Congratulations to this year's Grand Prize Hallowinner,  Mike Vogel

EEEEK! 2022 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 LOG CABIN

 

Character:

AN ASSISTANT

 

Object:

A TEDDY BEAR

Read Mike's winning shtory—plus shtories by first runner-up Alyssa Tyson and second runner-up John Albertson—below!

CECILIA'S BIRTHDAY

By Mike Vogel

     “You have crossed a line, Mary! How do you expect me to react?”

     “Crossed a line? For spending time with my daughter on her birthday?”

     “You know EXACTLY what I’m talking about! What is the matter with you?”

     The shouting match over the phone carried through the log cabin, even into Cecilia’s bedroom. Today was her tenth birthday. Her head rested on her pillow, turned to look out the window at Wolf Lake. The morning sun glimmered through the glass to the splintered floorboards.

     “Leave us alone!”

     Mary slammed the phone down. Cecilia lay still in her bed as Mary’s footsteps approached the door. It swung open.

     “Good morning baby! Happy birthday!”

     Cecilia continued to face the window.

     “Oh Cecilia, I’m sorry. Did you hear us on the phone? You know how much he riles me up. I want you to know that even though we’re going through a divorce, we both love you the same, okay?”

     Cecilia said nothing.

     “Hey, I have a surprise for you!” Mary revealed a purple teddy bear from behind the door frame. “Look! I got him stitched back up for you! Good as new!”

     Mary entered the bedroom and put the teddy bear next to Cecilia. She leaned down to kiss her daughter on the forehead.

     “Since it’s your birthday, I’m going to be your own personal assistant today. Whatever you want, I’m going to make sure you have the best day ever. Okay? In fact, guess what we’re doing!”

     Cecilia made no attempt to guess.

     “We’re going out on the lake! I have the key to unlock the rowboat. Get dressed and we’ll go!”

     Mary carried Cecilia on her shoulders down to the lake. What child is going to turn down a piggyback ride? The dirt path transformed into a gravel road as they approached the water. Mary let Cecilia off her shoulders and into an Adirondack chair. Her teddy’s head poked out of the top of the little princess backpack she had on her shoulders. Mary unlocked the boat.

     Out on the water were two fishermen smoking cigars, shirts too small for their stomachs. One leaned over to the other and pointed at Mary rowing the boat out onto the lake with Cecilia sitting at the bow. 

     “Hey, is that–”

     “Mhmm…”

     “And is she with–”

     “I hope not…”

     “Should we–”

     “Definitely…”

     Mary rowed into the center of the lake. She let the boat slow so that they could sit in the middle of all of the lily pads. 

     “You used to love frogs when you were little. Like really little. You’re still little.” Mary’s mouth ran dry. “And you’ll always be my little girl. Do you understand?” Mary’s eyes swelled up. “Cecilia? You know that right?”

     Red and blue lights flashed down the dirt road and pulled in front of the log cabin.

     “Oh no…your father. Baby, you know mommy only wants what is best for you right? I need you to hide.”

     Mary ducked Cecilia’s head down.

     “I know that I told you I’d be your assistant for the day, but if you want to keep playing with mommy today, you can’t make a sound.”

     The fishermen paddled their way to shore shouting to the police.

     “HEY! HEY! She’s over here!” 

     Mary watched as the police approached the shore. She was trapped. No matter where she paddled to, police would be waiting for her. 

     Mary pulled into the shore, her ex-husband standing beside the officers, tears streaming down his face.

     “Why, Mary? Why?”

     Mary’s eyebrows arched. “Why what?”

     “Officers, can you please see that she gets the psychiatric attention she needs?”

     The officers handcuffed Mary.

     “I just wanted to see my daughter on her birthday! Is that so much to ask?” 

     Mary’s ex-husband approached the boat and looked inside. His eyes widened. His complexion went white. His lips quivered. He hurried to a bush to vomit.

     The officers leaned over to peek inside the boat to find the rotting corpse of Cecilia with her princess backpack strapped over her shoulders. 

THE WOLVES WE'VE LOST

By Alyssa Tyson

     It wasn’t an easy job, but someone had to do it.

     Luckily for Melinda, she didn’t hate it. Sure, she was her brother’s assistant, which meant lots of grunt work and lots of cleanup and lots of social interaction she’d much rather have gone without. When Josh found new pack members, it was Melinda’s job to keep them safe and comfortable, to give them the “welcome to lycanthropy” talk, month after month, year after year.

     It would have been exhausting, if Melinda hadn’t had an assistant of her own: Mr. Grouchy.

     Mr. Grouchy didn’t do or say much. In fact, he didn’t do or say anything. That’s what Melinda liked best about the stuffed bear–he just listened. That, and he had been a gift from Dad, before the woods had taken him the way they sometimes took the wolves. She didn’t like to think much about it. None of them did.

     This morning there was just one fledgling wolf–a girl, younger than most, maybe 10 at the oldest. The sight of someone so small, wearing a ratty old dress three sizes too big, would have been too much for Josh to handle. This was why Melinda stayed back at the cabin, ready to greet new terrified faces every morning; she was better built for it than the rest were, and they knew it.

     The girl lay on the cot, delicate and doll-like. Her ponytail hadn’t loosened, not even after her first transformation. Sometimes, Melinda marveled at the way of things, at nature’s tendency to pick and choose which human features to unravel and which to leave alone. She then thought about how most 10 year old girls lacked the skills to tie their hair that neatly. Someone out there had taken the time to fix it, and today they would wake to a daughterless world, file a missing persons report, and spend years waiting on the return of a kid who’d ceased to exist.

     This was the other thing Melinda didn’t like to think about.

     The girl stirred. Melinda braced herself–fledgling emotions were unpredictable at best and dangerous at worst. The girl might have a panic attack, or sob, or lunge at her. Just a year ago one of them had broken her wrist, and while it had only taken a few days to heal–thanks, werewolf genes–Melinda would never forget the flash of terror she’d felt in that moment.

     The truth was, any of them could kill her. They had the Shifter advantage; Melinda, born without whatever magical gene enabled one to shift, did not.

     This was the other benefit of keeping Mr. Grouchy around, despite the fact that Melinda had been too old for him for years now: everyone else around her shared a kinship she could never hope to understand.

     From her spot on the mattress, the girl muttered a string of expletives she was far too young to know, nevermind say. At least it was a solid sign she was awake. After a moment, she pushed herself up on her elbows, opening her eyes and peering around the room.

     “It’s okay,” Melinda said, instinct kicking in. “You’re safe here.”

     “Where am I?” the girl asked, looking frantic. She swept the sheets off the cot. “Why is my head so…” her voice trailed off as she fixated on something along one of the walls. Melinda followed her gaze to find a photo of the pack.

     Before Melinda could stop her or suggest the girl take it easy, she rose from her makeshift bed and paced the floor in one swift motion. She wobbled a bit; the sudden increase in speed was one of many adjustments she’d have to make. But the girl paid no attention to her other surroundings, just the photograph.

     Melinda had taken that one last year, just before some of the older boys vanished, called into the wild just like her father, just like so many of the others. It was the last existing photo of a lot of them, she thought, the only remnant of family members who were now no more than memories.

     The girl traced her fingers over the frame. “Michael,” she said. Then, turning to Melinda: “Where’s Michael?”

     Melinda sighed. There were so many other conversations she’d prefer to have with the girl to start. The lycanthropy talk, for one. Usually she’d also like to suggest a shower, just to help the dirt-streaked newcomers feel more comfortable. But she could tell by the forlorn look on the girl’s face that she’d take no other explanation.

     She tried her best to explain it all at once. How sometimes the temptation of the forest just became too much, how sometimes the werewolves became more wolf than were, how it wasn’t always an overnight thing but usually was, how no one had ever found any cause for it.

     “That’s my brother,” the girl said. “We thought he was kidnapped. We thought he was dead. I have to find him.”

     Melinda shook her head. “The wolves we’ve lost have never been found. You can’t–”

     “I’m leaving,” the girl said, “and you can’t stop me.”

     In one quick motion, the girl changed. It was always hard to pinpoint the exact moment of transformation–it happened at a speed too quick for the non-lycan eye to process. One moment the girl had been a human girl, and the next, a gray wolf.

     The wolf could’ve attacked her, but didn’t. Instead, she just turned on her heel and barreled into the wild. Melinda watched her vanish into a sea of auburn trees, embarking on the journey she wished she’d had the courage to take herself, years ago.

     And then she decided, against all logic, to follow her.

     Melinda hugged Mr. Grouchy to her chest one last time. She couldn’t risk losing him along the way–his arm was barely intact as it was. Besides, the pack needed an assistant, and he’d had almost a decade to shadow her.

     Now she had a new job: bring the wolves home.

THE BEAR

By John Albertson

     He’s not coming back, is he?

*

     I move my head as much as I can, peering, craning my neck in an attempt to see the door. Can I see the lock? Does it look locked? I can’t see a thing. All I can see is that stupid teddy bear propped up on the chest of drawers.

     Like the audience,’ Paul had said. And then the snap of the handcuffs closing around my wrists, paired with the ones on my ankles. He’d matched that sound with a snap of his fingers.

     ‘Almost forgot,’ he’d said. ‘I’ll be right back!’

     How long ago was that now? A day? Two? I have no idea. The only sound is the thin whistle of the wind as it sneaks through the tiny gaps in the logs that make up this cabin. The rattle of the boiler and the faint banging of the pipes. My heart, pounding in my ears, and my breath rasping in my throat.

     And the other voice. The one I’m trying to ignore.

     He’s not coming back, is he?

     Shut up, Bear.

*

     My mouth is so dry. I rub my tongue around my teeth, trying to drum up a trickle of moisture to swallow. Nothing.

     Why has he done this?

     I don’t know, Bear.

     Could it be because of…

     Don’t say it, Bear.

     He doesn’t say anything else. Just watches me with those dead glass eyes. I’m so thirsty. My stomach is like a ball of iron. Iron with teeth, gnawing at me. Chewing me instead of food.

     I look up at my wrists. They’re scraped raw from the handcuffs. I can’t believe I didn’t notice that they weren’t the usual ones. The trick ones we use in our act. Used to use, I guess. These are real police cuffs. And they don’t budge one inch.

     A bead of blood oozes out of one of the grazes and traces a path down the inside of my arm.

     Don’t waste it.

     Shut up, Bear.

     But he’s right. I need it. I lift my head, and lick the blood from my arm.

*

     ‘Let’s practice a trick,’ he’d said.

     ‘Come on,’ I’d said. ‘We’ve just finished a tour. Can’t we just go to bed? Screw like rabbits? We can practice in the morning.

     ‘Let’s just do one trick,’ he’d said. ‘Impress me with your escape, and I’ll do anything you like.’

     ‘Fine,’ I’d said, leaning back as he cuffed my feet to the base of the bed.

     He’d taken the bear out of the bag and put it on the chest of drawers.

     ‘Like the audience,’ he’d said.

     I’m your audience.

     Shut up, Bear.

     He wanted me to watch. He wanted you to be watched.

     I can’t do this, Bear.

     You have to. It’s the only way you’re getting out of here. He even left the ropes. I can see them in the bag.

     I close my eyes. Will the first one be the worst? Or will the last?

     I lift my head, and press my teeth to my wrist. The blood wells up as I bite down. The pain is sharp, and the tang of blood is sharp against my tongue. I let out a gasp, but I can’t stop. If I stop, I won’t continue. And if I don’t continue, I’ll die. Starve.

     I bite down again.

*

     That was very good.

     Shut up, Bear.

     I’m so proud of you. I wasn’t sure you’d make it through that last part, but you did it!

     Shut up, Bear.

     But he’s right. The last part was the hardest. The bone. I had to jerk my wrist hard, snapping the radius. The ulna, I’d had to bite through.

     I’d managed to reach the bag. Slip my bleeding stump through a loop of rope. Tie a tourniquet with my teeth and my right hand. I was so glad then that I’d started with my left.

     The ragged, torn flesh still oozed, but I was pleased with how well I’d managed to staunch the blood. When I’d bitten through my artery, I’d cried out in shock at how forcefully the blood had sprayed out.

     I think it’s nearly ready.

     Shut up, Bear. I need more time.

     If you take too long, you won’t do it. Besides, you’re still losing blood. You need to do it now.

     Shut up, Bear.

     But he’s right. My right hand is purple now. Numb. I press my nose against the skin. I can’t feel it.

     It took me what felt like a whole day to recover from severing my left hand. To get my breath back. I can’t afford to take that long again. Not with another wrist and two ankles to get through. There isn’t a phone in here. Even if I get my arms free, there is nothing I can do. I need to free my feet as well.

     But first things first. My right wrist.

*

     You’re doing so well!

     Shut UP, Bear.

     My God it hurts. The jagged edges of bone grate against each other. I just can’t get the angle. My jaw aches. My teeth feel like they’ve been worn down to nubs. I just can’t. Get. This. Last.

     Aaaaahhhhh. I cry out as I lunge with my neck and bite down. The last fragment of bone splinters, and my ligated arm falls away from the dead hand still shackled to the bed.

     Good! So good!

     Shut u…

*

     I must have blacked out. It’s dark now. My feet are cold. Numb. I have to do this. I have to.

     I bend, stretching my body like I’m in a trick that requires contortion. In a way, I guess, I am.

     I breathe.

     I bite.

*

     With a thump, I roll off the bed.

     That’s it!

     Shut. Up. Bear.

     Panting, I push myself towards the door, my stumps leaving streaks of blood on the wooden floor.

     The door opens with a long creak.

     ‘Marie?’ Paul’s voice is quiet. ‘But… I was only gone for a minute…’

     I look back at Bear.

     He’s gone.