First Prize

PSL Girls

by Sheri White

Chuck glared at the gaggle of girls waiting to order pumpkin spice lattes. They had been coming every day, wearing their Ugg boots and taking selfies with their cups, since August. In Texas.

They don’t care about the most important part of fall—Halloween. Chuck had tried making conversation with the girls as he swept floors or tidied up the milk and sugar counter. They would pretend to be interested in his descriptions of horror movies, then giggle together when his manager would scold him.

Fremont Coffee Company Skull Latte Art

Michael Allen Smith via Creative Commons

But today was Halloween, which meant that tomorrow, those stupid girls would be ordering peppermint mochas and wearing Santa hats, posting their stupid faces to Instagram.

Today, he would give them a Halloween scare they’d never forget.

Chuck ducked into the back and slipped a hockey mask over his face, the tiny eye slits making it difficult to find the chainsaw he hid under a towel.

He busted through the door, started the chainsaw, then ran screaming into the girls waiting to order, loving the looks of terror on their faces.

It was when the spurting blood blinded him and he was hit by flying limbs that he realized he should have removed the chain.

 
Sheri WhiteSheri White lives in Maryland with her family. She has had a love of horror since she was two years old and watched The Wizard of Oz for the first time. She is a mom to three girls, ages 27, 21, and 18, and has instilled a love of all things scary in them as well. Her one-year-old granddaughter will be gently introduced to the genre as she gets older. Her husband Chris is very understanding.

In addition to reading and writing horror, Sheri also proofreads, edits, and reviews for many horror sites both online and in print. She is also the editor of Morpheus Tales magazine.

She has had fiction published in many small press magazines and anthologies since 2001.


Runner Up

The Tryst

by Dimple Shah

Each day had been interminably long, that first year after his death.

No matter. She would seize the opportunity long awaited and prepare to see him again at the hungry ghost festival.  A yearly tryst would make bearable the other endless days.

She prepared his favorite dishes and burnt joss sticks from dawn to dusk. Paper replicas of his most precious belongings—car, house, wads of money, went up in smoke. All this she did, to ensure that when the gates of hell opened that year to let out the spirits, him among them, all their desires would be sated.

There were things she ought not to do. Dress in red, sleep facing a mirror, open an umbrella indoors.

These too she did. Repeatedly.

Flame

Annie Roi via Creative Commons

Fourteen days she waited. Nothing materialized. No one came.

As the festival ended, she went through the useless motions of lighting floating lanterns and setting them adrift in the river. She did not turn back to see if they extinguished themselves, signaling the return of the spirits to the netherworld.

She woke up to smoke and flames. As the conflagration consumed everything around her, she finally understood.

It was not him who was meant to come and visit her.

 
Dimple ShahDimple Shah moved from India to Hong Kong 8 years ago and promptly decided to forego continuing with a lucrative career in banking for the unquantifiable joys of writing. An avid lover of words her whole life, she has only recently officially donned the mantle of spinner of yarns.


Runner Up

Halloween: An Unlove Story

by Alex C. Renwick

PUNK

FunGi_ (Trading) via Creative Commons

“Remember what I did, remember what I was, back on Halloween?” – The Dead Kennedys

You were so punkrock I was shitting myself for a piece of you. Liberty spikes, kilt over thrashed jeans, and enough steel chain swinging from your studded belt to haul commercial timber up a goddamn cliff. You were the Sid Vicious I’d been looking for and all sixteen years and ten-inch fin of me wanted so bad to be your Nancy I was practically drooling. It was the kind of love story I could get behind: drunken brawls, misdirected nihilism, and all the social dysfunction my teenage heart could bear.

The party was glorious, plastic skeletons and cheap vodka, black candles in the graveyard and sex on the tombstones till sunrise. Then came school on Monday like usual and surprise! you’re the substitute teacher.

Who makes teachers so fine, so young? Whoever that is should be shot.

Gone were your shredded jeans. No trace of ‘spikes, no ghost-clank chains, no smeared black kohl. Shiny and scrubbed, you wore pleated khakis with penny loafers. I was young but decided then and there I deserved a love story that wasn’t fatal, and would occur with more regularity than one day each year.

 
Alex C. RenwickAlex C. Renwick’s stories appear in spooky places like the Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery magazines, Mslexia Magazine‘s special Monsters issue, and The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir. Born in L.A. and raised in Austin, she now haunts a crumbling urban castle in Ottawa. More at alexcrenwick.com or @AlexCRenwick.


Honorable Mention

It’s My Party and I’ll Scry if I Want To

by Christina Dalcher

Judy’s been my best friend for fifteen years, so wishing she would drown in the apple-bobbing bucket might not seem nice, but you weren’t there.

“Johnny, hold my hair back.” “Oh, Johnny, the water’s so cold!” “Look, Johnny, I got my shirt all wet.”

Cut apples

David DeSandro via Creative Commons

Goddamned Judy.

I grab my chef’s knife and pluck one of the apples out of that cold, shirt-soaking water before locking myself in the bathroom.

For the record, I’m not into superstition. Or Victoriana. But a girl needs to know where her future’s headed, who her Mr. Darcy is, whether to keep fishing or cut the bait line. I slice the apple into nine even pieces, an auspicious—if logistically challenging—number, saving the last wedge for the friendly spirits.

On Halloween inside this glass…

Someone knocks when I’m five words into my mantra.

“I’m scrying here!”

…my future spouse’s face will pass.

Talk about lame.

More footsteps on the stairs. Judy’s voice this time.

Fuck it.

I open the door and let her inside. “What?”

“Someone said you were crying.” Judy wraps me in a bear hug, pops the ninth piece of apple into her mouth, says she loves me.

Before we leave the bathroom, I catch her reflection in the mirror.

 
Christina DalcherChristina Dalcher is a linguist, novelist, and flash fiction addict from The Land of Styron. She is currently matriculating at the Read Every Word Stephen King Wrote MFA program, which she invented. Find her at ChristinaDalcher.com or @CVDalcher. Or hiding in a cupboard above the stairs. Or read her short work in Zetetic, Pidgeonholes, and Syntax & Salt, among other corners of the literary ether.


Honorable Mention

Four Swings

by Tasha Teets

Thunk

I had found the green ribbon by chance; stuffed between two hay bales in the back of the barn. I was searching for our spare whetstone, when I noticed the gap between the bales. It wasn’t mine; the last thing my husband gave me was his mother’s wedding ring.

Thunk

axe

Petras Gagilas via Creative Commons

I placed the ribbon back between the hay and decided to put the whole thing out of my mind. The truth, that my husband was unfaithful, was too shameful to bear. Lost in thought, I found the whetstone resting atop an old saddle and headed back toward the wood pile. I never saw my Husband watching me from the top of the attic stairs.

Thunk

One final swipe and the ax’s blade glinted red, reflecting the light from the setting sun. A sudden blow striking my temple brought me to my knees, the ax falling from limp fingers. Dazed, I turned to my attacker and caught a glimpse of my Husband’s face before he kicked me to the ground. He raised the ax and swung it down upon my neck.

Crack

Beheading is a slow, intimate process, but my Husband was resolved to see it through. One secret gift found. Two flinches of hesitation. Three pleas for mercy. Four swings and I was dead.

 
Tasha Teets is the Customer Service Representative for Gerber Collision. She also assists with managerial duties to run day to day operations. Over the past 3 years, she has worked with various Maryland locations to improve productivity and sales. Tasha Teets has taken classes at Anne Arundel Community College and plans to transfer to Bowie State University. She resides in Bowie, Maryland with her family and one spoiled rotten dog.


Honorable Mention

The Dolls

by Grey Harlowe

Little Miss No Name

Hayley Bouchard via Creative Commons

When they started to arrive on Cross Street doorsteps, it was without explanation. Mrs. Blanchard, Sunday School teacher, got one with a pin stuck through its head, then succumbed to crippling migraines. Mrs. Thomas, crossing guard, turned up one on a rose branch, right before she fell smack on her garden rake. It was an ordeal for their neighborhood of neat fences and good jobs.

Mrs. Eckhart kept Edgar and Mary indoors. They were too young to hear the gossip, plus a widow’s life was hard enough.  She hoped, they all did, the dolls would just stop. Then she discovered one inside their mailbox, a string around its ankle.

The next day, Mary tripped and almost fell off the porch. If Mrs. Eckhart hadn’t grabbed her arm, she could have broken her neck. Alarmed, she’d made the pair stay home that week. Things seemed to have settled down until she noticed her sewing scissors missing. And that Edgar had been conspicuously absent all morning.

She found him behind his bed, holding a doll with a blue apron at its waist.

“I had to, Mama. You helped Mary. After you’re both gone, they’ll be no one to get in my way.”

 
Grey Harlowe is a writer living in the Pacific Northwest. Her work has previously been featured by Every Writers Resource, SpeckLit, Cheapjack Pulp, HorrorAddicts.net, Microhorror.com, and The Last Line. She has work forthcoming in The First Line, and Quantum Fairy Tales.


Honorable Mention

Next Year

by Shenoa Carroll-Bradd

The last trick-or-treater has come and gone. You turn off the lights, eyeing the last candy bar in the bowl. Peanuts and chocolate. Your favorite. As your foot lands on the first stair, there comes a loud, slow knock at the door. You stop, and look regretfully at the treat in your hand. You can always buy more tomorrow, but for the costumed kids, Halloween is sacred. With a good-natured sigh, you answer the door.

The shape filling your dark porch is too large to be a child, too broad. “Trick-or-treat.”

Fingers trembling, you flick on the porchlight.

The slump-shouldered man at your door wears a mask that looks exactly like you, except for the deep bruising beneath the cut-out eyes. The parted lips are split and bleeding.

You stare, unable to speak.

The man looks down to where your numb fingers still grasp the candy bar. He takes it from you. “My favorite,” he rasps, raising a gnarled finger to tap the mask’s pale, bruised cheek. He touches your face in the corresponding spot.

The contact breaks the spell and jolts you backward. You slam the door on that gruesome latex caricature.

As you lock the door and sprint up the stairs, he calls to you.

“Next year, trick.”

 
Shenoa lives in southern California and writes whatever catches her fancy, from horror to fantasy and erotica. Check out her fan page at facebook.com/sbcbfiction, say hello on twitter @ShenoaSays, or keep up with her latest projects at sbcbfiction.net.

by Will Gilmer

The Pumpkin

Tanya Dawn via Creative Commons

David Douglas, local spot light correspondent, pulls out his pad of paper and writes the headline “Local Woman Carves Hyper-realistic Pumpkins”.

“Mommy they look so real!” a little girl says as she drops a piece of candy into her orange bucket and skips down the porch.

David bends down to get a better look at the pumpkins.

 “With a face like that you’re no trick-or-treater,” says a woman stepping through the squeaky screen door.

“No ma’am, just a reporter. You know if I didn’t come here knowing they were pumpkins, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

“Thank you, it’s a long process. I’m always happy when people appreciate my work.”

“Did you use papier-mache to give them that texture? I’d love to know your secret.”

“Blood, sweat, and tears go into them,” she says casually looking for anyone passing by. “So what paper do you work with?” she asks.

“I’m freelance. I don’t like to have deadlines bogging me down.”

“Well then, how about I pour you a drink and show you how it’s done.”

The reporter didn’t know which alarmed him the most; the makeshift leather works, the surgically skinned human skulls, or the dizziness he felt after finishing his drink.


Will Gilmer

Will Gilmer is a writer and poet with a penchant (attention span) for short form and abstract styles. He lives in Michigan with his lovingly acquired family, obligatory cat, and odd curios.

by Sophie Hammond

Trust me, he says. Like it’s that easy.

portrait | Blindfolded

Alessandro Saponi via Creative Commons

The funny thing is, for him trust isn’t easy at all. He always has to be the one in charge, the one keeping the blindfold wrapped around my eyes, the one arranging my hair so that it falls in rough choking silk across my mouth and nose. If I ever offered to do it the other way around—to blindfold him, to hold him steady for the unforgiving gaze of the camera—he’d panic. He wouldn’t protest, but his eyes would go wide and desperate and his knuckles would clench white around the steady base of the tripod.

So I don’t offer. Instead I stare blindly, through layers of hair and crêpe, as he soothes me like I need it. His slow, patronizing voice is perhaps the very opposite of soothing. It sets off itches beneath my skin, shuddering waves of goose pimples, and my stomach clenches. Far more soothing is the anger, dark and hot, which pulses through me like a second heartbeat. This he cannot control, no matter how much he wants to.


Sophie Hammond is sixteen years old and a senior in high school. Her writing has been recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Moledro Magazine and the 2016 Navigating the Maze teen poetry anthology. She is an alumna of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio and has read on a teen writers’ panel at the Bay Area Book Festival. You can find her on Twitter @SophieCHammond.

by Amanda Bergloff

I sighed… hoping it would attract some sort of attention, but he was fixated on eating. I thought that dining al fresco tonight would spark interesting conversation, yet we ate our meal in silence.

I remembered how I used to be insatiable for our intoxicating exchanges. However, tonight I didn’t have much of an appetite.

He looked up and burped. “You ready?” he asked.

I nodded. I wondered if he realized I hadn’t even said one word during the entire meal.

During the walk home, I came to the conclusion that all relationships must have a life cycle. The beginning part was very exciting, but the end part was actually quite annoying.

Do not speak unless you can improve on silence.

Lucy Marti via Creative Commons

It was finally time to go to sleep. He lifted the lid for me.

“Good morning,” he said as he helped me climb in.

“You have some flesh in your teeth, dear,” I said, folding my hands across my chest.

He closed my lid with one hand as the other picked his teeth.

I listened to the sound of him opening and closing his own lid.

Before I drifted off to sleep, I thought, “I must talk to Wrenfeeld about moving my coffin to a different part of the abbey.”


Amanda BergloffAmanda Bergloff is a science fiction/fantasy writer who has had stories published by Darkhouse Books (Stories from the World of Tomorrow) and World Weaver Press (Frozen Fairy Tales.) She is also a surrealist artist who loves all things pop-culture, and the interior of her mind looks like 1950s sci fi pulp art. 

Writer’s Website: http://abergloff2.wix.com/abergloffwriter
Artist Website: http://abergloff2.wix.com/artistgallery

by Scarlett R. Algee

He swims out to the reef and waits for her, because hell is empty and all the devils are here and he has not yet learned to be afraid.

She comes: bare and white, hair and eyes and skin, flat feet and webbed fingers and thin mouth stretched in a too-toothed smile—

(the sky is lead and the sea is black and she is white save her gills and more secret places, fringed-rich-red, pulsing, waiting)

—and her mouth is too wide for proper kissing but he does it anyway, warm flesh to cold, his hands slotted into hers, short nails pulling at the membranes between her fingers.

Tempest

Jack Flanagan via Creative Commons

She tastes of rain, of salt, of blood: and he has not learned to be afraid—

(he will be found in three days’ time, neck broken in three places, bitten through to porcelain shards of spine)

—and when she laughs quicksilvery he tips his head back, baring his throat, stars wheeling briefly overhead in his vision before blanking out, and there is hunger raw in the rows of her teeth but something in her eyes like kindness—

And he is not afraid, because hell is empty.

Originally appeared in Cthulhu Haiku II (2013) by Popcorn Press.


Scarlett R AlgeeScarlett R. Algee has most recently contributed to the anthologies A Shadow of Autumn, Zen of the Dead, and The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel, as well as to Body Parts Magazine. Previously a teacher and librarian, she lives in the wilds of Tennessee with a Hound of Tindalos cleverly disguised as a beagle, and blogs at scarlettralgee.wordpress.com.

by Daniel Lind

With an absent heart, my insatiable hunger is turning bones brittle. I fought for Britain, then a bomb blew my platoon into confetti. Some of us ramble in the twilight, but we’re unable to go back to Blighty.

Now we confine ourselves to outskirts, living off scraps and dirt. I don’t feel cold, the goosebumps days are gone. My uniform is unrecognizable. Eastern winds wither what’s left of my face, and the uneven soil fills the potholes in my feet as I stumble through the woods.

Twilight Silhouette

Tony Austin via Creative Commons

Perhaps we won the war: I notice an increase in coaches waving the Union Jack. People picnic in the open, drink tea and eat mince pies—unaware that we regard them with drooling mouths. The innocence in the childrens’ eyes betray them. They don’t know the horrors we’ve endured to allow them this privilege.

Snarling, I point my severed limb towards the family, and my squadron silently surrounds them.

Their fleshy insides are ruptured first. A surge of blood covers the blanket. We’re deaf to their screams; our hunger is louder, and their pleas only fuel our desire.

I put on the father’s stained overcoat, rip its medals off, and leave them behind in the scarlet grass.

With new clothes, and sated cravings, we retreat to await the evening.


Daniel is a Swedish teacher living in London with his wife and two children. He plays the guitar and changes diapers in his spare time. His work has previously been published with Zetetic: A record of Unusual Inquiry, Flash Fiction Magazine, and others. You may find him on Twitter: @lindhoffen.

by Brendan Foley

There’s a clearing in the forest, a clearing where you’ll find six stumps.

Study the gnarls of bark and discover the lines and woes of life. See what once were men.

a face in the woods

Anjan Chatterjee via Creative Commons

The world got to be too much. So they left. Went here. Went wodwo. Spent their wildness and came to rest. They wanted to be one with the woods. Now they are.

There’s one with lips still parted. His eyes still frozen half-lidded.

Listen, and you will hear his whisper.

He will tell you his name, for he alone among the circle still remembers his name.

He will tell you his grief, for he alone among the circle still knows what it is to hurt.

He will ask you a boon. Your heart will got out to the fading whisper and you will ask how you might help.

He will beg for death.

And you will have no way of giving this to him, save a fire that would only serve to destroy that holy place. And you will not commit such sacrilege, not for just one soul.

So you will back slowly away from the clearing.

His screams will be faint. You will hear them all the same.


Brendan Foley lives in Massachusetts, where he has made a habit out of not knowing what he’s doing. He’d like to make a career out of it. You can follow his ramblings on Twitter: @TheTrueBrendanF, or email him at brendanmfoley@outlook.com. Three years from now, it will be revealed that he was dead the entire time.

by Karen Bovenmyer

haunted-house-1124241_640An empty house lived at the end of his street. Trees like claws stopped other kids, as if they grabbed ankles and wrists and hoods of sweatshirts. He found a way there by looking somewhere else, sidewalk-crack-sidewalk, then dead grass. Up. White oval shapes lingered behind black windows. In. A slamming back door echoed staple-guns putting up his HAVE YOU SEEN THIS CHILD posters. Three years later, after his classmates had grown into pimples and too-short jeans, he came out, hollow-eyed and shaking. He struck the trees, also, with a wet axe from the living house, his body now a man’s body, sweating hard. They took him to a hospital, depressingly white and clean and smelling like medicine, but he still saw the house by not looking. When the demolition cranes came, they were like hands that scooped shingles off the roof, the strange Victorian spires crumbled, broken plaster and creaking timbers screamed, undefined white shapes tumbled down in a cloud of dust. The house at the end of the street died. After, he went home with a face blank as a sheet of paper, something so normal and unwritten, and, in the night, his memories clutched at him, as if they grabbed ankles and wrists and hoods of sweatshirts.

This story originally appeared in Festival Writer and also appeared in Cavalcade of Terror.


Karen BovenmyerKaren Bovenmyer earned an MFA in Creative Writing: Popular Fiction from the University of Southern Maine. She teaches and mentors students at Iowa State University and is the Nonfiction Assistant Editor for Mothership Zeta Magazine.

by Alex P. Grover

Left Behind

Omar Eduardo via Creative Commons

I still rub my eye a lot. 

I used to rub both of my eyes. I think that’s why the left one started to twitch. 

I’d always been worried something would get inside—I’d seen too many videos of botfly larvae removals, right from the crevice between the globe and the socket. I had a craving for that kind of macabre.  

I don’t know what I touched—what my finger captured, maybe under one of its deep grooves.

Go to the doctor.

It’s not too bad, I’d said. 

Because it wasn’t horrible at first. It’d happen after laughing at a joke. After sneezing. Innocent.

It took only a month. The twitch became unbearable. My left eye swelled up, ripe with hurt, always semi-closed. I couldn’t move without it stirring.

Go to the doctor.

Tomorrow, I’d finally said.

The night before my appointment, I slept. It was rare, but there were moments of rest in between the irritation. I was happy in bed.

I woke calmly to buzzing pain in my face. Then I screamed.

I could only see with my right eye, since the left was out of its socket, optic nerve pulled taut, the whole thing slowly crawling away on six legs.


Alex P. GroverAlex P. Grover is currently a digital production associate at Penguin Random House. His work has been published at Strange Horizons and A cappella Zoo, among other venues for the weird, as well as on the Quirk Books blog. Fortunately, his rational side left him long ago. You can visit www.alexpgrover.com or follow him on Twitter @AlexPGrover to find out why.