Photography by Paul Sulsky

In Association with

2016 BSFS Amateur Writing Contest winners at Capclave. Pictured from left: 1st place winner Irette Y. Patterson, 2nd place winner J.D. Gordon, and 3rd place winner S.L. Carney

2013 BSFS Amateur Writing Contest winners at Capclave. Pictured from left: 3rd place winner Eric Guy, 2nd place winner Rachel Kolar, and 1st place winner Holliann R. Kim

The Baltimore Science Fiction Society Amateur Writing Contest promotes the creation of quality genre literature in the state of Maryland. The contest was first held in 2013, and past winners are listed below. Click here for contest details and how to enter.

First place - "Beastly Little Boy" by Emily Dorffer
Second place - "The Pawn Shop of Intangible Things" by Margery Bayne
Third place - "Somewhere In Between" by Nicholas Meriwether

First place - "Witch Ball" by Irette Y. Patterson
Second place - "A Day in the Life of the Man Who Murdered 100 Billion People" by J.D. Gordon
Third place - "Piledriver" by S. L. Carney

First place - "A Thousand Solomons" by Christopher Mark Rose
Second place - "Hunted" by T. Eric Bakutis
Third place - "To Each, A Place" by Michael B. Tager

First place - "Captain Verge in the 21st Century!" by David Vaughan
Second place - "Very Happy and Very Productive" by Sherri Woosley
Third place - "Progenitor" by Rob Ross

First place - "Creatures of the Holy Well" by Holliann R. Kim
Second place - "Default" by Rachel Kolar
Third place - "DIY" by Eric Guy

Beastly Little Boy
by Emily Dorffer

Bernard's claws clicked on the tile floor as he paced in front of the kitchen counter. Alice glanced at her son as she coated the last of his dozen salmon fillets in a mixture of dill, parsley, and ground valerian root, silently praying that the herbs would mask the taste of the potent sedative. The way his muscles rippled beneath his fur sent chills down her spine, but his muzzle was mercifully blood free today.

“ What on earth is that smell, anyway? ” said Bernard as he wrinkled his nose. “ It smells like something died in here. ”

“ It's a new herb I'm experimenting with. ” Bernard snorted. If he were still a human, then he probably would have rolled his eyes. “ Just give it a try for me, okay? It's supposed to be full of vitamins. Now, would you rather have your salmon raw or cooked? ”

“ Raw, of course, ” the bear responded in a rumbling voice much too deep for a ten-year-old as the fur on his hackles rose. “ You know how gross and tasteless it is otherwise. ”

Alice put her hands up in a placating gesture. “ Take it easy, honey. I'm just checking. It isn't exactly easy to get used to someone eating so much raw seafood without getting sick. ” She put all the salmon onto a plate, added a generous handful of blueberries, and set Bernard's dinner onto the floor. “ If you ever get tired of eating salmon, I'd be more than happy to get you something else the next time I go shopping. ”

Bernard growled and flattened his ears against his head. “ Is this about the fawn? ”

Alice's trembling hand instinctively went to the series of thin scars on her arm, a constant reminder of what her son could do if she angered him. Merely waking him up from a nightmare had been enough for him to claw her arm. The fawn, left mangled and half-eaten in the bushes behind her house last week, hadn't been nearly as lucky.

The bear's eyes widened as they tracked her hand. “ It was an accident, ” Bernard muttered.

Alice had no idea whether he was talking about the fawn or the scars on her arm. Either way, he ended the discussion by holding his plate in place with his front paws and bending down to devour his dinner. His mother pulled out her notepad and pencil, pretending to jot down a few ideas for her next Camper's Digest article as she watched him eat, making sure he ingested all of the sedative.

Sure enough, all twelve of the salmon fillets flew down his throat without a single speck of herbs or valerian root left on the plate. The blueberries followed suit moments later, leaving a purple stain on Bernard's muzzle. He turned to leave for his nightly foraging trip.

“ You know I'm not going to let you leave the house looking like that. ”

Bernard sighed. “ As if it matters what I look like at this point. ” Nonetheless, he stood still while his mother wet a paper towel and scrubbed at the juice around his mouth.

She felt through his fur for burs and parasites before ruffling the fur on his head. “ That's better. Remember, I expect you to be ready to come inside by 9. ”

Bernard grunted and ventured out into the yard. He looked far more at home among the maple trees and fallen leaves than he did within the actual house as he pawed through the leaf litter, searching for mushrooms.

It didn't take long for the sedative's effects to become noticeable. Within minutes, Bernard yawned and flopped down with a huff, shutting his eyes.

Alice scurried over to the phone and grabbed it so tightly that her knuckles turned white, but she still found herself pausing. She could still stop her plan if she wanted to; Bernard would probably dismiss his sleepiness as a sign that he would be ready to start hibernating soon. Her fingers hovered over the phone's buttons. What was she doing? This creature may be hard to deal with, but he was still her son. Could she really live with her decision knowing that she would never see her little boy again?

Alice's eyes wandered over to the picture of her husband that she kept in the kitchen. What would he think of what she was doing? As she stared into her deceased husband's eyes, she found her answer: Ulysses would have been ashamed to know that she had even considered this plan. He would have told her to buckle down and do everything she could to help their son no matter how terrifying his transformation was instead of running from her problems.

Just as she was about to put the phone back on the receiver, Alice reminded herself of what had happened to her husband after he had decided he could deal with a bear. Two years ago, the park ranger had tried to distract an overprotective mother bear while the other rangers ran away. His plan had worked, but it had cost him his life.

Alice whispered an apology to her husband's picture and gave it a quick kiss. She refused to die at the paws of a beast the same way he had.

If the mangled fawn carcass Alice had found the week before was any indication, there might not be anything left of Bernard's humanity by the time this transformation was complete. He already wasn't her little boy anymore. It might not be long until he wasn't her little bear either.

Before she could lose her nerve, Alice called one of her husband's former coworkers with trembling fingers and an even shakier voice. “ Hello, I would like to report a bear sighting near my house.“

The rangers told Alice to remain calm and stay as far away from the bear as possible; they were on their way. Alice put the phone down after she assured the rangers that she would be careful. It was only then that the reality of the situation sunk in: her son would be relocated. The rangers would move him to an area with plenty of food, water, and a cozy den where he could hibernate through the winter without disturbing any humans, including her.

Alice couldn't resist peeking out the window to watch Bernard. Her son would be much happier without his mother constantly failing to treat him with the proper amount of unconditional love a child deserved and the proper amount of respect a bear demanded, but Alice would miss her little troublemaker. She still remembered the special sweetness he used to show when apologizing to her for his various acts of mischief back when he was a normal kid. He would pick dozens of flowers just for her and bombard her with kisses until she forgave him. Alice had to bite her lip to keep herself from crying at the memory of the sweet son she had lost.

Alice desperately wanted her little boy back; she hoped her gargantuan bear would at least remember her. She could see the mound of fur curled up outside, but something was wrong. The bear was moving.

The grizzly hauled himself onto his feet. He opened his powerful jaws in a massive yawn, exposing his monstrous teeth. It wasn't hard to imagine those fangs stained with blood.

Both Alice and Bernard swung their heads in the direction of a small group of men that had begun sneaking up on the bear from within the underbrush. Alice knew the rangers meant no harm, but Bernard didn't seem to reach that conclusion. He reared up on his hind legs, towering over the noticeably intimidated yet fiercely determined men as they continued their steady approach.

When Bernard roared at the men, everyone involved looked absolutely terrified. The rangers crouched, ready to run for their lives at a moment's notice. The youngest of the group reached toward the gun in his pocket with a trembling hand. He froze with his fingers on the grip after one of his fellow rangers shook his head. Alice could hardly believe her ears. The same bear that had criticized her cooking that same day could no longer talk, let alone yell. Bernard himself looked more terrified than Alice had ever seen him. He had dropped back down onto all fours and was letting out a series of miserable noises that sounded more like a panic attack than anything else. He rubbed his muzzle with his paw as if to check if it was still his.

One of the rangers took advantage of the bear's confusion and shot a tranquilizer dart into his shoulder. Bellowing what his mother assumed was a scream, Bernard charged at the men with the dart protruding from him like the world's largest thorn. The rangers scattered into the underbrush to wait for the creature to collapse as he halted several feet away from them, sides heaving.

Bernard swung his head around to try to dislodge the dart, but he couldn't quite reach it. After half a dozen attempts, he gave up as his motions became increasingly sluggish. The last thing Bernard did before falling unconscious and being taken away via helicopter was to look through the kitchen window at his guilt-ridden mother.

Alice would never forget the fear shining in those eyes.

© Emily Dorffer 2017

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