The Furious Gazelle

Literary as hell.

Month: October 2015 (page 1 of 2)

2015 Halloween Contest Winner: “The Rat Girl of Saint Bruno’s,” by L.L. Madrid

L.L. Madrid is the winner of our 2015 Halloween contest! Thanks to everyone who participated in the contest. You can read our finalists and runners up here.

 

THE RAT GIRL OF SAINT BRUNO’S

by L.L. Madrid

Sister Mary Elizabeth acts cheerful, but she’s afraid. My nose crinkles. Underneath the mildew, I can smell her fear. She calls me sweetheart and is careful not to look at me. It’s funny; grown-ups try their best not to see, but kids stare, too scared to turn away. Mommy and I follow her down a dark corridor that connects the cathedral to the convent. She’s taking us to see the Mother Superior. My fingernail drags along the wall, scratching the bubbling paper. Mommy pushes my hand away and shakes her head.

Tail slips from its holder and smacks the stone floor. Sister Mary Elizabeth jumps. She’s a flincher. Tail flicks and sways. Flinchers make her want to wrap around ankles and yank. She wags fast and fierce. Mommy gives me that look. She doesn’t understand that Tail hates being tied up, that I can’t always control her. If we were anywhere else, she’d tell me to put Tail away, but today…

Today you’ll regret waking.  

Voice is in a foul mood. I’m trying to ignore him, but he lives in my head and he can make me hurt. I did what he said, I kicked and screamed and told Mommy I wouldn’t go…but I can’t control Mommy either. Voice snarls.  

I wonder what it’s like to have a quiet mind. I’ve never been alone in mine, but still, I’m lonely. I don’t have anyone besides Mommy and Voice to talk to. I go to school, but no one wants to be near me.

They call me Rat Girl. Though I wear layered skirts that go to the floor to hide Tail, everyone knows. Tail’s always getting free. She grabs, swings, and can kind of cool. I wish Mommy would let me, just once, go to the park and hang from the monkey bars by Tail. I know she’s strong enough. I tested her out on the towel rack and Tail pulled the bar right out of the wall. Mommy was so mad.

Sister Mary Elizabeth doesn’t look at me when she points to a kid-sized chair next to a box of toys. Eyes on the door, she says that it was nice to meet me, her voice sweet in the same fake way medicine is.

Mommy sits in front of the desk. The room is small and the window is long and skinny like in a dungeon. The only wall hanging is a giant crucifix with scary Jesus on it. I don’t mind happy Jesus, but crucifix Jesus with his twisted face, razor ribs, and nailed feet…I just want to go home.

The door opens and Mother Superior, all in black, enters. She is much older than Sister Mary Elizabeth and wears a full habit. Voice growls, hisses, and spits behind my ears.  

A giant wooden rosary hangs from Mother Superior’s hip, beads clacking like skeleton bones. Tail twitches. She wants to wrap around the cross and rip all the pieces off.

“Nice to see you again, Mrs. Palmieri.”

Mommy rearranges her hands, hiding the bare finger on the left. “Rose is fine.”

Mother Superior pitches her voice higher. “Hello, Miriam.”

Naked dolls and sticky blocks fill the toy box. I reach for a big headed baby.

“Manners Miri,” Mommy scolds.     

Mother Superior’s gray eyes are small and sharp. She’s no flincher.

“Hi.” I pull the doll from the box and place it on my lap. It has a cloth body and fat plastic hands and feet. Mommy and the nun start talking. I try pulling the baby’s head off. It doesn’t budge. I wish I was anywhere else. This room is dark and smells like bleach. I dig in the box some more. There’s a GI Joe who’s missing a leg. It doesn’t matter. Most of these toys are broken. Nobody wants them.

“Have you thought about having the growth removed?”

“The doctors said we’d have to wait until she was older, but she wants to keep it.”

Tail is alive. It would be a mortal sin to let her get cut off. I don’t want to be a murderer.

I move to the floor. It’s hard and cold. I find a Tonka truck and have it run over GI Joe. The baby tries to stop the truck, she’s bigger than it, but she’s just a baby.

“Have you considered exorcism?”

I don’t know what that word means. I slow the truck, paying more attention.

“No. I don’t think so. I mean, how can you exorcise a tail?” Mommy laughs like she does when she’s about to cry. I don’t like it when she cries. Her tears are black like ink.

“The tail is a mere symptom of the demon that’s been with the poor child since birth.” Continue reading

2015 Halloween Contest Finalist: “The Landlady” by Dara Marquardt

Dara Marquardt is one of our Halloween writing contest finalists for 2015. We’ll be publishing our contest finalists every day until Halloween, when we’ll announce our contest’s winner.

 

THE LANDLADY

By Dara Marquardt

It was a gift from across the high seas, that’s what the square of thin paper said as I unwrapped the package.  I’ve read that square a hundred times, but have found no fine print about this.

My mom brought it back from her business trip.  She was always doing that, bringing me little trinkets; Kokeshi dolls from Japan, Matryoshka nesting dolls from Russia, a delightful gem colored ten-penny carousel toy from Germany that played the most peculiar little tune, a set of shekeres from Kenya filled with bite-sized orange stones.  She was always bringing me these far-flung wares.  But nothing like this.

It was a spirit house from Thailand.  It had golden gables and a Cheshire green roof of clay shingles. It had tiny windows the size of my pinky nail and when I pressed my cheek to the side for a better look, the interior walls were painted with couches and drapes, even a matchstick-sized fireplace for the spirits to warm their toes.

The tag said to put it outside for the spirits to haunt.

So that’s what I did. Continue reading

2015 Halloween Contest Finalist : “The Frightened Magician’s Final Performance” and “A Cemetery’s Birds and Ghosts” by J. J. Steinfeld

The Frightened Magician’s Final Performance

by J. J. Steinfeld

There at the front of the stage

a frightened magician begins to perform

one more anxious trick

Halloween night has been long and disappointing

the tricks and trickery

getting more convoluted

than an inveterate swindler

reminiscing over a lifetime

of seeking the beauty of deception.

I will make a ghost appear

and offer solace and consolation

I will make a ghost take earthly form

and offer a million sweet proofs,

the frightened magician says,

sweat on his straining brow

knowing the weight of last chances—

in the midst of the most sonorous

abracadabra words I’d ever heard

he drops dead and hits the floor

like a discarded prop

or a perfect clattering curse.

Everyone in the audience

goes home with a new memory

and something to talk about

for at least a day or two.

A Cemetery’s Birds and Ghosts

by J. J. Steinfeld

in a cemetery as unyielding

as mythology and madness

hasty in its grasp for meaning

and explanation and joy however misshapen

you experience a concoction of time

and language and garbled truths

what shameful nourishment taunts

you hear a song you cannot comprehend

birds and ghosts all about

some louder than others

you see a phase of the moon as indecipherable

as the moment of birth and the instant of death

you hug, in desperation or random coercion,

a vision and feel its defiance

birds the girth of ghosts

and ghosts the airiness of birds

you take a brooding morsel

that was once something else

you smell a fire from another time

and say to the birds and ghosts

words about another era

that era less long than current minutes

it is by minutes that punishment is exacted

you attempt to retrace your steps

the cemetery laughing beneath resentment

the birds with the voice of ghosts

the ghosts with the naturalness of birds

it will all be different and bearable

when the visitors arrive

one by one or in a frightened group

unlike unafraid birds and enduring ghosts

2015 Halloween Contest Finalist : “Like to Skeletons” by Irene L. Pynn

Like to Skeletons

By: Irene L. Pynn

There is a tombstone at the far end of the cemetery that never collects moss. Its face never dulls with neglect. Its pebbles never shift in the wind and rain.

You could walk across the dry and tangled lawn – “manicured” by the blind caretaker who lives on site – and stumble over a hundred forgotten stones – tended by Victorian ghosts alone – but never see a single bit of color. Not a vase, not a rose bud, not a potted offering. You wouldn’t even spy a wildflower among the withered loneliness of the graveyard. Nothing grows. All is death and loss.

Except for the tombstone at the far end.

Keep walking, though the obscurity of death will threaten to overpower you, whispering that, yes, someone will mourn you when you die, but only briefly. Very soon after, you will dissolve into nothing, both in form and thought. In time no one will be able to decipher the name on your stone, and then your existence will truly end.

And then your afterlife must begin.

But keep walking. There is a light at the end of this graveyard. Propped against the ancient, cracked wall stands the marker for the only remembered bones we know. It practically glows with the affection it receives, standing out like the comfort of a lighthouse amid the dark confusion of restless waters. There is a keen jealousy that engulfs the forgotten dead when they lie near someone who is still loved by the living. They would drown in their envy if they could die.

The simple stone at the far end reads Heath Alan, loving fiancé. I will see you again in Heaven. Its plot features a flattened patch of grass next to a regularly-renewed supply of the only flowers to be seen on the grounds. We watch each night for the trodden patch to level out. We look each dawn for the flowers to stop coming. We wait. Because the time for all that will come, and when it does, Heath Alan will rise to join us, and he will know what it is to be forgotten.

My people are often angry and afraid – a dangerous combination of emotions, especially in ones who have no need to fear violence. We lose our identities during our underground sleep, and when we finally wake, our headstones are faded, and we can’t remember our own names. Or who buried us. Or when we died.

How we came dead we can often deduce. Our bodies, though they have rotted away to skeletons with scraps of flesh, usually tell the tale. A younger person will almost always display some kind of grievous injury, leaving no need to wonder what happened. An elderly frame is generally assumed to have passed in his sleep. Some in our community debate whether that should be considered a badge of honor or the easy way out. Occasionally one or two bodies arise who were in their prime at death, and they show no signs of physical distress at all. It is as if they died of nothing. Then the whispers begin – was it poison? A cough? Did she drown?

Such morbid questions fill our hours while we wander the cemetery, mysteriously confined to this yard with no guard or explanation. We cannot leave, but we are free to walk the perimeter night and day, as long as we are no longer missed. It is the grief from the world of the living that kept us in restful slumber. Without that we never know rest again.

There may be husbands and wives here together, but they do not know each other or remember the bond. One will rise, and then another, but they look upon each other’s bones with blank, eyeless expressions, and they carry on, seeing, smelling, and thinking only through the magic—or perhaps the curse – that compels us to stand above our own graves.

And yet we can feel love. When I awoke from the earth, I clawed my way to the air and felt in my rotted heart the dull pain of something I had lost. There was a loneliness I could not understand because it had vanished from my mind – but not my soul.

Some things I could sense about myself right away: I was a man. I was probably in my 30s. I was tall and nicely shaped. But my name… my life and death… they were gone.

I clung to my dim echo of loss like a lifeboat. The more I cared about my past the less deceased I truly was. Someone had loved me once, and out of respect for that person, I would not ignore the aching in my soul that told me we had been torn apart too soon.

It was a bullet, I think. The great hole in my skull told me enough about that. But who shot me and why is long lost to time. I inherited an eternity of regret and sorrow with no name.

The living woman comes every morning early with fresh flowers, a cup of coffee, and a book. After taking a steadying breath of the lonely air, she strolls stiffly across the graveyard to the far end, her long, yellow hair blowing in the chill breeze, and we hide, watching. Some of us choose to stay underground during her visits. It’s easier to ignore the pain of our obscurity if we cannot see her face.

Her lovely face. She has the soft features of youth mingled with the sophistication of early adulthood. Her light brown eyes look with sympathy upon all the gravestones she passes. Her blush lips are full and slightly curved upward, like a smiling blossom of love upon her mouth. The cold air pinkens her cheeks, and she brushes a golden lock from her face as she reaches her destination and kneels in the patch of grass, pressing the blades flat. Today the dead man has received a pot of daffodils, tall and yellow and vibrant. They seem to light up the cemetery. The overcast sky parts to let in a little sun.

I wait for her here. I’m always here, hiding just behind the dead tree that hangs its skeleton over her lover’s grave and casts a shadow like spider’s legs across the ground. For several minutes, she sits in silence, and I smell her perfume through the curse that preserved my senses while destroying my body. The scent is sweet and light. It matches her slender shape and creamy skin. I absorb her fragrance until she begins to speak with a voice that is soft and kind.

“Today I think we’ll read poetry, if that’s okay with you?”

I nod, unseen.

“Let’s see…” She sips her coffee and flips through the pages of her book. “Wordsworth?”

Yes, Wordsworth, I whisper, and I listen to her read. It is not to me. She recites a poem of daffodils and loneliness, and I revel in her tone that reflects my own broken heart: she is full of love and gentleness, but there is something damaged in her voice. There is a past full of pain that she cannot forget, just as I live with pain I cannot recall.

I long to move from my hiding place and gather her in my arms. To tell her we all can love again, even those who have lost someone, like her, or have been lost ourselves, like me. I want to pluck a daffodil from her vase and put it at her waist and taste the honey of her lips and build new memories with her.

But I must not. I am not the man I must have been once upon a time. To stagger out at her, all bones and rotting flesh and broken skull, would be to blaspheme the blessing she has brought to the graveyard. My ghastly body would frighten her off, and she would never return.

Her voice is an instrument; the poem is her song. I stand, enraptured, as she performs it tenderly with all the love in her broken heart. Did anyone do this for me in the days following my death? Did I leave behind a suffering maiden who came to my side every day? Did she talk of beauty and sadness and her undying love? If so, I never heard her words. She is lost to me forever – if she existed at all.

A fresh aching swells in my soul. How pitiful that this soft creature has come to share her music with the one person in the cemetery who can’t hear her. He will never hear her again.

I wonder at the power of memory. Her emotion touches not only her lover, who rests peacefully because of her fidelity, but it touches the entire lawn. All around us I see others peering from behind their own headstones, expressions of longing on their wasted, forgotten faces. The sun has broken through and warms our bones as it spotlights on the vase of golden flowers at Heath Alan’s plot.

She takes the poem slowly, carefully, letting us dwell in the rhythmic tune of her voice as if we were adrift in a canoe, gazing lazily up at a clear sky filled with possibilities. She brings us this gift without realizing it. And even the cruelest among us are thankful.

And then, all of a sudden, she is done. She closes her book and wipes away a tear. I start forward instinctively, wanting to catch that tear for her and kiss it from her cheek. She gasps. I freeze, half hidden by the shadow of the spider tree.

She is looking right at me. I have made the most terrible mistake, and I remain motionless, racked with fear that at any second she will stand, screaming, and tear out of this place forever, leaving us all to suffer alone until our bones finally turn to dust.

“Who…” she says, her voice a strangled sound nothing like the tune she shared before.

“Don’t be afraid,” I beg. I stay where I am, praying the shadow conceals my horror.

She stares, uneasy and perplexed. I consider running away, but I can’t leave her.

“Let me see you.”

“I can’t,” I say.

“Why not?”

“Please. I didn’t mean to surprise you.”

Again she scrutinizes the shadows with her light brown eyes, and I watch as her expression turns from worried, to curious, to amazed, to terrified.

She can see me.

She stands, shaking.

“Please,” I say again. “Please don’t.”

I know she will scream. I would scream if I saw a corpse in a graveyard, standing over me like Death himself. I wait for it to happen.

“You –” Her voice is quiet. She hasn’t screamed. This frightened angel has looked at me and has not run away.

“I came to hear your poem,” I say, though I know I have no right to speak to such a beautiful creature. “It was so pretty… I swear I will not bother you. Please forgive me.”

For a few more seconds we look at each other, and then the pain is too great for me to take, and I back away, deeper into the shadow, out of her sight. 

“Wait,” she calls, and I stop. I am her servant, though I do not want her to see me again.

She approaches, and I think of the hole in my skull and the little flesh that remains on my bones. I think of my torn clothes nearly decomposed to nothing and stained with the yesterdays that are long absent from my mind. I look at her. Whole, beautiful, alive. Full of happy tomorrows. She wants something from me. I would give her anything in the world.

Her eyes are wide as she accepts the reality of me, and I see that she is not only kind, but brave.

“You live here…” she says, not asking. I wait.

What could she want? For a moment I allow hope to flood my senses, and I wonder whether she has seen in me what I see in her. I want to take her hand in mine, but I resist. I will let her tell me what she wants, and then, if it is as I dream, I will hold her close, and we’ll never be alone again.

Her eyes search my face as if she understands me, as if we are two souls locked in sadness together, and only together can we finally escape. I hold on to these precious seconds as I wait for her words.

And then she speaks. “Do you know Heath?”

Of course. I was a fool. I fall back a step and lower my gaze.

“No.” I imagine the last of my dried blood running fresh and spilling from my heart onto the grass below. “He cannot wake while he is remembered.”

She hesitates and then looks back at his grave. 

“Oh,” is her only reply, but it is filled with meaning. That one word brings me to the epicenter of sadness and loss and that breathless moment just after crying has stopped and is about to begin again.

I could run from her now, but I won’t. She is the only source of sunshine in a dark place, and she should learn what her lover will never know. 

“You keep him safe,” I explain, and her red eyes fill with hope. She is listening. I go on. “While the living cling to him, he rests in peace. It is only when you forget that he –” I look down at my own yellowed, bony hands, wringing each other in nervousness.  “That we…”

She takes a ragged breath. “I see.”

We are silent for a moment, and finally she adds, “I’m sorry.”

I nod as if to say it’s nothing, but it isn’t. It is everything.

Before she leaves, my love bends down to collect her coffee and her book, and she plucks a daffodil from the vase on Heath’s grave. She hands it to me.

The stem rests in my bony palm, and the golden petals cast a soft glow onto my fingers. I look back at her. She smiles weakly, and then she leaves.

“And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.”

2015 Halloween Contest Finalist : “House of Horrors” By Michael Ainaire

Michael Ainaire is one of our Halloween writing contest finalists for 2015. We’ll be publishing our contest finalists every day until Halloween, when we’ll announce our contest’s winner.

House of Horrors

By Michael Ainaire

 

The Swamp Man arrived late to the party. It was his fifth year attending and the last few hadn’t been particularly fun, but the year before he and Bloody Mary had made out for a bit after everyone else turned in for the day. There were worse places he could be spending the end of Halloween.

The last kids he had caught trespassing in his swamp had been college age, probably on some sort of dare, and as the last of them had been sinking into the bog he had found two six packs of Oktoberfest sitting in a cooler in the backseat of their car. A good enough gift to bring to the party, he supposed. He would have felt bad mooching off everyone else.

The house was in the woods with a leaning graveyard on one side of the driveway and a thicket of poisonous thorn bushes on the other. He made his way up the steps to the house’s front door, webbed feet slapping on the weathered boards.

Boogeyman, whose house it was, answered his knock.

“Hey!” he exclaimed. Swamp Man had barely opened his mouth to reply when he found himself locked in a tentacle’d hug. “I didn’t think you were going to make it! What is that, Oktoberfest? Come on in and we’ll crack one open!”

Down a twisting corridor, past portraits that turned to follow them, spaced between Hands of Glory mounted on the walls. Swamp Man could hear organ music from a distant room. He looked down at his feet, self-conscious of the black ichor and marshy sludge he trailed behind him.

“The whole gang’s here,” Boogey was saying. “I invited a few from the new crowd—they might show up later. Even reached out to some of the old folks too. Got a soft yes from Baba Yaga and the rest…” he waggled one clawed hand in a see-saw motion. “I think you know everybody.”

The rest of the guests were spread out across a decrepit living room. Frankenstein’s Monster and his Bride were sitting on a loveseat by the window. Mummy was slumped in a corner. The American Werewolf was sitting on a stool by the old piano, rummaging through a plastic trash bag.

A smaller crowd than in years past. Perhaps the rest of them, after so long, had finally begun to tire of this yearly tradition.

“Everybody, you know the Swamp Man,” Boogey said. “Look at the two of us—Boogeyman and Swamp Man. We’re the Man men!” He laughed as if it were his first time telling that joke, and because it was his house and his party, the others laughed as if it were their first time hearing it.

They all felt bad for Boogey, Swamp Man knew. Three hundred years old and still single.

“Swampy!” called the Bride. “Come over here and sit with us.”

Swamp Man shook hands with Frank and gave the Bride a quick kiss on the cheek.    

“Did Bloody Mary make it?” he asked.

“Her? No, she had business,” the Bride said. “There are a lot of slumber parties on Halloween. She does well for herself.”

“I wish I was that lucky,” American Werewolf said. “This will be my first halfway decent meal in months.” From his trash bag he produced a long pale leg with a black dress shoe on the end of it. He bit into it with relish; a thin spurt of blood landed on the floor at Swamp Man’s feet.

“How have you been doing, Swampy?” the Bride asked. “Keeping your head above the muck?” She laughed and raised her wine glass to her lips.

“I do okay,” Swamp Man said. He grabbed and Oktoberfest and bit down on the neck of the bottle with his pointed teeth. Beer and shards of glass trickled down his throat. “I try and keep things small, you know. Not spread myself too thin.”

“How’s that?” Frank asked.

“Well, I’ve become a kind of legend in my hometown. It guarantees me good eating around Halloween. And the whole small town thing means some kids are still scared of me. It all depends on who’s telling my story.”

“Yes, and what is your story again?” The Bride asked. “You weren’t always green and scaly were you?”

Swamp Man thought for a moment. “You know? I’ve forgotten.”

“That is the right way to do it,” Vlad said from across the room. Swamp Man looked over, startled. He hadn’t noticed Vlad was here. Tall and willowy in his black cloak, he stood hunched over a pool table that one of the dusty chandeliers had fallen on. Despite this, he was trying to sink one of the striped balls into the far pocket. Three young women hovered around him, stroking his arms, massaging his shoulders.

“What is?” Swamp Man asked him.

“Keep things small. Keep your legend local. Me? Fah!” He gestured theatrically with one arm. “Mine has grown too large. People now make children’s films about me, where I manage a hotel. Can you imagine such a thing?”

On the loveseat, Frank was nodding in agreement. “I hear you. They make us all too cuddly in the end. It’s hard coming back from a reputation like that.”

“What about you, Vlad?” Swamp Man indicated the three women hanging onto the vampire’s bony shoulders. “You seem to be doing alright.”

“I am a hit with the foreign exchange students,” Vlad admitted. “They always insist on taking the castle tour around Halloween. And always they think my costume is very realistic…”

The three girls turned to Swamp Man in unison, red eyes glaring flat and feral. They bared elongated canine teeth when they smiled.
“Man, do you remember when it was no work at all scaring people?” Boogeyman said. “Just the mention of your name and…” He produced a wet sucking sound with one of his mouths.  “That was all you needed. They were terrified.”

“Fear tenderizes them,” the Werewolf said, smacking his lips as well. “Gets that nice, fall-off-the-bone flavor.” He took another bite of the leg. The dress shoe bounced and bobbled.

“How hard can you have it, Boogey?” Frank asked. “You’re fear incarnate. No one knows how to make you cuddly.”

“It’s the name,” Boogey said. For the first time at any one of his parties, he actually looked glum. “The stupid name. Kids hear it now and think of big hocks of snot…”

The party rolled on. Swamp Man finished his beers, swallowing the bottles whole when he didn’t feel like drinking them. The place where he sat was growing damp and sticky beneath him. Soon it would be time to head back to where he came from, bide his time until next year.

“—he was the best!” Frank was shouting, his gray face flushed red. “The absolute best! When he was making movies, none of us went hungry. To Boris!”

“To Boris!” echoed the room, and they raised their glasses. The Bride was looking less than happy about it; this had to have been their sixth or seventh toast of the night to the late Mr. Karloff.

“Boogeyman, what happened to the other invitees?” Vlad asked. “I believe you said you invited some of the masked killers? Slenderman?”

Boogey waved a dismissive claw. “They’re not coming. Too good for this crowd.”

“Oh, honey, you know that’s not true…” the Bride began, but Boogey was staring morosely into his drink and didn’t seem to hear.

“They will be lucky to attain a fraction of the longevity we have,” Vlad said. His girls were pawing at him and making soft mewling noises. “Oh, if you insist…” With one fingernail, Vlad opened up a gash in his long pale throat. Blood leaked out, black and thick, and the girls were all over it in an instant, heads darting, tongues lapping greedily.

“The black and white days,” Frank said, more to himself than anyone else. “When the nights were longer and the shadows were deeper.”

“Oh come on, everybody, that’s enough,” the Bride said. “It seems like all we’ve done at these parties the last few years is drink and talk about the old days. There has to be something else.”

Mummy stood up from his corner, mumbled something beneath his bandages, and passed out face first onto the floor.

“Now there’s a sad case,” Boogey said with a shake of his head. “Who do you know who’s scared of him anymore?”

“Tomb robbers, I should think,” The Bride said. Swamp Man could not tell if she was being sarcastic or not.

From beyond the living room window, where the first hints of dawn were already staining the sky, came the sound of footsteps on the driveway. Voices.

“Who could that be?” the Bride asked.

They crowded around the window and peered out. Three kids—teenagers, probably—were making their way up the steps to the door. It was the classic setup: a big guy in a letter jacket. A smaller, slighter boy with glasses—probably the jock’s best friend. And a lithe young girl with tumbling waves of hair and a perky chest. The three of them positively glowed with nostalgia.

“Come on Krissy,” they heard the big guy saying. “No one’s lived here for years. And it’s almost daylight anyway. Come on. You aren’t scared, are you?”

Swamp Man could see everyone’s faces lighting up. The words were music to their ears.

“What do you say, everybody?” Boogeyman asked. He smiled with all his terrible teeth. “Want to see if we’ve still got it?”

 

2015 Halloween Contest Finalist: “The Cutout,” by Diane Leacock

Diane Arrelle is one of our Halloween contest finalists.

THE CUTOUT

by Diane Arrelle

It had been a cold, windy October and the trees shed their leaves a few weeks earlier than usual. But today the wind was still and the crisp bite in the air tasted like Halloween. It promised to be the perfect evening for trick-or-treaters, the sun would set by late afternoon and as it grew darker I imagined the clouds would skitter across the crescent moon, casting eerie shadows that would cause the costumed youngsters to both shiver in terror and giggle with false bravado along with their friends.

As I sat at my desk and looked out the window, seeing at my reflection, I wished I were a kid again so I too could travel door to door, with my identity hidden and my greedy lust for sweets worn proudly like a badge. But I am an adult, almost 30 years old, so the most I can do is open my door to those junior ghouls brave enough to ring my bell and then share in their fun vicariously.

I guess it was about three thirty when I had the urge to leave work a little early. I decided I wanted to go to the store for Halloween candy, just in case some kids showed up before I had to go out to dinner. I know I romanticize trick or treating and Halloween but I live alone in the gray duplex at the end of Downy Street, the last house right next to the woods so I almost never get anyone to ever come to my door. I don’t blame them, not a lot of kids will brave a spooky street for some cheap candy, so while I was out I stopped by the party supply store because I decided to get some Halloween decorations too. I thought maybe plastic pumpkins lit with eerie colored glow sticks would attract more trick-or-treaters.

Continue reading

2015 Halloween Contest Honorable Mention: Poetry by J.M. Templet

J.M. Templet is one of our Halloween writing contest finalists for 2015. We’ll be publishing our contest finalists every day until Halloween, when we’ll announce our contest’s winner.

 

existential trolls

 

We set up under rainbows

no one notices the crunch of bones

or the rattle of stone

as we gorge on candy

left from last year

perhaps a hand might be attached

we don’t mind

 

the pink the white

the awful red

the purple and blue

they all mask the ugly

faces we hide from each

other

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2015 Halloween Contest Honorable Mention: “Halloween,” by Jon Mayo

Jon Mayo is one of our Halloween writing contest finalists for 2015. We’ll be publishing our contest finalists every day until Halloween, when we’ll announce our contest’s winner.

HALLOWEEN

by Jon Mayo

Ali hid under the table and sat on the kitchen floor. She stared at the open doorway that led to the living room, waiting for the sun to creep down and settle the day. The guests began to show up, appearing out of thin air and materializing from head to toe. Their bodies were translucent like vapor and glowed amber against the radiant dusk. Ali looked at the new arrivals and searched for a face she trusted. When a teenage boy made eye contact with her, Ali turned away.

“Ali, come out of there,” said her mother Olivia. Ali pushed herself to the base of the table and grabbed the front legs of the chair in front of her, using it as a shield from anyone who dared to disturb her.

“No!” said Ali.

“I hope she’s not scared of us,” said Grand Aunt Colleen who appeared next to Olivia.

“No, she’s just shy.”

“That is so cute,” said Grand Aunt Colleen. She stooped down to look at Ali. “Hi Ali, don’t you remember me?”

Ali struggled to identify Grand Aunt Colleen; it was hard to identify someone with a see-through face. When Ali recognized the dragonfly hairclip and the plump physique, Ali remembered. Last year, Colleen was the loudest and the rowdiest of the dead relatives. Colleen had consumed a bottle of wine, a bottle of Jack Daniels, three bottles of Guinness and a glass of Long Island Iced Tea. Ali could never forget the smell of Grand Aunt Colleen’s breath. Ali raised an arm and waved at her to say hi.

Olivia walked over to the stove top oven and checked the turkey inside. When Olivia opened the door to take a peek, the aroma escaped and wafted through the kitchen. Mrs. Carmine, who was good friends with Olivia, cooked her potatoes on the stove, frying it with garlic oil and sprinkling it with spices and seasoning. Mrs. Carmine was alive and breathing, and she could see the ghosts too, just like Olivia and Ali.

“You make them potatoes really good Mrs. Carmine,” said Grand Aunt Lisette, hovering between the kitchen table and the stovetop oven. “If only I can smell them right now.”

“You will dearie,” said Mrs. Carmine, “You will soon enough.”

Ali stayed under the table, scanning the guests as they came through the front door and as they appeared out of thin air. The living room was getting crowded, and the living and the dead mingled with one another, catching up with their loved ones and sharing stories about their travels to the country side and the nether planes. The ghosts talked about their adventures as well.

“I was in Anne Hathaway’s body when she accepted her Academy award,” said Grand Aunt Colleen. “I felt so alive and it was electric with all the lights and all the celebrities looking at you. Well, I mean, her.” The living room burst into laughter.

When moonlight entered through the kitchen window, Olivia went back to Ali. She knelt down, looked Ali in the eye and reached for her daughter.

“Come on Ali, the ritual is about to start.”

“Where’s daddy?”

“He’ll be here. Don’t worry sweetie, daddy will be home soon.”

Ali grabbed her mother’s hand and pulled herself from under the table. She immediately clung to her mother’s waist, which made the walk from the kitchen to the living room a balancing act for Olivia. When they crossed the threshold, Ali searched for her father, scanning the room filled with strangers and relatives. When Ali didn’t see him, Ali buried her face in Olivia’s dress.

“Happy Halloween everybody! Family, friends and welcomed guests, we are gathered here tonight for this special occasion,” said Olivia. “Please enjoy your brief stay in the living plane. Have fun and stay safe.”

The ghosts cheered and whistled while the living clapped with their hands. The newly dead turned to the veteran ghosts and asked what was to come.

“Wait and see kid,” said Great Aunt Lisette to the teenage boy.

“Come on sweetie, mommy needs to sing,” said a voice behind Ali and Olivia. Ali turned around and immediately recognized her father. She loosened her arms around her mother and scampered towards him. She wanted to grab him and hug him and drag him to the kitchen for tea, but Ali remembered what her mother had said about touching a ghost and interfering with their space. Ali made that mistake last year when she passed through a crowd of ghosts – she had nightmares for weeks. Like a good girl, Ali placed her hands behind her back and stood next to her father.

Olivia smiled to her husband and turned to her audience. She took a deep breath and sang. The words were not in English nor were they in Latin. No one knew what was said or knew what it was about. But Olivia sang. The high notes were perfect, and she sustained them flawlessly like a professional. She belted the low notes that came out strong and vicious. Ali listened and felt the energies emanating from her father and from the ghosts that filled the room. The hairs on her nape stood. The living listened, mesmerized by the song as if the melody touched their souls.

The ghosts slowly transformed into flesh, beginning from the head and down to their toes. The clothes they had worn before their deaths materialized with their temporary bodies. As soon as they inhaled the aroma from the kitchen, they dropped from the air and landed on the floor. Olivia finished her song, and everyone applauded until their palms were red. Olivia smiled and curtsied to her audience. She turned around and embraced her husband, kissing him in the lips and sharing a tear to his warm cheek. Continue reading

2015 Halloween Contest Honorable Mention: “Accumulation” by Josh Sczykutowicz

Josh Sczykutowicz is one of our Halloween writing contest finalists for 2015. We’ll be publishing our contest finalists every day until Halloween, when we’ll announce our contest’s winner.

Accumulation

By Josh Sczykutowicz

The darkness spread out of me, something deeper than anything I had ever dreamt before. I had fallen into sleep’s jaws like that of some ancient predator searching through the blackest depths of the ocean before, something seeking anything that might sate its leviathan appetite once again, the sensation of fullness a dull memory that had faded, much like its eyes, as eons had stretched forward and backward, time eternal forevermore. But sleep had never been as deep as this, and I knew now that I was neither dreaming nor awake. There was a place between both realms, that of collective memory and that of accumulation, and in it I now stood.

Something had crawled out of my mouth, climbing up my throat, claws digging into soft red flesh within. The familiar taste of blood trickled into my stomach. It moved upward as I wrenched forward and crumpled like paper, clutching at the throat that bulged, skin stretching in directions it was never meant to go. Tears filled my eyes and I could not breathe, everything blocked as I choked and coughed and finally it came forth. It was something small; something bundled up, coated in saliva and bile like crude amniotic fluid. Warm rain fell onto the skin of neck and trickled down hair clumping in damp solidarity. The object moved, unfurled, rain drops on its head making black eyes rimmed in maroon red blink open, mouth stretching, teeth showing, soft pink mouth vulnerable, shaking around on the dark pavement of this road. The road seemed to stretch, not just backward and forward, but to my left and to my right eternal. I looked up at the bleeding moon and saw its reflection on the ground in a puddle beginning to form, potholes and cracks filling like bottles beneath faucets to be drunk by something greater than it would ever know. Continue reading

“The Journey,” a poem by Carl Boon

THE JOURNEY

by Carl Boon

 

The journey takes her past 

the faces of the women

in the village making tea.

She thinks to photograph them

to make a book, but they're so many,

and some trail children 

through valleys of flowers 

until rock, until sea, until

the world's run out of wonders. 

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