Arts & CultureArts & Culture Features

Flagpole‘s Scary Story Contest Winners

You folks sure know how to tell a scary story. This year, we received a whopping 41 entries in our annual Halloween contest, which made choosing the winners even tougher than usual. From shocking to silly, creepy to clever, these stories had it all. After much debate, Flagpole’s editorial staff managed to agree on three entries that we feel represent the overall quality and variety of this year’s batch. A huge thanks to all who entered, especially the fifth-graders at Barrow Elementary School, whose terrific tales spooked us to the core. Read the top three stories below, and find the other 38 over here—if you dare!

First Place

Haunting Headline
By Lynda Abernathy

A hazy glow from the lamppost overhead does little to light the pathway beneath my feet. Campus is quiet tonight. The only sound is an occasional car cruising up Broad Street.

Exsanguination. That was the word the Flagpole article had used. The pretty co-ed, who had been missing for days, was finally found yesterday. She was unrecognizable. The cause of death was exsanguination. A tingle writhed its way up my spine.

There were warnings all over campus, and the fear was palpable throughout the entire town of Athens, GA. We were warned: Don’t go out alone, carry some pepper spray or travel in groups. The sheriff’s office still couldn’t pinpoint a particular pattern or profile of the killer(s) who had taken and tortured at least three people in the last month.

I had fallen asleep earlier this evening—I was exhausted. But I had a deadline tomorrow, and I had to get to the library before it closed at 9 p.m. Killer on the loose or not, my parents would do the job themselves if I failed this class. Tuition was a bad word in that household, each syllable overly enunciated, as if to enhance the impact of it.

Out of the echoes of silence comes the soft tread of sneakers on concrete. I can barely hear the pat, pat of someone’s rhythmic, hurried gait. I feel the sweat forming at my temples and my clammy palms cling to the slick surface of the rented textbook.

Her neck, the article had read, was badly bruised and indicates strangulation, according to the Medical Examiner’s Office.

Strangulation. Exsanguination.

I can hear my heart beating in my ears. I hold my breath. Yes, the footsteps are getting closer. Oh, my God.

The victim had numerous cuts of varying depths all over her body. The sheriff’s office has issued a statement warning all citizens to be cautious.

I dig my fingernails into my palms until it hurts. My fists are pushed to the bottom of my pockets. My pepper spray is in my backpack. There is no way I could get to it in time. Please let it be some petite, harmless female behind me. Someone just trying to get home.

The victim’s face and fingertips had been removed. Dental records had been used to confirm it was, indeed, the missing student.

The footsteps are right behind me. I feel like I might throw up. I try to keep my pace and casual demeanor. I lick my lips nervously.

I can smell her lilac body spray as she passes me. She is short and small, with bones like a bird. She acknowledges me with a small nod and continues walking ahead of me. Harmless.

I release the breath I had been holding and feel my shoulders relax. I breathe deeply and run a hand through my hair. I bend my head one way, then the other, until my neck cracks. I wipe my palms on my jeans and grip the strap of my messenger bag. I increase my speed until I can once again smell lilac. They said to travel in groups.

The office of the president of the University of Georgia warns all students to travel in pairs, at least.

As the startled, sparrow-headed student snaps her neck in my direction, her terrified eyes huge with the flash of realization that she is going to be a headline, I throw the strap of my bag over her throat and squeeze until my exhausted arms feel like they might give out.

I have had such a long week. I recall the shrieks of terror from the last one. The pleading and punishments. That poignant moment when the last ounce of life burned out of her eyes, like a flame with no fuel. This one would be much easier to manage.

I wonder what headline Flagpole will think of this time?


Artwork by Spencer Lusk from “Wild Rumpus Art Show” at Creature Comforts.

Second Place

Reign of Terror
By Erin Lovett

Ryan Sattler squinted upwards at the massive ad being assembled on the billboard above him. His smile, an infectious half-moon, mirrored the one on the billboard: his own, in a larger-than-life photograph featuring a message in beveled, gunmetal grey that read, “Be Your Best Self!”

One of the working men glanced down to see Ryan smiling up at them.

“And this gets people to buy houses?” he asked. A second worker merely shrugged.

On the ground, Ryan’s cellphone vibrated.

“Team Ryan, Ryan speaking,” he said pleasantly.

“Help… me…” a small voice fought through heavy static.

“Pardon?” Ryan’s smile remained planted, but his other features seemed to drift out of sync.

“House…” the voice whispered.

“Help you… sell a house? Buy a house?” Ryan tried helpfully.


The voice choked out the words, followed by a deep wet sound like retching.

The line went dead.

“Scratch Street?” Ryan mumbled. “Never heard of it.”

He forgot about the call. It wasn’t until dusk, as he was driving home, that he saw it—a street sign so battered he couldn’t believe it was still standing, yet even in the waning dusk light it was clearly marked: Scratch Street.   

“This can’t be right,” he muttered. Of course he didn’t know every street in town by heart, but he was blocks from downtown, in a prized historic neighborhood every Realtor in town knew like the back of their hand. Suddenly, he felt a wave of excitement rush over him—an untapped block of prime real estate in this school district? He swung his car in reverse and made the left down Scratch Street, his excitement precluding a nagging that felt oddly like nausea.

He was not sure how long he traveled down the street. Long enough for dusk to turn to dark, and a shoddily paved road to give way to dirt. Finally, his headlights found the rotting exterior of a Victorian-style mansion.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” he gasped as the house came into view.

He hopped out of his car, leaving the headlights on as he made his way to the house, loafers crunching dead leaves. He jumped the stairs and crossed the front porch, nearly pausing to pinch himself as he noticed the front door open a crack.

“All right, Scratch Street,” he said. “Show me what you got.”

The door gave way slowly with an echoing creak. The place was trashed, but Ryan felt giddy as he noticed an original, undamaged banister leading up the staircase, and wood floors peeking out through the debris. His eyes were tracing the base moulding to the corner of the room when he saw her.

Ryan jumped, slamming his back against the wall as he noticed the body in the corner, so filthy it almost seemed as much a part of the room as the debris surrounding it. As his eyes adjusted he saw it was a woman, her back against the wall, head lobbed to the side in such a way that she appeared to have been placed there. Her hands were at her sides, palms up, and in one…

Ryan’s heart raced. An old flip phone lay open in her right hand.

Without thinking, he took out his own phone and pulled up the recent calls. The number from that morning was still there. Despite everything within him yelling at him to stop, he tapped the number. After a terrifying, silent beat, the phone in the woman’s hand lit up. It illuminated the corpse so grotesquely Ryan felt sick again. The feeling only lasted a hair of a second, though—the illumination was almost immediately followed by the ringtone. A loud, gaudy melody like a twisted circus march bounded from the phone, jolting the body awake as if by electric shock. Ryan slammed against the front door, jamming it shut, as the woman’s eyes shot open, her mouth wide as if to scream but only that sound, that retching, came out.

She lurched forward, lashing wildly for purchase and finding Ryan’s ankle, her nails like butcher’s hooks in his flesh. He fell backwards onto the staircase, grabbing onto the banister—pulling but finding that it wouldn’t budge. She was climbing up his pant leg in a jerking motion now, her legs frantically kicking out behind her like a dog on ice, her eyes wide, as from her gaping mouth came that grotesque, guttural sound which Ryan now realized were words, the last he would ever hear, choked out like a poison:



Artwork by Marilyn Estes.

Third Place

Turn Around
By Carrie Kelly

You enjoy reading this paper, don’t you? I see you pick one up every week, reading about the goings-on in our little town. I grew up here, you know. I used to walk to the drug store on Lumpkin to get a milkshake. My parents took me to the Morton Theatre to watch shows. You’ve been there too. I was two rows behind you—that was almost four years ago. It was not long after that I chose you.

I was sick, lying in a room, for a long time before I died. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t leave the house after my body went cold. I watched as they carried me away, to the cemetery, I guess. Where was the white light? Or even the fiery pit? I was stuck in that house for years. At first a family lived there, but their baby wailed when I would come near. They soon fled. They told their friends it was because they wanted to move to the country, but it was because of me. After that, students came and went for years. I would try to get their attention sometimes, but they paid me no mind, always thinking the noise was just one of their roommates. How I longed to make contact with someone. Just one person to look at me, talk to me.

You must understand, it takes time for me to get close. If only someone would stay. I knew if I could just lay a hand on their shoulder, brush their hair with my fingertips, they would see. They would know me. I would have a friend. I was close once. A young man studying to be a vet. I was but feet away. The last few inches are the easiest to cross, and I was so close. But when the moment arrived, he had gone. So very close.

But things change. A new family bought the house. It wasn’t what they wanted. Said something about creaking, bad plumbing and square footage. So they tore it down. And I was released. Trapped no more. I didn’t need someone to be near me, I could choose for myself.

I wandered the streets of my town searching for a companion, past stores and restaurants I used to know, watching new ones come and go. I cried when the Theatre burned, and cheered when it rose from the ashes. I lingered near the 40 Watt and listened as the music changed with the years. But I was losing hope I would ever find someone to be with…

That’s when I saw you. You looked so much like my best friend. I followed as you walked from class to class. I was there when you graduated, as you went on dates and to parties. You love Ciné. The films they show are quite lovely.

It’s taken me so long to get here. I had to push so hard at first to get close to you, but it’s easier now. I’ve been able to walk near you for some time. I sit on the floor by your bed while you sleep. And now the moment has come. It’s time. Time for us to be together. Time for you to know my world. It’s so easy now. I’m standing right here, behind you. Turn around.