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Hearst: In-Depth Winners

In Awards, Hearst, IDS on February 9, 2011 at 8:47 am

Danielle Paquette and Jess Haney recently placed sixth and eighth, respectively, in Hearst’s In-Depth writing contest. Here are excerpts from their winning stories:

DANIELLE PAQUETTE (IDS)

Capturing a hungry tiger requires patience.

Three days after Christmas, on a gray 15-degree morning in Angola, Ind., Joe Taft tries to coax a female Bengal out of her enclosure for the second straight hour. She refuses to budge.

“Come on, dear,” Taft says, brandishing a severed deer leg. “Come on, Savannah.”

To an outsider, the scene may resemble an action sequence crafted in Hollywood: A 65-year-old man wrangles a 250-pound exotic beast in the middle of an abandoned amusement park. His team, a group of four warmly bundled animal handlers, stand by an open travel crate, ready to drop the hinge door and hoist her into a Penske rental truck.

Any minute now.

Today’s objective is routine for Taft, a seasoned tiger rescuer. Before sundown, his team must transport three big cats—Savannah, her brother, Christopher and Mariah, a blind white tiger—to an animal sanctuary 233 miles south.

“Come on, girl,” Taft presses.

Savannah flicks her long sinewy tail. Anxiety overwhelms her normally laid-back demeanor. She stares, twitches, flashes jagged teeth. Her snorts crystallize into clouds in the frigid air.

She’s never seen this man on her territory, which, for the past nine years, has been Fun Spot Amusement Park & Zoo. She watches him pace along her wire enclosure, pressing snowy footprints in the shadow of a nearby roller coaster.

“Here, girl!” calls Dani Kennedy, her caretaker. “He’s going to take you to your new home!” She employs a soft, cajoling tone—baby talk to an animal nearly three times her size.

Savannah hesitates. She’s wary of placing a paw near the travel crate, despite the humans’ continuous efforts to lure her.  She’s agitated by the ruckus, the unfamiliar group, the lack of breakfast at 9 a.m.

But the deer meat proves too appealing to completely resist. It’s fresh enough to drizzle crimson in the snow.

On the other side of the wire, Taft’s hand guides her to the crate’s opening. She creeps close enough to prompt whispers.

“She’s almost there. Get ready!”

Then she lunges away in a flash of black and orange.

JESSICA HANEY (IDS)

By 11 p.m., the police were nowhere in sight. As Caitlin and I walked along Varsity, a Pizza X van drove by, its speakers blasting Alphaville’s “Forever Young.”

Do you really want to live forever
Forever, forever

Caitlin and I were scoping out the party when we saw the freshman woman lying motionless on the grass next to the sidewalk. Her body was limp except for one arm that clung to the base of a “Visitors Parking” sign. Stiletto heels stuck out from the bottom of her jeans.

The freshman was not alone. Her girlfriend did not appear to be as drunk. She stood over the freshman, holding a cell phone in one hand and trying to pull her off the ground with the other. Somehow, she managed to yank the fallen student up by one arm. The freshman’s legs wobbled.

As we walked closer, a young guy approached from a nearby side street. He said something to the drunk freshman, but Caitlin and I couldn’t hear the words. He was drunk enough to be swaying, too, and was standing close to the girl, touching her shoulder. She was too out of it to respond. Her friend held her by the arm to keep her from falling again.

“Danielle is really fucked up,” the friend told the guy. “I’m sorry, but I’m really not trying to cockblock you.”

Caitlin and I heard this as we went past the three of them. By the time we turned around, the guy was trying to kiss the drunken freshman. Danielle — we knew her name now — had staggered back across the sidewalk and up against an electric box there in the grass. The man pushed his body against hers, keeping her in place. The girlfriend still stood beside them.

On a nearby apartment balcony, a group of seven or eight partiers stood with beers in their hands and laughed at what was happening to Danielle.

“Take her home!” they chanted. “Take her home!”

I wasn’t sure who they thought should take her home — the guy or the girlfriend — but as far as I could tell, they weren’t yelling out of concern. They were mocking her defeat.

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