Week #36 – Animal behavior

Welcome! Here is this week’s Flash, posted in the order received.

The theme is animal behavior.

Luck by Catherine Davis
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Josh’s Deer . by Stephen Harutunian

I teach ninth grade English in Vermont, just south of the Champlain islands. At the faculty holiday party, a colleague told me that her eight year old asked Santa for a cell phone. That reminds me, I said.

It was Fall. Before class, Josh asked me if I wanted to see a picture of his deer. (Josh is short and fat with scraggly yellow hair. His face is red. He can’t read. He wears his clothes too big and a camouflage duct tape hat. He reads magazines about dirt-bikes.)

You have a deer? I said

The one I shot, he said, taking his phone from his pocket.

I said they didn’t used to allow phones in school. And phones didn’t used to take pictures, either.

You don’t want to see it?

You’ve already shown me, I said. He knew it was a lie. And though I wanted to, I couldn’t let him down. Alright, I said. Okay.

He gave me the phone. The deer’s head like a slab of meat on the grill grates in the cab of his father’s pick up. Red Chevrolet. Calvin pissing on a peace sign.

Looking at the picture, I felt Josh’s pride.

I’m gettin’ the head for my birthday in August, he said. I’m gonna hang it on the wall in my room when we move to Fletcher.

So why take a picture? I asked, handing him the phone.

I dunno, he said. Why not?

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Meeting time . by Michael Webb

I saw her as I walked up. Her back was to me, but I could identify her hair, the curve of her hip, her blouse, her shoes. The line of her skirt was just slightly off- it was higher on one side than it was on the other, and it bothered me- I wanted her to resettle it so the line of dark skirt below creamy white blouse was straight like the equator.

I knew her name- Janelle- and I knew she did something important. I never worked with her directly, but our company was so small I would run into her constantly- coming in or leaving, at the candy machine or heading out to lunch, or around a conference table when some large meeting was called.

I studied her like an animal would- trying to notice patterns. Did she always wear that suit on Fridays? Hair up today to show off those earrings? I intended nothing untoward, but I wondered about her constantly- did she go home to white wine, a microwaved meal, and reality TV? Or did she have a husband, a rugged guy who looked like he belonged in a watch ad? I was a tiny bit in love with her, the way you are with the star of your favorite TV drama.

She gave a tiny, discreet pull, and her skirt was even again. I stood behind her, waiting to go into the meeting, pleased that she had returned order to my world.

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Living in the Lapin of Luxury . by Matt Potter

George thrust a photograph of a sexy female model in a boxy fur jacket before me.

“Long-haired rabbits. The next big thing in fur.” And he made a balloon with his hands and blew out his cheeks.

I remembered Mum when we were kids, listening to Dad pitch his latest idea that would earn millions, making him a household name.

“No one wears fur in Australia anymore,” I said.

“They do at the opera, Frank.”

I’m a theatre critic, and we attend opera openings. Where old ladies wear furs they bought forty years ago.

“There’s cheap land at Cudlee Creek perfect for breeding long-haired rabbits,” he added. “They can’t jump high so fencing costs are low.”

“But rabbits burrow, George.”

“Not with mesh on the ground.” He held up the photograph. The woman was wearing what looked like fox. “Free range long-haired rabbits grow extra long hair too.”

I looked at him squarely. “What about the Rose D’Amour jewellery in the garage?” I said. “And the Gift-O-Life mini-defibrillators in the shed? And the Hot-and-Ready Quik-Grow-Rice-in-a-Can in the spare room?”

“I got really bad advice on all those deals. And the land at Cudlee Creek’s going for a song.”

I shook my head.

He sat, shoulders hunched. “Don’t you want me to be a success?” he said. “Why do you always stand in my way?”

I sighed.

“Okay. Do it.”

George chatted all night about how rich he’d make us. Again.

Sometimes gay men marry men just like their fathers, too.

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Lucky (French) Dogs . by Garrett Socol

Complaining isn’t my style, but on behalf of my canine brethren, there are a few things I’d like to get off my silky chest. First of all, it’s terribly annoying to be spoken to like a toddler. I realize I’m unusually cute, but according to the human calendar I’m pushing fifty. Please speak to me the way you’d converse with a savvy college graduate.

Of course it’s nice to be caressed, but if I’m trying to grab a few zzzzs, find someone else to stroke. Your petting only keeps me awake when I desperately need sleep in order to be bouncy and playful for you later. Being adorable is part of the job, and adorable requires rest.

According to my observations, in an average day, man relieves himself every couple of hours. (Woman relieves herself a touch more frequently.) So why do some humans think their precious pooches only need to go once in the morning and once at night? It can’t possibly be good for the bladder, the nerves or the new carpet.

In Paris, France, dogs are welcomed in elegant restaurants. In America, we can’t even accompany you into a lousy Starbucks. Think it’s fun being tied to a flagpole six inches from a trash can? Considering the fact that our sense of smell is 100,000 times stronger than yours, this is not what I’d call amusement. In this one area, can’t we be more like the French, s’il vous plait?

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Lionel Richie Runs Things . by Len Kuntz

In the same way gang leaders run cartels from prison, my wife’s cat ordered our lives from the dust mote space beneath our bed.

We called him Lionel Richie. When I’d say, “Here, Lionel Richie, here,” it hissed. Lionel Richie hated the name Lionel Richie. He also loathed me.

Once, I just asked my wife outright. “If it came down to me or LR, who would you pick?” She feigned an immediate case of stomach cramps, gritting her teeth as if passing a kidney stone, and so I thought, there’s my answer.

I tried to convince myself that killing an animal was different than actual murder. Cats didn’t have souls or driver’s licenses. They didn’t pay alimony.

Still, Lionel Richie was a crafty critter.

He foiled every plot I had—sniffing out poison in the whipped cream, the bowl of milk; not following me out to the deck to look at pigeons twenty stories below; not coming into the bathroom where I’d filled the tub and was waiting with rope and anvil.

I got the dart gun from a taxidermist who said the sedative was “hardcore.”

When I raised the rifle, Lionel Richie yawned. I told him I wasn’t kidding. I said, “I’m going to burn you in a smelter.”

As I squinted down the sight, the beast flew at me, gun blasting off.

Now I’m without one eye.

While I’ve been recuperating, though, Lionel Richie keeps me company. I hear him hum beneath our bed.

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Crackers . by Susan Tepper

Max buys Animal Crackers by the carton-load from e-bay. He tells you these are special, not the ones you get in the super (market). It bugs you how he always calls it the super. Anyway, the kitchen is stacked with unopened boxes from his last auction or however it’s done. You are not an e-bay kind of person, basically e-bay bores you. If you want a cookie you buy it direct. He is ecstatic over his latest e-bay acquisition of German Animal Crackers. He also bought Italian Animal Crackers, and in the spring there was a box marked Croatia. Now you tell him that Croatia is a vanished country. That these Animal Crackers could be a decade old. Max fights you on this point and becomes rather territorial. He stands next to the Croatia box and drapes one arm across it. Like you would steal or destroy it! My god you want to scream! Instead you boil some hot water for tea. Max asks what you’re doing. Boiling hot water you say. That seems to calm him. He nods. Then leaves you alone in the kitchen with the unopened cartons and a lot of fear in your heart.

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The Cat’s Pajamas . by Robert Vaughan

I was drawn to his checkerboard hair: half-leopard/ half-Mohair. Surly, cheeky, sarcasm oozed from his lips. He’d call me Farrah to get a rise. I pretended I didn’t like it, but any attention was better than none.

When he called me a pussy, I punched him. So hard it hurt my hand.

How I ended up in his bed seemed an entire life in one smooshed week. His two cats, Rat Boy and Martha were clueless, too.

His skull was nearly perfect, like a newborn, the way his ears parenthesized his face perfectly. Utter dome-dom.

It all started when he bought my leopard nightie.

After he’d score the occasional night shift, I’d pace, roll across the rug, clawing air.

I’d spit at Rat Boy and Martha. They’d cower, growling under the sofa.

I’d lick my entire body, starting with my hands, then head to toe, following their lead.

Eventually I became one, slept all day, twitching by night. Between naps, I’d sit at the picture window, track flights of birds.

Lure them to our feeders. Fatten them up.

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Jane Doe . by Marcus Speh

This woman, she made me feel bad whenever I would meet her, even though I loved her, she said.

I think I know what you mean, I said. There are people who just aren’t good for us even though they may be good people.

Exactly, she said, took a ribbon between her teeth and put her hair in a bun.

Why do you do that, I said.

I don’t like the feeling of my hair on my neck after making love, she said.

Love, I said. Love, love, love, I shouted. She laughed.

You’re such a cutie, she said. I pouted.

I am serious, I said. I love loving you. You’re like a hind, I said. All graceful strength, gliding muscle.

And you’re the hunter, she said, aren’t you. She laid a cool finger on my chin: get that lip down and come here, sportsman.

Later I sought her fingers, which were still wet from the forest floor. Sleeping, she panted, her nostrils wide and round, small caves, hollows to my heart.

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Lunkers . by Michael J. Solender

I never ate a lunker though I caught a bunch of them. Jimmy says they’re dumb fish and I laugh ‘cause I can’t imagine such a thing as a smart fish. Jimmy laughs too, but probably not for the same reason.

He always laughs when I laugh. I think he thinks it makes us better friends. Mom says to have him up for supper sometime, I don’t even need to ask her, just bring him. I don’t ever bring him to supper though.

We’re friends and all but we’re just me and him friends, we’re not the kind of friends that you bring to supper.

His pa cleans his lunkers. Then they get the triple dip. That’s what Jimmy calls it. First flour, then beaten eggs, then cornmeal. Jimmy says they go into bacon fat after that and he eats ‘em with collards or turnip greens.

He says his pa don’t talk too much since his ma died and I can’t help but think what it’s gonna be like for Jimmy when I go off to town school next year. He’s two years behind me and he’ll still be at Silver School.

While we’re walking home from the lake, Jimmy stops and asks me if I wanna have supper at his house tonight. He says his pa asked him to ask me.

I look at Jimmy for a long time and don’t say anything. He looks like he’s gonna cry and then I start laughing.

He starts laughing too.

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Human Behavior . by Susan Gibb

He felt the warm wet tip of her tongue in his ear, gritting his teeth against it. Sandpapery, much like a cat’s. Why does one have to bow to the whims of a lover?

Meanwhile, she squirmed under the touch of him rolling her nipple between forefinger and thumb. She hated that, though her body responded more naturally to it than her mind. She didn’t know him well enough yet to tell him it wasn’t something she liked.

He huffed and puffed above her and just as she thought he would give out a groan, he tucked both arms underneath her, rolled the two of them over, and sat her on top. She didn’t like being on top, especially when she was already exhausted. It was a lazy-lover thing to do, and she thought she’d done her job already, actively bucking and panting flat on her back for what seemed like hours.

He was annoyed. Damn, she was losing momentum. He gripped her waist and bounced her up and down. She gratefully accepted his help.

Finally, finally it was over and he let her slide off to lie beside him. Jesus, she thought he’d never be done.

Shit, he thought, I’m sure no one’s ever held out this long just to please her. Her soft purring beside him, he didn’t realize, was already a snore.

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Lying Down With Dogs . by John Riley

The baby screen wedged across the bedroom door is there to keep the dog out. At some point the decision was made to bar him from the room, although little of value has been left in the room he can damage. He is not a destructive dog and knows to not dirty the floor or to jump on the bed. I know why he whimpers from our side of the gate. The bedroom’s large windows face west and this time of the year buttery afternoon light spreads across the floor and drifts up the walls, which slowly change from freshly painted white to soft yellow. If he was allowed to stretch out in the light, on the deep-blue and brown and rust-red rug that came from another country, I would join him in the room and stretch out beside him. As he slept I would sleep too, and while the other people left the house to spend their day outside, we would rest together until dark, when he will be hungry and I can watch him eat.

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Racoon Lodge . by Randal Houle

Just uphill from my den, a plain of rock stretches as far as I can see. On the opposite side, there is a group of trees with a pond and I want to take some of the fallen fruit and wash them.

I check the area. There’s the bitter smell of past failures, my brother tried to forage on the other side. He was smashed into the rocky plain until black birds pecked his flesh clean.

These beasts are ferocious and stampede at a moment’s notice. I’ve observed, though, that each day they congregate in vast numbers. Two additional observations: they only stampede from one direction, and two, they never leave the plain. I’ve decided today, when the wheeled creatures congregate, I will cross.

They are resting now. I cross one while it sleeps. Its breath is hot and I scurry to get out of its way. Another looms in toward me, his strange legs rolling. He stops. I run.

Now the creatures seem to be running faster, only in the opposite direction. I had never noticed these. A patch of my brother’s fur is just ahead. He is gone. I got this far by studying the patterns of the herds, but this is new. I close my eyes and run. The giant creatures scream at me, but they cannot get me as I am off the plain.

The fruit here is sweet and the water cool. I think I’ll stay a while.

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Bride and Groom . by Tina Barry

At the flea market where we buy candles shaped like fairies and soap that wafts patchouli sits a man in a wheelchair. He wears an old black tux, shiny at the elbows, and his gray hair has been styled and sprayed into a fragile tornado. On his lap sits a Chihuahua wearing a bridal outfit—veil and all. No one seems to notice the couple, except us. We can’t stop staring at them staring into each other’s eyes, so much in love.

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Bastet on the Down-Low . by Roberta Lawson

1.

They rub her belly, tickle her ears. When she growls, they chuckle. In her head she’s roaring. “What a cute meow” they say. They smile when she rubs against their legs. “Get the fuck out of my territory” she thinks, pawing at a houseplant. Laps at a face, recollecting the tang of mouse blood, and begins to purr.

2.

Her fleecy basket is the leafy belly of a tree. In her dreams she springs from the tree and roars. She is her panther self again, the self she always has been. Emerald eyes narrow, ears arch, and she breathes in: forest – prey – danger – existence – the hunt is all these is. Drunk on jungle-scent, she runs and smaller beings disperse in panic. Jungle is her terrain, her playground. Shaking her head back and forth she bites into captured birds with relish; paw-swipes, cruelty, hunger mingling. Shimmies trees, lunges at insects, kicks, fights, roars –-

“So cute” they say as she tosses in her basket.

She’s not cute. She’s free.

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The Way It Is . by Linda Simoni-Wastila

The preschoolers scampered through the garden, clutching their butterfly nets and insect cages. The teacher pointed out the katydid marching up the daylily scape, the leaf cutter chomping through the Brandywines. Her long hair stuck to her neck, and her inner thighs chafed from sweat. She craved iced coffee, for the coldness, for something to shock her into feeling.

“Look Miss Nancy! Ladybugs!”

The children jostled around the sedum. Nancy moved slowly, trying not to wince. The ladybugs swarmed the waxy leaves, hundreds of them, coupling and uncoupling, falling to the ground. Paler colored beetles took flight. The males pursued, wrestling the females with their tiny legs. The pairs swirled down like maple seeds.

A small girl sobbed. “They’re fighting.”

Nancy stepped towards the child. Pain seared through her pelvis to her sitz bone, reminding her of last night, of Roger stumbling through the dark to bed, rousing her with his beery breath. He’d yanked down her panties and took her from behind, hard. When she cried, he thrust harder. She felt something in her backside crack and she rolled away. He slapped her cheek as he came all over her stomach. The welt stung almost as much as the single word he’d spat at her when he left.

Nancy stroked the crying girl’s hair, translucent in the sun, and considered whether to correct the girl. Fighting, mating. Everything seemed filmy. She touched the end of her sleeve to her eyes.

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H.owl . by Dorothee Lang

She sat in ant.icipation, watched a fire.fly. It was her first night vigil. By daylight, she had laughed the task away. I’m no cow.ard, she had stated.

She swallow.ed. Fact was, the night had a fourth, fur.ious dimension, there, next to the r.eal river. And just like her, the forest, so calm at noon, now was dealing with its own moving bear.ings.

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Carnal Nature . by Catherine Russell

Her eyes fluttered open to rest upon the lone figure. She stretched, long limbs partially entwined in silken sheets. Sweat from the previous night’s exertions still glistened on her skin.

“Come back to bed, love,” she said, but the shadow remained fixed before the dawn-soaked window.

She extended her legs once more, rising from the bed with fluid grace to stand by his side. Leaning against him, their sweat mingled as their bodies joined once again. Her arms curled around his shoulders.

“It was a mistake,” he whispered.

His chest rose and fell heavily as she stroked his flesh and nuzzled his neck. “How can you say that?” she asked, planting kisses between each word. “It can’t be wrong for us to be together like this.” Her tongue licked salt from his neck, found his jaw, his chin.

“It’s wrong,” he said.

“It’s not wrong for wolves to prey on rabbits; is it?” She took her lover’s face in her hands. “Now that we’re the same, we’ll hunt together. We were meant to share… everything. ” Her hands grabbed his hair, pulling his face down to hers. She sucked his lips, nipping the flesh. His passion rose, breaking free to match her own.

His fingers traced the four long strips torn into her side. Already the wounds were beginning to heal. Despite himself, he longed for the next full moon – with her by his side.

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Gotcha! . by Doris Dembosky

Brutus stretched his neck turning it first to the right and then the left. Then he rolled his shoulders, and finally he worked his back- stretching his spine disc by disc.

He licked his lips, sighed, and closed his eyes. Life was good. He wished he had taken a drink before going to bed, but he was too tired to get up and remedy his mistake.

He’d had a good day. Other than his brief encounter with that pesky squirrel, he’d had a good day. Granted, the squirrel was good looking- especially when the sun backlit his tail… gold-plating each fine hair. And yet, aside from the fact that the squirrel was a fine specimen of his kind, Brutus despaired of the squirrel’s behavior.

If the squirrel wasn’t digging in the garden, he was emptying the bird feeder. Sunflower seeds chock-a-blocked his cheeks. And if that wasn’t enough, Brutus could have sworn that the squirrel had winked at him. Talk about adding insult to injury! The squirrel was too smug… too full of himself.

As Brutus fell into sleep, his dreams took a sinister turn.

If you had seen Brutus, curled up on his doggie bed, his legs twitching, his lower lip a-tremble, you never would have guessed that in his dream, he was calling a meeting. All the other dogs on the block were coming. The squirrel’s days of winking were numbered.

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Fly, Fish . by Nicole Cartwright Denison

It wasn’t like she could wrangle the hook from its mouth. It was still alive, after all, unlike those Biology specimens, those dissected fish, frogs, rabbits, and pigs. Each time the knife sliced through the fish-skin, the scales sometimes stuck to her ungloved hands, and when she got home she saw them all over her face, which she touched a thousand times a day, wiping and scratching her forehead and eyes. The glint of them as she tilted her face in sunlight, the prisms of color reminiscent of mermaids, her grandmother’s living room, the crystals lustrous in the riverside window.

She made sticky strings between her fingers with the slick mucus from the trout’s belly, its fuchsia stripe sparkling with each turn toward the sun, like pools of gasoline that stain concrete driveways. She enjoyed toying with the fish now that it was out of water, its gaping mouth opening in a rhythm of breath, its eyes like a doll’s pulled out of its head. But the hook presented a bigger predicament like catching the fleshy part of her index finger, causing tetanus to set up, the horror of lockjaw, of rust in her blood.

She stroked the trout against a rock, angling the mouth open, sliding the hook into a crevice worn by water and time. The hook slipped from the mouth, paused in wide position, a mute gesture resembling surprise, delight, consent.

She knew hooks, like dissections, were involuntary.

She knew what it took to never get caught.

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The Taming . by Catherine Davis

This snit – furious with even the cats. Silkily they glide beside, round ankles, cross keyboard – trailing me. N-n-never screamscold a cat.

I need to run. Rampant, amok, wild on the savannah.

Ding-a-ling, La Friendessa, getting back. “WHAT!” I woof. “Always, you gotta get off, oh! – the subway, doctor, thrift-store, museum! For pooch-type predicaments, I had patience. So, you ever gonna replace that Pippy, god rest her, or what?” Click off, craving an old rotary you could clang down good.

Scrambling to locate my hat. Shoes, key!

The cats have chins pulled in by the time I break out.

Half a block on, trotting away: this frigid raindrop splats on my lid. I spit on the street and glare at the sky: raise ya!

Convinced I have a secret strain of asthma, undetectable unless confessed. My doctor’s long distance – in subways, no doubt, or museums. Huff on.

A Labrador ahead, pee-pausing on hydrant.

Chew over unreturned messages, e.g., Mr. Placid’s hep-tone text: Wanna catch a flick? (Scram! Don’t you get this isn’t MOVIE time?)

To the hydrant: “All-fucking-ready 2011!” Kick that pee-marked sucker to the ouch.

Here’s a station-wagon dogging me now. Not! Stopping! Busy, see? Even if it is Father, reclusive these twenty years since he died. Sure, when I lunge to latch on, that silver wagon disappears in a swirl of exhaust.

Back to the house with a limp. The cats sit Egyptian on the staircase, watchful. Sotto sotto now, watching these watchers, I breathe their rhythm.

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Considering the Ants . by Thomas O’Connell

Go to the ant, thou sluggard. Consider her ways, and be wise
-Proverbs 6:6

If every unbaptized baby becomes an ant, why are there so many ants? Could so many babies be lost? The hospital intensive care units are always full, keeping them wired to monitors lest they start growing antenna and their little bodies start to section away.

Ants roam the cracked asphalt of our driveway, searching for food to bring home to their associates working so diligently below. We try to trick them on a lazy Sunday afternoon. After skimming through the newspaper, my daughter and I lie on our stomachs by low edged cups of sugar, salt, and honey. We observe the ants, waiting for them to discover the substances, speculating as to which they will choose. My daughter marks each ant’s preference on a sheet of loose-leaf paper, each hash mark building statistics that will be included on a science fair tri-board. The ants do not know they are part of our experiment, poor babies being tricked again.

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A Case of Mistaken Identity . by Stella Pierides

Diamond doves are small, beautiful birds, which can be kept as pets,
‘Wiki-Marion’ told me once. Since I knew she enjoys dispensing
information, I did not think more about it, until she invited me to
see her new pet, “Love”.

A bird of beauty! Light blue-grey head, neck, and breast; dark bill,
spotted wings fringed in black; orange eyes. I fell in love with Love.
He kept bow-cooing, fluffing his wings, strutting, kissing Marion’s
hand. I felt jealous, knowing I could not compete with my friend for
the bird’s affections.

Walking back home, I stopped at the park, looking for doves, ducks and
this winter’s migratory birds. None had the exquisite and delicate
beauty of the diamond dove. I was heartbroken by the time I arrived
home, vowing to stop visiting Marion to avoid the pain.

A few weeks later, she phoned me. “Love died,” she announced.

“What?”

“These birds seem to fall in love with their owner if they don’t have
a bird partner. I encouraged his bonding to me. But that was all I
could do – I could not let him mate with my hand as if it were a
female! He felt rejected and died of love.”

“It was only an animal. Animals behave differently,” I said, breaking
into hysterical laughter.

I put the phone down struck by an acute pang of unease. Who are the
animals here, I asked myself, my face burning with shame.

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Boy . by Melissa McEwen

This town is a town not found on any map. Here, in this town, the boys have nicknames meant for dogs like Buddy, Boy, Goody, and Sport and become men at ten. They learn to drive and smoke by the time they are 12. Boy started smoking Viceroy Cigarettes at 9. He doesn’t have to sneak and do it either. He smokes in front of his father and with his mother, in the kitchen, while she fries bacon, gossips, and coughs.

In this town, the boys with nicknames meant for dogs are like dogs themselves —the way they come and go as they please. Their folks just leave the door unlocked for them and go to bed.

So when Boy wasn’t at the kitchen table for breakfast one morning, his parents just figured he was still at the river fooling around with Goody and them; he’s never on time. But when Goody came over asking for him, his mother said, “He’s probably out driving Stringbean around,” and went to answer the phone. It was Stringbean asking for Boy.

“He’s not home, yet” his mother said to the girl on the phone, looking at her husband who said, “Boy’s alright,” with his mouth full. And he meant it because, here, nothing happens to anybody (good or bad). Boys don’t drown or run their trucks off the road. They die from old age, like family dogs stretched out on the front porch sleeping away their days.

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Leta Rhymes with Cheetah . by Michelle McEwen

Leta ain’t one of us. She got the same last name as us; she got the same mama and daddy, but she’s not one of us. We Wilson sisters got straight, pretty teeth— Not Leta. Leta (rhymes with Cheetah) got fangs. Daddy says the fangs are from his side; he says his daddy had fangs. But in pictures, daddy’s daddy’s fangs don’t look sharp like Leta’s. “That’s ‘cause granddaddy had human fangs—Leta got animal fangs,” I said once and my other sisters agreed. Most folks, after meeting Leta, say she acts like a boy, but it’s more than that— she’s more animal than boy. Folks think ‘cause she can’t cook or fill out dresses that makes her a boy. I wanna tell them how Leta’s more like something dragged in from outside. It don’t matter that she was raised inside, Leta’s always gonna have that outside blood. The rest of us Wilsons are inside blooded. I wish, though, I was made up of the stuff Leta is made of. One night, I caught her slipping out the hall window. I let her get far enough ahead then I followed her to behind the supermarket where some boy was waiting. He wasn’t from around here. He was what daddy would call a “football boy.” I saw Leta run to him, knock him down and kiss him. What came next I shouldn’t have watched, but Leta – undressed – started climbing all over him like he was a tree instead of a boy.

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Marla and Tyler . by Al McDermid

The first thing to slip through the fog in my head is Sublime screaming, “My god, what is that awful smell?” As if a cue, I whiff. Clove cigarettes, the cloying scent reaching me through the wool covering my face. I try to reach up to move it away only to find that my arms are trussed behind me, tied to my feet; when I try to speak, I then taste the ball gag. What the . . . Okay, try to think. Sublime, clove cigarettes, bondage . . . Marla and Tyler. They must have roofied me.

I’d met Marla and Tyler, a sub/dom switch couple who get their kicks taking turns dominating each other, the week before at ‘Mistress’, an SM show club. I was bored and curious, so I put on a bunch of black and went for a look. Should have known they were wrong when I heard their names. What are the chances of an actual pair, never mind an SM couple, having those names?

I struggle helpless against the restraints, but at least get my face uncovered. Outside the streetlights blink by rhythmically.

“Looks like she’s awake,” Marla says, turning around to look at me. “You wanted to feel something real, this is real.” I make a muffled sound and try uselessly to sit up. “Don’t worry,” she continued, “if you were in actual danger, you’d be in the trunk.”

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Feral . by Heather Taylor

Jamie lifted her head into the wind nostrils flared. Flies performed aerial mating dances around her head as she ran then, deft in her foot placement left rock right rock jump over stinging nettle, drop and roll under supple jack run again no pause calloused bare feet making no sound one toenail ripped off arms levering body forward through trees gash in thigh gushing serum and pus. Blood encrusted arm raised high and one kuri was down. The rest fled tails tucked into bums. Jamie scooped up the still warm bambi carcass and slung it over her shoulders yanked the spear from the guts of the dead kuri and sprinted uphill to the caravan she had found.

Under the crusted mud a watch on her wrist still ticked. The date read 20 Sep 2012. A house below her stood empty yellow paint peeling, open windows home to spiders’ webs so thick they were black in the shadows carpet dancing with fleas searching for a feed, dust layer upon layer colouring the sinks the couch the beds the desk grey, empty lawns creeping up the walls green runners of kikuyu and orange nasturtium flowers out of control visible to Jamie who stood sweating on the hill above. She laughed. It came out a cracked cackle. Blood from the deer dripped between her breasts. She dipped her finger in it and licked.

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Playing Safe . by Nicolette Wong

She takes a last drag of my cigarette, her eyes squinting at the stranger who has travelled half the globe to walk down her street. As she relishes the last smoke ring, I turn to leave.

‘Are you sure you aren’t coming with me?’ she asks, passing me the cigarette butt stained with my saliva and her dark red lipstick. Against the lamp post she looks tall and rough in a faux fur coat, her skin the color of sand. Her eyes speak of an old soul I once met, a girl who went on all fours on my table like a wild cat.

I throw the cigarette butt into the bin.

‘You’re going to be in good hands,’ she says.

Does she have vodka bottles hissing on the windowsills too, when the wind blows through the afternoon shadows? I bet this one is too busy to notice anything beyond her bed and nightstand. She must work all day, whenever she manages to pick up a customer on the street. I’m not strong enough for that.

Past the entrance to my temporary home, I hear the whirling cry of a possum that is out to kill.

‘Has Wesley been out for the day?’ I ask my fiance.

‘No, he hasn’t,’ he says. ‘It’s not safe for a girl to wander around this neighborhood at night.’

I grab our cat and put him on my lap. There are too many ways to be safe.

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White Room . by Matthew A. Hamilton

Freedom inside the white room
is liberation from nothing.
I have nothing. I once had an opinion,
but even that was taken away from me.
A Manipulative shadow in a white coat
breathes crimson fire
black smoke
blue mist
a deceptive light
in the unpredictable
darkness.
I was diagnosed as deranged.
I have been transformed from
society man to asylum master. I have gray
pajamas and swollen eyes.
I try to sleep, but my mind is ablaze with
greedy fire. The man in the next room is dead. I know
because I can no longer hear him talking to his dead sister
in the hallway. You can kill yourself with anything in here.
I am in the center of a doctrinaire universe, where
those who fear me scavenge my mind for a sickness that I do not have.
I am pushed into the solitary cold water room.
I submerge myself in the darkness. I search for cracks of light.
I feel my frozen muscles tighten. How long will it take me to die?

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Animal attraction . by Annette Rohde

“Hey, why don’t you come around for dinner? You can see my dog’s behaviour for yourself.”

It was his blue eyes that had me on the first blink. You could drown in those eyes. With one look, nothing else existed.

“Okay, that sounds great!” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I immediately regretted it. I can’t put myself through another failed relationship but I have totally fallen for his dog. “But I can’t see how this gorgeous dog of yours could behave anything like you say.”

Sitting in front of the fireplace, glass of red in hand, candles burning, I complimented him on a perfect dinner. “And there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with your dog at all, he’s an angel.”

“I think he has fallen for you so he’s on his best behaviour. The test will be when I get closer to you.”

I feel goosebumps as he moves closer. I can feel his breath on my neck, his dog at my feet.

As soon as he moves in to kiss me, the dog jumps up, licking our mouths like he’s trying to finish an ice block before it melts on a very hot day.

“Urgh, get off!” The look on his face goes from saying ‘I told you so’ to a look of confusion … I think I was looking at him as I said this.

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Going in Circles . by Fred Osuna

I reach the corner, stop, push the button, shove my hands into the pockets of my hoodie, stamp my feet to force some warmth into them. It is seventeen degrees on the street, but warmer than in that room with its plastic window pane, its curled and yellowing linoleum floor. The sun is shining here, though, even if the ice isn’t melting.

Once, I asked my father why Rex turned around three times before settling down for a nap. He told me it was because one good turn deserves another, then he laughed. Rex looked uncomfortable. Dad had no idea, I think now.

The light turns green, and I cross and double-back on the opposite side of the street. They’re watching me from that Chick-fil-A, through the window, that man and his two kids. One of the kids is pointing, his mitten dangling from the wrist of his orange parka. He’s pointing at me.

Sometimes there’s a Help Wanted sign on one of the shop windows, but not today. I could use some work, just to feel some food in my belly. I’d do anything that needs doing, even if it’s just taking out the garbage. I loop back around the block once more. Twice, just to be sure. Still no signs.

People see me. I want them to know that I’m serious. They must wonder why I keep circling the block. Do they? Do they wonder?

I’m like a dog, and they just don’t speak my language.

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The Season . by Kim Hutchinson

Fat, lazy snowflakes drifted down, dusting the street like icing sugar. One store window projected a warm glow onto the grey street. Over the window, the sign read Joffrey Russ, Fur Designer. Another read Retirement Sale.

It was a small concession, thought Russ as he looked out. He wasn’t retiring, just giving in. Forty-five earlier, downtown had been full of furriers and upscale shops. Now, his neighbors were a bohemian coffee shop and an Ethiopian restaurant.

Things had changed. In the game of social politics known as fashion, people no longer wore animal skins that were artistically shaped and colored. Instead, they dyed and pierced their own skin.

That was the difference between a man and a fox, he thought while fluffing the display. A fox is always a fox, from one scrounging, sniffing moment to the next. He changes when forced by lack of food, water or habitat. Man often changes because of boredom or because he’s following a notion of progress. A professional woman walked by wearing shoes reminiscent of a child’s patent leather dress-ups and a faux fur coat.

He’d ridden the fickle wave to success and a good life. He would not be bitter about the end of the season. He’d always marveled at the endless variety and characteristics of the skins he worked with, and he now felt the same admiration for his fellow humans.

Today, he thought, would be a good day to order Ethiopian food for lunch.

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THE HAND THAT FED . by Steven M. Stucko

Boat On The Water was my loyal companion for the most trying three years of my life. The handsome lab witnessed my last year drinking and my first two years of sobriety. Excruciatingly challenging times is no overstatement, a sentiment more than a few readers could verify.

Boat loved to swim in Weatherhead Hollow Pond where I have a cabin in southern Vermont. He would play with the mallard families which seemed to enjoy his shenanigans. One night Boaty and I saw a meteorite cross the sky and after that he would always look up when I let him out at night.

I had to put Boat down yesterday because he bit me again. He got easily spooked and would bite when confused. Personification and projection are not lost on me, yet it’s impossible not to try to understand animal behavior with what limited tools we humans possess.

I explained to him that our three years as best pals were up and thanked him profusely with kisses and hugs. I told him I have never needed companionship more intensely than that which he brought to my life. I told him he would sleep forever and dream of ducks and shooting stars. I never cried so hard as he licked at my tears.

I am sure other dog owners have loved their pets as much as I did, but I can assure you none have loved theirs more.

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Strings dangling from the sky . by Doug Bond

It had been this way for me for some time, their following always hooked about the edges of my shadow. It is Jacobs himself who later at the gallows shows me the white tusk of the boar.

In darkness flight was breathless, strong fisted. The moon had lifted high above the canyon, chaparral cloaked and rock strewn. I followed down a switchback and took into a run, coyote yips clipping up from the river bed flats. Four or five or maybe a dozen, impossible to gauge, with the sound of my boot strikes filling the silence between their hungry calls.

The razor branches began to take their toll and in time I joined their chorus tangling and crying like a giddy voiced schoolboy hauled to the floor and striped raw about the shoulders.

My legs wouldn’t stop, my hands reached out as if invisibly tethered to strings dangling from the star pocked sky. The trail ran out into nothing more than a tumble of sage and the foul, brackish silt of a sulphur spring, ruinous to my plans for further travel.

First light before dawn I am waked by the bristling of a low shaggy figure picking among the dead wood of the dry creek. Instinctively, I take to the lobbing of sharp edged rocks but in my present state of lassitude am too slow to recognize their target, and watch in helpless despair as the creature bucks straight in upon me.

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20 Seconds . by Stephen Hastings-King

He chews lamb peeled off the shank and hums quietly to himself thinking about the lines of birds arrayed along the opalescent gray ice surface of the river and the woman whom he talks from her own private ice flow where she is stranded, freezing and alone, not wanting to be there but not wanting to be elsewhere because not knowing how to be. Like the voice-over in a commercial his inward voice says: “There is only ointment as a place to store flies” as he pushes the lamb against the roof of his mouth and notes the geometry of sensations that radiate from it. Through the dim light across the bar a walrus man is talking loudly about himself again how little activity there is beneath that baseball hat, chewing without focus, fidgeting with a napkin.

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Linens . by Guy Yasko

I like my pillowcases and sheets. The colours are like mustard and
ketchup. The animals are friendly. The seal balances a beach ball on its
nose. The lion is smiling. He waits for orders. The giraffes and
elephants march side by side. The ringmaster’s whip stays on the
ground. Everything is in the right place.

Larry has the same sheets, but i don’t get the same feeling. His room
is sunny. He has the best dad ever. It’s different at my house.

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Rats . by Beate Sigriddaughter

Already uneasy about so much, especially her weightlessness, she happens to read about an experiment where rats were raised with regular electric shocks. They lived.

She remembers a boyfriend who gave her honeysuckle blossoms, but always only ones that had fallen off voluntarily, not ones deliberately plucked. He spoke once of the horror of trying to explain in the clinic that the doctor had ordered only one side for shock treatment, not both. The medical staff only sneered an impatient “yeah, yeah” into his petrified face.

Back to the rats. When they were grown, their cage doors were opened to cages in which there was the same amount of food, but no electric shocks. The rats were allowed to move from one cage to the other freely. They explored the new situation. Then, one by one, they returned to the devastating comfort of the familiar shocks.

She wants to cry. She talks to her husband instead, tells him about the rats. “It’s so sad,” she pleads.

“Yeah, yeah,” he says, looking up from his computer screen. “The way they use those rats in labs.”

“That’s not it,” she whispers. “What’s sad is that they returned to the pain.”

“Oh,” he says. “I thought you were sad because you cared about the animals.”

Her energy freezes, expands into silence, a thing she knows well. She aches for the wrong reasons.

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DEAD SINCE YESTERDAY . by Salvatore Buttaci

“I didn’t know she was dead,” Wainwright told the cops. “I didn’t know.”

The nude body of the blond hooker lay akimbo across the rumpled bed. Wainwright dropped one of his legs into his Armani trousers, then the other. Next, he tucked in his white Arrow shirt.

“She’d been dead since yesterday, said Detective Gwynne. “We got laws against this kind of sex,” Detective Gwynne said. “The courts and the nuthouses call it necrophilia. Ever hear of it? Or maybe you ain’t much for name calling. Prefer practice, and screw theory, huh?”

“I’m…I’m a college professor.” To Gwynne it sounded like an apology. “I teach British and American Poetry. I write poems. I’m not like..” He pointed to the dead woman.

Gwynne sucked air through his teeth. “Poems? Where you’re going, mack, I’d say, Don’t write any. You’ll either get a shiv through your throat or an engagement ring.”

“My wife,” began Wainwright, “she never moves when we make love. I thought maybe if I went out, found somebody else for a few hours. But she…” he throws his head back at the corpse. “she was the same…”

“Forget the tie,” said Gwynne, motioning Wainwright to put his hands behind his back. “Let’s get out of here. Your story ain’t the only thing that stinks!”

“I thought she was sleeping.”

“Yeah, yeah. Sleeping. Maybe you can write a poem about it, professor. Maybe a whole book of them.”

Gwynne led him down the creaking stairs of the no-tell motel.

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Match? . by Martin Brick

She asks with what animal he most associates. The wording of her IM trips him up. That’s different from your favorite animal. That’s different from what animal you think you’d be.

First to come to mind are the obvious cool choices. Tiger. Panther. Bear. The carnivores. Hunters. But those are all cliches, the things un-inventive tough guys request in a tattoo parlor. Then he eyes her profile photo, contemplates her tight, suggestive but still classy clothing, imagines that she might well be the type to wear leopard-print undergarments.

But she also wears glasses, and lists “books” as an interest, so he thinks in the opposite direction, of “thoughtful” animals. There’s a chance she likes dolphins, but hell if he’d associate with a dolphin, no matte how sexy the woman. Owl might work. Connotes wisdom, but is still a raptor. A creature of the night. Mysterious. Seems kinda old though.

Maybe something simple like dog. Not pretentious at all. Suggests loyalty. He’d like her to imagine him as loyal. But how many guys would say dog? It lacks originality. Better than wolf though. Cliché again.

Funny thing about wolves, people think “lone wolf,” but they mate for life. Not that he wanted to bring up mating for life – needy. But for kicks, he considers penguin, with that whole sticking with the egg thing. Or vultures. You discount vultures, but they’re loyal lovers. He saw this special on Animal Planet…

A message appears: “I take that as “turtle” ;)”

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Safari Club, Estacada OR, circa 1979 . by Chelsea Biondolillo

Our knives and forks clatter against the simple white plates. Over my grandfather’s shoulder, a leopard is frozen in mid-leap, his chipped claws sinking into a gazelle. The gazelle has been painted with red stripes to heighten the illusion of split-second predation.

I always ask to walk the perimeter of the restaurant. My grandmother takes my hand and we head first through the Arctic, where ermines, captured behind glass, are stuck forever half white. The walrus head seems impossibly large. She hoists me up so I can rub my fingers across his hard muzzle, play the whiskers like strings on a ukulele. Then under the jaguars leaping above the dance floor. The killing isn’t worrisome to me—the blood is paint, the postures of fear and survival, all posed. The hunter is long dead, too.

Back in the Serengeti, a lion carries an antelope in his mouth while a hyena menaces from across the glass case behind my chair. Dik-diks and warthogs edge the display, watching the drama unfold, presumably. The lion is dusty, and there is a cobweb between the “limp” antelope legs.

My grandfather saws through his Swiss steak while my grandmother navigates her Monte Cristo into and out of her raspberry jam. She dabs a red spot on her blouse with the corner of her napkin that’s been dipped in her ice water. I get the fisherman’s platter and devour everything but the oysters. We eat languidly, while hundreds of dull eyes look on.

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TREMOR . by D.L. Tricarico

The coyotes behind my house yammer like gossiping schoolgirls. Sparrows zip from tree to tree, sixteenth notes on a staff. Our neighbor’s cat stalks unseen prey in the great green expanse of their lawn. Even our own dogs race through the house, sniffing and searching, as if sensing buried treasure.

“What’s up with the dogs?” I say to my wife, trying to sound casual.

“Don’t know,” she says, rifling through her briefcase. “They’ve been going nuts all day.”

“Earthquake?”

I ask because she’s the animal person, not me. She understands animal behavior.

“Hope not,” she says, uncapping a pen. “Last one scared me to death.”

That was six month ago. We both ended up in the same doorjamb. It was the last time I touched her.

“Can we get this over with?” she says, handing me the pen. “I have to pick up Bree and be at the orthodontist at four.”

“Sure.” I try to be agreeable, though it’s hard.

“Cable people come tomorrow,” I tell her, stalling. “Phone’ll be in on Friday.” My new place is small, but not awful.

She gives me a look, so I sign and it’s done. Fifteen years erased in a pen stroke.

Without warning, my mind ignites with images of everything that man must have done to my wife in the past few months.

A coyote howls in the distance and I wonder when the world will both start, and stop, shaking.

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So near, yet so far . by Walter Bjorkman

1. Think about the theme, animal behavior

2. Make a mind leap to an obscure phrase about logic and probability that involves animals, to whit:

“Put a million monkeys in front of a million computers (typewriters) and sooner or later one will write the complete works of Shakespeare.”

keeping in mind that each keystroke has about a one in thirty-five chance, with all the punctuations, of being correct and in all of Shakespeare – ten million keystrokes? more? The statement is still correct.

3. The statement is about chance, not really animal behavior, so apply some, and have the monkey observing the humans as much as they are observing it.

4. Write about what monkeys do – beat off, throw shit.

5. Finish with a brilliant ending where it types the last line of Hamlet perfectly while doing its animal behavior, and blow the last letter. Then throw the shit at the crying researchers.

6. Result: Steps 2 – 5 are brilliant in concept and execution. But, see 7:

7. No one will make the obscure mind leap you did, they all have their own obscurities running around in their heads, and you do nothing to bring yours to light, making it a so what story where it takes all the way to the end to even realize it is a chimp that is thinking here, and not a sperm cell.

8. mmm – maybe if I change it to “To be or not to bz” . . .

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The Show Must Go On . by John Wentworth Chapin

At my niece’s Christmas pageant they had two dogs on stage, one dressed as a cow and the other as a donkey. That’s when I had the idea for a pageant for my obedience school at spring graduation, the Saturday before Easter.

I spent the whole winter preparing: wigs, robes. I abandoned beards, because the dogs kept pulling them off. A kid-sized wifebeater and pillowcase skirt were perfect biblical robes for all but the Rottweiler, so I made him a Centurion. His helmet was inspired.

I picked a border collie bitch to play Jesus. When she rolled that gray-painted beach ball away from her tomb, you should have heard the applause and the shouting. Praise be! Our Lord has risen! I was ecstatic.

How was I to know the little bitch was in heat?

I think the applause set the dogs off. Mary Magdalene started humping Our Savior first, and then Peter tackled the slattern, trying to get a piece. While they were fighting tooth and claw, the Centurion mounted Jesus and rode him like a rodeo bull around the lawn and down the center aisle between the folded chairs. One little girl started crying about her Pomeranian, the Messiah began howling, and then the audience was up, chasing the holy family all over the baseball diamond.

Praise be. It was a great idea, but Jesus’s puppies’ll be the devil to get rid of.

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Plunge . by Michelle Elvy

David Charles Terrence Saunders, DDS, stared into his blurry whisky glass and wondered just how he was going to get home. It had been Brad’s idea to come to The Mermaid Bar, though Dave had thought his strip bar days had ended when he’d asked Sally to marry him and she’d said yes.

But that was before Sally flew off with a flight attendant — a flight attendant, for chrissakes! – before Brad had convinced him that flyfishing and titties would cheer him up.

Dave could not help but be drawn in by the beauty of the gliding mermaid before him – the redhead who’d been swishing her tail at him all night long. He was mesmerized by all that wet — the waving green plastic kelp, the twinkling pink pebbles, the gold sparkles dancing on the wavelets. And the smooth dreamlike creatures in the enormous center-stage aquarium. He lost himself between his shallow whisky glass and the deep tank and spent most of the evening a world away from Sally, whose memory was quickly becoming dull and dry. As he drank in everything, he entered new levels of despair and joy. He could not be sure what attracted him more, the golden water or the girl, but he soon found himself sinking at an alarming rate to the bottom of the tank floor and gasping large mouthfuls of water, grey images of Sally swimming in his head as he looked to the redheaded mermaid to come to his rescue.

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52|250 thanks Catherine Davis for her photograph, Luck, this week. We asked Catherine what circumstances led to her picture Luck:

Life on the Petal River near Hattiesburg, Mississippi, was replete with lizards and tree frogs. The lizards most often caught my attention while inside the cottage, being terrorized by a couple of cats. Outside on the deck one afternoon, however, I spied underneath the patio table a bright green tree frog sitting on the shoulder of a bright green lizard. Such strangeness demanded a closer look, needless to say – whereupon I discovered that this was no tree frog at all, and the activity much more intimate than I had imagined.

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