will be published on Halloween, at 6 am EDT, to boost you up on your Halloween Monday!
Terry Adcock, “Tea, Ghosts, and a Bit of Gossip”
October’s Final Days, First Runner-Up, Fiction
“I’ve always wondered whether ghosts were real.” Granny sipped a steaming cup of sweet tea as she gazed at the apparition hovering ever so slightly above the sofa cushions. “My grandmother was a believer. The stories she told us children would curl your hair!”
The apparition nodded and glanced at the Tambour clock sitting on the mantle. It was nearly midnight. Granny noticed the apparition checking the time and smiled.
Before the apparition disappeared, Granny said, “For years, I refused to accept that our house was haunted, but obviously, I was wrong.” Granny shrugged her thin shoulders. “You’re the reason our family could never sell this old house. Grandmother always said she felt like a prisoner. My parents took over, but they couldn’t unload the place either. I suppose I’m destined to live out my days here as well. All because you died and refused to leave.”
The apparition said, “I’ll never leave, besides where would I go? They say a spirit can’t rest after a violent death. No, I’ll always haunt this place. And if it gets torn down, I’ll haunt whatever they put up next.”
“Grandmother said you fell down the stairs and broke your neck. So, actually, you don’t have to keep haunting the place because it was an accident.”
“Do you really believe that old story? It was no accident. I was murdered by my cheating husband, the rotten scoundrel! In those days, we didn’t have furr . . . for . . .”
“Forensics,” Granny said, supplying the word.
“Yes, that’s it. Back then, I suppose a good wallop upside the head looked much like a broken neck from a fall.”
“Grandmother said you drank too much. Probably missed a step and fell.”
The apparition appeared agitated. “Your old grandmother couldn’t tell a straight story if her life depended on it. Your mother was just like her.”
“Why pick on Mother? What did she ever do to you?” Granny said indignantly.
“And you’re as bad as they were,” the apparition continued. “You scared your children half to death with those old stories, and now you make your poor grand-children listen to that same claptrap like it’s gospel, but there’s no truth in it.”
The minute hand advanced another couple of notches as midnight drew nearer. They caught each other looking at the clock. Granny set her cup down firmly and sat up all prim and proper; clearly miffed at hearing her family disparaged.
“I merely passed on the stories as they were told to me. Besides, scaring the bejeezus out of children makes them want to behave or else bad things might happen. It kept me and my sisters in line.”
“Wouldn’t you like to know the real story?”
“Of course, but first tell me, is the “legend” really true? They say your spirit must return to the turret next to the widow’s walk each night before the clock strikes midnight else the demons will drag you straight to hell. Is it true?”
“You finally got something right, old girl! I’ve never been late, not in a hundred years, and not for all eternity. I’ll always be here,” said the apparition.
Two minutes to midnight.
“Before you go, what really happened that night? Did your husband truly kill you, as you claim?”
“I suspected he was seeing the parson’s wife and that night I caught them together!”
Granny absently poured more tea. “Oh my! What happened next?” Granny couldn’t let the apparition leave now; she just had to know.
“They were up in the tower doing the “naughty deed” as we used to say. They played me for a fool, but I fixed them good!” said the apparition with feeling.
The second hand on the clock swept along ticking off the final seconds. Granny heard the gears click into place as the old clock prepared to chime the critical hour.
“Lord a’mighty! What did you do? Tell me quickly!”
“I stabbed them with a carving knife. They wanted to be together so badly, now they’re stuck with each other for forever.” The apparition cackled with glee.
“But how did your husband manage to kill you.”
“Just before he died, he gave me one last mighty whack that broke my neck and I fell down the stairs. Old Sheriff Coots couldn’t tell the difference between a broken neck and a stubbed toe. He assumed I tripped and fell to my death.”
“Bless your heart! But, you said a violent death won’t let a spirit rest. What happened to your husband and his mistress? All these years, why haven’t I heard them haunting this old place like you?”
“I keep them locked up in the turret tower with me. They treated me badly, and I’m going to enjoy tormenting those two until the end of time!” The apparition laughed, but it sounded more like a screech owl.
Just then the clock struck twelve; the familiar low melodic sound filled the room.
“Oh no! What have you done? You kept me talking for too long! I’ve got to get back to the tower. . .”
Suddenly, the apparition disappeared in a puff of smoke. As the last chime marked the midnight hour, all was quiet, even peaceful.
Granny heard soft footsteps coming down the stairs. Her husband shuffled into the parlor rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“I thought I heard you talking to someone down here. Who’s calling at this hour?”
“I was talking to myself. Go back to bed,” Granny said. “We’re meeting the realtors tomorrow, and I just wanted to ensure there were no ghosts lurking about and cluttering up the place. I don’t want anything to prevent us from selling this old dump. Not this time.”
Her husband scratched the stubble on his jaw. “I keep telling you there are no such things as haunted houses, so quit worrying. Tell me, you don’t really believe in ghosts, do you?”
“Ghosts?” Granny smiled. “What ghosts?”
Rebecca Bergeron and Emily Butts, “But She Doesn’t Know Yet”
October’s Final Days, First Runner-Up, Poetry
I bought my wife a new necklace, but she doesn’t know yet.
I changed the tires on my wife’s car, but she doesn’t know yet.
I did the grocery shopping, but she doesn’t know yet.
I washed and put away the dishes, but she doesn’t know yet.
I changed the baby’s diaper, but she doesn’t know yet.
I took her dog to the vet to have it put down, but she doesn’t know yet.
I changed the locks on the house, but she doesn’t know yet.
I tampered with her birth control, but she doesn’t know yet.
I killed the man who claimed to be her lover, but she doesn’t know yet.
I cleaned the bloody knife, but she doesn’t know yet.
My wife means the world to me, she is the light of my life, but she doesn’t know yet.
We’ve been living together for three years, but she doesn’t know yet…
Christine Boyer, “The Ghost Pushes You Down”
October’s Final Days, Second Runner-Up, Fiction
Owen Baker was never a good sleeper.
When placed in his bassinet, he squalled until his little wrinkled face was crimson, and his mother picked him up and soothed him. When he got older (when his head finally rounded out and his spindly limbs plumped and when he graduated to a crib in his own room), he still fought sleep. His screams pierced his mother’s heart, and though she was new to parenting, something about Owen’s night-cries always sounded worse than babies she had heard before.
His mother read every parenting book. She tried every method: the chair method, Ferber, feed-and-read. She let Owen cry it out, as his staunchly no-nonsense pediatrician suggested.
She tried everything. Nothing worked.
The cry-it-out nights were the worst. She would sit in her bedroom, tears coursing down her face, watching the clock on her nightstand tick each painful minute away. One minute. Two minutes. Three minutes. Ten. His cries were like little barbed hooks in her heart that dug a little deeper as time crawled by.
She always caved before the clock showed fifteen minutes had passed.
She would run down the hallway to Owen’s room as fast as her legs could carry her. She threw open the door and turned on the light to the same awful sight – her chubby-cheeked son lying in his crib, red-faced and shrieking. Pointing one plump finger at the shadowy corner of his room. The rest of his body was rigid, taut to the point that lifting him into her arms was difficult.
Eventually, the Baker household reached a sort of détente. Owen (by then a sturdy toddler) and his mother (by then a woman with deep circles under her eyes and a recurring fantasy of driving away and starting a new life under a new name) came to agreeable terms. She would leave a lamp on in his bedroom when she turned in for the night. Owen, in turn, could play quietly in his room. His mother trusted that he would sleep at some point in the night, though she never witnessed it herself. All animals sleep, after all. But Owen was always awake when she turned in at night, and he was always awake when she rose in the morning.
He missed out on some of the experiences of childhood, like summer camp and sleepovers, but it didn’t seem to bother him. He made friends easily as a child. Those boyhood friendships never seemed to suffer from the issues around his sleep. He found other bonds of boyish intimacy – through Little League, through elaborate world-building board games – to replace those formed around scary movies in basement rec rooms, tucked into acrylic sleeping bags lined up side by side.
Otherwise, he was a healthy child. He grew into a healthy teenager, and then a young man. He was tall, gawkishly thin, but his mother could see how he might yet put on some weight and fill out his frame with a few more years.
The puzzle of his poor sleep didn’t start to vex Owen until he went to college. Now he had to share a room. Until then, his entire life had been cossetted around his aversion to sleep: the lamp that burned all night on his dresser, the cross woven from Palm Sunday palm leaves that his superstitious grandmother hung over his window. Now, Owen had to rethink the constant light source at night. His roommate, a pre-law student jittery with nerves, refused to leave the light on.
“What are you, two years old?” his roommate asked one night early in their first semester. “Grow the hell up.”
For the first time since he was a baby, Owen Baker was plunged into darkness. It wasn’t complete darkness, of course – there were little bleedings of light from the digital clock on his nightstand, from the crack under the door to the hallway. But there was not enough light to push back the shadows that crowded at the corners of the room.
One minute passed. Owen wriggled his toes under the layers of sheets and blankets, and he squinted to see if he could make out the movement. He could not.
Two minutes passed. He sighed and raised his head a bit, shifted against the pillow.
Ten minutes passed. He felt the weight of the day make his eyelids heavy. He closed his eyes and felt a lax warmth course through his arms and legs. He sighed again, almost a little pleased. Sleep wasn’t some elusive creature after all.
There’s no saying how long it took, whether it was fifteen minutes or fifty or more. When Owen jolted awake, he could not turn his head to study the clock on the nightstand beside him. He was frozen stiff, with only his eyes open wide and staring. Unable to move.
Unable to stop the shadowy figure in the corner of the ceiling from peeling away from the rest of the shadows and descending onto him. She had been a new thing when he was new too, splintered off from something much older.
In his infancy, she had never been fast enough – the mother had always returned to turn on the light just as she started her creeping approach. When the light started burning all night, she had to make herself small, tuck herself into some dark space where the light didn’t reach. Under the dresser. In the narrow black space under the closet door. Behind the stack of books on the shelf.
But as Owen had grown, so did she. She watched, waited. Learned. Her lineage was ancient, and the nearly two decades she waited had passed in a blink.
The patience had paid off. Now, in the nearly-dark room, the roommate snoring in the bed across the room, she descended from the ceiling. Her reflection was visible in Owen’s wide eyes, but he could not scream. He could only lie there, rigid, as she sat on his chest and took what was hers.
Christine Boyer has been published in numerous literary journals, and her essay “Second Person” was named a notable essay of 2020 in the “Best American Essays” anthology. She lives in Massachusetts, and she can be found at www.christine-boyer.com.
Neil Garvie, “Wizard’s Pantry”
October’s Final Days, Second Runner-Up, Poetry
Shades of colour, shades of black
shades of lightning flashing back
echoes distant in the night
fire’s burning — feel its bite
Whispered voices in the ear
magic tones remain unclear
one part pine sap running down
thistle, hemlock that’s been ground
Two parts mandrake, spider’s lace
belladonna, mustard paste
lick of hemlock, myrrh, bloodroot
smell the burdock, burning jute
Toadstool, guano, song of crow
footprint from the beetle toe
forest echoes, termite’s sneeze
rumours from a passing breeze
Image of a demon bug
mucus from the leopard slug
wicked is a wild brew
steeped in venom, feral stew
Jimson, henbane, faerie rings
owl hoots and larvae strings
lurid nightmares, ghoulish dance
curb the shrieks but heed the chants
Spell’s been conjured, spell’s been said
bitter grudges to be fed
smell the sulfur, smoky stone
cauldron boils the whittled bone
Shades of colour, shades of white
rising sun sends home the night
chanted echoes in the dawn
breaking darkness — night is gone …
Neil Garvie resides in Comox Valley, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. His poems appear in various magazines including Vallum, Transition, Canadian Stories, Island Writer, Laureate, Words Less Spoken.Neil has published his own poetry collections: Silence Craves a Voice (Poplar Publishing, 2019); Mother Nature Eats Her Kind (Pod Creative, 2020); Jigsaw (Pod Creative, 2021), and Off the Wall (Pod Creative, July 2022).
R.J. Miller, “Lighthouse 43”
October’s Final Days, Honorable Mention, Fiction
The jingle of keys in the distance brought me back to the present. Lately I’ve had more and more moments where I’m pulled back to my past. Who could blame me? Being stuck in this cold, dark, wet hell hole would make anyone reminisce.
“Where did you go there, boy?” Mickey said.
Mickey was the tough old bastard in charge of Lighthouse 43. My current place of residence. He was a stout man, broad shouldered and strong. His hair and beard had gone grey a long time ago. He wore all black from his boots up to his peacoat and watch cap. His stormy grey eyes were fixed on me as he fingered a ring with old iron keys that hinted at untold secrets.
I hiked up my shoulders and turned up the collar on my coat. The bite of the wind-swept sea stung my face and ears.
“Back home. In Arizona.” I said.
Mickey let out a laugh, deep and full. I looked at him, the humor escaping me completely. I tucked my hands in my coat pockets so he wouldn’t see my clenched fists.
“You’re gonna have to put that aside, son. If you’re to make it here, forget your life back home. You’re an apprentice of the lighthouse now. Did you finish reading the manual yet?”
Truth be told, I hadn’t finished it. I spent the better part of the day going through the tome, but it was difficult and technical reading. I wasn’t exactly top of my class back home, but I wasn’t going to be sent back. As much as I wanted to be anywhere but here.
“No. But I’ve read a fair amount.” I said.
Mickey gave me a curt nod and turned back to the gate. He put in one of the iron keys and turned, the lock made a loud clang as the bolt slid closed. He removed his key and gave the gate a sharp tug. Satisfied, he headed back towards me.
“That’s more than I can say for my first day. I fell asleep trying to get through the damn thing.” He smiled back at me and gave me a quick pat on the shoulder. “This way” he called back over his shoulder as he walked past me on our way to the main building. I shook my head and followed. Apparently, it was time for the tour.
Lighthouse 43 was a bit of a complex. The main tower was three floors high and rhythmic white light shone from the top. The lighthouse was built on the edge of the sea; nothing was around for miles and miles.
I followed Mickey up the stairs, and we entered the first floor. When the door slammed closed behind me, I was swallowed up by silence. The absence of sound was jarring. The crashing waves were almost deafening just moments ago. Mickey was already up the stairs and to the second floor and I had to run to catch up. The third story was made of floor to ceiling windows, with a massive bulb overhead.
“Wow. This view must be amazing in the daytime.” I said.
Mickey nodded. “But it is the night that counts, son.”
“To the ships that count on us.” I said back.
Mickey gave me a look that made me swallow hard.
“This lighthouse does not stop ships from crashing into the shores. We defend the world from what is beyond.. in the Darkness.”
My blood turned cold and the flesh on my arms and neck crawled. “From what?” I stammered.
Just then, a large flash of white light erupted in the distance. Both of us turned towards the pinprick of light in the darkness. Then there was another. Followed by another.
“Are those ships?” I asked.
Mickey didn’t take his eyes off the horizon. He unbuttoned his coat and withdrew a large pistol from its depths. With his other hand, he pressed a large red button that I hadn’t noticed before. The lights inside the room suddenly turned red and the beacon of light we were standing in hummed.
“Not hardly.” Mickey said.
Suddenly, a pulse of blue light and heat shot out from the lamp overhead. The light turned dark blue and burned brightly in the distance before flickering out. The beacon shot out again and again, rotating slightly each time. The lighthouse was tracking whatever was out there.
“What is out…”
A loud crashing sound came from below and cut me off. Mickey gave me a stern look and we headed to the door and looked down.
“Cabinet over to the right.” Mickey said, tossing me his keys. “Quickly.”
I raced over to the cabinet, fingers fumbling with keys until I found the right one. I reached inside and pulled out the strangest shotgun I had ever seen. I racked the slide once and took up a position on the other side of Mickey. The pulsing canon had stopped and all that I could hear was my short, ragged breathing and the slow clicking of something coming up the stairwell. A black tentacle suddenly shot through the doorway and went through Mickey’s chest. He pointed his gun straight ahead and fired, over and over. The creature forced itself through the doorway, pushing Mickey back as it came through.
I raised my gun point plank and fired a single burst into the creature. The echo rang through the small room and both figures fell to the floor. I rushed over to Mickey who spat up blood on the floor. He gripped my hand once and then he was gone.
I am now the keeper of the keys. If I survive the night, I will brave the darkness and hold fast. Let this journal entry stand witness if I fall. I can hear more knocking on the steel door below, and slow clicks coming from the stairwell.
S. Tierney, “Grandpa”
October’s Final Days, Honorable Mention, Fiction
Every Halloween, Grandpa and me go trick-or-treating together.
This year I’m dressed as a necromancer, with black eyes and a big pretend nose and everything. The veil I’m wearing is my mum’s, the black one she wears for funerals and watching the horses; the gown is all ripped and hasn’t fit my sister since her accident, so she says I can have it; I borrowed the false nails from the cleaning lady at school (as long as I promise to give them back); and the skull, the one tucked under my arm, that’s Grandpa’s. (I wanted a cat, but we couldn’t catch one.)
Grandpa always dresses as a ghost. He jokes, “When you’re as old as I am, you don’t need a costume.” (He does really; it’s Granny’s bed sheet with two eyeholes ripped in the middle.) “If she isn’t lying on it, I might as well wear it.” Grandpa says the strangest things. But he says we’ll give all the residents a good fright tonight and get lots of treats. To help us see where we’re going, he’s brought a candle. The other ‘trickers’ on the streets prefer flashlights: lighter, brighter, and you don’t need to worry about tucking your sheet under your chin to stop it catching on fire. Also, when the weather’s gusty, a flashlight doesn’t blow out. But Grandpa is adamant:
“Candles don’t need batteries! And no, they don’t blow out, not if you keep your teeth together.”
At the end of our street there is a big house, with big windows and a big garden which goes all the way around. Mr. and Mrs. Bury live here, alone. Just like their house, they are both very big. “Which means they’ll have treats. Unless they’ve scoffed them all already, big buggers.”
With Grandpa keeping watch from his eyeholes, we sneak up to the front door. I call through the letterbox, “Trick or treat!” Heavy footsteps, the door opens, and we’re greeted by lounge light, the aroma of baking, and the big Mrs. Bury.
“Good gracious! A witch? At this hour?” she gasps, clasping her hand to her heart. “Words escape me! And what could be glowing under that sheet? A lantern?”
“It’s a ghost. A ghoooost,” I say in my best ghost voice. As a rule, Grandpa doesn’t waste his breath on strangers. Even when he’s a ghost. “And I’m not a witch,” I correct Mrs. Bury, “I’m a necromancer.”
“Are you now? Then you won’t want any treats. Necromancers don’t like treats. It’s poison to them. Everyone knows that.”
“Such a pity,” Mrs. Bury sighs, “I’ve gone and wasted the entire afternoon baking sweet goodies for nothing. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to throw them all–”
“No!” I shriek, lifting my veil and pretend nose. “It’s me, Jenny Hindley. From number thirty-three. Look!”
“Well, that changes things,” Mrs. Bury smiles, producing from behind her back a tray of steaming, golden-brown gingerbread men. “Go ahead, my dear, take as many as you like.”
I do. I really like gingerbread. “And so does my grandpa.”
“Then you must take some home for him. Wait there, I have a cookie jar you can borrow. It’s around here somewhere.”
“That’s okay, Mrs. Bury,” I say, pulling back the bed sheet and offering up Grandpa’s skull. “They’ll be safe in here.”
Mrs. Bury looks uncertain. “But there’s a candle in there, dear.”
“Oh, I’ll take it out.” I also extinguish the candle, just to be safe. Mrs. Bury still looks uncertain, even a little surprised, but, at my insistence, she begins filling the skull.
“When you next see your grandfather, be sure to ask him what he thinks of my gingerbread.”
I lift up the skull, and ask:
“Do you like Mrs. Bury’s gingerbread, Grandpa?”
Seeing that I’ve pressed Grandpa to my ear, as though he were a smelly old seashell, I explain to the very surprised Mrs. Bury, “He’s very old, and speaks very softly. He’ll only speak to me when no one’s– what’s that? Super delicious? Good and chewy, just the way you like it, so much so,” I turn to Mrs. Bury, “that Grandpa wants to take it all. Please.”
Mrs. Bury clutches her heart again; her big mouth is hanging open. Similarly, I open Grandpa’s jaw all the way until the bone makes a clicking sound, like the sound your finger makes when you pull it back too far. Grandpa doesn’t mind. “I’m used to it.” This doesn’t seem to reassure Mrs. Bury; even with my help she struggles to put all the little men into Grandpa’s mouth without dropping them, or knocking their little legs against Grandpa’s two remaining teeth. One of the teeth pops out and bounces down the path like a little rusty coin. When I comfort Grandpa with a kiss on his bullet hole, Mrs. Bury trembles uncontrollably.
“Are you cold, big lady?”
I reach inside Grandpa’s mouth, all the way in.
“Perhaps a nice warm gingerbread man would–”
“No, that’s alright, dear,” Mrs. Bury gulps, staring at me and Grandpa like she’s seen a ghost – like an actual ghost. “I’ll just go back inside. You run along, now. You and your…grandpa.”
“We will,” I call over my shoulder, skipping away down the path. “Say goodbye to Mrs. Bury, Grandpa.”
“Goodbye to Mrs. Bury, Grandpa,” he cackles, spitting gingerbread limbs all over her lawn. “Hey, don’t forget my tooth!”
Mrs. Bury latches the door. The curtains behind her big windows snap together. Me and Grandpa hurry along to the next house: Mr. and Mrs. Bannister. Like Mr. and Mrs. Bury, they are also childless. But they make tofu in the shape of eyeballs, Grandpa’s favourite. “You’ll have to chew’em for me, though.”
I can’t help but laugh.
“Grandpa, you’re so strange.”
Scott Tierney is an author of novels, short stories, the off-the-wall comic series, Pointless Conversations, and the off-the-crumpet super-hero series, Crumpet-Hands Man. He has also authored the novella, Kin.
Scott currently resides in the North West of England. Examples of his writings, and graphic design work, can be found at scotttierneycreative.com
Catt McGonigle, “Stand Alone, taken in a field in Arvada, Colorado”
October’s Final Days, Art Winner
Get ready to be spooked!!
We will be publishing the winners of our Halloween contest this week!
Wow, we got some great stuff! We received well over 100 submissions this year. Thanks to everyone who submitted. It was very hard to choose the winners!
Here’s the schedule by which we’ll be publishing/announcing the winners:
10/26: Our winner for art
10/27: Our two honorable mentions for fiction
10/28: Second runner-up winners, one for fiction and one for poetry
10/29: First runner-up winners, one for fiction and one for poetry
10/31: Winners, one for fiction and one for poetry
2022 Final Days of October contest is closed
Thanks for all the great contest submissions! Our 2022 Halloween contest is now closed.
We will post information here soon about how and when we will reveal the winners!
Our reading period is currently OPEN for general submissions of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction for our Spring 2023 issue, but please realize that you likely won’t get a response until the beginning of 2023 unless it’s for our Halloween contest.
We will release our 2023 theme soon! You’re going to love it!