This Halloween, we asked for your spookiest stories, and you delivered. Judged by author Alan Baxter, the calibre of entries was high enough that we awarded two first places, to ‘The One’ by Jo Tomlinson and ‘Bridge’ by Dan Rabarts. Third place was won by I. K. Paterson-Harkness with ‘Bad House’. Congratulations to all our winners, and thank you to everyone who entered.
Read on for the winning stories, and for Alan’s comments.
The One by Jo Tomlinson
Craig was the one. I knew it straight away, from the moment I saw him.
He was handsome, but handsome wasn’t special, and Craig was so much more than that. He had golden curls and big blue eyes flecked with grey.
I’d been hesitant when he’d first approached me in the bar that Halloween. My last relationship hadn’t ended well. He had promised so much and delivered so little. I’d spent twelve months thinking that it could go somewhere, that finally I had met the man who could make me happy.
Instead he hurt me. A lot. I have the scars to prove it. I was in no hurry to risk myself again.
But then in walked Craig. I couldn’t look him in the eyes without smiling. I was terrible at playing hard to get. I kept my chin against my chest. I read the drinks menu over and over, anything to avoid those eyes.
Eventually I gave in. I looked at him and I might as well have given him my heart then and there. I knew I wanted his. He made me feel something no other man had. Hope. I was hopeful for my future. With Craig’s help, I could survive.
Our time together was bliss, my adoration growing with each new day. I found out he went to church every Sunday and helped feed the homeless. We’d visited his family and his mother let slip that Craig had told them he loved me and asked for his grandmother’s wedding ring. He wanted to propose.
I couldn’t believe it. Someone loved me.
I tried not to smile on the drive home. I didn’t want to ruin his surprise. These last eleven months had made my decision easy. Craig was perfect.
On Halloween night, twelve months since we’d met, we drove to a beach and parked on the dunes.
He was getting nervous and fiddling with something in his pocket. This was it!
Before he could say a word I reached into my bag and grabbed the ceremonial dagger of my forefathers. The silver of the blade flashed in the moonlight and reflected in his eyes as I straddled him and plunged the steel into his chest. Blood erupted from the wound, splattering the windows and soaking my face in a crimson mask.
He screamed but no one would hear him here. That is why I recommended this spot. He didn’t put up much of a fight either. The last man scratched and punched. I was happy not to be hurt again.
Craig whimpered for awhile, but was quiet by the time I’d finished cutting out his heart. I’d waited twelve months for this, to feast on that kind, sweet heart and as I gorged myself I could feel the power swelling within me. The last man was tainted and impure. With Craig’s good heart I would live another hundred years.
Craig was the one. I knew it straight away, from the moment I saw him.
Alan Baxter: “This is one of those stories that very neatly subverts your expectations. All along I was expecting the perfect man to turn out as anything but, then boom! Plot twist. It’s very neatly done and is an excellent use of the flash fiction medium.”
Bridge by Dan Rabarts
“Take a deep breath,” says the voice in his ear, in his head. But he can hardly breathe at all. His fingers clutch the steering wheel, knuckles white as a cliché, teeth grinding against teeth. The road roars and cracks underneath him, frozen rain thundering on the windshield, running through his eyes.
“Sir, you need to talk to me,” the disembodied voice continues.
He can see the river. Not through this fog of freezing sleet, not through the haze of whisky and beer that has fuelled his waking moments for too many long days and empty nights since, but in the cold clarity at the back of his mind, at the end of that bridge, where it falls away into darkness. It sweeps bleak and hungry beneath the pillars, a torrent in its rage, invisible in the night except to those who have seen it.
Water trickles down the windows, the doors, pools in the carpet at his feet.
“How many people were in the car?” the voice asks again, hollow, coming from far, far away.
He can’t reply. He can’t speak. It’s pointless talking to memories. There was nothing he could’ve done then. All he has left is what he can do now. He presses the accelerator down harder, feels the tyres slide across the rain-slick road. Smiles, a sour thing beneath eyes wet with rain and lined with sorrow.
She’s asleep beside him. So tired, worn out by the grief and the ache of carrying on. Yet she seems so damned peaceful. Like it hadn’t been her at the wheel. She has no right to be at peace, not even now, with the boxes laid cold in the ground. That doesn’t make it finished.
It won’t be finished until he has finished it.
Signs flash past him, flickers of reflective orange in the downpour, but he doesn’t slow. ROAD CLOSED, those signs might say, or WASHOUT.
It should’ve been him at the wheel. He would’ve stopped in time. The bridge lies straight ahead of him now, rain shining in the headlights, until they reach that black space where it pitches away into nothing.
She wakes then, eyes cloudy, sits up straighter, feeling their speed. “Honey?” Her voice quivers, closer than breathing, closer than a heartbeat. “Aren’t you going a bit fast?”
“Sir, can you still see the car? Keep talking to me, sir.”
He can still see the car. It’s all he can see. The car, the window, the faces trapped behind glass, screaming at him. The cold, like ice in his veins, his bones. The night, wrapping around him on the riverbank.
“Honey, slow down,” she says, reaching for him.
He grips the wheel tighter, presses down on the gas, anticipates the descent, the roaring silence, the sudden, deadly cold.
Hears the other voices rising out of the black.
“Daddy?” they say. “We’re down here, Daddy.”
“I know,” he whispers, as the wheels leave the bridge behind. “Daddy’s coming.”
Alan Baxter: This story has strongly evocative writing and a creepy sense of tension. It’s a powerful piece of drama.
Bad House by I.K. Paterson-Harkness
Isabel tried to open the gate, but it had slumped off its hinges with age, sagging crooked and sick at the front of the yard. She leaned against it, testing it, then gripped the wood and swung her legs over. A trio of giggling children fell silent as they passed. Isabel smiled at them, but they looked at her suspiciously while casting glances at the house behind. As they crossed the road and climbed the steps to Mrs Norris’s old bungalow, now painted yellow with an SUV parked outside, Isabel wondered if one of those kids lived in the house she grew up in.
Goodness, look at this place, she thought as she picked her way through the tangle of grass. The macrocarpa had grown through one of the windows; roof tiles were shattered amongst the weeds. Of course when she was a kid she hadn’t dared come this close. Her mum had told them that a bad man had lived there, had taken his own life, hung himself from that very tree.
She wasn’t sure why she’d had the sudden urge to return. Maybe because of Eleanor’s recent death. That afternoon she’d sat for an hour on the wharf, looking at the familiar hills. The bakery was gone. The school was still there, but so different now that it was hard to feel nostalgic. Then she’d walked up here, to their old street. And as she’d passed the derelict house she’d seen a child in the window. Just staring out.
The ‘Bad House’ is what they’d called it. When she’d been old enough to do her own research she’d learned that the man who’d lived there had been previously incarcerated for luring children into his home with gifts and treats and indecently exposing himself. When he hung himself the police found children’s toys in his cupboard, even a child’s crayon drawing. A girl had disappeared from the neighbourhood a few years prior, so a full investigation was carried out. Isabel had been so young, she didn’t remember them digging up his yard. A body was never found.
The door was ajar. “Hello,” Isabel called.
She pushed against the door, but it was stuck against a pile of rubble. A draft escaped from within, prickling her skin.
“You shouldn’t be in there,” she called, then wondered if this was even true. “It isn’t safe. The floorboards will be rotten.”
She heard the noise of something being dragged along the floor. And the sound of the child crying.
“Hang on,” she called, pushing at the door until it finally gave way.
Clouds of dust flew into the air as she entered the dim front room. The windows were clogged with spiders’ webs and filth. But the room was empty. Isabel froze. Beneath the mantlepiece, where a fire’s grate should be, there was a deep dark hole.
“Belle,” a voice said, using a name she hadn’t heard in decades.
She felt a wind and the front door slammed shut.
Alan Baxter: The bad man in the bad house is a classic horror trope and this story deals with it very well in a tight and tensely descriptive piece of flash fiction.