The Tiger, 1909

by Alison Swety

      There is the gentle thud of paws on a dirt road. They beat the steady rhythm of approaching change, dangerous and imminent. A shiny stream of silver spittle runs down the animal’s jaw, specking the ground like raindrops at the start of a storm. Its orange stripes wink like flames, visible under streetlamps and hidden in the dark. The animal’s stomach hums, a motor propelling its body toward the town.

      Back at the circus, the red tent rustles, a cage door swings open in the wind. A rusty, broken lock is on the ground. The lanky guard rounds the corner, takes a deep drag from his cigarette, and sees tracks leading from an empty cage. He drops the cigarette and runs, his heavy boots kicking dirt over the animal’s trail, leaving a sweet odor of smoke and sweat and earth in the air. A whispered alarm spreads throughout the crowd, rippling, from mouth to mouth. Get inside. Protect the children. Send out the men.

Alison Swety’s short stories and poems have appeared in Esprit: The University of Scranton Review of Arts and Letters and The Sigma Tau Delta Rectangle. She works as an editor in Philadelphia.