First Place: A Cat’s Conundrum by Lizardclaw
Midnight thumped his tail while lying in his cardboard window perch. His human slave had ruined his hunting ground. The shrub, perfect for trapping wing-prey, had been wrapped with strings of orange blinking nipples, while the lawn, where he could chase small-furred-prey, had fake skeletal cats and tall stones. No animal was dumb enough to step into such a mess.
He stretched, feeling a tingle in his stomach. The slave wouldn’t be back to bring his dinner for another hour. He had to find some food.
Strolling into the basement, he squeezed through a crawlspace into the outdoor shrubbery. The dumb human didn’t know it existed—even with the puddles gathering every time the sky leaked. She had too much garbage surrounding it to notice.
While licking the cobwebs off his fur, he sensed a presence. He crouched low and looked around. A long-nosed-furry-prey had entered his domain.
Licking his lips, he sprang toward the creature. It leaped into the bushes, but Midnight laughed inside. That long-nose couldn’t escape him.
When Midnight pounced into the bush, the blinking nipple strings caught him. He tossed and turned, entangling him further.
He struggled his way out the shrub, still wrapped in the strings, only to see the long-nose’s smirk before it ran.
Rolling away, he bumped into one of the human’s fire pumpkins. It knocked over as Midnight finally managed himself free of the cursed strings.
He looked around, trying to find the dastardly creature, but instead saw the flaming porch steps next to the pumpkins.
A slave needed to handle this. At the neighboring house, one of the upstairs rooms was still bright, and their metal-death-machines sat outside. Humans were home.
He approached the front door but hesitated as he saw their drooling slobber monster, Daisy, watching. Instead, he climbed the ivy up to the window.
Through a gap in the curtains, he spied two humans inside the room. They were mouthing at each other’s faces in the beginnings of their mating ritual. He knew that since their skin-covers were still on, now would be the best time to break them up.
He shrieked as loud as he could. The humans separated their faces and opened the window. “Scram!” the male snarled.
The female looked over his shoulder. “Hey, look at the Henderson’s porch.”
“Christ, it’s on fire. Julie, you dial 911 while I call the Henderson’s.”
Midnight sat on the windowsill, and after a few minutes, watched as the giant-red-metal-death-machine put out the flame. His human slave arrived and shouted for him, “Midnight! Where are you?”
He meowed loudly. His human looked up and said, “Good kitty for alerting the neighbors. The firefighters found a corpse of a shrew in the fire—they think he started it. Tomorrow, we’ll take down all the decorations. They’re too dangerous. Now, let’s get you down from there.”
As he returned to his cardboard perch, he wondered if he should start more fires in the future.
Why We Loved It!: A Cat’s Conundrum has just the right amount of intrigue, as well as a great bit of fun spookiness that I really enjoyed. I loved Midnight, who embodies much of the cat population with their antics—there probably was a cat, perhaps even named Midnight, that almost burned their human’s house down for prey. I felt that the style was perfect for the story, which let me truly enjoy it as much as I did. I was able to immerse myself into it and that made for great entertainment! This was my favorite of all the submissions. Not only did A Cat’s Conundrum follow the prompt in such a lighthearted, funny way, but it left a smile on my face. The “human mating ritual” bit made me giggle. Amazing work! – Ink
Second Place: Meeting Yuu Ko by nighted
On the day the worlds of the living and the spirit were closest, Elio discovered the real reason for Halloween.
Somerset High had a long standing tradition where the graduating class would hold a party in Rodrin Hollow on Halloween. Every senior attended; not because there were consequences if they didn’t, but because no one wanted to miss out.
It was like any other party: dancing, drinks, drugs. Nothing spectacular. Elio usually wouldn’t go.
“Aren’t you going to join them?”
Elio jumped, searching the forest for the voice.
On the lowest branch of a peeling arbutus tree, a figure waved tentatively. They wore a small smile and an outfit that didn’t suit the weather. Their legs swayed mid air, like a pendulum marking the time.
“Oh,” Elio exclaimed. “I’ve… never seen you before. Are you a student of Somerset?”
The figure giggled. “I used to be.”
“Something like that.” They paused. “So, are you going to join them? Your fellow peers?”
“Them? No, I only came for the… ghost sighting.”
“I see.” They nodded. “I’m pretty sure all of that is a myth. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a hallucination caused by drugs. Anyways, before you start wallowing in sadness, would you like to come up here and talk?”
With a shrug, Elio scrambled up the tree, slipping on occasion. There wasn’t anything else they wanted to do. Plus, the figure did strike them as… lonely.
“How should I refer to you?” Elio asked, settling on the smooth branch. They hated when others assumed the pronouns they used.
“Call me Yuu.” And as if they read their mind they said, “She/her.”
“So, Yuu, why are you here?”
“I came to see what this year’s party looks like.”
“What was it like when you graduated?”
She gave them a small smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “A night to remember, that’s for sure.”
“Sorry,” they mumbled. It was probably a touchy subject.
“No, it’s alright. Hey, tell me about yourself,” she said.
And they did. Elio answered every question Yuu shot at them. She would laugh every so often at some remark or reply. Even though Elio had only met Yuu that night, they found her company wonderful.
“I should’ve answered you fully when you asked about the Halloween party,” Yuu murmured.
“I think you should know. My name is Yuu Ko. I was the girl my senior class killed.”
Elio knew the story. Yuu Ko, once known as Hayden Ko, was found hanging in an arbutus tree the morning after Halloween. Only four of the seventy-six students were charged with manslaughter. That was five years ago.
“It doesn’t matter who you were or what you are. I like your company. I like you.”
“I’ll disappear once the night ends,” she replied dejectedly.
“I’ll visit you every Halloween,” Elio declared. “Oh, and you lied about no ghosts.”
Yuu smiled, this time it reached her eyes.
Why We Loved It!: Meeting Yuu Ko was my favorite entry, because it flows so beautifully from start to finish. I was hooked from the first sentence, which sets up an intriguing premise, and became immersed right away. I was right there with Yuu and Elio, hanging onto their every word, feeling their bond deepen. It’s feel-good and spooky throughout, building suspense which culminates in an eerie revelation. Nevertheless, the hopeful ending had me smiling just like Yuu, a ghost who’s very much human. Great job! – Mari
Third Place: Stay Off The Lawn by Susanna Evans
Someone had added speed detectors at every corner in our neighborhood. A Roadwarrior sat at both entrances to remind us to drive safely.
My mom picked me up from work, and it was well after midnight when I decided to go for a run. This wasn’t unusual. I often went for a run after work. All the world was in a sleepy peace, and I had time to myself in the dark quiet.
My route was exactly a mile, and when I took my time, I made my three laps in twenty-five minutes.
I was pushing myself tonight, desperate to cut a minute off my time. Work had been awful, and I wanted to feel accomplished at something.
My shoelace came untied on the hill for the second lap, costing me time, and I fussed at myself for being slow. It was the common theme in my life, and one I guess I was trying to outrun.
On the third lap, the crows had crowded onto Mister Cohen’s freshly manicured lawn. The man was forever re-sodding, and the birds ignored his attempts and even perched on his ‘stay off the lawn’ sign he put up to keep dog walkers from letting their charges wander into his yard.
I laughed at the birds, saluting them on my way by as they continued in their revelrous dance, tearing up the grass to reveal the dirt beneath.
Their party interrupted the quiet, but I didn’t care. They left me to my run and left them to their dance.
Ducking under a tree limb and stepping lightly to avoid the cracked sidewalk, I noticed the speed sign flashing at me.
’20’ glowed from the orange bulbs in the darkness, and I stopped.
I was alone except for the birds, but the ’20’ changed from one blink to the next. A five replaced the zero, and I looked around again to find the crows silent, watching me.
The sign flashed ’30’ ’35’, and the ’40’ before it blacked out altogether.
I turned around again and jumped back. Twenty crows had zeroed in on my position.
I ran then, hoping to make it home to my nice warm bed and forget the whole thing. A bird landed on my head, and another knocked me to the ground. The smell of freshly turned earth filled my nostrils, and the sight of Mister Cohen’s sign greeted me when I rolled to get them off.
Why We Loved It!: The writing style of this story was one of my favorites! You do an amazing job with interesting descriptions that really help build the scene in such a short period of time. This experience sounds like a paranormal encounter you’d hear a friend telling you about, and the realistic feeling adds to the creepiness of this short story! Well done! – Jay