We asked our readers to send us their ghost stories of 250 words or less, and we were honored by how many people answered the call. Thank you to everyone who submitted their spooky, subversive, and haunting tales. We had a great time reading them, and they sent a tingle up our spines. Here, we present five of the most unique submissions we encountered, all of which play with traditional ghost story tropes. They are sure to get you in the October spirit. We kick things off with the winner of our $50 prize, “Kittens” by Tasha Coryell.
BY TASHA CORYELL
There were kittens living in her walls. Josette had never seen the kittens, only heard their yowling and scratching. She told herself that they needed the warmth of her pipes to stay alive as they banged around the borders of the bathtub while she showered.
Along with the kittens came the fleas. It wasn’t common for fleas to stick to people, preferring instead a nest of animal fur. Josette had fleas though, little things that bounced around and bit her skin. She sprayed and she picked and she scratched and the fleas wouldn’t leave.
When the cockroaches started appearing, she assumed it was the cold weather that was ushering them in. She sprayed the borders of her walls and in the morning she would wake up and find them there, dead.
When the noises stopped, Josette hoped and wished that it was because the kittens had found a new home. One with a food and water bowl and a litter box. Then the ceiling started caving in, first in flakes and then in giant chucks until the wood was exposed.
Josette called a plumber. She thought it was water damage, something ordinary and expensive. She wasn’t prepared for the plumber to find a man. An emaciated body with long fingernails and toenails and a giant beard. A man who wormed his way through the crevices of her house. Who banged against the wall as she showered, his fists saying, “Please come closer to me.”
Tasha Coryell lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and hopes that the things living in her walls really are kittens. More work from Tasha can be found at tashacoryell.com
“After the War”
BY SARAH BEAUDETTE
I had polished the floors, repainted, and installed new copper pipe, but the tenants began to complain within weeks of moving in.
The husband would walk in to find his books rearranged—at first gently alphabetical and later boldly, by theme or the color of their jackets, as I had sorted our books as a child.
I wondered if my mother was haunting the place, but the tenants said it was only in the library. My mother was never much of a reader.
It couldn’t be me. I had a baby named Annalise. I had a closet full of dresses, not pretty ones, but a closet full. I had rouge, and a wooden table covered in flour from dumpling dough. I had soup that scalded my throat and a husband who understood my silences. There was nothing left of me to haunt my childhood home.
One day I went to look in on the tenants, and they’d gone. The place sat empty and clean.
As I turned to leave, something moved. The house flickered, showing me the red rug I’d played on before we had to stop laughing for fear of being heard, the yellow walls pockmarked with glaring white squares, soft light from the green lamp before we all hid in the dark.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, for I understood then.
We all remade ourselves to survive the war, and the house haunted itself—because someone had to remember.
Sarah Beaudette is a nomadic writer, currently living in Mexico. Her fiction appears in Necessary Fiction and Trigger Warnings, and she can be found online at http://theluxpats.com and on twitter @sarahbeaudette.
BY LIAM HOGAN
She was on crowd-control, politely turning away the curious and ghoulish from the patch of taped-off woodland, when there was a tap on her shoulder.
“Psychic Investigator wants you.”
“Right-ho, Chief,” she said, heading for the white tent. “Um, how come he knows I’m here?”
The shake of the Investigating Officer’s head had her blushing at her own stupidity.
* * *
“Christ!” she muttered, as she lifted the flap. No wonder they’d needed the biggest crime-scene tent the division owned. No multiple-homicide this; just a very, very messy one.
“Ghosts,” intoned a voice in answer to her unasked question. There, at her left, stood the watchful figure of the PI. “Claire—you don’t mind if I call you that, do you? I asked for you because you knew the victim.”
He handed her a wallet, still stuffed with money. She carefully extracted the driver’s license.
“Johnny Sicko . . . sorry, Sullivan.” She shook her head. “I was in school with him. Evil little brute he was back then. But still . . .” she waved a hand at the blood splattered scene, “he didn’t deserve this?”
“Tell me more,” the PI prompted.
“Big lad. Fat and muscular and mean. Bullying, extortion, you name it. Rumor was he wasn’t just cruel to little kids either.”
The PI raised an eyebrow.
“There was this one summer . . . Cats, dogs, rabbits, all went missing. No proof, mind . . .”
She trailed off as in the impossible distance the tiny bell of a cat’s collar lightly tinkled.
“Ah,” she nodded. “Ghosts.”
Liam Hogan is a London based writer, winner of Quantum Shorts 2015 and Sci-Fest LA’s Roswell Award 2016. Published in two dozen anthologies, find out more at http://happyendingnotguaranteed.blogspot.co.uk/ or via twitter: @LiamJHogan
BY THEA PRIETO
In Mississippi, there is a wood damp and heavy, more broken than whole. Cypress drains gray and bows against its sharp knees, elm branches blacken where they have hollowed and collapsed. Wild calls choke open in the dark. These the locals will admit to witnessing, but not the strings, not the thin, web-like threads that prevent the decayed region from settling. On the borders of the swamps, in plain sight of town, the strings brace the elbowed tree roots into the mud, forcing the rotted trunks erect. They tangle the thick, scarred boughs of the magnolia, holding the branches aloft. Netted spurs and pine needles trap out the daylight. In the mossed oaks, the strings suspend other kinds of limbs too, limbs the locals will not acknowledge. To watch too closely is to see them move, and to see them move is to know their sounds, so the locals avert their eyes from the figures hanging in the trees. They glance away from the strings that twist ankles, wrists, and necks, from the jointed fingers splayed into the tightly stretched threads. But every time the wind blows the locals hear, behind their turned heads, the sound of limbs leaning and swaying, fingers picking, and a stringed music plays.
Thea Prieto was a finalist for Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers, and for her novel writing she was invited to the 2015 Tin House Summer Writer’s Workshop. She is the Co-Editor of The Gravity of the Thing, and she teaches such courses as Introduction to Horror Fiction at Portland State University.
BY ARAM MRJOIAN
Gary and I are sick of Thai food, but it’s the closest restaurant to our apartment. The easiest option since we can’t eat at home. We can’t even order in anymore.
With each bite, Ethel grows stronger. Her plasmatic essence strengthens with every piece of pepperoni pizza or carton of chicken lo mein.
Our best guess is she weighs about 400 pounds now. At least, that’s how much she would weigh if she were solid. She is a bloated specter, a poltergeist gourmand. Ethel still floats though, hovering from room to room in hopes of stealing undigested calories directly from our bellies.
It all started with a half-eaten steak burrito from Chipotle sitting in the refrigerator. Gary brought it back from the ad agency one evening.
“Karen, did you eat my leftovers?” he asked. “You could’ve at least recycled the bag.”
“I didn’t even know it was there,” I told him.
We were flustered with each other for a week or two as more items went missing from the fridge and pantry. One afternoon we were cooking salmon fillets and green beans and a still-skinny Ethel helped herself right out of the hot pan.
Her being covered Gary and me in sour vapors (we call it lemon mist). I was terrified. Thought we’d be devoured.
But Ethel’s no cannibal, she just can’t control her cravings. So we eat out even though it’s costing us a small fortune. Once the food’s digested we return home. To Ethel, hungry and waiting.
Aram Mrjoian is a regular contributor at Book Riot and The Chicago Review of Books. Mrjoian possesses an English degree from Michigan State University, a graduate level publishing certification from the University of Denver, and is currently working toward his MFA in creative writing at Northwestern University, where he is a reader at TriQuarterly.