It’s time to announce the winners of our scary story contest! Thanks to everyone who submitted a piece — our team had a great time revisiting our annual tradition of reading these scary stories after our contest hiatus. We’ll be contacting the winners by email today about their prizes.
Our winners are:
Winner: Tristan Searle, “The Mansion’s Basement”
Runner-Up: Alan Donahue, “November 1st”
Runner-Up: Nancy De Beer, “Mirror World”
Read the winning submissions below.
Winner: “The Mansion’s Basement”
Becca woke up slowly, her eyes blinking open in a room so dark she briefly wondered if she’d gone blind. For a blissful moment she doesn’t remember her predicament. All she could feel was the dull throb of her migraine, like she had been head-butted, and the cold grit of concrete on her bare arms.
Where’s my jacket? she wondered. The thought snapped her back to her horrible reality. It had been torn off in a violent struggle perhaps days ago, before her cranium hit a tree outside the 7-11 hard enough to get a concussion.
She had been confined in this room for some time, but without a clock, it was impossible to tell. The hours merged into a single continuous, hellish experience.
Becca sat up as her eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness. The only items in the room were an itchy pillow and wool blanket, metal bucket, a rusty faucet on the wall, and a one-eyed teddy bear in the corner. The bear had a big tear on the side where his stuffing came out. She did not even have a mattress. The clothes she had on had been replaced by a nightgown offering little protection against the cold, but more than the temperature it was the thought of her clothes stripped off and her captor seeing her naked that gave her chills.
Yes, it was all coming back to her now. “I thought it was a bad dream,” she whispered aloud, but quickly covered her mouth. Her captor might not be far away. For some reason he had been avoiding her, only creeping in while she slept to leave food. At least she wasn’t chained like an animal—only kept caged like one.
She stared at the ominous brown door. There was nothing else to look at, and at this point, she had every scratch memorized. Someone (or someones) had been here before her and clawed at the bottom, leaving a large portion of the whiskey-colored paint chipping away. The door was sealed so only a weak sliver of light could filter in.
The taunts of her rich classmates from her junior high school classes suddenly filled her head. They would say stuff like, “You’re just a Poe girl, nobody loves you.” Once she had responded, “Can’t you think of anything more original?” only to be jeered back, “Shut up, trash, hahahahaha,” and how could she respond to that? After that she would just remain silent.
She had the distinct feeling now, though, that remaining silent wouldn’t allow this situation to pass.
Her green eyes closed, Becca struggled to picture the man who kidnapped her. There would normally be enough cigarette smokers and teenagers standing around the gas station to dissuade kidnappers, but the night had been unusually quiet. Whoever had stolen her was patient and calculating enough to wait for the perfect moment, while she walked away, under one of the pine trees by the gully that seemed like green skyscrapers.
Her eyes opened. Like every day after waking up to this nightmare, her eyes had greatly adjusted to the pitch-black darkness. She couldn’t remember the face of her captor, and besides, she was wasting time. Whoever it was could return at any moment. She didn’t have time to be scared, she’d spent enough time doing that; she had to get moving if she were to have any hope of returning home. The thought of her mother alone and how terrified she must be would bring her to tears if she thought about it too long.
She preferred to think of her mom still in her nurse uniform picking the lock and rescuing her, or the police breaking down the door and offering calm reassurances, telling her she’s safe now, there’s nothing to be afraid of. The soothing sound of sirens. She wanted nothing more than anything to be laying in her own bed. Although she was almost in high school, being left in this dingy room had reduced her to feeling like a toddler.
Please don’t let him rape me. Please don’t keep me trapped here. Please don’t let me end up in a lake. Please don’t let me suffer.
Becca thought she heard movement outside. She sat up, eyes wide. Somebody was trying to make noise but sounded muffled. The scratched brown door moved outward an inch, becoming slightly ajar. A sliver of faint light appeared on the wall beside her.
Every time Becca tried the handle before it was locked. She waited several minutes as her heart pounded in her chest. Finally, after what felt like hours, she silently crawled to the door and lightly pushed. With a painfully loud screech, the door creaked open. The sound she heard moments before got simultaneously louder and more distant: a young voice trying to call for help.
Noooo nooo no no who is that.
Despite the haunting effect of the echoing yells, she almost tore out of the room before realizing this could be some sort of twisted game, or a test perhaps to see what she would do.
It doesn’t matter, Becca thought. It was either stay in the room and face an inevitable demise or try her luck and maybe escape.
Before she left, she remembered the teddy bear; she had a strange compulsion to bring it. It had become her only companion. She crawled over and grabbed the bear (careful not to pull his stuffing out further) before standing and exiting the dungeon she’d been trapped in for so many days.
“Don’t worry, Teddy,” she whispered to the torn bear in her arms. “I’m gonna save us from this evil place.”
A single flickering lightbulb illuminated the way. Her bare feet started pattering down the wooden hallway, but before she could get far, she was suddenly pulled back.
“AAAGGGGHHHHHHHH NOT MEEEE!” she almost screamed. She bit down on her tongue to stay quiet and her tastebuds flooded with metallic blood.
Her heart almost leapt out of her chest. It was just her nightgown, caught on a splinter in the doorframe. She freed herself and kept moving.
Observing her surroundings, she appeared to be in the bottom level of an old, intricate mansion. The features of the carved walls and aesthetically designed fixtures, although weathered, retained a sense of romanticism that could be charming under different circumstances. The longer Becca wandered the halls, the more worried she became. She licked blood off her teeth. The labyrinth of twists and turns seemed to stretch on forever and most of the doors she tried were locked. Doors she managed to open neither contained a stairway or ladder, as she hoped; only dusty furniture and antiques covered in cobwebs.
Peering into one such room, she heard the demonic laugh of a man down the hall. The laugh sounded hoarse, like gravel in a blender.
Is he laughing at me? Or the other kid?
Struck with an immobilizing terror, she found herself unable to move. She tried with extreme effort to break away, run or hide, but she was completely frozen. She felt stuck in a state like sleep paralysis. As the man continued to laugh, she finally found herself moving. She scurried down the other end of the hall and rounded the corner, looking for an open door to slide through.
A new sense of terror spiked Becca’s mind. Why? She was being toyed with. The laughing had stopped—it hadn’t faded away but halted abruptly. She hugged Teddy. A curtain moved in the corner of her eye. She wheeled around, eyes wide, helpless to do anything but wait and see what would happen next. The hall was dark.
Her head turns. Through a slice in the nearest door, in a shadowy corner behind an antique lounge chair, she thinks she sees two orbs of small gray eyes staring back at her. She can’t tell if they belong to a person or to a cat.
A creak in the floor inches away. This time when her body freezes, she doesn’t try to move. She is still as a statue, not even blinking, until she feels the hair on her neck move. Someone is breathing close behind her.
Like a reluctant track star she bolts fast as a bullet down the corridor. She can’t help but let out a small cry. She searches for any crack of light that could signal an avenue of escape. She tells herself that no matter what happens, it will all be over soon. But in the back of her mind she knows the chase has barely begun.
Runner-Up: “November 1st”
The clock glowed 4:34 am. Halloween was over and there I was. Wide awake on the floor of Barry’s cluttered bedroom. Skittles, Snickers, and Twizzlers coursing through the veins of my 11year old body. I had a sugar coma that did everything but let me sleep. Barry’s snores and the Friday the 13th marathon still blasting in the living room didn’t help much either…it was time to go home.
Snagging my pillowcase of sugar-coated loot, I did what I had done so many times before — head out and down the road — longing for the comfort of my own bed. Only thirteen houses away.
The sliver of the moon provided very little light — but the sun would rise soon. It was November 1st, but the remnants of Halloween still remained. The white skull paint on my face was now faded, peeled and would only be remembered in pictures. A cracked Jack O’Lantern at the Dawson’s stared at me with a crooked smile. An open and crushed pack of Smarties scattered on the road. A leaf-filled plastic ghost hung from a large tree — swaying just enough to make you do a double-take. In just a few weeks, it would all be gone — replaced with wreaths, lights, and towering Santa inflatables. But now — it was quiet, eerie, and I had an odd feeling like I didn’t belong.
Eleven houses to go. There was a chill to the air — but a mix of adrenaline and the constant sugar rush prevented me from feeling it. Ten houses to go — and FLASH — the high beams came out of nowhere. A car arched over the hill — lights even brighter now. They illuminated the cardboard gravestones at the Mendels and created large ominous shadows on their home. I sped up now — not like I could outrun a car, but I was certainly going to try.
Nine houses to go. The car crept closer — engine just a soft hum. Too dark to see inside the windshield, but I wasn’t turning back to look anyway. Closer….closer — I stepped off into a lawn now — could I just blend in? The morning dew soaked through my shoes — the car got closer.
Eight houses to go. Do I ditch the candy for more speed? Closer. The window rolls down — an arm reaches out. A newspaper WHIZZES past my head and lands on the front steps of the Helms House. The dim porch light is just enough to see the front page of the local gazette. The car continues on — slowing, stopping, and tossing more papers along the way. Relief settles in — and so does the heavy tiredness.
Seven houses to go. A quick Twix for some energy and I was on my way. The sun showed the faintest signs of arrival. I stepped back into the street and continued down until I heard a loud hiss. Or was it a growl? A groan? Whatever it was, I just wanted to be far away from it.
Six houses to go. The hiss comes again. Deep. Scratchy. Closer. I turned and saw a small critter dash past. I spin back around and the blur comes into focus. A brown and black cat — never seen the creature in the neighborhood before and it was a far cry from the all-white and lethargic Mr. Plumpers down the street.
Before I could move — the cat pounced — jumped straight towards my chest. Claws out. And claws in — pierced right through my costume and into my skin. The tiny beast was frantic — scratching, screeching, and clawing anywhere it could. I felt trapped — the more I tried to pull the cat’s body away, the deeper the claws dug. One big shake and the cat fell loose — landed on all fours. I held my filled pillowcase like a shield — the cat pounced again. I swung blindly — clobbered the cat, and the next thing I knew, the thing was lying lifeless in the street.
Despite the claw marks through my shirt and slight trickle of blood from my cheek, a pang of guilt came through me. Walking backwards — step by step, an eye was kept on the cat at all times. A small pothole caused me to stumble and when I looked up again — the cat was gone. A quick dash and I hid behind a large pine tree. A loud hiss — I was being hunted. Out of nowhere, the cat lunged again — claws just scratching at my calves. I dodge and run, feeling six blocks of trick-or-treating in my knees — but persisted forward, constantly looking back as the feline was hot on my trail. I aimlessly ran into a maze of hanging toilet paper. A classic prank — now serving as my kitty death trap.
Five houses to go. I tried to dash through the toilet paper — but got tangled and wrapped up like a mummy. My arm was fully snagged when I heard it again. The faint hiss of the cat — barely audible over the sound of my own pounding heart. The direction of the hiss was nearly impossible to pinpoint, especially as I tried to spin myself free from the mess. At the same time, all I could think was if anyone saw me, they’d think I was the toilet paper bandit. I pulled and tugged, releasing myself from the madness — only to look up and see the cat perched on a branch directly above me — the evil eyes glowing in the night. I dove back out into the street just as the razor sharp claws came diving down at me.
We stood face to face now. A dead stare. This cat was not backing down. A standstill. I needed a distraction. I carefully tore open a Three Musketeers and tossed the chocolate towards the middle of the street. The cat didn’t even flinch. A waste of precious candy. The cat crept forward like a confident lion — and I was its prey.
I lifted the pillowcase bag up to dig for something — anything. The cat arched its back and the hair stood straight up. Hissing — not a purr — a true endless hiss. It sounded evil — coming from the depths of its stomach and echoing through my bones. I notice the cat’s eyes as I lift the bag. And lower the bag. The eyes follow. Lift and lower — the same thing. Is it worth giving up my Halloween candy for? The stinging gashes in my chest say yes.
I swing the bag to my left. The cat’s head follows — the same to the right. And then I notice — a long, dangling string from the bottom of the pillowcase. I walk closer towards the cat — wiggling the string the whole time. A paw rises up — and playfully claws at the string. All of this — just to play with a string? There was no time for questions or an understanding of the cat’s psyche at that point though. Without hesitation, I grab and yank the string off. One more dangle and I toss the string into some grass. The cat falls for the ruse — pounces on the string and playfully rolls around. A far cry from the menacing beast who just haunted me. I book it.
Four houses to go. Three houses. Two houses. And as the sun rises more and the moon fades away, Halloween is truly over. As I catch my breath and reach the front door — I only have thought: Is it Christmas yet?
Runner-Up: “Mirror World”
Nancy De Beer
I stared into the mirror, looking at the hideous wrinkled grey skinned old hag staring back at me. I pulled at the skin on my face, trying to pull the sagging skin tighter, frowning in disgust at this wretched creature. The Mirror world is where I need to go.
I picked up the old crumpled flyer from a witch that had given it to me a 150 years ago showing a mirror and river, saying that they would grant you eternal youth and life if you could cross the river into the mirror world. But that was a lie. It only granted you 150 years. To think witches would have been burnt at the stake a few centuries ago, but now they are out in the open practicing magic freely.
I sighed, staring at myself again in the mirror, wondering if I was truly willing to go through all of those horrors again just to live another 150 years. I had a beautiful life, did so many things. Got married, had a beautiful husband, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, and soon to be great-great grandchild. I had many careers, from actress to a war nurse, a successful author to a painter, and many more.
My great-grandchildren don’t really pay attention to me, not like the grandkids and kids did. I miss them and I miss George. He died almost 20 years ago. When we got married, I told him about the witch and the magic river. He refused to go drink from the fountain in the mirror world, telling me that life should not be lived longer than fated.
Even though I missed George and considered what he had said, I still felt like I could do more in life. Like I had more to offer. Become a doctor, find a cure for all diseases. Anything but getting old and dying. Maybe I could ‘die’ and just start off anew. No one would be the wiser. Certainly not the great grandkids. All they want to do is to be influencers. I suppose I could become an influencer and actually make a difference in this cruel world. But do I actually want to live another 150 years and see this world destroyed by more wars, famish, poverty and selfishness? There’s no sense in communities coming together and helping each other anymore. Even families abandon each other. It’s just me, myself and I.
“What am I to do?” I asked the wrinkled face in the mirror.
Studying the wrinkled face hard, tracing every line on the leathery skin when I saw a movement in the shadows of the lines. I squeezed my eyes shut, shaking my head. I opened my dull grey eyes and looked closer in the mirror. Nothing. It had to just be the light or my eyes playing tricks on me for staring at myself too long. I put my thick glasses back on, there see nothing, just an old fool’s eyes playing tricks.
I left the bathroom and passed my hallway full of mirrors. That is the one thing I had become obsessed with — mirrors. It was as though I had to track my aging and make sure I stayed young forever.
I grabbed the polish and cloth and started cleaning the mirrors, trying not to pay too much attention to my hideous face. I should actually go tell that witch off. Her flyer lied about eternal youth. I still aged, but I could never find her. I lost track and ended up shining the same spot, while staring at myself.
This time I see something in the mirror. There! A figure that is fuzzy, it’s standing in a darkish place. Almost like a forest in twilight… I all but pushed my face against the mirror, squashing my nose and glasses. The figure became clearer, and I realized it was the younger version of me, smiling and waving for me to follow.
“I can’t!” I yelled to my younger self, fogging up the mirror.
I hurried along the wall, trying to move so that I was in front of her, me. She, I pouted as I just couldn’t seem to reach her. I smacked my hands against the mirror, pressing my face more into the mirror that my glasses cracked and my nose started bleeding.
Younger me smiled brightly, beckoning for me to go to her. I threw my glasses to one side and pushed even harder against the mirrors. I could feel my nose cracking, making my eyes water from the pain, but I just couldn’t seem to stop myself. The compulsion I felt to reach my younger self was indescribable. To feel such a force, the need to go to her, me. This place looked familiar. The Mirror Worlds? No, that’s impossible. The mirror world had dead trees and a red sky. This was different with thick green vegetation which looked dark blue with a dark night sky.
Panting, I pushed harder, feeling my bones protest in agony and my frail skin break as the mirror splintered, leaving bloody handprints. My younger self jumped up and down joyfully, showing me enthusiastically to continue pushing through the mirror. I felt my nose break completely and cried out in pain, but I kept going as she cheered me on more vigorously.
Behind her, behind me, I saw another figure in the distance. It was George. I smiled with bloody teeth as my heart leapt for joy. He was as young as the first day I met him. He went to my younger self and wrapped his arms around her. She leaned back into him with a smile as he kissed her neck.
I pressed myself even harder against the mirror, cracking it more. I could feel the blood trickling down my body, staining my clothes and the mirror. My bones screamed in pain, but I didn’t care. I wanted that to be me, not her, not my younger self, but me. Only me, not some figment of my imagination or whatever she is.
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” I panted, pushing harder.
The mirror opened up with a squeak and I pushed through, feeling the coldness of the mirror against my skin, and stumbled, falling to the ground. I felt the hard, cold grass beneath my hands. I turned around, sitting on my ass breathing hard, staring back at the way I came in. It looked like a two-way mirror from this side. I could see the blood dripping down the mirror where I had just stood not even several seconds ago.
I eased myself up and turned back to where I had seen George and my younger self. She was gone, but George was still standing there smiling waving at me. I lifted my hand up to wave back at him when I noticed my hand was cream and smooth and spotless. No sunspots, no wrinkles, no leathery, loose skin. I’m young again, I realized, feeling my face.
George held open his arms for me and my heart skipped a beat as I ran to him. I laughed as my youthful sturdy legs carried my body with ease. I raced into his arms. His warmth filled me, warming my soul. That had been so cold and dead for so long. It felt so right to be in his strong, sure arms.
“George.” I breathed, hugging him back tightly.
His arms tightened around me.
“George.” I warned, tapping his shoulders.
His grip was a little too tight. He didn’t let up instead; he kept on squeezing harder and tighter. I gasped out in pain, hitting his back, trying to get him to let go of me. As I felt my bones break, I cried out. I stared into the eyes of my George, trying to understand why he was hurting me, but there’s nothing in his eyes. Instead, they are mirrors and all I see is my reflection staring back at me in fear and pain. I’m in the Mirror world, I realized. But how I didn’t go looking for the witch?
I heard footsteps crunching the frozen grass and turned my head in the direction. The witch! She strolled with her black cloak trailing behind her. She walked around me, staff in hand, tsking.
“What is the meaning of this?!” I croaked, glaring at her.
“Your debt for 150 years.” She simply stated.
“You promised eternity. You lied.” I spat, coughing up blood.
“Well, 150 years is a long time. You can do a lot in 150 years. What did you do with your time? That’s what really matters, right? What to do with so much time?” She asked, flicking my nose.
I growled, wanting to slap her, but my arms are pinned at my sides and George’s grip tightens, making me whimper in pain.
“And, well, like everything else in this world, there has to be a balance. The mirror world is no exception. No one lives forever. It upsets the natural balance.” She continued explaining to me, circling me.
“Then you should put that in fine print. Or warn the people.” I hissed breathlessly, feeling George’s arms tighten even more.
“That’s silly. Then no one would take the deal. And besides, no one ever reads the fine print, anyway.” She mocked, coming to a standstill again.
“You lied and cheated.” I snared.
She shrugged, touching George’s arm. Even though this wasn’t my George, her just touching him made me jealous. I hissed at her, making her chuckle.
“You’ll pay for this witch. You’ll also run out of time and die.”
“Oh no I won’t. See, I bring the mirror world idiots like you and in return, I get immortality. As soon as I stop providing souls, I too will then die, but I’m 3000 years old. So, I think I’m good at my job.” She snared rubbing the glass ball on her staff.
“I’ll make you pay for this!” I yelled angrily, struggling against fake George.
“Please no! I beg for mercy.” She mocked. “The number of times that I’ve heard that.” She scoffed. “No one escapes the mirror world.”
I cried out in fear, and pain as George turned into a mosaic of mirrors. He squeezed even harder, and the shards dug into my skin. Blood ran down and through the mosaic, pooling around George’s feet. The witch stuck her finger into one of my wounds, then stuck her bloody finger in her mouth and sucked it clean.
“You did jack shit with your time. That was a waste of the Mirror’s precious time.” She growled in disgust.
“I did a lot.” I argued.
“Selfish things, yes. Save the world things, no.” she stated, pointing her staff at me.
“Again, you didn’t say what I’m to do with the time.” I insisted, gurgling blood.
She rolled her eyes at me. My blood boiled with rage. I did well in my life! And if she had lived up to her promise, then I would have had the time to do more. Mastering up all the strength I had left, I sucked in a deep breath, pulled my head back then brought it forward as hard as possible, smashing my forehead into the mirror George, shattering his face.
“What are you doing?!” the witch screeched as George dropped me and shattered, spraying shards of mirror everywhere.
I heard louder, shattering noises and looked up to see the witch covered in blood and shards just standing there, cracking as the last of her breath left her lungs. She fell to the ground, shattering along with the mirror world. I curled myself up, trying to cover my body as everything came falling down around me.
After many hours, there was silence. I carefully opened my eyes. The Mirror world was gone and so was the witch. I slowly pushed myself up, gently dusting and shaking the broken pieces of mirror off me. I stared at my hands, amazed that they were still smooth and young. Slowly, I tracked my way back to where I had entered.
I touched my hand to the cold mirror and nuzzled it. I let out a sigh of relief. My hand went through the mirror without difficulty. Smiling, I pushed all the way through. I was again in my hallway. Turning around and I met with my younger self, but this time it was me. I let out a laugh as tears rolled down my face.
“Gran-gran!” one of the great grandkids called out.
“Here pumpkin.” I called back.
But they just walked past me.
“Where can she be?”
I don’t know but she never goes without finishing polishing her mirrors.
“OK, funny. I’m right here.” I growled, reaching out to touch them.
But it was like smacking a brick wall.
“No!!” I cried out, banging my fists against the glass.
I thought it had returned me to my world, instead I had still been in my world, only to go back to the mirror world and now I’m trapped! If I had just waited a bit. I watched as my family search for me. I screamed for them, cried for them, but it was pointless. Eventually the police came, then finally nothing, no one came round anymore and the mirrors, my precious mirrors, are now covered up, leaving me in the dark.
All anyone remembered of me was my obsession with mirrors, always looking at myself in them, always polishing them. I now truly had eternal life, but I was stuck in my mirror world forever with no way out.