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 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…
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.
Catch up on the Halloween Short Story Competition Shortlist by clicking on the links below:
Day 1 – Rapping at my Chamber Door – by Leah Cooper
Day 2 – Swing Me – by Tabitha Potts
Day 3 – Call Me Mr Moogle – by M Sheldon
Day 4 – ‘Mummy Are You There?’ – by Kirstie Turner
Day 5 – Runner Up – The Gag Reflex – by Gary Little
STORGY Halloween Competition Illustration by HarlotVonCharlotte