by Paula Gail Benson
I felt very privileged and humbled last year when I learned
my “Cosway’s Confidence” had received second place in the Bethlehem Writers’
Group’s 2020 short story contest. I have a special fondness for this Group.
Seven years ago, my first published story appeared online in the Bethlehem
Writers’ Roundtable. That same year, my “Long in the Tooth” placed third in the
short story contest, with Hank Phillippi Ryan as the celebrity judge.
Currently, “Cosway’s Confidence” is one of the featured
stories in the online publication, the Bethlehem Writers’ Roundtable. Debra
Goldstein’s “Wabbit’s Carat,” an honorable mention winner in the contest, also
appears in the issue.
Submissions for the 2020 contest had to be about animals.
My friends’ ferret Maggie was the initial inspiration for my story, but I
wanted to distinguish the ferret I wrote about, to give that animal an
I remembered having a discussion with a student who worked
in our office about her difficulty in obtaining the paperwork she needed to
have an emotional support animal in her dorm. I wondered, what if a person with
a support animal tried to get a job with a restaurant? Would there be any way that
person could bring the animal to work?
Thus was born Cosway, an imaginary emotional support ferret.
And, thus also arose the dilemma for my protagonist, Arleen Schuster, a private
cook opening her own café: how could she refuse to hire her best catering
customer’s nephew who carried his imaginary emotional support ferret in his backpack?
If you would like to see how Arleen handles this problem and
several others, here’s the link.
While writing the story, it occurred to me that imaginary
creatures had provided opportunities to demonstrate courage and build
confidence throughout the ages. Here’s a list of ten that I’ve found
Dragons: I’d hope they might be more friendly
than ferocious, but they certainly have offered challenges from St. George to Harry
Unicorns: Gentle, yet elusive, these creatures
have graced tapestries as well as poems. Unicorn horns and blood are strong
protectants, but harming a unicorn may cause a person to be cursed.
Hippogriffs, like Buckbeak in Harry Potter
and the Prisoner of Azkaban, can be arrogant, but, if treated with
courtesy, are great allies for a quick getaway.
Gremlins originally took the blame for mischievous
malfunctions in WWII aircraft, but they now have infiltrated more mechanical
devices, particularly computers.
Leviathans are mentioned in biblical passages as
well as ancient sailors’ tales. These sea serpents, sometimes associated with
whales or crocodiles, have a more ominous presence than their cousin Nessie in
Loch Ness, Scotland.
Bigfoot, Sasquatch, King Kong, the Abominable—large,
ape-like, wild, and hairy—yet in so many stories, they convert from menace to semi-friend.
Sort of and sometimes.
Phoenixes have long lives that end in flames
before miraculously regenerating from the ashes. A phoenix is featured on San
Francisco’s flag, in commemoration of rebuilding after the 1906 earthquake.
South American legends describe encantados, or
shape-shifting dolfins, also called dolphin men or weredolphins. Reminds me of
a scene from Sharyn McCrumb’s If I Killed Him When I Met Him.
The jackalope, a rabbit with antelope horns, is
familiar throughout the American west, but the Swedish Skvader was constructed by a
taxidermist in 1918 and is on display in a museum in Sundsvall. It is part hare
and part wood grouse, a semi-reality of a creature from a hunting tale.
(10)Sobek, the mythological Egyptian
crocodile god, who was powerful, yet unpredictable. Anthropologists have studied
small, sealed messages left for Sobek to understand ancient Egyptian culture.
Do you have an imaginary animal that’s intrigued you?