AT THE GOOSEBERRY COTILLION • by Samuel Barnhart

Snowcloud says you don’t begin a story except at the place where things start happening. But if I were to begin with the tyrannosaurus blasting through the front windows of the Delphine estate’s ballroom during their annual Gooseberry Cotillion, and those big jaws crushing up dear, beautiful Nell, you would have no understanding of why such a thing could happen on the most important night of any girl’s life.

Nor does it seem right to go back to the weeks leading up to the Gooseberry Cotillion when myself, Nell and Snowcloud chose our clothes and assessed what to do with our hair. We took for granted that we three should be invited, our families knowing the Delphines from way back. Certainly there were girls ‘on the fence’, and it was one of them who caused the whole mess that ended with fifty dead, and triple that wounded.

Her name was Lusette. If she had a family name I never heard it uttered. I know some girls of her class who can be decent when they think on it first, but Lusette was not one. “Careless of word and deed“, Snowcloud says. Snowcloud is a quoter, but I love her dear.

I suppose where I might begin is the time Claude Delphine threw Lusette’s skirts over her head, and he let everyone in the park that day have a good laugh at the patched holes in her panties. Before then, Lusette didn’t seem the sort to care about the Gooseberry Cotillion; not every student of science is social. Yet being Claude’s family was holding the dance, suddenly she was keen to get invited. Someone should have been suspicious.

Perhaps the best place to start would be when we arrived at the Gooseberry Cotillion, rows of bushes along the path stuffed with those ripe orange berries, the Cotillion’s namesake. And the moon hanging up so big it was practically holy. Snowcloud tells me I should not call a heathen object like the moon ‘holy’, but more than twice I have heard it considered a heavenly body so I shall leave that in.

Though the three of us knew well the Delphines, to stand in that ballroom it seemed like another world, so polished it could never tarnish or dim. We were the last to arrive, as was our custom. Plenty of others were already dancing or gabbing. Of course Lusette was not among them. She hadn’t made the cut, and her name didn’t enter until the tyrannosaurus did.

A fine place to start this, I think, would be with Nell’s dress that night. She wore a shimmery gown the color of autumn leaves right before they glide off the trees. And all that dark, thick hair of hers piled like a monument. Claude danced with her immediately, whisked her off the moment she came through the doors.

Not long after, the tyrannosaurus busted in and glass went everywhere. Those huge teeth were aimed for Claude, but the coward shoved Nell into them before he fainted, and they crunched her right up instead. Practically everybody else set out screaming and running like we didn’t all have mothers from good families. They got chomped and stomped upon and such blood and guts covered the place it sickens my heart to remember. The Delphines had such lovely wallpaper.

Snowcloud and I stood firm, and that may be where I should start as it was then we took action, though I was scared and am not ashamed to say it. We shinnied up the drapes from a curtain rod that had been left hanging on the wall by one side, caught onto the tyrannosaur’s tail and crawled our way over its back.

Lusette was atop the tyrannosaurus. Just had her skinny legs squeezed around its collarbone. She was laughing louder than we all had been that day in the park. I grabbed her by the neck and we both tumbled onto the ballroom floor. Snowcloud had torn off and knotted her sleeves, was using them to rein the tyrannosaur. It was traumatic to see such a pretty dress ruined, but Snowcloud says “There is no better use for a thing than to survive thanks to it”.

When the police arrived they took Lusette from where I had pinned her down. Both Snowcloud and myself could attest to her murderous intent, though Claude Delphine tried without success to wedge his own name into the record as a hero. He wasn’t even called to testify against Lusette at the trial, which just goes to show. The tyrannosaurus was destroyed, which seems a shame considering the science it took to create, but what would you do with it anyway?

As I look over these words, pondering how I should begin, I see I have in fact reached the end of my true account of my time at last season’s Gooseberry Cotillion. Snowcloud suggests I should mourn Lusette. There are those who call her misguided, even justified, but I am not one of them. Lusette’s death sentence was bought and paid for the day she grew a tyrannosaur in her laboratory. I save my sorrow for those who deserve it. And if anyone in this world has earned sorrow, particularly mine, it is dear, beautiful Nell.


Samuel Barnhart’s short stories have appeared all over the Internet, occasionally in print, and at least once on stage. He sometimes blogs at sambarnhart.tumblr.com, and lives in South Florida.


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