Last contest I held only had a few submissions. Fearing I would see a repeat, I said in the rules you could only vote once. However, we’re getting a LOT of submissions for this one, so I updated the voting rules to allow you to vote for three.

However, voting does not start until October 30th. So don’t vote now.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #11

He had warned her not to reject him again, but the publisher folded the form letter and slid it into the self-addressed stamped envelope. His hand-written threat on the bottom of the query hadn’t scared her a bit. She lifted the envelope containing the final rejection to her mouth and quickly licked the seal. Her tongue tingled, she licked her lips and swallowed. Perhaps it was more than a threat.

A high-pitched sound filled her office and she screamed when she saw the string of words whizzing through the air towards her. They were moving fast but somehow she could read them all—regret to inform you, unfortunately, sorry, sadly, does not fit. Each word, each phrase landed on her body and seared into her flesh.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #10

“Go on, you yellow-bellied chicken liver.” The words of the fifth-grade bully echoed through Hayden’s mind as he tread carefully on the creaky porch step of the abandoned house at the end of Blake Street. There was barely enough light to show the outline of two small broken windows at the top of the front door, flanking the bent and rusty knocker, barely hanging by one equally rusty nail. The shifting shadows of light and dark threw themselves into an everchanging kaleidoscope of distorted faces on the door—mouths opened. Screaming, howling in silence, these flickering ghosts of light and dark seemed to watch him as he approached.

Hayden stepped onto the porch. Stopped. Right foot in front of the other, he took one more step toward the door. The wood beneath his feet screeched and strained, then broke through under his weight. As Hayden crashed through the rotting porch wood, the scent of death and decay rushed into his nostrils, filling his lungs. Just before his head hit the dirt beneath the porch and the darkness came, Hayden felt something hard and icy cold wrap around his ankles.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #9

I can’t remember how I found the house. That in itself is part of the problem, one I’ve retraced many times in my mind, until it has become more than an obsession. It has become my entire life. And there is worse. I cannot now remember how to leave it. You think my mind wanders perhaps – like a child’s; and there have been times I’ve run through these rooms like a child, searching for the tiniest crevice or crack through which I might slip out.

Sometimes I wake up, still warm in dream. I am walking up Stow Hill and before reaching its brow I take a left, and then turn right. Within moments I am lost in a warren of old houses that seem to multiply even as I walk. And the faster I walk the more numerous become the streets; each twisting off in illogical angles, until at last the house appears, as if by magic. That was how it was the first day.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #8

The rain raps against the cracked glass of my window like sharp and bony knuckles pounding the top of my skull. It’s getting darker earlier, and even when my clock tells me it is daylight outside, the sun refuses me like a faithless lover, hiding herself behind a grim gray sky. The cold seeks me through the cracks and knotholes. But the living things have fled. Even the rats and spiders eschew me—perhaps sensing the cold inside, perhaps understanding I would crush them in my bare hands without the slightest remorse.

In another few days, children will arrive, laughing and playing—hiding their true selves behind masks and costumes. But I won’t be here. I feel the shadow growing within me—filling me with a black, relentless hunger. Would that I could pull it off like a mask; throw it away like a costume. But I have finally come to realize the thing growing inside me again like a dark tumor is not an alien usurper but my true self unfolding. Soon I will begin to feed, to give myself over to the rage that burns my tongue and lips with a sanctifying fire. This time I won’t stop. This time I know where you are. I am coming for you. My love.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #7

Sydney couldn’t believe her luck. She’d gotten the last cinnamon/ raisin/chocolate chip bagel at the deli this morning. She found an empty seat on the subway and had it all to herself all the way to work. On her way home, as she turned the corner at Elm and Rose, she found a twenty-dollar bill just lying on the curb. She picked it up and stuffed it in her pocket as she fit her keys into her front door. But Sydney would never have a chance to spend that twenty because horror waited on the other side. Sydney’s lucky day was also her last.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #6

I jerk from unconscious to wide awake in an instant. My heart hammers in my throat. When I swallow I taste a hint of blood. The sheet on top of me trembles with each heartbeat. I hold my breath, willing my pulse to slow to normal, straining to hear any sound that doesn’t belong to the morning. Nothing. I let my breath roll out, unclench my hands, relax my jaw. It was nothing. Just a dream. I roll over in my bed and bump against something that shouldn’t be there—long, solid, cold and covered with blood.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #5

I hate mirrors at night. If I have to go by one in the dark I avoid looking at them. I’m always worried I’ll see some dark form standing near me, or that my face will change like in “Poltergeist”. Telling me the fear is all imagined doesn’t work either, especially since I know Nostradamus used to sit in a cloaked and darkened room staring at a ‘black mirror’ to receive his hideous visions and scrying through mirrors isn’t just something Christopher Paolini made up in Eragon. Apparently there is some power between mirrors and other world reflections. It’s not all imagination. So when I saw the dark form of a man standing behind my
reflection in the middle of the day my heart turned over. I knew my house was empty.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #4

Horror, LDS Style

The perspiration dripped down the back of her neck. Her heart beat wildly, thundering in her ears and pounding in her head. Her husband sat in a chair next to her, motionless. He said nothing. Had the shock rendered him speechless? Her own distress paralyzed her. Fear wrapped itself so tightly around her, she struggled for breath. How could this happen? It was the worst of her nightmares. She wondered if she could rush to the door fast enough and evaporate into the night. Again, the man across from her said, “Sister Jones, would you accept the call to serve as Relief Society President?”

Can We Submit More Than Once

I have three different opening paragraphs for your contest. Can I submit all of them?

Sure. Knock yourself out.

Send each one in a separate e-mail.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #3

Constance sat straight up in bed, eyes wide open. Light from the full moon seeped through the window and cast shadows around her attic bedroom. She gazed about and then stood. Slowly, she walked to the window. It was still latched. Yet, she¢d felt . . . no, it was a dream . . . her imagination, nothing more. Again, an icy gush of air rushed passed her, almost through her. Her heart beat quickened. Her imagination? She caught a glimpse of something in the antique, full-length mirror. She hurried to it, only to see . . . screaming was the last thing she remembered.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #2

She had lived in the old wooden house two months. The sounds the wood made had been charming and even funny but after time she had begun to notice that the creaks weren’t under foot so much as roughly a yard behind her. When she walked through the intricate double doors into the dining room she heard the wood under her as it spoke in its language about weight and pressure and manner and permission to pass through. Along behind her came the slighter sound of another weight, another pressure, an altogether different manner. That this other had as much authority as she to walk these floors and halls was as disconcerting as the mere admission that another entity might be there at all. Once when she was going upstairs she started slightly at the sound of a tread on the stair just three steps below her. Out of the corner of her eye she glimpsed the merest flicker of a shadow of movement like branches in a breeze where there is no wind. Clutching her warm laundry to her chest, she fled the rest of the way to her room.

Swear Word? What Swear Word?

The comments on the first Halloween contest submission bring up some good points. You’re right, I said no swearing in the rules. That word slipped past me because that allusion to Shakespeare is so common that it doesn’t seem to be actual swearing to me. I suppose we could either consider that a commentary on how I have become so inured to evil that I don’t even notice it anymore… or it could be that because it’s in the Bible I don’t put it in the same category as some of the other, more offensive, words.

In this case, by loosely quoting that phrase from Macbeth, the writer is evoking all of the ghostly tone and emotional guilt from the original work, using it to foreshadow what is coming next. (At least, I assume something is coming next that will brilliantly reflect the implications of that quote.) It works. “Out, darn spot” wouldn’t cut it. Another use would be to reference Rhett Butler’s classic quote. That one probably would have floated past my notice as well.

“Hell” can be a swear word too or it can be a literal place–a place that someone might want to reference in the opening paragraph to a horror story. It could also be used as an adjective (that hellish blog is giving me fits), in which case, I would not call it swearing.

After thinking about this for hours and hours, I’ve decided to let the submission stand as is and to revise the rules as follows:

If you use one of the two words I’ve mentioned above, as described above, then I’ll let you slide. Other words, or these words used merely as expletives, will cause your submission to be sent back for rewriting.

As always, if you find a submission personally offensive, don’t vote for it.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #1

Erin soaked the stain five days: brownish red, spilled over the right leg of her jeans. Each day she pulled them out of the bucket, inspected, scrubbed. Brown particles floated away from the fabric, but the stain remained bright. She went online and looked for stain remedies: Blood: soak in cold water. Use hydrogen peroxide for stubborn stains. She pulled out the hydrogen peroxide and dabbed some on. White foam fizzled, bubbling until it spread over her hands and wrists. “Out, damn spot,” she muttered to herself, scraping off foam to see if the peroxide had faded the stain. But the foam grew back, creeping up her arms, edging towards her neck.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off Opening Paragraph Contest

I was recently reminded that I haven’t done a contest in awhile. So in honor of Halloween, let’s hear it for the Scare-Your-Pants-Off Opening Paragraph contest.

Submission Rules:
Write an opening paragraph (or two, but no more than two) for a horror story.

Maximum word count: None; but no slopping together multiple paragraphs and pretending it’s just one.

No swearing or graphic gore. Set the mood with your WORDS, not with hack tricks.

Published paragraphs ineligible, as are entries for last year’s contest. Other than that, you’re free to recycle something you wrote previously.

Paste entire paragraph(s) into an e-mail and send to me. No attachments, please.

You may submit more than once. Send each submission in a separate e-mail.

SUBMIT it any time between now and Monday, October 29th.

I will post all paragraphs as they come in.

Voting Rules:

VOTE between October 30th and October 31st.

We’ll have a Popular Vote winner and a Publisher’s Choice winner. My winner will be the one who creeped me out the most. You guys can vote by whatever criteria you want, just don’t make it a popularity contest.

Don’t vote for yourself.

UPDATE: You may vote up to three times, but only once per paragraph. We’re on the honor system here.

You may make all the comments you like, but VOTING COMMENTS must clearly indicate that it is a vote. (Ex: I’m voting for this one…)

Winner will be announced after Halloween.

PRIZE: A classic horror book of your choice (must be available in paperback and easy to find) AND full story (if there is one) posted here with a link back to your blog or website.