Top Scare Flash Fiction Contest
With the philosophy in mind that anything can be scary, The Midnight Society brings you Top Scare, a new flash fiction contest.
Post to the comments section below a piece of flash fiction (700 words or fewer) about the seemingly benign noun of the month. This month’s benign noun is a mailbox.
Here are some images that could get you thinking, but you are not required to use them:
On Sunday, October 5, the Top Scare of all the entries will be announced. The winner gets a badge specially designed for that month. What will it look like? Play to find out!
An hour ago, I was tucked in bed and dreaming. Now I’m standing barefoot in a dark field. I knew this was going to happen. I am, after all, a legacy. Mom has been grooming me for this sorority since I started my freshman year. Now the wait is over. All that stands in my way is tonight.
I’m surrounded by my fellow pledges and my future sorority sisters. The sisters hold flickering candles. The pledges and I blend into the shadows.
“Listen up, bitches.” Claudia, sorority president, stands on a makeshift podium. “The test is simple. At the end of the field is a mailbox. All you have to do is stick your arm inside for three minutes, and then you’re in.”
“That’s it?” A shivering pledge asks.
“That’s it. The only catch is that you’re not allowed to scream.” Claudia scans the crowd. “Who’d like to start things off?”
I take a deep breath and step into the wavering light. “I will.”
“A legacy,” Claudia purrs. “Perfect. Come with me.”
I follow the girl into the inky depths until we stop at a rusted red and blue mailbox. It’s nothing special; it’s the kind that would stand on a busy street corner. It’s big enough for large parcels, or teeny sorority sisters. When my mom pledged, it was one of these bendy sisters that grabbed her hand and yanked it the second she slid it through the mail slot. But Mom didn’t scream and neither will I.
“I’m going to leave you alone now.” Claudia walks backward. “But I’ll be close enough to hear you yelp.”
Once I’m alone, I pull my foot back. If I can startle whoever is hiding in the lower compartment, I won’t be so scared. I let my foot fly and boot the mailbox.
It was worth a shot.
I set the timer on my roommate’s dorky digital watch for three minutes. I clench my jaw and lift the mail slot. I slide my watch-less hand into the narrow gap and squeeze my eyes shut.
The air inside the mailbox is thick and humid. The hair on the back of my hand stands up and digs into my skin like tiny needles. I wiggle my fingers to let the hiding girl know I’m there. I nearly lose it when I graze a patch of coarse hair with the back of my hand.
“Found you,” I think.
I crane my neck and look at my watch. Two minutes to go. I nudge the girl’s head with my hand. She leans into it and a throaty sigh rumbles up the mailbox.
“What the hell?” I pull my hand back but the furry head follows.
Hot breath cascades over my palm. Chills erupt over my body and cover my limbs. I shiver but I don’t make a peep.
“You’re halfway there!” Claudia calls.
A warm, fleshy tongue drags across my palm. Saliva covers my hand like ooze. I flick it off and it tings against the medal siding.
“They’re really going all out this year,” I think.
My timer beeps. One more minute.
Razor sharp teeth graze my thumb. I flinch and shove my hand into the corner of the mailbox. The mouth follows. The teeth trace my fingers and break the first layer of skin.
I wince but I don’t make a sound.
Canines dip into the flesh between my thumb and pointer finger. It hurts, but it’s not enough to make me fail. The tongue laps at warm beads of blood. A low growl makes the entire mailbox vibrate.
Finally, the monstrous head pulls back. I smile and let out a deep breath. I did it.
Suddenly, vise-like jaws clamp around my wrist and yank my entire arm through the slot. Skin pushes up my forearm like a bunched sleeve.
Whatever lurks in the mailbox smashes my arm against the side of the opening. Bone snaps. The world starts to spin. The teeth rip into the soft flesh of my bicep. Teeth gnash. It’s tongue slurps.
My watch beeps.
Gladys sat in her rocking chair, letting the blanket she was knitting fall across her knees. Henry jumped into her lap, pushing his furry head between her and her project.
“Is it that time already, Henry?” Gladys asked. She set aside her knitting and stood, sending Henry leaping off her lap.
She shuffled to the front door and grabbed the tattered yellow umbrella that stood next to it. The rainy season had come early this year.
She stepped outside and snapped open her umbrella. She made her way along the concrete path to the mailbox at the end of the driveway.
No one wrote to her anymore. Kids these days, and even the grown-ups, they were too busy. They texted each other or e-mailed or something called snapchatted. She didn’t understand the half of it.
She opened the mailbox, expecting the usual bills and grocery store fliers. She was surprised to find a plain white envelope addressed to her. The handwriting seemed familiar.
Her shuffle carried a little more energy as she made it back to the house. She took a seat on the sofa and with shaking hands tore open the envelope.
“I’m watching you.”
Her hand flew to her throat. She dropped the paper in her lap and took up the envelope again, searching its stark exterior for some clue. She stared again at the handwriting. So, so familiar.
“George? Is it you?” she asked in a whisper.
It wasn’t logical, some part of her brain knew that. She didn’t care.
She made her way into the bedroom and pulled a battered shoe box from under the bed. She took off the lid and pulled out a stack of weathered envelopes.
Love letters from her husband, before he was her husband and later, while he served in the war. Tender words from a not so tender man. She cherished each one of them and had read them over and over again since his death.
And the handwriting was identical to that of the letter she received that afternoon.
Tears misted in her eyes. She put the letters back in the box and added the new one to the top of the collection. She giggled, then slid the box under the bed and rose.
George was watching her.
She watched the mail, hoping for another letter, although she knew that was silly. The first had been miracle enough, hadn’t it? Yet, hope, even silly hope, was more important than air when you were old and alone.
Three weeks after the first, she found another letter in the mailbox. The same plain white envelope. The same handwriting.
“I’m coming for you tonight.”
Her breath caught in her throat. Yes. Yes, she thought, I’m ready. She yearned so much to be with him.
That night before dinner, she dressed in her favorite lavender dress. She fluffed her gray hair and dabbed red lipstick on her lips. She cut a white rose from her garden and pinned it to her bodice. It was just like the one he had brought her on their very first date, when he had taken her out dancing. She hoped he’d remember.
She made chicken cattiatore for dinner, his favorite; it didn’t dawn on her that maybe she should prepare her own favorite, seeing as it was her last meal and all. She picked at it while she waited, but he didn’t come. The hours drifted past; he didn’t come. Two hours past her usual bedtime, she finally got up from the table, threw the remaining food down the sink, and made her way to bed.
Disappointment blinded her so that she missed movement next to the bed.
“I told you I would come,” said a deep voice.
For the smallest moment, hope soared once again in heart, replaced quickly by confusion. She searched the face of this young man dressed in dark clothes, wearing a dark knit cap. She didn’t recognize him at all.
The light glinted off the blade raised over her head. Understanding finally sunk in as she saw red drops of blood darken the petals of her white rose — understanding and disappointment. She wouldn’t be getting love letters anymore.
Letters from Lovers | Shelli Proffitt Howells
[…] prompt is from The Midnight Society’s Top Scare Flash Fiction contest. The benign noun for the month is […]
I deserve the great nothingness of death.
But it failed to devour me.
Late summer sunlight glares across the front of the white house with blue shutters. My house. Behind me, browning corn stalks chatter in a breeze. My heart flutters nervously at the thought of entering after my long absence, of facing the ghosts that haunted me.
My fingers tug at the plastic band around my wrist. I wouldn’t let them cut it off. After months of therapy, I wanted to keep my problems.
The wind dies, plunging the world into eerie quiet.
I turn, glancing at the field behind me and down the empty road. Nothing. The mailbox sits on its wooden cross. The red flag stands at attention, oddly out of place. I press the red metal shape down and it creaks in protest, echoing the sound.
I brush the confusion away and take one step towards the house then stop.
The front door stands guard. The windows calmly reflect the world. Icy fear closes on my heart. Does the fear still linger in the halls? Do the haunting voices of the dead wait to attack?
The sound, like a cry of pain, of hatred. I glance over my shoulder. The mailbox’s red flag trembles. A gasp lingers on my lips. Fear, anxiety, and confusion pound in my head. The street remains empty, the sun glinting off the pavement. The air vibrates with the terrible hum of cicadas. Stepping forward, my hand shakes as I reach for the flag, forcing it down. I gaze up at the sky, wanting to blame the wind, and blink in the bright light. Fire.
Like the blaze, the one I had started, the one that had killed. Beautiful raging flames remind me of the hell, waiting to claim my soul.
I snap my gaze back to the mailbox. Tears fill my eyes, blurring the red shape, pointing up to the sky as if in accusation. With a cry of frustration, I slap the flag into place. I stare at it as I back away, running my fingers along the long pink scars lining my wrists.
A sob rips from my throat as the red object rises up, slowly, purposefully. I twist the hospital band around my wrist as I step forward to face my fears, to fight. Like I had that day.
A shudder crawls up my spine and settles in my mind.
All the death of that day.
And it hadn’t mattered.
The letter, an uncaring form, screamed when I lit it on fire. My heart races with the memories of power as I fueled the inferno. The stacks of files on the floor had crackled as their edges blackened, curled, the flames spreading in moments.
The alarm. The screams. I had walked calmly away.
I reach for the mailbox. A wave of cold sweeps across my face.
Sunlight illuminates my jagged scar, the remnant of my search for oblivion. My lip quivers at the thought of eternal sleep, of paying for my crime. My heart pounds out a chaotic rhythm as I force the red thing down.
Tears stroke my cheeks with fear, with acceptance. Those who had died returned for me, demanding I pay. Therapy tried to convince me that there are no ghosts, but there are. They were with me when I sliced my wrists. They laughed. Shadows pool under my feet and the mailbox as if darkness gathers to take me.
The flag jumps to attention. The mailbox shakes.
Wiping tears from my face, I open it. Cold seeps from the blackness inside. My chest aches as I fight to breathe. My trembling hand is drawn into the opening as if I have no say, no control.
My fingers wrap around a solid, icy form, cold as death. Light glints off the blade as I pull the knife from the box. A piece of paper flutters to the ground. Sobs creep along my shoulders as I gaze at the note’s fiery letters.
“Finish what you started. Hell waits.”
Cassidy sighed as she opened the mailbox and peered inside. Empty as usual but something was different. Today there were dents and scratches along the right side, ugly gouges in the black painted metal. Her heart raced with excitement. Maybe this would be the day that she got some answers.
For as long as Cassidy could remember, every day began the same. First there was the endless blackness that chilled her to her very bones and then, in an instant, she was standing in front of that beaten up old mailbox along the side of an old dirt road. There were no houses, no cars, just an abandoned and grown up drive winding through the trees. Something called to her about that drive but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t go past the mailbox. It was a kind of hell, a limbo, and she was cursed to keep repeating it. Nothing about the scene ever changed and this was all she could ever recall.
Except today. Cassidy nearly wept with relief. She took a step back and almost fell as pain, white hot and brutal, swept up her leg and through her hip. She cried out and looked down, only to gasp in shock. There was so much blood! It was everywhere, so much so that she couldn’t even see the brown color of her knee high boots. And was that bone peeking through the side of her knee? Oh God, she thought. What’s happening? Her jean skirt was now ripped and filthy.
Cassidy stumbled forward to grab the old mailbox for support only to stop when she realized that there were even more changes to it now. The pole supporting it was shattered in the middle and the mailbox was now lying in a mangled mess in the weeds.
Another wave of pain drove Cassidy to her knees and she fell weakly to her back, looking up at the serene blue sky and puffy white clouds. A single tear escaped her eye and slid over her bloody cheek, disappearing into her wheat blonde hair.
She remembered it all now, walking to the road to check the mail, the wind blowing through her long blonde hair, peeking inside to find it empty, and then the sound of screeching tires and the bone crushing impact. The driver speeding away was the last sound Cassidy ever heard as she lay bleeding and broken in the tall grass along the charming country road. She remembered it all now!
Peace settled over Cassidy like a warm blanket and she began to let go. Holding up her hand, she could see the beautiful sky through her palm, the lazy clouds drifting in front of the sun, becoming clearer and clearer and she slipped away with a sigh.
There was an eerie silence in the surrounding woods, as if even the insects held their breath, and then in an instant, Cassidy appeared. Standing in front of that old mailbox with her hand reaching forward of its own accord. Her anguished scream echoed through the trees, scattering birds and animals alike, and it began again.
“Letters From David”
Sylvia waited by the door, eyes peering hawk-like through the peephole, as her mailman opened her mailbox. Her heart pounded as he slid a single letter inside before moving along.
As if he hadn’t just delivered her whole world.
Pulling her robe tight, she threw open the door and jogged down the cracked pavers in her slippers. When her hand closed around the crisp envelope, she finally exhaled. She could almost feel David’s presence in it.
Hurrying back inside, she locked the door behind her. Ripping open the letter in a frenzy of fingers and excitement, she read it with wide, unblinking eyes, soaking in the words like oxygen. Like she needed them to breathe.
When David had died, he’d taken a vital part of her with him. She hadn’t slept or eaten for weeks after. Hadn’t bathed. She’d wanted to die, too.
And she’d tried. She could still remember how the utility knife’s blade had separated the skin of her wrists. How the blood had welled, spilling onto the pink tile of her bathroom floor. If it hadn’t been for her sister’s untimely visit and resulting 911 call, Sylvia would have succeeded.
But then he’d started sending her letters from the grave.
About a month after he’d died, when she’d been so low, she’d gotten the first. She’d known it was from him. It’d been his uneven, loopy handwriting. His mannerisms. It’d even smelled like his cologne. The shock had been astounding.
Eventually, she’d come to crave the ghostly correspondence. Her mailbox became her last link to David.
When she was finished reading, her hands were trembling. This was different from the others. It couldn’t possibly be true. Could it? She reread the words again:
-I’ve found a way to come back to you, Sylv. To be alive again. You want that, don’t you? It’s so dark here. So lonely. Please help me, darling. We can be together forever.-
A list of ingredients and instructions for a ritual followed.
Feeling both ecstatic and terrified, Sylvia returned the letter to its envelope. Then, she gave
her hair a nervous pat and exchanged her slippers for her tired loafers. Her car keys and purse felt heavy in her hands. Unfamiliar.
She hadn’t left the house in over twelve weeks.
But she would do it for David. She’d do anything for him.
An hour later, she was back from the grocery. It took her another hour to arrange everything to David’s specifications. By the time she was sitting in the chalk circle she’d carefully drawn on floor, candles flickering eerily in the dim room, her heart was thumping and sweat had broken out under her arms. The anticipation was almost more than she could bear.
In a tremulous voice, she spoke the words David had written. She didn’t understand them. Didn’t know what language they were written in even. But she didn’t care. She only hoped she was pronouncing them right. When she finished, she looked around, perplexed. Nothing. The house was still as dull and empty as it ever was.
She was about to try again when the floor beneath her began to vibrate, the knickknacks on her shelves clinking together. Sylvia’s mouth opened as she looked around in dismay. And eagerness. David was coming. He was really coming.
The flash of light was unexpected and powerful. She flew backwards, out of the circle, and crashed into something hard. Her breath was knocked out and a great rushing and howling in her ears stole her senses. With her hair whipping about her face and her chest constricting, she cupped her hands over her ears and screamed.
Later, when the house is quiet once again and the scent of sulfur lingers in the air, the demon walks through the drab rooms, surveying its new surroundings. It pauses in front of a mirror in the hall, admiring its new face. Sylvia’s face. Frizzy brown hair. Bad skin. Thick glasses. Not the vessel it would’ve preferred, but it would do. And now that it was free, the world was its supermarket. A veritable buffet of bodies.
Smiling, the demon continues walking down the hall, thinking how wonderfully gullible humans are.
Let’s Celebrate! Flash Fiction Conquered | Finding Faeries
[…] thought I’d share it. If you enjoy it, go visit their blog to read the others. http://midnightsocietytales.com/2014/09/07/flash-fiction-contest/ Maybe even write one of your own… maybe you will […]
Jack Roth stood at his front door, looking down the driveway at the mailbox. He had to pick up the mail today – there was a paycheck in there somewhere, and the box was stuffed to overflowing. No more putting it off.
He walked cautiously, almost shuffling, down to the curb. The poor mail carrier hadn’t even been able to close the box all the way today. How long had it been? A week? Two? It shouldn’t be so full, should it?
Without looking, he pulled the mass of envelopes and birdcage liners from the box. He didn’t know how he’d sort through it to find his paycheck, but surely he’d think of something. Maybe this time it wouldn’t be so bad.
An envelope dropped from the mess, flapping to rest at Jack’s sneakers. Dammit. He closed his eyes, bent down, and felt around until he found it.
Reflexively, he opened his eyes. A mistake. He saw the sender’s name on the envelope – Allie Roth. Allie, sending him another letter from beyond the grave.
He wouldn’t be opening that one.
He made it back to the house without dropping any more, though he struggled to make it through the front door with the bundle. Once in his kitchen, he dropped the pile on the table.
He had to do this. He could do it.
He began by sorting the newsprint from the pile – that he wouldn’t have to read, because it was clearly not a paycheck. He briefly glimpsed coupons for saws and shovels before crumpling it and throwing it in the kitchen trash.
Next he grabbed a postcard addressed to Allie – a recipe from a Realtor somewhere in town. Harmless. He even took a moment to look at the dish it was suggesting–
He dropped it with a shudder. He’d made that dish once before.
He pushed envelopes around, anxiously looking for his paycheck. There – he ripped it open and saw the check, attached to a stub relating all the taxes that had been withheld. Income Tax. Social Security. Murdering Your Wife. Dismemberment. Burial.
His hands shook. Enough. Enough enough enough. Everyone knew, they knew and they were torturing him, and it would never stop.
He picked up the postcard with the recipe. Maybe he’d cook it for himself this time. It had simple ingredients. He even still had some lye left from the last time he’d made it.
Reclaim Horror: Coming Soon - The Midnight Society
[…] On October 5th, I will announce The Midnight Society’s first Top Scare Flash Fiction Contest winner. Keep those entries […]
She opened the mailbox on Monday afternoon and removed the contents, absently dismissing the envelopes. “Bills, bills, junk…wait. What’s this?” Under the envelopes was a box, wrapped in brown paper and twine, addressed in an old fashioned script. No return address.
She ran the last few steps into the house and threw the envelopes aside, grabbing a knife from the kitchen to cut the twine holding the package closed. The twine fell aside, the paper crumpled into a ball. A wooden box, simple cardstock reading, in the same old fashioned script “Monday’s child is fair of face.” She turned the card over and over, but it held no hint as to who had sent it.
Sarah looked over her shoulder, almost expecting her secret benefactor to be watching from some hidden corner. Of course, no one was there. Her house looked the same as always, sunshine filtering through lace curtains onto the bright wood floors, flowers in a vase on the mantle place wilting just a bit. She turned back to the box, lifting the lid carefully by the corners, gripping it tightly as she peeked inside to find…. a doll. A beautiful doll. Porcelain skin, pale as milk, golden curls and blue glass eyes peeking out from perfect long eyelashes. A tiny gasp escaped her lips as she released the lid, not even noticing that she had cut her hand open on the wood until a tiny drop of blood marred the breathtaking face. Grabbing a towel, she wiped the blood off the doll and put her in a place of honor on the mantle. Maybe her secret admirer would reveal himself soon.
“Yea, it’s weird,” she said to her sister on the phone later that night. “The doll looks familiar somehow. Like I’ve seen the face before, but I don’t know where. I only wish I was as beautiful as whoever she is…”
“You are fine. I just hope you don’t have a stalker.” Her sister answered.
“Don’t be silly. It’s just a doll. What could be dangerous about a doll? Now tell me about….”Sarah changed the topic, looking at her new doll with a bit of unease that hadn’t been there before.
The next day, the mailbox held another doll. This one was a ballerina, “Tuesday’s child is full of grace.” She had wanted to be a ballerina. Now she found herself tripping over her own feet. The healing cut on her hand got a bit of blood on the doll’s pretty slippers. Never used to be this clumsy, stiff fingers and toes…
The ballerina joined the other doll on the mantle, mysterious card next to her.
“Wednesday’s child is full of woe” was a depression era child, short curls and ragged dress, so beautiful and sad that Sarah shed a single tear, letting it fall on the porcelain face, before wiping it away. Still no signature, but somehow that didn’t seem as important anymore. She turned off the TV, ignored the phone, didn’t open the mail. Too much bad news there. So she just sat and smiled at the dolls. Somehow, with them there, Sarah didn’t have a care in the world.
Thursday’s child, the one that “has far to go,” was unwrapped after Sarah arrived home from a jog. Sweaty hands lifted the hard working schoolgirl out of the box, propping her carefully on the mantle with the tiny books held in her hands. A towel wiped the bit of sweat from her porcelain hands. “Why bother looking for the signature? It won’t get me anywhere.” Sarah thought, collapsing into a chair. The flowers on the mantle were dead now, but she didn’t bother to remove them. Instead she just sat and stared at the dolls, unthinking, barely even blinking, until the sun went down.
Friday’s child was dressed like a little nun, going out to give to the poor. Not as pretty as the others, but her face did glow with” loving and giving”, just like the words on the card said. The rest of the mail joined the pile on the table, the messages on the machine disappeared with one press of the delete button. No one important to call, she didn’t want to give herself to anyone, couldn’t bring herself to care. Sarah sat down to paint her nails, wondering why her fingers didn’t bend as they used to. She knocked over two bottles before giving up, going to bed and dreaming of hands turned to china, unable to grip, while her sister called on the phone, begging for help.
“Odd dream.” Sarah woke Saturday morning and went for the mail, receiving another doll. She tripped up the stairs bringing the package inside, absently turning the mirror in the hall backwards as she set the doll on the table. It was creepy the way the eyes of her reflection seemed to glint back at her, glossy, like she had a fever. But her skin was cold.
The lid came off the box, revealing a doll dressed like a factory girl, kerchief and all. “Saturday’s child works hard for a living.” The card said, and suddenly Sarah felt like doing nothing of the sort. The doll went on the table next to the dead flowers, and Sarah went onto the couch, wondering why her knees didn’t quite feel like bending.
Sunday morning, a smartly dressed man in a waistcoat and pocket watch walked quickly up the walk to Sarah’s house. He reached down and picked up a package from the front step and peeked under the lid. Smiling at the Sarah doll inside, he walked quickly away, thinking to himself that she really was “bonny and blithe and good and gay” and would make the perfect addition to his collection, the other six of which had already returned to his shop.
Pity that he would have to leave the lid on for a few weeks. But after fair Jenny and graceful Sophie, woeful Bridget and hardworking Nannette, the dollkeeper knew that, even with her cold skin and lifeless heart, it would take a few weeks for tiny, trapped Sarah to finally lose the will to scream.