LaVern Spencer McCarthy, “The Halloween Cat” 1st runner-up for poetry

On Halloween nobody knows
where Mr. Golden Whiskers goes.

His eyes of emerald green turn red.
He bounds across the garden bed,

jumps the fence and disappears
with eerie howls and laid-back ears,

then takes a trip across the sky
to scare the clouds and make them cry.

I thought I saw him through the gloom
behind an old witch on her broom.

The north wind told me it believes
he guards the spirits of autumn leaves

and guides the goblins as they pass
through walls and shuttered window glass.

When his long journey is complete,
he wanders home on weary feet.

Mr. Golden Whiskers sighs
and looks at me with haunted eyes.

He’ll never tell the things he’s seen.
He’s had enough of Halloween.

LaVern Spencer McCarthy has written and published twelve books of poetry and fiction. Her work has appeared in Writers and Readers Magazine; Meadowlark Reader; Agape Review; Bards Against Hunger;  Down In The Dirt; The Evening Universe; Fresh Words Magazine; Wicked Shadows Press; Midnight Magazine; Pulp Cult Press and others. She is a life member of Poetry Society of Texas. She resides in Blair Oklahoma where she is currently writing her sixth book of short stories.

Alyssa Neff, “Autumn Aviators” 1st runner-up for artwork

Alyssa Neff is an artist and photographer currently attending Rochester Institute of Technology for a BFA in Visual Media. While spending her days between the studios, computer labs, and chasing stories for the college magazine, she never passes up a chance to do silly shoots with friends. Her current passion is trying to catch a glimpse of the stubborn turtle hiding in the local Koi pond.

Naomi Sheely, “Me, Myself, and I Make Five” 1st runner-up for fiction

The room wraps me in its unrelenting chill, its sterile atmosphere amplifying my unease as I cling to the unforgiving chair. I make every effort to conceal my discomfort, determined not to give in to the growing unease that threatens to overtake me. Instead, I wrench my attention back to the man before me, ignoring the clammy sweat that beads on my palms as his gaze pierces through me. He smiles. Yet it doesn’t soften the blow, it only serves to deepen the disquiet settling within me. It’s a strained, unsettling expression, far from comforting.

“Do they have faces?” he asks with his pen hovering over his notepad, waiting. Ready.

“No,” I answer, my voice barely a whisper in the frigid room.

A heavy silence hangs in the air as his refusal to speak mirrors my unwillingness to continue. There is a deafening absence of a clock’s reassuring tick, no steady rhythm to measure the relentless march of seconds. Yet, I perceive the weight of each passing moment, as if they bear down on me, leaving no room for escape. A suffocating pressure claws at my chest, each breath feeling like a struggle for air. The silence is too heavy. My finger twitches involuntarily, tapping the table with a quick, almost imperceptible sound. His sharp gaze, akin to a cat locking onto its cornered prey, seizes on the subtle movement.

“Not usually, anyway,” I correct, my voice holding a note of vulnerability. “But sometimes, when I’m tired or the walls I’ve built in my mind are weak,” I pause, drawing a deep breath before continuing, “ones with faces slip through. But they don’t look normal, like you or me. No, they’re …terrifying.”

“Terrifying how?” he pushes, his fervent curiosity unwavering.

I think his smile is meant to be reassuring, yet it feels colder than the room itself. Memories of my mother’s solemn warnings flood my mind, her voice echoing through the years, cautioning me against ever revealing the unsettling truth of the demons that seem to exist only within my reality.

But she’s gone now, and I can no longer bear to confront these horrors alone.

“They’re… un-unnatural,” I stammer, my voice trembling and barely audible. My throat tightens, choked by the words needed to describe their grotesque features. I’m unable to describe how their eyes bulge hideously from their sockets, their limbs stretching to nightmarish lengths. These evils that haunt me through the day are things of true nightmares.

He doesn’t press me to describe them further, though. Instead, his continuous smile expands, stretching wider and wider until it seems impossibly large, like a grotesque caricature.

A shiver runs down my spine, raising the hair on the back of my arms, as an eerie, prickling chill overtakes me. It’s as if my body has locked into survival mode, instinctively recognizing a threat in the doctor’s demeanor. I silently plead with myself to act normal, to break free from his stare, but despite my efforts, I find myself unable to tear my eyes away from his increasingly manic expression.

My attempts at composure fail miserably, and his wide eyes shift to lock onto my forearms with an unsettling knowingness. His mouth stretches even further, and his gaze flicks back to mine, and I can see excitement and anticipation gleaming in his unnaturally prominent eyes.

The room is shrouded in an oppressive silence, the weight of his anticipation hanging in the air like an ominous storm about to break. It’s as though he’s waiting for something, something that I can’t quite comprehend. What truth does he possess that remains just beyond my grasp?

Without breaking our locked gaze, he slowly lowers his notepad onto the table.

Tick. Tick. Tick. The seconds drag on, each one a deafening echo in the room, a relentless reminder of the tension that engulfs us. Three seconds. Five seconds. It feels like an eternity.

His eyes finally release mine, their intensity shifting downward to the pen he still clutches tightly in his emancipated fingers.

My eyes involuntarily follow.

His grip on the pen is almost inhuman, his fist wrapped around it so tightly that his knuckles have turned an eerie shade of black. And then, with a speed that defies all reason, he reaches across the table and seizes my arm.

The thunderous rhythm of my heart fills the room, its frantic beat a stark contrast to the thrill that dances in the depths of the doctor’s unnaturally wide eyes. In that moment, I’m rendered speechless and paralyzed by fear. I can’t scream. I can’t think. I can’t even draw a breath.

I slam my eyes shut, reaching deep, desperately searching for any shreds of mental barriers that might shield me from this nightmarish ordeal. Desperation fuels my struggle, and every second feels like an excruciating battle against the relentless assault of a demon.

As I fight to maintain control, something shifts. The steady ticking of the clock, which had once echoed so loudly in the room, ceases. The sensation of his sharp nails biting into my skin begins to fade, but the memory of that terrifying grip still sits in the back of my mind like a haunting refrain.

I continue to build those mental walls, higher and higher, blocking out the outside world. My chest burns from the moments when I’ve forgotten to breathe, but I can’t afford to falter now. I’m exhausted, drained by the relentless battle raging within me.

Then, like a beacon of hope, there’s a knock at the door, followed closely by the soft scraping sound of its opening.

Still, I don’t dare to open my eyes. Not yet. I squeeze them almost painfully shut, offering a silent prayer to whatever forces might be listening. Just this once, please let it be over.

Each moment that passes feels like an eternity, and the oppressive silence becomes unbearable. Finally, unable to endure it any longer, my eyes snap open, their desperate gaze fixating on the open door.

In the doorway stands a gentle-looking woman, dressed in a warm cream sweater with her hair neatly tied back. She balances a clipboard and an open file, seemingly engrossed in reviewing the contents for our appointment.

With a loud exhale, I release the tension that had constricted my chest for what felt like an eternity. For once, it seems, my prayers were not in vain.

I wait patiently for her to look up from her clipboard. Then tentatively smile at her in welcome, in relief.

She smiles back at me, her grin a little wider than I had expected. The strained stretch of her lips causes an unsettling familiarity to wash over me, sending a shiver down my spine.

Unexpectedly, she winks at me with one of her deep-set, dark eyes, that seem slightly too large for her face.

“Welcome to Oak Meadow Psychiatric Hospital,” she says in a voice that isn’t quite soothing. “Don’t be nervous. I just know that once you settle in, you’ll never want to leave.” Her words hang in the air, heavy with promise.

Naomi Sheely thrives somewhere in chaos and caffeine. This has led her to the Dean’s list and literary publications at HCC, all while completing a double major and several all-night study sessions. It has, somehow, also given her a steady and calm husband and a well-behaved dog. Predictably, though, her three children are feral. There is no free time for hobbies, only the sweet escape of the written word.

Michele Cacano, “Haunting Daddy” 2nd runner-up for poetry

Daddy was a preacher,
stern and full of fire,
paranoid of sinners,
adulterers, and liars.
He left when I was five,
Mama nursing little Tommy,
When she cried, I asked her why. She’d say:
“Not for him, but– why, God, me?”

It was hard for Mama, taking care of us,
in a drafty, falling-down home;
the rent was cheap, but nights were cold,
so we never slept alone.

Mama took in sewing.
We raised chickens, selling eggs.
She started working at a bookshop–
no more Bibles, blood and plagues.
The sewing room was vacant,
cleaned and rented out
to the widow, Ginny Meadows,
our new Grandma, just about.

Ms. Ginny made us cookies,
and we learned to help her bake,
We all became a family,
happy, happy, give or take.

That’s the year that Mama
first got sick with cancer.
How to live? was the question,
but only death gave an answer.
Ms. Ginny fretted fiercely
‘bout losing us and home.
State notified our Daddy,
our family’s carcinome.

He came back with a vengeance,
crystallized our grief.
He sent away Ms. Ginny,
as if she were a thief.

He preached about our wickedness,
tried to toughen Tommy up.
He called me names, like Jezebel–
at seventeen, he locked me up.
I’d never even kissed a boy,
but Daddy didn’t care.
He thought all women evil
and wouldn’t chance it on a dare.

The first night he mistook me
for his wife would be my last.
I fought him hard and wished him dead,
which made him damn me fast.

His fists flew with a fury,
bludgeoning my head.
He beat me to the ground,
until I lay there, dead.
“Twas an accident!” he swore;
and the coppers did believe him.
Left Tommy with him there,
to mourn and sing my funeral hymn.

And now I’m trapped, forever,
inside this house of sadness.
Doomed to haunt my dear old Dad,
who lives inside his madness.

“Who’s there?” he’ll say,
as I moan, drifting in the room.
“Tis I,” I cry, in whisper tones,
to drive him to his tomb.
“Let him live in shame,” says Mama,
“tortured by his past.”
“Yes,” I agree, “He’s doomed to live,
in torment, sure to last.”

We roam the house in frightful form,
at night, disturbing sleep;
while Tommy is our precious hope
for life we aim to keep.

We breathe our frigid air at Dad,
watching as he shivers.
Mama flips a crucifix–
religious fear delivers.
Daddy pales and prays to God,
but Mama? She just laughs.
I hope you die in fiery Hell!”
while I rattle photographs.

Daddy has begun to drink
and Mama’s proud of us
for making life unbearable
for that awful blunderbuss.

Poor Tommy has the worst of it–
left in chaos, amid clamour.
We try to give him comfort,
in our cold, unearthly manner.
He seems all right when he’s asleep,
his worry lines relaxing,
but I worry for his sanity,
in this house that keeps collapsing.

Tommy keeps his head down
and listens to the songs
that Mama always sings to him,
trying to right the wrongs.

Still, Mama tries to push him
to grievous acts of harm,
telling Tommy Dad deserves it,
for all whom he’s strong-armed.
I wish she wouldn’t do that,
but I cannot blame her, truly;
since Daddy is a bastard,
slowly killing him’s our duty.

Michele Cacano is a neurodiverse writer, artist, and massage therapist born and raised in Harford County, MD, now settled in Seattle, WA. Her poetry is informed by a love of place, travel, history, words, and language. She is the organizer of the Seattle Writers Meetup, a weekly critique and support group est. 2007, and a founding member of Camp S’more Writers. Her work has been published in anthologies from Bag of Bones Press, Mind’s Eye Publishing, Firbolg Publishing, Thirteen O’Clock Press, as well as magazines such as Penumbra and Haunted Waters Press. She can be found on Chill Subs, Twitter, and Instagram @MicheleCacano, and @SeaWritersMeet. 

Scott Hutchinson, “Bad Man” 2nd runner-up for fiction

      “You don’t know all the cruel and unhealthy things that a dude like that might do.” Ned grabs a napkin off the table where we’re having beers, wipes sweat off his neck, dabs at his brow. “Everybody in the neighborhood runs scared of the man like he’s a walking piece of Evil on Earth. Have you seen those prison tats on his arms, and on the knuckles of his hands? Hey, I’m sorry that he’s beating his wife–but when he stomps over to your place the next day and smiles, saying It’s quiet around here while giving you the gun finger, shaking it in your face–then let me tell you, brother, you’ve gotta stay quiet. You don’t get involved. And get a For Sale sign on your lawn, soon as you can. The thing is, he’s a bad man. Know what I mean?”


      I gave myself a week to process the information. I’m touched by Ned–his genuine fear for the neighborhood, plus his concern on my behalf–the way people should be. Caring. Looking out.

     But the thing is, Neddie, you don’t need to worry about me. I’ve been living in the midst of all these sins for a while now, and after due consideration–I’ve made my kind of peace.

     The thing is, I don’t expect apologies for the rudeness, the injustice, the overt fallacies of superiority that loaded and lode-stone people strut around with, magnetized for money, drama, selfishness. The tart tongues, the unthinking dismissals, the laughs at a lesser person’s expense. They see you as the little piggy living in a house of sticks, act like they’re the big bad wolves who huff hot air and dare more than you.

     The thing is, and the thing I will never tell you, Ned: I’m the middle school kid who put twenty Ex-Lax pills in Mr. Johnson’s coffee pot after he wrote me up for cheating when I didn’t. I’m the teenager who slipped the proverbial turd into the punch bowl at Lily Beazley’s Sweet Sixteen party a month after she made fun of my zipper being down. I’m the college waiter big shot customers impolitely bark at–who goes into the kitchen’s shadows and spits into his fashionable bowl of ancient grains and salad greens. I’m the one my nepotistic boss fires, dismissing me when it was actually his impatient son who made the colossal and costly mistake for his family’s business–I’m the premeditated individual who one year later happily discovered the old man’s vintage sports car didn’t have a modern locking cap that might have prevented the fine pour of sugar into the gas tank.

     I’m the simple fella who knows how to navigate the nets, both light and dark. I’m the wanna-be chemist who searches for and finds the perfect fix-it recipe: Drano, tin foil, and a little water. The guy who wears gloves and plucks a used but still-capped plastic drink bottle out of a random person’s garbage can–along with DNA that isn’t mine. The one who carefully plants it on the front lawn of Mr. HELL tattooed across his right-hand knuckles, FIRE inked across the left. I create a sweet spot of foreign waste right outside his door.

     The one who doesn’t rush the process, who doesn’t make a peep while slowly combining it all together, who sets it just so and then drives on, past sleeping dogs–losing gloves, shoes, foil, and the Drano can down various sewer grates of the moon-shady city. I’m the calm soul who reads the over-editorialized paper the next morning, about how the poor man found this odd bottle with liquid on his grass, cursed litter bugs and rubbish, lifted the irritating, innocuous bottle; I serenely read how he shook it uncomprehendingly, confused by the solids inside. I perused the newspaper’s extra feature box with its dire words of caution, warning good citizens about how the insides build up, then explode with enough force to remove your extremities. The paper corroborated every volatile detail I’d stirred up–about how such a wrongful mix will scald and burn with the intensity of an inferno. I go back to the main article, to the writer’s documentation of how Mr. HELLFIRE’s eyes boiled to tears, how he no longer has hands–to announce himself with, to beat anyone with, to point fingers in malice and judgement.     

The thing is, dear Ned, the world is full of men. All types. You just never know who a bad man might be.

Scott Hutchinson’s previous work has appeared in Liquid Imagination, Reckoning, The Raven Review, Weirdbook, and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. New work is forthcoming in Flash Fiction Magazine, Fiction Southeast, Vestal Review, Hearth and Coffin, and Slipstream. 

Our Halloween contest is now closed!

Thanks for all the WONDERFUL submissions! If you are one of the winners, we’ll be in touch personally to give you the good news, and then the winners will be announced here on our website during the week of Halloween.

S. Tierney, “Grandpa”

Every Halloween, Grandpa and me go trick-or-treating together.
This year I’m dressed as a necromancer, with black eyes and a
big pretend nose and everything. The veil I’m wearing is my mum’s,
the black one she wears for funerals and watching the horses; the
gown is all ripped and hasn’t fit my sister since her accident, so she
says I can have it; I borrowed the false nails from the cleaning lady
at school (as long as I promise to give them back); and the skull, the
one tucked under my arm, that’s Grandpa’s. (I wanted a cat, but we
couldn’t catch one.)
Grandpa always dresses as a ghost. He jokes, “When you’re
as old as I am, you don’t need a costume.” (He does really; it’s
Granny’s bed sheet with two eyeholes ripped in the middle.) “If she
isn’t lying on it, I might as well wear it.” Grandpa says the strangest
things. But he says we’ll give all the residents a good fright tonight
and get lots of treats. To help us see where we’re going, he’s brought
a candle. The other ‘trickers’ on the streets prefer flashlights: lighter,
brighter, and you don’t need to worry about tucking your sheet
under your chin to stop it catching on fire. Also, when the weather’s
gusty, a flashlight doesn’t blow out. But Grandpa is adamant:
“Candles don’t need batteries! And no, they don’t blow out,
not if you keep your teeth together.”
Strange things…
At the end of our street there is a big house, with big windows
and a big garden which goes all the way around. Mr. and Mrs. Bury
live here, alone. Just like their house, they are both very big. “Which
means they’ll have treats. Unless they’ve scoffed them all already,
big buggers.”
With Grandpa keeping watch from his eyeholes, we sneak
up to the front door. I call through the letterbox, “Trick or treat!”
Heavy footsteps, the door opens, and we’re greeted by lounge light,
the aroma of baking, and the big Mrs. Bury.
“Good gracious! A witch? At this hour?” she gasps, clasping
her hand to her heart. “Words escape me! And what could be
glowing under that sheet? A lantern?”
“It’s a ghost. A ghoooost,” I say in my best ghost voice. As
a rule, Grandpa doesn’t waste his breath on strangers. Even when
he’s a ghost. “And I’m not a witch,” I correct Mrs. Bury, “I’m a
“Are you now? Then you won’t want any treats. Necromancers
don’t like treats. It’s poison to them. Everyone knows that.”
I didn’t.
“Such a pity,” Mrs. Bury sighs, “I’ve gone and wasted the
entire afternoon baking sweet goodies for nothing. Oh well, I guess
I’ll just have to throw them all–”
“No!” I shriek, lifting my veil and pretend nose. “It’s me,
Jenny Hindley. From number thirty-three. Look!”
“Well, that changes things,” Mrs. Bury smiles, producing
from behind her back a tray of steaming, golden-brown gingerbread
men. “Go ahead, my dear, take as many as you like.”
I do. I really like gingerbread. “And so does my grandpa.”
“Then you must take some home for him. Wait there, I have
a cookie jar you can borrow. It’s around here somewhere.”
“That’s okay, Mrs. Bury,” I say, pulling back the bed sheet
and offering up Grandpa’s skull. “They’ll be safe in here.”
Mrs. Bury looks uncertain. “But there’s a candle in there, dear.”
“Oh, I’ll take it out.” I also extinguish the candle, just to be
safe. Mrs. Bury still looks uncertain, even a little surprised, but, at
my insistence, she begins filling the skull.
“When you next see your grandfather, be sure to ask him
what he thinks of my gingerbread.”
“Why wait?”
I lift up the skull, and ask:
“Do you like Mrs. Bury’s gingerbread, Grandpa?”
Seeing that I’ve pressed Grandpa to my ear, as though he
were a smelly old seashell, I explain to the very surprised Mrs. Bury,
“He’s very old, and speaks very softly. He’ll only speak to me when
no one’s– what’s that? Super delicious? Good and chewy, just the
way you like it, so much so,” I turn to Mrs. Bury, “that Grandpa
wants to take it all. Please.”
Mrs. Bury clutches her heart again; her big mouth is hanging
open. Similarly, I open Grandpa’s jaw all the way until the bone
makes a clicking sound, like the sound your finger makes when you
pull it back too far. Grandpa doesn’t mind. “I’m used to it.” This
doesn’t seem to reassure Mrs. Bury; even with my help she struggles
to put all the little men into Grandpa’s mouth without dropping
them, or knocking their little legs against Grandpa’s two remaining
teeth. One of the teeth pops out and bounces down the path like a
little rusty coin. When I comfort Grandpa with a kiss on his bullet
hole, Mrs. Bury trembles uncontrollably.
“Are you cold, big lady?”
I reach inside Grandpa’s mouth, all the way in.
“Perhaps a nice warm gingerbread man would–”
“No, that’s alright, dear,” Mrs. Bury gulps, staring at me and
Grandpa like she’s seen a ghost – like an actual ghost. “I’ll just go
back inside. You run along, now. You and your…grandpa.”
“We will,” I call over my shoulder, skipping away down the
path. “Say goodbye to Mrs. Bury, Grandpa.”
“Goodbye to Mrs. Bury, Grandpa,” he cackles, spitting
gingerbread limbs all over her lawn. “Hey, don’t forget my tooth!”
Mrs. Bury latches the door. The curtains behind her big
windows snap together. Me and Grandpa hurry along to the next
house: Mr. and Mrs. Bannister. Like Mr. and Mrs. Bury, they are
also childless. But they make tofu in the shape of eyeballs, Grandpa’s
favourite. “You’ll have to chew’em for me, though.”
I can’t help but laugh.
“Grandpa, you’re so strange.”