Congratulations to this year's Grand Prize Hallowinner,  Alex Payne

EEEEK! 2021 Prompts:

Shtories may be any genre, but must not exceed 1,000 words, and must include all three of the following prompts—in whatever creative capacity you see fit:

 

Location:

A GRAVEYARD

 

Character:

A PET DRESSED IN A HALLOWEEN COSTUME

 

Event:

A FAIR TRADE

Read Alex's winning shtory—plus shtories by first runner-up Michael Vogel and second runner-up Anthony Raymond—below!

THE GHOST AND THE BOY

By Alex Payne

 

     Snuffles was a ghost. Most days he was a dog, but today he was a ghost. At least that’s what Jonathan, the boy he loved very much, told him as Johnathan threw an old sheet over him and tied it on. 

     Snuffles didn’t know what a ghost was, but that was okay; he was having fun anyway. Nearly always when Snuffles would howl Jonathan would shush him, but today Jonathan laughed and laughed and said how spooky Snuffles was. Jonathan was wearing funny clothes of his own, they made him look like you could see through his skin and there were bones underneath. Bones! Inside a person! Jonathan kept pointing to the bones and asking if Snuffles wanted a bite, but that would be silly. They’re just clothes, after all. But Jonathan was having fun with the funny clothes, and that’s how Snuffles knew today was special. 

     Snuffles was right in the middle of his best howl yet, to Jonathan’s supreme delight, when the doorbell rang. Jonathan ran to the door, stopped, turned around and grabbed his pumpkin-shaped pail, and ran back to the door. 

     When Jonathan opened it, Snuffles saw lots of Jonathan’s friends but none of them were wearing funny clothes, just their plain old regular clothes. Snuffles wondered if the special day was just for him and Jonathan, but lots of other kids outside had funny clothes on. 

     Jonathan was confused at first when his friends started talking. They weren’t holding pumpkin pails, or any pails or buckets at all, but were carrying eggs and bottles. Snuffles didn’t understand most of what they were saying, but he heard the words “Too old,” something he’d heard Jonathan’s parents say a lot lately. Whatever they said, it made Jonathan turn and walk, then run, leaving his friends standing in the doorway. 

     Jonathan was so upset he ran straight to the backdoor and outside. Snuffles yipped to get his attention, then tried howling since that was what Jonathan liked today, but Jonathan kept running. 

     Snuffles looked back to Jonathan’s friends, who looked at each other then turned to leave. Well. Jonathan needed a friend, and if they weren’t going to do it, it was up to Snuffles. Snuffles ran out after Jonathan. Usually he’d be able to smell where Jonathan had gone, but today Jonathan didn’t smell like Jonathan, he smelled like polyester and foam and plastic… and everyone smelled like that today. But Snuffles knew a place nearby with lots of grass and rectangular stones standing straight up, plunged into dirt (which Snuffles was not to dig into!). Most of all, Snuffles always saw sad people there, so he figured if Jonathan was sad, that’s where he’d go too. 

     When Snuffles got there, he saw the gates were open but he couldn’t find Jonathan anywhere. But it was a big place, and there were lots of rectangular stones to hide behind, so Snuffles didn’t give up. Eventually, Snuffles felt something. The air got colder, then thickened and turned to mist, even though it was clear moments ago. 

     Snuffles turned, and jumped! “You! What are you?” shouted Snuffles at the figure before him. It looked a little like a boy, but it was see-through, like it was made of the mist, and it was floating. 

     “I’m a ghost,” said the not-boy, plainly. “What are you?” 

     I’m a ghost!” said Snuffles.

     The ghost looked Snuffles up and down, side to side. “No you’re not,” he said finally, “you’re a dog.” 

     “Not today,” Snuffles corrected him. “Today I’m a ghost, Jonathan said so.” Then Snuffles jumped again. “You can understand me!” said Snuffles. 

     “Of course,” said the ghost. “Ghosts can talk to anyone. But you’re not a ghost.”

      “Am too. Today’s special,” said Snuffles. 

     The ghost thought about this.

     “Well,” he said, “today is special. Okay, you can be a ghost today.” 

     “I haven’t seen you here before,” said Snuffles, fascinated by the all-speaking ghost.

     “I live here, but I can only come out on special days like today. And only when someone needs my help. But I haven’t found anyone who needs-- say, why did you say you were here again? Where’s your Jonathan?” 

     “I’m trying to find him. I’m worried he’s all alone.” 

     “Jonathan doesn’t have any friends to be with him?” asked the ghost. 

     “Well, I thought he did, but…” Snuffles drooped his head. 

     “Stay here, just for a little bit.” The ghost turned around and flew up into the air. He whooshed this way and that, going all the way to the gates and back. When he was done, he floated back down to Snuffles. 

     “Try a little over that way,” said the ghost. “Howl as loud as you can.” 

     Snuffles trotted over where the ghost had pointed and howled.

     “Louder!” shouted the ghost. Snuffles howled again. “Louder! As loud as you can!” 

     Snuffles heaved in, planted his feet and gave the longest, loudest howl he’d ever given. And then he heard Jonathan.

     “Snuffles?” Jonathan called out. 

     Snuffles started running. Down some steps, along a dirt path, around the corner and there-- behind one of the largest stones-- was Jonathan.

     “Snuffles!” he said. His face was wet and his pumpkin pail lay at his feet, but when Jonathan saw Snuffles he smiled. 

     Snuffles didn’t know what was wrong, but he didn’t need to. He snuggled underneath one of Jonathan’s arms and curled up. 

     “You came to find me,” Jonathan said, hugging Snuffles. “You wanted me to feel better.” Jonathan stopped for a moment, then said “Having friends is hard, sometimes.” Snuffles didn’t agree, but he thought it best not to argue. “But not with you. I’ll be your best friend forever, okay? And you’ll be mine forever. Fair trade?” 

     Snuffles thought on how to give John his answer, then remembered what the ghost said: Ghosts can talk to anyone. And today, Snuffles was a ghost. 

     Snuffles licked Jonathan’s face. The ghost was right; Jonathan understood perfectly.

     

   

THE CARETAKER

By Michael Vogel

 

     The headlight beams glared back in his face against the gallons of rain being dumped on the road. He held his wife’s hand and took a glance at his backseat. Their young puppy in a pirate costume lay breathless. She was so cute. What a tragic accident.

     The car pulled up to the gate of Hillcrest Cemetery. The man flicked on his car’s interior light and pulled out an envelope. He reached for his pencil and crossed out the last name on his list. The cemetery gate creaked open.

     The car pulled up to a small cottage at the top of the hill. A shadow of a man walked past the window as the single outdoor light turned on. 

     “You wait here,” the man told his wife as he opened his car door. He draped his jacket over his head as he ran to the cottage’s front door. He knocked loudly.

     The door opened to a tall man with an ugly face.

     “Are you the caretaker?”

     “I am,” the caretaker replied. “Please, come in.”

     The man did. The caretaker nodded to the man’s wife waiting in the front seat. 

     “Sorry for disturbing you at such an hour,” the man began. “I understand you are a taxidermist?” 

     The caretaker nodded as he closed the door. “Yes.  I stuff all sorts of things. Deer. Birds. I even stuffed a fox once.” 

     “Well, I was looking to have my pet stuffed. She’s out in the car. But there’s a problem. I don’t have enough money for the procedure. Is there any way you can help me out?”

     The caretaker walked to the window and looked out to the car. “You know, it gets awfully lonely here at the cemetery. You’re my first guest in quite some time. Is that your wife out in the car?”

     “Yes. And I imagine you’re right. Please. Is there anything I can do for you? I can work for you, or—” 

     “She’s incredibly beautiful. Would it be okay if I had dinner with her? I’d appreciate the company. I haven’t been around a woman like that in years. If she’s willing to do that, I will do what you have requested.”

     “Really? I’ll go ask her.”

     The man ran back out into the rain to ask his wife if she’d comply. The caretaker watched from the window. He anticipated the worst. Nobody ever wanted to spend time with him.

     The man ran back up to the house. Much to the caretaker’s surprise, the man said, “She has agreed. You two will have dinner tomorrow, and then you’ll have my pet stuffed for no charge. We agree to these terms?” 

     “Agreed.”

     On the following evening, the man dropped off his wife at the cottage. The man warned her that the man was not pleasant to look at, but it would be worth it so that they could have a proper memorial to their beloved puppy. The caretaker welcomed her into his home.

     As he made the drive back to his home, the man wondered what his wife would talk about with the man. Would she discuss their lives? Would she divulge any secrets that they had? And the caretaker? He was a hideous man. But all he wanted was to have dinner. He did not request to sleep with his wife. That was not part of the deal. Surely, he was an honorable man. He would not try anything outside of the parameters of their trade. 

     The man waited anxiously at home. Had he made a mistake? And then he thought back to Halloween night just a night ago. He thought about the car backing out of the driveway and hitting his poor dog. His guilt became too much. After a few hours passed, he decided dinner had been long enough. He got into his car and made the trek back to the cemetery.

     The man pulled his car up to the cemetery cottage. He reached the front step and knocked. The cemetery caretaker took his time to answer the door.

     When the door swung open, the caretaker stood in a large apron with a puzzled look on his face.

     The man said, “I want to take my wife home now.”

     “Okay, she’s downstairs, but she’s not ready yet,” the caretaker replied.

     “I don’t care if she’s ready. You’ve had enough time with her. I held up my end of the deal.”

     The man barged into the cottage and demanded to see the basement.

     “Okay,” the caretaker replied.

     The caretaker showed the man to the basement stairs. He raced down the steps. When he reached the bottom, his face lost all color. 

     Her feet were strapped. Her throat and wrists were cut. She hung upside down with a puddle of blood formed below her head. 

     The caretaker joined him at the bottom of the stairs and said, “I found it really interesting that you kept referring to her as your pet.” 

IN SEARCH OF MARC LETENDRE

By Anthony Raymond

     Marc Letendre was last seen on October 31, 1987, in the village of Suncook. So the story goes, this  young man of 20 years was smoking a cigarette outside of Lavertiere’s Drug Store on Main Street that  evening, just as the darkness was setting in and the earliest of trick or treaters began their annual stroll  throughout the neighborhoods. 

     It's not entirely clear when, but at some point, a blue Plymouth Reliant K stopped along the stretch of  sidewalk where Letendre had been pacing back and forth. He then walked up to the vehicle, opened the  passenger door, and got inside. Some say the car may have sped off in the direction of the old St. Jean  Baptiste cemetery, but this was never verified. 

     Twenty years later to the date of Mr. Letendre's disappearance, I just so happened to be standing at the  spot he was last seen. Maybe it was my way of paying my respects to him, or maybe out of morbid  curiosity, but whatever the reason, I found myself pacing down that same stretch of sidewalk where he  vanished without a trace. 

     As I walked, I noticed a small golden retriever puppy sitting in front of the entrance to the now abandoned Lavertiere's, and dressed appropriately for the Halloween occasion with a little black  vampire cape attached to its collar. I began to approach the puppy, in order to pet it, when it suddenly  stood up and began walking away from me - - down the sidewalk in the direction of the old St. Jean  Baptiste cemetery. After several paces, it paused and looked back at me, as if it were telling me to follow  along. So I thought to myself, well, why not? Maybe this puppy knows something about the Marc  Letendre disappearance from another dimension. 

     I continued to follow the little guy until, at last, we reached the gates of the cemetery. The puppy  quickly darted through the gate and ran to the location of an old stone crypt with the name "LETENDRE"  engraved across the top of the entrance. It sat there, rapidly wagging its tail, and let out a little squeak  of a bark as I jogged toward it. As I reached the entrance, the puppy walked in, and lifted its paw and  rested it against the side of the granite sarcophagus situated at the center of the crypt.  

     Was this puppy telling me something? Could this be a clue to solving the decades-old mystery of what  happened to Marc Letendre? If all seemed so strange to me, but I was intrigued and decided to push the  large stone lid off of the sarcophagus to see if there was anything inside that might provide an answer.  This was no easy task, and I toiled away for nearly an hour, and the puppy just sat there watching me do  so for the duration. 

     At last, I managed to slide the stone lid far enough across the top that I could finally see what lie within  sarcophagus. Inside was a full skeleton, surrounded by wooden fragments that I could only presume  were the remnants of an old coffin.  

     It was at this moment when the puppy unexpectedly leaped right into the sarcophagus, startling me to  the point where I lost my balance and fell on my back. Just as quickly, I then saw the puppy hop back out  of the sarcophagus, proudly holding a large white leg bone in its mouth.  

     "Hey!" I yelled out, "What is this all about!? Are you some kind of spirit? Are you trying to tell me  something about Marc Letendre from the great beyond?" 

     The puppy dropped the leg bone on the floor of the crypt, looked straight at me, and began to speak. 

     "I have no idea what you're talking about," it said, "I've been trying to get a bone out of this place for  weeks, and I just needed someone like you to help me out."  

     "So I followed you all the way here and opened this sarcophagus, all for nothing?" I asked. 

     "No," the puppy replied, "In exchange for me getting a big old bone to gnaw on, you now get to tell  people about the time you followed a talking puppy in a vampire costume into a graveyard on  Halloween. I think that's a fair trade." 

     With that, the puppy picked up the bone, and trotted off into the darkness of the cemetery, with its  little cape fluttering in the wind until I could see it no more.