STORGY Halloween Short Story Competition

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halloween-logo

“Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!”

Inso EBPSD

Thank you to everyone who entered the STORGY Halloween Short Story Competition! It was a pleasure to read the diverse entries received, and we are honored to have experienced the thrill of reading such fine writing. Our editors have chosen the winning stories and over the course of the next week leading up to Halloween the full shortlist will be published in STORGY Magazine, with the two runners up and winner of the competition revealed on the final three days! Congratulations to everyone who made the final shortlist. We hope you enjoy reading these stories as much as we did. Happy Halloween…

WINNER
‘The Chains of the SS Cronus’

ship2

 by
Charlotte McDowell

*

My heavily weighted belt tugged me down to the SS Cronus’ liquid grave. I slowed my descent. The night before had been calm, leaving the ocean with crystal visibility, as clear as the morning air. It was unsettling. The blazing white sun illuminated the gentle ripples on the surface above, and it felt, for a moment, as if the sky was the sea and I was floating down towards a dark earth. A fallen angel.

The depth gauge on my dive computer read five metres. Five metres and falling. As always, I reminded myself to breathe normally. A pinch of the nose and sharp exhale released the growing pressure in my ears. Breathe. Check dive computer. Ten metres. Pinch. Breathe. Check. Sixteen metres. Pinch. Breathe. Check. Twenty-two metres.

Mike was far beneath me. He’d shot down to forty metres faster than a ship’s anchor, thanks to his extraordinary talent of being able to equalise his ears just by thinking. Apparently one in ten people had the skill. After one hundred dives, it still took me an age to descend. I would waggle my jaw, swallow, swim up and drop back down again, until my Eustachian tubes released the pressure gnawing at my middle ear.

Twenty-nine metres.

I paused, surrounded by infinite blue. A black cloud of barracuda swam overhead, momentarily blocking the sun. With nothing to hear but my Darth Vader breath rasping through the regulator, I felt prickled by the sudden isolation. Pull yourself together, Shoshanna.

Below, Mike had reached the wreck and was searching for an access point. Just seeing his blue wetsuit calmed my thudding chest and gave me the confidence to continue the steady descent. I liberated an air bubble from my buoyancy jacket and watched Mike. He was a natural scuba diver. His agile body glided over the deck of the ship like an echolocating dolphin. I, on the other hand, swam like a water-phobic cat. My limbs lashed about, bumping into rocks and coral like a one-person ecological disaster. Diving wasn’t my thing. But Mike loved to dive and I loved him. But wreck diving…

Thirty-five metres.

The Japanese bombs hadn’t granted the SS Cronus an easy death. The bow had disintegrated and there was a gaping wound behind the bridge where an explosion had ripped through to the hull. Scattered on the seabed were stray items of cargo. There was a broken crate of china dolls, their frozen faces gazing out from shallow graves in the sand. Miraculously intact, a solitary toilet sat upright about twenty feet from the wreck. A beady-eyed moral eel was curled up inside the porcelain bowl, watching.

EAAAAAAAAAAH. A rasping shriek invaded the silence. I spun around searching for its source. What in hell made that guttural, tortured noise? A human-like wail that didn’t belong at the bottom of the ocean, where the only surviving sounds was the clinking of oxygen tanks or the rumbling of boat engines. Mike was casually floating above the deck, his fins tucked in a meditative pose. A movement caught my eye.

There was a large cylindrical opening behind him; perhaps originally the ship’s funnel, it was now merely a dark cavity. Did a shadow just slither into it?

As quickly as my ears allowed, I dropped level with Mike. He gave me the hand signal for ‘OK?’ by forming a loop with index finger and thumb. I shook my head and pointed at my ears.

‘What was that sound?’ I was asking.

Mike pinched his nose and waggled his head, guessing, incorrectly, that I was struggling to equalise. I shook my head again, took the regulator out of my mouth, and mimed a scream. The blank look on his face said enough. He hadn’t heard the noise. Probably it had been my ears adjusting to the pressure.

Still unnerved, I pointed at the hole. ‘Did you see something?’ I tried to ask. Mike drifted over to the opening. Again, he’d misunderstood my signals, thinking I was suggesting we penetrate the wreck. Not here. It felt wrong. Dark things lurked here.

Before I could react, Mike grabbed the edges of the hole and stuck his head inside. ‘Nooo,’ I yelled, exhaling only bubbles. In my haste to pull my husband to safety, I kicked the deck with my fin, stirring up a murky cloud of sand, algae and corroded metal. Struggling to control my buoyancy, I reached out and tugged Mike’s fin.

He pulled his head from the opening with a boyish grin, which spread even wider as he took in my wide eyes and the residue floating above the deck. ‘Level off,’ he signed at me. ‘Relax.’

Feeling ridiculous, I slowed my breath. What was I afraid of – entering the wreck though this hole, or entering the wreck period? The latter was more likely, but Mike had been planning this trip for weeks. I couldn’t ruin it because I had the heebie jeebies. A commitment was a commitment. With a brave smile, I gave Mike an ‘OK’ sign. He blew a kiss through his regulator and returned to the opening.

Masterfully, he shifted his body vertically and entered the hole, face first. Gently kicking his fins, he disappeared into the ship. Shoulders, waist and feet.

My turn.

The inside of the mouth was dark. Almost pitch black. The hole descended about three metres before seemingly widening into an open space. I retrieved the underwater flashlight velcroed to my wrist and, with a deep sigh, awkwardly kicked my legs up and dived into the wreck.

The tunnel opened into a vast room, another of the ship’s holds. Mike was examining an open crate of leather boots. I took one final glance at the open ocean, but the hole was now filled with sediment, blocking any view of the surface. Obstructing the daylight. ‘It’ll settle,’ I told myself. ‘You kicked the ship again dopey, be careful.’

I shone my flashlight around all corners of the room. Just making sure nothing was there.

Mike swam up to meet me and after a quick ‘OK,’ he turned to a small doorway on the starboard side. With a flick of his fins, he was through. I followed, the compressed air dry in my mouth. God, it was cold. I tucked my arms to my chest. The Indian Ocean is the warmest in the world, but it suddenly felt like the Antarctic.

We were in the crew’s quarters, a narrow corridor with rusted steel frames chained to the wall. No bedding. What happened to the seamen’s bodies? Probably some were never found. Carried away by the tide or flattened by the 15,000-ton ship. I shivered.

Mike stopped to inspect a metal chest. I was too jittery to inspect anything. A sense of something lurking in the darkness drove me to wave the flashlight in a futile attempt to light up the room. Where was the marine life? Mike had said to watch out for poisonous lionfish drifting in the dark – ‘The sting won’t kill you, but you’ll wish you were dead,’ he’d said with a goofy grin. Nothing appeared to live inside the SS Cronus. Not a single wrasse or tiny crab. Only algae and rust.

My flashlight swept past the doorway at the far end of the corridor. A hard lump blocked my throat with fright. Something floated there. A naked figure with waxy black skin. It was a faceless thing; any hair or distinguishing features had rotted (or been eaten) away. The body was sexless. Blood pounded in my ears and, frantically, I doggy-paddled over to Mike. There were still corpses here. This was sick; we had to go. Having momentarily flashed the light away from the dead thing, I aimed it back at the doorway. Fuck! Where was it?

Shaking, I swung the beam of light around the doorway. How could the corpse have moved? Nothing in the corners of the room. Behind me?

I gasped and inhaled a mouthful of salty water as my regulator fell. The light went out, but not before illuminating the horror that loomed behind me, grinning. Where was my air? I held my breath. Thrashing. Complete darkness. Two cold arms embraced me. Nooooooo. Not the thing. I struggled against it, but it pinned my arms to my sides. A gust of oxygen filled my mouth. Then Mike’s face appeared. He was holding me, concerned eyes inside his mask. I recovered the flashlight dangling from my wrist and shone it around the room. He did the same. There was nothing there.

After a minute or so, Mike tapped my shoulder. ‘What’s wrong?’ he signed. Then he raised his index finger and drew small circles at the side of his head. ‘Are you narced?’

Nitrogen narcosis. Could it be? I’d heard of divers becoming confused or hallucinating on deep dives. My dive computer showed we were at forty-five metres. That was deep – further than recreational divers should go without specialist equipment. Mike was grinning, relieved. He stuck up his thumb. ‘Back to the surface?’

I hesitated. Of course I wanted to, but I’d feel an utter idiot back on the boat. Mike would be sweet, tease me gently, but secretly he’d be disappointed. Another wasted dive because of his stupid wife. I scanned the room again. Nothing. There was no rational explanation for the gruesome apparition, aside from nitrogen narcosis. Now I knew what it was, I’d be ready, and so I gestured for Mike to continue.

He swam down the corridor towards the far door.

The next room was a dead end; a square steel box containing only a single chain hanging from the ceiling. Mike gestured for me to turn back and I was mid-way through a clumsy twist when the screech sounded again. It filled the small space with rattling intensity. Arriving from nowhere, a sudden icy current dragged us further into the room, but, in a flurry of bubbles, Mike pushed me through the doorway into the crew’s quarters. Grabbing onto one of the bed frames, I turned to see Mike kicking hard. Behind him, the chain was rising against the current, reaching towards his feet. We fought the inexplicable flow of seawater to swim back into the hold.

I arrived at the opening first, which, somehow, remained cloudy with sediment. Two strong hands grabbed my waist and shoved me out of the wreck, into the open ocean.

The immediate stillness and warmth engaged my brain, preventing me from darting terrified to the surface. A sudden ascent from scuba diving was dangerous. It could kill.

Mike.

I turned back to the deck hoping to catch my husband before he swam too high. He wasn’t there. I looked up, around, behind.

He was gone.

The deck was calm. A pair of goatfish weaved between the deck bollards. There was no hole.

How could that be? It had been right here. Frenzied, I scoured the deck for any small opening. There was none. I dashed down into the bomb-hit section, darting in and out of the exposed rooms. No blue wetsuit. I swam the outside length of the wreck. Nothing.

I moaned, unbidden, into my regulator. It was a familiar guttural sound. My lungs tried to draw in oxygen, but abruptly the air stopped, as if a plastic bag had been placed over my mouth. I checked the tank pressure. Empty.

There was no choice. I shot up to the surface.

Partway through clambering onto the boat, a shooting pain racked my arms and legs. Sobbing, I crawled over to the VHF radio, but the world was spinning like a ship’s compass. Decompression sickness; I’d ascended too quickly. The air that only a moment before had tasted so full, again felt weak and diluted. I managed to reach the cabin, my legs now dead weights, and made the SOS call. Save our souls.

I lay, looking at the sky.

A chain clanked onto the deck.

*

RUNNER-UP
‘The Booth’

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by
Roger Jackson

*

Stand twenty feet away from the clown and you can read the flyers, graciously permitted by the fairground’s owners, pinned to posts and the walls of candyfloss stalls, thin sheets fluttering in the breeze between the gentle dance of helium-bloated balloons. One word stands out on the rain-faded sheets, as it’s meant to, in a font bold and black, MISSING, and below that there’s a picture of a little girl. The brief description of her below the picture – blonde hair, green eyes – doesn’t do justice to the grin on the photograph, or the way those green eyes sparkle as she sits in her pyjamas surrounded by tatters of Christmas wrapping paper.

Stand ten feet away and you can hear the clown’s laughter, crackling through the speakers implanted into his glass-fronted booth. You recall an urban myth that the peals of mirth for such things are ancient recordings from Victorian asylums, and watching the mechanical clown rock back and forth on his golden throne, his eyes wild, his mouth locking and unlocking, you could well believe the tale.

Stand five feet away and you can see that the clown is old, maybe the oldest thing in the fairground, peeling greasepaint and threadbare silk, blood-coloured rust at the corners of his clockwork lips. His laughter shrieks through the speakers. His mighty clown shoes tap with glee, and you notice the carpet of dead flies at his feet. At six inches away, you’re close enough to touch the scratched, fingerprint stamped glass of the booth now but no, you don’t want to do that.

If you were six inches inside the glass, you’d realise that it was soundproof, and that you could hear screams. You’d smell the coppery, stale air within the booth, feel it moving in cold currents across your skin as the clown hurls himself to and fro on his throne. You’d find the clasp at his neck that secures his fraying collar and unlock it, peeling back the silk to expose a skeleton of corroded artificial limbs and oil-choked cogs and metal rods, like some strange funhouse autopsy.

Look closer, and you’d see the pale skin peeking out between the metal, realise the thin arms and legs that have been slipped into the hollow prosthetic limbs. The clown would thrash in protest at your intrusion, the red smear of his smile snapping open and closed, the screams from the mouth within trapping itself inside the booth, inside your head, inside your heart.

You’d fumble with the clips that hold his face to his skull, white paint unrolling beneath your fingernails, and are his metal features twisting towards you now, that mouth trying to bite at your clawing fingertips? Maybe.

At last, that mask would fall, clattering to the blanket of flies, and you’d see her face, the one from the flyers, recognising her matted blonde hair and the eyes with their Christmas sparkle forever lost, her grin stolen, lips frayed and torn by the sharp edges of a clockwork smile.

That’s what you’d see if you were inside the booth, or even what you might somehow sense if you thought to approach it, but all around you the fairground sings with light and speed and delighted screams, and the air is sweet with the scent of candyfloss and hotdogs. There’s a hand in yours, squeezing gently, and your heart races with the promised thrill of a stolen kiss, and so you walk away from the booth and its undying mechanical gaoler, the screams of its latest captive forever unheard.

*

RUNNER-UP
‘The Gag Reflex’

plague-doctor-rene

by
Gary Kittle

*

‘So what happens now, Sal?’

They sat at the kitchen table, half empty wine glasses between them. Michael glanced at the overflowing ashtray.

‘And why the dope?’

Sally looked up, her eyelids drooped. ‘I need to be relaxed.’

‘Relaxed?’ Michael scowled, unable to remember how that felt. ‘Relaxed for what?’

Sally pushed a sheet of paper across the table.

‘What’s this?’

‘Your instructions.’

Michael picked it up and let his eyes tumble to the bottom.

‘I can’t do this alone,’ she said. ‘I’ll need your help.’

You need help, all right, Michael thought, scrutinizing the instruction sheet. ‘What exactly do you have to swallow here, an entire plant? This is Chinese medicine we’re talking about, right?’

‘No,’ she said flatly. ‘It’s a lot older than that.’

‘Then what?’ Michael’s patience was as taut as cat gut. He waved the sheet of paper. ‘You need to explain, love.’

Sally took a deep breath. Michael followed her eyes to the wall clock behind him. One minute to midnight. When he looked back at his wife he saw tears on both cheeks.

‘This is too much, Sal! I know how much you want this baby. God knows I want it, too.’ He reached out for her hand but she pulled it away, leaving him groping at thin air. ‘But I’m scared, Sal. Honest to God. Scared that this has turned into an unhealthy obsession…’

There was a single knock from the front door, firm but not unduly loud. Sally’s eyes widened suddenly, and Michael saw both fear and hope fighting inside.

‘He’s here,’ she whispered.

The knock came again. Michael stood up, glad to have something to do. ‘The medicine man, right?’

Sally looked at him, unblinking, nodding once.

He marched through the hall, hand reaching out for the front door catch.

‘We do have a bloody doorbell!’

They’d tried everything to have a baby, and nearly ruined themselves financially in the process. The irony was that even if Sally got pregnant now they could scarcely afford to look after themselves let alone a child.

As he turned the door catch a shiver ran through him, as if the cold night air had entered the house already. The concrete path was empty, though, the gate closed. Michael stepped outside, looked up and down the road. Nothing.

‘Bloody kids!’ he muttered, slamming the door behind him.

The kitchen door was still half open. As he looked up he saw the expression on his wife’s face and paused. Her eyes were fixed on something hidden behind the door. Through the gap between the door and the frame Michael could see something dark occupying a previously empty chair. There was no hope in Sally’s eyes now, only terror.

Michael stepped forward, placed his hand on the door and pushed. They had company, after all. He looked to his wife for clarity.

‘He’s here,’ she repeated.

In his mind he heard a policeman ask: In your own words, Mr. Atkins, could you describe the assailant?

Michael let himself fall back into his chair. The crazy part was that what sat across the table from him was not altogether unfamiliar. The dark cape rose up over hunched shoulders towards a wide brimmed black hat, the neck wrapped in a tattered scarf. But most prominent of all was the beak-like structure that masked the entire face. Michael could see no gaps through which the man might see, but he felt watched, nonetheless.  Yes, he’d seen this costume before. But where? A Halloween party? A film? Sally’s words echoed from the other side of midnight: ‘It’s a lot older than that.’

The visitor reached slowly beneath his cape, disturbing an odour that reminded Michael of a pigeon that had died halfway down their chimney one summer. He pulled out a card with a gloved hand and passed it to Michael. The card looked dry but felt strangely slimy to the touch.

He read the florid handwriting on one side. He assumed the unreadable name was in Latin, but written beneath in English it read:

RETURN. RECYCLE. RE-USE.

‘Who are you?’

The card disappeared again into the folds of the cape, and turning to Sally the visitor offered her the gloved hand, palm upward. The gesture seemed to break the spell that had paralysed his wife.

‘Yes,’ she sighed. ‘I have it. Wait a minute.’

Without even looking at Michael, Sally headed for the stairs. He thought about calling after her but she was already through the door.

The visitor turned his head towards Michael, but still said nothing. The false beak tapered to a point, its leading edge promising something similar to but much deeper than a paper cut to the unwary finger. However sincere Sally’s motives were in contacting this masked stranger, Michael’s immediate impression was that they were both in danger. Hearing footsteps scuttling across the spare bedroom above – the nursery, she called it – Michael leapt to his feet.

‘I think you should leave,’ he said firmly. The visitor did not respond. Michael pointed towards the hall. ‘Leave. Do you understand? I want you to leave.’

Reaching back inside his cape the visitor pulled something out in his fist. A knife was Michael’s initial fear. But the object’s true identity, when it registered, made him let out a guffaw of distain.

‘You’re crazy,’ he said. ‘Now get out!’

The visitor held up the parsnip, and as Michael watched the fingers tightened slowly inside the glove. A pain beyond anything he had experienced burned through his penis. The gloved hand continued to tighten, and as it did the pain in his crushed member intensified. The implication, however fantastical, was clear. Michael threw himself back into his chair and the gloved hand loosened, instant relief setting him panting as his wife’s footsteps skipped down the stairs. The parsnip disappeared back inside the cape.

Sally was holding a shoe box. She placed it on the table before her and grasped the lid.

‘You need to want this as much as I do,’ she said, lifting the lid.

The smell from beneath the visitor’s cape was nothing compared to the stench that rose from inside the shoe box. Again the visitor offered Sally his gloved hand, palm upward.

‘Sally, what the hell is going on here?’

She reached carefully into the box and lifted out the thing rotting inside.

‘Don’t just tell me you want this baby. Prove it.’

At first Michael assumed it was a bird, a chick that had fallen from a nest. But the longer he stared the more clearly the object’s true identity became. With tears rolling down her face Sally placed the tiny body into the gloved hand and the visitor bowed his head solemnly.

Now that it was closer, Michael could make out the crude pink limbs, the hairless head and black button eyes.

‘When it’s done, all you have to do is make love to me and we will have a child. I swear.’

Again the visitor bowed his head solemnly, this time in Michael’s direction.

‘Where the hell did you get that?’

‘Don’t you remember?’ she tried to smile. ‘You gave it to me.’

How could he forget? The hours sat in a hospital waiting room from two in morning, the blood still drying on the passenger seat in their car. Then the doctor putting his hand on his shoulder just before dawn, sympathy expressed without words. She’d lost the one baby they’d managed to conceive in a decade.

Only somehow she had kept hold of it. Questions of how and when seemed irrelevant beyond the raw fact that his wife had kept the corpse of their dead child, and then hidden it somewhere in the house.

‘The nursery,’ he murmured.

Sally was staring at him with an intensity he recognised from the doctor’s surgery, the IVF clinic, the private hospital. ‘I’ll never give up,’ she’d told him. The visitor carefully raised his hand with the tiny corpse to his beak and appeared to kiss it.

Michael glared at his wife, disgust and revulsion for what she was doing evolving into a loathing of her.

‘The instructions, Michael,’ she whispered, taking the tiny body back from the visitor. ‘You’ve got the easy bit, believe me.’

Michael picked up the printed sheet with its numbered points, its meticulously clear diagrams, and re-read the title running across the top of the page:

HOW TO SUPPRESS THE GAG REFLEX.

‘Listen Sally,’ he hissed. ‘I know how important this is to you. I do. But nothing’s going to happen tonight except you traumatising yourself for life…’

‘Show me that you want it, too, damn you!’ she screamed. ‘Don’t you get it? That’s what this is all about. Proving how much we want it and making it happen!’

Sally brought the lifeless body closer to her mouth, seemingly oblivious to the site or smell, and her tears fell freely.

‘Love’s not just something you feel, Michael; it’s something you do.’

‘But this is… this is sick, Sal!’ He tensed his muscles, ready to lunge forward. ‘I won’t help you! I can’t!’

Sally looked to the beaked visitor. ‘Oh, I think you will.’

Both gloved hands disappeared inside the cape this time, re-emerging with the parsnip and something else. Michael’s eyes widened.

‘No. No, please!’

The visitor gave the parsnip a playful squeeze to let Michael know he meant business, and then brought the tip into close proximity to the steel face of the vegetable grater. That was when Michael knew that Sally’s insane scheme was going to happen, and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

*

They didn’t speak for over an hour afterwards. Sally was busy fighting to hold onto the contents of her stomach. Michael could not take his eyes from the now empty shoe box. The beaked visitor was long gone, vanished in the time it took to swallow.

‘I think I can hold it down now,’ was the first thing she said. ‘We should go upstairs.’

The realisation of what she meant hit him so hard it was his turn to gag. But with the nausea came hope. As she headed for the door, Michael stared down into the box and declared, ‘No.’

Forty minutes after that it was all over. She had pleaded, begged, and threatened him, but he could not make love to her knowing what lay inside her. Whoever – or whatever – their visitor was, he would demand a price for his services, and that price would be greater than any soul should contemplate paying. One day, with treatment, she would understand, maybe even forgive him. But when she finally staggered from the downstairs toilet he could feel the waves of hatred coming off her like a warm breeze.

Collapsing exhausted onto the bed, he slept fitfully until the nightmares arrived. Waking suddenly, he saw that Sally’s side of the bed was still empty. He made his way downstairs, across the hall and back into the kitchen. He had taken the knives from kitchen, the pills from the bathroom cabinet, and hidden them, leaving nothing with which she could harm herself.

He looked down at her and saw that she was smiling triumphantly. What now? he wondered, fearing for her sanity. The wine glasses were still where they’d left them, the overflowing ashtray and the hated instruction sheet, now screwed into a ball. But there were four other objects on the table. The first was the shoe box. The second was a bucket. He could smell the vomit from where he stood. The other two objects she quickly picked up.

Michael felt the skin of his scrotum tighten, the blood vessels in his head engorge. He opened his mouth to scream, but the hand holding the turnip was already jerking down towards the gleaming face of the grater, the vacant shoe box waiting below to catch the strips of shredded vegetable.

‘Never give up, darling,’ she laughed. ‘Remember?’

*

SHORTLIST
‘Mummy Are You There?’

iv

by
Kirstie Turner

*

The air was stagnant and sheets of dust coated every surface. A red brown stain was running down the middle of the corridor; decade old blood. The screams of tortured souls and whispers of death echoed through the walls and straight into the ears of the young boy. His skin was so pale, it seemed to glow in the dark hospital corridor.

‘She’s here.’ He whispered. ‘I can feel her.’ He let out a short, sharp laugh. Then starting saying it over and over, getting louder each time until he was shouting ‘she’s here, she’s here.’ He ran down the corridors, hurtling round each corner. The metal pipe in his hand banged and crashed loudly against the rusty, leaking radiators. Somewhere, on the other side of town, a woman screamed.

‘He’s run off again.’ Anita Rhodes stood at her nephew’s empty bed shouting to her husband, David. ‘That boy is going to be the death of me. Do you know how many grey hairs I’ve found since he moved in?’ She ran her hands through her perfectly dyed blonde hair.

‘We knew what we were taking on with him.’ David, now at her side, tried to console her. ‘We knew it would be hard.’

‘I bet he’s at that bloody hospital again.’

‘I’ll get the keys. Ring Jenny she’ll want to be there.’ Anita began typing in the social worker’s number, cursing the boy under her breath.

‘Hi Jenny? It’s Simon. He’s gone again.’

The small boy was, at this time, pushing open a heavy oak door that creaked angrily at being opened after so many years.

‘Mummy are you there?’ He stepped into the room and the door groaned as it swung shut. Lined up along each side of the room, were yellowing hospital beds. The stench of old urine and blood crept up his nose. Each bed had ankle and wrist restraints attached, the leather was worn away in parts, from many a struggling patient.

The boy’s eyes lit up and he jumped up onto the first bed. He leaped from bed to bed, screaming with joy each time he landed on the next one. Each bed squeaked under his weight.

‘Mummy! Look at me. I’m flying!’ Dust pooled off of each bed and spiders scattered from their once undisturbed hiding places. Suddenly the door swung open and he lost his footing, and slipped off the bed. With a loud crash, he fell through the rotten floorboards and into the basement below.

Anita, dressed in her silk dressing gown and slippers, lowered herself into their brand new Mercedes. David sat, waiting in the driver’s seat, rubbing his eyes.

‘Ready?’

‘Jenny will meet us there. Come on what are you waiting for? We need to go now. Drugs. I’ll bet you anything this has got drugs involved. You know that’s what they caught him doing last time he was at that hospital. With those boys from school. God I’m going to kill him.’ David listened patiently.

‘Now, now. He’s been through a lot remember.’

‘He’ll be going through a hell of a lot more when I get my hands on him! Jenny isn’t happy either. I think she’ll be second in line to kill him after me!’

‘Did she say something?’

‘She didn’t have to say anything! Its 1 in the bloody morning. And this isn’t the first time this has happened. I’ll be surprised if she doesn’t want to drop his case and get him assigned a new social worker. God I don’t want to go through all that again’

‘I’m sure she won’t. Jenny’s different.’

‘Oh you would say that. Because you think she’s pretty and young. She’s what..his fifth? Sixth? This is getting out of hand.’

‘She’s not as pretty as you dear. I just think she’s doing a good job with him.’

‘You don’t have to deal with him! Swanning off to work every day while I’m left to deal with the calls from his head teacher or the bloody police!’ David bit his tongue, and kept his eyes on the road.

In the hospital basement, the small boy had landed on a bed, in a jail cell. His messy, dark brown hair, which framed his ghostly white face, was turning grey from the hoards of dust that fell down with him. The door was slightly ajar. He left the cell, and found himself in a thin corridor that held 10 cells; identical to the one he had landed in.

‘This is where they put you when you were bad. Isn’t it mummy?’ He picked up his metal pole from the cell he had landed in, and began running up and down the corridor, banging the pole against the cell doors. After a few minutes, he sat down at one end, breathing heavily and laughing to himself again. He picked a spider out of his hair and squished it under his thumb, wiping the remains onto the wall. Upstairs, the loud bang of the large front door shutting startled him, and he jumped to his feet. He crept, cautiously, to the small, spiral staircase that led upstairs and listened carefully. ‘Mummy? Have you come for me?’

The car pulled up silently in front of the hospital.  All of the windows were pitch black and the large, iron gates seemed to be demanding they didn’t come in.

‘Right here we are. I think we should wait for Jenny before going in.’ Anita scowled at David, ready to unleash her anger on her nephew.

‘Of course you want to wait for her!’ She glared daggers at him. ‘Fine. Call her now and find out where she is.’

He tried to dial the number but the phone flashed up an error. ‘Gosh no signal here. I guess we’ll have to just wait.’

‘We’re responsible for that stupid boy and you just want to sit and wait! Walk back up the path until you find some bloody signal.’

‘Okay, okay. I’m going honey, don’t worry.’ She waited until he was out of sight, grabbed her own phone and pushed open the car door, slamming it angrily behind her.

Anita pushed open the metal gate, and wandered down the eerie path towards the hospital front doors. The sky was ominous, icy raindrops fell from charcoal clouds, the air nipped at her skin. A rat ran across the path ahead of her and she jumped back. Everything was screaming at her to turn around and wait for the others but she was determined. She reached the huge front doors, took a deep breath and pulled the handle down. She pushed open the heavy door and stepped inside, where she screamed for the second time that night. This one was very different. This time she screamed a chilling, deadly scream at the sight of the swinging corpse.

The little boy watched Anita staring at the intruder’s body. He smiled at her. ‘Mummy? Is that you?’ He said under his breath. ‘I saved your home from this intruder.’ She looked right at him and saw his huge smile. That’s when she screamed. He held his hands to his ears; this woman was ruining everything. She stared at him with such hate in her eyes. As she ran outside, he slipped back into the shadows. That was definitely not his mummy; she wouldn’t be so angry with him. He was just trying to help.

Anita came running out of the hospital, towards them, screaming and shrieking. ‘He’s dead. Simons dead.’ She kept shouting David and Jenny. ‘Call a bloody ambulance. The police. Call the police! There was a boy there. A little boy was in there. I saw him.’

Later that night, on the top floor of the hospital, the little boy was hiding in a corner. The door swung open, crashing against the wall, and a few disturbed pigeons rushed out of the broken window. Jenny, the social worker, appeared in the open doorway. He peered out from the corner and saw her standing there. A smile, full of malice and evil grew on her face.

‘And how is my clever boy?’

*

SHORTLIST
‘Call Me Mr Moogle’

blood1

by
M Sheldon

*

It started as a tiny lump on the inside of my bottom lip.

I used to flick my tongue over it every now and then, telling myself that if it grew, I should probably visit the doctor. Two weeks later, I woke one morning to find it had erupted through my skin. It felt like a separate entity, a slimy island.

I went to the bathroom and pulled down my lower lip and a swollen pink bump stared back. It was about the size and shape of a tooth; a spare but useless molar I could almost pop into a gap left by a tooth long gone.

I went straight to the doctor.

An emergency, I said.

Nothing to worry about, she said.  It will go over the next few days; just one of those things. Keep an eye on it and if it changes shape or gets any bigger, come back immediately.

She didn’t say anything about it starting to talk.

I was in the kitchen doing the washing up when it first spoke. I was listening to a play on the radio about a kids’ home and I kept hearing squeaking, thinking perhaps it was part of the play’s sound effects, some children messing around, or perhaps a seagull on a rooftop squawking about something or other.

But then I heard a clear, Hello! Hello! It was if someone was out in the street trying to attract the attention of an acquaintance, unsure whether the person would turn around, let alone recognise them.

Over here! the high-pitched voice said.

I didn’t want to listen to strangers’ inane conversations, so I turned the radio up.

But when I went to bed a few hours later and pulled back my bottom lip to check on my lump, I heard that same voice again.

Hello! Hello! Over here! it squeaked.

I peered out of the window into the dark street below. It was deserted apart from next door’s over-fluffed black cat ambling along the pavement.

I went back to the mirror and pulled down my lip once more.

I’m here, you big fat idiot! it said.

I noticed then how the words were being formed by a miniscule red gash of a mouth in the middle of the lump, its upper lip sporting a fine downy auburn moustache and two misshapen teeth. And when I saw its network of tiny veins pulsating like a heart I screamed.

You ain’t so pretty yourself! it said with a spitefulness I quickly came to dread.

***

It made me call him Mr Moogle. If I didn’t refer to him by his correct title, he’d bite me and I’d feel a sharp pain, followed by the metallic tang of my own blood. And once his moustache grew long, he used his teeth to pull at the thick hair hanging over his mouth, making me shriek.

Then I had to say, Okay, Mr Moogle, I’ll do it.

I had to be extra cautious when he started growing his tiny blue fish eye. Even though his eyesight was rubbish, if I yawned or spoke to someone then he’d snatch a glimpse of the outside world which usually meant trouble.

Once we walked past a poster in the Post Office advertising the Russian State Circus. Mr Moogle must have seen a flash of the exotic lady standing on top of a too-white pony as I yawned.  The circus had set up in the park near to the train station and, even though we’d walked past on various Mr Moogle missions, he’d been oblivious to all the caravans pulling up, the big top being erected and the shabbily-dressed clowns blocking pavements and thrusting discount flyers into the faces of passers-by.

Mr Moogle wants to go to the circus, he said, scraping his teeth against the inside of my mouth.

That afternoon I bought a cheap back row ticket for the matinee performance.

The circus had a Rasputin theme running through it. All the performers had fixed grins on their over-made up faces but you could tell they’d much rather kill you. And who could blame them? That annoying Boney M record Ra-Ra-Rasputin played between the acts. Mr Moogle insisted on singing along and a boy and his mother, sitting in front of us, kept turning and giving me funny looks.

Quieten down, I told Mr Moogle.

But he bit me and I couldn’t help cry out.

During the interval, the boy and his mum moved to the expensive empty seats at the front but were frogmarched back to their former seats by the bouncer, who then gestured for me to leave.

Mr Moogle came out with a mouthful of bad words as the bouncer held open the canvas flap and shoved me into the daylight.

Thanks for nothing, said Mr Moogle, before biting into my cheek.

As he and his fish eye grew he liked to read the newspaper in the mornings over breakfast, not allowing me turn the page until he’d finished. That’s where he saw the advert for the Smurfs’ movie, a month after his arrival. He made me push my lip right into Papa Smurf’s smile so that my head was buried in his newspaper print beard and I began to dribble.

There are some things you cannot make me do, I said, after he’d permitted me to move.

Two hours later, we were queuing in the rain for the 12pm showing.

***

His Build a Bear ‘birthday party’ was the final straw.

But you’ve only been here for five weeks, I said. How can it be your birthday?

Mr Moogle wants a birthday party. Mr Moogle gets a birthday party. I want a koala, and Mrs Moogle wants a panda.

There is no Mrs Moogle, I said through gritted teeth.

I wasn’t going to admit that I’d felt another little lump erupting in the far corner of my mouth that morning, and quickly took out a soft white tissue from my pocket as the familiar taste of blood filled my mouth.

After I’d stuffed the bears with beige fluff, he made me browse the shop, with my bottom lip pulled down so he could view all the bear-shaped outfits available; sailors, ballet dancers, beachwear, cowboys, Star Wars, Batman, pirate wear, even a sinister-looking Iron Man costume complete with mask. Everything was £10 or over except for a pair of fat bear trainers for a fiver. I was out of work at the time and didn’t have the kind of money to throw away on outfits for toys and Mr Moogle knew it. But round and round we went, four, five, six times with him yelling at me to stop spinning the displays so quickly.  When I glanced up, the shop assistants, previously helpful, had lost their friendly smiles and were whispering behind the cover of their hands.

Out of earshot in the wig section, I told Mr Moogle that everything was too expensive; the panda and koala would have to remain naked for now.

But Mr Moogle wants a pretty outfit for Mrs Moogle’s panda, he said, pulling at a few strands of his moustache with his teeth. I winced. My mouth was full of unhealed Mr Moogle bites. I couldn’t bear any more.

I took the blonde wig, silver bikini and pair of red kitten mules up to the counter and paid with my credit card.

***

When I got home I went straight to the kitchen, took out my sharpest vegetable knife from the drawer, walked to the bathroom mirror and grabbed Mr Moogle’s moustache. He came off nice and clean, and I left him screaming in the sink next to my morning’s toothpaste spit.

I bled all over the bathroom, down the stairs, in my car and over the A&E waiting room and several nurses. After stitching me up, the doctors kept me in overnight, referring me for psychiatric reports.

That was fine with me. I was in no hurry to return home. I relaxed, relishing the thought of Mr Moogle dying a slow death without my blood to feed him; a dried up Mr Moogle, a lump of hairy gristle with a shrunken eye. I decided that as soon as I was discharged, I’d scoop up his body in some old Tupperware, take it to the doctors and say, do you believe me now?

But when I returned home two days later, there was nothing there; just a toothpaste stain dyed red with my blood.

Sometimes I wonder if a spider dragged him away to its lair to feast on him. But then when it’s really quiet, just before dawn, when the seagulls are still dreaming, I think I can hear him berating me about something I haven’t done to his satisfaction. And it makes me wonder if he’s just biding his time before he comes and finds me and the lovely Mrs Moogle.

*

SHORTLIST
‘Swing Me’

hands

by
Tabitha Potts

*

It was the first week back after half term when she first noticed the little boy. The morning had been a stressed jumble of activity: working Bea’s reluctant hands into her pink mittens, an argument over shoes (Bea wanted to wear her Dalmatian spotted wellies, and got her way eventually), the fifteen-minute walk to school which seemed to take an age when you were in a hurry, with a tricky crossing on the main road just before you reached the school gate. Bea was still not sure about ‘big school’, she’d loved her cosy nursery before the divorce, now Jem worried that Bea might never adjust and a tiny, mean part of her wanted to rush her daughter through this whole process, force her to acclimatise faster so she could get a little bit of her own life back. The morning had been jerky and snappy and she felt bad. She’d rushed Bea because she wanted to concentrate on her writing, an article for one of the women’s mags on ‘Suddenly single’. Now she’d got it in on time, she would be calm and relaxed, the way she wanted to be as a mother, the way she aspired to behave.

The boy was hanging around in the freezing playground, wearing a blue jacket and jeans. He didn’t look to her, at a quick glance, as though he was warmly enough dressed: the anorak was thin. The teaching assistant who usually handled pickups was not paying him any attention: she gave Jem a brisk smile and handed Bea over to her mum. ‘She had a great day today, did a nice painting didn’t you love?’. Bea gave Jem a hug, all smiles, the morning’s tension completely forgotten. As usual Jem felt a helpless rush of love for Bea, in her pink tights and blue cord dress, her spotted boots, one blonde pigtail askew.

‘He’s my friend’, said Bea, and pointed over to the little boy. ‘Is he?’ said Jem, and looked over. ‘His name’s Elliot’.

‘Which one’s his mum?’. She pointed to the gaggle of parents at the gate. Now they were in a new area, in a new school, Jem desperately wanted to make a few friends, both for Bea and for herself. They were out of the centre of town now, and it took a long time to see her old friends. Bea was bored, restless, missed her dad when she didn’t see him and then became over-excited when she did.

‘He doesn’t have a mum, he has a dad’.

‘Oh’.

Maybe one of the new exotic breed of house-husband, then? Or self-employed? You still didn’t see that many dads doing the school run, not out here in the suburbs, even though it was 2016.

‘His mum isn’t there any more’.

‘Where is she?’

‘Elliot says she’s in heaven, but my Daddy says there’s no such place’.

Jem felt the familiar twist of fury. Why did he always have to be so bloody pedantic? What was wrong with leaving a small child with a few comforting illusions? Like the one that she had a daddy who wasn’t a cheating bastard, for example. The great philosopher. He made her sick.

Bea waved at Elliot, and after a moment’s hesitation, he waved back. He had a beautiful smile.

Jem took Bea’s hand, and they walked out of the school gate. When Jem looked back, he was still watching them.

It was a couple of weeks later when she met Elliot’s dad. She was even more scruffily dressed than usual, a pair of beaten up trainers, leggings and an anorak – the privilege of the home worker. Bea ran happily into the playground and Elliot ran up to her. She noticed a man standing by the gate waving at him.

‘See you later!’

He was tall and good looking. Jem’s eyes flicked automatically to his hand – no ring. Not that that meant much these days, but you never know. He smiled at her as their children went into the school, hand in hand.

‘Our two seem to get on well’.

‘Yes, she talks about Elliot a lot’.

‘It’s a relief to me, as he’s quite shy’.

‘Bea’s pretty confident once she finds her feet, but it’s been a new start for her at this school.’

‘How’s she settling in?’

‘Well, with Elliot’s help quite well I think now. I haven’t met many of the other parents myself yet, it’s all been a bit of a whirlwind’.

They were still standing at the gate. Surreptitiously, she admired the muscle definition on his arms, he was only wearing a T shirt despite the cold.

‘They can be a little cliquey’.

She shivered. ‘I’d better get back before I freeze. Great meeting you. I’m Jem, by the way. Short for Jemima, like Jemima Puddleduck’.

Christ, she was gabbling. This gorgeous man would think she was a lunatic.

‘Carl. Great to meet you’.

A couple of days later she was in the park, having a break before she finished writing her piece, when she spotted both Carl and Elliot in the smaller playground. The little boy was sitting on the roundabout, looking disconsolate. His eyes were red-rimmed. Carl was sitting on a memorial park bench, looking on.

‘Hello there! No school today?’ she called across.

She wished she hadn’t said it immediately – it sounded rather interfering, presumably Elliot wasn’t well. But Carl didn’t seem to mind, his expression lifted when he saw her.

‘He’s having a day off’. He stood up, walked over to her and lowered his voice slightly. ‘I lost my wife to cancer, two years ago. The anniversary date’s rough and I like us to spend the day together. As you can see, he doesn’t always enjoy it that much’.

‘I’m so sorry.’

‘It’s getting easier, but we both miss her so much. It seems so strange for us not to be a family any more, you know’.

‘Of course’. She felt awkward. ‘Well, I should be getting back’.

‘Are you going to the High Street? We’ll walk with you. Fancy heading to the High street, Elliot?’

Carl walked alongside her as she turned ago and as the little boy caught up with them he grabbed both of their hands.

‘Swing me!’

His father laughed. ‘That’s his favourite game’.

She gave his hands a rub to warm them up.

‘No gloves today?’

‘Please swing me!’

They played the game all the way to the High Street, walking three steps and then swinging Elliot up into the air with a shout. It felt strangely intimate, hanging out with them and chatting like this, and she wondered if Carl felt the same way. When they said goodbye, there was an awkward moment when she considered a kiss on the cheek, and then he patted her arm. ‘See you at the school gate, then’.

The teacher, a young woman called Maria, called her aside later in the week as she was picking up Bea – ‘Can I have a quick word?’.

‘Of course!’

Jem was a little distracted, looking around for Carl and Elliot, but they were nowhere to be seen.

‘Let’s go in so we can chat. Bea, do you want to choose a book from the reading corner?’ asked Maria.

Obediently the little girl trotted off to choose a book. The teacher lowered her voice as they sat down on the tiny chairs.

‘I’ve been a bit concerned about how well Bea is settling in’.

‘Oh? But she seems so happy, and she’s enjoying her schoolwork’.

‘I don’t really have any concerns about her school work. Her reading age is quite advanced, and she seems to be progressing well with her maths too. I’m actually a bit more concerned about her behaviour. She seems to prefer to be by herself, and she won’t interact with the other children generally during free play sessions. For example, she won’t share any toys. It’s always no, no, Elliot and I are playing with it. Does she talk about Elliot at home as well?’

‘Yes, all the time, of course, but he is her friend’.

‘Does she play with him at all at home?’

‘Well, no of course not, she only sees him at school! But he’s a friend, isn’t he? Surely if she’s got one friend at least, that’s enough?’

Maria looked confused.

‘I know imaginary friends are quite common at this age, especially if you’re am only child, but she seems a little – well – obsessed with Elliot. It’s so consistent. I start to think I’m seeing him myself! I was wondering if everything was alright at home? If she’d had an upset recently?’

‘I don’t understand. Isn’t Elliot in this class?’

‘No, we don’t have an Elliot in reception. Is it possible you’ve misunderstood? She does talk about him as if he’s a real child, I know.’

‘But I’ve seen him! Is he in a different year, perhaps? Blonde curly hair, wears jeans and a blue jacket. Trainers with lights on them. His dad’s tall, named Carl. A widower.’

Jem saw, to her consternation, tears well in the teacher’s eyes.

‘We did have an Elliot in my class last year who looked like that, whose dad was called Carl.’

‘So he’s in the year above! That makes sense, they’ve obviously met in the playground..’

‘I don’t think you quite understand, Mrs Medway. He died, poor little Elliot died, his father too. It was awful. A real tragedy.’

‘What?’

‘They died in a car crash, outside the school gates. A car was travelling too fast and it hit them – they didn’t have a chance.  That’s why the council introduced traffic calming measures, cars still use this road as a rat run though. It’s a disgrace’.

‘You’re not serious’.

‘I wouldn’t joke about something like this. It’s why I was a little disturbed when her imaginary friend was called Elliot. Perhaps you read an article about him, and that’s why you thought you knew what he looked like? Or you both saw their memorial bench in the park, and that made her choose the name?’

The memorial bench – Jem remembered Carl sitting there while Elliot sat on the roundabout, trailing the toe of one trainer on the ground.

The discussion with Maria petered out in mutual confusion, Jem promising to keep an eye on Bea and discuss it again. She was flustered, still thinking about the conversation, holding Bea’s bag and lunch box in one hand and Bea’s hand in the other, when they passed the school gates. Bea suddenly tugged her hand away from her mother’s.

‘There’s Elliot!’.

Bea darted off the pavement into the big main road, Jem could see a car coming the other way. She had only a split second to act and ran into the road.

There was a screech of brakes and a crunch of broken metal.

When Jem opened her eyes there was no pain, but almost immediately she was flooded with panic as she looked around for Bea. Where was she? She saw a tiny Dalmatian patterned wellington boot lying next to the car, which had obviously swerved too late and hit the central island. She looked again and saw Bea who was cradled in Maria’s arms, howling with shock and fear, Maria was trying to soothe her, tears pouring down her cheeks. Paramedics were standing over someone in the road, maybe it was the driver. Thank God, Bea was alive. She cried out with relief and was about to cross the road to her when a hand took hold of hers. It felt warm now. She looked down to see Elliot’s beautiful smile.

‘I’m so sorry, you can’t go to her. But we’ll stay with you.’ Carl came up to stand next to him. His eyes, so sad, suddenly told her everything she needed to know. She looked again to see the face of the woman the paramedics had tried to help. It was her own.

‘Swing me?’ asked Elliot.

*

SHORTLIST
‘Swing Me’

dark-eye

by
Leah Cooper

*

It’s back. The noise.

I can only describe it as the noise fingernails make when they are dragged over wood. Not your Smooth Ikea flat pack more your jagged splintered lumber. The thought of wooden shards and splinters disappearing and nestling deep inside the flesh under your nails; where every attempt to remove them ends with nerve shredding pain at the slightest of touches; the thought was enough to make me shudder.

There’s the noise again.

I slowly pull my legs under the blanket and draw the blanket high up to my mouth, slowly shrinking into its warm crusty comfort. In the dim light I observe my knuckles shifting from the red blotchy hue I was used to and teased about into an eerie transparent off white, an eggshell white; which reminds me fleetingly of my grandmother and how her hands resembled arthritic bunches of sausages dangling on a dainty wrist, thinking of them now they were probably more like chipolatas with warts; emaciated from years of abuse, skin as thin as paper, eighty years of hard labour.

My breath’s hot and sticky, condensation forming on the underside of the blanket, my breath escaping the covers as steam to a geyser’s imminent eruption.

The noise comes again.

This time it’s in the room with me. I lift my head off the pillow, enabling my eyes to get a good look around the room. They turn up nothing. I peel back the blanket ejecting myself from my soggy cocoon; like a brown banana free from its skin at last. I shuffle over to the edge of the bed and look at the shadows which move hypnotically across the floor, momentarily morphing the carpet into an iridescent volume of water. Net curtains tumble out into the room; blown by the air from the open window. The shadows form long bony fingers reaching out to strangle me.

I shift in the bed revealing a wet patch where my body had been incubating, I rise, my clothes sticking to my back like a wet t-shirt to a rock. My clothes are sodden by fear and quite possibly faecal matter. My hand touches the floor and the illusion that it was water evaporates. My t-shirt rises exposing my back, the air slashes at my uncovered skin; which in turn causes goose bumps to break out and spread down my arm. I watch as my arm transforms into the blemished skin of a goose after plucking day. I can’t help but envisage a leprous blistered hand steal out from the shadows beneath my bed and pull me under.

It doesn’t.

I lower my head down. Blood pumping. Heart pounding. Inch by inch I lower my head. I can feel the pressure building; a vein protrudes from my head, forming the strange V that appears when I’m furiously masturbating or furiously mad. My eyes peer under the frame of the bed.

Nothing. Phew.

BANG.

The sound causes me to shoot manically up in the air, flipping around on my mattress like an un-medicated epileptic. My back smashes against the wall, quickly followed by my head. I reach out and pluck the blanket from where it lay; pulling it up to hide my sorry excuse of a body. I feel like ET sitting in that boy’s basket; wrapped up at the mercy of the encroaching enemy. Teasing and taunting me. I can feel something cold, something moving, something tickling, snaking through the hair on my head. I reach up quickly, my fingers diving under the blanket, which was shrouding my head like a nun. Instantly I wince. Sharp electric shocks tear through my head. Instinctively thinking of the game Operation; where if you removed a man’s cock without setting off his conk you win a prize. My fingers search through my scalp with as much attention as a blind man reading the braille sign on a toilet door. I pull my hand into focus, the tips of my fingers covered in a dark red, clotted blood.

A memory erupts in my mind. I can’t shake it. I was thirteen. At school. The day was a blur, but I had just finished Science; we were looking at moths or butterflies and how they turned from white to black to adapt to their environment. Something about birds eating them came to mind because of a factory nearby and the soot and smog making the trees black; so the white moths were being devoured. I sometimes wished I could be one of those moths; change what I looked like, be able to blend into the background. But no. I was the short, fat, acne faced girl with no friends and a mother and father who were nothing but an embarrassment to me. I sat in the toilet cubical. I felt strange, hurt,  like something just bottomed out. I reached down. Between my legs. It felt warm. But wet. But not like when I used to piss myself in class. It was more of a thick, meaty heat. I brought my fingers up; index and middle finger covered in red clumps of clotted blood, which slowly dribbled down my hand nestling in a warm pool in my palm.

Scratch!

The noise pulling me back from my puberty; with an intake of breath. I scan the room. Shadows dance around like a phénakisticope flickering things into life before my eyes. I slow my breathing.

Scratch.

It’s getting closer. I still can’t see it. I wipe my bloodied fingers on the bed sheets. The dim light makes it look like faecal matter. Instantly I draw my hand to my nose to smell it; before turning my focus back to discovering the origin of the noise. I bum shuffle across my mattress as a dog with worm’s crawls across a carpet. I creep forwards still shrouded in my blanket and lower my foot off the bed. The air is cool. My toes stretch out to connect with the wooden floorboards. Nothing. No noise. I slow my breathing again and shift my weight. If I can get to the light switch this whole situation will be over with. As I shift my weight.

SCRATH.

The floor comes alive; vibrations travel up my leg.

SCRATH. SCRATCH.

I fling myself backwards onto the bed; throwing the blanket up in the air like a parachute, the air catches it as I pull the corners down. Momentarily I’m under the crusty canopy of my blanket. The blanket slowly drops out of the air, collapsing slowly upon my cold body.

Whatever it is must reside under my floorboards. If I just stay still long enough it may just get bored, hungry and move on. Or will that draw it out.

If its hu…ngry’.

The words escape my mouth before I internalise them. I hear the scratching intensify; it must have heard me? Whatever it is, it’s furious.

The bed begins to shake. The noise moves haphazardly around my room one minute it’s under the bed; a split second later it’s across the room emanating from my wardrobe. Then it’s by the door, cutting off my exit. It’s at that moment I realise.

There’s more than one!’.

I speak the words now as I am pretty sure I won’t see out the night. At the birth of these words the scratching noises increase with ferocity. It sounds as if the floorboards are being shredded.; their structural security being brought into doubt. So even if I could make it to the door would the floorboards be able to hold my weight? Or would I collapse through the weakened floor? Struggle to stay above ground, fingernails clinging to the floorboards. Shards of wood gouging into my bare stomach; shredding my abdomen like pulled pork. Stringy pieces of flesh glistening in the moonlight; warm yellowy green juice leaking from my stomach sack, reminding me of the consistency of raw eggs.

Then as the sound reaches its crescendo, it stops. I wait. I can only hear the pulse in my ear, its hypnotic rhythmic whooshing. I realise that my face is nestling into the damp, bloody smears on the bed. I recoil thinking it was leaked anal juice, but after sniffing realise the error of my ways.

I slowly lift up the edge of the blanket enough for me to see out and enough for a breeze to come in. Then I hear it. A whimpering. Like a child crying. But distant. Muffled. Strangled. Then I realise it’s a fox lovemaking outside my window. I pull the covers down from over my head. Instantly the cold clutches me and my skin breaks out in a fresh case of goose bumps, but on my acne it could be mistaken for smallpox. It remains silent. I dare not get up. I turn slowly, being careful not to make a sound. Now laying on my back looking at the ceiling. Completely undercover apart from my neck and head. I lower my head onto the pillow but instantly wish I hadn’t. A searing pain almost making me wince out loud; but I choke it out before it escapes. Resigning myself to a painful night sleep and will deal with the injury tomorrow.

I stay still so long that my bones hurt, but the pain is nothing compared to the name calling I had to endure in school or the psychological pain my mother and father caused. I said to them once ‘why do you keep bullying me?’. They said ‘It’s not bullying its victimisation’.

That was my life.

Thinking about it makes me apathetic, which is a good state to be in when trying to sleep. But I am trying to stay awake! My eyes feel heavy. Suddenly I drop into sleep. My limbs spasm making me feel like I’m falling and it jogs my consciousness into action. I hear a sound. Cupping my ear with my hand to hear better; because who doesn’t use that renowned tried and tested technique? I hear it.

SCRATCH.

SCRATCH.

It’s under my bed now. With my vibrator. Handcuffs and whip. I can feel it vibrating, the floor not the rabbit. The scratching continues. It’s getting louder. Longer. Faster. Then it’s right next to me. The scratching continues in its ferocity and begins to climb up the wall. I reach out my hand to touch the wall. I can feel the scratching vibrating through the plasterboard. As the scratching rises so does my palm, flush against the wall. I look like a Nazi sympathiser saluting our grand Fuhrer. My hand moves over the wallpaper, bobbled indentations caress my fingertips. My fingers hit something hard, out of place, unmoveable. The scratch passes out of my reach; my fingers remain fixated by this sudden intrusion. My fingers reveal an old nail which used to hold an autographed photo of David Bowie. Every evening I used to kiss that thing; well after his death; I couldn’t help thinking that it was a weird type of necrophilia and I didn’t want to take part in that sordid affair; especially after the last time. I notice that the wall is bleeding from this old puncture wound; all too soon I realise that the blood was mine. Looking at the length of the nail instantly gives me a headache.

The scratching rises even higher up the wall; now it is on the ceiling. I retreat below the covers pulling them up over the lower part of my face, my nose protruding like a submarines periscope. The scratching increases. It’s now right above me.

SCRATCH.

SCRATCH.

Flakes of plaster tumble down and bounce off my blanket.

Dust falls, hangs momentarily in the moon light. I blink like my friend Lisa who suffers with a severe tic.

Then I noticed the hole.

SCRATCH, SCRATCH, SCRATCH. Suddenly a bulging eye glares at me through the hole.

That’s when they come!

*

The Period for Submissions has ended!

STORGY are getting into the Halloween spirit and are launching a short story competition to celebrate all that is eerie, creepy, ominous and spooky.

There is something that can be said for a shorter, more intense horror experience. A quick, disturbing encounter. We’re looking for stories that will shock, stories that will unsettle and stories that will unnerve. Sometimes seeing the boogey-man can distil the experience. Use your imagination. Use your creativity.  Use your words.

1st Prize – £200

2nd Prize – The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

3rd Prize – The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

£5 Entry Fee

Entry Dates

Launch: 28th September 2016

Deadline: 12.00pm October 21st 2016

 

How to Enter

  1. Follow STORGY on Twitter (@morestorgy)
  2. Complete payment of £5 entry fee via Paypal and include the billing reference number within submission email £5 Entry Fee
  3. Submit your spooky story online to submit@storgy.combefore the deadline.

 

Instructions for Entering by Email

1) Type and format the short story as per the following instructions: Save as a Microsoft Word document (.doc or .docx) with the story title and author identity in the file name.

  • One entry per author
  • Written in English
  • A maximum of 2,000 words
  • Typed
  • Font: Garamond, 12pt, black
  • Double spaced
  • Front page with title of the story, author name, and word count

2) Attach the file to an email with the subject line ‘Halloween Short Story Competition: (Your Title)

3) Complete payment of £5 entry fee via Paypal and include the billing reference number within submission email.

4) Send submissions for the 2016 Halloween STORGY Short Story Competition to submit@storgy.com

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5) Please ‘like‘ our Facebook page and share details of the competition with friends and family.

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6) Follow us on Twitter @morestorgy for regular updates!

 

Please Note

Entries not submitted in accordance with the Entry Instructions and Entry terms and Conditions will not be eligible for consideration.

 

Entry Terms and Conditions

The Awards

  • All entries will be read by at least two (2) STORGY contributors and a shortlist of exceptional short stories will be presented to the editors from which a winning story and two runner up stories will be selected.
  • The winning award is worth £200.
  • The runner up awards will both receive a copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s Complete Tales and poems.

 

Eligibility

1) The Award is open to all.

2) The story must not contain more than 2,000 words.

3) The entry must be submitted by the author or his/her representative.

4) Authors can submit as many stories as they wish, but will need to pay £5 per each entry.

5) Authors can only enter individually and not as part of a writing team.

6) The story entered must be unpublished.

7) The story submitted must be original, fictional, and entirely the author’s own work.

8) Entries are limited to stories written in English.

 

Copyright and Terms of Use

By submitting a story for the award the entrant hereby acknowledges and agrees that the winning or any other shortlisted story will be made available on the STORGY website free of any fees or royalty payments.

 

Judging

The STORGY Halloween Short Story Award will be looking for the best new writing and will consider all entries on the basis of quality and originality of prose and narrative voice. The Award aims to support excellence in the short story genre.

Judging of the Award will be as follows:

1) All entries will be read by STORGY contributors against the Award criterion and a shortlist presented to the editors for judging.

2) Shortlisted and winning writers will be contacted personally by email.

3) The voting outcome is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

 

We look forward to reading your Short Stories and wish you the best of luck for the 2016 STORGY Halloween Short Story Competition.

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QUICK LINKS:

Submission Email:

submit@storgy.com

Entry Fee Payment:

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http://www.harlotvoncharlotte.com/

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