Editor’s Note: We appreciate all of this year’s story submissions. It’s always a difficult choice to make, but
thank you all for your time and effort. In addition to the story winners listed here, honorable mentions
can be found online here.
By Erin Lovett
“He’s a mixed breed,” the woman explained.
I reached a finger through the bars of his crate, petting a wiry tuft of fur jutting out between long, pointed ears. He appraised my affection suspiciously.
The Craigslist ad had only said “Free Puppies,” listing an address just outside of Athens. Apparently, the strange one staring up at me was the last of them.
“Runt of the litter,” the woman continued, as if that explained anything about his appearance. He was ugly, sure, but weren’t ugly dogs sort of in right now?
I turned to ask the woman how big he would get, but she was already back in her truck, tires spitting gravel behind her as she fishtailed out onto 441. He was mine now.
At Pet Supplies Plus, the cashier smiled warily at the odd-looking dog.
“What’s his name?”
He cannot be named, I thought, but that sounded frightening, so I improvised.
“Craig,” I said, blurting the first thing that came to mind. “Short for Craigslist.”
Craig gnashed at a Milk-Bone, baring his jagged teeth. That night, Craig ate his new dog bed, the plastic it came in and half an armchair. The apartment was trashed, walls covered in odd scratch marks. Symbols, I thought, before I realized how ridiculous that sounded.
The next day at Wiggley Field, Craig chased the other dogs gleefully. He finally returned after an hour, grinning, satisfied. I patted him between his protruding shoulder blades.
“Dooley?” a woman cried out. A leash hung limply from one hand. “Dooley? Come here, boy!”
In two weeks he had doubled in size. I tried to overlook the collection of animal bones accumulating in the backyard, but it was becoming difficult to ignore the “Missing Pet” signs. Each week, new ones were stapled over the old, humidity warping the paper, names and numbers smeared and illegible. Craig’s ridged spine jutted through dark skin as he pulled on his leash past the telephone poles, oblivious, hungry.
One morning, flipping through the Flagpole outside Walkers, I noticed an ad for something called the Boo-le-Bark, a costumed dog parade.
“This would be so perfect for socializing,” I exclaimed. The other dogs had taken to scaling the fences and sprinting into the woods when Craig arrived at the dog parks, so we stopped going.
On the morning of the parade, I woke to find Craig had, predictably, destroyed the costumes I had bought for us.
“We’ll just go as spectators then,” I sighed. I tugged the belt around Craig’s neck (he had outgrown the largest collar I could find), and we made our way to the parade.
Boulevard was glorious, tree-lined and lively, with dogs of all shapes and sizes dressed in brightly-colored costumes. Craig lunged as two pugs dressed as Twinkies passed us. The owner eyed me fearfully, but I gave a friendly chuckle.
“He must think they’re real Twinkies,” I laughed.
“Oh my God,” came a voice from behind me. I turned to find a gray-bearded man with a ribbon announcing himself as a parade judge. “Incredible. I’ve never seen prosthetics like that. I can’t even tell what kind of dog he is.”
“He’s a mixed breed,” I explained, confused. The man took a pen out and scribbled something in a notepad.
“How did you get the scales on him?” came another voice. A woman dressed as an astronaut was peering down at Craig’s skin. “It looks so real!”
“Look at the red eyes, mama!” a child cried, pointing. “A devil dog!”
I wanted to shield Craig, hide him away from these people, but when I looked up, I only saw smiles. Amazing! Incredible! So real! Come look!
Craig crouched beside me, his eyes darting from person to person as they petted him and cooed at his “wings,” which is what they called his shoulder blades. I guess they did look a little like wings. He had been growing so quickly, I hadn’t noticed. Suddenly, I saw him as everyone else must have. The odd tufts of fur between his ears were rather horn-like. The shoulder blades flapped, leathery and veiny. How had I not noticed the red eyes?
A camera flashed, and before I knew what was happening, a blue ribbon was being placed around Craig’s neck. There was applause.
I was so thrilled, I didn’t even notice as the belt came unbuckled from his neck. It wasn’t until the screaming began that I realized what I had done. He was just hungry. So hungry.
By Mark Mobley
“WHOOOOO STOLLLLLE MY GOLLLLDEN BOWLLLLL?” moaned the ghost, banging on the door of what used to be The Grit. Moaning and banging may be a bit of an exaggeration, because without a microphone and stacks of speakers, the ghost was sort of a mumbler; being a ghost, he didn’t have a lot of physical force.
But there he was, with one of his ancient, spectral Volvos planted in the Prince Avenue bike lane. He rapped again and again on the door of the restaurant that replaced The Grit, a taqueria from a national chain called La Redundancia, directly adjacent to Poquitos, the taqueria that replaced the Go Bar.
“AND WHOOOOOO STOOOOOOOLE MYYYY DISCOOOOOO BAAAAALLLLLLLL?” he continued, before moving downtown to float menacingly over Paloma Park. He repeatedly bellowed, “WHYYYYYY DO YOUUUUUU UPCHARRRRRGE $1 FOR KETCHUP?” until the light from the massive projection screen fatigued him and the crappy game being projected—UGA vs. Delaware Tech—played out in its inevitable 84-2 grimness.
“WHOOOOOO PUT THIS BUILDING HEEEEEERRRRRRRRE?” he shriek-whispered at the plodding First Methodist Church gym that blocks the view east from Manhattan Cafe. He went into Manhattan, attempted to order a blackberry brandy, but was thwarted by the fact that A) he was a ghost, B) he had no ID and C) his favorite stool said, “Reserved for ORT.”
He had seen the world, this ghost, but Athens was his home, and boy, did he have opinions. “WHYYYYYYYY DID THEEEEEY QUIIIIIT?” he asked, about the seemingly motivated county commissioner who pulled a Palin. “IT’S A PAAARRRRRT TIIIIIIIIIME JOB!”
He floated west on the unseasonably warm November air. “WHYYYYYY DOOOOOO YOUUUUUUUU HAAAVE SUCH CRAAAAAAAPY TAAAAAAASTE IN MUUUUUUUUUSIC?” he berated the fraternity on Pulaski frolicking in front of their tragically misplaced house. “YOOOOOOOUUUUUU’RE IN ATHENS, FOR CHRIST’S SAAAAAAKE.”
“WHAT IS THISSSSSS FRESH MONSTROSITY?” he asked aloud, as he glided up Broad Street and over to Finley Street.
“THEEEEE WILLLLLLLLLLIAM,” answered another passing townie ghost.
“THEEEEE WHAAAAAAAAT?” the first ghost asked.
“AN OVERPRIIIIIICED APARRRRRRRRRRTMENNNNT BUILLLLLDING FOR STUUUUUUUUUDENNNTS.”
“WHOOOOOO THE HELLLLLLLL NAMES AN APARRRRRRRRRRTMENT BUILDING WILLLLLLLIAM? HANNNNAH GAAAAAADSBY?”
The first ghost continued west, farther away from downtown, up to the intersection of Broad and Milledge. “I GUESSSSSSSS THEY CAAAAAAASSSSSSHED INNNNNN,” he mused at the site of the old Varsity. “SOOOOOO OCOOOOOOONNNNEEEEEEEE GETS THE BEST ONNNNNNNION RIIIIIIINGS—BUT DOES NOOOOOOOOOT DESERRRRRRVE THEMMMMM.”
He turned left. “DOOOCTORRR’S OFFICES, SORORRRRRRRRRITY HOUSES ANNNNND A HIIIIIIIIGH SCHOOOOOOL. NO ONNNE EVERRRR TALLLLLLKS ABOUT THE WEIRRRRRRRRRD ZOOOOONING ONNNN THISSSS STREEEEEET.”
He reversed course and glided smoothly to the corner of Milledge and Prince. “OHHH, FUNNNKIN MONUTS. HOW I’VE MISSSSSSSED YOUUUUUUUU. NOW LET ME FIIIIIIIND MYYYY PEEEEOPLE.”
He cruised up Prince toward Normaltown. “WHYYYYYY WON’T SOOOOOOOMEONNNNE RENNNNT THIS BEAUTIFUL ROUND BUILLLLLLDIINNNG? IT WOULD MAAAAAAAAKE A NIIIIICE TAQUERIAAAAA.”
When he arrived at the Hi-Lo Lounge, he found both townies and ghosts smoking outside and sipping cocktails inside. The game was on multiple TVs, but only a handful of fans and a few of the invisible dearly departed followed the action. One elderly specter commented with charmingly antiquated phrases and kept asking no one in particular, “WHAAAAADAYA GOT, LORRRRRRRRRAN?”
“TOFUUUUUUUU DOGS AND COLLLLLLLLLLD BEEEEEEEEER ANNNNND COOOOOOOL PEOPLE,” the first ghost said happily, gazing around the room and across the street at Normal Bar. “THE PLAAAAACES MAY CHAAAAAAANGE, BUT SOME THINGS REMAAAAAAAAAAINNNN.”
By Philip Weinrich
Otto couldn’t believe how easy it was to break into the antique shop, especially because of the valuables he had heard were there. No alarms, no motion sensors, nothing. Usually these jobs were smash, grab and run, but tonight he could take his time.
Later though, Otto began to think that Mick Jagger was wrong, because time was NOT on his side. After more than an hour of searching, he had come up empty. The jewelry case had nothing but costume junk, there were only a few old coins, and the things worth anything were too big to carry out. Even the register was empty. He hadn’t found enough for a beer across the street at Mel’s Lounge.
Suddenly, Otto froze. He saw someone standing in front of him. The two figures remained motionless for some time. Otto deliberated whether to make a break for it or take this person on. They seemed pretty evenly matched size-wise, but it was hard to tell in the dark. Otto slowly pivoted toward the back door; the other figure did the same. He inched his hand toward his flashlight; the figure matched him move for move.
Otto flicked the light on to reveal that his suspicions were correct: He was standing in front of a full-length mirror. He chuckled at himself and gave a sigh of relief. He slid his hand along the ornate frame until he came to a hand-lettered sign at the top: “Two-way mirror. Smile, you’re on Candid Camera!” Even though the mirror looked centuries old, he knew it was too unique to try to sell. The camera equipment behind it… Well… That was a different story. He raised his foot to kick through it, but the image in the mirror didn’t move. He was so startled, he lost his balance and fell headlong into the mirror.
Otto landed in a room that looked like the room he had just come from… but not quite. He didn’t have time to ponder the thought because the figure lunged at him with a knife. He sidestepped the blow and pulled out his knife, narrowly missing his combatant’s arm as he passed. Otto was skilled at knife fighting and figured he’d soon have the upper hand, but both fighters seemed to anticipate each other’s moves and only struck glancing blows.
Otto grabbed the flashlight, trying to blind his assailant, but what he saw defied belief. The room was reversed: paintings, clocks, even signs. Except for the fact that he was left-handed, Otto was fighting himself!
They stood facing each other: Panting, sweating, drops of blood trickling from the knifepoints they held at each other’s throat.
“So, which one of us is the double?”
Blood dripped on the floor, splattering onto pieces of the broken mirror…
“Obviously, it’s you.”
…which began to liquify and pool together…
“That’s exactly what I would say if it were me.”
…flowing unnoticed back to the antique frame…
“I don’t suppose we could just go our separate ways and pretend this never happened?”
…dripping up from the floor…
“Not on our lives.”
…slowly filling in the gaps…
“How do we get out of here?”
…and becoming solid glass again…
“There’s only one way out.”
…except for a sliver of light.
Cars merging onto Atlanta Highway slowed as they passed the crime scene. Red and blue lights illuminated the Athens Antiques & Vintage sign as Officer Reynolds talked to the owner, Brad, inside. “You’ve been broken into five times in the last two years, and nothing’s ever been taken?”
“Just lucky, I suppose,” Brad said as he straightened the displays that had been knocked over. “I guess they leave when they see the mirror.”
Officer Reynolds looked closely at the sign. “So, you have video evidence?”
“No, there’s nothing behind it,” Brad said. “It’s just a mirror. Must be the sign that gets them.”
“It looks very old.”
“It’s from the 1400s. I got it on a trip to Transylvania.”
“Isn’t that where…”
“Now, officer, you know that’s just a story.”
“I know,” he said, closing his notepad and heading to the door. “It’s a shame about your mirror, though. It must have been expensive, and it looks like he may have cracked it.”
“Oh, don’t worry. I have a liquid that’ll fix it.” With his back turned, Brad pricked his finger with a thumbtack and wiped the blood on the crack. It seeped into the mirror, and the crack disappeared, leaving a smooth, unblemished surface. “This mirror was worth every penny.”
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