PART I: ERASMUS
The autumn breeze quivers my tiny, cotton collar. I survey the pumpkins lying haphazardly on Stuart’s Farm. Then I call out in the high-pitched voice of a three-year-old: “Pun’kin! Pun’kin!”
Susan’s red hair cascades into my stroller, shrouding my view. “Which pumpkin do you want, sweetie?”
I have never felt a propensity toward gourd shopping, especially not in Granite Springs, though now that she insists that I voice my opinion, I have no choice but to share it. I pull her hair aside.
“That one!” I point to the farthest and largest pumpkin in the patch, which takes us five minutes to approach.
Upon closer inspection of the plant, I reject it by stomping my feet against the stroller. I never tire of this performance, not in all my twenty-eight years of experience. Truly, the acting is unnecessary. This performance is something I add for pleasure. I am the epitome of toddlerhood. I have a small, button nose, large eyes, and peach-colored cheeks. Besides, with the right words and a little peas-blossom, I take on the exact appearance of the child I replace. When looking at me, you would never guess that I am middle- aged. Hardly! My skin has the sour and sweet perfume of diapers and baby powder. The fact that Susan has dressed me up for this inane holiday seems superfluous, and frankly, ridiculous. I do not want to be dressed as a stegosaurus. I am already pretending, why should I put on another mask?
Nobody does Halloween like Ginnie Farrow. Just ask the neighborhood.
Sheila Canterwell, beloved kindergarten teacher, used to take the ribbon with her Haunted Haus, and before that Reverend Jim McGee smugly won decades worth of praise with his carefully planned Zombie Garden. He spent hours in his garage hand painting fake rubber limbs to look terrifyingly real when strewn in haphazard rows. We all enjoyed the results of their friendly feud, ohhing and ahhhing at each new height they managed to reach.
The prizes have varied over time, from gift certificates, to lawn service, to cash on occasion, but really, it’s the awe and appreciation of the neighborhood that most seek to win. And growing ghosts? Well, that’ll do it.
Thing is, no one in the neighborhood ever managed to grow a decent ghost. Some tried, including Jim and Sheila, but the soil didn’t cooperate, or the corpse seed didn’t take even if it was planted at the height of spring, under a full moon. We once saw them collaborate a bit, trying to get a few to come up in the community garden in town. Nothing doing, it just didn’t happen.
“Hairy, airy, Sophie- four eyes, four eyes!”
Every word is punctuated by a sharp slap, a swift kick, and a trickle of warm spit.
Then Mrs Maleigh appears on the porch, ringing the brass bell.
The flushed tormentors scurry into the schoolroom, leaving Sophie Turner to sit up.
Snow powders her tattered coat. She’s lost one of her precious winter gloves, but there’s no time to look for it. She hurries after her classmates, knowing full-well why she is singled out.
The other children can smell it on her, the oddness. She isn’t a townie. She wears patchy old clothes and too-big boots. Her frizzy black hair won’t sit in a sleek, fat plait like the other little girls’, and she has a pair of thick glasses like two telescopic lenses.
As Miss Maleigh begins her lessons, mean fingers pinch one of Sophie’s old bruises. She bites her lower lip. Another pinch… and another, punctuated by giggles. Then the fingers start on her hair. One, two- three frizzy threads are yanked out by the roots.
First, find a stand made from barn wood,
salvaged from the old one
down the creek. The scrap-wood sign
is spray-painted; grapevines
tangle on the beams, tattered brown
and dry against sharp air.
If they have a goat tied in front,
all the better. No crafts.
Two days into November and the last ghoulies, the hold-outs, charged the roads of their neighborhood. Disguised as the living dead, a man of superior strength, an out-of-touch hippie. “Trick or treat!” they called into the clouds. The sun dipped an hour earlier, dark fell by 5:30. Those boys in their costumes, those tricky disguises, they demanded treats, still.
While two nights prior, the hours after Halloween night, most costumes were tucked into closets, or walked into basements, or hidden under beds, maybe to be handed down to a younger sibling in the coming year. The city’s girls and boys and babies and adolescents stripped the layers of ghoulish make-up from their grins. And in mirrors, they frowned. For it was over! They had the treats, the candy, the sugar highs, yet, it was all truly over…
she kept a razor blade
in the cupboard
the razor slid out
of a yellow plastic box
with a clear safety lid
that i’d once seen my father use
to get his cigar started
Although the leaves have not yet turned, the time has come once again for the Furious Gazelle’s annual Halloween contest. Send us something haunting, grotesque, pumpkin-themed, etc. and you could win a $50 cash prize and a book in the genre of your choosing. The top contenders will all be published on our site with the winner being announced on Halloween. Only one gets the coveted book and prize.
We accept all forms of writing for this contest, including essay, fiction, humor and poetry. Please follow our normal submission guidelines for entries, and look at our last year’s finalists for an idea of what we are looking for. The only rule is that this is a Halloween contest so your piece(s) should reflect that in whatever way you deem Halloween-ish.
That’s right, piece(s)! We will accept up to five submissions from each contestant. There is no fee to enter. Please send your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org with Halloween Contest Submission in the subject line of your email. The Deadline is Wednesday October 26, 2016 11:59pm EST.
-The Furious Gazelle Editors
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.
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
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.
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