Congratulations to Tina Egnoski and her story “Do You Believe?” which was our third runner up for the Short Story Award For New Writers, a prize that awards payment, publication, and agency review from Katherine Fausset from Curtis Brown to three stand-out stories. “Do You Believe?” follows a mother and son on the hunt for a mythical creature, while navigating a school bully and acknowledging the distance parents must keep while their children grow up.
We’re on our bellies, slithering commando-style through the underbrush of Graham Park. My son, Wesley, has clipped a Nerf Vortex around his torso with an old belt and double-striped his cheeks with greasepaint. Very Army grunt. I’m packing my own plastic pistol, a bright orange two-barrel that fits snugly in my palm. Our foam bullets have suction cup tips. At a time like this—hot on the haunches of the elusive beast—I should be worried about a left-flank ambush or a Blitzkrieg of claws and rabid teeth, but I’m not. We have a better chance of returning home with ticks in our ears than finding what we’re looking for.
Wesley says, “Get down, Mom. He might see you.”
I can’t resist, I say, “How much lower can I go?”
He snorts, his way of letting me know he’s well aware he drew the short straw in the mother lottery.
Our hunt, not the first and certainly not the last, was spurred by the sighting in these woods of an unidentified wild animal. A month ago, at the eastern edge of the park, where a medical building borders the woods, a group of lab workers on a cigarette break spotted a strange, four-legged creature darting among the holly and fern. One of them, a phlebotomist named Beth, described it as a hairless, nuclear rat, with outsize ears and a long tail. “The teeth were as long as fangs,” she said. “The stuff of nightmares.” When the local newspaper ran the story, Beth decided to lure the animal closer. Sliced hot dogs did the trick and she took a picture with her cell phone. The paper ran that the following day, dubbing the animal the New England Chupacabra. The picture is a blurry close-up—maybe her hand was quaking with fear—and all you see is a pair of hunched shoulders and a gnarl of bared teeth.
Since then, Wesley has bled the public library shelves of every book on the supernatural. He has scoured the Internet for sites on the unexplained. Bigfoot and Loch Ness. The Devil Bird of Sri Lanka and the Monkey-man of New Dehli. Skunk Ape, Mothman, Jackalope. At nine, he has the faith of life-long evangelist. With enough research, with a catalog of habits and habitats of similar creatures, he will be the one to discover the truth about our very own monster.
I try, I try, I try to suppress it, but I can’t. I sneeze.
Wesley stands up, unclips his belt and drops his weapon to the ground.
“Great, Mom, now you’ve ruined it.” His mouth is a vexed pucker. These days, in all my dealings with him, I leave a sour taste.
“I’m sorry, it was out of my control. Your nose says sneeze, you sneeze.”
I stand up, too, un-crimping my achy knees.
It’s late afternoon, around four, I’d say, by the angle of the autumn sun. Columns of light, hazy with ragweed pollen, flick between maple trunks. There’s a hundred acres of woods here. The animal could be anywhere. The real chupacabra—I should say, the original—is half-mammal, half-myth, first reported in Puerto Rico in the 1990s after farmers discovered dozens of sheep dead and drained of blood, puncture wounds in their skin. Since then, sightings have been reported throughout South America and Texas, as far north as Maine. Could one have made a home in our small Massachusetts town in 2013?
“Let’s call it a day,” Wesley says.
We holster our weapons.
To read the rest of this Short Story Award winner, click here.