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Max Schwartz, 2024 2nd Place Fiction

Submissions are open to one piece of fiction completed for coursework during the last calendar year. Submissions should not exceed 20 pages. Max Schwartz wrote the 2nd place submission in the Fiction Category for the 2024 President’s Writing Awards.

About Max

Max Schwartz circa 2024 in his living room

Max Schwartz is 5’10 3/4 190 pounds. Brown hair, scissor cut. His fiction has appeared in Rejection Letters and Forever Magazine.

Winning Manuscript – Eustace

So, the first time I met Saint Eustace was in my final year of preparatory school. I was sitting on my bed, picking blades of grass from my knees, and he just walked in. Just like that. Like it was nothing. And I really thought it was nothing, because, as per usual––as per ceremony after a rugby match: I was dropping acid alone to make my shins feel a little less on fire.

Which normally worked: the acid taking.
It made it so I wouldn’t have to constantly remind myself that my shins weren’t burning.
But they were, in their way. But, also, everything was back then. Burning.

Because I was seventeen years old.
Which basically meant I was fire.

But beyond the shin-to-flame management the acid also made my night-kept room something beautiful; there were Christmas lights by my window creating shadow plays along the spackled walls. Green, then red, then green again. All of it could almost distract me from the very-real/fake-shins-aflame situation that was happening below my kneecaps. The only evidence left of the grassy pitch that consumed the lower half of my body for eighty minutes earlier that day.

There I was.
A hardbody slipping between other hard bodies.


And all of our classmates’ bodies together and screaming for us to beat the Fighting Marauders of Montero High School. And our metal cleats tore at the dirt while our girls’ bodies in the stands tore at each other’s collared sweaters and hand-painted t-shirts with such delight watching the brave bodies going to war against the bodies of our sworn enemies.

Breaking each other up into the unforgiving ground.
Bending earth.

The uptick of dirt as we stressed everything on the pitch into the very worst positions that the Breyer County sports commission still deemed, “within the realm of competitive sport.”

But eventually a whistle blew three times.

Which meant: the war was over and we were all okay. And, Kipp, our smallest teammate drank a Gatorade from his game-worn cleat to celebrate his first score and our newfound peace.

Which doesn’t really matter.
All I’m trying to say is: I was sticky and in bed and un-showered and on fire.

And I was looping in smoke, the whole room spinning with fractals of light, which is why I didn’t even notice at first, Eustace, entering my room. His long pale body cloaked in a robe, his hands long too, and frail. Frail like he really had been dead for a long time. Blessed by God, probably. Now standing straight up in my room like he owned the place and putting out my legs with a fire extinguisher.

We stared at each other for a very long time. And I slapped my face a bunch trying to make him go away; my open mouth echoing as my hard palm made hard contact with my soft cheeks. Still there. He wasn’t going anywhere. So, I began to internally beef with my classmate, Chase, who had given me the tabs last week in the hall before History. Hating him for giving me laced shit that was making me see this guy in my room. My eyes opened. Closed. Opened. But Eustace was still there, looking at the globe on my desk, spinning it, smiling like an Earth-made-small was some type of miracle to him. It made me wonder where on it he had been. And of how many of those places had he––at one point or another––called home. Where else he had put out fires. Smelled smoke. Saved boys from their own legs––all of it. Then I wondered if he’d ever seen one of my great-great-something-or-others weep the way I was feeling like I was about to.

He turned my desk chair around and sat on it facing me.
Did I do something wrong? I asked him, chewing on my lip.
No, Eustace replied, you were just on fire.
Am I hurt?
No, you’re okay, he said, adjusting his robe.

And then––right then, as Eustace’s robe fell just the way he wanted it to, a loud snap of tree branches rattled the window behind his head. An owl, excited to be in the night. The branches shook for just a little bit after the owl’s wings stopped flapping. And Eustace walked to the window just as the gnats started up: swarming first around the dead owl, then around the lights, and then around another dead owl behind the chokeberry bush that hit my window a week prior when I was doing the same exact shit. It all felt big.

It all feels big, said Eustace.

And we both knew what he meant: My father having lost all of his money investing in the California rehab where my sister went and eventually died; the neighbor a few streets over that fed his dog to his other dog and then ate that dog on Halloween; my brain; my hair; the light right outside my window; and the moon starting to turn yellow, growing sick in the night sky; oh–oh and my shins––those fucking shins of mine that wouldn’t stop smoking on me, choking me up, turning ablaze as I screamed for my acid-saint to bring more water; more blankets; but it was too late.

The flame traveled up my body, touching my soft ribs and the brown hair my mother always called beautiful. And then it spread to my chair that only held my clothes and then to the carpet that held my feet––that loved my feet, before making its way down to the living room and out the front door and to the whole neighborhood. Fifty-foot flames. Two story fires. Soon: the town sirens started ringing and the flames licked at the back-wheels of their trucks as they loaded their most valuable dishware and water jugs and the photo books that could not be replaced. The flames licked my face as I ran outside and told them to get going for real. And they did. They did. As the flames licked everything. And everything. And really everything else.