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Flagpole‘s 2022 Scary Story Contest Honorable Mentions

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Editor’s Note: We appreciate all of this year’s story submissions. It’s always a difficult choice to make, but
thank you all for your time and effort. In addition to the honorable mentions listed here, contest winners
can be found online here.

Nothing of Note
By Wylly Jordan

The devil came to town at 7:15. He was just passing through.

As he made his way down a surprisingly empty Broad Street (and at St. Mary’s a newborn infant cries once and lies still), he wondered where everyone was that early in the evening. He had been a little restless lately (and on North Chase Street, Charles knows he shouldn’t, he knows, but he is here and her mother is not), less direction, with so much to celebrate (and the Gangster Disciples remaining after the crackdown avoid their usual haunts, in temporary rooms at America’s Best Value Inn, bagging up particularly lethal doses of fentanyl).  

The problem was it had become banal (and on North Pope Street, Brian cleans the gun just the way his father taught him, bought at Clyde Armory just that afternoon, and he’d been thinking about his father a lot lately). Mass shootings on the front page for one day in newspapers no one read (and on South Finley Street, The Tree That Owns Itself bursts into flames, quickly spreading towards the adjacent houses), murders behind the entertainment section (and on North Finley Street, Maria had found a very helpful YouTube video on grinding glass, but something whispers to her that it isn’t particularly effective, there are better ways, although she hates the thought of feeding that son of a bitch another meal, and she’s got all this glass), next to the obituaries. Appropriate, he supposed.

Children on milk cartons an anachronism, too many and not enough milk (and on North Newton Street, Jack drops his bath toy, and it rolls under the toilet, and on the tank above is the drain cleaner, and the cap’s off). He should be delighted (and on Pulaski Street a sudden stroke paralyzes Byron, and a tear rolls down his face, and his wife is out of town). Handsy priests were still his favorite (and on North Lumpkin Street at the Athens First United Methodist Church the altar cracks and gives off an odor like rotted meat, and the rats begin to breed rapidly), but even they weren’t news anymore (and a young man walks underneath the Arch onto campus, unaware of the superstition or that not receiving a degree was no longer a worry because the rape kit was already being prepared at Piedmont Athens Regional), the Church more penitent now, comparably, at least (and Sylvia, who her grandmother called “sensitive,” can hear whispers on the steps at Baldwin Hall, coming from underneath, somehow, and she suddenly wants to be off campus as quickly as possible, and passing Old College she looks over and then away because no, there was no blood, nope, and she avoids the Arch completely), and although they still shipped all of his favorites away to new parishes (and at the corner of North Jackson and East Clayton Streets, Eli looks up from his phone just as he connects hard with some homeless whatever crossing the street, and he looks around quick and like a miracle the streets are empty, and he is on the gas and gone), it was just so much more fun when they worked together.

The world was turning his way, it seemed, or at least more so (and the pigeons were first, then the chickens, the goats, the pig last—he left the head on that one; he was starting to get bored—but he took his time with all of them, then dumped them in garbage bags off Cedar Shoals Drive, and then it was in the news, so cool, and walking up North Thomas Street he breathes in the darkness, and there was something going on at The Classic Center), no longer afraid of his works, or those of his disciples, almost enjoying the spectacle as much as he did; “murder TV” was actually a thing now. In a world that worshiped celebrity, the quickest way there was to follow him (and in Wheeler Correctional Facility in Alamo, GA, Clinton Bankston Jr. wakes up, smiles and then rolls over and sleeps soundly). It was almost heartwarming.

Almost.

He missed the fear.  

He made the partial turn on Oconee Street, moving faster now.  

High up on black wings, he looked down upon his works. Nothing of interest here. Nothing of note.  

The devil left town at 7:33. He was just passing through.


The Morgue
By Eddie Whitlock

The place is just off Beaverdam Road. You won’t notice it if you aren’t looking for it. It’s a plain little building. There’s a sign on the fence reading Clarke County Coroner’s Office and Morgue

The interesting thing isn’t the building or the sign: It’s the fence. The barbed wire up on top? It slants inward, not outward. That barbed wire isn’t there to keep people out. It’s to keep something in. 

The fence was added in 1981. You want to know why? I’ll need you to buy me a beer first. 

Thanks.

Back in 1980, I was a sophomore working a part-time job at the morgue. All I had to do was answer the phone and relay information. There was no involvement with the customers. I worked the shift overnight on weekends. That’s how I had an encounter with Charlie Grimsby.

Grimsby was a vet, attending UGA on the GI Bill. He played for Wally Butts in 1947. During the game against Tech that year, Grimsby got hurt. If they had rushed him to the hospital, it wouldn’t have been so bad, but the medics wanted to stick around for the end of the game. 

We lost.

The delayed treatment cost Grimsby. His left leg was wonky the rest of his life. He couldn’t play anymore, but he became one of those fans who buys season tickets and never misses a game. 

Well. He didn’t miss a game till 1980.

It was the weekend of the Tech game. He was having lunch at Russo’s Gyro downtown when he keeled over. The place was packed with folks in town to celebrate some “good, old-fashioned hate.” 

Medics had to carry him out weekend-at-Bernie’s style because of the crowd. In his UGA track suit, he looked like another drunk fan and not a corpse. He went straight into the cooler at the morgue. 

I get to work that night, and cops are there. Seems some of the Tech fans have been making prank calls all over town—even to the morgue. The guy I was relieving had taken the call. Some nerd thought it was funny to say that the Georgia Defense had been found dead in front of the Varsity. 

That’s why the noise at around three in the morning didn’t scare me. I was studying for an algebra class that was giving me trouble.

A few minutes later, I heard a different noise. There were two different sounds: A hard footstep followed by a dragging sound. Over and over and over.

I knew that if I woke up the coroner in the middle of the night over a prank, he’d be mad. If I called the cops about a prank, he’d probably fire me.

The noise kept on until I decided I needed to see what’s going on. I go down the hall to the cooler, but the door’s locked. I go back to the office and look around till I find the key. When I come back, the cooler door is open and so is the emergency exit at the end of the hall. 

Stupid pranksters. I shut the doors and went back to studying.

My relief came at eight the next morning. I didn’t bother to tell him about what had happened. It was a silly prank.

I went home and napped, and then headed to pick up Donna. We usually watched games from the trestle, but she’d gotten tickets from her boss at work. They were good seats, too, near the fifty-yard line! 

We were right behind an old man who didn’t move the entire game. An old man who—

I don’t have to finish that for you. Georgia won the game. It was Tech, after all. The fans emptied the stands and headed off to celebrate, leaving hot dog wrappers, Coke cups and Charlie Grimsby behind. 

The cops figured some pranksters had taken his body from the cooler and put him there. Of course, no one was ever arrested. I got fired from the morgue.

After college, I stayed here in Athens because—Well. The same reason you’ve stayed here, probably.

They buried Charlie Grimsby in a private cemetery off Lumpkin Street. He’s got a fancy tombstone with a bulldog on it and the quote from Larry Munson that says, “You can’t keep a good dawg down.”

In Charlie’s case, I hope they can.


Student Housing
By Lucy K.R.

There is money to be made in Athens, if you can stand the price of investment—the weight of bearing witness to the suffering that lines your pocket. It grows easier by the day to avoid that cost—to never look upon those you have bled.

There is money to be made in Athens, for those who can stomach it.

THE NEW FACE OF STUDENT HOUSING SECURITY!

The banner tugs in the wind, and she hums, arms crossed, tapping her bicep with one finger in thought. She thinks back on the $25-per-gromit upcharge she’d declined when ordering the banner, which now flips and flutters in the wind above her office, obscuring the bulldog head in the corner.

No matter. No matter. They’ve arrived.

Their handshakes are too tight, and their smiles are too sharp, and they say “When are they going to fix up that old airport? Not even a Starbucks!” and her heart hammers in her ears.

“So do we finally get to see this new security system?” asks the man in the black coat with the leather shoulder patches.

She didn’t learn their names when she took their money. They’re just little kittens in cute clothes. And oh, these kittens love security and systems. They love them, so long as it’s understood that it really means their security. Their systems.

“It’s ready, kitten,” she says, “but you’ll want it to be a surprise, so let’s go one at a time!”

His brows scrunch in confusion, but the bully boy in the white hat claps his shoulder with a guffaw and steps forward. She opens the door for him.

“Just behind the curtain,” she instructs. He winks back and pushes through.

There are so many windows in the Chase Street Warehouse buildings. The curtains have been a necessity, guarding against prying eyes, though nothing has been a better deterrent to the artists of the area than the intensive UGA coloration. Aposematism, a zoologist might call it. Warning colors.

“So how’d a little lady like you get into security?” the second man asks behind his sunglasses, the sun gleaming off his slicked hair.

“You can go on through,” she says to him in reply. “It’s a quick process, and the reception for the three of you is set up just inside.”

He hums and wanders past the door, sparing her barely a glance.

The last kitten with his leather shoulders seems skittish. She ramps up her smile as the second investor vanishes past the red and black curtain.

“Do you have plans in town tonight?” she asks.

“We made dinner reservations,” he answers, his eyes fixed on the curtain. They’re very pale blue.

“Would you like an insight into my design?” she asks, to draw his attention back. “I based it on something I realized about people like you.”

“Like me?” his gaze flicks between the curtain and her face.

“Mmhmm,” Her heart pounds. “People who use the word ‘student’ when they really mean profitable. Expensive. Exclusionary.”

His eyes widen. Then they widen further as, from inside, there’s a choked-off shriek.

“Paul!” he screams, shoving past her, past the glass door, past the curtain.

She follows slowly, and smiles at the sight. The spread wings, the lion paws, the poor second kitten vanishing into the parted jaws of a bulldog’s head.

Her last kitten screams, and her creature turns to him.

“You Who Seek Student Housing, What Have You Learned Today?” the bulldog-sphinx rasps, bloody foam dripping from her jowls as she steps forward.

Her last kitten screams and tries to flee rather than answering. A mistake.

Then it is very, very quiet.

The Sphinx turns its dark, glittering eyes on her—wrinkled face pale white and fuzzy, just like its lion’s body and its still-downy wings.

“What have you learned today?” it repeats, low and growling.

“I’ve learned that this is going to work.” she says, extending a hand to her creature and stroking over its soft wrinkles. “This is going to work.”

There is money to be made in Athens, if you can stand the price of investment—the weight of bearing witness to the suffering that lines your pocket. It grows easier by the day to avoid that cost—to never look upon those you have bled.

There is money to be made in Athens, for those who can stomach it.

She picks up her kitten’s dropped phone and politely cancels his dinner reservations.


Die Anyway
By Jerry Rogers

Red maples in the Botanical Garden
created an autumnal scene
as Russ Hixson jogged the White Trail,
his annual ritual on Halloween.

He barely noticed fall’s colorful pathway, 
leaves foreboding demise of the season.
His new body commanded most of his focus,
and, in his mind, for good reason.

He had, thanks to his own will power,
a thinner waist—forty pounds lost,
a wife left behind—their house now his—
both great results with little cost.

I did my best to get the fat bitch
to try to lose weight with me,
but she just shook her head and said,
“Diet is die spelled with a t.”

Every time I mentioned slimming down 
Marie came out with her cliché,
the closest thing to an excuse she gave:
“Eat right, exercise hard, die anyway.”

Russ grimaced, recalling this reaction
from his obese, lazy ex-wife,
then chuckled at his rejoinder to it,
“Let’s see who has a longer life.”

But dieting wasn’t something he’d fret tonight
when the kids spread their candy on a sheet;
he’d dive right into the daddy pile
and eat every favorite treat. 

Russ rubbed his shrunken stomach,
still empty despite his recent repast, 
the mushrooms devoured two hours ago,
breaking what had been a day-long fast.

Marie had told him where to find them
and how to tell the good from the bad.
He’d never eaten them by themselves before,
but after the first bite, he wished he had.

The fat bitch didn’t watch her diet
the way a wife of mine should,
but if anyone knew about mushrooms,
a mycologist surely would.

Then as the fading sun set autumn all aglow, 
and twilight was shrouded in her colorful veil,
Russ’ throat tightened, and when he tried to spit,
he spattered himself and the golden trail.

Sharp pains coursed through his chest, his stomach,
all the way down to his feet.
Was it my fault? No—damn that Marie!
She told me the wrong ones to eat.

“Push on! Push on!” his mind screamed 
as he bent over with heaving,
then inching ahead as darkness fell
he felt his will power leaving.

“Push on! Push on!’” That’s your only chance,
though your journey now is far.
Hurry! there’s no way to call for help, Fool;
you left your phone in the car.”

“Push on! Push on!” Russ mumbled to himself
until his heart refused to beat,
and later, like the candy his kids had poured out,
he lay upon a sheet.


The Smart Septic Tank
By John Gaither

Andrew was out by the garden with some kind of machine when I went to see him that day. Andrew’s garden always looked good. On the ground next to him was a dead squirrel that his cat had killed. It had only eaten the head.  

“Yeah, that squirrel used to sit up in the tree and fuss at the cat,” He chuckled. “He didn’t make much noise after his head was chewed off.”

Andrew really liked the idea of using artificial intelligence and machines. He had all these smart devices like a smart thermostat, smart refrigerator, smart toilet, whatever. I thought it was kind of obsessive.

“Let me show you my portable processor,” he said. 

He was holding a big nozzle as long as my arm, with a tube that ran to a small tank. The end of the nozzle was a metal mouth with choppers and grinders, and hooks and spikes to grab hold of something and pull it inside. They were all moving up and down and back and forth—biting and gnashing, turning and grinding.  

He held it down to the headless corpse. It looked like a human being, lying on its back with its arms outstretched and little hands open in silent supplication. The teeth grabbed it and started chewing and grinding it up bit by bit. I could see the squirrel slurry shoot through the tube into the tank.

“Why do you need something like this?” I said. “It seems like a lot of trouble for nothing. That’s dinner for the cat.”

“I need nutrients for the garden,” he said. “We’re growing the whole AI system here. That’s how things evolve; one step at a time.

“If I forget to buy Halloween Oreos in September, the smart pantry will remind me. Or if I forget to flush the toilet, the smart septic tank will do it and pump it out to the garden. The AI can take the initiative and do what needs to be done.”

I said there was a difference between intelligence and programmed behavior, but I don’t think he heard me. His vision had caught hold of him.

“Machines are, like, the children of humanity,” he said. “We need to nurture them, and help them grow into a new level of consciousness.

“Technology is the next step in evolution after biology. People will colonize the Moon, and then nanotechnology will evolve there without human help. One day, intelligent machines made out of metal and silicon will look up from the surface of the Moon, and wonder if they evolved from organic life.”

He had some big ideas all right.

“I need more biomass with nitrogen to keep the garden green. Frank keeps sending me these messages.”  

“Who’s Frank?”

“That’s the name of my septic tank.” He looked at his phone. “I have to start picking up dead animals off the road. There’s a big built-in processor in the garage that can handle a dead deer.”

“You mean you’re going to drag a dead deer up here and put it in that thing?”

“I’ve got to,” he said. “This squirrel won’t keep it happy for long.”  

We walked over to the garage. There was a big slot in the wall near the floor, and in front of it a tray with rollers on it. You could put something like a deer on it and just slide it in.  

Soft music started to play when we stepped inside. The slot opened up, and I could see the big choppers and grinders turning inside, ready for action.

“Yeah, it knows we’re here. It plays that music every time it gets fed.”

He stepped closer and poured the liquid squirrel into the slot.

“Here you go, little Franky-wanky.” The music picked up in tempo, sounding happy and upbeat. Andrew was nurturing his child.

He had turned his head to talk to me, so he didn’t see the claws that reached out and grabbed his arm. It started to pull him inside. I grabbed his legs, and we had a tug of war with Andrew in the middle, but it was too strong. It had both arms now and was slowly pulling him in, grinding him up inch by inch.

He did a lot of hollering and screaming, but he didn’t make much noise after his head was chewed off.

I stepped back out of the garage. The music was strong and triumphant. Frank’s garden was very green.


The Clayton Screamscape Project
By Tim Kelly

It had been assumed that the nuisances surrounding the Clayton Streetscape Project would be limited to road closures, lost parking spaces and felled trees. That did not prove to be the case. It was the vampires. Most definitely, the vampires. 

———— 

The deteriorating infrastructure underneath the downtown streets had long been on the mayor and commission’s to-do list. Pipes laid in 1891 were still in use in some spots. Work began in earnest in the fall, but the real work was to happen after Christmas. 

Luke was the first to break through into the catacomb not marked on any map. He was part of a hard-working crew tasked with renewing one of the most traveled thoroughfares in town. “Thank Christ it’s January. Too hot to be doing this shit in Georgia in the summer,” thought Luke, knowing full well, in all likelihood, he’d still be here doing this shit in the summer. 

As the jackhammer broke through granite, a large sheet of rock fell into darkness from under Luke’s left foot. He leapt back onto steadier ground, wiping sweat away as a puff of debris and stale air plumed upward from the hole. “Of course this happens at the last goddamn minute.” He had been eyeing his watch for an hour now, waiting until 5 p.m. and the release of a cold beer at Roadhouse. 

As the clock flipped over to 5:01, Luke bent down, peering into a chamber that had not seen light nor heard voice in centuries. Nothing. Blackness and silence. Luke tugged off his gloves. Despite sweat drenched clothes, a deep cold swept through his body. Taking a breath and pulling out his phone, Luke swiped the light on and bent down again. 

Holding on to the edge with the strength of someone who had been using a jackhammer for eight hours, Luke gripped too hard and sliced his hand on the newly jagged rock. Blood spurted from the wound in his palm, dripping into the black. 

In shock and startled from the pain, he fumbled and dropped his phone. “FUCK!” Screaming to no one in particular and equally upset about his new wound and his lost gadget, Luke watched helplessly as his iPhone X fell into the pit. 

The sun had slunk well below the buildings on Pulaski Street. He sat on the edge of the newly formed hole in the earth, blood now gushing from his hand in a steady stream. Deep down below, Luke could see the light of the cracked screen of his phone, somehow still functioning. “Dammit, there’s another $100 to that guy at Jittery Joes,” he thought, with the beam shining upward. “That’s tomorrow guy’s problem though, got to get this cut cleaned up and get to the bar before Tim shows up. Tim’s the worst.”

It was then that he heard noises, noises from the deep. The first noises made from that vault since before there was an Athens in Georgia. Sniffing. Definitely sniffing. Luke could hear it plain as day, the room was a giant echo chamber. Was it an animal? Nothing could live down here, in the dark. Now…whining, no, screeching. High pitched. Almost like, words? Then there were two screeches. Yes, definitely two. Not screeches, voices. A shadow brushed across the edge of the spotlight of his cracked iPhone. Then another. And now a different sound….lapping, slurping, sucking. Luke scrambled to his toolbox at street level and grabbed a Maglite. Returning to the hole, he switched the light on and turned the beam into the chamber. 

Luke lost his breath and likely his mind, watching as the writhing masses on the floor fought each other for just one drop of blood, his blood, newly splattered on the tiles and wall. Hideous creatures scrambled upward—beings that, left undisturbed, might spend eternities at the roots of mountains or underneath neglected downtown streets. 

———— 

But do not weep, friend. Luke is still with us, somewhere, as are many of the first we encountered that evening. The rest are used for, well, they are useful. As for Athens, though the Georgia Theatre and other downtown haunts never opened again, the nightlife is as electric, wild and unpredictable as ever. And here on Clayton Street, we have no need of parking or Wi-fi, but the trees have grown tall and look so beautiful just before sunrise.


Letter from Grandma
By Rhys Lindquist

My dear granddaughter,

Congratulations on your cover story in Flagpole! Ever since you were little, I knew you would be a famous artist someday. I’ve seen the wonderful poster for your upcoming show around town. Unfortunately I cannot attend.

You know I’ve been trying to see more local art, to “get with the times.” I’ve been paying attention to the flyers in Earth Fare to see what I might like to go to. I was admiring your poster, and underneath it something else caught my eye. It was a sheet of yellow paper with “SEE! JOROMAN. SATURDAY 9 PM.” written on it. Attached were tear-off strips with an address. I did not know what “Joroman” referred to, other than those big nasty spiders that have been such a presence the past few years, but I assumed it was a new band or another art show. I tore off a strip.

When I arrived at the address, it was simply a house in a residential neighborhood. The homes around it were kept up well, but the address from the flyer looked a bit run-down. You know I’m not talking about you, darling, but artist types can be a little messy, so it didn’t bother me too much. You also know how I’m always early, so it didn’t bother me either that no one was there. I parked and knocked on the door, which was unlocked—why wouldn’t it be, if the show was open to the public?

I entered the house, and several arrows painted on the walls showed me where to go. A path was made by putting up blankets over any doors and rooms other than the one the arrows pointed to. This made perfect sense to me, because there’s always more than one person living in these big old houses, so of course the artist would be courteous enough to soundproof the place during an event like this. I followed the arrows to the door, which opened onto a descending staircase. It was quite dim, but I could tell more painted arrows pointed down the stairs.

It was very chilly as I went down, but I imagined it would warm up when the other attendees arrived. My eyes adjusted (some real “mood lighting,” just a sconce here and there), and I saw that I was in a basement. I could not see anything I would call “art.” I’m keeping an open mind, though—your sculptures taught me that anything can be art nowadays!

Against the farthest wall of the room was a large table with something under a sheet. I thought this could be an unfinished piece, which was exciting, and forgive me for being naughty, but I wanted to sneak a peek before anyone else arrived, so I lifted the sheet.

Lying on the table was something in the shape of a man—so realistic, I could feel body heat coming off of it! It was dressed in a yellow-and-black-striped bodystocking (very skin tight) and had such a mess of eyes and mandibles, I couldn’t figure out where its face began and ended! Its head was haloed in eight spindly, striped legs, and it was all shiny like a real spider. I thought it was impressive, even if it wasn’t personally my thing.

Suddenly I heard a voice speaking out of nowhere, and I thought, oh no! They’ve caught me snooping! But it was crackly, like an old PA system, I couldn’t quite make out what it said. I looked for the source and saw that it was coming from an odd emblem mounted on the wall. It was shaped like a spider, and from it a man was saying something like, “You have seen Joroman, you have seen us…” and then he said a name I didn’t catch. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it out, dear, maybe you could have collaborated with them.

Well, now I’m coming up on why I won’t be able to make your show. It was so stuffy down there, I must have fainted. The next thing I knew, I woke up in bed with a terrible headache that I haven’t been able to shake. Don’t worry about me, I’ve had all my shots so I’m sure I’ll be just fine. But please send me pictures from your show, and maybe you could use your connections in the art world to find out who the artist behind that icky-looking (sorry!) thing was.

Lots of love,

Grandmama


Monster Therapy
By Elizabeth Grace Alder

Bam! Bam! Bam! 

The loud knocking echoed and reverberated throughout the enormous house.
“I’m coming!” the therapist shouted as she quickly walked down the long hall toward the massive door, pulling her thick black shawl around her. It was cold. It had to be cold. The near dead need the cold.

She looked through the peephole. Of course it was him. The door creaked as she opened it, and there stood the monster.

“Why do you have a copy of the Flagpole wrapped around your hea, uh head? Oh right, I understand. Come in,” she said.“I didn’t know you had lights coming from your eyes before.”

“Father gave me app,” His voice was as low as the deepest of graves.

“Frank, you know we’ve talked about you coming here in the middle of the night.” Frank talked as quickly as he could, but with only half a brain, it took some time.

“I sorry Doctor. Lost my head. This copy of Flagpole had face picture. I put holes so it look like I can see. See?”

Much smarter than he looks, the therapist thought.

“Well, it’s right up here on the shelf,” she said as she rolled the ladder over, pushing her long white hair behind her bent shoulders. “I had to put it up high, so the dogs from hell wouldn’t get to it.” The sound of growling and “Woof, woof, woof, arrroooo!” was heard outside in the distant, cold black darkness.

“I help,” offered the monster. “I waaaaay taller you.”

“No, Frank, you’re about to lose that arm.” Frank’s left arm wasn’t doing much more than swinging by his side. “And we don’t need another mess.” The monster sat down in the biggest chair in the library and watched nervously. 

“There,” said the therapist as she placed the head on the table.

“Safe and sound. Now, if you’re staying for a session, it will cost you,” she said as she looked down at her crooked, bejeweled fingers ladened with old rubies and diamonds.

“Uuruuum,” groaned Frank, staring at his head on the table.

“I put a dab of green porch paint on the blemish there,” she said pointing to the chin. “I hope you like it.” 

“Gaaharr,” was the response. 

“So what’s troubling you Frank?” 

Frank started to cry. “Grit closed! My fault!” 

“Now why do you think that’s your fault?” asked the monster’s therapist. “Wife. I go there eat. People run away! Grit lose business!”

“No, no, the reason is much scarier than that! It’s about money!” A lone tear rolled down her weathered face. 

“Reary?” 

“Yes, now let’s put your head back on. You’ll feel better.”

She held her breath and carefully lowered the head onto the monster’s neck and slowly adjusted the bolts. “Here. Now look in the mirror.” 

“Gahaaaahaaa!” He screamed as he leaned forward. “It perfect!”

“Now tell me a good thing about yourself,” she inquired.

“New job!” said the Monster as the right side of his face trembled with a smile. “Work UGA medical laboratory next week. Order new arm from morgue there.” The therapist nodded an encouraging smile. “Thank! Leave now! Brideinstine waiting!”

At the end of the walkway his hissing wife awaited in the car of a hapless Uber driver. “Hurry my darling!” She screamed to wake the dead. “We’ll miss the Rumpus Parade!”


The Mailbox Beckons
By Bowen Craig 

I remember it well. Who wouldn’t? You don’t forget when life takes such a big, dramatic turn for the freaking terrible. It was a Wednesday. I’d just returned home from a particularly rough day at work. My boss, or rather my boss’s boss’s boss, had thrown the hammer down on a looming deadline and everyone in the office was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, fully prepared to get our two-minute notices and have to scour the classified ads soon. Job security wasn’t a big thing at my place of employment. 

I parked my car in the makeshift gravel “parking lot” of the relatively reasonably-priced duplex where I’ve lived for six years. Somewhere nearby a crow cawed ominously. Aren’t crows harbingers of doom? I’m sure I heard that somewhere. Rusty, my neighbor’s humongous fuzzy-eared sheepdog, barked at me, as he does every day around this time, but this time it sounded like he was trying to warn me against something. I unloaded a bag of groceries, little cute oranges that aren’t called oranges (some hybrid of oranges with free range chickens, some kind of food that only exists in college towns), walking them inside my duplex, thinking about how terrible this day has been so far. Man, groceries have gotten crazy expensive, and no one seems to be doing anything about it. 

Like everyone, I have a little after-work ritual from which I rarely deviate. We’re all creatures of habit. My habit is to come home, bring my stuff inside, then go back outside and walk to my mailbox, to see what bad news and new bills the mailman has left me today. Did the mailman/postman used to bring love notes and good news back when female crooners were showering him with 1950s bee-bop love? No one’s writing new love songs for the beleaguered postal workers these days… probably because enough mailmen went on killing sprees in the 1980s to spawn the phrase “going postal.” It’s not their fault nobody sends love notes anymore.   

This day, as I was toddling out to the mailbox something just felt wrong. A car backfired a block away. The backyard chickens three houses down were surprisingly vocal for 5 o’clock in the afternoon. I tripped over that cracked pavement spot in the driveway my landlord never gets around to fixing.   

Reaching the mailbox, I timidly stuck my hand in there and retrieved my day’s correspondence.  Power bill? OK. Coupons for cheaper semi-food they’re currently trying to poison us with at Burger King? Whatever. Hold on, this one looks official. It’s from some company I’ve never heard of, but it looks official. Ripping the envelope, I open the legal letter headed notice telling me that my landlord has sold the property to an out-of-state company… who’s going to triple my rent. AAAAAaaaaaaarrrrrrrggggggg. Come on! This isn’t pumpkins and skeletons spooky; it’s real life spooky, which is so much worse. Damn you, out-of-state landlords. Why isn’t there a law against this?


Alice Lane
By Bjorn Barja 

You never knew what to believe as a kid. Everyone had a crazy uncle that told them stories around a campfire, or maybe just an older brother whose mission was to torment you at bedtime. However, the origin of Alice Lane didn’t stem from either of those, but rather from the Satanic Panic of the 80s. While band names, album covers and Hollywood movies promoted it, our daily news persistently featured a darkness lurking in all our communities, including Athens. Call it fear mongering or a tool to keep kids inline, the possibility existed that people in our community could be chanting in tight circles around a pentagram stained altar. Suddenly anyone with a goat in their yard was suspicious.

As the story goes, Alice Lane was more than a street down from where I grew up, it was also the name of a little girl. The location denoted by a single street sign located on a dark, dirt drive was supposedly tribute to the girl who’d gone missing and presumed a victim of the local occult. With no Google to validate, the narrative held just as true as the sign displaying her name, and stories became more enriched as time passed. The search for answers became too much for a kid with a BMX bike and a couple friends, like right from an episode of Stranger Things.

So, one fall Saturday with parents preoccupied watching the Dawgs play, our bike chains tight and air in the tires, we set off to uncover the truth. We peddled away with our teen bravado and Gatorades, which quickly subsided when we reached the eerie dirt road. Dropping our bikes, I remember each painful step as we listened for sounds above the rustling of leaves blowing from trees. Walking for what seemed like hours, we came to a screeching halt when the outline of a house emerged ahead. Stopped and silently debating our next move, the loud bark of what we presumed to be Cerberus himself quickly calibrated us to surrender and immediately retreat home.

Years went by, then one day I secretly confided to my brother what we had done. Without hesitation, he said he’d heard the stories, too, but added the house had been deserted for years, and we should check it out after his football game Friday night. So again, I was closer to uncovering the mystery of Alice Lane and my anticipation raged all week. While watching that scoreboard slowly count down the final seconds of his game, I began to quietly pray for overtime. When the game ended, I loaded up with his friends and off we were in trucks with Black Sabbath blaring, cheerleaders laughing and Natty Light being passed around. 

Finally arriving at the infamous Alice Lane with lights off, each truck began a slow creep up the desolate road. Nerves again on edge, we rounded the last bend where the house lay dead ahead. Each truck pulled up and directed their lights on the house. No devil dog this time, but rather the guts of an abandoned craftsman. Armed with only a single flashlight, we exited the trucks and walked the perimeter to ensure no goons were awaiting our arrival. With a little faux courage generated by a cheerleader holding my hand, I entered the house. As we funneled into the foyer and scanned the surroundings, there seemed little to fear other than the deep darkness beyond, but it became frighteningly apparent that we weren’t alone. As my light panned toward the far wall, we saw candles smoldering beneath a mounted deer with dried blood streaming from its eyes. Written on the wall nearby was “Welcome Home, Alice.” Stunned, speechless and unable to move, a terrifying scream erupted from behind the house and panic ensued. Tripping over each other to get out the door, torches started to appear in the woods carried by figures in black robes. Racing toward trucks with keys clambering for ignitions, we tore down the dirt road hoping no man or woman was left behind.

Time has passed, and Alice Lane and its stories have been replaced by another Athens subdivision. While that night was a true event and definitely not another story, being older now I realize it had all the workings of a trickster older brother, driven to torment his younger brother, but to this day he has never confessed.


Dearly Beloved: A True Story
By Will Langford

My job is to pick up book donations for the UGA Library, so it was a routine call when a professor’s widow wanted to give her deceased husband’s books to the library. He had made her promise to find a good home for his dearly beloved book collection, and she could not rest in peace until it was done. My student helper and I followed her directions to a lonely, secluded farmhouse in rural Oconee County. 

The sad, shy wispy figure of a woman that met us at the door never spoke, she just gestured for us to follow her down a long hall. Our footsteps creaked over the old floorboards to a closet and there were the books, mostly lots of pristine science texts. After we packed them all, she had disappeared, didn’t respond to our calling out, and we couldn’t find her. So after packing the van, we wrote a note of thanks and left.    

Back at the library, I needed a proper mailing address to send her an official acknowledgement letter. My online search brought up the address, but it also revealed that she had died in a car crash, along with her husband, over three months ago. 

I wrote her a heartfelt thank you letter anyway. I hope that she got it somehow.


You Reap What You Sow
By Lara Dua-Swartz

The evening sun hit the delicate strands and lit them up, highlighting their golden yellow color. Nate would have noticed them if he wasn’t in such a rush to get inside. Work had gone late, and he was starving. Instead, with his gaze focused on the walkway, he walked right into them. Again.

“Ugh,” he groaned, pulling the web from his hair. “Every day!”

He whipped around and saw the colorful, four-inch spider staring at him, mocking him. Grabbing a near-by stick, Nate tore down the rest of the Joro’s creation, smashing the spider with his foot before it could scurry away. Those giant monsters were everywhere. It felt like you couldn’t walk anywhere in this town without stepping into a web. Nate had made it his mission in life to kill as many Joro spiders as he could. It felt like a war to him—The Joros vs. the people of Athens. Only one would survive.

Nate keyed open the front door and walked inside the house. Home, finally. He tossed the paper bag he’d been clutching on the table, collapsing into the kitchen chair. As hungry as he was, eating was more of a struggle than he thought it would be tonight. He could barely keep his eyes open as he dug into his burrito. He started to space out, gazing blankly ahead through the kitchen window. That’s when he felt it—a small tickling sensation across his left hand. He looked down and jerked backwards in surprise, almost toppling the chair. A spider was walking along the back of his wrist! A similar sensation creeped along the back of his neck. Swatting reflexively, Nate knocked another spider onto the table. Where were they coming from? He swore he checked himself after walking through the web…

Nate started to get up so he could brush himself off, but his feet wouldn’t move from where they were planted. Confused, he glanced down and a slow-dawning horror washed over him. His legs were covered in spiders, wrapping his legs in tough golden silk, binding his legs to the chair. He tried frantically to free himself, but the strands only seemed to tighten. It all happened so fast. Seemingly within minutes, Nate was covered in Joro spiders of all sizes. His whole body itched from the tingling sensation of hundreds of tiny legs crawling under his clothing and across his skin. Desperately trying to free himself, Nate thrashed back and forth in the chair until his head slammed into the table and everything went black.

The darkness gave way to a sensation of warmth and light across his eyelids.

“Morning,” Nate thought to himself, still barely conscious with his eyes shut. He felt stiff, but cozy, wrapped snugly. He didn’t remember going to bed, but he had been quite exhausted when he’d gotten home. He’d been working himself too hard. No wonder he’d had that crazy anxiety dream about the spiders! Realizing he should probably get up, Nate started to open his eyes. Except, when he did, all he could see was a yellow haze. Panic began to rise in his chest. That’s when he noticed he couldn’t move his arms or legs. Wide awake now, he could feel the wood of the kitchen chair pressed to his back. As a large, looming shadow crossed across the golden veil in front of his eyes and the venom started to seep into his bloodstream, Nate realized the truth…

It hadn’t been a dream at all.

Humans: 1,437,623 

Joros: 1


Best Friends
By Ben Credle

“Here, loser, drink the whole thing.” Samantha handed me the cup of thick red liquid. It smelled sickly sweet. “C’mon, we already finished ours; we’re going to miss the Rumpus.”

“Isn’t this stuff supposed to make you paranoid?” I asked, recoiling from the smell. 

“No, it’s supposed to make everything awesome.” 

I drank it. I almost gagged from the Robitussin aftertaste. Ashley was concentrating on the playlist, blasting hyperpop songs that shook the tiny living room.

We finished getting ready and ran out of Samantha’s apartment and down to the Wild Rumpus Parade. It was loud and whimsical and, most importantly, not raining. Dancing at the afterparty, at least two guys were checking me out. Our Hogwarts girls costumes always slayed. Then the music started sounding wrong. Like it was coming from far away, but also going too fast. My stomach gurgled like I was about to puke, so I told the girls I was going back to the apartment. I heard Ashley say, “I don’t think she’s OK.”

The stairs to the apartment were daunting; I had to put both hands down on every step. They kept tilting, and then they started spiraling clockwise. Or was it counterclockwise? Either was bad. 

I got the door open just in time to fall inside. The fuzzy lambskin rug was tickling my nose, but I didn’t bother to move. I just needed to close my eyes for a minute.

“Oh my god, we killed her.” That was distinctly Ashley’s voice. Frantic and high pitched. 

“Shut up, she’s just passed out. Like most Saturdays,” Samantha said. Hands pulled my shoulder and rolled me onto my back. 

“She’s not breathing! And she’s cold,” Ashley said. 

What? I’m breathing! Right? I told them to shut up. Well, I tried to, but I didn’t hear my voice. I couldn’t seem to get my mouth to open. Or my eyes. More hands on me, touching my neck. A thumb peeled my left eyelid back, and I could see them both looking down at me. They were freaking out. I was, too. I couldn’t move at all. I’m dying. This is what death feels like. Promising Scholar ODs on Rave Drug.

“We have to get her out of here,” Ashley said. Then, “I don’t think I can drive.” 

“We’ll get my truck; I can drive fine,” Samantha answered. “I’ve done it before. Stop freaking out.” 

They moved out of my field of vision, but I couldn’t make my eyes follow. Or blink. A long time later, they grabbed me under the arms and knees. They carried me down the stairs, only bumping me into the wall twice. They put me down on some kind of blanket. Oh god, it had to be the one Samantha kept in her truck. Gross. Don’t worry about that. I’m conscious, and we’re going to the hospital. Focus on what’s important: My best friends are going to save my life. 

The truck lurched forward. I could see streetlights passing overhead, but they were blurry. My eyes were drying out and couldn’t focus. I could hear yelling inside the truck. I couldn’t make out words but it sounded like arguing. God, I don’t care which hospital, just get me to one! My hands were tingling. I felt like maybe I was wiggling them, but it may have just been the blanket moving against me in the wind. The blanket smelled like old beer. I was going to puke, and then choke on my vomit. But if I could smell, that probably meant I was breathing. 

The truck made several turns, and I wasn’t sure where we were anymore. There were no streetlights. We stopped in the darkness. Must be a parking deck. The doors opened and hands pulled me. I’m going to live! Somebody closed my eyelids. The blackness was a relief.

“It won’t work if she’s dead,” I heard Samantha say. 

I could open my eyes again. We were in a forest. I was on the ground, lying flat on my back. There was a circle of white stones around me. Samantha and Ashley came into view, but now they both had those plastic vampire teeth in their mouths. They were peering down at me. What won’t work if I’m dead?

Ashley knelt down next to me and leaned in close. She asked Samantha, “What if she remembers?” Her teeth glistened in the moonlight. Up close, they didn’t look plastic.

Samantha smiled down at me, “She’s never remembered before.”


Traffic and Three Lies
By Jay Barnes

Wow, what a game! Those Dawgs sure know how to hold fans’ attention: Start slow, and then sweep in for the victory. Too bad I wasn’t there, but the party at my friend’s house featured—get this—the game on TV. While the afternoon had been filled with brews and cheering, the evening featured a delectable selection of gourmet grilling, complete with appropriate pairing. 

So by the time I headed for home, the game had been over a few hours. The first lie I told myself that evening was, “Certainly, most of the traffic has dispersed by now.” Bull butter. Even on the most easterly part of the eastside, it was nearly bumper to bumper until I made it to College Station. Noting that the intersection was not blocked off, the second lie of the night began to form: They won’t have ALL of College Station blocked off, now will they? I popped into the grocery store and bought a frozen pizza. Easy enough for someone who’s been cheering all day to pop into an oven, and the leftovers would provide an easy breakfast. Elijah’s Manna.  

With the second lie fully in effect, I turned towards the loop, hoping for a quick ride home before the pizza thawed. But when I got near the bottom of the hill, almost to the river, there they were: Orange cones and blue flashers, blocking the way for crowd control. Muttering agonized admonitions about the detour, but not having the desire to pull an illegal U-ey in front of a bunch of cops, I merely followed the direction of the cones and glowing wands. Second stringers, I thought: None of them were facing up the hill, but looking towards the river, and not down Research, where traffic was being directed. I wasn’t going to protest the detour or anything, because hey, I’m a townie: The stiff branch breaks in the wind, but the supple reed bends and does not fold. Or something.

When I got to the end of Research, I saw more police presence, again blocking off access to the Loop.  Hmm. Well, I didn’t want to go that way anyhow; it would’ve added an extra 5–10 minutes; unacceptable when the status of a frozen pizza was on the line. So I took a right and then another right, heading back on Barnett Shoals towards deepest South Milledge. Towards the westside; towards home.

I was a bit perturbed when there was now a police presence at Barnett and Whitehall; like, double ewe tee eff and stuff. This was literally where I had turned out of fifteen minutes before, and ended up with a now steadily thawing frozen pizza for the trouble. Maybe a major wreck down that way or something? Was I going to have to go all the way through Watkinsville just to make it back to the Westside? Would I stop speaking to myself in expository sentences?  

Not wanting to rock the boat, I turned left and headed back out towards the deepest Eastside, figuring I’d now have to take the super-duper long way back through Watkinsville. After all, Barnett Shoals is quite a long road, and I’d already turned onto it twice. Might as well see it through.

Yet after just a few miles, more police, and at an intersection I guess I just never noticed. Once again, I followed the line of cones and flashing wands, and none of them were looking at the cars. I began to realize that I hadn’t had much in the way of traffic either before or behind—was the crowd control just that effective? I reckoned so, and my stomach reminded me that my pizza passenger had a delicate incubation and would benefit from prompt baking.

Where were we now? Quite the detour. I once again turned where the line of cones and blue lights indicated, and found myself in a dense (but paved!) wood. After another mile, yet another detour…

They were facing me now, standing in front of their arrayed patrol cars, wands at the ready. Though the creatures were fully uniformed as police, their humanity stopped just inches above their necks. No faces, only smooth blank flesh, but the direction of their caps indicated they were looking at me. If they at least had eyes…

I turned down the unlit road and told myself the third and final lie of the night: That pizza was going to be in the oven soon.


Ci­né­ma-vé­ri­té 
By Thomas May

One young girl dressed up as Ja­son. That’s all she’d seen since she’d left Boulevard. No­body trick or treat­ed out here. Strip malls had re­placed neigh­bor­hoods. The mask fit her well, but the ma­chete hung from her arm like an ogre’s club. The girl’s par­ents guid­ed her down the side­walk be­side the mall as she stomped dead leaves into obliv­ion. 

Elly won­dered where they were go­ing. Sure­ly not the same des­ti­na­tion as her­self. No, they were prob­a­bly go­ing to the end of the cul-de-sac to hous­es dec­o­rat­ed fearful­ly but with full can­dy bowls and re­tired pro­fes­sors cos­play­ing as smil­ing skele­tons to dis­solve the fa­cade. 

Elly had been re­ferred to the event by a fly­er at Milledge Taco Stand. It stood out against the show posters, Wild Rum­pus ad and gig list­ings. A screen­ing of a new student hor­ror short promised to “scare the shit” out of town­ies and stu­dents alike.  

That was a day ago, which seemed like short no­tice now that she thought about it. She got a Mega Bur­ri­to every Wednes­day on the way back from cam­pus. Tony, the line cook, didn’t just know her or­der; she was there so of­ten, he knew the brand of cat food she bought. She knew that fly­er was hot off the press. 

As she pulled into the last en­trance to the mall park­ing lot, pass­ing sev­er­al pa­trol cruis­ers on their way to check for ra­zors in Jol­ly Ranch­ers, the lack of cars in front of  the aban­doned dol­lar the­ater sur­prised her. She didn’t ex­pect a sold-out show, but sure­ly there were oth­er lone­ly, bar­ren sin­gles in Athens that had noth­ing else to do but seek out a good fright? 

She parked in a spot fur­ther from the the­ater near the re­cy­cling bins and pulled out her phone to check the de­tails. 8 p. m. The for­mer Geor­gia Square Val­ue Cin­e­mas. $5 en­try. 

It all checked out. Hell, the mall was still open and that was a ghost town, too. Some poor Grady stu­dent prob­a­bly had got­ten per­mis­sion from the prop­er­ty com­pany to host an event in the the­ater and no­body had shown up. 

She shoved a $5 from her purse into her pock­et, leav­ing all her valu­ables in the glove com­part­ment. A quick text to the only din­ing hall co­worker she re­al­ly talked to: “LOL I ac­tu­al­ly went to the screen­ing. Shar­ing my lo­ca­tion for the next 24 hours in case  I get tak­en. Good luck stalk­ing Drew at that par­ty xx.”  

In­side, she had goose­bumps from the cold. No heat. Silent aside from the buzz of  flu­o­res­cents and a rat­tling off in the dis­tance. The pop­corn ma­chine and menus were lit up like it was 2014. Sure, trash still lin­gered on the counter and floor, but that had  al­ways been part of the charm. 

“Hello? I’m here for the screen­ing.” 

Noth­ing. She walked to­ward the the­ater rooms, and the rat­tle got a bit loud­er.  Rhyth­mic, too. She checked her phone. 8:06. Prob­a­bly al­ready start­ed. How em­barrass­ing.  

Should she leave? No, no. She had no can­dy for trick-or-treaters. 

Elly fol­lowed the sounds to the­ater 4 and put her phone on silent be­fore walk­ing  in. A num­ber 6 was on the screen, then 5, then 4, count­ing down like the be­gin­ning of  an old film. She couldn’t see any­one in the seats. 

Hes­i­tant­ly, she plopped down in the cen­ter of the back row (the best seat in the  house, ob­vi­ous­ly). As she watched the count­down switch to jit­ter­ing film frames, she  re­al­ized the noise was the pro­jec­tor im­me­di­ate­ly be­hind her.  

The gray film leader con­tin­ued. Just pops and scram­bling hairs on a blank background. No real pic­ture. She turned to peer into the pro­jec­tor booth, but couldn’t  stand up high enough. 

Af­ter a minute or so of this, the leader ran off and the pro­jec­tor bulb slow­ly died  out. The lights mark­ing the walk­ways went with it. 

Elly grabbed her phone and flipped on the flash­light, shin­ing it around the emp­ty the­ater. Her fin­gers were cold and sweaty, slip­ping on the case. She got up to make  for the EXIT at the front. 

Her flash­light guid­ed her clum­sy feet down the aisle, and a sud­den glance up wards near­ly gave her a heart at­tack. Tony, from Taco Stand, stood in the door­way  look­ing up at her, smil­ing.  

“Holy shit, Tony, Je­sus Christ. Great Jack Tor­rance im­pres­sion. Did you come for  the screen­ing?” 

But he didn’t say any­thing to her. He only smiled.


Trust
By Liz Lyle

One Sunday evening, Alice rode her bike to the highest point in Dudley Park, near the giant yellow and red flower sculpture on the Firefly Trail.  She parked her bike by a chain-linked fence in front of the partially constructed steel bridge that hovered where the R.E.M. Murmur trestle once stood.

Alice squinted and looked past the “Danger” and “Keep Out” signs by the construction site.   Was that a woman sitting at the edge of the bridge?

“Hello?” Alice called out. “Everything all right?”

The woman looked up but didn’t answer. She had short, sandy hair with gray streaks and looked about Alice’s age. She looked vaguely familiar.

Alice climbed over the wooden fence on the side of the trail and easily walked around the edge of the construction fence, out toward the woman.   

She stopped on the bridge, a few feet behind the woman. “Are you OK?”

The woman frowned. Her feet dangled over the edge of the bridge about thirty feet over the culvert below.  She had a black backpack beside her and a red Solo cup in her left hand. “It’s so hard to trust anybody,” the woman said.

“I’m sorry.”

“Yeah,” The woman looked at Alice’s face. “I’ve seen you walking around Boulevard, right?”

“Yes,” Alice sat down beside the woman. “I’m Alice.”  

“Hi Alice. I’m Jill.” Jill picked up her cup and took a sip. “I’m having a Kickstand, like they make at the World Famous. Miller High Life and grapefruit. Want one?”

“Umm… sounds good but that’s OK.”

“It’s no bother,” said Jill, as she poured a Miller High Life into the Solo cup and then added some pink pulpy juice.

Alice took the cup and put it by her leg.

Jill took a sip of her drink. “Frankie and I had all these big retirement plans… travel to all the places we’d never been.”

Alice nodded.

“Then one day he comes home with pickleball paddles, says we should take this up while our portfolio is recovering…” Jill pursed her lips. “When I asked him what he’s talking about, he admits that he lost all of our retirement savings in crypto.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I didn’t want to have anything to do with pickleball. I hate that loud thwap, thwap, thwap noise.  Not how I was going to spend my retirement.”

“I understand,” said Alice.

“But Frankie became obsessed. Started spending all of his time with his new pickleball friends.”

Alice nodded.

“One afternoon, Frankie pocket calls me when he’s having this intense conversation with his pickleball partner. I shout out ‘Hello! Hello!’ but he doesn’t hear me. Then I hear her say ‘Frankie, it’s yours and, yes, I’m far enough along we have to go out of state.’”

Alice shook her head.  

“They left and didn’t come back,” Jill’s voice cracked. “Enough about Frankie.” 

Alice touched Jill’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry.”

Jill winced and lifted her cup. “To a new start.”  

Alice lifted her cup and took a sip.  

“What do you think?” asked Jill.

“It’s good,” said Alice. Maybe a little too much grapefruit.

“You know, Alice, I think I can trust you.” Jill looked across to the steep slope where the bridge was being built out from the other side. “Have you ever listened—really listened to—the Murmur album?”

Alice shook her head. “No, I have no idea what they’re saying.”

“When I come here,” said Jill, motioning to the bridge, “I think of this great line from the last song: Listen through your eyes when we die.”

“That’s dark,” said Alice, feeling a little woozy.

“They didn’t go away,” Jill said quietly. “They’re listening through their eyes. I drugged their drinks and buried them alive under a pickleball court that was about to be resurfaced. What could be more painful than hearing that thwapping noise as you are slowly dehydrating underneath…” 

Alice tried to reach her phone, but her hand wouldn’t do what she wanted it to.

“It’s funny how you’ll trust someone who looks like you and seems like you… you’ll come out on the edge of a bridge, drink whatever they give you…” said Jill.

Alice could barely hear.“You know, I don’t even like R.E.M,” said Jill, as she put her arms on Alice’s back. “I’m more into the Talking Heads… You know, ‘Psycho Killer’… Qu’est-ce que c’est?” She pushed Alice’s slumping body off the edge to the ground far, far, far below.


The Locket
By Doris Kidby

Milly Marshal came into the living room when Henry, the handyman, called.

“Look what I found,” Henry held up an old locket. “It must have fallen down this here vent.” He handed Milly the tarnished gold locket.

“It seems to be real old.”

“Yes, it does. I think I have some jewelry polish at home. Miss Milly, would you like me to clean it up for you?”

“Oh Henry, that would be wonderful.”

She had bought this old house in Athens, GA on South Poplar Street a month ago. She realized at the time it would need a lot of repairs. Henry had been recommended by a neighbor. He had just replaced a floor board.

Henry returned the next day and handed Milly the locket.

“Oh Henry, this is so pretty now. Thank you.”

“I had this old chain. It was my mother’s.” He put it around her neck. “Looks good on you.”

“Thank you so much.”

“My pleasure. I best get back to repairing the porch.”

That night Milly tried to take off the necklace but couldn’t, so she slept with it on. She fell into a deep sleep. Her dream contained a pretty golden haired girl. She wore a long dress. She had been given this locket on her wedding night by her husband.

The second night she dreamed of the same girl as she kissed her husband goodbye. He wore a confederate uniform.

Milly liked the girl’s blonde hair. She went to the beauty parlor and had her hair dyed blonde.

That night she dreamed that the girl heard a noise outside. She opened the door and saw her husband staggering towards her. He was badly wounded. He fell and called out, “Milly, my darling, I love you.” She knelt and cried.

Milly screamed and quickly turned on the lights. The girl’s name had been Milly, too. Milly didn’t want to go back to sleep. By 3 in the morning she could no longer stay awake.

She saw the girl hanging from the ceiling with a rope around her neck. The poor girl had committed suicide. There on the floor, under the body, was the gold locket.

“It’s over,” Milly thought. She was relieved.

That night she had another dream, of another girl with long golden braids. The happy girl found the locket and put it on.

The next night, in her dream, a boy came into her house. “Who gave you a locket?” he shouted.

“I found it.”

He then hit her. She fell against the fireplace, blood seeped out of her head wound.

“Mildred, Mildred, what have I done!” he cried.

That girl had been named Milly, too.

The next day Milly tried to sleep in the daytime. She hoped if she did she would be able to stay awake all night.

It didn’t work. She dreamed that afternoon there were two modern girls, teenagers. The blonde haired girl had on a T-shirt with a bulldog on it. They seemed happy, until one girl found the locket.

“Millicent, it’s so pretty. Will you let me wear it?”

“No, it’s mine,” the blonde girl said.

“Come on, aren’t you going to share it?” the tall brown haired girl said.

“You always want what I have!”

“Let me hold it.”

“No, leave me alone.” A fight broke out. They were hitting each other, tearing at each other’s clothes and hair. Suddenly, the locket flew through the air. Both girls stared at it when it disappeared under the couch.

“Oh Millicent, I don’t know what came over me.”

“Look at us, we’re a mess.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You know I’m sorry, too. We’re best friends,” they hugged.

I must take off this necklace, Milly thought. It’s got to be cursed.

Then someone knocked on the door. She didn’t want to stop to answer the door. She felt she had to get the necklace off. The knocking became pounding.

Finally the chain broke and the locket rolled under the sofa. As she went towards the front door she smelled smoke.

Henry was at the door when she opened it. “Milly, I called the fire department. They should be here shortly,” he said as he led her out of the house to the sidewalk. “What took you so long to answer the door?”

She just stared shocked as the fire consumed her house.

The next day the fire chief inspected the burned out shell of a house and found a locket.


The Swing
By Sherry Woodruff

I was eight
On the top bunk sleeping
When I woke to the sound of
Swings swinging
Squeak screaking

Too scared to move
I lay there sweating
Eyes squeezed shut
Heartbeat racing
Bea beating

Who could be out there
On this dark night
Swinging on swings
Giving me a fright?

A little girl lost
In a game of hide-n-seek
A little boy drowned
Down by the creek?

Childish spirits
Longing to be
Little kids again
Alive and carefree

Neighborhood delinquents
Please God let it be
Out to spread terror
To little girls like me?

Cacophony incessant
I lay there shivering
Curled up in a ball
Lower lip quivering

Finally I decided
To ease my woe
Nestle up with my sister
On the bunk below
I gathered my courage
Jumped to the ground
But to my relief
No sister was found

Only my grandmother
Breathing creaking
Her snores the source
Of all that screeching
Squeak screaking


The Shape of Things to Come
By David Suarez

Donald J. Trump is reelected President of the United States in 2024.

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