It wasn't late when Lyle got up. He'd never fallen asleep. His night was spent trying to figure out what had happened, whether he'd really turned into a panther. It had all happened so fast. He vividly remembered looking down to see his vast paws, and pouncing on that man, but he held no memory whatsoever of how he got to be like that. Or how he changed back, for that matter.
And what had happened to the man? There had been blood. Lots of blood. He'd jumped on the man in a sort of frenzy, his usually cautious attitude suddenly thrown away. The girl had ran away, probably more scared of him than she had been of the man. At least she was safe. He struggled to remember before that, to try and piece it all together. He remembered a pair of yellow eyes.
They were like my eyes, when I looked in my reflection. Panther eyes. Which means there must have been another panther around, before I turned. But why? Why did it all happen?
Lyle rose from his bed and sauntered over to his mirror, breaking from his previous radio habit. His reflection was how it should have been - 16 year old male with dark, floppy hair falling over his face, and hazel coloured eyes. His features were chiselled, his skin pale. His muscles were clearly visible beneath his otherwise skinny frame. As he turned, he noticed four large scratches at the base of his neck. He traced his cold fingers along them. They felt warm, and carried on down past his shoulder onto his chest.
"That's odd," he whispered, raising an eyebrow. “I don't remember that happening."
He leaned into the mirror to get a closer look. It was definitely the work of a cat. A panther. Lyle sighed. He was never going to work this one out. Instead of working himself into a non-returnable state he began jabbing at his punch bag, taking his frustration out physically instead of within his mind. After a couple of rounds he moved on to his weights, and then finally down to the floor for fifty press-ups. Working out always helped to clear his mind. Lyle never knew what he was doing it for; he'd just always felt that strength was a necessity that could aid him someday.
Back on his weight bench, he heard his mum walk past. She opened the door and glanced round, her face laced with surprise at the sight of her son out of bed so early, let alone working out.
"Lyle?! What are you doing?"
Lyle spoke between lifts, his breathing heavy. "I need... to train... I've been lacking... recently."
“I think I need to take you to see a Doctor." She added a smile to the end of this, so her son would know she was joking. "Well, you might not even miss your bus at this rate. Come downstairs, I'll make you a cuppa."
Lyle smiled back. His mum could get angry sometimes, but when he made the effort she’d make twice as much. His dad, Jason, was rarely at home. Jason had a job that involved travelling a lot – he was an important part of a business that needed him there to attend all of the meetings, no matter how far away they were. Lyle’s lack of a father figure may have been one of the reasons he spent so much time working out alone, but despite this, Lyle was always there for Sophie, his mum.
After she'd gone, Lyle set his weights down, and stared back at his reflection.
"I'm not a panther," he told himself. "I need to get this sorted out."
Lyle suddenly felt very paranoid walking round school. One, he worried that maybe someone had seen him the night before, and knew his secret. Two, he had to keep looking in the mirror to check he was still the human Lyle. He attracted attention because of it - this was not something he'd usually do. Even though he had the looks and the muscles, he wasn’t one to boast about it. Three, he was scared that he would change in school. He might hurt someone, even kill them. He didn't want to become a murderer, even though he knew that now he was easily capable of it. His mind flickered back to the man he'd seen the night before. The man he'd attacked.
Oh god, what if I killed him? Actually killed him?! I'm a killer! A monster! What about his family, his friends? And the body? Is it still there?! Or what if he's actually alive, and he reports me?
He suddenly stopped thinking as Ella walked towards him.
"Hey Lyle, you alright?" She leaned against the lockers, close enough to Lyle to block any form of escape. Lyle gulped, and avoided looking her in the eye.
"Yeah...fine." He tried to sound convincing, but he couldn't get his mind off the whole panther incident.
"Lyle?" Ella's eyes looked up at him threateningly, measuring him up. "Are you sure you're alright?"
"Yeah...sure. I'm just...late for class." His voice was flat. Ella raised an eyebrow, and before she could reply Lyle slammed his locker shut and dashed off in the opposite direction. He didn't look where he was going, and collided into another girl.
"Oh! I'm sorry!" He bent down to pick up her books for her. She went to do the same. Both crouched on the floor, they looked at each other. Her hair, orangey red, fell straight just past her shoulders. She had small features, and freckles on her nose. "It's okay." she whispered.
Lyle stood up, and as she followed, he handed back her books.
She turned to go, when Lyle had a sudden realisation.
He lightly touched her shoulder, causing her to turn. As he saw her face again, he knew for certain that she was the girl from last night. "How are you? Are you okay?"
His worry was intense, and she took a step back, answering in a small voice. "Yes... why wouldn't I be?"
Darn! She doesn't remember me, 'cause I was a panther! Now what do I say?!
"Erm..." Lyle raised a hand to the back of his head, slowly turning crimson. "I...I could’ve hurt you! From running into you!"
"Oh...no, I'm okay." Her eyes were facing the floor, and she turned to walk away.
"Wait! Sorry, what's your name?"
"It's...it's Riley." She shuffled her feet like she wanted to get away from him. "And you?"
"Lyle. See you around, yeah?"
"Yeah." Seeing that as a cue to leave, she was gone. Lyle walked to his next lesson, hoping that school would end soon.
Ella was ignoring him again. He'd freaked out a girl he didn't even know. And he was half panther. Today was not Lyle's day. He was relieved when the bell went, and ran out of the classroom before anyone could distract him. He followed the crowd of students outside, glad to be able to think. He decided to walk home - it was sunny and would give him more time to sort out his head.
Away from the street, Lyle chose a large meadow to walk through, carefully avoiding the busy streets he usually used as his path to school. He was alone, and so let his mind wander.
So what am I then? A panther? I'm not at the moment. Maybe the panther bit was a dream. Just an illusion. It was dark, I didn’t know what I was seeing. And anyway, I was tired. Maybe I just imagined it all. Maybe...
Lyle stopped. He heard footsteps, but he couldn't see anyone.
The footsteps were heard again, though the meadow was empty. Lyle looked around him and shrugged. As he proceeded to carry on, he heard them again. They sounded very close now, almost right behind him. The steps were getting faster and faster, until they stopped. He turned on the spot to see a man he didn't recognise looming over him, an amused look on his angular face.
"What's up, panther boy?!"