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Tag: all hallows read

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

Halloween Contest finalist: The Nefarious: A Tale of a Notorious Halloween Dance

This short story by J. J. Steinfeld is a finalist in the Furious Gazelle’s Halloween contest. The contest’s winner will be announced Friday. View the rest of the finalists here.

“The Nefarious: A Tale of a Notorious Halloween Dance” was first published in Strange Lucky Halloween (Edited by Sandi Reed-Chan and Jean M. Goldstrom, Whortleberry Press, 2013).

© 2014 by J. J. Steinfeld

“We haven’t gone dancing in years, Shane. Not since we first got married, let alone a Halloween dance,” Cynthia said to her husband of almost thirteen years. In fact, their thirteenth anniversary was in a week, two days before Halloween, and the dance Cynthia had been invited to by her boss, Edvard Bellwether, of Bellwether Worldwide Insurers.

“I used to love Halloween when I was a kid,” Shane said, staring up at the ceiling of the living room of their suburban apartment condominium, seeming to be locating himself in the past. I usually went trick-or-treating as one superhero or another, but I don’t remember ever going to a Halloween dance.”

“When I was young and not so young, I went to some wonderful Halloween dances, wearing beautiful costumes, always beautiful, elaborate costumes for me. Seems we grew up in different social strata,” Cynthia joked, but Shane lowered his head and gave an exaggerated growl, recalling the first time he met Cynthia’s upper-crust crustacean family as he always referred to them, and the contempt with which he still maintains they treat him because he was from a poor working-class family. Cynthia’s parents, both in their mid eighties, did not approve of their daughter’s marriage to a younger man, even after thirteen years, and a wedding her father had described on numerous occasions as a disappointing, lacklustre city-hall affair, Shane emphasized with rancour. As for Shane’s family, Cynthia once remarked they reminded her of a cross between the Munsters and the Addams Family, and Shane, who usually had a lively sense of humour, called that ridiculous comparison disrespectful and insulting, despite Cynthia’s claim that both of those fictitious families were delightful even admirable in an absurd social commentary sort of way.

“What should we go as?” Shane asked, recalling the years he went trick-or-treating as Batman or Superboy in costumes sewn by his mother. He closed his eyes, his fingers periodically poking into the air as he appeared to be counting Batmen and Superboys, and added, “I think it was six times as the Caped Crusader and five times as the Boy of Steel, between the ages of four to fourteen, inclusive.”

“Edvard told me this dance has been going on for ages, every Halloween, even before he started his insurance company two decades ago, and they always have a theme. Until now, he’s never invited anyone from our company. Felt it wouldn’t be proper, whatever that means. But when I told him when we got married, even if it was two unfortunate days premature, as he characterized it, he said he couldn’t resist. And thirteen years ago, of all anniversaries, his luckiest number. One’s costume has to somehow be connected to the theme, even tangentially or obliquely, he said. Edvard likes to use fancy words.”

“So what’s this big theme, Cynthia?”

“The Nefarious.”

“The what?”
“Nefarious.”

“Is that a noun?”
“I guess you can make it into a noun. I told you Edvard likes fancy words.”

“Whenever I pick you up at your office, the guy always gives me the creeps.”

“He’s great to work with. The best boss I’ve ever had, and as you know, I’ve had my fair share of bosses and supervisors.”

“He looks like Edgar Allan Poe, if you ask me.”

“You’re not the first person to say that, but I think he’s a handsome man. Edvard even hinted he might go as Poe to the Halloween dance.”

“I never said Edgar Allan Poe wasn’t handsome, only creepy looking. John Cusak is a handsome actor, and he played Poe in The Raven, for which, if you recall, I wrote a glowing review….” Both Shane and Cynthia were avid film buffs and each wrote weekly reviews for an online film website, Shane for more current films and Cynthia specializing in older films, especially classic films. Shane liked to say that film reviewing was his passion while his successful house-painting business was a sideline.

“After I told him we got married two days before Halloween, thirteen years ago, it was the first time I ever heard Edvard laugh. He went on for about a minute, and the whole office started laughing, turning the entire first floor of the building into a strange theatre of frivolity.”

“That sounds creepy, too.”

“Not at all, darling. It was rather fun. Things can get sombre with the crazy work load this month for reasons, I assume, that have nothing to do with Halloween.”

“Well, as long as he gives you a good raise.”

“I’ve only been with Bellwether Worldwide Insurers seven months, Shane, for Heaven’s sake.”

“You’ve already proven yourself a valuable asset.”

“Edvard actually said we should have gotten married on Halloween…in costume.”

“You were married in costume, so speak…a wedding costume.”

“I told him I had a very sexy dress…for a city- wedding.”

“You were the sexiest forty-two-year-old newlywed I’d ever seen or married.”

“Stop with your silliness, Shane.”

“Silliness is what gets me through all the silliness of existence, if you know what I mean, Cynthia.”

“I know exactly what you mean, I think…more or less.”

“Now who’s being silly?”

“Perhaps the question should be, who is being more silly?”

“Your forty-one year old young hubby, looking lovingly at his sexy fifty-five year-old wife,” Shane said, and hugged Cynthia, even though it annoyed Cynthia whenever he underscored the disparity in their ages. He had just turned twenty-eight and she was two-thirds into forty-two when they married thirteen years ago,

“Who shall we go as, Shane?”

“Has to fit the theme, you said.”

“I’ll research nefarious folks on the internet and see what I come up with, Shane. Movie characters with nefarious reputations might not be a bad place to start.”

“Too bad Batman or Superboy wouldn’t qualify as nefarious. Believe it or not, Cynthia, I’m looking forward to this Halloween dance, especially if you can wear something nefariously sexy.”

“Sounds like something Edvard might say…”

*

Cynthia and Shane decided on Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. They watched the film several times on DVD to get a feel for what kind of costumes to wear, acting out in their living room some of the scenes. Shane even wrote an in-depth review of Bonnie and Clyde, and used it for this week’s online review. He usually didn’t review films made before 2000, but became so enamoured of the 1967 Bonnie and Clyde, and its place in cinematic history, he decided to make an exception. Cynthia wrote a long review essay on old gangster films, which Shane said was her best writing about film to date. After watching Bonnie and Clyde for the fourth time, they went to a vintage clothing store and found the perfect 1930s outfits, including hats close to those the actors Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty wore in the film. When Shane told the thirtyish clerk at the clothing store that both she and he weren’t even born when Bonnie and Clyde hit the big screen, but his lovely wife was already in grade school, Cynthia became angry and stormed out of the store, vintage outfit in hand.

*

By the time Cynthia and Shane arrived, there were already over a hundred partyers, everyone in costume and dancing enthusiastically at different levels of competency. The dance was being held in a large but somewhat run-down community hall in a less than desirable section of the city Cynthia had never been near but Shane had grown up in, and trick-or-treated there, he mentioned with time-defying fondness. The lighting in the large hall was dim and periodically would flicker or go out completely for brief periods, with a dark-blue spotlight on the twenty-piece band that entertained almost non-stop during the dance, the musicians dressed as a rogue’s gallery of notorious criminals from history, ranging from nefarious assassins to infamous dictators to vicious serial killers. Cynthia enjoyed herself dancing, saying she felt her spirit was rejuvenated and she felt younger, at least by a few years. Shane said dancing made him feel older, making his point by rubbing his knees which were acting up painfully.

During one dance, to a song neither Cynthia nor Shane could place, Clyde Barrow, another Clyde Barrow, cut into the costumed Cynthia and Shane/Bonnie and Clyde couple, and another Bonnie Parker took hold of Shane, as Edvard stood nearby and oversaw the switch in partners.

“I feel so embarrassed,” Cynthia said.

“Why should it be embarrassing? It’s rather flattering,” the other Clyde said.

“Yes, most flattering,” the other Bonnie added.

“The movie is stupendous, and holds up quite well in comparison to more modern gangster films,” Shane said, as the other Bonnie tightened her hold on him.
“Your duds look like they’d fit pretty close into that period,” the other Clyde observed.

“You look awfully…what’s the word—” the other Bonnie said.

“Authentic,” Edvard said. “Authentic with a capital ‘A’.”

“Thank goodness it’s not that other famous capital ‘A,’ the one in the Scarlet Letter, a film a gave a lovely review even if most other reviewers weren’t in agreement with my assessment,” Cynthia said, as the other Clyde tightened his hold on her. Both of the other Bonnie and Clyde liked to dance extremely close, as though attempting to meld their body with their dancing partner.

“Look around,” Edvard encouraged, “just about everyone has had a film or two about them, maybe a lot more,” he said, putting his arm around Jack the Ripper, “or as nefarious characters in a horrifying film about someone else,” and soon the discussion revolved around the films that contained either major or minor roles for The Nefarious, and a discussion of what qualified as nefarious behaviour, historically, in fiction, and cinematically.

A group of strikingly realistic-looking gangsters, standing close to a little too skinny and much too tall Al Capone, rattled off the names of dozens of movies and someone commented it sounded like the rat-tat-tat of an old-fashioned machine-gun. Machine Gun Kelly went out to his car and came back with a machine gun which Edvard said was authentic. Machine Gun Kelly aimed his authentic-looking weapon at Shane, and when Shane cowered, said he shouldn’t be a fraidy-cat. Shane started to walk away from the menacing Machine Gun Kelly, but he was blocked by five tough-looking gun molls that Cynthia later speculated two of whom were men dressed as gangster women, two definitely females, and the fifth was androgynous but Shane thought was a female and Cynthia a male. The five eagerly identified themselves as Helen Wawzynak, who had been dancing earlier with Baby Face Nelson, Beulah Baird with Pretty Boy Floyd, Kathryn Thorn with Machine Gun Kelly, Virginia Hill with Bugsy Siegel, and Evelyn “please call me Billie, everyone” Frechette with John Dillinger, and each gun moll tried to outdo the others with what sounded like first-hand descriptions of their nefarious backgrounds and exploits alongside their nefarious gangster associates.

Edvard, Shane pointed out, was using the word authentic a great deal. He was using it for nearly everyone, except for Shane and Cynthia whom he mildly flattered by saying that they certainly approximated the period but didn’t quite capture. He did admit to never having seen the 1967 film, but his friends who were costumed as 1930s Bonnie and Clyde had shown him photographs of the real Bonnie Parker and Clyde Parker, a thick album of old photographs, and the resemblance was uncanny, or authentic, as Edvard said several more times. As he continued to talk about the authenticity of the other Bonnie and Clyde, Edvard did a slow gyrating dance with Cynthia/Bonnie, and Shane/Clyde gave him a hard shove, but Edvard held on to Cynthia and laughed it off by saying let bygones be bygones, and let’s not turn this festive occasion into a horror story. “Mind you,” Edvard said, “Edgar Allan Poe might appreciate a more horrible tone to the festivities, and I am the nefarious Poe tonight, am I not?” Edvard even suggested that everyone call him Edgar, if only until the Halloween dance was over. After he let go of Cynthia and eyed another potential nefarious dance partner, Edvard claimed that his middle name, coincidentally, was Allan, Edvard Allan Bellwether, but Cynthia and Shane both thought that was untrue, a Halloween verbal trick.

As Cynthia danced yet another time with the other Clyde, she could see the other Bonnie dancing again with Shane, holding her husband too closely, occasionally whispering into his ear what Cynthia imagined were suggestive, erotic words. The other Clyde told Cynthia that jealously was a wretched emotion, a wicked green-eyed monster that can shred one’s emotions, and if his Bonnie wanted to rob a bank with someone else and then have a wild sex romp afterward in a cheap motel room, he wouldn’t mind.

“We could pull off a few heists together,” the other Clyde went on, whispering close to Cynthia’s ear, much in the manner the other Bonnie whispering to Shane.

“Bonnie and Clyde met a horrific end,” Cynthia said firmly, and stepped away from the other Clyde.

“That was in a Hollywood movie, not real life. The movie-makers got it all wrong. That is, the cops killed the wrong folks, and we got away.”

“That is obvious, isn’t it? But shouldn’t you be somewhat older, Clyde, say over a hundred? Bonnie and Clyde were killed in 1934, after all, he twenty-four and she twenty-three”

“Heck, deals can be made, potions can be found. I saw Mephistopheles over by the refreshments a little while ago, having a chat with Dillinger,” the other Clyde said, moving close to Cynthia again, and quickly gave her a kiss before she could avoid his lustful lips.

“By the way, that green-eyed monster you mentioned, and I can handle, thank you, is from Shakespeare, who I much prefer reading than dancing with you,” Cynthia said sharply to the other Clyde, and hurried away to the opposite side of the large room.

At the start if the last song before the costume judging, Edvard asked Typhoid Mary, wearing a surgical mask, to dance. Earlier there had been heated debate among some of the other costumed partyers that Typhoid Mary wasn’t nefarious because she had been asymptomatic and didn’t believe she was infecting others, but a veterinarian dressed as Mr. Hyde eloquently argued that since she refused to cooperate with medical authorities on many occasions, the results if not the intent were nefarious and therefore Typhoid Mary qualified as nefarious.

Edvard was the first person to ask Typhoid Mary to dance all evening. “I insisted she wear the surgical mask. Nice touch, wouldn’t you say albeit a bit of an anachronism? Maybe she’ll take it off later, but I think that’s prospective irony, if you get my drift,” he said to Cynthia and Shane, who were dancing together not far away from them.

“Not exactly, Edvard,” Cynthia responded.

“It hardly matters. Wait until the judging. First prize is incredible.”

“A get-out-of-jail-free card?” Shane said, having recently commented on how much jail time some of the characters had served, and even attempted to estimate an aggregate total of time, at least a thousand of years, he estimated, spent incarcerated by those costumed characters at the Halloween dance.

“A five-million-dollar life insurance policy, with the yearly premiums paid for a hundred years, in case the winner has longevity in their family,” Edvard said, offering a mischievous glance in Cynthia’s direction.

“I already have adequate life insurance, Mr. Poe.”

“One can never have enough life insurance. I’m sure Cynthia would appreciate the bigger policy.”

“Don’t forget the booby prize,” Typhoid Mary said, raising her voice in excitement.

“What would that be?”

“Later, Shane. Hold your horses and keep on your pants.”

“What an odd term, booby prize, isn’t it?”
But apposite…and authentic,” Edvard said, just as Cynthia joined the group standing around the gregarious organizer of the Halloween dance.

Edvard revealed that he had won three times in the last twenty or so years and the booby prize twice, “Hard to fathom that, but it’s all relative and subjective and unpredictable,” he said, rubbing his Edgar Allan Poe moustache.

“Why would anyone want the booby prize?” Cynthia asked, shaking her head in bewilderment.

“One must have a booby prize, the coveted booby prize. The booby prize consists of the first and last place costumes ending the evening with a romantic dance, depending on sexual preferences, but I‘m sure you know what I‘m getting at. I’ve seen first and last place smooching and the opening sparks of a romantic relationship. Well, last year, a dapper Beelzebub and a drab-looking Angel, albeit an Avenging Angel, really hit it off. They had to be pried apart or they’d still be kissing. They married last week, less than a year after that monumental osculation. I understand they are in their honeymoon in a hot climate, at Beelzebub’s suggestion.”

*
Sweeney Todd and Typhoid Mary won in a tie, and Cynthia and Shane received the booby prize. The band began their final number, and Sweeney Todd took Cynthia onto the dance floor, and Typhoid Mary pulled a reluctant Shane toward the centre of the dance floor as all the other costumed partyers formed a cordon around the two dancing couples, as if they were contemplating escape, “There’s no escaping this tradition,” Edvard said, seeming to be reading their minds, or at least their body language.

Near the end of the dance, Typhoid Mary removed her surgical mask and gave Shane a deep kiss he would never forget, he already starting to look more than a little ill.

“Typhoid Mary is about as authentic as you can get,” Edvard said, “even if she wasn’t nefarious in her heart…”

***

You can read more about J.J. Steinfeld at http://www.ditchpoetry.com/jjsteinfeld.htm

Halloween Contest Finalist: Joan McNerney

These poems by Joan McNerney are finalists of the Furious Gazelle’s Halloween contest. The contest’s winner will be announced Friday. View the rest of the finalists here.

 

Joan McNerney

 

Night

 

Slides under door jambs
pouring through windows
painting my room black.

 

This evening was spent
watching old movies.
Song and dance actors
looping through gay,
improbable plots.

 

All my plates are put away,
cups hanging on hooks.
The towel is still moist.

 

I blow out cinnamon candles
wafting the air with spice.
Listening now to heat
sputtering and dogs
barking at winds.

 

Winter pummels skeletal
trees as the moon’s big
yellow eye haunts shadows.

 

Shhhhh…

 

There is a
witch living
on the corner
where the four
roads meet.

 

Her eye is
evil, her
nose crooked.

 

 

She lays down
the tarot
pattern
with wrinkled
hands.

 

 

Asks “do you wish
tea of wormwood
or henbane?”

 

 

She will enchant
your mind now
into fields of
wild roses.

 

New Story Up: “Kate and Anna” by Joel Derfner

Hey Gazelles! Are you ready for Halloween? We are. We’ve put up a new story, “Kate and Anna” by Joel Derfner to get you in the mood.

Joel Derfner’s most recent book is called My Lawfully Wedded Husband: How My Gay Marriage Will Save the American Family.

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Kate and Anna by Joel Derfner

Kate had just picked up the chef’s knife to get back to work when the phone rang, digitally cheery in the air. She hurried to the wall and felt a sharp pang of sympathy when she heard Anna’s voice.

“Kate, do you think you’d mind—that is, if you have a few minutes, maybe you could—I mean—”

There was a lot to do before Chris got home from work, but, still, if she could not succor Anna in her hour of need then friendship was worth nothing in the world. Chris would understand a late dinner. The basement door had swung open again so she latched it as she left the kitchen.

Catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror as she entered the front hall, she was pleased to see that her hair showed no signs of the day’s exertions. Anybody who says being a housewife is easy, she thought, I’ll show him a thing or two. She straightened the sleeves of her T-shirt and left the house.

As she walked towards the street, a soccer ball flew over her head into her yard. She shielded her eyes and looked next door towards the Mason house, and sure enough there was Jim, standing, embarrassed, on the other side of the low fence, looking down at his shoes.

“Watch out, young man,” she said, waving her finger at him with mock sternness, though she was only twice his age, if that. “You never know who you might hurt with that thing!” Jim looked up, grinning sheepishly, and she laughed. “Now come and get your ball.”

“Sure, Mrs. Kendrick,” he said, leaping into her lush green lawn with the vigor of youth. Kate and Chris did not have any children of their own, but she loved living in a neighborhood surrounded by them.

She looked at her house with satisfaction as she closed the gate. That paint job really does look good. Chris had wanted blue but she had insisted on yellow and now even he agreed that hers had been the better choice. “How do you always get these things right?” he had asked, stroking her hair.

“I’m taking my secret with me to the grave,” she had laughed.

She looked carefully, both ways, before crossing the street. It was unnecessary, as their street was so small and quiet that she would have been aware of any cars as soon as she’d left her house. But she did not like to get into bad habits, especially with so many young people around who might be tempted to imitate them. “We have a responsibility to mold the children,” she would say whenever it seemed relevant.

As she approached Anna’s house she noticed with a sigh that the grass still needed mowing. And now, she realized looking up, there were two or three roof tiles missing. Not that she blamed Anna, not at all, especially with no one else in the house old enough to help her. But it didn’t seem appropriate for the neighborhood, somehow, for one house to be—well, less kempt than the others. She had tried to tell Anna this before but it had never seemed to sink in and so she simply avoided the house when she could. Today was different, of course; tragedy made such things unimportant.

Anna looked haggard, her eyes puffy and her light blue dress holding yesterday’s wrinkles. She held a clump of wadded up Kleenex in her hand. “I just talked to the police,” she said—it was obviously an effort for her to keep her voice steady—“and they say that, after 72 hours, if they haven’t found him by now it’s not very likely that they will.” She started to cry and then, stopping herself, stepped back from the door. “I’m sorry. Please come in.”

“You poor dear,” said Kate as she enfolded Anna in her arms; her shirt was cotton, so tear stains wouldn’t be a problem, not that that mattered at all, of course. “Don’t you worry about a thing. I’m here now.”

They went into the kitchen, where, Kate was surprised to see, the sink was full of dirty dishes. Even with what’s been going on, Kate thought, you’d assume she might—. She stopped herself; there was no need to be uncharitable. She crossed the room and began rinsing plates and glasses, though she doubted Anna ever did this properly herself, and filling the dishwasher.

Anna wrung her hands—why didn’t she throw that mess of wadded-up Kleenex away and get some fresh tissues?—and sat down at the kitchen table, which was so gouged and stained it really ought to have been replaced long ago. “I should have kept a closer eye on him,” she said. Kate did not think it would be helpful to say that she agreed, so instead she scrubbed with slightly more vigor, gratified to see bits of potato and chocolate and dried sauce swirl down the drain, at which point they might as well never have existed. “But it was a morning just like every other,” Anna continued. “Mark always made it to school with no problem before.”

Keep flipping a penny and getting heads, you’re bound to get tails sooner or later, thought Kate. But she said, “The neighborhood is so peaceful. You had no reason to expect anything of the kind.”   No one did, though naturally if Kate had had a son she would have taken better care of him. She would certainly never have let him go to school alone or wander around at all hours of the night, and if he had tried she would have made sure it was the last time he did such a thing. “It could have happened to anybody—almost anybody. Look, why not try to take your mind off it? I think it’s high time you made a plan for your garden. It’s a shame to let such a beautiful space go to waste.” Perhaps she could bring Anna around by sheer force of will.

“I haven’t gotten a ransom note or anything.”

“Daffodils would be perfect, and maybe some azaleas beside them. Yellow and red.”

“Do you think he’s been . . .” The hand Anna put to her mouth was trembling slightly. Then she dropped it back into her lap. “Do you think he’s been hurt?”

Kate sighed. “I think it’s silly to allow such morbid thoughts into your head. Most likely he’ll be back soon enough, and none the worse for wear. Maybe he’s just off on some adventure”—she raised an eyebrow—“and is waiting until he’s good and ready to come home.” Anna’s eyes were wide. “Boys are like that.”

“Do you really think so?”

Kate winced at the catch of hope in Anna’s voice. It’s not as if I can do anything about this, she thought resentfully. “Well, of course I’m not positive. If he weren’t so used to roaming around unsupervised I would feel more certain, but given his habits I suppose he could be anywhere. Or something could have happened to him, or some terrible person could have—” But she was not permitted to finish her sentence, as Anna interrupted her with noisy weeping. “Oh, now, don’t cry. You don’t know anything for sure yet, not really. There’s a very good chance that everything will work out fine.” Kate put the last spoon into the dishwasher, dried her hands carefully on the towel, and sat down, taking Anna’s hand in both of hers.

“I think I’d like to go lie down.”

“Of course, honey,” said Kate, releasing Anna’s hand and standing up briskly. “I’ll get out of your hair.”

“Please don’t. I’d rather not be alone right now.”

They went into the living room, filled with shelves and old furniture. Before she could stop herself, Kate said, “Next time I come I’ll bring a duster, how’s that?”

But Anna did not seem to have heard; she stretched herself out on the couch. “Would you mind staying with me for a while?”

Kate reached out to run her hand along the back of the sofa, far enough so that she could glance at her watch as she did so. She saw that there was still more than enough time to get dinner ready before Chris came home, so she said, “Of course.”

“If the phone rings—”

“Don’t worry, I’ll wake you immediately. I’m just glad I can help.”

“Thank you for being such a good friend,” said Anna, but her eyes were closed and her voice was already drowsy.

Kate shifted in the lumpy chair, hoping to find a comfortable position, but after a few moments she gave up and sat still, her torso erect. The flat black shoes Anna had kicked off caught her eye; one was upside-down and the other, on its side, had a stain on it. Kate pursed her lips. Eventually, after the breathing from the couch had evened out, she stood up, picked up the shoes, and set them neatly beside each other along the wall. This made her feel useful, even though she could do nothing about the stain, so she continued around the room, frowning as she picked up video games—it was none of her business, of course, but Kate would never have permitted a child such a violent hobby—and discarded candy wrappers. No wonder Mark was so heavy; with all the sugar his mother fed him Kate was surprised he hadn’t developed diabetes. She dropped the wrappers into the garbage in the kitchen and then, feeling generous, started up the hall stairs. Then she stopped, her hand resting on the banister. She really needed to get back home; Chris would be back before too long, and, besides, she decided, it would be inappropriate to clean Anna’s house without being asked. Give a man a fish, she thought.

The mirror over the fireplace was dirty, so she could not check her hair before leaving—why am I surprised? she thought wearily—but she was sure she looked fine. As she went to the front door she turned her head and her heart swelled with compassion for the woman lying on the sofa. Then she walked out into the bright street.

She was so lucky. How easily people’s homes could be disrupted, how swiftly their lives torn asunder! It was almost a miracle, really, that horrible things didn’t befall everybody all the time. She wished Jim Mason would take his soccer ball inside when he was done playing instead of leaving it out on the lawn like that. Perhaps she would mention this to his mother next time they met. It was so important to help young people behave properly; otherwise they would become careless, like Anna, and then look what happened. Kate felt a sudden piercing longing for the order of her kitchen and quickened her pace.

She inhaled the calm of the house, drawing strength from the dark wood of the floor and the perfectly hung photographs on the wall. Back in the kitchen, the only change since her departure was that the sunlight bathed the toaster rather than the telephone. She picked up the gleaming knife again.

As she opened the door to the basement and flipped the weak bulb on, she worried at first when she did not see what she expected at the foot of the stairs. But then she looked over into the corner and breathed a sigh of relief; the child was huddled there, limbs bound and eyes wide, and silent, of course, because of the gag. “Now, where were we?” she asked brightly. She fingered the point of the knife and descended the staircase into the dimly lit room.

A Halloween Poem by Jacob Shelton

Madeline and Calvin sat quietly on their sofa watching The Omen,
supposedly a horror classic but
Calvin didn’t think very much of it. The pacing was all over the place and he
found the concept of the antichrist to be dull.
“Why can’t you just have a good time on our night off? I told you I would
watch whatever you wanted, we could have watched Honey I Shrunk the
Kids for all I care, I just wanted to spend the evening with you and now
you’ve ruined it.”
Madeline went to bed. Calvin did the dishes and finished watching The
Omen, it wasn’t as slow as he originally thought, and that kid was kind of
creepy. He went in to the bedroom to apologize to Madeline but she was
pretending to be asleep so he pretended to sleep next to her.
I suppose it’s worth mentioning that Madeline and Calvin are werewolves.

Send Us Your Scary Reads for Halloween

autumn-leaves1

Listen up, Gazelles! Halloween is right around the corner and we want you — that’s right, YOU — to send us your October-themed fiction, essays, poetry, and art.

What scares you? What makes you tick?

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