Trembling With Fear – Halloween 2023 Edition
It’s one of my favorite times of year! Halloween is upon us, and if you have been unable to enjoy all the fun of this holiday, you’ll get a chance to catch up with the stories in this special edition.
This has been an especially fun edition for me because our writers have a plethora of topics and ideas to choose from. This holiday is associated with so many things from ghosts to vampires; haunting people to tricks and treats. This is a time where our writers get to stretch their creative muscles and run wild. While we had a lot of submissions this year, we’ve selected a few of our favorites. Happy Halloween!
As the veil between worlds thins and the shadows grow bolder, we find ourselves standing on the threshold of Halloween—a day rich with history, mystique, and a touch of the macabre. It’s Stu here, one of your curators of curiosities and teller of tales, ready to embark on a journey through the fantastical and the frightening with this special edition of ‘Trembling With Fear.’
I’ve always believed that Halloween is more than just a day on the calendar; it’s a portal to the parts of our imagination that lie dormant, waiting for permission to come alive. The stories we’ve gathered for you this year are a testament to the power of this hallowed holiday. They weave a tapestry of terror and wonder, inviting you to suspend disbelief and embrace the unknown.
Did you know that Halloween has its roots in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, a time when the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead was believed to be at its thinnest? It’s a tradition that speaks to our deepest yearnings to connect with something greater than ourselves, and it’s the perfect backdrop for our literary adventure.
So, dear reader, I invite you to join me in celebrating the allure of All Hallows’ Eve. Let’s revel in the magic and mystery of the stories that await, and perhaps, just perhaps, we’ll discover that the line between fiction and reality is not as clear-cut as it seems.
Welcome to the Halloween special of ‘Trembling With Fear.’ The shadows are waiting, and the tales are ready to be told. Are you?
145 Black Cate Lane
By: David Sokol
The October day was prematurely cold. The trees were naked. I loved the wind in my hair and chill in the air. As I rode to town, glowing, decapitated heads burned from the inside while they slowly dissolved on everyone’s porch. What are these people cannibals? Shesh! And they call me crazy. Bob said, “Meet at the butcher shop.” I’m on my way.
In town, I parked and hustled down the cobblestone alley that connected the two main streets. The butcher shop on the corner was warm. A smell punched me in the nose. Old meat? Rotten meat?
The floor was the color of nicotine-stained fingers. A grease-smeared display case held a couple of chuck roasts and a lonely ribeye. No greedy fly rubbed their speedy little hands over the red flesh. Just because I didn’t see a fly doesn’t mean they don’t have a hidden maggot farm here.
A cash register, a knife, and a plastic miniature cow sat on the counter. At the butcher table, two white T-shirts were stuffed with fat men. Their heads were shaved, and they wore aprons smeared with blood. Both looked up when I came in.
“Hello. Bob Gieger, come in today?”
Butchering continued silently.
“Hey, you see Bob today?”
The talkative one said, “Yeah.”
Mr. Talkative said, “Just in. Then he left and blew his head off with a shotgun.”
Guffaws exploded. Their mouths expanded. No more faces, just mouths for heads. There was nothing but their big ugly lips curling and coughing, their hilarity so big they were about to swallow me.
I couldn’t bear their cruelty, laughing at my friend’s tragedy and laughing at me. I focused on the stains on their aprons. Switching focus helps me when I become panicky. A pink wash was the background for the composition. Fresh blood created exciting splatters. Heavy strokes of crimson pushed into the foreground. These were abstract expressionist masterpieces. Stretch them on a frame and sell them for a million bucks at a fancy gallery.
I escaped their tormenting hysterics and ran back down the alley with my hands on my head. Have you ever felt your head would fly away?
“Head blown off. Bob’s head blown off with a shotgun,” repeated in my mind. They said that about my friend. What’s so damn funny about that? I yelled, “Bob.” Where is he? Where was Bob? Panic took me over.
My hands still on my head. My fingers felt something smooth and hard, with ridges. My head or a pumpkin? I reached the end of the alley and found a store window on Main Street.
I saw my familiar reflection. But reflection is a trick of light with no depth, sensation, or blood. It’s a mask with nothing behind it. Come down to it, it’s an illusion. What is sitting on top of my shoulders? Seeing is believing, and I never really saw it. How do I know I have a head? Really, we never met.
I stopped short—Bob’s tricked-out Harley with black leather saddlebags was parked at the curb, a block from the butcher. He must be around here. Is he dead or alive? Turned ‘round and ran back down the alley to re-check the butchery.
They chuckled when I came in. They cracked up when I asked for Bob again. But that stopped when they put their hands up. “We don’t want no trouble, man,” one said. This time, they both stopped laughing before I left.
“Freakin’ freaks,” I thought.
Outside the shop, a terrified little girl leaned against a car. She held a cuddly bear close and pulled away when she saw me. “What’s the matter, angel?” I said.
She breathlessly said, “My mama is coming right back.”
“Oh, that’s good, honey. Bye-bye.” I gave her a cute wave. She didn’t respond. I hoped her mom would return soon.
Poor Bob. He was fed up with being knocked down every time he stood up. Me too, but I didn’t have buckshot as my last meal. I called 911.
“Reporting a murder or, I mean, suicide.”
“This is Sargent Vacio. What do you know about the shotgun murders?”
“Nothin’. What shotgun murders? “
“It’s all over the papers, Sir,” Vacio told me.
“News to me. I’m Just sayin’ I heard that Bob Gieger blew his head off.”
“145 Black Cat Lane.”
I cut the call. On my phone, I brought up the local paper. Today’s news headline read: FOURTH DECAPITATING SHOTGUN MURDER THIS WEEK -PSYCHO KILLER ON THE LOOSE. Oh dear, better be careful. Hopefully, Bob didn’t run into that character.
I went back to Bob’s bike—keys in the ignition. I saddled up on her soft leather seat and jumped the kickstarter. The engine vibration soothed my nerves. A refreshing breeze got my juices goin’. I had a cold one waiting at home.
The one-eyed Cyclops headlight on Bob’s bike cut my way back through the dark; The lit-up orange heads still melted on porches.
When I arrived at 145 Black Cat Lane, there was a carnival in front of my house. No, not a carnival. I saw spinning lights from three cruisers and six cops waiting. The big cop approached me and said. “I’m Sargent Vacio. You live here?”
“Are you Bob Gieger?” Damn. My mind froze.
“Do you have any ID?”
“Here.” Gave it to him.
“Says Bob Gieger? Picture says you are Bob Geiger – that you live here. There were two more murders today, two butchers in the village. Do you know anything about that?” The sergeant said.
“No, sir. But I did stop in there today looking for Bob.”
“But, mister, it says right here…” The sergeant began to say.
“Sargent, over here.” A cop said. The policeman pointed to the saddlebags. A walnut gunstock stuck out of one bag.
“Yeah. I share it with Bob. It’s a honey.”
The cop pulled on blue latex gloves and removed the shotgun. He broke it down and took a sniff. “Take a whiff, Sarge.”
Before he could pull his nose out of the barrel, Sarge said. “Yup, recently fired.”
Another cop signaled one of the cruisers to pull up near us. The little girl from town, the one with the cuddly bear, was looking at me from the back seat.
“Hi, angel.” I gave her a friendly smile and wave. Someone in the back seat whispered in her ear. When she rode by, she looked frightened and continued to nod up and down. She wasn’t smiling, poor thing.
I heard the metal cuffs click on my wrists. Then voices rambled, “You’re under arrest for the murders of…You have the right… Come with us.”
“Sure, I’ll come, but I don’t know how much help I’ll be. What about Bob?”
David Sokol lives in Vermont and Hawaii. He is a reired Psychologist and writes to ask questions, if not answerable, at least entertaining.
All Hallow’s Eve
By: Kellee Kranendonk
Pumpkin eyes burn with flame as souls roam, searching for a body to call their own. Tombstones gleam on a moonlit night while I search for names and dates of those gone before. Wind howls as though crying for ones with no voice. On the street children’s cries filter through to undead, unseen ears.
As I move between each carved stone, I spot an eerie orange glow and head towards it. A Jack-o-lantern sits beside a tombstone, its flame guttering out. Had it been here all along? I look around, but see only graves and shadows beneath the moon.
The pumpkin marks a stone reading: Alvah Quin. Killed in a barfight. October 31, 1983 – October 31, 2013.
Tonight, his birthdate and his death date. Somewhere a dog barks. A chill envelopes me – spider-webs me tight. An unearthly moan haunts the air as the flame dies.
The grinning face that had housed the fire explodes outward. I try to run but my feet won’t move. I’m frozen to the spot. Clouds cover the only light I have, and in front of me a silver-blue spectre now hovers, the wind shifting its form in peek-a-boo shadows.
“Are you the one?” it moans as it winds itself around me, pulling invisible chains tight. The sound of my throbbing heart pulses in my ears. “Are you the one?”
The form swirls away from me, hovers above the gravestone, the bottom of it hanging unevenly, like rags. However impossible, the shreds scrape across the stone creating a squeal like nails on a chalkboard. The unseen links still bind me, the spectre stares, its eyes black, soulless orbs.
“Are you the one?” it asks for the third time, and I still have no idea what it means.
It throws its head back and screech-moans, the sound drawn out on the breeze. A dog howls in return, and for a moment the children are silent. Have even they heard the sound? I think not, for their revelry returns long before the howls of both dog and spectre have stopped.
Gooseflesh rises on my skin and snakes slither along my spine. I try to move and hear the clank of chains. But that’s impossible.
“What do you want from me?” I cry.
The spectre brings its head down to look me in the eye. The flame of some ethereal fire burns inside those black holes. And again he asks me the same refrain.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
It swirls into non-existence, then swirls back to point at the headstone.
At first I still don’t understand. I stare at the writing, the wind blowing around me, yet my hair, my clothes don’t move. For a brief moment I wonder if I’m dead. But I can’t be. I can still hear the blood in my ears, the pounding of my heart in my chest. I look back to the spirit, wondering what it feels. Then it dawns on me. “No,” I tell it. “I’m not the one. I did not take your life.”
Ear-piercing screams elicit from the spirit as it spins itself into a cyclonic twist. Leaves, grass and dirt swirl up into it, spinning violently before being spat out in great heaves and piles on the ground. I close my eyes. Sand, and whatever else has been sucked up continue to batter me. My chains tighten, my mind whirls – what can it hurt, I wonder. Its already dead. But if I claim ownership of its death, will it kill me? Can it kill me?
I struggle with the idea, my head and body both beginning to ache. The churning debris has become larger, hitting harder, faster. I make up my mind.
“Okay,” I scream. Am I being heard above this storm? “I am the one. I took your life.”
Abruptly everything stops. For an unearthly minute, nothing exists except me. Blackness surrounds me and the silence deafens me. I hang in a black, blank space with nothing to hold me except for these spectral chains. I feel like I’m on fire, and I’m sure blood is running down my face, my arms. I try to scream but the sound is ripped from my throat and gorged on by the dark.
As if the sound of my fear has swollen its terrifying belly, the dark explodes into shards of silver-blue, pumpkin orange and hidden wisps of grey-black shadows. Each one screams a tortured death knell, and from somewhere far off, dogs and coyotes howl in unison.
Then I’m back.
Tombstones gleam on a moonlit night and Jack-o-lanterns dot the spaces between. Children’s cries filter through the trees, carried on the wind. Shadows dance in the silvery light.
I notice a group of kids – teenagers – standing next to one of the headstones. Their chattering whispers through the chill air, making its way to me, though I can’t understand the words. I make my way over to them. “Something wrong?”
Each of them jumps as though I’d poked them with a stick. Every eye is as wide and round as the orb hanging in the sky.
“What happened?” asks one of them.
I can’t tell them, they won’t believe me. I look down at my arms and see blood seeped through the cloth of my sweatshirt on my right. I reach up to my forehead. My fingers come away wet. “I fell in the dark. Banged my head.”
Apparently they accept that as the truth. One of them points. “Look.”
I step closer to look.
Carved into the black marble headstone are these words:
Born: October 31, 1983
Died: October 31, 2013 in a bar fight
His spirit laid to rest: October 31, 2023
“That’s tonight,” rasped the one who’d pointed. “What does all that mean?”
“Yeah,” agreed another. “They obviously didn’t just bury him tonight.”
“I think,” I said, reaching out to touch the carved words, “that Mr. Alvah Quin’s spirit finally feels released, that he has justice.”
The kids look at me, absorbing my response. I wonder if Alvah had tried every Hallowe’en for the last ten years to find his killer, and every year he’d failed. I smile. I feel honoured to be the one to finally set him free.
Kellee Kranendonk has spent a lifetime writing. According to her late grandfather she was born with a pen in one hand and paper in the other. She’s certain that these days he would have claimed she was born clutching a laptop.
She’s had over a hundred published stories, poems and non-fiction pieces. Her work has received honourable mentions, been shortlisted; she’s been a spotlight author and some of her pieces were to appear in a school book project, though that didn’t pan out. Kellee has been an editor, has managed online writing groups, and one of her stories appeared in a best selling anthology. She lives in a brand-new merged municipality in New Brunswick, Canada with her family and a variety of animals. You can find her work on Facebook @Eclectic Author; Instagram @k2j2t1; and on Twitter/X @MaritimeK1K.
Stopping For A Bite
By: Tom Minder
The white gloves fit like a second skin. The silk tie looped around and formed a classic knot at the bidding of its master. The formal jacket fit perfectly. A scarf added to the look of a man needed to be seen to be believed.
Turning from side to side, Vlad studied his appearance in the mirror. He noticed a stain on his bandages and undid the gauze, stopping at the base of his forehead. He removed his spectacles and continued unwrapping.
He stopped at the shirt collar, rolled up the cloth, set it on the night table, and checked once more. A well-dressed man from the neck down, but his face missing.
“It’s not easy being the Invisible Man,” he whispered. “And a vampire, also. I hope they have something decent to bite into at this shindig.”
He found new sterile wrapping and reapplied it. “That’s better. Now onto my nephew’s Halloween party.”
The blood-red coupe pulled in front of the apartment building. He handed the keys to the attendant. “Find a safe spot nearby. No scratches, graffiti, or even fingerprints.”
The man drove away in Vlad’s Impala.
He climbed the marble steps as “Werewolf of London” blared from speakers. Checking his wig, he hummed along. “And his hair was perfect.”
“Uncle Vladimir, I’m so glad you could come. This is Mina, my fiancé. Mina, this is my Uncle Vladimir, he just flew in from Cleveland.”
“And, boy, are my arms tired,” Vlad said, channeling Groucho Marx.
“Miss Mina, you’re dressed as the bride of Frankenstein,” Vlad continued. “White dress, beehive hairdo, and creamy white neck.” He took her hand and salivated slightly, the gauze absorbing the moisture. “So glad to see you, my dear. My nephew has good taste.”
Johnathan smiled at his fiancé. “My Uncle Vlad is quite the charmer.”
“And Johnathan, dressed as The Monster. Very authentic. You even got the bolts right.”
Mina took a step back to view Vlad’s costume. “And you’re the Invisible Man, bandages, fine clothes. Where did you find an outfit so quick?”
“One is quick on one’s feet in my line of work. Besides, clothes make the man.”
A waiter offered a tray of whites, reds, and zinfandels. Vlad waved him off. “I never drink…wine.” He smiled. That line always slayed him.
Mina excused herself and walked to the patio. She leaned on the railing and admired the full moon. Johnathan left to check on the hors d’oeuvres. Vlad walked into the evening air, found a secluded corner, and removed his bandages. Transforming into an invisible bat, he flittered over to Mina. She felt the warm breeze and a sharp sensation on her exposed skin. She swatted her neck. “Darn mosquitos.”
Vlad, stunned by the assault, fell off the patio, onto his Impala, bouncing twice, leaving deep scratches as he skidded to the curb. He held his head as he looked over the sports car. “Man. The rental company’s going to bleed me dry.”
He flew to a nearby black Spyder, keys in the ignition. Turning back into human shape, he slid inside, started the engine, and turned on the heated leather seats to warm his exposed gluteus.
“Cleveland, here I come.” He found Lynyrd Skynyrd on Bluetooth, hummed along to Call Me the Breeze, and drove off into the moonlight.
Tom Minder lives in southern New Jersey with his wife Paula. He is a member of the South Jersey Writers’ Group and The Writers Coffeehouse. His story Burning for Rehoboth won a judges award in the Beach Nights anthology from Cat & Mouse Press, 2016.
His initial novel, The Long Harbor Testament, was published January 2017. His second, The House Always Wins, came out in October 2018. His latest, The Ferret, was released in April 2021, all through Black Rose Writing.
The Devil’s Storm
By: Kailah Roehl
My half brother Jackson raced down the stairs in his dinosaur pajamas. When he got to the last step, he tripped and hit his face on the floor. A tooth swished across the tile and a small amount of blood dripped out of his mouth. “Mom!” He wailed, cupping his jaw.
She ran in from the living room. Her soap opera blared through the howls of Jackson. “The hell did you do, Miranda?” She scowled at me, picking up the tooth.
“What? He tripped.”
She squeezed him, petting his head. “My poor baby.”
Jackson looked at me and grinned. “She pushed me, mama.”
“What the hell! No, I didn’t you little shit!“ I stood up from the kitchen table and rushed towards them.
“Hey! Enough!” His mom, my step, held up her hand towards me, and paused, checking his mouth. She sighed. “Miranda, you’re taking him trick or treating tomorrow. You two need some bonding time.”
“Ugh, I can’t, remember? I have a date.“
She patted Jackson’s back, and he ran upstairs giggling. Turning her hips towards me, she said, “Not after today, you don’t.”
“This is bullshit!” Stomping up the stairs, I slammed my bedroom door and heard Jackson breathing underneath the bed. Crouching to see him, I said, “You’re such an asshole.”
Sniffling into his arms, he muttered, “I’m sorry I lied.”
“So go tell her the truth.”
“I don’t want to. I’d rather go trick or treating with you.” He wiped snot from his nose. “Mommy is boring.”
“Well, I don’t want to go with you.”
“Please sissy.” He begged. “Please. I’m sorry.”
Scoffing, I rolled my eyes. “Fine, but next year I’m done.”
“Yay!” He crawled out and sprang up like a frog. Afterwards he asked, “I need a devil’s horn for my costume. Do you have one?”
“Hmm. I don’t think so, but maybe we have some in the trunk upstairs.”
“The attic?” His eyes widened as he shook his head. “No way it’s creepy up there.”
“Oh, come on, it’s not that bad. I’ll go with you.”
Walking up the creeping attic stairs, I had to duck at the roof. A small square window was across the room. Wet colored leaves tapped the glass as wind stirred them amongst the storm. The window whistled as we searched through the trunk. It smelled of old, dusty costumes. “ok.. I swear we had some.” Jackson’s breathing became rapid and his lips quivered.
“Hey.” I rubbed his shoulder. “We’ll find some.”
Thunder rattled the roof, and a flash of lightning exposed a crack in the wall.
Jackson pointed to it. “What’s over there?”
“I dont know.” Crawling over, I pulled out a square piece of the wall, revealing a small space. A dirty white shoe box rested in the middle of pink fluffy clouds of fiberglass. Coughing as I grabbed the box, Jackson confessed, “I hope it’s treasure.”
We take off the lid and find a mask inside. An ominous feeling formed goosebumps up my arm as I held the devil’s face in my hands.
“Wow! That’s better than mine. Can I have it? Please, Manda?”
“Well, hold on, we gotta clean it first.”
Jackson followed me down to the kitchen, and I cleaned the mask in soapy dishwater. Barbara continued watching her television shows. Her lazy ass won’t move until after Halloween. I dried the red and black mask, handed it to Jackson, and he put it on over his head.
“I’m the devil. Muwahaha!“ And ran away, terrorizing the house for the rest of the day.
“Are you gonna sleep in that?“ I asked, tucking him in for bed.
“Yes.” He crossed his hands over his heart like a vampire falling asleep.
“Okay then,” I smiled and gave him a big sister kiss. “Love you buttface, go to sleep now.”
“Love you back butt facer.”
Within a few minutes, his eyes grew heavy and closed. When I shut his door, smoke filled the room. The mask contorted. Black took over the red paint, and fused into his skin. After a few hours, Barbara tiptoed into his room. She tried removing the mask but couldn’t and, afraid to wake him, she left it.
The next morning at the breakfast table, I said to him, “Your mask looks different.” Jackson shrugged, transfixed by his cereal. “Okay.” I chewed my toast, swallowed and asked. ”Ready to go trick or treating later?” He nodded, mute.
Barb glanced at me, raising her eyebrow. “Why don’t you give your face a breather, Jaxs.” He grunted and sprinted away from the table. She shook her head at me. “Oh, well.”
Dusk arrived and I took Jackson trick or treating. He got an enormous amount of candy but barely said a word during the chocolate hunting tradition. When we got back home he seemed quiet… too quiet. I asked in the entryway. “Did you even have fun?” He nodded. “Well, just so you know, sister tax. I get your peanut butter cups.” Shoving the bag into my stomach he steadily walked up to his room.
“What the heck is up with that kid?” Poking my head through his bedroom door, I asked, “Are you okay, Jaxs?” He sat silently on his blue round rug. Staring into the mirror at his mask.
Sitting down next to him, I said, “Take off the mask, Jackson.” His head shook from side to side with blackened eyes. “Come on, I want to talk to you.” I reached to take it off. Wickedly fast, he turned his head, snapped his jaw, and bit the meat of my hand. “Ow! what the hell!” Without remorse, he stared off into the mirror. “Barb, ya might want to get in here!”
Jackson mimicked my voice in a low, deep tone. Not of his own. “Barb, ya might want to get in here.”
She stormed in with her hands on her hips. “Oh, my god what now?”
“He bit me and won’t take the mask off.” I showed her the teeth marks.
“Jesus Christ.” She pushed me out of the way. “Take off the mask, Jackson.“ She tugged on it. “Dear lord, did ya glue it on?”
Suddenly, a flash of lightning lit the mirror white. Illuminating the masked reflection. Jackson tilted his head to the side, growled, and the storm came rushing back. “Great.” Barb tugged on his face again and snarled. “Let’s go to the hospital.”
The surgeon stood examining Jackson. “Hm. I think we have a super glue bandit.” Jackson sat muted and crinkled the paper underneath him in his fist. Turning towards Barbara the doctor said, ”We can remove it, but unfortunately we will have to put him under for it.”
She sighed, “Ok. Thank you, doctor.” He left the room and within a few minutes they laid Jackson on a gurney, strapping him down with velcro straps. “These will hold him?” She asked.
“Oh, yeah.” The doctor chuckled and rolled him away confidently to the operating room.
“Alright Jackson. We are gonna give ya some medicine that will make you sleepy,” the anesthesiologist said above his head. Turning and twisting in the straps, Jackson grunted. The surgeon touched his shoulder. “Don’t worry, my boy. You’re in excellent hands and afterwards we will get you a sucker. Does that sound good?” Jackson stopped wiggling and eyed him down. “You’ll be fine.” The surgeon patted his hand.
“Ok Jackson. I want you to count backwards from ten. Can you do that?” The doctor lowered the anesthesia down to his face, but when the suction cup hit the mask, Jackson sprang out of the velcro. Knocking over the surgery tray of scalpels, he grabbed a long silver one off the floor.
“Jackson.” The familiar surgeon crouched in front of him. In a calm voice, he said, “Give that to me, please.”
With a swift swoop, Jackson slashed him across the bridge of his nose, through the cartilage, exposing the white of his bone. The surgeon fell backwards while the room watched in horror. “Help god dammit!” The surgeon bellowed, examining his bloody hands in the corner.
An O.R. nurse attempted to get behind Jackson, and he stabbed the silver blade into her eye. She wailed and smacked the wall behind her. Holding onto her oozing eye socket. A streak of blood and fluid ran down her cheek. The anesthesiologist ran out for help and the door remained open.
Jackson leaped onto a nearby nurses’ station, growling at one. He flung towards her, scratching and biting like a feral beast. Gouged her throat with rapidly grown fingernails. He slurped the blood from her dangled vocal chords as hospital staff ran by screaming. Fluorescents flickered, and an alarm blared.
Barbara looked out the waiting room door’s window. “Oh, my god.”
“What?” I glanced up from my phone.
She backed away from the door. The handle jiggled as Jackson opened it. He paused inside the frame and watched us. Panting with blood smeared over his surgery gown. Then he heard a nearby voice, and on all fours, scurried towards it.
Barbara ran after him, and I stayed behind. In seconds, I heard her shriek and her head rolled by the door. Her lips parted to speak, but Jackson sprang on top and gnawed on her left ear. After a few nibbles, he ripped it off, and spit her ear out towards me. It looked like chewed up lasagna.
Jackson’s head sprang up, and he began crawling towards me. At that moment, a security officer tased him. He seized for a second, then with strength beyond a five-year-old, grabbed the taser wire, and flung it over to the security officer. Knocking him down to the floor, he twitched as Jackson bolted elsewhere.
With my chance, I fled through the hospital. Jumping over bloodied patients, nurses, and doctors. I called for a ride, and within minutes, I escaped and returned home to the attic.
Swiping the dust away, I saw writing on the inside of the old shoe box. With worn letters, it warned. “Wear this mask while sleeping if you want to meet the devil.” After I read the words out loud, the attic grew exceptionally dark, and I heard small footsteps walking up the stairs. My hand cupped my mouth to stifle the escaping noise. After a few steps, Jackson stood in front of me, then suddenly his body crumbled to ash.
“Jaxs!” I cried and watched the mask fall on top of the gray pile. A dust cloud filled the space between us. Rubber contorted, and the mask formed to the shape of Jackson’s face. I sobbed while the ash fell through my fingers. When the last of it hit the pile, I heard the floor creak behind me.
“What’s wrong?” Jackson rubbed the dust out of his eyes. Pink fluff from the wall stuck in his hair. “Is it time to go trick or treating?”
“Oh, my god! I am never letting you go!” lightning flashed onto the mask, as I hugged him, which caught my attention. Opening the attic window, I threw out the face of Jackson into the storm. Thunder ceased, and the clouds moved towards the next town.
Kailah Roehl is a mom, wife, and writer from the cold Midwest who loves a good horror story.
By: Bill Diamond
Chapman wore an old-fashioned nineteenth century outfit. It included a black coat and pants, a cape, gloves, a top hat. A mask concealed his upper face.
Sitting on a bench, he watched the costumed revelers. Taking in the scene on the rural college campus, he whispered, “I love Halloween. It’s so simple to deceive.”
Fog swirled among the skeletal trees to add an eerie effect. The weather was chilly. Yet, not cold enough to deter the students from enjoying their Friday night frolics. These undergraduates were supposedly smart. He didn’t go to the school. However, Chapman knew most felt unrealistically safe in their sheltered enclave. So naive, he thought. The holiday further lowered their guard. When they added alcohol or drugs, they were even more vulnerable. Good for him, bad for them.
He spotted her as she entered the Southeast corner of the large central Green. She moved unsteadily beneath one of the dim antique style lamps. A beer bottle dangled in her hand. The coed was headed toward fraternity row. Probably moving between parties.
She was alone. Perfect.
He stood and walked to intercept his quarry. Chapman surveyed the area. Others were around, but, engrossed in their own affairs.
She wore a skimpy, prostitute-type costume. Short black skirt; torn mesh stockings; a tight and revealing top; long, red nails; and, gaudy lipstick. Dark hair curled around her face and bounced seductively. The appearance had its intended effect and further stimulated his simmering appetite.
When she staggered, Chapman took advantage. He closed the last step, grabbed her arm and steadied her. “Careful there, ma’am.” he said in his most helpful voice.
Looking at him with bleary eyes, she slurred “Tank you. I’m a little tipsy.” Her breath was beer-soaked. It was almost an invitation to be taken.
Chapman replied with a comforting smile, “That’s fine. This is the night for it.”
She was thin, but not petite. Her skin was bloodlessly pale. Either naturally or from makeup in a nod to the Halloween setting. It added to her impotent susceptibility and further stoked his arousal.
To disarm any apprehension she might have, he distracted her with a genial question. “You’re beautiful in that costume. Who might you be tonight?”
Her inebriated face lit up at the compliment. “I’m a succubus. I drain the essence from evil men,” she said with a flirtatious giggle.
“Eww. Should I be frightened?”
“It depends, handsome sir. Are you evil?” she purred.
“Of course.” Chapman spread his arms, displayed his costume and did a gallant bow. “I’m Jack the Ripper.”
“Really! I knew Jack.”
Her bizarre comment confirmed for Chapman that she was drunk. She’d be unable to fight back. This was almost too easy.
“Well, my ravishing lady of the night. Are you brave enough to stroll with me through the graveyard? That’s where I take all my victims.”
She looked at him with a moment of piercing clarity. A glint in her eye suggested a ravenous excitement. “That’s one of my favorite places, Jack.”
This is a wild one, thought Chapman. It heightened his burning passion. He offered his arm and with a nod of his head said, “Shall we?” The succubus leaned against him. He turned her toward the cemetery before she could sober up or pass out.
Walking to the woods at the far edge of campus, his blind lust boiled from the anticipation and a sense of power.
They reached the graveyard. It was Stygian beneath gnarled trees and the thickening fog. On Halloween, there were occasional giddy risk takers racing through on a dare. Tonight it was deserted. Maybe they were waiting for midnight. Nonetheless, he guided her toward an isolated corner he had used before. If she was anxious, she didn’t show it. In fact, she started to hum a carefree tune.
They dipped into a depression which would muffle any screams. Thick evergreens concealed it. Pine needles blanketed the ground. Chapman pulled her into a niche and thought, ‘Not a safe place for the strong. A final place for the frail.’
Pushing her to the ground, he threw the hat aside. He was prepared to pursue her, but, she didn’t flee. Chapman knelt and reached to rip off her top. With a lecherous grin, he whispered, “This is your last Halloween.”
“No, Jack. It’s your last day. You picked the wrong person to grab.”
He paused at her unexpected comment, and her calm. Before he could react, she seized his arm with surprising strength. Disoriented, he stared as she sat up. The helpless victim was now completely sober and focussed. In the gloom, her milky skin seemed to darken and age. Her eyes gave off a bloodlust glow.
Chapman tried to scuttle back and flee. She tightened her grip. He was trapped. Claws cut through his clothes and pierced his flesh. His eyes bulged from pain and fear. He screamed, “What are you?”
Her face split in an unnaturally wide grin. It revealed jagged fangs. “I told you. I’m a succubus. And, you are my holiday treat.”
Comprehension dawned. Chapman was shocked at his naive miscalculation, “How could I be so easily tricked?”
Her teeth sunk into his neck. She savored the warm and invigorating fluid. Consuming his life, she whispered, “I love Halloween.”
Bill Diamond lives in Colorado where the Rocky Mountains are both an inspiration and a distraction. He writes to try and figure it all out.
A Family Tradition
By: Colleen East
“Remember, it’s rude to stare,” my mother said to me as she set the table.
I counted the plates as she gently laid them on their placemats. Mother. Father. Me. My brother Corwin. Then, two extras. She always used the good china on Halloween night. It was delicate, with ivory and lime green patterns. An heirloom my parents had received on their wedding day from my grandparents.
“When are they getting here?” I asked as I stared down at the two extra sets.
“They’ll get here when they get here,” Mother said. “You know that.”
I heard a shout outside. I looked out, and saw a few kids in costume walking down the street. A bear. A football player. A ballerina. I was a wizard with a starry hat and a silver-lined cape. I wrapped my cape around me, and imagined I was in a stone tower, shut away from the world with my alchemical tools while the townsfolk outside went about their normal lives. “They’re already trick-or-treating,” I said.
“You can go after dinner.”
My mother gave me a look and I instantly fell silent. Instead, I moped at the window, and watched the kids go up to my neighbors’ houses for candy.
“No one else has Halloween dinner,” I mumbled after a few minutes.
“No one else respects tradition,” Mother said back. And that was that.
Mother had made brisket in the slow cooker. A family favorite. The smell of beef and carrots and celery simmering in broth floated through the house all day. The aroma brought Father and Corwin without needing to be called and they took their places at our round dining table. Corwin was dressed as a pirate and made a great show of putting his shiny plastic sword on the table. Father helped himself to a rich, black stout. What didn’t fit in his glass, he divided into shot glasses for us to taste with dinner.
“I wish you wouldn’t give the children beer,” Mother scolded as she brought in the steaming brisket. “They’re too young.”
“I’m thirteen already,” said Corwin.
“See, he’s ready to pay taxes,” Father said. “Come on, honey, they should be able to join in on the toast.”
As she set the brisket down, Mother said to Corwin, “Get that sword off the table. Honestly.” Despite her objections, she didn’t take the beer away from us. She just tutted and poured herself a bottle as well. Then she poured two more shot glasses of the stout and set them at the extra seats.
“Shoot, I forgot the salt,” she said, and dashed to the kitchen to fetch the little shaker. She set it between herself and Father. Away from the other side that sat empty.
“None in the food itself?” Father asked.
“Of course not,” Mother replied.
With everything set, Father reached his hands out. “Shall we pray?” We took each other’s hands. Since I was on the end of the chain next to one of the empty spaces, I reached my hand out towards it, just as Corwin did on the other side. Even though I didn’t really want to. Corwin and I looked at each other, then we bowed our heads and closed our eyes.
“Heavenly Father,” the prayer began. A loud thump was heard. At the front door. None of us moved, and after a moment, Father continued, “We offer up our thanks on this most hallowed of eves.”
The front door’s hinges creaked as it swung open. Then again when it closed.
“We praise you for this bounty, and for the hands that made it.”
Footsteps down the hallway, towards the dining room. Towards us.
“We thank you for the ways you have blessed us, and continue to bless us.”
It grew colder when they walked into the room. They passed behind me, and it felt like the first winter breeze of the season.
“Most of all, Lord, we thank you for our family. Those who are present, and those who have passed into your Kingdom.”
The chairs next to me shifted as if weight had settled on them. They were no longer empty. Something touched my outreached hand.
“We can only hope to also leave behind as great an inheritance as they left for us,” Father concluded. “Amen.”
I wrenched my hand back into my lap. Corwin did the same.
“Corwin, could you pass me your grandfather’s plate?” Mother asked.
I stared down at my own plate, at the patterns in the china. I began to see faces in the details. Eyes looked out at me, then stared out at the seat to my right with gaping mouths. I could see the armrest out of the corner of my eye.
Mother gestured at me. “Your grandmother’s plate too, please.”
I reached over and picked up Grandma’s plate. I heard her breathe, or make a sound similar to breathing. I handed it over to Mother, who filled it with small portions of the unsalted meat and potatoes glazed with marbled sauce. When Mother handed it back, I hurriedly set it down in front of Grandma, and remembering Mother’s words, tried not to look at her.
I heard more shouting outside. I looked out the window through the gauzy curtains. The evening was dark blue now. More kids wandered down the street. The neighbors’ porch lights flicked on.
Mother’s scolding cut through my reverie. “Eat your dinner.”
I whirled my head back around to my plate and picked up my fork resentfully. “All the good candy is going to be gone,” I mumbled.
“The sun’s barely set,” Mother said. “There’s plenty of time for trick-or-treating.”
“But look how many kids are already out.”
Father said, “If you keep complaining, then you won’t get to go at all.”
Mother gave me one of her looks again. “Don’t be rude to your grandparents. They’ve come a long way to see you.”
I glanced over at Grandma. Just at the armrest of her chair. At the way she sat there silently. Grandpa, too. They never said anything. Just breathed and made the room cold.
“Can you pass the salt?” I grumbled.
“Just a moment, let everyone have a turn.” Mother handed the salt to Corwin. “What are your plans for the evening?”
“My classmates are having a party,” Corwin said as he liberally sprinkled salt all over his food. Next to him, I saw Grandpa cringe away. Corwin glanced at him, then slowed down. Grandpa only relaxed when Corwin gave the shaker to Mother.
“There will be parents there, I assume,” Father said as Mother salted her food. She handed the shaker to him.
“Of course,” Corwin said. He put his nose in the air and looked at me. “But it’s going to be awesome. Now that we’re too old for trick-or-treating.”
“Or too lame,” I shot back.
“Would you behave?” Mother said in exasperation. “I swear, you’re in a mood tonight.”
Father finished salting his food and handed the shaker to me. “You just need to eat up, kiddo. You’ll feel better then.”
I took the shaker and slid down in my seat as I slowly shook out the salt one little sprinkle at a time. Next to me, Grandma leaned away. The chair creaked under her, and her breathy sounds rasped.
“Will there be any girls at this party?” Father asked Corwin.
Corwin immediately became rescient and just shrugged his shoulders as he stuffed his mouth with beef. Mother and Father looked at each other, and under the table, I unscrewed the cap on the salt shaker and poured a little into my hand before handing it back to Father.
Father cleared his throat. “Well, we’ll talk about that more in a second,” he said. He held his glass up. “For now, let’s toast. To your grandparents.”
I picked up my little shot of beer. As I lifted it towards my father’s pint, I became a mighty wizard again. The dining room light was the full moon, and our potions bubbled in our glasses as we held them aloft. Beside me, my grandparents reached their dead hands for their stouts. The elixir of life for them. The glasses lifted to join ours.
But they didn’t know about the magic dust I had in my hand.
Our glasses clinked. I shouted a magic word and threw the salt at my grandparents.
They were blown from their seats. They screeched. They ran about the room in a maelstrom of shadows and rot. Corwin dove under the table while Mother screamed. I dashed for the door, ducking my grandparents as they thrashed and banged on the walls. Father tried to grab me, but I slipped past him.
I burst out the front door, candy bag in hand. My cape rippled behind me as I sprinted down the street past the other trick-or-treaters. My grandparents rushed out after me. As I ran, free at last, I didn’t look back, but heard their howls grow quieter as they faded away into the night.
Colleen East grew up in the Appalachian mountains. After many twists and turns through hither and yon, she now lives in the PNW and thoroughly enjoys the moody weather. She’s written since she was in middle school, and genre-hops between confessional poetry, horror short stories, romance novels, and speculative fiction of all shapes and sizes. She also creates art. You can find her on Instagram and Threads @dreamspelunker.
The Unquiet Grave
By: Sarah Das Gupta
Newsflash! “Ten- year -old Susan Withers, from Rivington near Manchester, has been missing for seven days. She was last seen walking home from a Guide Meeting at 9pm on February 6th. Local police have appealed for anyone with information to ring 01616675632.”
The years passed. Rivington had expanded: a block of flats and a council estate behind the church. Susan Withers had almost been forgotten, except for faded cuttings in the local paper and a plaque in the Guide Hall.
It was late afternoon, 6th February. A biting east wind was blowing. Leafless trees in Morton Wood were already powdered with snow. The sun had set. Only a blood red rim, like the edge of an eye, could be seen on the horizon.
Joanne Young decided to cut through the wood to the village shop. Her dog had run ahead, lolloping through the wet carpet of dead leaves!
Suddenly, ten -year -old Jo heard loud barking. The dog rushed to her, jumping up with muddy paws, then dashing back into the bushes! Jo followed, pushing through a tangle of dead branches.
The dog was digging frantically, clods of earth flying in all directions. As she crawled through the bushes, brambles clutched at Jo. Her hands and arms soon had beads and pinpricks of blood over them.
Peering through the undergrowth, she saw an open, muddy space ahead. Her dog, now barking in the distance, had clawed the top of the blood-red clay. It was dark now, and trees seemed to cluster round the patch of earth. Jo crawled forward and began to move the loose soil with a broken branch. A piece of dark, knotted material lay beneath the surface. A strange green light floated above the clay. All around remained impenetrable darkness. A shape appeared, outlined beneath the mud. As Jo watched, a skull rose from the clay. Pieces of sickly green moss clung to the eye sockets and the open jaw showed uneven, grey teeth. The neck bones were twisted and distorted. A sweet, sickening smell came from the body as the earth fell away. Jo screamed. Nothing broke the silence but the wind and softly falling snow.
Suddenly, unremittingly, she felt an overwhelming force coming from the grave. It was pulling her down, down. Desperately, Jo clutched at brambles and grass. The force was unstoppable. She was sucked down into the red earth, as into a blood-stained mouth. Her head lay beside the grey skull; beneath her body, Jo could feel her flesh filling the empty rib-cage of the dead girl! Her hands and feet fused with the decaying bones. Her own face was hardening – the soft tissue already rotting!
Mud filled her mouth, her eyes were blinded with wet clay. Slowly, irresistibly, earth was covering everything. Brambles and bushes spread over the bare ground. Snow settled on the dark branches. The wood closed in again on its old secrets.
Sarah Das Gupta
Sarah Das Gupta is a teacher from near Cambridge, UK. She has also taught in India and Tanzania. Her work has been published in over 12 countries and many magazines and anthologies, including; ‘The Chamber’, ‘Grave Light’ anthologies, Dark Horse, ‘The Sirens Call’, ‘Kaidankai’, ”Danse Macabre’, ‘Tales from the Moonlit Path’, ‘Tiny Breathes’ ‘Star Line’ and ‘Five Two’, among others.
Like Father, Like Son
By: Micah Castle
Children’s laughter and the pitter-patter of feet across the sidewalk echo through Halloween night. I wish I could be in their shoes than mine. When I was about their age I hadn’t gone out to collect candy, hadn’t run up doorsteps riddled with ghouls and ghosts, witches and jack-o-lanterns, orange-and-black streamers and spiderwebs; I was agreeing to something I didn’t understand… Why did my father enlist his son into his work? Didn’t he consider that a kid shouldn’t be involved with all this mess? But, it’s not all his fault, since I’m still doing it fifteen years later, long after his death.
Every day I wonder why I continue: Maybe because it’s the only thing I’ve ever known? Maybe I don’t like change? Maybe I don’t want change? “Who knows?” I mutter to the shriveled failure before dumping dirt in the grave. This isn’t something my father showed me how to do. I’m the first to bury anything in our backyard. Lucky me. I glance over my shoulder at the fence. No one’s peeking, no one’s interested tonight. All too busy giving treats or tricks. I toss the shovel aside after patting the dirt down, and go inside.
There’s knocking at the front door. I grab the bowl of candy from the kitchen table and stride down the hallway, and snatch the ghoul mask from the key hook and slide it on. Have to look the part.
I open the door. A person wearing a brown furry costume with a plastic werewolf mask quickly raises a burlap sack, already heavy with sweets. My stomach churns as I drop a few chocolates into his bag. “Awesome costume, would you like some more?”
I hold the bile in my throat as he nods, and I escort him inside to the cellar. I wish I didn’t repeat this tradition that is so ingrained that I can’t even reason why I don’t just stop. I have to; I must. Like father, like son.
Down the stairs into the off-shooting room littered with heaps of old candy. He darts towards it, and my mask hides the welling tears as I follow.
Soon, the Wolfman’s mask lies in a pile with the others below the stairs. I finagle with tubes and wiring in the middle of the room, surrounded by the people serving as batteries. Have to make sure everything’s connected, make sure the damn Fissure is being fed properly. I look at the looming crack in the far wall. The symbols encircling it still make no damn sense. The Fissure reminds me of my father. Always watching over me, ensuring the task is finished. The symbols around me on the floor are also annoying, as though I was given instructions from a different planet.
Pressure builds in my temples, and I cast aside everything. “What are you, even?” I shout at the thing beyond the Fissure, the thing my father claimed waited there. “Why haven’t you awoken yet?”
I stand, hands clenched. Now I’m no longer screaming at the wall, but myself: “Why am I still doing this?” I turn towards the stairs, stop. My legs lead. I try to will myself forward but I can’t move. There’s still work to be done. I sit back down, return where I left off. No kinks, move onto the tubes. Tubes are good, too. Now, I go upstairs.
I look out the window above the kitchen sink. Alka seltzer sizzles in my cup. The fresh mound in the backyard is barely noticeable, the older ones already covered in grass. I want to leap through the glass. I want to do anything and everything that could remove me from this life. But I don’t and wish my father was still alive to at least tell me what it’s all for. By this time, he would’ve had answers, would’ve known what actually dwelled past the Fissure, what would happen once it’s awoken from those trick-or-treaters… Because I want to move on. I’m almost thirty and the only friend I ever had was a father who succumbed to a disease we didn’t see coming. Never knew my mother, not even her name. Relationships? Marriage? Children? A home? Just words lost within the obsessive repetition of my routine. I pray for someone to take the reins.
The sizzling stops, and I chug the water. The clock in the living room dings. Finally, Halloween’s over.
I lay in bed and idly watch The Addams Family. A cool breeze wafts through the open window, smelling of rain. Leaves scratch across the pavement outside—Stones shatter, jerking my awake. Lurch greets me with a moan. “What the hell?”
I peek out the window, nothing, then get out of bed and rush downstairs. I throw open the front door. Only the walkway, the paint-peeled fence, and curled leaves strewn about on the uncut lawn. I slam the door and go into the kitchen, looking outside. Same as the porch. I turn to the basement door.
A massive hole where the Fissure once was. Chunks of cement spill over the floor, backside coated slimy black. Dust cakes everything, even the containers now covered with frost. I did it. It’s over. “Whatever the hell that means.” My chest flutters as I move to the hole. Only blackness inside. It reeks of damp loam.
“Hello?” My voice echoes for much longer than I like. My father never said about what happens when it’s done. I retrieve a flashlight from the toolbox in the corner, switch it on and cast it into the nothingness. Slick dark walls glean, and water drips from stalactites. A tunnel narrows into a gloom that not even the flashlight can pierce this far away. It’s been so many damn years, I don’t care what it is or could be. It’s time for action, finally. I pass the threshold.
The tunnel gives way to a vast cavern with hard-packed dirt walls and a vaulted ceiling with yawning holes. Thick runes spread across the ground. Is this it? Is this what he was so desperate to have? All those years, all those people? This empty cave and more symbols? So much bullshit I had to deal with, hoping that whatever was here was some sort of heaven, and this is all there is?
Tears are on the brink of falling, but I push them down and head back the way I came. I’m met with no entrance, only a wall. Maybe I missed it? I search to only find hard-packed dirt. “What the—” The ground violently shakes and I stumble, turning, waving the light around. Cracks streak beneath me to one symbol, zig-zag to another, another, forming a constellation. I throw the light wildly from one spot to the next. Gray nubs rise from the symbols—not nubs—fingers with pitch black nails. They claw and pull. Arms. Heads. The failures I’ve buried. My knees buckle, and I fall back against the wall. Their flesh dry and cracking, ichorous blood seeping out. Their eyes no longer opaque but bottomless and empty. They drag themselves out, reaching towards the ceiling, as though pleading to the gods. They speak guttural gibberish in unison. My ears sting. My brain rattles.
I drop the flashlight and clench my head, grit my teeth. Their bodies are endless. Where legs should be are appendages tightly woven together like a basket, rising until they’re towering over me. Their voices rise into a shrill cacophony, and the ground surrounding them gives way.
Their middle unravels and my father emerges like a stigma. He’s missing his glasses, and his umber eyes are scarred. The clothes I buried him in are gone, and he’s coated in something wet. I want to fight the longing soaring within me but can’t. “Dad?” I crawl towards him. “Father?”
The ceiling crumbles, falling around us. Huge clods of damp dirt and stone vanish into the enormous hole. “You did great, Charlie,” all the voices say as the night sky pierces the cavern. The blinding stars melt towards them. “You’ve created the Key.”
I get to my feet and wipe the tears from my eyes. I can’t help but want to be near him. I can’t help but want to ask for his guidance, be given answers to all my questions. He was my beacon for so many years, and now he’s returned. “What do I do now, dad?”
The melting stars coalesce over their writhing frame like a layer of brilliant skin. It drains into them through crevices in their interlaced bodies. “We unlock the gate, Charlie. We wash ourselves in their glory.” The slime covering my father turns ivory, and golden light bursts from their insides.
He looks up. I do, too. We watch the stars drag across the sky, peeling space apart like a tapestry. Titanic, honey-colored silhouettes appear with roving limbs and enormous eyes and things rifting in liquid or light. Their radiance spills into our world.
“The Keepers, son. The Keepers.”
Micah Castle is a weird fiction and horror writer. His stories have appeared in various magazines, websites, and anthologies, and recently his novelette, Reconstructing a Relationship, was published by D&T Publishing. His forthcoming debut novel, The World He Once Knew, will be published by Fedowar Press.
While away from the keyboard, he enjoys spending time with his wife, playing with his animals, spending hours in the woods, and can typically be found reading a book somewhere in his Pennsylvania home.
The House on Crook Road
By: Maggie Nerz Iribarne
If he was honest, he’d have said he felt her presence on that first day. The house was cold, as it had always been during his childhood, and the grey November day made it seem more so. The emotions-joy and freedom-felt at the closing were replaced by a nagging uneasiness, like a thin scratchy sweater he couldn’t shed. He hoped his daughter would call. He willed his phone to light, a small-screen firework exploding in his palm. Hey, Dad, she might say, hope everything went well. Can’t wait to see the place. No such luck. The house creaked and groaned with all its familiar sounds. Clark slapped a peanut butter sandwich together. Chewing slowly, he stood at the window over the sink. A reflection, a shape of a person, a woman, formed and then disintegrated in the glass. He held the half-chewed food in his mouth, a dense cud. Outside, the trees distracted, wrestled with the wind, branches scraping along the sides of the sagging house.
Morning light stretched across the kitchen, revealing stained linoleum floors, pealing wallpaper. Repeating his last evening’s pose, he sipped coffee, examining the backyard out the window. The barn challenged like a sunburned child, red and pealing, hands on its hips, as if to say, Get on with it, Clark. Fix this place. Get to work. His father famously painted that entire barn with a six-inch brush in one month. Clark mowed the lawns. His mother and his sister Vera weeded the flower beds. They were all long gone now, dying one by one for different reasons, no rhyme or reason to it, everyone but him. Settled at the table he scribbled lists and sketched punctilious plans on a legal pad. He was handy, more than capable of rehabilitating the house. Showering, he imagined pounding feet up stairs. He shut off the water, stood naked and wet in the slow drip silence, listening. He would begin his work outside.
He started in the barn, chock full of rusted gardening tools, bicycles, lawn mowers, pieces of wood. Dragged into the light of the yard, the discarded stuff sat awkwardly, reminding him of old people in a nursing home, faded, hunched, lost. He fantasized about turning the place into an Airbnb. I could convert this barn to bedrooms. People might like it here. Energized by inspiration, he continued, resisting a familiar intruding voice, telling him to quit. Always the romantic! it scoffed. He thought of his ex’s negativity. Nothing he did was ever right, ever good enough. Everything he attempted was somehow foolish. He pushed her out of his head, cleaned all morning, stopping only for a second cup of coffee and sandwich.
In the lean-to behind the barn his father once kept a John Deer tractor. Clark stood tentatively for a moment at the doorway of the empty space. The dim light cascaded in slight slivers from the windows. A human form fell across the space before him. He turned in fear. A tiny figure loomed from a corner. Clark approached slowly, stooped to pick up the ragged bunny with a plastic face. Vera’s Baby Bunny. He remembered teasing her about the doll, hiding it. She cried for weeks.
You’re a dirty fighter, Clark, his ex had said, You’re a child. A stupid, dirty fighter.
He threw the doll on the heap for the junk collectors.
He managed to work out a daily schedule of breakfast, house work, lunch, nap, reading, a long walk, dinner, bed. He tossed up the noises and images emerging from the corners and crevices of the old house to the effects of change. So much had changed. Moving back here was meant to steady the ship, fix what was broken, heal. God, grant me the courage to change the things I can…
Christmas came. Clark put the tree up in its old place in the living room near the fire. The family Mitch Miller record turned, churning out the favorite tunes. His parents’ wedding photo, with his mother’s red nails contrasting with white lace and his father’s set jaw, asserted itself from the bookshelf. He wondered if he should keep it there, keep it at all. Too many mixed feelings.
How he missed his daughter, Abby! She’d chosen to spend the holiday with her mother.
“I need time, Dad,” she’d said.
He yearned for a drink, called his sponsor, nibbling at a cuticle as he spoke into the phone.
“The holidays are tough. You want to meet somewhere?” his sponsor said.
“No, no. I don’t want to bother you. I got this.”
Clark ended the call, unplugged the tree, snapped on the television.
Well into spring Clark cleaned, cleared, hauled, stripped, painted, papered, polished, yet the house insisted on its original haggard expression. Fresh paint bubbled, new wallpaper lifted from the wall. In frustration he abandoned his many projects, stalked the ubiquitous antique stores and estate sales in town, searching for fresh furniture to fill the emptied house. Just the right things, that’s what the place needs, he assured himself. He walked along the road, picking up garbage tossed from cars, something he didn’t remember from before. Back in the day, this road was pristine.
He passed a threadbare, grey-faced woman sitting in a shadow. It was almost like she was the shadow, like a charcoal rubbing. He imagined himself blowing his breath toward her, her body breaking up, scattering into the wind.
“You move in down the road?” she said.
“I grew up here,” Clark said, smiling, faking vitality, enthusiasm.
“Nothing can be done there, no sirree. You’d better head back! Head back, that’s right!”
“Take care!” he dismissed, carrying on his false brightness, making his way to the graveyard where his entire family lay buried. The stern Methodist church sat beside it, new (at least to Clark) graffiti scribbled across its side.
At night, no matter the season, the wind kicked up and the trees banged into the windows. When it was particularly bad, he’d rise to study the backyard. The trees’ long dark fingers reached up and out like a woman’s graceful but strong hands. Vera playing the piano. He marveled at the trees’ strength and perseverance, hoped they were protecting him, feared they might reach out, suffocate him in their clutches. Sometimes he silently wished they would crash through, remove him, save him.
His father’s vegetable garden remained on the east side of the house, needing to be reframed and retilled and replanted. His mother, overburdened by its proliferation of squash, tomatoes, everything, hated the garden. Always the naysayer. Clark remembered believing in his father’s agricultural aspirations, helping plant, water, harvest. He loved picking and eating the sweet strawberries in June.
Exuberant in the early morning sun, he dug and planted and patted. He especially anticipated the pumpkins. He remembered the gourds of his childhood, the pale orange spheres nestled in giant green leaves. I’ll even have a vegetable stand, he speculated, picturing himself sitting on the back step husking armloads of corn.
Finally, Abby will come for a meal.
Summer passed. Each seed, plant, even the weeds, produced only withering, death.
Hands in pockets, he paced between the lines of plants, head drooping. Something shiny caught his eye. He squatted and pulled on the glittering speck, extending to reveal a gold necklace. Something long repressed emerged in his mind, his father snapping the same necklace from his mother’s neck. Clark knelt in the dirt. Rain fell. The dirt turned to mud. He sank further still.
At Halloween Clark bought three pumpkins and a packet of cigarettes at the grocery store in town. Settled on the porch, he carved, newspapers spread out beneath him, cigarette stuck in the corner of his mouth. He stabbed out chunks of triangular eyes and toothy grins, gathered and trashed the soggy newspaper, set battery operated tea lights in each stringy hollow. He arranged his feet on the porch railing – the same way his father propped his legs after a long day – draining a cigarette of nicotine.
His mother’s antique clock ticked and tocked while he hunched over a bowl of tomato soup at the kitchen table. A slight smell of her Estee Lauder Cinnabon perfume tugged on his nostrils, made him slightly queasy. The doorbell stayed ominously silent. A stillness replaced the expected footsteps and voices gathering on the front step. The candy bowl on the side server remained full. The pumpkins’ frozen grins blazed into the night. The wind was kicking up. Clark decided to go out.
At Foxies, the bartender wore hilariously terrifying vampire teeth and a powdered white face. Clark blocked him out to focus on the thirty-something woman sitting at a corner table. Abby? He almost shouted his daughter’s name with joy. The woman’s foreign profile shifted into view.
“Lager,” Clark said, snapping back to reality, telling himself a lite beer would be fine. He really needed this. Just this once. He sat on a barstool, glanced up at a blaring television. A warmth came across him. He turned. A woman in dark clothes, wearing a cape, sipped a margarita by his side.
“Hey,” she said.
“Hey,” Clark replied, taking in her round, ageless face. She had the hooked nose of his mother, the china white skin of his ex, the strong brows of his sister, and Abby’s tiny spray of freckles across her cheeks.
“Aren’t you the guy who bought the house he grew up in?” she said.
“It’s not working out. I can’t fix anything,” he confessed.
She stared at him for what felt like a long time, forever actually. Her eyes were unique-green, bottomless ponds.
“Trust me, you can’t fix it. What’s done is done,” she said.
The bartender set the beer on the bar. A tear escaped, rolling down Clark’s cheek. He resisted the urge to fall into the woman’s shoulder, collapse into her body, like a tree chopped through its trunk.
“You’re not the worst thing you’ve ever done. You’re not,” she said. Clark followed her flowing cape out the door. They drove through town, crossing the railroad tracks, headlights shining into the night. Clark’s cigarette’s tip burned red, tilted slightly out the window. He leaned his head back and dozed, enjoying the pleasing movement of the car, the woman’s scent, her confident control, the steady silence. They continued on this way, leaving the past, he hoped, behind, following the well-worn road into a fortress of trees.
Maggie Nerz Iribarne
Maggie Nerz Iribarne is 54, lives in Syracuse, NY, writes about witches, cleaning ladies, priests/nuns, struggling teachers, neighborhood ghosts, and other things. She keeps a portfolio of her published work at https://www.
The Scavenger Hunt
By: Tara Flaherty Guy
Shivering in the night wind, Bess shined her light onto the rocky wall to her left and drew in a quick breath. Shimmering in her flashlight beam were glistening delicate cables, festooned across the rockface like gleaming latticework, or windowpanes. Silvery strands gently undulated in the breeze, strangely beautiful. A fisherman’s net? Bess wondered, looking closer. She briefly thought the shining strands were trembling until she realized that it was her flashlight beam that was quivering. She tightened her grip on it, annoyed at her own jitters, more annoyed at the fool’s errand she’d agreed to —a scavenger hunt! —stupid kid stuff. What had she been thinking? She hadn’t been thinking, period. Idiotic.
When George had first proposed exploring the caves along the river, Nancy – of course – had seized upon the idea immediately, her eyes alight. “Hell yeah! When shall we go? I’ve always wanted to spelunk down there!” she had exclaimed. “I can’t believe we’ve lived here all our lives and have never done it.”
Bess, always more measured in response to George’s cockeyed plans, said, “Hang on for a hot minute. Didn’t the County close off those caves? People have died down there you know, or just… disappeared.”
“That’s an urban legend,” scoffed George. “Like ‘Smilin’ Jack’ out at Roselawn.” She was referring to a ghostly, grinning visage said by locals to be visible on the back wall of a marble crypt in the town boneyard. The creepy countenance was reputedly visible at night from certain angles when clouds were wispy and the moonlight chancy.
“I read it in the Review last year,” Bess said tartly. “They ran a whole series on the disappearances. They date back to the 1950s, mostly kids, eventually written off as runaways.” George snorted in derision.
“You read too much Stephen King, girl,” she said to Bess. “You said so yourself – how many times did you read It? Like thirty?” George asked. “Think we’re going to run into Pennywise out there?” She snickered.
“Try reading sometime, you illiterate – you might like it!” Bess shot back. “Stephen King is a great American writer – he writes terrific stories… and no, I don’t expect to see Pennywise out there,” she added. “I’m just saying even if the disappearances were only rumors, it’s too dangerous on those cliffs!”
Nancy spoke up then, coaxingly. “C’mon, Bess, it’s almost Halloween, we gotta do something spooky – it’ll be an adventure! We’re in a rut, let’s get out of it!”
The argument played out in the customary way: the adventurous pair prevailed, with Bess once again drawn into a harebrained scheme against her better judgment. George, a congenital tomboy, had scorned Bess as a “wuss” since kindergarten. Bess had always insisted she was merely “cautious,” while Nancy, ever the fair arbiter, declared Bess to be “sensible.” It had been a lifelong circular argument which remained unresolved between the three, even now— in college.
Bess inched along her assigned section of rockface between the various caves keeping her eyes peeled for any flash of red in the moonlight. Nancy was to the north of Bess in her own search area, well out of sight and earshot, while George was about a quarter mile south. She wondered irritably exactly when “exploring” the caves had evolved into this ridiculous scavenger hunt. All she knew was that somewhere along the line George had enlisted her older brother Jack to leave a series of red items – the objects of the scavenger hunt – planted in various places along the paths. He’d resisted at first, telling George she was cracked, but in the end, he’d played along, giving them each their own short list of things to find.
Bess had found the listed red bandana about 100 feet back and was now looking for a red woolen mitten supposedly left near the mouth of this cave. If, in fact, she was even at the right cave, she thought resentfully. Stupid, she thought. And dangerous, a deeper part of her brain whispered, remembering Jack’s sober warning when he handed them their lists earlier that evening.
“Listen up, you maniacs…I went along with this for fun, but you do have to be really careful out there, and I don’t mean Pennywise,” he said, shooting George a look. “Rockslides can happen, and there are snakes, though they’ll probably be in their dens by now, in this cold. The paths are crooked and rocky. Keep your phones in your pockets, and a good grip on your flashlights.”
Remembering Jack’s words, Bess shivered again, listening to the rush of the roiling river far down below. She shined her light once more on the gleaming net clinging to the expanse of rockface. The slender filaments looked wet, she thought. She reached out a tentative hand and touched the closest strand. It was sticky. She recoiled, drawing back her hand with the strangely tensile strand clinging to it, and wiped her fingers on her jeans.
She was standing there, indecisive and reluctant to move closer to the cave mouth when she heard a clickety-clickety sound, barely audible over the rushing river noise. Like something skittering over a hard surface, she thought, suddenly picturing a cockroach on a tile floor. She shuddered involuntarily, then saw that the slender cables were quivering, as she’d first thought. Something is making them vibrate, she thought, as they began swaying right in front of her face. She trained her flashlight high up on the rockface again, and for fully five seconds her brain could not register what she saw. The shiny, ductile cables were swaying now with the shifting weight and movement of a massive spider—the size of a compact car—navigating with horrid speed down the gossamer net toward her. She opened her mouth to scream as the spiny, clicking legs rapidly closed the distance between them, swift and graceful as a dancer’s.
It’s a web! was her last coherent thought as a mass of glistening thread exploded out from the creature, enveloping her and cutting off her scream as she inhaled the sticky silk.
* * *
From the River Heights Review – 11/2/10
Authorities resumed the search today for a young woman reported missing the night of October 29th. Last seen by her friends while hiking near the caves along the Mississippi River, the woman is thought to have slipped and fallen into the river. Search and rescue efforts continue at this time.
Tara Flaherty Guy
Tara Flaherty Guy is a free-lance writer living in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her work has been published in Talking Stick Journal, Miracle Monocle, The MacGuffin, Emerge, Longridge Review, and the St. Paul Almanac, among others. Her newest work is forthcoming in Flash Fiction. Guy has a BA in Creative Writing from Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, where she lives with her husband and four entirely self-absorbed cats.
Lucky to be Different
By: EC Pearson
Halloween is my favorite time of year. It’s a family thing.
You see, Mom and Dad are an odd couple, she’s a ghost, he’s a zombie. They met at a summer solstice haunting at the Golden Gate Bridge in the 1970s. Both communities tried to dissuade the young lovers, but everyone knows that three-hundred-year-olds can be extremely stubborn.
They married, to the disappointment of all. My twelve siblings are fortunate, they’re one or the other – ghost or zombie. But me, the thirteenth child of this happy union, I’m both. Mom and Dad stayed positive, saying I’ve inherited the best from two realms. I’m a ghost Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, a zombie Tuesdays and Thursdays. I alternate on weekends, and also change species for the holidays.
Mom said the Otherworldly Council may allow me to schedule my personas, only after I turn 125, when ghost adolescence ends. For zombies, that’s 100, which I am. Since I’m both, the Otherworld Leaders want me to wait until the latest date before enabling that power.
I think they’re interfering with my freedom. My parents disagree, and say they want me to settle into a routine before I start controlling my life in my 200s. For now, I don’t sense or manage the persona change. It just happens when I’m asleep.
Growing up was not easy. I was lonely. It was hard to fit in at Henry Twigg’s School for Spirited Children, especially at the beginning. With help from my parents and school guidance counselors, I learned to embrace each persona. There were mixed classes, so that was fine. But at lunch, entities went off with their own, and I wasn’t anything specific. It took a while to make friends across groups. Eventually, my classmates got used to seeing both of me.
Each year, when we got a new instructor, there were giggles, snorts, and howls as the teacher tried to match different mes to the same name. At first it was embarrassing, but as I grew older, I laughed too. When you’re different from everyone else, you learn early it takes time for others to get used to you. All the good entities do. My parents taught me how to ignore the bad ones.
No matter what any of us kids are, our parents feel it is important that we work and learn the value of money. We cannot stay at the family compound in Pacific Heights forever. I have options, apply as a ghost or a zombie.
Tuesday and Thursday, my zombie persona works at Café Flore, in San Francisco’s Castro district. I was nervous going to the interview. When the manager saw my mildly oozing left eye, she explained I’d be great with the happy hour crowd. “Very welcoming of alternative lifestyles,” she said.
Everyone goes to the café, the locals, staff from nearby Davies hospital, MUNI drivers, even a few goblins – they’re low key, and the best tippers.
It was harder to find a reliable ghost gig, until one of the Café Flore regulars suggested I apply for the Friday and Saturday night ghost tours at Alcatraz.
I completed the online application and received an email invite to the island for an interview. Candidates and staff take the after-dark cast ferry. They explained it was simpler than coordinating an assortment of entities commuting on their own, especially younger ones. We tend to interfere with each other. I’m a perfect example, as I’m not yet managing ghost or zombie transport well.
For this interview, I chose a rose aura. It’s a good color for me, and different from what ghosts usually wear. On the way over, it was reassuring to recognize several classmates. I also saw an assortment of witches, ghosts, and other spirits. I spotted a few dual-species specters – we always recognize each other. Zombies aren’t allowed, too scary for the tourists.
Getting off the ferry, I followed the crowd to the interview center. It’s almost the same route you humans take on a tour, except there are no lights, and no mortals.
We shuffled along, then I felt myself being pulled above the crowd. The Alcatraz Wizard wanted to see me right away. He floated me to the front of the line. It was neat, yet also uncomfortable. Everyone stopped and stared as I glided to a gentle landing. The Wizard said he enjoyed my energy and hired me on the spot.
With my parents’ approval, I’m searching for a rental with a neat goblin I met at work. We’re looking at Bernal Heights. It’s a diverse, welcoming neighborhood, and several otherworldly entities told me they’ve been welcomed by neighbors on the South Slope. “You just have to find the right landlord,” they told me.
I work at Alcatraz on my ghost weekends, and Café Flore more often. Those jobs help me be comfortable with both of me. Looking back at my clumsy early days of sorting selves, I know now how lucky I am.
EC Pearson is a dyslexic writer who splits time between San Francisco and Paris. When not finding inspiration in cafes in San Francisco, the place to write is a corner table of a café terrace on the Left Bank.
Halloween is my favorite holiday. Nothing beats trick-’r-treating.
This Halloween isn’t fun though. My arms are tied outspread in the field. Corn stalks brush my bare legs because they took my pants.
“Let me down,” I say.
They laugh and leave. My tears sting and roll down my cheek, mixing with my snot. I wish mom was here to wipe them away. It’s good I don’t have any pants or I’d wet them right now.
It’s Halloween night and it is dark and cold.
Halloween is my favorite holiday. I guess that’s why I wake up on it every year.
Ryan Van Ells
Ryan is a queer lawyer and author of dark fiction from Central Wisconsin. His work has appeared in October Screams, a Halloween horror anthology. He is a member of the HWA. He received his BA from the University of Wisconsin and his JD from the University of Texas. When not writing or lawyering he can be found at the gym, playing chess, or hunting for the best dark roast in the Midwest. You can find him on Twitter/X @RyanVanElls and on Blue Sky @ryanvanellswrites.bsky.social
“These Halloween games are for kids,” I comment.
“Come into the kitchen,” Steven smiles, “I have a new twist on a game.”
We walk into the kitchen and I can see the large punch bowl with something floating in it. Go ahead he nods.
I bob and bite into something that feels meaty, not crunchy like an apple. Red liquid began to fill the bowl and a salty metallic taste filled my mouth. I cough and spit the object out.
Steven walks over, leans into the bowl and emerges with a heart clinched in his teeth and begins to chew.
The Ride of the Black Pumpkin
With his daughter, terrified by the antics of the black pumpkin picked this morning, Bill Madison tossed the cursed thing in the street even as it tried to bite him. The pumpkin rolled past driveways and trash cans nipping the ankles of trick-or-treaters who scattered away shrieking. The overgrown squash cruised along amidst tree trunks and bushes, eventually stopping at the end of the street among children getting candy from old man Sandusky who smashed the pumpkin with a sledge hammer and, when a red eyed witch crawled out and mounted her broomstick, he ran and screamed with the kids.
Mr. Tobin holds a degree in mathematics from LaSalle College and is retired from L-3 Communications. He lives with his wife MaryAnn in Voorhees, NJ. His two grandchildren, Maggie (13) and Shawn (16) are the joys of his life. Mr. Tobin continues his education by attending classes at Camden County College where he also volunteers his time. Eighty-eight of his stories/poems appear in print and online. Most recently, a collection of his childhood poems appeared in the Poet Magazine, a flash story in B Cubed Press and two drabbles appeared on Dark Moments and Black Ink Fiction.
“These Halloween games are for kids,” I comment.
“Come into the kitchen,” Steven smiles, “I have a new twist on a game.”
We walk into the kitchen and I can see the large punch bowl with something floating in it. Go ahead he nods.
I bob and bite into something that feels meaty, not crunchy like an apple. Red liquid began to fill the bowl and a salty metallic taste filled my mouth. I cough and spit the object out.
Steven walks over, leans into the bowl and emerges with a heart clinched in his teeth and begins to chew.
DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines around the world, such as Chilling Horror Short Stories (Flame Tree), All The Petty Myths (18th Wall), Steampunk Cthulhu (Chaosium), What Dwells Below (Sirens Call), The Horror Zine?s Book of Ghost Stories (Hellbound Books), and EOM: Equal Opportunity Madness (Otter Libris), and issues of Sirens Call, Occult Detective Magazine, parABnormal, Tales from the Magician?s Skull, and Weirdbook, and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor). You can follow their work on Facebook @DJTyrerWriter, on their blog: djtyrer.blogspot.co.uk or on the Atlantean Publishing website: atlanteanpublishing.wordpress.com.
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Originally from New Orleans, Shalini grew up with a love for the hauntingly beautiful stories, ideas and folklore that were enmeshed with the city. She also developed a deep love for words and a well-told story. Anytime those two can marry, she’s there for it. She loves stories that lure, that haunt, that pull at heartstrings or that wrap one up in fear, anxious to know what’s going to happen next.