And the winners are...
First Place - Kristin Lo
A man traveled home down the empty street, the moon casting an eerie glow on his blazer. The lone streetlight flickered dimly against the thick fog as the man walked past, his shoes clicking loudly against the faded pavement.
Suddenly, the sound of something metal being dropped echoed through the street. The man tensed, listening. It was dead silent; even the rodents dared not breathe. The man’s gaze caught on a shadow, shifting by a tarnished brick wall.
He strained to make out an adolescent male; whose arm lurched violently, shadows clinging to his figure. He’s painting, the man noted, the slight gleam of the brick wall catching his attention. The boy abruptly stopped, and the man watched on disdainfully as the shadows retreated back with him; revealing words scrawled on the bleached brick in bright red paint. “Hell is empty and all the devils are here”
The man’s scowl deepened when he noticed that a scythe adorned the boy’s midnight black hoodie, barely visible in the ominous moonlight. Wannabe delinquents, a voice in his head whispered. He deserves to be punished. Chills ran up his spine as the man realized uneasily that he had forgotten his medication that morning. Looking back up, the man noticed that the boy and his graffiti had disappeared. An apparition, the man told himself. Swallowing loudly, he continued to walk home, paranoia creeping into his veins.
As he approached his residence, he noticed the same shadowy figure vandalizing his house. Something inside the man snapped. “Hey!” his voice boomed down the street. “You!”
The boy’s head shot up. He spun around and began fleeing, overturning his bucket. The man pursued, his teeth bared as he followed the delinquent into a gloomy alleyway. The man gritted his teeth when he realized that it was a dead end, and that the boy was nowhere in sight. He turned back around; however, a dark figure blocked his exit. The delinquent approached the man, the streetlights behind him casting monstrous shadows against his figure.
“You fiend! I should call the police!” The man seethed in anger.
The boy simply grinned, his teeth gleaming from underneath his hood. Something about the smile unsettled the man.
“I need more paint,” the boy said.
“What?” the man sputtered.
The boy approached slowly, moving like a wraith in the night. “The last man fought too much,” he stated innocently. “He didn’t give me much paint.”
The man remained silent as a feeling of dread grew inside of him. He rubbed his eyes; but the boy remained. A gleam of metal shone from the boy’s hands, and the man searched desperately for an escape, panicking. He came up empty as the faint smell of iron reached his senses.
The man then noticed the splatters of red paint soaking the boy’s hoodie and face. The boy’s eyes were dull and emotionless under his hood, his grin resembling that of a ghoul. A knife was raised slowly, pointing towards the man.
“I need more paint.”
Second Place - Rachel Nguyen
A Man’s Best Friend
I’m terrified to go home. I’m afraid of what I will find. I bought a small french country style house. I also adopted Alfie, the most precious puppy I have ever laid eyes on. That was when I decided to move out of my parent’s house.
Last night, to celebrate, I rented a DVD of “The Exorcist” - just the cover gave me the shivers. I used to adore that feeling, but now, not so much. I heard footsteps when the movie began. I hit pause and listened attentively. The footsteps were still there, but were growing more distant. It had started to rain a little while back so I assumed that’s what it was. I clicked the movie back on.
Half way through, I heard a mumbled voice resonating from the darkness. I paused the movie again and kept hearing the mumbling. I didn’t want to turn around, but my curiosity insisted. I saw the silhouette of an apparition crouched on the staircase. I took out my iPhone and snapped a picture. What I saw next was an absolute horror.
I saw a fiend, a monster, something not normal. Half of his face was illuminated by the flash of the camera. The other half was shrouded in darkness. I can remember it so vividly. Pitch black eyes were staring into my soul. He smiled so genuinely, yet so diabolically. He showed his teeth, stretching out his lips so much that they bled.
I shrieked. He made this inhuman sound and crawled upstairs quickly on all fours. I froze, not knowing what to do. The rain was pouring hard and thunder was echoing throughout the house. Time seemed to stop. All I could focus on was my ragged breathing. Minutes turned into hours, and I eased back into reality. That was when I noticed movement in the reflection of the TV.
My breathing became uneven, death was coming. I frantically turned my head backwards. He was carrying a scythe. It was so dark you could barely see his face. He had white skin with blood smeared down his cheeks. His eyes had a vacant stare, but his pupils were oozing blood. He opened his mouth menacingly and let out this wail of horror. Screeching like he was being beaten to death. I ran to the front door. His screams were still echoing throughout the house as I reached for the doorknob. “Please don’t go. We want friends,” A little girl’s voice said from behind me.
I turned around. A dozen apparitions emerged from the darkness, staring at me like I was as piece of meat. They all began to screech, howling and jumping around the house, crawling quickly towards me. I left the house. I ran as fast as I could. When I looked back, I saw their faces peeking through the curtains. I’m terrified. I’m afraid of what I will find, but I have to return. I need to. My puppy is still there.
Third Place - Yuwen Zhang
Working in the ER, you get a lot of weird stuff. Creepy stuff. Things you can’t explain.
For example, we once had a kid who came in, crying with a stomach-ache. X-Rays told us there were teeth trying to grow in his stomach lining. There was another guy, some middle aged man with intestines full of blood. It wasn’t his, yet the test results didn’t match it to anything else.
We even had a recently delivered baby come in with a laceration going the length of her body. She passed soon after. The experts said it was a scythe wound, but what could have injured an unborn baby? The terrified midwife claimed to have seen some sort of humanoid shadow on the wall, and shrieked that the apparition, the Grim Reaper, was what killed the child.
But the worst case was one that happened recently, and still haunts me. One of my co-workers was talking about his friend, Greg; apparently he had a reaction to some bad meat and got a real bad rash. Normal stuff, right? But a few days later he was perfectly fine, just a slight itch here and there. He came drinking with us once. The strangest thing was that he kept looking at his arm; when asked, he said something about feeling the darnedest sensation there. Like something crawling, he said. But there was nothing, not the slightest bump or irregularity.
Life went on. I still worked in the ER, sometimes visited the children’s ward with toys and presents. Those visits were the highlight of my day, to be honest. One child took a liking to me, and would always smile when I came. I sometimes went drinking with my work buddies, at this little bar down on High Street. One day, Greg came along too. I noticed that he still looked at parts of his body, randomly. I asked him about it again, worried since he was looking much thinner. Greg just said it some muscle spasms, and would be meeting with a chiropractor to fix it soon. I never knew if he did.
I went with his friend to the funeral. I didn’t understand; he seemed perfectly healthy, if a little thin. I recognized one of my colleagues there, looking terribly pale. Her name was Dara. I asked her if she knew anything; why would Greg just...die?
She said that he came into the hospital, a few days after our chat at the bar. He seemed twitchy, and kept scratching at himself. When he came into the room, he was noticeably more distraught, muttering loudly. When touched, he started gibbering, yelling like a fiend. And then he just…collapsed, dead. The autopsy results made no sense. He was hollowed out, like something ate him from the inside. Most of his major organs were missing pieces, with little tunnels in his flesh. There was an unidentified egg sac in his skull. Whatever did it was gone, through the shoulder.
Dara went missing three days later.
First Place - Teraya Tetu
A Picture of Elegance
The first crack of thunder catches the guests off guard. Thick velvet curtains have been drawn against the violent storm. Glittering sconces line the walls. Live music cascades softly down the halls, originating from the ballroom, where a carefully instructed orchestra plays on a raised marble podium.
The lady of the house quietly excuses herself and makes her way upstairs. In the room next to her own, she finds her decrepit mother sitting in a rocking chair. She tries to start up a conversation, but her mother merely looks past her, muttering about some sort of apparition. With a sigh, she gets up to leave, but pauses briefly to remove the empty bottle of brandy from the bedside table.
While reluctant to return to the party, she is curious to know why the music has stopped. Surely her husband wouldn’t make his speech without her? Then again, she wouldn’t expect any less of him. A fiend, her mother had once called him. Exasperated, she pushes open the double doors, her polite smile already in place.
Her screams reverberate off the walls, filling the room with wails of anguish and terror. The guests are slumped in their chairs.
Dead. They’re all dead. And have been for quite some time.
Their skin is shriveled like an apple that’s rolled out of sight. Hollow sockets glare up at her, eyes long since reduced to nothing. Seized up hands hold silverware at disturbing angles.
Maggots crawl through forgotten meals. The music podium’s been abandoned. Spider webs cling to glasses and dust acts as a blanket, casting a thick, grimy film over every available surface.
The center piece, once a delicate white swan posed amongst a nest of intricate flowers, has transformed. Now harsh branches erupt out of the table and act as a perch for an imposing and startlingly black raven.
It looks so real she can’t help but lean towards it. It blinks ominously at her before taking flight. She turns to flee from the squawking, sharp beaked brute, but doesn’t make it far.
Adrenaline mixes with disbelief as she watches an old tapestry come to life. Mesmerized by the scene, she doesn’t notice the nearest farmer take a step towards her. The tip of his scythe materializes before her, followed by the rest of him, as he steps out of the tapestry.
She runs from the room and takes up refuge in a closet. Hands over her ears, she cries, trying to block out the calls of the raven. Sobs shake her frail, defenceless body. The sun won’t be up for hours. She’ll just have to wait it out.
The storm’s cleared up by the following morning, and the police follow up on a disturbance call. An ancient grounds keeper greets them and points out the broken locks on the front door. They take note of the destruction and open a window to release a confused, white dove. They diligently search the house. In the hall closet, they find a body.
Second Place - Mary Cabaluna
I used to keep a small nightlight on whenever I went to sleep when I was a kid. I used to find comfort in the warm yellow glow beside my bed, and knowing that no monsters could ever creep by without me noticing was its own advantage. I slept soundly for the first few months, but when the shadows of the desk became longer and more menacing, and the closet door would start to groan open with the long, spindly fingers pushing them, I knew the nightlight was futile. I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe.
There wasn’t really much the doctors could do. They suggested that the move prompted the episodes, or that there must be something in my biological clock that was off. They advised that I keep breathing, deeply and slowly, to relax my body. I need not worry about the monsters that familiarized themselves with me. All I had to do was breathe and stay calm.
Night after night, month after month, I slept. I was visited by many, with their bulbous eyes and blank stares. Sometimes, fiends sat on the ground, waking me with their promises of tortures and despairs. Sometimes, I am greeted by an apparition whose feet never seemingly touched the ground. Other nights, I am observed by the cloaked figure with the scythe in the window. I never move. I never speak. I am but an object to be desired, eyed by many.
As years passed and the house became more welcoming, I built a tolerance for them. I rarely saw them: every deep breath was a step away from the figures, and their taunts blended in with the hum of the fan. For the next few years, I didn’t experience any horrific episodes, only the vast darkness of the room.
Moving away was difficult enough without support from others, but it was required. The apartment seemed empty and isolating, without any contact from family or friends. As boxes piled up and the needed items became lost in the sea of clutter, it was apparent that I needed help from someone else.
I called my best friend to come over and help me unpack. Reluctantly, she agreed, and we spent the night laying on the makeshift mattress on the floor.
As the clocked ticked into the dawn, I awoke to a scratching on the door. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I made out a figure atop the doorframe, staring with its bulging, glassy eyes. Its pale face, skin taut and pulled almost to a breaking point, was corrupted, seemingly like in a dream. Its bony fingers, splayed unnaturally, hung over the door. It smiled. I breathed in and out, calming myself, but to no avail. I could feel it watching.
I turned my head to look at the clock. It read 4:03 in the morning. The scratching stopped.
I heard a petrified whisper from the side.
“Abby,” my friend murmured, “do you see her, too?”
Third Place - Moay Sakata
Let’s play a game. I don’t mean one like “Grounders” or “Scrabble.” No, I mean a game much more delicious – I mean – much more fun. Here are the rules. I ask a question. You answer. You’re right, you win. You’re wrong, you lose. If you win, you put this ‘story’ down and walk away unscathed. If you lose, I get to do whatever I want to you, and you may never walk again. Ready? Well, ready or not, here I come.
What is behind you?
Ah, see – you think you’re so sly, don’t you? Your answer is something blunt and clever like “a wall,” “the back of my chair” or even “nothing.” How adorably mundane of you. Well, obviously, you are wrong. Because of two things. One: why would I ask a question you could easily answer correctly? And two: why would I let you see me?
And now, cue your scepticism and sarcastic fear. Come now, cutie, use that sweet, squishy little brain of yours. Why would I play a game where I lose undoubtedly and don’t get to use you as a little plaything afterward? Why would I let you see me at first glance? After all, you don’t know how I look. Maybe I am an apparition, a ghost, completely invisible. Maybe I am a very fast creature, running out of your sight just in time. Maybe I am the spider on the ceiling or the fiend lurking in those shadows around you. Maybe I am the wall, the chair or the nothingness.
Well, we can keep asking questions, or we can get to the point. You have lost. I have won. More specifically, I have won you. Do you know what that means? Tell me you know – it’s just so much more fun when my victim knows its fate. Because then I see the dread set in your pretty eyes. You deny it, but it’s that little glint of unease in your pupils. You might even fidget a little, clear your throat. Whatever way you handle your anxiety, it’s getting to you. I can see it from here. I’m watching your eyes dart back and forth across this page, desperately hoping to read a cliché ending that will leave you unharmed.
You still don’t get it, do you? It’s not a story! My game is one I take very seriously, thank you very much. Now, if you don’t mind looking for me again, I am waiting right here. You still can’t find me, can you? Oh, it always ends like this. I always choose the stupid ones to play with. They have the best screams.
Don’t worry. Soon, the reality will sink into your mind like my shiny scythe into your soft, tender flesh. Your skin is lovely, by the way. I would just love to wear it. But for now, back to the original question. What is behind you? Look – really look. Still don’t see?
Well, I guess I’ll just start playing with you anyway.
Honourable Mention - Brenna Ritchie
I set down my pen nearly a year ago swearing I would never pick it up again. Let my writing die with me, I thought, I am old and owe the world nothing. Soon the endless night will fall and I will rise. I have stared too long into the abyss and it now returns my gaze. It gnaws at my heart, chews my soul.
Will this self-silencing ever work?
It is the language of cold stone, of winter leaves pronounced in the fell wind’s sullen sigh and the poetic drip, drip, of rain. It is the song a fallen sparrow sings, the discordant clamor of sunlight ripped apart by a canopy of foggy misery. The ghostly apparition that unseeing eyes see, what deaf ears hear. The romantic ballad of death’s embrace and the foreboding, chilling sense of his unyielding scythe. A solemn hymn of rusted red wine dripping from pointed teeth. The lamentation of the bloated corpse rotting in the desert sun. The graceful ballet of maggots twisting in the ruins of God’s temple.
Here in this grey land, we have no name. We are the carcasses reflected in our father’s yellow eyes—bones bleached, vacant sockets regarding a hungry crow. Here in this shadow country our tinny voices scratch like a fly’s wings against stale air. Ours is the language of imbeciles, the gibberish of idiots. The root and the vine have more to say.
I want to show you something. Its name has been lost in the whispers of time, tossed around like a ball in a child’s game. It is old, and its memory long: knowing the world before it was ever given a useless title. It knows all of us. I will introduce you. I will prove this fiend’s existence within all of our decaying breasts.
I will show you.
Need more info?
Email Corene at email@example.com
or Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org