Congratulations to this year's Grand Prize Hallowinner, Silas Bischoff!
EEEK! 2023 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:
A CORN FIELD
Read Silas's winning shtory—plus shtories by first runner-up Beth Cole and second runner-up Rio L. Barney—below!
THE CASE OF EMILY MAYFAIR
By Silas Bischoff
October 22, 1882.
Harrowfell Abbey, Hampshire, Massachusetts.
My Lady Ellesmere,
I trust this missive finds you in good health, though I confess to harboring reservations as I pen these words. As a Brother of the Redeeming Light, I find your widely-known sinful inclinations a thorn in my side. But my Abbot insists I seek your counsel, and even I must admit, should the reports of you hold true, that your accomplishments in solving crimes involving the corrupted ministrations of the Infernal are quite remarkable. I trust, therefore, that as the circumstances of this case are revealed to you, you will help reason prevail and second my recommendation for a swift and thorough purification of the subject by burning at the stake.
The subject in question is one Emily Mayfair, age eleven, who was found amidst a cornfield near the town of Silent Pines on the morning of November 1, 1881. She sat blood-soaked near the body of her deceased mother. In her hand was a pair of scissors with which she had stabbed the victim repeatedly during the night. A laborer found her whilst investigating some strange damage to the crops, areas in which the maize had rotted overnight. Rightly, he suspected devil’s work. As soon as my brothers and I were fetched, we ascertained the mark of rot to resemble the five-pointed star of Baphomet, so large only the crows above saw its entirety. It was centered around the child, who simply stared, in silence, displaying no signs of remorse or even comprehension. The stench of sulfur hung over her.
The subject was confined to the abbey’s dungeons, pronounced dead, and the case kept secret. Over the past twelve months, all avenues of exorcism have been exhausted. Her possessor has proven indomitable, her soul all but lost. The only animation she has ever
shown is to reach for the head of any brother who dares approach her, as if to gouge out his eyes.
Obviously, this case is beyond hope, notwithstanding my Lord Abbot’s prayers to the contrary. Thus I beseech your assistance in this most delicate matter, for in your hands his virtue of mercy might be directed to more expedient ends, per purgatorium.
November 25, 1882.
12 Kensington Park Gardens, London.
My esteemed Mr Stevenson,
Do not burn the child. There are strong indications the possessed one was the mother. Unfortunately, urgent matters keep me from further elaborating. Allowing the girl to touch you should provide all the answers you need.
Yours most sincerely,
Baroness Ada Ellesmere.
December 17, 1882.
Harrowfell Abbey, Hampshire, Massachusetts.
My Lady Ellesmere,
I know not what to make of your ludicrous proposition. Since you do not even bother to substantiate it, I fear my Abbott’s faith in you was grossly misplaced. I have been an exorcist of the Lord many years, yet the most cursory training would have sufficed to understand that the demonically possessed cannot be slain with mundane weapons, let alone a pair of household shears wielded by a little girl.
I reply to you out of respect for your station, but I have little patience for fanciful claims by swaggering dilettantes. I am a soldier of God and my soul shant suffer the taint of a demon’s touch. The purging ritual will precede any outrageous retort you may choose to toss across the Atlantic. Deus, lux redemptrix tua daemonem deleat.
WESTERN UNION TELEGRAPH COMPANY
Received at: Silent Pines, December 20, 1882
To: Ignatius Stevenson, Harrowfell Abbey
Stop ritual. Intercepted letter in Boston Harbour. Girl has sight. Enquire at St Mildred’s convent why take in deaf and dumb children. Research Thomas Wegener and Shearsport church sackings of 1855. Will send list of stolen items. Then you know. Atone.
March 1, 1885.
Harrowfell Abbey, Hampshire, Massachusetts.
My most reverend Lady Ellesmere,
May the Lord’s blessings be upon you as I send these words from my deathbed. In my mortification, I failed to inform you of the outcome of the woebegone matter of Emily Mayfair. But as the Lord beckons, thus He demands confession, and despite your estrangement from the Faith, I have no doubt that he demands to hear it through you.
Even before receiving your list, I discovered that among the relics plundered by Protestant brigands in Shearsport was the anointed sword of Saint Arthur. I also learnt what you impressively concluded: the rumor that the heretic industrialist Wegener defiantly melted the sword down shortly before establishing his Shearsport scissors manufactory. As you intended, the Sighted Sisters of St Mildred taught me how those with the gift of clairvoyance often forfeit their worldly faculties of perception and speech in infancy due to overwhelming preternatural stimuli.
I now understand that Emily’s “attacks” were innocent attempts at communication. I have since received her vision myself. Through her eyes, I beheld her former self caress the blades of those scissors in the kitchen one night, her God-given third eye piercing the veil of time to
witness Saint Arthur’s last battle at the Gates of Infernum. I saw her Sight expose the demon that had taken root in her mother’s soul. I saw Emily conceal the scissors under her nightgown, being dragged onto that cornfield, and use the sacred steel to vanquish an agent of Lucifer.
She lives with the Sisters. Abbess Isabella tells me she has a fondness for old things and the stories they tell. She yearns to travel to Europe, where the walls are old and the tapestries of fate are thick. She might even meet the daring baroness whom Destiny put on a transatlantic sailing trip to save her.
The Blessed Emily Mayfair, a mere child, performed an act of heroic sacrifice, for which I thanked her with torture and contempt. As your grace has led to her salvation, so I pray it will lead to mine. This is my confession. I beg, my Lady, save me from damnation.
Yours in magna gratia et cordis poenitentia,
WHAT WE'VE FOUND
By Beth Cole
Who the hell was in my cornfield?
Two strange women paced impatiently along the field’s edge. I scrambled down rickety outdoors stairs and through the yard. “Excuse me, ladies?” My breath fogged in the crisp air. “Can I help you with something?” You’re way too old to be trick or treaters, I thought to myself.
“Oh, hello!” the younger lady said, watchful eyes fixed on her elderly counterpart. “So sorry to bother you this afternoon.” The woman’s pale face was puffy with red-rimmed eyes, graying hair disheveled by the wind. “I’m Gracie Foster. I brought my mother to see your home. She grew up here, you see.”
The elderly woman was wildly dressed, clad in a leopard skin coat and layers of colorful scarves, a red turban slightly askew on her head. She turned toward me with displeasure as her gaze searched the perimeter. Her face, soft and pleated with wrinkles, had the same eyes as her companion. “Who are you?” she demanded.
“Oh Mother! You’re home! Do you recognize anything?” Gracie glanced my direction. “Meet Edna.”
“Quite the outfit Edna’s wearing,” I noted. “Halloween costume?”
“Actually, Mother is -- well, was – a psychic,” Gracie said proudly. “Made quite the name for herself in her time. Edna Goodnow—have you heard of her?”
“Can’t say that I have,” I admitted as we followed Edna into the field of dried golden cornstalks. The afternoon sun flooded the bright blue skies with golden light that warmed our bones.
“She has her good days, and her bad days. Mother is actually very fit. Physically. Her mind though….” Gracie’s voice trailed into wistful silence. “All she’s talked about lately is ‘going home’. Sometimes I’ll drive her around my neighborhood and tell her she IS home. That mostly appeases her,” Gracie smiled. “But today we took a bit of a road trip and found the old farm. She’s not been here in, what, fifty years? I wanted her to see it….”
One last time lingered in the air unspoken. “Not much of a farm anymore,” I sighed. “My husband can’t bear to let go of the cornfield though.” My pinched face and worn jeans told the story of hard times.
Edna’s pace quickened, surprisingly sure-footed upon the uneven dirt. A murder of crows took flight in our wake. Whiffs of sweet hay and crumbling earth scented the air. “Mother actually discovered she was a psychic right here,” Gracie laughed. “Grandfather lost his wedding ring—oh, he was beside himself. Mother said she got up from the dinner table, ran into the field, and found it lying under cornstalks! She saw the ring in her mind, plain as day.” Edna slowed down as a confused look crossed her face. “This way, Mother,” Gracie led her by the arm as we turned around.
My mind raced – what could I show Edna that hadn’t changed? “Did Edna ever mention a barn?” I asked.
“Maybe?” Gracie pondered.
“It’s close by so it’s worth a try,” I said.
“Mother, this young lady---”
“Sierra,” I shared.
Gracie smiled. “Sierra is taking us to the barn. Do you remember the barn?”
Edna remained stoic until a faded red barn flanked by fire red and flaming yellow maples came into our vision. A flicker of recognition animated her face. “I know this place,” she muttered.
“The barn was probably pretty new when Edna lived here,” I swung open the scarred door tethered with filmy cobwebs. “ We walked slowly inside as dust motes danced in the sunlight, stale air brightened by the breeze.
Edna suddenly looked hopeless. “Everything is.…gone.”
“We cleared it out a few years ago,” I whispered to Gracie.
“Mother, they’re cleaning it up! Everything will be put back in its place soon,” Gracie said with unnatural cheer. Edna nodded, satisfied with her answer. She swayed slightly on groaning floorboards as long lost memories found her.
A memory found me as well. “Hang on a second.” I raced inside the barn and located a battered box I’d found while cleaning. Something told me not to toss it. “Do these things mean anything to you?”
Edna peeked into the box as recognition sparked in her eyes. “Why, this is what I used to set up my first booth! To tell fortunes!” Edna carefully handled faded paper, ancient scissors and pencils, dried masking tape, and a faded scarf. “Oh, what fun that was!”
A warm body clutched my leg. Emery found us. “Mommy, when is the Halloween party?” she whined, her cherubic face tilted upward. “I wanna go.”
“We have guests, sweetheart,” Emery darted behind me. I slowly walked up to my new friends to make introductions.
“This lady is dressed funny,” Emery observed. “Is that her costume?”
Edna said in mock indignation, “This, my dear, is my uniform!” as she gave a shuffling twirl.
“Uniform?” Emery inched forward, intrigued.
“Why yes! I have to wear a uniform to do my job!” Edna laughed. “I’m a psychic!”
“What’s that?” Emery crept closer.
“I tell people their future. Find lost things,” Edna lifted her head dramatically. “Do you want to know your future? All you have to do---” Edna reached out gnarled fingers---“is touch my hand.”
Emery hesitated before I nodded my approval. Emery gently reached a sticky finger to Edna’s powdery hand.
Edna suddenly jumped. “Oh, my dear! Well I can tell you -- you are magic!”
Emery’s eyes widened. “Really?”
“No doubt about it!” Edna said with wise authority. “And you are going to lead a magical life!” Edna leaned over as Emery stood before her, bewitched by her elder’s prophecy. “There will be parties and parades. Cakes and sparklers. Best friends and roller skates. Rainbows and dances. Fireflies and slumber parties. Puppies and ice cream. Tutus and music.” Emery’s face shone with delight as she took Edna’s hands. Gracie wiped away tears that streamed down her face.
“Mommy!” Emery skipped over to me. “I’m magic!’
I smiled, as we all found our magic that day.
THE LATEST IN FALL FASHION
By Rio L. Barney
He felt the wind brushing against him. A crow called in the distance. The corn rustling in the field, his field, gave him a sense of excitement. A shiver trickled down his back. It was almost time. He reached out to the human.
“Do you have one yet?” his tone was dark and deep, like forbidden sin.
“Y-yes.” The reply was soft and hesitant.
“Good. Bring one to me,” he felt one of those troublesome birds approaching. He swung around and opened his mouth. The bird couldn’t stop in time. It cawed in fear as he closed his mouth around it. The cawing abruptly stopped as he crunched down, leaching its life force into his own.
“Y-yes, I will bring one to you,” the human replied.
He didn’t really like this human. He didn’t really like any humans. But this one could hear him. Another shiver ran down his back. Soon. Very soon. A smile spread across his face.
She sighed as her body saturated with fear. She wished she had never stumbled into that corn field. It had been a stupid dare, a dare that had forever changed her life.
“Come on, Connie! I dare you to touch the haunted scarecrow!” her friend had shouted at her. They were barely able to drive. It was Halloween night. Looking for a good scare, they drove out to the farm, where legend had it, that the scarecrow was haunted or cursed, depending on which urban legend you were told. She sort of believed in that kind of thing. Her grandma had taught her all about the supernatural. She used to carry on full conversations with her grandma without either of them ever saying a word. She thought this was normal until she went to school and tried to speak with the other kids that way. It had taken years of therapy and full attendance in the school of hard knocks before Connie realized that she was what the world called, ‘psychic’. Her grandmother had called it a gift, but now, well, now it just felt like a curse.
Her sixteen year old self slowly approached the scarecrow. It loomed overhead, taller than any person. She slowly reached out and brushed her fingers against the burlap covering the scarecrow’s body. She released the breath she hadn’t been aware that she was holding. Her friend shrieked with delight and ran back through the corn to their car, her flashlight bobbed in the dark. She turned to go when she heard a THUMP behind her. Cold fear gripped her body as she slowly turned around. There, no more than a few inches away from her, stood the scarecrow. No longer on his post, the thing towered over her. Its face was a burlap sack that someone had stitched x’s on for eyes. The sack had torn over the years where the mouth should be. Someone had tried to stitch that too. The scarecrow reached out a gloved hand and grabbed a hold of her dark, red hair.
“Such beautiful silk! The color of fire!” a voice boomed inside her head.
She tried to run, but the scarecrow had somehow entangled her legs with vines.
“Uh huh, little human. No running. I shall have your silk.”
“My, my silk?” she asked, confused.
The scarecrow leaned back and cocked his head to the side. “Can you hear me?”
“Yes,” she said shakily. “Yes. Please! Let me go!”
Those cold stitches stared back at her. He tightened the grip around her hair, making her cry out from the pain. It felt like he was pulling her hair out by the roots.
“Connie?” her friend called. “Connie let’s go! This place is creepy.”
“Addy! Help me!” Connie screamed at her friend.
Addy stopped, her jaw dropped at the sight before her.
The scarecrow pointed at her and vines slithered towards Addy, wrapping her legs and trapping her in place.
Connie flinched as the scarecrow said something to her. “She can’t hear me! You're the only one that can hear me, because you're different!”
“What is going on? Did that thing just talk to you?!” Addy demanded.
Connie looked at the scarecrow like she was listening. Fear flooded her eyes, “No! Please! Let us go!”
Something flashed in the moonlight. The scarecrow held a deadly looking pair of scissors above Connie. She started to whimper. The scarecrow looked between her and her friend. It flicked its finger and the vines dragged Addy closer. Addy shouted. She clawed at the ground, but before she could do anything, the scarecrow had taken his place over her. A flash of silver. The sound of metal on metal. A sickening slurping sound and Addy’s head was held high by the scarecrow. Connie screamed.
“Shush now, little human. I want your silk, but this one will have to do,” he indicated to Addy’s head. “It is pale like the corn silk that I wear now.” He leaned over and quickly cut Addy’s locks. He produced a needle and thread from somewhere and proceeded to sew his new ‘silk’ to his own burlap head. He flicked the hair back and forth. “A deal, human: this night, every year, bring me new silk to harvest and I shall spare your life. Refuse me and I shall take your head.”
Connie nodded slowly. She tried to swallow, but her mouth was dry. He released her and she ran away as fast as she could.
Every year for ten years, he had collected on his deal. She had delivered someone to him for his ‘silk’. At first, she tried to find ‘bad’ people, but after a while, she had given up on that. She sighed as the pretty red head walking along next to her in the darkness shivered.
“Are you sure this is where my cat ran to?” the woman asked her.
Connie nodded. A rustle of corn, a flash of silver and the familiar slurping sound. The scarecrow rumbled his approval.
“Until next year, little human.”