and slipped the bloody fang under her small head.

The next morning, Suyee awoke to the sound of her mother's laughter, a sound she hadn't heard in almost a year. Suyee ran outside. Her mother and sister were holding hands and spinning as they laughed.

"It's a miracle," her mother said.

Suyee looked at her sister, and her sister's great golden tiger eyes looked back. Her sister smiled, and two sharp fangs glinted in her mouth.

"Come, Suyee," her sister said, "and run with me through the forest."


Jenn Reese photo

Jenn Reese has published stories in cool places like Polyphony 4, Flytrap, Strange Horizons, and various anthologies. She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she practices martial arts, plays strategy games, and laments the loss of Buffy. You can follow her adventures at her website. To contact her, send her email at jenn@sff.net. Her previous appearances in Strange Horizons can be found in our archive.