“That’s quite a costume, young ma– … er… are you a boy, or a girl? I can’t tell under all that make up.”
The childlike thing shook a head, but made no answer. The widow Hann held upwards of $37 worth of chocolate in her lap, and she wasn’t giving it up to rude, ungrateful children who couldn’t be bothered to answer a simple question. Theses kids were getting more and more ill-mannered every year.
The zombie child reached a veined, pinkish hand into the bowl.
Mrs. Hann snatched it away. “Not so fast.”
The costume was stunning. Or the paint was still wet. It glistened in the inconstant light of Mrs. Hann’s tiki torches and carved pumpkin display. “Say ‘Trick or treat first.'”
It shook its head more violently. A low guttural sound issued from lips that dripped red paint and saliva.
My friend Cyndigave me the idea to showcase some of the Halloween stories I received from the flash contest. Enjoy these bite-sized stories from Ethan Zabka, Anna Marsick, and Cynthia Hilston.
The Last Halloween
By Ethan Zabka
“This is going to be awesome!” My friend Jeremy exclaimed. ” It’s going to be the greatest Halloween ever!”
“I agree; let’s make it the best,” I replied. After I donned my Dr. Frankenstein costume, we left.
It was a warm evening. Kids were everywhere, shouting and observing their prizes. The sunset was beautiful, an explosion of pink and yellow in the sky.
The first 5 houses we visited were generous, giving us Hershey bars and King-Sized Reese’s. As we were strolling, we came across a hideous creature, who fell in step with us after Jeremy remarked how he completed my Frankenstein apparel. The monster’s makeup was almost perfect, and his yellow eyes glimmered in the dusk. He wasn’t talkative, just keeping in step with me and munching on chocolate.
Soon, the moon came out, often hidden by dark clouds scudding across the sky. A chilly wind started to blow, and rain sprinkled down. Jeremy departed for home, tired. The monster and I kept on, gathering candy.
I left the monster when I realized the time. I would have to take the shortcut through the woods to make it home before midnight.
I was nearly home when I bumped into something large.
It wasn’t a tree.
A lightning flash divulged a ragged rip in his cloak, revealing a mottled chest, metal pieces poking from green flesh. The sight paralyzed me with fear.
He was real.
Thunder boomed like artillery fire. I screamed as he seized me and hissed, “Curse you, Frankenstein! You have come back from the grave to cause me anguish!”
“All who bear the name Frankenstein deserve to die, to have no happiness here!” His eyes blazed with rage as the thunder crackled. “I end this once and for all!”
I felt his fingers close around my neck.
By Anna Marsick
*Ping* goes my phone. I lay on my bed, pillow sodden with tears. I flip over, refusing to acknowledge that deplorable dimwit who sources my rueful feelings. One minute I’m in love, the next I’m drowning in my tears. I still can’t believe he didn’t take me to homecoming because he had to work out. I hate relationships.
*Ping* I roll my eyes, ignoring it and muttering, “Not accepting apologies today, buddy. Go flirt with your dumbbells. They’re probably smarter than me anyway.” Suddenly, I hear a *thunk, thunk, THUD* at my window. Spooked, I spring off my bed.
“Oww!” I scream-whisper, creeping to the window, seizing a pink slipper that will protect me from the predator who’s summoned me. Heart pounding, I cautiously peer out of my window into the gloomy night and am greeted by a rock hitting my forehead. “Stand down!” I yelp, “I have a weapon, and I’m not afraid to strike!”
“Hi, Baby! Come out here!” replies the hooligan. “What in the? Myles? What are you… never mind. Go away.” I begin to shut my window as he bellows, “Wait! I’m sorry. I’m a bad boyfriend. Let me make it up to you. Please. Come out here, dance with me under the stars. I made a playlist and brought a dress for you… I love and care about you.”
“That’s cute. Bye,” I say, shaking my head and preparing to retreat. I steal one last glance at his face. Aw man. The pleading gaze in his eyes causes me to cave in. I gingerly climb out of my window, into his arms. Expeditiously, I slip into the dress, and we become one under the stars… united in rhythm. As we sway to the music, he murmurs, “I love you.” I love relationships.
The elusive they say opposites attract. Herman didn’t know who they were. He looked over his phantom face in the mirror. The stitches holding his smile broke. Rotten teeth were a turn-off for most women. “What sort of zombie puts a profile on a dating site?” It was done on a dare. Who says the undead can’t have a life? Ed, ever a charmer and a drunk in this half-afterlife, told Herman he would be happier if he went out more. Halloween was coming. She would think Herman was a brilliant costume. This she was as elusive as the they who made ridiculous claims like opposites attract. Herman pulled up to her house in his 1966 Chevy on Halloween. She glowed with the setting sun as she stepped outside like an angel meant to take him to Heaven. Heaven isn’t for zombies who eat brains, even reformed zombies, thought Herman. If he had a beating heart, it would have thumped out of his tattered chest beneath his new clothes. “The clothes,” said Ed, “were important. You can’t go around looking completely dead.” His already rigid body stiffened as he remembered his manners, exited the car, and opened the passenger door. The light of Heaven shone down with her smile. “Happy Halloween…Herman.” “Hello, Brenda.” He shouldn’t have gorged on a stray cat’s brains before coming here, a chunk of grey matter lodged in his throat. “Where to?” “You look like a vintage kinda guy. There’s a malt shop in town. You know it?” He nodded. A little while later, they shared a table and a strawberry shake. She leaned into him and took his hand. He twitched, trying to pull away. Yet she was as cold as him. She giggled. “Don’t worry, Herman. It’s Halloween. This is all a costume.”
Sometimes it takes an alien perspective to show us what it means to be human.
My story, “The Outrider,” published in The Corona Book of Science Fiction, explores a paradoxical culture that condemns a cheerleader for killing her just-born baby and lauds millions of girls for walking into clinics all over the planet to achieve the same end. Can the protagonist, a teenager herself, justify the chasm of value fixed between fetus and baby? The future of the human race depends on it.
Will my story make you mad? Maybe. Will it make you think? Definitely.
I’ve read many of the other stories and can vouch: they’re worth your time. Far more delicious, less fattening, and for less than you’d spend on a Pumpkin Spice Latte, you can enjoy this fantastic collection of thought-provoking sci-fi entertainment. Many thanks to the editorial team at Corona Books UK for publishing “The Outrider.”
Zahara’s jaw fell open. Her book slid off her knees and hit the floor. She scrambled for it and flipped to find her page, all the while shaking her head in denial. Page found, she pored over the words once more. Unconsciously her hand went to her throat.
Zahara let the book fall in her lap and looked around. “Is this a joke?”
The empty room didn’t reply.
Zahara turned the book over. It had the library barcode sticker and an ISBN number. It was wrapped in clear plastic to protect the hard backing, as all library books were. The author was one she’d never read before, but he came highly recommended by the librarian who’d helped her the day she picked it out.
Each time Zahara looked at the words on the page, her stomach clenched tighter, her heart beat faster. She mouthed the last line. …throat closed completely, never to open again.
“I’m allergic,” she said to no one. Her EpiPen was probably expired. It was jammed so far down in the folds of her purse, Zahara doubted she’d be able to extract it, should she be stung.
The short story was one of a collection.
The character, “Z” and her friend Tony happened on a hornet nest. It hung low in the tree, and if you climbed on the roof of Z’s trailer, you could easily hit the thing with the landscaping rocks Z’s mom had arranged around their petunias. All this Tony breathlessly told Z. In no time they had gathered an arsenal of smooth stones and put them in a heap on Z’s roof.
Tony threw first and missed. Z took a shot and it grazed the nest. A cloud of buzzing erupted, then quieted. Tony threw again. A hit. The grey pod that looked like a misshapen Christmas ball swung a little and leaked a flow of hornets.
“Your turn.” Tony said.
Some hornets buzzed angrily around them, far away as they were.
“I think they know,” Z said.
“That’s ridiculous. You chicken?”
Z was, in fact, chicken. Tony wasn’t allergic to bees. Z batted at a hornet circling her head.
As if reading her thoughts, Tony said, “You’re allergic to bees, not hornets.”
Z shrugged. No way was she throwing another rock.
“Fine. Watch this…bunch of sissy hornets.”
“Wait.” Z put up her hand, the stone still in her grip. “How do you know they’re hornets?”
“Aw, Z, you’re sucking out my fun.” Tony did a pitcher move, and the stone, a big one, hit the nest dead on, swinging it crazily and touching off a buzzing rage. A horde of pissed off hornets flew right at the girls.
As Z clambered down the ladder she felt a prickle in her shirt, in the hair at the base of her neck, then pinpricks of pain, more and more. Z screamed and tore her shirt off. Tony, still halfway down the ladder, yelled at Z to roll in the grass. Z dropped to the ground, but not in obedience. Her airway closed up. A fire began inside her throat and consumed her face, her head.
As Tony stepped off the last ladder rung, Z thrashed in the grass. Her throat closed completely, never to open again.
Zahara closed the book. “That’s exactly how it happened.”
Back in 1977, Tony had run home and got her mom to call the ambulance, just like in the book.
“But my throat did open again,” Zahara said as if she had someone to convince. She studied the book. “What’s going on?”
*This is an excerpt from a short story I’m working on. It’s doing double-duty as my assignment for 5000 Words. Our focus this week is to create tension.
Could it only have been two hours since Devon last pushed open the glass door? That was a lifetime ago. That was when Devon dreamed a dream. When he didn’t hate banks and bankers and the soul-crushing thing called collateral. The loan officer chanted the word as if it were a talisman.
With a savage fist, Devon mopped the tears that threatened his concentration.
The black bowls housing security cameras would record Devon. He looked up and gave a toothy smile for the news tonight. The loan officer had taken Devon for a fool, took his application fee, and took his dream. Collateral…what a crock. Devon’s warehouse would be sold to some guy with collateral. Devon’s idea would die with him. But so would the old lady hunkered over a clutch purse. So would the beautiful teller with thick, painted-on eyebrows and lush lips. So would the whale-like teller with bitty glasses with thick, thick lenses. She was the one to notice. Those magnified eyes didn’t miss the sweat sheen on Devon’s skin, didn’t miss the angular bulk under his parka.
Whale-teller’s eyes opened wide with terrible understanding. Her hand scrambled to the under-desk button and got to the counter lip when Devon sprayed her with 223 Remington Hollow Points. They chewed through her, yanked her about, and in a red confetti dropped her bulk beneath the counter.
Then the screams. Devon expected them, but still. Concentration was difficult. Teller fingers frantically pushed panic buttons. The safe door was swinging closed. Devon didn’t care. That wasn’t his transaction. The banker with no brains just the word “collateral” had his hands up in the stance of desperation, head wagging, denying what his eyes told him: that Devon was about to make a grisly withdraw. Life was about to go into the red.
This was originally written for Microcosms, but it fits with my 5000 Words focus for this week, which is SHOW, DON’T TELL. My noun would be entrepreneur and my adjective would be angry. My students will get a noun and an adjective. They’ll amaze me with their showing prowess, I’ve no doubt.
Besides being full of excellent stories that make you feel you’re plumbing the Atlantic, The Forge is a visually stunning platform. I’m honored to have my creative nonfiction work “The Boots” published there today.
The Forge editors were some of the nicest with whom I’ve worked. When my piece was selected, I was days away from going in for brain surgery. I explained that some of my interview answers were unusual, as it was an unusual time in my life. Not only did they not delete or suggest changes for my responses, the editors were genuinely concerned for my welfare.
The questions from Sara Crowleywere whimsical and fun. Bob and I took turns answering them on our last date-night before surgery. It was one of the most special times of my life, sipping champagne in the study of an 1880’s B & B laughing about our answers to questions like, “You are wallpaper; what is your pattern?”
The questions from editor Sommer Schafer were deep and challenging. They bade me take a closer, more analytical look at my writing strategies, many of which flow unconsciously from the fountain of literature I’m constantly drinking.
I hope you enjoy “The Boots.” I am no longer six years old, but that wounded six-year-old sometimes has a hold on me. When I write about her, she becomes both immortal (in a sense) and mortally wounded.
Not long ago I put together a post sharing some invaluable writing advice offered by award-winning novelist, Colum McCann in his book, Letters to a Young Writer. But I’d only made it halfway through at the time, so I thought I’d share some further insights from the second half.
Fail, fail, fail
‘Fail’, ‘failing’, ‘failure’, they’re all such nasty, negative words. There is nothing wrong with failing. It allows us to identify our weaknesses, fuels us with determination to next time succeed. Failure is an inevitable part of the process, but it’s an invaluable part. Embrace it, learn from it, use it.
For many writers, the feeling of failure hits home when you receive rejection letters or emails. Many famous writers wear their rejection letters like badges of honour. Something to look back on with pride when the successes begin to mount.