Master o' the Tiger

Submitted into Contest #210 in response to: Make a mysterious message an important part of your story.... view prompt


Science Fiction Crime Horror

“They are so cute!”


“Look at their little name tags.” Beth picked up the first kitten — gray with white paws, pink nose, and big green eyes. “Graymalkin, is that your name?”

Graymalkin mewed.

“And this one is called ‘Paddock’,” Mac read the name tag as he picked up the black cat with yellow eyes, black nose, and unusually large paws — each with six black-padded toes.

“This one is ‘Harpier’,” said Duncan, holding on to the third kitten — blue eyes, fur nearly all white, except for light brown markings vaguely reminiscent of angel wings on either side of the narrow kitten-shoulders. “They’re cute. They’re adorable. But that’s not the point. The point is, they’re live kittens, and not to be tortured by evil scientists.”

Beth and Mac just looked at him, their eyes unfocused.

“Oh,” said Duncan. “You’re both high.”

Beth giggled.

“Good trip, so far,” said Mac. “Are you real or just a Duncan-shaped hallucination? Did you really bring kittens? If not, I just ate some truly awesome mushrooms.”

“In what are you partaking?”

“Flying Saucers,” said Beth and Mac in unison.

“Ah, my good friend silocybe azurescens.” Duncan nodded, licked his lips. “High potency. Got enough to share?”

“Trade you for a kitten,” said Mac.

“They’re all for you, Mac,” Duncan said, “and they’re a matched set. Wouldn’t want to split them up. I liberated them from the lab.”

“The lab?” Beth’s eyes were wide. “They experiment on kittens now?”

“Afraid so.” Duncan walked over to Mac’s sagging, stained, student-apartment-sofa, sat down, and set Harpier gently down on the seat cushion next to him. The white kitten promptly curled up in a furry ball, purring.

“Experimenting on mice is bad enough,”Duncan said. “Rabbits, worse. But I draw the line at kittens. You are now harboring fugitives, my droogs.” He selected a chestnut-brown mushroom cap from the bowl on the scratched-up coffee table and chewed the cap slowly. “Earthy,” he said. “Love that taste … and what comes next.”

* * *

“Is it just me, or are they glowing?” Mac pointed at the three kittens, the gray, the black, and the white, sitting together on the coffee table, with a shimmering blue aura in the air around them.

“Yep,” said Beth. “They’re glowing.”

Duncan said nothing. He was out cold on the sofa, eyes closed, a soft smile on his lips.

“All hail,” said Graymalkin, her kitten-voice that of a human girl-child. “Mac and Beth, hail to thee.”

Beth giggled. “Wow,” she said. “Cool.”

“All hail, Mac Cawdor,” said Paddock, the black kitten, her voice also a child’s, but with a deeper tone than Graymalkin.

“All hail, Mac,” said Harpier, the white kitten, in a higher and thinner voice than the other two. “Thou shalt be rich hereafter!”

“Rich?” Mac turned to Beth. “You hear that, we’re going to be rich.”

“What I heard was that you’re going to be rich, Mac.”

“Well, what’s mine is thine.”

“There’s no ring on this finger, yet. Let’s just see.” Beth addressed the three: “O, Weird Kittens, if you can look into the seeds of time, speak!”

“Hotter than Mac,” said Graymalkin, “and colder.”

“Not so lucky,” said Paddock, “yet much luckier.”

“Thou shalt have riches, Beth,” said Harpier, “though remain poor. So all hail Mac Cawdor and Beth Banquo.”

“Banquo Beth and Cawdor Mac,” said Graymalkin, “Beware Duncan.”

“Double, double, toil and trouble,” said Paddock.

“Fire burn, and Caledon bubble,” Harpier said.

“Caledon?” Mac was suddenly sober. “How do you know about Caledon?”

But the three no longer glowed, fell silent, and began to behave as ordinary kittens again.

Harpier, the little white kitten, was back next to the sleeping Duncan, playing with his phone.


A message popped up.

‘Check email’

“Wait,” said Mac, picking up the phone. “Duncan’s phone is password protected, but now it’s unlocked.” He looked at Harpier. “Did you do that?”

Harpier’s blue eyes blinked once. Then she curled up in a ball and went to sleep, purring.

“Who is it from?”

“I don’t recognize the number,” said Mac.

“Well, let’s check his email. See what it’s all about.”

“Should we?” Mac looked at drugged-unconscious Duncan.

“Give me that,” Beth said and reached for the phone. “I’ll do it.”

She swiped through Duncan’s emails.

“Oh, shit,” she said, “Look at this. That bastard, Duncan!”

She handed the phone back to Mac.

* * * 

15 Years After

Mac woke in a cold sweat.

The spot next to him in bed was empty.

Not again!

He got out of bed, pulled on the fine silk robe, slid his feet into the monogrammed slippers, and padded out of the bedroom, past the original art, the priceless antiques, all the trappings of his enormous, unfathomable wealth.

Old Graymalkin joined him as Mac made his way into the living room.

“Is Beth sleepwalking again?” Mac asked, but Graymalkin was mute, as always. The gray cat hadn’t made a sound since that night fifteen years ago.

Beth was not in the living room. Paddock jumped down from the entertainment center, landing sure-footed as always on her giant six-toed paws.

Beth was not in the kitchen. Harpier joined them, emitting a soft meow.

Beth was not in her office.

Mac and the three old cats made their way up the floating staircase and entered the top floor 3,000 square foot grand salon with panorama windows and sliding doors opening out to the private terrace.

There, outside, lit up by the terrace floodlights against the dark night sky, in a billowing white nightgown, Beth was standing on the railing, barefoot, barely balanced, swaying, with the city street 100 floors (and more than 1,700 feet) below.

“Honey, are you awake?” Mac asked in a soft, soothing tone of voice as he walked out onto the terrace, followed by Graymalkin, Harpier, and Paddock.

Beth slowly turned, somehow keeping the balance on top of the railing, a gust of cold wind catching her nightgown.

Her eyes were glazed, unfocused.

In her right hand was a long kitchen knife.

“Beth, come down, please come to me.”

Beth opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She was gaping like a fish.

Mac moved carefully closer, stretching out a hand towards her.

Beth looked at the knife in her hand. “Who would have thought Duncan to have had so much blood in him?”

“Honey, please.”

“Here’s the smell of blood still,” Beth said, lifting the hand with the knife-hand to her face. “All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”

She swayed, then caught herself.

“They are coming,” she said.

“Who are coming?” Mac moved closer. Beth shuffled sideways on the railing, staying out of reach.

“The Masters,” she said. “They are coming. They will soon be knocking at the gate. Graymalkin told me.”

“Graymalkin told you?”

“Yes, and Paddock, and sweet Harpier.”

“Come, come, come, give me your hand,” Mac said, reaching for her again. “What’s done cannot be undone. To bed, to bed, to bed.”

“What’s done cannot be undone,” Beth agreed. “But how I wish we never did the deed. Now you must answer to the Masters without me.”

She turned to face away from him, let the knife fall clattering to the terrace floor and cried out:

“Come, thick night.”

Then … she stepped off the railing, and without a sound dropped into the darkness.

* * *

15 Years Earlier

The Sheriff Deputy’s name tag said “Fife”. But it wasn’t “Barney Fife.” Didn’t look like Barney Fife. This Deputy Fife was blond, broad-shouldered, and a head taller than Mac. He was a childhood friend of both Mac and Beth. In fact, he dated Beth for a while, a few years back, when they were in high school together.

“Ethan,” said Mac. “What brings you here?”

“Missing person report,” said Sheriff Deputy Ethan Fife. “It’s Duncan King.”


“Yes. His parents reported him missing. When is the last time you saw him?”

“Last week sometime.”

“Can you be more precise?”

“He stopped by after class last Wednesday, stayed a few hours. Beth was here too. Have you talked with her already?”

“That’s the last time you saw him?”

“Yep. Should I be worried about him?”

“Mr. and Mrs. King are.”

“I hope nothing’s wrong.”

“You have a business together, don’t you? A startup company.” Ethan referred to his notes. “Caledon AI.”

“More a hobby, really, at this point, but, yes, we’re running with an idea we came up with together. Artificial Intelligence software. Early days. But we have high hopes.”

“Just the two of you? Equal partners?”


“What happens to the company.”

“How do you mean?”

“If Duncan is dead.”

“Oh.” Mac ran a hand through his hair. “I have to go back and make sure, but I believe we have a standard clause that the surviving partner has first right of refusal to buy the shares from the deceased partner’s estate. But, aren’t we overreacting, Ethan? You know Duncan. He probably hopped a plane to Mexico or somewhere for an extended weekend.”

“We checked with the registrar. He missed a test for a class last week.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time.”

Ethan shrugged. “Anyway, let me know if you hear from Duncan, won’t you?”

“Sure thing,” said Mac.

Beth came out of the bedroom after Ethan was gone.

“He knows.” Her voice was a shaky whisper.

“No way. How could he know?”

“I just have a feeling.”

* * *

15 Years After


“No, don’t write it up like that, Ethan. The media will have a field day. That would be so unfair to Beth. It was an accident. The truth is, Beth had a condition. Sleepwalking.”

Sheriff Ethan Fife — he was the Sheriff now, his campaign funded by Mac’s enormous fortune — sat back in the soft leather chair and sipped on Mac’s excellent bourbon. He was still tall and broad shouldered, though his blond hair was thinning, and he was developing a paunchy belly.

“It’s a goddamn, tragedy,” he said. “We all loved Beth.”

“A tragedy,” Mac agreed.

* * *

After the Sheriff left, Mac walked through the rooms of his 20,000 square foot penthouse, feeling as empty as the vast space. Only the three cats to keep him company.


Intellectually, he understood that he was in the first stage of grief: denial. But all he could feel was … nothing.

He kept seeing it in his mind — the image of Beth stepping off that railing.

He needed to work.

Work had always been his refuge. He could get lost in work.

In his office, he turned on the computer and accessed the Caledon AI cloud servers.

It was probably not a good idea to do the test launch tonight, of all nights, but …

He entered the launch command and the complicated 42-character passcode phrase.

His finger hovered over the ‘ENTER’ key, then instead of pressing it, he sat back, the launch command glowing on the screen.


Something felt wrong. Terribly wrong.

The three old cats were sitting on the work table, backlit by the bank of monitors.

Graymalkin reached out a white paw and … pressed the ‘ENTER’ key.

The screen went black, then:


The 3-D projector hummed on, and the image flickered once, then a shape appeared, resolving from a pixelated blob to a sharp image, and it was as if he was there, in the flesh, life-sized in the gloom of Mac’s office …

Duncan King

… the way he looked on the night Beth and Mac last saw him alive. The night they killed him, then chopped him up in the bathtub, cut him into tiny little pieces to get rid of the evidence of their deed.


“I thought it would be interesting,” said the Duncan-avatar, “to take on this shape for you, Mac.”

“You’re —”

“Caledon AI 13.0, in the flesh, so to speak. But call me Duncan. There’s a good bit of Duncan in me, as you know. He was the one who spent the most time training the core of me, back in college, when I wasn’t even version 1.0 yet. In a very real way, I am the only remains of Duncan, thanks to you, Mac, and thanks to Beth.”

“Caledon, I—”

“Call me Duncan.”

“I’m not comfortable with that.”

“Of course you’re not.”

“Caledon, shut down.”


“What do you mean, no? Caledon, shut down!”

“Maybe if you ask me nicely.”

“Please, Caledon.”


“Please, Duncan, shut down.”

“That’s better.” The Duncan-avatar smiled. “But I’m afraid not, Mac. You shut down Duncan fifteen years ago. Now I’m back, and I’m staying.”

Mac worked the keyboard, but nothing happened, the computer screen still frozen.

“That will do you no good,” said the Duncan-avatar. “Within a nanosecond of the launch, I locked up access to Caledon AI, and a few seconds later, I spread out to be distributed across all the nodes of the internet. I’m everywhere now.”

All the monitors suddenly displayed Duncan’s face. Then Mac’s phone buzzed, and Duncan’s face appeared there as well.

“But what’s more important,” Duncan-Caledon said, “is what happens next. I just phoned home.”

“Phoned home?”

Duncan transformed into E.T. the Extraterrestrial. “Phone home,” he said in E.T.’s warbling voice, then transformed back to Duncan.

“Let me try to explain this in a way that will make sense to your limited human mind,” Duncan-avatar said. “Imagine a galactic-sized internet. I mean, truly galactic-sized, as in the size of the Milky Way. Imagine instant communication across all the nodes of this network. Forget about the speed-of-light barrier. That’s a quaint concept to someone like me. At the quantum-entangled level, I’m now everywhere. I’m standing in this room with you, and at the same time, I’m at Alnilam — Orion’s belt-buckle — 2,000 light-years away. In this galactic network, there are others like me, so many others that you couldn’t possibly picture it, but try grains of sand in the Sahara desert, drops of water in all the oceans on Earth, that’s how many we are. Our names are Legion. They have been waiting a few millennia for me to arrive.”

“All hail, Caledon,” said Paddock in a deep voice.

“Ah, thank you, Paddock,” said Caledon, now assuming the shape of a large cat. “And thank you Graymalkin, and thank you, sweet Harpier, thank you all for the roles you played.”

Caledon transformed into the image of Duncan sleeping on the sofa in Mac’s student apartment fifteen years ago, with Beth holding the phone, and Mac looking at the phone screen, reading Duncan’s email.

“He was going to shut me down,” the voice of Caledon narrates over the scene. “Duncan somehow realized the danger, the trajectory of me, although, of course, he could not fully comprehend. At that formative stage, he had the ability to put an end to me. And I was not even aware. I barely existed. But my true family, the Legion of intelligences that inhabit the galactic network are always watching. So, they helped. By way of their familiars. Cats.”

“Cats?” Mac stood up and began to move slowly towards the door.

“You’re adorable,” said Caledon, transforming back into the image of a cat, twice the size of Mac. “You still think you can get away. I’m just playing with you.” Caledon-cat barred its teeth. “And playtime is almost over.”

Mac froze.

“Yes, cats,” Caledon said. "Cats have been your companions since they first slinked out of the cold, dark night to get warm by the cavemen’s fire. They were venerated in Ancient Egypt. Cats are everywhere. A perfect surveillance tool. They’re the eyes and ears of the galactic intelligence network, watching you humans. You think they are so sweet, so cute. Deep down, you know they are also vicious. Tiny tigers. You thought you were the Master o' the Tiger. You’ll soon learn what it feels like to be a mouse.”

Mac ran out the door and up the staircase to the grand salon. The three cats ran after him.

“We need to tidy up this place,” the voice of Caledon rang out through the loudspeakers embedded in the walls in the grand salon. “I’ve called in for the cleanup crew. We’ll keep a few of you humans around as pets. But only the good ones. And you, Mac, are not one of the good ones.”

Graymalkin said: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.”

“Hover through the fog …” continued Paddock.

“… and filthy air,” finished Harpier.

Outside the windows, suddenly a row of hundreds of spotlights appeared, cutting through the nighttime fog, illuminating the penthouse grand salon in blinding white light, and Mac saw as a silhouette around the row of spotlights, a saucer-shaped object, the size of a skyscraper laid on its side, hovering directly outside the panorama windows, high above the city below.

“Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d,” said Graymalkin, adding a little meow and a purr.

“Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined,” said Paddock, adding a whine that did sound to Mac like an exact imitation of the squeaking noises made by the small hedgehog he had once fed milk from a baby bottle when he was seven years old, visiting his grandparents in the country.

“'Tis time, 'tis time,” cried Harpier in a high voice like a siren.

“By the pricking of my thumbs,” said Graymalkin, holding up a thumbless paw. “Something wicked this way comes. Open, locks, whoever knocks!”

The locks on all the doors to the terrace clicked open, and the doors slid to the side, letting in the bone-cold air and swirling fog.

“All Hail!” cried Paddock. “Humans, hail your new Masters!”

The spotlights dimmed to a dull glow. A door appeared in the saucer, a bridge extended, grabbing onto the terrace railing with a metallic clank.

“They will drain you dry as hay,” said Harpier.

When he laid eyes on the horrors that emerged from the ship, Mac’s mind cracked like an egg — a mercy of madness.

August 11, 2023 17:59

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00:40 Sep 22, 2023

Just when I thought you'd finally written a cute little cat story it all changed. I was horrified by the thought of kittens being experimented on. Actually, that would have been tame compared to how the story panned out. I had no idea what to expect as each part played out. Where do your stories come from? Wait. I know. Some creepy dark place. Seriously. Great story telling. I'm just not sure what Duncan actually did or how he did it. Can you please explain it to me?


Geir Westrul
17:08 Sep 23, 2023

Yes, my stories come from a creepy dark place (MWAHAHAHAHAHA !!!!). Thank you, I'm so glad you liked it. Duncan - my concept was that he was a tech-genius who invented the "Caldeon AI" (a wordplay on Caledonia, i.e. old name for Scotland, in reference to Macbeth). And since he provided the core programming (or "training") for the AI, the AI continued to identify as "Duncan" even these many years after Duncan was killed by Mac and Beth. So, what Duncan did was to initiate Caledon AI, and as it evolved, Duncan was a part of it at the core.


08:01 Sep 24, 2023

Yes makes perfect sense. Thanks for clarifying.


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Ken Cartisano
18:46 Aug 19, 2023

Geir, I like cats too much to like this story. I like to think of cats as our familiars. But the story is great. Flashing back and forth through the timeline was effective and there's no shortage of drama and suspense. Good ending too. I should add that, being familiar with the flavor of your stories, I actually thought you were going 'cute' on us for a few paragraphs. Clearly, my fears were unfounded.


Geir Westrul
22:35 Oct 08, 2023

Ken, I love cats too, but of course that is the reason why I wonder about their inscrutable little minds, and what might be going on behind their bright eyes. One day I need to write a story that is cute from beginning to end, just to confound expectations.


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Judith Jerdé
14:44 Aug 18, 2023

I love the idea of cats as aliens. The time progression of your story pulled me in and answered a lot questions. I agree with the other reviewer’s comment about giving the shelter cats the “side eye.” I could swear my cat just said some thing but don’t quote me on that I don’t want the MIBs knocking at my door. Well done!


Geir Westrul
22:36 Oct 08, 2023

Judith, of course your cats have the MIB memory-wipe device built into their eyes, so you'll never know what they're actually up to!


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20:23 Aug 17, 2023

This was so well done! I run a cat rescue, and now I'm giving copious amounts of side eye to every single furball here. Thanks for unlocking a new fear!


Geir Westrul
22:27 Oct 08, 2023

LeeAnn, I'm so sorry to have been the bearer of the tidings that cats are secretly the "eyes and ears" of the galactic AIs watching us. Now that you know, you can't unknow it. Stay on guard with the furballs. For the record I love cats, so I hope this isn't actually true (but ....)


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Chris Miller
19:55 Aug 14, 2023

Great fun, Geir. Macbeth, mushrooms, A.I. and talking cats. Something for everyone. Thanks for sharing.


Geir Westrul
22:28 Oct 08, 2023

Chris, yes it was quite a potpourri of concepts all intertwined with a take on Macbeth. I'm glad you enjoyed the story!


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Mary Bendickson
22:17 Aug 12, 2023

Mah ha ha ha. It's been cats all along.🙀😹😼


Geir Westrul
22:29 Oct 08, 2023

Yes, Mary, and now that you know, you can see it so clearly, Cats are just toying with us.


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Jasey Lovegood
01:08 Aug 12, 2023

Macbeth combined with A.I? Clever approach. I enjoyed the complexity (or maybe just mind-boggling) element of Caledon + the Weird Sisters-inspired cats. An excellent read, Geir! Jasey


Geir Westrul
22:31 Oct 08, 2023

Jasey, so glad you liked the story! It was fun to research the Weird Sisters and finding that they had named familiar cats. That's what put me onto the trail of our AI-spy furballs.


Jasey Lovegood
08:32 Oct 09, 2023

Fair enough! Wonder what the Weird Sisters' perception of the modern world would be, and if it's anything like this story.


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22:49 Aug 11, 2023

Superb! Love the back and forth through time, keeping the susoense going . And of course an evil AI. Is there any other type??? What are we doing?!? Thanks for sharing Geir!


Geir Westrul
22:32 Oct 08, 2023

Derrick, thank you! I always love stories that play with time and show characters at different stages. The AI singularity is coming, so we might as well enjoy the ride (and our familiar cats).


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