“Swear to God,” Uncle Ted said, “they ought to herd them all onto an old aircraft carrier, paint it pink, and set it afloat in the Atlantic.” Deep chuckles rumbled across the uncles and adult male cousins assembled in a circle of rusting aluminum lawn chairs in Ted’s backyard. Dad laughed too, looking around like he knew he shouldn’t be.
The smell of the grass cut fresh that morning had already burned away leaving cigarette smoke, beer, and grilling beef to scent the McCarthy-Patelli annual picnic. Ted, my mother’s brother, was a Patelli and Patellis didn’t require shade nor did they ever feel compelled to offer it to guests. As I stood next to Dad struggling to twist the cap off the beer I’d been sent to fetch, sweat ran freely off my eleven-year-old sunburned, closely-shorn scalp and down my apple-shaped McCarthy face to soak into my three-quarter sleeve Rangers jersey. Mom told me not to wear it because I’d be too hot but the Rangers were pretty much the only thing my Patelli cousins talked about.
It was too late for the grandkids when the dancing kicked off, but our party began long ago. 100 seconds to midnight, and it’s D-I-S-C-O. We lit up as jellyfish phosphoresced, octopuses threw shapes and the bass kaboomed. Chat-up lines were everywhere—molluscs whispered into shell-likes, and deep in the depths, where we’d rock-pooled as children, we tittered as a mussel got pulled.
Saturday night fever. The temperature rising. Tentacles, fins, floundering, failing. And frantic for oxygen amongst all our toxins, the silver-shoaled mirrorball’s spun gasping, hypoxic.
‘Spin faster,’ we squealed. ‘We’ve energy to burn. And you can’t stop us now.’
It wasn’t just chemicals; we had a glint in our eyes. Glittery, glistening, we spiraled, euphoric. We were fast, high—just where we wanted to be. We were having a whale of a time.
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The gymnasium is packed with most of the school. As each row of teenage meat smashes in together, an oppressive heat starts burdening the small arena. Winter coats squelch against each other, puffy and undefinable in space. The teachers shush the murmurs with varied enthusiasm. Mr. Leroy sneaks to the men’s room to drink Wild Turkey and pray to the school mascot. The students’ buzzing blends together into a unified cacophony, like a swarming hive.
“Yooo! All dirty mongrels and mangy curs to the basement!”
That’s what I call them cause they’re actually dogs.
“You know I mean business, so get off your asses and be ready. I’m coming for you all whether you’re sitting or doing that submissive thing on your backs with your paws up.”
They should know by now this game is called Gorilla vs Dogs. I show up in the basement with a gorilla mask on and race around the empty carpeted floor swinging my arms. Most seem to forget the rules, but they re-learn real fast when the gorilla singles them out for attack.
“You know about my advanced status! Even as a big ape, I’m millions of years more advanced than even the smartest of you pretend professors, and I don’t give a toot if Phoenix the poodle knows 67 words.”
Judge Pamela Painter had the difficult task of choosing a winner, two finalists, and shortlist for this year’s writing contest. We received over 1,000 international entries that kept our editors busy for months. Special thanks goes out to Assistant Editor Charline Poirier for her tireless efforts and, of course, we’d like to thank every writer who submitted an entry.
FIRST PLACE: MARSH OMEN AUGURY
Judge’s Comments: “The unstable situation is introduced right off in a superb first sentence when thirty-three egrets appear as an omen and the locals call in the narrator to interpret it. The natural world of the narrator is filled with the sun, swamp flies, silky mud, reeds and tidal creeks, a keeled water snake, a gator and a hard-shelled turtle—and the egrets that s/he reads for The Truth, which the locals really do not want to hear. They are happy with a half-truth they celebrate with spaghetti dinners and swallow as easily as communion wafers. The startling ending arrives but the writer has prepared us for it well.”
Marsh Omen Augury By L. Michelle Souleret
Thirty-three egrets flew into the salt marsh last night and lined up in a perfect row along an old, slanted pier. The locals chattered nervously at this omen and called me in.
I wade out, ankle-deep then to shinbone in the sun-warmed water, and stand all afternoon, watching. The white birds flap and preen and shuffle, but stay in formation. I wait. The sun passes overhead and swamp flies patter against my arms. My feet sink further into the silky mud. A keeled watersnake ripples past. I wait and I watch and I wait until, at last, a pattern emerges in the sinuous curves of the egrets’ necks and their awkward shifts from foot to foot. Meaning jangles into my brain with the snapping jaw-strength of a gator and the rightness of a hard-shelled turtle in the sun. I fall to my knees, choking, and cough out a glossy tangle of Truth.
Both tires turned from bright, commercial white, to the grit of living north of Calle Ocho. Two weeks earlier, I traded my saved cash for the red and white all-terrain scooter. It seemed logical to use it on this early morning in June to get my mom a birthday present. At eight, I knew it was two blocks west, two blocks south from the house my mom, brother, and grandparents shared in a lower middle class neighborhood in Miami. The increasingly grubby white tires bumped over unmaintained sidewalks and driveways, past the Dade County library on Calle Ocho, the carniceria, Everglades Lumber, which I found much later in life had been involved in a cartel scheme, and to the train tracks. At eight, I was trepidatious around the tracks. Even then I knew that was where the prostitutes stood each night, able to continuously cross Eighth Street each time a police car pulled up. South of Calle Ocho was Dade County police, north was City of Miami. Neither had the jurisdiction over the other and as long as the women of the night tripped their heels along the tracks, wavering between the demarcation of departments, they were free.