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 unexpected quality.
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 intriguing:
(1) Dragons: I’d hope they might be more friendly than ferocious, but they certainly have offered challenges from St. George to Harry Potter.
(2) 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.
(3) 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.
(4) Gremlins originally took the blame for mischievous malfunctions in WWII aircraft, but they now have infiltrated more mechanical devices, particularly computers.
(5) 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.
(6) 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.
(7) 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.
(8) 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.
(9) 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?