Well, we asked for spooky stories, and you certainly delivered. Thanks to everyone who sent us a story, and congratulations to our winners!
Winner: “Don’t Be Afraid” by Hannah Whiteoak
Runner-Up: “This. This Is Worse” by Michael Levanduski
Runner-Up: “Cavity” by Katey Morgan
Read the winning submissions below to get into the Halloween spirit. Just make sure to read them in a well-lit room with other people around.
Winner: “Don’t Be Afraid”
Don’t be afraid.
Please don’t. Really. Just don’t. Fear attracts them. Their gaping nostrils smell it on your skin. Their quivering paws sense it in the jerky movements of your body. Their swiveling ears hear it in the muffled noises you keep making through your gag.
That’s better. If you stay quiet, we’ll be OK. No screaming. No calling for help. Those huge ears are as sensitive as bats’. Even the rapid rasp of your breath could alert them.
Isn’t that nice, feeling your body relax? If you stop tensing your shoulders, those bindings should sit more comfortably too. The old climbing rope has cut into your skin. Fear has made you thrash around on the basement floor, rubbing your wrists raw and bruising your beautiful shoulders. Let’s hope it doesn’t cause any further harm.
If they find us, their claws will flay our skin, shredding us like a pair of old bank statements. Have you ever seen a human body with its skin peeled off? Trust me, it’s not a pretty sight. Now, don’t go getting upset again, because they’re not going to catch us. You’re going to get a grip.
You’ve been so good until now. You slept like a baby while I peeled off your clothes and swabbed the sour fear smell from your underarms. You smiled in your sleep, just like when I used to watch you doze in the mornings.
I wish I could keep you asleep forever, but we have no more sedative. Darling, you must be brave.
Very good, very good, but we must do something about those eyes. They’re darting all over the room, obviously terrified. That won’t do at all. Why don’t you close them for me?
That’s no good; they’ve flicked open at the first scrape of metal on metal. That noise is just me, rearranging my tools. You won’t hear their claws on the concrete; they’re much too light-footed for that. They could be creeping down the stairs right now and we wouldn’t know a thing about it.
You can’t help yourself, can you? Stop glancing at every shadow that flickers over the basement walls. Like chameleons, they blend into the background, imitating mold spots and spiders’ webs. They’ll show themselves only when they are ready.
Those eyes will give you away. Fear draws them in, like a rotting corpse draws flies. If you keep flashing that terrified stare, they’ll notice, and then they’ll strike.
You’re trying to relax the muscles in your forehead, which is an admirable effort, but it’s no good. The pupils are still dilated. I can tell you’re afraid, which means they will know too.
There’s only one thing for it. Don’t try to flinch away. These instruments are nothing compared to the teeth on those creatures. I’ve seen them once and never want to again. Your eyes are the one thing that can give us away, and so your eyes are what we must sacrifice.
Now, hold still.
Runner-Up: “This. This Is Worse”
I sat in my cell, a condemned man. I could hear the guards approaching. They were coming to take me to my death. I didn’t know how I would die, but I knew it wouldn’t be quick. I knew it wouldn’t be painless. Above all, I knew it would be cruel and unusual. Anyone who defied the king had their death live streamed to the world. It was certainly an effective deterrent.
The guards took me, and quickly brought me down the hall, saying nothing. After passing maybe a dozen doors, many of which I could hear screaming behind, the guards opened a non-descript door and shoved me in. When the door was closed I saw that there was no handle on the inside. In fact, there was nothing. The walls were absolutely white, as was the ceiling and the floor.
In the absolute silence of the room I thought I got lucky. Perhaps this sensory deprivation room was meant to drive me to insanity. It might make for good TV for the viewers, and I hoped that by the time I died I would be to far gone to even realize what was happening.
I wasn’t so lucky.
After an hour, or was it two…maybe three, it began. The walls and ceiling began to move. Or maybe they were moving the whole time, but it was so slow I didn’t notice. The pure whiteness was so disorienting. Once I realized it, however, it was quite obvious. The room that was once spacious was now starting to feel a little cramped. And then I realized that my punishment wasn’t the sensory deprivation. I was going to be crushed.
This. This is worse.
After a time (several hours? Maybe more?) the walls were so close that I could touch them both by reaching out, and I could no longer stand up straight. And the room continued to shrink. As soon as the walls were close enough that I could brace myself on one and push the other, I tried with all my might to stop them. As I knew would be the case, they continued to move. Slowly.
The sheer terror of being trapped in a shrinking room is indescribable. I was beginning to panic as I thought about the pain that would come as the walls and ceiling slowly crushed me. It would be hours of excruciating pain before something finally snapped and killed me.
I was now crouched down with my knees pushed to my chest, I couldn’t move. The walls kept pushing in. My head was pushed down onto my knees, my knees held together by the walls on either side while being pushed into my chest. It was so hard to breath. Just as the pain was beginning to become intolerable, it stopped. The walls and ceiling stopped moving. That was days ago, and I knew I would be stuck here, unmoving, barely breathing, until I died of thirst.
This. This is worse.
Arthur arrived at the dentist’s office fifteen minutes late because of the sudden storm. The sky was a murky gray, the wind had begun to make the trees bend and sway and rain had turned into hail. He parked his car and ran to the front door of the building.
At the front desk sat a young brunette wearing scrubs and glasses. She greeted him with a smile, introduced herself as Lilly, the dental hygienist, and assured him his tardiness was fine. As she was checking him in for his appointment, Arthur looked around the lobby and saw no other patients or staff.
“It looks pretty quiet in here.”
“Oh yes.” She smiled and stood up from the desk chair. “You’re our last patient for the day. You can follow me.”
Arthur followed Lilly down the dimly lit hallway. He noticed at the end of the hallway was a flickering exit sign and its low hum of fluorescent bulbs echoed through the otherwise quiet hallway. A black door labeled “Boiler Room” was directly below the exit sign.
Lilly took a sharp left into room three. Inside was a woman wearing a long white coat over her scrubs. The hail was tapdancing on the roof of the building and Arthur had to lean in slightly to hear her introduce herself as Dr. Barb.
“Please, take a seat. Let’s see what’s been hurting you.”
As Arthur sat in the chair and adjusted himself, the thunder let out a loud clap. The lights in the room threatened to flicker, but quickly returned back to their fluorescent state.
Dr. Barb moved the back of Arthur’s chair down and lifted a mask over her face. She adjusted the lamp above his head and its beams landed directly into his eyes. He squinted slightly and moved his gaze to the skylight window in the ceiling of the room. From his peripheral vision, he saw Lilly place her mask over her face as well.
Dr. Barb and Lilly both intently looked into Arthur’s open mouth for a few minutes; tapping here and there on a tooth and asking if anything hurt.
Finally, Dr. Barb announced, “You have a nasty cavity in one of your back molars. If you are alright with it, I’d like to get the cavity filled today.”
With his mouth still open wide, Arthur nodded his head in agreement. Lilly applied numbing shots to his gums and placed a clear gas mask over his face. She instructed him to take a deep breath in. His gaze never strayed from the skylight.
As the laughing gas began to set in, Arthur swore he saw a person in the dark, stormy clouds walking by the skylight on the roof. He squinted and blinked, trying to get a better view, but saw nothing. Confused, Arthur gripped the armrest of the dentist chair and tried to close his eyes. He attempted to focus on the drilling sounds when a clap of thunder drowned them out. The sound made him jump and immediately open his eyes again.
Ignoring the storm, Dr. Barb and Lilly continued to stare closely inside Arthur’s mouth. Not a word was spoken by either of them and their masks eliminated all emotion from their faces. The echoing drill filled the room again and began to make Arthur feel uneasy. In his mind he was begging them to speak when from the corner of his eye he again saw a person’s face in the storm clouds from the skylight. As he squinted to get a better look, a jolt of lightning flashed and the lights in the room went out.
The drilling sound immediately disappeared and for a moment all that could be heard was the hail banging frantically on the roof.
“No worries,” Dr. Barb assured him in the now pitch black room, “Our generator will kick in any minute now.”
Dr. Barb and Lilly chit-chatted about the horrible drive home that awaited them and how this storm was the worst one yet all year. Seven minutes of their chit-chat had passed and all the power to the building was still out. Arthur’s palms began to sweat as he tried to bring his gaze back to the skylight, wondering if the face in the clouds would be waiting for him.
“Dr. Barb, I can check on the generator in the boiler room if you want. Maybe a plug is loose.” Lilly stood up from her chair, removed her mask and left the room.
Dr. Barb continued to talk to Arthur in the dark and assure him that everything would get fixed in no time. He heard Lilly’s footsteps continue down the hallway to the boiler room and heard her open and shut the door. Another ten minutes passed and Arthur could tell Dr. Barb was beginning to wonder where Lilly was.
“I’m going to go check on her, Mr. Vargas. I will be right back.” Dr. Barb stood up and left the room, leaving the door open when she left.
Arthur laid in the chair continuing to squint up at the skylight watching the lightning and waiting to see that person or face again. He could hear Dr. Barb walk to the boiler room, but he didn’t hear her open the door.
After a few minutes of silence, he heard footsteps approaching from the boiler room. He suddenly felt a sharp pain in his right jaw and closed his eyes, until he heard the footsteps enter the room.
“Dr. Barb,” he said slowly opening his eyes, “I think I may need another shot. I’m starting to feel some pain.”
There was a long silence and suddenly the room seemed much darker than it did before.
“Dr. Barb?” Arthur’s words trailed off as he slowly turned his head.
“No,” a voice replied.
Arthur heard the door shut and the lock click.