Third Place: The Animals Are Becoming by Chantal Beaulne narrated by Hugo Jackson
Second Place: In the End We Will All Be Loved by Avery Kit Malone narrated by Kitty Sarkozy
First Place: Heart of Gold by Lauren Ring narrated by Alexis Goble
The Animals Are Becoming
by Chantal Beaulne
It all went wrong when my cat started walking on two legs.
He fell, over and over again. Yet each time he got back up on two feet.
At the time I thought it endearing. Mittens always knew when I needed a laugh.
Then I saw a deer standing in the woods. A proper deer should have run when seeing a human. But this one just stood there like some strange, stretched giant and stared back.
Next were the birds. At first I didn’t notice the changes – notes shifting in pitch, chirps stretching and straining.
It was only when the cat also started speaking that I realized birdsong had lyrics now.
Mittens didn’t have a mouth shaped for human speech. Familiar words were twisted into grotesque parodies of themselves, splitting open the English language to expose its component parts and base, guttural sounds. It grated. I retreated to another room whenever I heard the cat coming.
A peculiar smell permeated the air. The papers were rampant with speculation. Some said it was the smell that was changing the animals. Others said that the smell came from the animals. I didn’t know what to think. I just wished it would go away.
I put the cat outside and locked the door.
When Mittens was tall enough he knocked. I answered, eventually. He extended what was once a paw, which he clearly intended for me to shake. Ingrained manners urged me to take it before disgust’s better judgement could dissuade me.
He introduced himself with a name that was not Mittens. The name wasn’t something I could pronounce at all, nor did I wish to try. His ingratitude stuck in my craw. I told him that he didn’t know Tuesday from a teacup, so how could he know anything at all, much less what to call itself?
Although no-one really knew what The Cat was now. It wasn’t finished becoming it.
I had my suspicions.
The Cat has been sneaking into my bathroom at night to use my razor. Whatever’s changing it is apparently not enough anymore. It’s choosing this now, going against its very nature. But I won’t let it forget what it is, no matter what it becomes.
Sometimes I think they’re trying to imitate us – that soon we won’t be able to tell them apart from real humans.
At other times I think they’re becoming something else – something more than human. Why blend in when they can supplant us?
The Cat tried to embrace me, said it loved me. I pushed it away. It got back up, always, it gets back up, but it didn’t try to touch me again. I told it to walk on four legs, as God intended.
But we live in godless times now.
I never found out what The Cat was becoming. I stopped it from changing further.
There are still the others. I read about them in the papers.
I’ll stop them from becoming, too.
In the End We Will All Be Loved
by Avery Kit Malone
Today I found a still alive snail on a piece of grass. I did not go very far outside, only just past the door, only for a minute, to look outside and see if I could find you coming back. I took the snail inside with me. I hope that is okay. I put it in a jar so it won’t put slime on the floor and I gave it some pieces of grass, which I hope it will eat. I hope it is okay because now I have a still alive friend with me while I wait for you.
I am thinking about how I miss Daddy. I hope I will see him again, even though you said I wouldn’t and you hit me on the mouth when I said I didn’t want to move away without him. I think that maybe if you talked you would be friends again. I know you said that Daddy made a sin by cheating but you also told me God forgives us if we pray.
Right now I’m not scared even though I would like to see you and Daddy. I know there’s nothing to be scared of, because you said that when Jesus comes back to take us away into the sky, we will all go to heaven and be loved by God. I shouldn’t say this but I think I am kind of afraid to see God. I hope I get to be here a little bit longer.
I did not know that the angels would be in big metal circles when they got here from the sky. They came down after you went to the store. I didn’t know they would look like that. It’s hard to look at their faces. I think they would look better if they had lips. Then they could smile, at least. I am also scared of how they sound like a grown-up boy screaming.
I am sorry to say that I’m hiding from the angels, Mommy. Maybe you will hit me for telling you, but I hope they don’t find me. I saw Ellie from next door outside when I looked through a window, and an angel found her, and it did something with its claws. I hid because Ellie was screaming really loud, and it made me cry. When I looked again Ellie was laying down and not moving and her stomach was gone and I could see red stuff inside her and I know that she was dead, and she went to heaven.
Mommy I know you said you would be right back but I am hungry and people outside are screaming and going to heaven and it has already gotten dark and also now I can hear angels right outside. Please come back soon. I will show you my drawing I have been working on of me and you and Daddy in heaven. You and Daddy will be holding hands.
I think angels are at the door.
Heart of Gold
by Lauren Ring
My mother tells me that in the East they practice kintsugi, the art of repairing broken pottery pieces by filling the gaps with golden lacquer. Her closest relation to Japan is the sushi she ate once before going vegan, but she thinks that hiding the cracks is a beautiful way to make something out of nothing. I ask her why she thinks they are hiding anything. She ignores me, and asks me if I want to be something someday.
My mother, she of the essential oils and herbal supplements, tells me that I am broken. She takes all of my pills away, lest they poison my brain. I know she has my best interests at heart. When I wail in the dark of night, she holds my hand and tells me that it will all be better soon. Then she leaves, and I cry myself into a fitful sleep.
My mother tells me to drink up. She holds out a steaming mug, the kind she uses for her endless teas and elixirs. I pour the boiling concoction down my throat, wanting to please, expecting to taste honeyed chamomile. Rough clumps of powder make me gag. I cough and spit some of the drink on the floor, where it sizzles through the carpet. My mother frowns. I plaster on a smile and drain the cup.
My mother, clapping her hands in delight, tells me that it’s working. The liquid cracks apart my capillaries and fills them with molten gold. My veins glimmer against my white skin like delicate metalwork, and my sleepless, bloodshot eyes now shine. I admire myself in the mirror even as the gold burns me from the inside out. It’s getting hard to breathe. I know something has gone wrong, but–
My mother tells me that I am beautiful now.
About the Authors
Chantal Beaulne can pass as normal until she sees a blinking cursor or an unattended pen. Vancouver, Canada grudgingly lets her live there as long as she slowly drains her lifeforce into two-dimensional drawings and puppets that are used to entertain children. While not pursuing her career in animation, she is a writer and comics artist.
Her work has been published previously on Podcastle and New Myths.
Avery Kit Malone is a doctoral student, an insomniac, and most definitely not a cultist trying to bring forth the Crawling Chaos. Definitely. His short fiction recently appears or is forthcoming in Grimoire, After the Pause, Aphotic Realm, The Gateway Review, Unspeakable: A Queer Gothic Anthology, and other venues.
Lauren Ring (she/her) is a perpetually tired Jewish lesbian who writes about possible futures, for better or for worse. Her other short fiction is forthcoming from Helios Quarterly. When she isn’t writing speculative fiction, she is pursuing her career in UX design or attending to the many needs of her cat Moomin.
About the Narrators
Kitty Sarkozy is a speculative fiction writer, corporate customer service trainer, voice actor and professional robot girlfriend living in Atlanta, GA. She has a rather non-specific set of questionably useful skills, a plethora of hobbies, and almost enough cats. When not writing or on the phone, she stays entertained as a background actor and rogue. Follow her adventures at kittysarkozy.com.
Alexis Goble is a multiclass disaster-human living with her husband in Cincinnati. When she isn’t prepping art for Cast of Wonders, designing pins for pin-y.com, or yelling about TV into a mic for Bald Move, she dabbles in a revolving menu of hobbies and art projects. To list them all would be sheer madness. Like any good bisexual, she has a lot of jackets. You can find her on Twitter @alexisonpaper.