Excerpt from Kevin Grover's story "Dead Ringers"
“I know what you’re thinking,” Jeff continued. “Easy job, listening for the Dead Ringers. But you know how many graves you got here? There’s three hundred at last count. This here makes it three hundred and one.” He spat again on the mound of dirt. “So you’re making your rounds at the dead of night and you hear the jingling of a bell from a Dead Ringer. Now you’re running around, trying to locate where it’s coming from out of over three hundred rotting corpses. And one of them out there is ringing that bell by the string tied to their wrist. As you make your way, tripping over gravestones, another bell starts ringing.”
Zach shuddered. The sun had sunk low on the horizon that bled red across the countryside. The church was a stone tower against the blood sun, sentinel to the dead. And across from the church was the little wooden shack, nestled in among the dead, looking ready to fall at the next gust of wind. That was Jeff’s hut where the old fool put his feet up and slept through the night. Tonight it would be Zach’s hut as he took on the town’s tradition of the Graveyard Shift, a role born from superstition and unfounded fear of the undead.
Excerpt from Sharon Flood's story "Bollywog"
'We could have used it to do stuff for us all these years. I wish I still had it to do my bidding." "Maybe, but at what expense? You know that whatever we wished for, someone else would pay for with their lives."
"We don't know that for sure. If we were specific enough, we could get around that. I wish you hadn't pulled the tent down on it and smashed it repeatedly with a rock." They didn't notice that the smoke had taken on a sinister shape all its' own. "It is as you bid master."
Excerpt from Roy L Daman's story "Tip of the Hat"
My hand, sallow and clammy, grasped the door and thrust it open. His presence penetrated down to the cells of my body. I would die. I had no doubt. Never had I known such fear. I gasped loudly. "Tangie. I don't deserve your love. Save all your light for her. Save our baby." A weak, cloudy figure stood over my daughter. Precisely the same wispy figure that had stood over Tangie on the shore of the lake that day. His malicious smile widened. He turned to greet me by tipping his hat.
Oddly, this room, unlike the rest of the house, remained stable and firm. This room formed a nexus of dark and light energy that bent and collapsed upon itself like the event horizon of a black hole. This room had become a portal. He turned back to his task. Cassie's screams erupted from within her as he started his torment anew. It crushed my heart to hear her howl with such anguish. I thrust myself between them. I blocked his path to her. Grooves of blood lashed across my skin. I thrust the dagger between us, the book held tightly under my arm. I winced with each rake of his claws.
"Tangie. Please. Help her," I called out.
I heard the rattle of a pill bottle hitting the floor. It rolled to my feet. Her music began to play from Cassie's radio. Those chords thundered like an angry angel of God. She bolstered my courage, even now. I picked the bottle up like a weapon and opened the top. Pink. I downed the entire bottle with a gulp.
Darkness pealed with the rising, desperate trill of a dying gorgon. The pills had opened my sight. He stood exposed, his dreaded cowl stripped away for me to see the bleached wight grinning menacingly at me.
Excerpt from Laura Callender's story "Cherry Oak Road"
“Malcolm, are you okay?” I took a tentative step backwards to allow him space to turn around. He didn’t move, just continued to slice the strawberries, ignoring me completely. “Malcolm. Hey, hello? Earth to Malcom.” This time I stepped closer, but rather than nuzzle into his back I peered around him to look up at his face.
My eyes caught the mess before registering what it was. Blood pooled over the worktop as Malcolm sliced the fingers off his left hand. He had cut chunks off each one without a single sound.
I felt the terror tremble through me, rumbling like an unexpected storm. Vomit hit the floor before I even realized I was throwing up. The smell and taste of it brought another wave of rancid nausea. I stood helplessly over the sink as my body betrayed me multiple times.
Glancing up, I saw that same strange, familiar face just outside my window. An awkward smile now replaced his vacant stare. I felt myself lose control as my body fell to the floor and I fainted again.
Excerpt from Kathrin Hutson's story "And You Will Not Be Afraid"
A girl sat on the staircase, her knees drawn up to her chin. Her face was completely invisible behind a cascade of greasy, wild dark hair, caked with all kinds of grit that I couldn’t make out and hanging in strings down her face. The dress she wore turned my stomach. It was ripped, torn, and soiled beyond imagination. I could tell by the crumbs, drips of food, scattered feces, and the yellow stains on the front of her dress that no one had bothered to clean this girl. No one had bothered to help her at all.
A mixture of pity and rage filled me and I tried to catch my breath. Had these people just left her in here? I turned around swiftly and glared at one of the nearby maids. “What’s wrong with this girl?” I demanded, looking wildly around. “Isn’t it your job to take care of her?” The maid I accused simply stood there dumbfounded, and like the well-kept little girl leaning against the wall, simply shook her head. What was wrong with these people?
I turned to the double doors of the staircase again and thrust them open. The maid outside screamed, and suddenly the dirty girl on the staircase jerked her head up to look at me. Her eyes met mine, and I flung my hands over my face, wanting to wipe the picture out of my memory. I backed quickly out of the doors, leaving them to swing violently back and forth before me, and stared into the staircase again. The girl had lowered her face once more.
Excerpt from Crystal M M Burton's story "The Open Door"
"You can move on your own now," Callie stated. Her reflection only nodded. "I still don't understand why."
"You unlocked the door," the girl in the mirror whispered.
Callie stared, waiting for a deeper explanation. Her reflection looked down, as if composing herself. When she raised her face once more, Callie was shocked by the honesty of her somber smile. It was as if her image could actually feel emotion. It was almost too much for her to bear; the idea that an image on a piece of glass could feel anguish, loss, hope--all of which Callie saw reflected back at her in her own eyes. Tears crept down both Callie's cheeks and those of her image, and Callie had to feel her face again to be sure the tears were her own this time.
"You unlocked the door," her reflection repeated, hope glistening on her fragile words. "You can save me. You can protect me. You can open the door."
"What door?" Callie asked with trepidation. The girl stepped forward, and for a moment Callie thought she was going to collide with the clear wall that stood between them. She stopped at the frame, and put her hands up on the thick glass.
"This door," she said softly.
Excerpt from Virginia Carraway Stark's story "Annie's Fetch"
She opened the door a gust of wind blew the inner door out of her fingers and slammed it into the plaster walls. Standing on the other side of the door was herself, or something very like herself, “My fetch.” Annie mumbled in recognition of the spirit that she had been told as a young girl signified your death or near death.
She looked eerily like Annie but her skin was pale and blue and her eyes were rimmed in red. She was wearing a white nightgown and looked as though she was wet. Her bare feet had left damp footprints a for only a few steps behind her. Her cloudy blue eyes looked up to meet Annie's gaze and she smiled. Her smile was filled with pointed, yellowed teeth and was as malignant as the cancer that had killed Annie's mother.
Annie tried to scream but only a whimper came out. She took a step back and the thing, the demon that looked like a fell mirror took a step towards her. The hem of her nightgown was now dripping water and as she swayed, the smallest of drops fell, helped by a gust of wind, inside the threshold of Annie's home.
Annie jumped away from the water droplet and fumbled for the door. The fetch slowly raised its foot to take another shambling step towards her. Annie slammed the door and threw the deadbolt.
Excerpt from AJ Millen's story "Evil Eye"
The necklace had been placed round her neck by her superstitious Greek grandmother, Yiayia Gogo, on her 12th birthday. It was, she had said, to protect her from the evil eye – the ‘mati’ – but also carried a special charm that would protect others too.
“I know you think is all Greek stupidity, my darling,” she had said. “But I KNOW. You have your aunt Voula’s eyes – powerful eyes – and there lies the danger.”
Georgia had laughed as she thought of her sweet great aunt in the village on Gogo’s island home. Her tired, benevolent gaze through rheumy blue eyes seemed anything but powerful or dangerous to her.
Excerpt from Rachel Fox's story "Crepuscular"
She heard it before she saw it. A faint, pitiful mewling. She thought she had imagined it but the room was dark and quiet and, when it came again, she was sure she had not. She sat up resting herself on her elbow and squinted into the dark corner. The sound came again and the shadows shifted. She held her breath and watched. At first it seemed to have no form, being nothing but a small blob of blackness crawling across the floor towards her. It moved slowly and painfully, pulsing as made its way onto the middle of the room.
Moonlight ripped a tear across the floor and as the creature moved into she could see it was a kitten. Tiny and barely formed, its eyes were closed and its black fur matted to its skin. It limped further towards her but she was off the bed by then, leaping towards it. It flinched as she landed on floor beside it. She picked the animal up gently, feeling its fragile frame in her hands, knowing she could crush it if she wanted to. She carried it to the bed and cradled to her chest whispering “its ok, you’re safe now.”
The kitten nuzzled into her palm, stretching its head towards her as if reaching for something “What are you after?” She asked.
It wriggled in her hands, mewling more desperately, she loosened her grip and it sprang forward. Sophie felt its rough tongue, dry and ragged, brush against her wrist. The kitten moved its head moved from side to side, purring now it settled its head against her skin and began licking the beads of drying blood.
“Are you hungry?” she asked.
Excerpt from Rachael Steele's story "Resident 7K"
Opening the front door just enough to get a clear view of the elevator, she waited for it to descend. She could hear the doors shudder open and the sound of the man’s boots stepping inside the elevator with the dragging noise behind him. Another crack of lighting snapped through the sky, causing her to jump back against the cold brick wall. The elevator doors clanged shut, and she stood there waiting for it to slowly descend past her floor.
Wrapping her arms tightly around her stomach, she felt herself getting nauseous. The small circular window in the elevator would only align with its counterpart on her floor for a few seconds. She knew there wouldn't be much to see, but felt compelled to look. As the light came down, all she saw was a man wearing a blue hat, his eyes hidden by the brim. She quickly retreated into her apartment, slamming the door behind her.
At least I can have some peace and quiet now he’s gone out, she thought. Pulling the duvet up to her ears, she listened to the wind as it whipped the leaves off the trees and left behind the dry, cracked branches that now creaked outside her bedroom window.
Excerpt from Alex Benitez's story "The Man in the Black Hat"
As they searched for additional players, Michael saw him. A scrawny hunched over old man in a black hat with a long face. It was a dark dirty pork pie hat and he wore a disheveled suit like any common tramp, but the eerie thing about the man was his face. His eyes and mouth were black gaping holes leading to a place where a spirit was supposed to be. He just stood there at the edge of the park, by the woods, staring at the kids.
"Who is that?" Michael questioned. Greg quickly dropped his ball and forcibly shifted Michael's body so that his back was facing the man in the black hat. He frantically urged.
"Never look at him! Never ever!"
"If you don't look at him he can't get you," Greg explained.
Excerpt from Tony Stark's story "Remus"
I stared down at it. So this was the great fortress that was Rome. This was the wall I had been hearing so very much about. Then I made my fatal mistake. I laughed. To me, it was a light-hearted, surprised exclamation. I certainly meant no harm. I was opening my mouth to ask my brother if he wanted my help to finish his wall when I felt the knife in my back. Romulus had crested the hill in time to hear my laughter, and, after the shame of his accomplishment and the shock of my own, it had been the final straw.
He stabbed me and stabbed me, and finally, as I lay bleeding the last life I ever had onto his soil, he choked the rest of it out of me. His black eyes were glowing with hatred, his thick hands were strong and relentless.
Needless to say, I hadn't seen him since. He had left me there to wash his hands in the river. As the sun set, the spirits of the dead had come and taken me away, a merciful act of pity so that Romulus could not defile me further when he returned. I wondered if he had thought anything about how his brother had disappeared, wondered if I lingered on as a ghost or a spirit, let alone in this deathly corporeal form. I liked to think that maybe he did, now that the cold and miserable yin year was chilling him even in his luxurious penthouse.
Excerpt from Cayce Berryman's story "Crafted with Daddy"
Kristy didn’t answer, but Mara heard the rustle of feet escaping into the yard behind their house. She ran after the sound and sped up with fury igniting beneath her feet as she caught the familiar scurry in Kristy’s legs. She easily caught up with her and spun her around to scream fear into her daughter.
Mara dropped her arms and fell back onto her backside. The silver sheen that glittered in Kristy’s eyes glared down at her in the remaining moonlight. Her hands dripped with a dark liquid, and the same liquid darkened the skin on her neck and streaked down her chest. Kristy smiled, her eyes wide and joyful like an entrancing game she couldn’t escape.
Excerpt from Jason Pere's story "Lethal"
Steven may have been able to keep what he did locked away during the daylight hours but when he slept his dreams would not spare him. They forced him to remember the images that he suppressed and recall the torment that took place in the Death Room. The weight that Steven was laden with had begun to take its toll whether the man would acknowledge it or not. For months now Steven had been fighting the shaking in his body that gripped him each time and inmate was sent up the row. He told himself “Just one more, just one more,” under his breath. It was the mantra that he had begun to recite after flipping the switches on the machines today. He was only scheduled for one more execution before retirement. Steven clung to that fact as a light at the end of the tunnel.
The dreams were beginning to feel so genuine. Steven was not sure how much more he could take. He had tried everything to help get a restful night’s sleep. Alcohol to black him out, Caffeine to keep him awake, even Pills form the doctor but nothing worked. His last hope was that leaving this place behind him for good would be enough to make the dreams stop once and for all. Steven couldn’t spend the rest of his days seeing the faces of the men he had killed every time he closed his eyes.
Excerpt from Charlotte Rose Lange's Story "Darkness Calls"
I hate how big his bed is. I hate how there are no windows and the door jam is so tight only a pathetic crumb of light gets through – which is of course smothered with a folded towel. I hate how cold his room is. Everything from the tile to the comforter is ice cold. My one strategy is to move as little as possible to let my own body heat create a warm spot.
I really can't tell if my eyes are open or shut. The all encompassing black burrows deep into my eye
sockets, daring me to hide under the covers, but I'm no longer a child. Cold skitters at my elbows and toes, but I stick to my strategy. Silence murmurs in the corners, pulling at the frayed threads of my imagination.
Anything could be happening inches in front of my face right now I'd have no clue. A tentacle monster gyrating obscenely. A goblin with nails as sharp as needles angling to pop out my eyes, or maybe it'll start with my nails seeing as it's Tuesday. Evil goo squelching and slorping up the covers, it's tiny heart set on sliding across my tongue, down my throat, and into my soul. I bite my lips closed, but can't protect my nose.
I sit up suddenly, dispersing my childhood haunts.