Thank you all for participating in our scary story contest! We enjoyed reading so many spooky, creepy stories. We’ll be contacting the winners today through email about their prizes.
And the winners are . . .
Winner: Samuel Hedley
Runner-up: Michele R. Johnston
Runner up: Hannah Whiteoak
Read the winning stories
by Samuel Hedley
He pictures her waking up like clockwork, always with that same smile—always with yesterday’s lipstick slightly smudged on the pillowcase, but still somehow staining her lips. It probably isn’t accurate. They’ve never woken up together, so he wouldn’t know. In fact, they’ve never even met up face to face. He only has her occasional selfies to judge by, and the comforting regularity of her morning texts. Five past ten, every day since they started.
Hello, beautiful, he texts her. Did you sleep well?
He probably shouldn’t answer during work hours, but he can’t help himself. Besides, that’s the perk of having this corner desk. Nobody’s standing behind him and staring down at his phone screen. In fairness, nobody really does that here anyway. Wright & Walters is an unfriendly office, but more like the mean kids at high school. They don’t care enough to look at you most of the time, but their eyes will brighten like a catching fire if they see you’re wearing a shirt that cost less than £20.
She isn’t like that. She’s never made a joke about his dress sense. In fact, she barely seems to mind what he looks like at all. They talk about things that actually mean something. Politics. World news. She likes to hear his opinions. She tells him that she’s interested in his soul.
Very well, she texts back. But I’m lonely here. Give me a piece of yourself.
He smiles. She loves that line. She says it all the time.
A few weeks ago, when they first met on Tinder, he’d been so afraid to smile at her texts in public. It felt like she’d disappear if anybody knew about her. He was sure he didn’t deserve her attention—that fate would snatch her away if it realised what a mistake it had made pairing them together.
But fate hadn’t paired them together. He knows that now. They paired themselves. She chose him, out of everyone that must have swiped right for her on that godforsaken app. Knowing that, he isn’t afraid to smile any more.
I was frightened of my aunt when I was 7, he says. I thought she was a witch or a demon or something. She wore red lipstick that looked like blood, and I thought I could feel her sucking up my life force through her eyes. It sounds silly now. I felt bad about it when she died.
One more?, she writes.
He looked up, glancing around the office space in case anybody really was keeping an eye on him. Of course, nobody was. He was irrelevant here, just as he was everywhere else. Just not with her.
He searches for something he can give her, sifting through memories in his mind’s eye. He didn’t understand what she meant the first time she asked. What exactly was a ‘piece of himself’? But soon he came to understand that she was just trying to get to know him better. She wanted to hear things that he’d never told anybody before. Things so secret that they were almost news to him. He’s gotten good at thinking of them. There are more of them than he initially thought there would be.
Alright, he says. One more. Then your turn.
He starts typing. I stole something from my neighbour when I was little. Nothing major! I’m not a criminal. Besides, you know I’d never be able to—
“Hey,” comes a voice, interrupting his train of thought. It’s so sharp that it feels like the moment his ears pop on an aeroplane—so forceful that it’s almost painful. Like something is being torn out of him. He looks up at the face of one of his colleagues. He expects to see judgement, but instead he sees a crumpled brow. Concern. “Are you okay? You look like you’re about to faint or something.”
“I’m fine,” he says. A reflex. But once he’s said it, he realises that she’s right. He does feel faint. His head is spinning. Maybe he should get a glass of water. Maybe just after he’s done telling her this story. “Thanks.”
“You sure?” she says, unusually persistent. “You’re white as a sheet.”
“Am I? Weird.” He smiles, hoping it will dismiss her. He just wants to send this text. Why can’t she see that he just wants to send this text? “I’m alright. Thanks, though.”
“Okay. Well, take care.”
She doesn’t sound convinced, but she doesn’t press a third time. He swallows, watching her cross the room for a couple of seconds before his eyes are drawn back to his phone. The screen is almost fluctuating. He does feel light-headed.
You there? she texts. I want another one.
He goes back to his story. She can see that he’s typing. It’s better than announcing it, better than starting from the beginning again.
—I’d never be able to steal anything big. I’m a wimp. I’d be worried about getting arrested. Must’ve been about 11. She was a single woman, probably in her early thirties. I loved her. I just wanted something of hers. I know it’s creepy, but I was just a kid. She used to smoke outside on the front step. Left a wine glass out there one time, so I took it. It’s probably still in my parents’ house.
Hurry up, she texts, before he’s finished reading it back. Give me a piece of yourself.
So he presses send, and something dies behind his eyes. He lays his head down on the desk. His tongue catches on the smell of sulphur, but only for a second.
Then he’s gone.
On the other side of the room, the colleague takes a sip of her second morning coffee and pulls her phone out of her purse. It’s too early for an official break, but she’s hoping that no one will catch her. Besides, she only wants to check Tinder. There’s a match she made yesterday that she’s been hoping to hear from.
by Michele R. Johntson
I’ve been listening to my music catalogue on my phone all day, and, in fact, most of the night. I’m sitting in a hard plastic chair, the kind teachers use, at a hastily-improvised emergency shelter set up in the gymnasium of St. George’s in Blackpool. I haven’t felt the slightest inclination towards sleep.
I put my headphones on after too many hours staring at screens on which vacuous presenters, with hair more cultivated than intellect, blather on authoritatively about something they clearly don’t understand. “Hold Me Now” by the Thompson Twins is pouring through my headphones, a perverted soundtrack to the slide-show flash-frozen in my mind.
I don’t know why so many people have died so quickly. The top docs in the country don’t even know. Is it a virus? Is it some new strain of antibiotic-resistant bacteria? Is it a mass hallucinogen? I’d have laughed at such an idea in the past, but little could surprise me more than what already has. Last Monday, Floatmoor only numbered about 7400. This Monday, 12,000 corpses in the town are laid under tarpaulins outside the nearest morgue.
Floatmoor, a town that until the 1980s consisted of a few scattered stone cottages and one intersection, suddenly grew much bigger with the foundation of a firm that manufactured and distributed medical supplies. Houses sprang up everywhere, and roads couldn’t be paved fast enough. A housing estate was built, as well as a small primary school. Why did they call it Floatmoor? A legend persisted from mediaeval times through the 1800s that an ancient graveyard was once set on nearby moors so boggy that the bodies and coffins kept floating to the surface. Apparently the council of the new town thought it’d be a charming way of drawing tourists.
The theories, as scatter-gun as they are, don’t mean much to me. I might want answers if it was just that nearly everyone I’ve known since I moved to Floatmoor ten years ago died. I’d be angry like some of the people they show on television. But I don’t want to know. I frankly don’t want to know what it is. Not when the dead continue to pile up. Not when more and more of the exact same faces show up at the morgue. The number of the dead keeps rising, even when nearly every living person has already been killed. The morgues and funeral homes can’t handle the mass. And every morning, it makes a new pile of corpses, and every morning, those left to grieve are robbed of the chance to properly mourn. How can you hold a funeral when you can’t tell which of six identical faces is really your brother’s?
My girlfriend, Rosalie, was an undertaker’s assistant for Lawrence & Augustus Mortuary. She possessed an iron stomach compared to me (or to most people I knew, in fact.) She was present at the funerals and burials of sixteen people this past Sunday, eight of whom she’d known. She came home exhausted at four in the morning on Monday but was up again at six for work. Eleven of the sixteen bodies they’d buried on Sunday were back in the morgue Monday morning. She came home at seven o’clock that evening, too tired and sick to continue. I gave her a massage after she arose from the bath, shaking. I fell asleep soon after she did. She went to work at the usual hour on Tuesday. Twenty corpses were in refrigeration; the rest were placed wherever room could be found. Each body she could recall burying in the past several days had reappeared. Many of the corpses looked precisely like several others among the rows and rows of dead.
Tuesday morning, she entered the mortuary, grabbed a trocar from an instrument table, and jammed it through her throat.
I didn’t stay in Floatmoor long enough to bury her.
Something Doesn’t Smell Right
by Hannah Whiteoak
The smell of death crept up the stairs, sneaking into the kids’ attic playroom, although it remained strongest in the kitchen. Nancy gagged on her toast.
“Could be a raccoon,” said Calvin. “Might’ve snuck into the crawlspace and died.”
Nancy tipped the toast into the trash and leaned against the counter. The smell had given her a headache, which worsened as the kids squabbled over their Coco Puffs.
“That’s mine!” Ethan wrenched a toy truck from his sister, who started to cry.
“Don’t snatch,” Nancy scolded. Wearily, she patted Lucy’s blond curls, hoping to prevent an emotional meltdown. No such luck. Lucy’s mouth opened in a wail.
Ethan watched his sister cry. “Don’t take my things,” he said calmly. “You’ll regret it.”
“That’s enough,” Nancy said. “Ethan, go and get dressed.”
Ethan brushed cereal dust from his pajamas and walked out of the room, head held high. Lucy was sobbing too hard to eat any more.
Nancy cleared away the empty bowls and picked stray Coco Puffs from the table. “Ethan’s been so mean lately.”
Calvin shrugged and continued tapping at his phone. “He’s an eight-year-old boy. That’s what they’re like.”
Nancy stroked Lucy’s hair. “His teacher called me last week. A girl in his class borrowed his pen without asking. Ethan snatched it back and scribbled all over her workbook before the teacher could get it off him.”
“So he doesn’t like people messing with his stuff. Who does?”
“He just seems so vindictive lately. Cold. Do you think he’s being bullied at school? Maybe it’s a cry for help.”
“Boys just aren’t as oversensitive as girls.”
Nancy frowned and tried to pull Lucy close, but her daughter wriggled away and ran from the room. “It’s not just that. He’s acting out. Something doesn’t smell right.”
“You can say that again.” Calvin pushed his plate away. “That stench is driving me crazy. I’m going to crawl under the house and drag out whatever rotting animal is stuck there.”
A scream came from upstairs. Nancy sighed and got to her feet. “Ethan? Whatever you’re doing, stop it right now!”
As she tramped upstairs, Lucy flew out of her bedroom, hands clasped as though holding something precious. She was sobbing so hard she could barely breathe.
“Lucy? What’s wrong? Show me.” Nancy pried her daughter’s fingers apart. In the child’s palm was a matted mess of fur and blood.
“Snuffles!” Lucy sobbed. “Ethan killed him. He ran him over again and again.”
Nancy gently took the dead hamster. The usually twitching nose was still. The little paws curled around empty air. She wrapped her fingers over the tiny body. “Lucy, go and wash your hands.”
She steered the distraught girl into the bathroom. Dry-eyed, Ethan slouched in the doorway of his room.
“Well?” Nancy demanded. “What have you got to say for yourself?”
Ethan smirked. “It wasn’t my fault her stupid hamster ran in front of my truck.”
That damned remote-controlled truck. Nancy had hated it ever since Calvin brought it home from the store. Ethan loved to send it careening around the house, toppling side tables and bruising ankles. She clenched her fists as she remembered Calvin whooping as the truck raced after next door’s cat. No wonder Ethan was running wild. He needed boundaries. Pushing Ethan out of the way, she strode into his room and grabbed the truck.
“Don’t take my things,” Ethan said. “You’ll regret it.”
His cold stare chilled Nancy to her bones. She spoke in what she hoped was an authoritative voice. “Toys are a privilege. You only get them if you’re nice.”
She grabbed Ethan’s arm and pulled him downstairs. He followed without a struggle or tantrum, but kept that smug, self-satisfied smile on his face. What was he planning now? Whatever it was, Nancy was determined to keep an eye on him.
She’d hoped Calvin would give the boy a talking to, for once, but he was already inside the crawlspace, thumping around under their feet. Nancy gently laid Snuffles to rest in a plastic box and washed her hands. She climbed onto the counter to place the truck on the highest shelf. Ethan stared at her, his eyes narrowed. Nancy ignored him and crouched over the crawlspace hatch.
“Did you find anything?” she called down to Calvin.
“Not a damn thing. Smells rancid though.” He yelped. “Wait, there’s something fleshy. Oh, gross. I’m bringing it out.”
Nancy forced herself not to look away. She should be tough enough to handle one dead raccoon. Should she shoo Ethan out of the room? No, let him look. Why shouldn’t he see what happened when an animal died? Perhaps it would shock him out of this cruel streak.
As Calvin emerged into the light, he dropped the body with a cry and jumped away. Nancy screamed. She put her hands to her face and peeked between her fingers. This was no animal. Pink skin covered the skinny ribcage. Two scrawny arms ended in unmistakably human hands. Face down between them lay a dead child.
Both adults recoiled. “Call the police,” said Calvin.
“Get Ethan out of here,” said Nancy.
No one moved. Gingerly, Calvin slid the toe of his boot under the corpse and rolled it over. The naked flesh crawled with maggots, which burrowed into the eye sockets. Nancy hid her face in her hands, but a horrible creeping recognition made her take a second look. Beneath the writhing maggots, she recognized the upturned nose and sandy hair. She’d know those Cupid’s-bow lips anywhere.
Nancy looked from the dead child to the identical boy standing beside her. “Ethan?”
Ethan nodded at the rotting corpse. “That’s mine.”
“But. . . how . . . ?”
Ethan took a step closer to the body. “I’ve warned you about taking my things. You’ll regret it.”
Nancy backed away. “Who . . . what are you?”
Ethan rolled his eyes. As they stared open-mouthed, he strolled out of the kitchen. The stairs creaked. Too late, Calvin started after him.
Upstairs, Lucy screamed.
Thank you and congratulations to Samuel and Michele.