Turk 182 by Sheldon Lee Compton

Back when tigers used to smoke, the boy heard a man say, “My brother died in a fire.”

The man told the boy to fetch him ten ten-gallon buckets of paint of various colors. The boy went to Lowe’s first, but the prices were too high. After an hour or so searching he found a locally owned paint store and bought the paint for the grieving man. He asked the man, “How is it the city’s fault that your brother died?”

It was a scary question to ask but the boy was brave and had proven his bravery many times over for a kid his age. Still he got no answer, and it was then he first noticed the man becoming something else.

Instead of answering, the man took the paint and crawled up bridges and laddered up walls and painted his brother’s fire department nickname and call number everywhere he could manage.

But as his body continued to distort and deform he was forced to give it all up. He was mumbling when the boy and his friends finally caught him.

“My brother died in a fire.” The man now said this over and over, crawling on all fours around the house and then on the porch and eventually from yard to yard until neighbors finally called the police.

By the time the police arrived, there was no man at all, back when tigers used to smoke.

Sheldon Lee Compton is the author of eight books of fiction and poetry, including most recently the collection Sway (Cowboy Jamboree Press, 2020). His first nonfiction book, The Orchard Is Full of Sound, will be published by West Virginia University Press in 2022 and Cowboy Jamboree Press will publish his Collected Stories in late 2021.