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Ragged Raggedy Ann
By Natalie McClure

Hannah didn’t want to think about the first time she saw it, the costume of her sorority mascot, a life-size Raggedy Ann doll. Maybe she paid too much attention to it, that’s why she always noticed it, staring. She thought it was someone in costume, but looking closer no one was ever there.

Date-night was a muggy September eve and UGA buses swirled heavy mist down Milledge when Andy picked her up. Walking to his car Hannah noticed the mascot sitting outside the service door, behind an old clothesline. Andy was showing off his tattoo of frat letters over his heart, “like a permanent frat pocket-T.” As he spoke, Hannah saw the doll stand and pass through the service door into the dark hallway of the house. Days later Hannah arrived early for chapter, the back door propped open. Stepping inside she called out, but no one answered. Then she looked up the spiral stairwell and met eyes with Raggedy Ann, leaning over the top railing looking down at her. Suddenly the doorbell buzzed and made her jump. When she looked back, the doll was gone.

They held a new member meeting in the top floor study lounge, which had the closet with the mascot-doll costume. Made for photos, they said it was more often used as a Halloween prank. Hearing this, Hannah was instantly relieved; surely one of the seniors was behind this! She put the spooky past out of her mind and focused on joining the group, talking so much that she walked to her car without her bookbag, not noticing until everyone was gone. Backtracking into the study lounge she stopped dead in her tracks. The closet seemed to be tossed, mismatched pieces of what looked like fabric thrown about, and a sewing mannequin standing just outside the closet door. The mascot-doll was gone, it seemed, and Hannah approached her bookbag across the room. She then registered that the fabric looked more like leather, or really it was skin!

And quickly she realized the sewing mannequin was holding up a gnarly stitched together male torso, patchworked, with broad shoulders, yarn threads and chest hairs going in all directions like soft curly wires. Sensing movement from the closet, Hannah’s eye caught the doll’s figure peeking out. Her stomach turned as she bolted down the stairs, abandoning her bookbag.

More than three weeks passed. Hannah avoided the house and terminated her pledgeship. She continued dating Andy and kept in touch with a few of her almost-sisters. She retrieved her bookbag, but realized just before fall break her address book was missing. She remembered taking it out and updating it in the study lounge. Knowing she must get it, she convinced one of the sisters to give her the house code which she meant for Andy to use after the house closed for fall break.

The Friday of fall break most houses closed by noon. Andy had to leave for Jacksonville, but he promised to sneak in the house and search for her address book before he left. The plan was to meet at the Georgia Theatre rooftop around 4:30 … As tail lights gleamed down Clayton and Lumpkin, adding to the shadow-play along the brick walls of downtown, Hannah became conscious of the hour growing late and Andy was a no show. Her veins ran with ice as she drove back to the house, terrified of what she might find. Coming from the Harris Street back entrance, Hannah’s headlights briefly shone on the side clothesline. Immediately she turned and sped away. Out of the corner of her eye she already knew what she saw, a fresh scrap of fabric – skin – hanging out to dry, with what looked like a familiar frat pocket-T.

Infect, Infest
By Jazmine Wilkerson

It was 1:30 am. I was delirious. My stop was only fifteen minutes away but I felt like a weighted balloon. You would think after nights like this, I would stick to a study schedule.

The lights flickered on the Athens Transit, illuminating the empty seats and aisles for almost 10 seconds a time. The bus was dank and smelled of mildew. With every shortage, I swear the bus became increasingly filthy. Black and brown dots and grains littered the floor. Just glancing around made me want to bleach my eyes.

My vision was bleary, so I didn’t immediately register the roach bigger than my thumb sneaking its way up my leg.

“HOLY-!!” was the last thing the little demon heard before I swiped at the sucker and planted it between my boot. A shiver went down my spine. Rooker Hall loomed ahead. Thank god. I jerked at the pull-cord.

Stop requested,” the bus pinged.

Only…the bus didn’t stop.

“Excuse me? I needed to get off at that last stop…so…”

He didn’t even look back.

I pulled the cord again as the next stop loomed ahead. The bus surged forward.

I stood to confront the driver, but the breaks screamed and I flew back onto my seat. The doors did not open. For 5 minutes we sat in the middle of East Campus Road. Alone. For 5 minutes I summoned the courage to finally approach the stranger.

I was an arm’s length away when he whispered.

“It’s your turn…”

He was so thin. Drenched in perspiration, he gaped at clumps of his own oily hair that he cradled in his lap.

His brittle hand latched onto my wrist like a snake; a hand that might as well have been an iron shackle. He hissed a deep sigh as he turned his head. Ink filled eyes met mine and I couldn’t move or speak. His veiny blue membrane rippled like waves and a tiny oval-shaped body revealed itself from under his eyelid.

“It’s your turn.”

My stomach turned. Cockroaches ebbed from this mouth, ears, and nose, accumulating until they gushed like a river. They clicked and chittered, eagerly running over each other’s flat bodies as they assimilated from his sleeves to mine.

My heart slammed against its cage as the six-legged creatures scuttled up my neck. I brace myself and shut my eyes and mouth, but the pursuit stopped. Nipping at my lips, their antennae tickled my nose and cheeks, as if asking for permission.

I cracked open an eye. The face that stared back only grinned. He smoothed a moist finger over my mouth. A wordless demand.

I locked them. No.

His smile turned and he pinched my nose. Hard. I couldn’t breathe.

I breathe, I die. I breathe, I die. I breathe, I die. I breathe, I die. I breathe, I die. I breathe, I die.

I cave. Roaches flood my senses. My naval cavity burned as I breathe bodies. They fought their way into my outer ear, scratching relentlessly. Beads on needle legs clawed at my eyelids. Their taste was revolting and thick on my tongue. My stomach heaved, doing everything within its power to expel the invaders. It was futile. I could feel their pressing bodies in my chest, them falling into the chasm of my lungs. Stretching. Pinching.

Cough. Gasp. Cough. Gasp. Retch. Gasp.

My gasps turned to wheezes, my wheezes to nothing.

I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.

I can’t breathe.

I can’t





In The Basement
By Noah Kilpatrick

It was a lonely night and a boy named Fredrik was sitting on his couch waiting for his mom to get back. When she left she had said  “Fredrik I’m going to the store. While I’m gone you may not eat, feed the cat, AND you may definitely NOT GO TO THE BASEMENT. Now Fredrik is the kind of kid that does the exact opposite of what he is told. So of course he had eaten a snack and fed his cat, but he was not sure about the basement. So he sat and waited. Waited some more. Finally he mustered up the courage to go to the basement.

He opened the door–it was dark. Then he dropped down onto the rickety stairs. One step. Two steps. So far so good. Three steps. Suddenly he felt something painful in his foot. He looked down. A splinter? “Maybe that’s why mom didn’t want me to come down here?” wondered Fredrik. With that in mind he decided that it would be safe to descend the rest of the stairs. Once he got to the bottom he fumbled with a lantern on that was on the floor. After it was lit he could see the room. There was a washing machine and a dryer. All of that seemed normal. He stepped closer. Smush. Startled, he looked down. A moldy hamburger? And in the back of the room he saw a table with a knocked over soda can that was still dripping! He stepped forward to examine it. As he was about to pick it up, a rustling noise came from the corner. He stopped, turned, but did not see anything. All of a sudden the noise came from the other corner. No, the noise was all around him. Terrified he dropped the lamp, which shattered. Fredrick ran for the door, but halfway there a pain like nothing he had ever felt hit his leg. As he fell to the ground through his blurry vision he saw a man standing over him grinning wickedly with a sword coming down on Fredrik’s chest. Another wave of pain hit him and everything went black.

Right after this Fredrik’s mom arrived home. She called “Fredrik?” No answer. Then she noticed that the basement door was open. She went to it to take a peek. Then dropped down. One step. Two steps. Three steps. All of a sudden something painful entered her foot. She looked down and saw a splinter? Then she went down a few more steps. There was a noise. She stopped and turned. At the top of the stairs she saw Fredrik. “Hello mother,” he said.

In Bed
By Ben Credle

Andrea pushed the salt and pepper shrimp around her plate, considering whether to have one of the jalapeno slices with her last bite. She sat alone at the tiny table at Ming’s Chinese Bistro, looking out over a deserted Clayton Street. In fact, she was the only customer in the whole place. All her friends were either in Jacksonville for the Florida game, or out with their boyfriends. But not Andrea; she had to work in the morning. She was the responsible one. She didn’t show up at work so hungover that she had to run and puke in the bathroom, leaving a customer standing at the counter. She made adult decisions. And she ended up eating alone. Being responsible kind of sucked.

Maybe Jen was right, and the ticket to happiness was posting selfies that showed off your cleavage. Andrea had watched Jen spend twenty minutes—when she should have been working—culling through photos for her twice-daily Instagram updates: “My face is cute in this one, but you can’t really see my boobs.” Not that Andrea had anything against boobs, but it felt desperate, and sort of… lowest-common-denominator. But Jen had a point. She had a boyfriend. Scratch that; Jen had a long uninterrupted string of boyfriends. Jen never ate alone.

Andrea sipped her generously-poured glass of white wine. She came in here a lot. Sweet old Mr. Ming had greeted her by name when she walked in. He might be the only man in town who even cared about her. But right now it was silent, except for the burbling from the aquarium up front. Not even any noises from the kitchen. A waiter she didn’t recognize, with a ridiculous Fu Manchu mustache and a deep brown mullet brought the check. He picked up her plate and slunk away without a word. Andrea opened her fortune cookie. “You will do things you’ve never done before, with a stranger in red shoes.” She mentally added, “in bed” to the end, the way she and Jen always did, and laughed. Things she’d never done before? That sounded a little risky. No, she stopped herself, that’s what Responsible Andrea would say. What would fun-loving, cleavage-posting Andrea say? Would she be down to do things she’d never done before? With a stranger in red shoes? Well, not that. Well, maybe that. She ate the jalapeno slice and then finished her wine in one gulp.

In the little alley off Jackson Street, Mitch’s silver minivan idled roughly as he threw the Ming’s apron in the back with his mullet wig. The apron landed on Mr. Ming, who whimpered and struggled against his restraints. “Be quiet, old man,” Mitch hissed, touching the box-cutter to the man’s cheek, “or I’ll make you quiet.” He stuck the knife in his back pocket, muttering to himself, “Not going to have some old guy ruin my date. We have plans…” Mitch peeled the fake mustache off his upper lip and stuck it carefully onto its card. He placed the mustache in the glove compartment, next to the bag of fortune cookies. Satisfied, he laced up his Chuck Taylors. They were brand new, and the red fabric was especially bright.

By Blake Buffington

“—so I just treat everyone like they have a gun!”

Muffled laughter. Muted applause. I sit at the bar, studying the foam in my glass. In the next room, Flicker’s bi-weekly open mic has its audience in stitches. Each act gets five minutes. I never had the stomach for it, personally.

“—when we looked up, someone had stolen the tape recorder!”

Anthony, on the other hand—the guy’s been working crowds since we were kids. Tonight, his voice is sharp and flat through the bar’s cheap speakers. Athens’ own prodigal wonder come home to slum it with college kids and townie rabble.

“—that’s more of state’s rights issue, don’t you think?”

We wrote that one together in college. But that was years ago and Athens is a long way from the west coast. I stayed behind for a girl I don’t remember. Now ol’ Anthony gives ‘em a standup routine in LA. Funny how things turn out.

“—talk about a guy sticking to his story!”

Biggest laugh of the night. I used to think it’d be the two of us, me behind the scenes and him playing the faceman. But I’m no dummy. I know the score. We’ll grab a couple beers after the show, do some reminiscing, and turn in early. Anthony will have a plane to catch. Always coming and going. Bigger fish to fry.

“—give it up for Anthony Craig, everybody!”

Prolonged cheers. The crowd exits, milling about the bar. They’re happy, relieved somehow. “That last guy killed,” someone says. It’s the first time I’ve smiled all night.

Anthony makes a beeline, greeting me with a hearty thump on the back. “Been a minute, buddy!” he beams.

I waste no time. Dropping a bill on the bar, I slide off my stool mumbling, “Let’s get outta here. I need a cigarette.”

“You smoking again?” he calls at my back, following me out the door, down the steps, onto the sidewalk.

“Just one at a time,” I say, pulling a wry smile. He laughs loudly.

“Nice set from the sound of it,” I continue, walking past strings of amber light adorning the bar’s exterior.

“Sure, the set was fine,” he says hurriedly, struggling to match my pace. “Listen, it’s good to see you, man. I haven’t heard from you since the trip. Did the job come through?”

I feel the heat rising in my face. He knows damn well the job was a bust. He’s taunting me. Playing me for laughs.

We duck beneath the marquee of 40 Watt. The shabby club is deserted tonight, its alcoved entrance empty but for an abandoned box office.

Half hidden in shadow, I wait for Anthony to speak.

“Look,” he manages, “Will called. Says you’re not taking care of yourself again. He’s worried about you. We’re all worr—”

Wheeling, I bring the knife above my head in a wide, sweeping arc, pausing to savor the shock and confusion in my friend’s eyes. I’ve never seen him afraid of me.

His blood falls in thick, black ribbons—dark water making tiny rivers in cracked concrete. He opens and closes his mouth and I think of a fish snatched from a pond, left to flop itself numb on a dry bank.

“How’s that for a punchline, buddy?” I spit at him, baring my crooked teeth like a mad dog.

The marquee’s neon light casts an eerie, purple glow. He is a wet, shuddering mass of tissue, mingling with windswept leaves and spent cigarettes at my feet. His words fail him for the first and last time.

When the light leaves his eyes, I laugh alone.

Ghost Girl
By Jasmine Odessa Rizer

The Hallowe’en I’m talking about, it was a while ago. The art school was still on North Campus, and the art school building was still open all night so that art students could go in and work on their projects. My friends and I would let ourselves in on our way back to River Mill Apartments from the bars downtown late at night, just to stare at all the things that other people our age were making.

The cemetery next to that building, in those days, looked a lot less like real people’s final resting place and a lot more like a nondescript piece of falling-apart University property. At least, that is the only excuse I can offer for the fact that my friend Howie and I decided that before we met our friends downtown, we would sit in the cemetery and demolish a carton of fancy Irish beer from the package store in Five Points.

“There’s supposed to be a ghost girl in this cemetery,” Howie announced at one point. This wasn’t exactly a shock. I imagine that there is supposed to be a ghost girl in most cemeteries. Howie began to chant gravely, “Ghost girl, show yourself to us! Ghost girl, show yourself to us!” Naturally, this went on until the racket Howie was making caused some specimen of urban wildlife to come crashing towards us in irritation, and we both started to scream and ran down Jackson Street, all the way up to what was then Tasty World, where we stopped and caught our breath and pretended we hadn’t been scared. Howie still clutched the brown paper bag containing our empties, because we may have been borderline problem drinkers but we were not litterbugs.

It was in the ladies’ room at Tasty World that I first saw her. A girl about my own age, standing just behind me, just over my shoulder, looking paler and less substantial than a girl in a mirror should look. A reflection of a reflection of a reflection of a girl. She wore her hair up like a Gibson Girl, and she stared at me with a long-faced, sulky stare. I turned around cautiously, hoping to see a girl in a Hallowe’en costume standing behind me.

There was no one there.

She didn’t wrap her arms around me and try to drag me into a grave. I didn’t wake up in bed all covered in blood in the small hours. She just followed me. All night, from Boneshaker’s to the Engine Room, every time I looked in the mirror in the ladies’ room – and I couldn’t resist looking – there she was. Pale and smeared-looking, staring balefully, as if to say, You think this is funny? To wake a girl up on Hallowe’en and then just take off to spend all night being alive?

It wasn’t a super-fun Hallowe’en. All night I felt jumpy and paranoid and slightly depressed. The bartenders looked sinister. Cute boys looked predatory. All the girls looked lost and sad in their sexy witch costumes, and assorted variations thereon. I drank and danced and laughed and flirted a lot, because I was twenty-two years old and it took a lot to stop me from drinking and dancing and laughing and flirting, but my heart wasn’t in it.

I never asked Howie if he saw the ghost girl. He never said anything about her. Maybe she just didn’t want to go in the men’s room.

Gator Aid
By K.E. Schmidt

Beep. Beep. Beep… The alarm clock’s obnoxious blare had little effect, but the shoe thrown from across the room did. Jake sat up groggily, his eyes narrow slits. “Come on, man, that thing’s gone off four times already,” his roommate muttered, still buried under blankets. Jake managed to roll out of bed and stumble to the apartment’s tiny kitchenette. Coffee. Need. Coffee. As he rummaged in the fridge for creamer, he knocked over a leftover plate of fish, nearly rotten. When the scent hit his nostrils, he suddenly felt strangely hungry. Wide awake now, he was struck with panic, trying desperately to deny what he feared might be true.

Jake clutched the counter as he reviewed the events of the past few weeks in his mind. He knew he shouldn’t have celebrated so excessively in Jacksonville after the win against Florida, but who wasn’t out for a good time? He barely remembered how he wound up near the swamp, or who brought him home from there. It must have been the inebriated state that lessened the initial pain of the bite. But the marks were unmistakable. The doctor had been at a loss to understand why an alligator would nip a human arm, yet not drag him underwater or finish the job. “Strange gator, that’s all I can reckon.”

But then the urges had started. Jake couldn’t recall a time when he hadn’t preferred medium-well steak, and then he began only eating rare meat. If it wasn’t for the sake of decency, he wouldn’t have it cooked at all. And fish…he couldn’t get enough seafood! Then there were the habits…November was hardly pool season, but all he wanted to do was get in the water. Yet he didn’t care much to maintain hygiene, or even cut his nails. And the other body issues…He noticed his skin growing increasingly dry and rough. His voice seemed to be cracking as in puberty. His girlfriend noted this, too. She and a few of his closest friends gently urged him to seek additional help. “The bite is healed, okay? I’m fine…”

The rumors had begun. Then more unsolicited advice, even from the probing reporter from the Red and Black newspaper, who excitedly claimed there were stories of a strange creature roaming near Jacksonville, whose bite would render the victim a were-gator, destined to transform with every full moon. Jake had scoffed. What childish tales. Or so he thought…

He scratched at the cracked skin of his neck and reached out a trembling hand to pour a cup of the fragrant coffee. Focus, he told himself. Now was not the time to start breaking down. He had to overcome the mental battles, as he had always done so effectively. Hunker down. Finish the drill. Just hours away from now, he’d be in the locker room. Another night game…another packed house, the roaring crowd a sea of red in Sanford Stadium. The Kentucky Wildcats had no chance against the undefeated Georgia bulldogs. Nothing to fear. Except….

“This is awesome, man!”

Snapped from his thoughts, Jake Fromm looked up as his roommate sauntered into the kitchen, scrolling through his phone updates. He glanced at Jake momentarily. “You all right, bro? You look a little green…nervous about the game tonight? You’ll crush ‘em!”

“Oh, I’m fine,” Jake managed to mumble. “What’s so awesome?”

“Looks like you’ll have some perfect weather for kickoff time! Better yet…it’s gonna be a full moon!”

The coffee mug shattered when it hit the floor.

Game Time
By M. J. Patrick

“Melissa Link was crying when she voted for this.” Iggy glared at Game Time, the new modern brick high rise whose shadow darkened the crowds choking Broad Street. “There was something eerie about that commission meeting. It’s like they were under duress.”

Kevin watched fans stream out of the compound, glowing in their red and black It’s Game Time! t-shirts. They latched crocodile stares onto Kevin and Iggy as they brushed by, and Kevin caught snippets of conversation. “12 under par. And he was drunk!” “The best dry rub.” A man whose face was almost the color of his red shirt and dripping sweat stopped to eye them. “Hey. You two want to come to our tailgate? There’s beer.”

Kevin thought Iggy might puke. “We’re good, thanks.”

“We got some of that craft brew y’all like so much.”

“And some of them vegan hotdogs.” Another man had stopped beside the first. He grinned, and beneath his spray-tan the skin on his face stretched so tightly Kevin thought it might tear. Kevin hated the football fans’ predilections for mocking townies, and he was about tell stretch-face what he could do with his vegan hotdogs when the sweaty guy said, “And a bartender making fancy cocktails.”

Beside Kevin, Iggy perked up. Kevin turned to him. “Seriously?”

Iggy shrugged, and muttered, “We might as well get wasted on their dime since they’ve ruined our town with this thing.” He flapped a hand toward the tower.

Iggy was the last beat reporter and the only copy editor working at the ABH. Kevin figured if anyone deserved to drink himself stupid, it was Iggy, so he nodded.

“That’s the spirit!” Sweaty man clapped him on the back, and then he and stretch-face fell into step beside them.

“So, who’re we playing?” Iggy asked. “I didn’t even realize there was a game today.”

Stretch-face shifted, suddenly uneasy. “Umm.”

“They’re a nothing team,” Sweaty cut in. “Losers. It’s gonna be a mercy killing.”

North Campus smelled of charred meat and port-o-potties. Coolers held pink finger-like hotdogs and slabs of raw meet. On a grill, an oddly-shaped rack of ribs dripped with thick red sauce. Behind it, a group of men stood, polishing their guns.

Kevin froze. “What the hell?”

“Campus carry,” Iggy muttered.

“But the guns have to be concealed, right?”

The bell outside the chapel began to toll, and a shudder of excitement traveled through the crowd. “It’s game time!” Someone yelled. “Game time!” Others took up the call. They abandoned their coolers and grills. They stumbled out of the port-o-potties, and pulled out rifles and shotguns. They flowed toward the arch.

Iggy pressed closer to Kevin. “Where are they going? The stadium’s the other way.”

Kevin felt a nudge and turned to see Stretch-face beside him. The man was grinning so widely that his upper lip cracked, and a bubble of blood appeared there.

In the distance came the crack of gunfire. “Woo Hoo!” Someone yelled. “Look at her run.”

As Sweaty pulled the knife across Iggy’s throat, Kevin’s best friend clutched at his severed flesh like he was trying to pull it back together. Then he fell forward.

Kevin ran. When he reached Broad Street, the sidewalks were slick with blood. A purple-haired woman stumbled by, a trail of intestines spilling from her abdomen. Kevin whirled and saw the faces of the fans behind him, men, women, children even, normal people, excited, happy. Stretch-face lifted his gun. “Go on and run,” he said to Kevin. “I’ll give you a head start.”

Friday Night Paddle
By Ryan P. Smith

When I pull into Sandy Creek Park, it’s already 8:15 p.m. I speed down the curved road, hoping no critters are out for a stroll. Late again. Pathetic. Last time the Friday Night Paddle group offered a polite, insincere “it’s okay” as they waited for my straggling butt. But as I turn into the beach parking lot tonight, I’m not surprised to find the water empty.

I swear at myself as I unload my kayak and lug it into the warm water of Lake Chapman. They’re out a good distance, about seven Lego-sized people through my glasses. Usually I ask for an extra hand to steady my scuffed-up vessel while I plop into the tiny seat. I snap the bulky life jacket into place and accept my fate: I tip over within two seconds.

I know they can’t see me but it’s embarrassing anyhow. When they see me drenched I’ll just say I went for a swim first. But for now the only eyes watching are the ones unseen. The hawks in the surrounding trees, the spiders in their massive webs hugging the shore. On the fifth attempt I right the ship.

Those guys should slow down. I’m so far away; just give me a chance. We can be friends. Maybe that blonde girl came again and can see me in a better angle. The moon shines brighter tonight, so I’ll need one of these lazy clouds to help me out. Just hope the one bro stayed home. With his obscene muscles and perfect form.

The guy at Half-Moon Outfitters helped me pick the lightest paddle. I cut it through the calm water just fine those first few minutes. But soon the two-pound stick turns into a weight bench bar and the water into syrup. I hope they can’t hear my huffing as well as I can hear their laughter. The life jacket becomes a winter coat in the lingering October heat. Sweat slides my glasses to the tip of my nose.

They make the turn around the big corner up on the left. With them hidden by the trees, the lake feels like an ocean. Without a sound, a heron takes off to my right. Bubbles dot the water’s surface ahead of me. Hopefully just turtles. The only voice now comes from Muscle Man. I can’t make out the words. Sounds like he’s telling a boring story, probably about his flag football team or his homebrew set-up.

Then the screaming starts. Wild screaming and splashing. I burn the last bit of energy I have left to paddle as fast as I can. God, what is it? Alligators? I don’t know what I can do to help, but maybe I can be a hero for once. I can save the girl!

Silence falls across the lake. The kayaks drift out from behind the corner. Empty, rocking gently from the commotion’s wake. My breath disappears. I make the turn. The only one still on their kayak is Muscle Man. The bodies float around him, left for display by their life jackets. Mine begins to suffocate me. I unbuckle the straps, but it doesn’t help.

The soft current brings me closer to him. His eyes gleam as he holds his paddle chest-high. The moonlight reflects off the blades: not plastic but duct-taped metal with razored edges. They drip with a liquid darker than the lake water.

I pass the girl. She’s facedown as her last exhalation sends bubbles popping around her messy, blonde bun.

Will I have enough breath left to make my own?

By John Gaither

My granddad told me this story when I was little and his granddad told him, and so on back to when it happened, a couple of hundred years ago or more.

There was this old man named Joshua Strong who lived near Hurricane Shoals in what is now Jackson County. He had been one of the first settlers, and he’d cleared land, built a cabin and lived there with his son and an Indian girl named Flossie who tended the garden. Maybe she was the old man’s daughter.

Across the river a man named Gray lived in a big house. He had land and slaves and cattle and they say he was a cruel man. He rode up one day and saw Flossie and said he meant to have her. The old man told him he’d see him in Hell first. Gray said, that may be so but he’d have her all the same. Flossie held up a knife and said a few Indian words, pointing first to the castrated hogs and then to Gray. Her words were foreign to him, but her meaning was clear.

His son had gone away hunting with other men, and in those days that might be for a month or more. So when the old man died all of a sudden, Flossie was alone. She didn’t bury him next to his late wife, but took him way up to an old Indian ground where there were a lot of figures on the ground, made out of white quartzite rocks piled up, like the Rock Eagle but not so big. Lots of shapes, like circles and zigzag lines. It was a special place. The Indians wouldn’t hunt there or cut trees, out of respect or out of fear.

This was where she dug his grave and laid him to rest, with his war medal on his chest, close by a great oak tree so old and big it was all hollow inside.

So, it was late one afternoon with a thunderstorm coming up when Mr. Gray rode in with a couple of men. He had heard about the old man’s passing, and with the son still gone, he had come to take Flossie away. But she had seen him coming under the dark clouds rolling in and set out running through the trees for the sacred ground, a mile away. They followed, with Gray in the lead on his big black horse.

There was thunder and gusty wind when she got to the old ground, but inside the hollow tree it was calm and still. There was a crazy electricity in the air, lifting loose strands straight out from her head, like she had snakes for hair.

Gray was riding right behind her, dismounting and running toward the tree when bam! A bolt of lightning struck him dead. His men came up and saw him laid low but they never saw her, in the tree, in the dark and the rain, so they packed Gray’s remains on his horse and headed for home.

She stayed in the tree all night, in the dark and the rain, and she never slept. When she stepped out at first light, she saw the hole in the ground where the lightning had struck, and there on the ground was Strong’s bronze war medal, half-melted. In his mad lust,

Gray had run across the grave of Joshua Strong, who had pulled down a lightning bolt from Heaven to strike down the evil man who threatened his child.

That medal is in my pocket now.

Rules for H.E.L.L.
By Donna Smith Fee

Basements are creepy for a reason. They are the lobby where souls go until decisions are made for H.E.L.L. (Helping Evolve Lowlifes & Litterbugs).

I’m a real estate agent by day but by night while High Lifes, or the Current Undeads, are sleeping or standing too close to the speakers at the 40 Watt, I manage your transition from light to dark. Everyone is ranked according to how well they tipped people who took good care of them, how often they sued another party, and whether or not they were bad in bed. We keep a spreadsheet on you.

The hardest Basement is in Five Points. It has a red dirt floor and the gray stones making up the foundation were laid late in the 1800s by people who did not benefit from the work or the dwelling. None of them came through H.E.L.L. even though they were not tippers. The air in that Basement is particularly heavy because the hardest cases go to that one. What you might think of as mold or mildew are actually millions and millions of souls. Each spore, or soul, clings to this world because they don’t understand H.E.L.L. is a good place where the bands play all night long, the bar never closes and the laundry is always clean and folded. It’s true that it’s warm there but there is a reason all the best food and music come from hot, tropical places. Think about that the next time you are in New Orleans or Cuba.

Being in H.E.L.L. does not mean you were bad. It means you could’ve been better. Below is your list of classes you must master before we release you as a newborn.

Boundaries 101: How to negotiate fence lines both emotional and material and avoiding third-party mediators.

Human Sexuality Cumulative: How to be an excellent lover with lab work based on your experience, anatomy, and preferences. We will review your file and place you in the correct level based on dreams your ex-lovers have had about you.

Community and Reading: Best practices for placing only good books in Athens’ Free Libraries and not the ones you know suck by any measure.

Downtown Strategies: Protocal for being exceptional while carousing and feasting during festival events, especially Wild Rumpus, and when town is quiet such as the Friday before GA-FLA. This includes parking, dancing while drunk, and speaking with others not like you or who have distracting piercings.

Please note there are no classes that involve word problems or bad children’s music as we reserve those classes for the truly unredeemable.

When you find yourself in a acrid Basement but the light is still visible at the top of the stairs, you are not transitioning to H.E.L.L. but rather have been placed in the slow lane for thoughtful repose. Provided this pause causes you to become better, you will go back up the stairs towards the light. If not, in the Basement you will stay until H.E.L.L. processes your file or freezes over. I am here to help you navigate the process. Don’t worry about that smell as we have a bleach sprayer en route.

Death on the Savannah
By Walter Henry Ford III

Gum Swamp was alive with a thousand eyes,
Croakin’ toads echoed through the fog.
Lizards, snakes, and reptiles were about,
Even a gator bigger than a pine tree log.

Something was amok in the muck and mire,
The river was lapping its shores with thirst.
Tonight there’s death lurking the banks of the Savannah,
On this night of the dead, October 31st.

Death came crawling from the Savannah River,
With webbed feet, webbed hands, and scales.
It’s green mottled skin was covered with slime,
And its claws looked like rusty nails.

The putrid stench that enveloped the beast,
Would choke a maggot to death.
No living thing within twenty five feet,
Could barely catch its breath.

Beware tonight, you Sandlapper friends,
Death roams the Palmetto banks.
No evil comes close,
No vampires or ghosts,
Not even a wart covered haint.

The hunger inside this half man, half reptile,
Is not merely for vittles or drink.
He lurks in the shadows in search for the maiden,
To take deep into Savannah’s sink.

As fate would have it he needn’t look far,
For a light shone ahead in the night.
Two young men, and a single girl,
Were dancing neith’ the pale moonlight.

From the campfire’s glow, and some forty feet off,
The creature stalked his prey with stealth.
The kids were all drinking on this night of Samhain,
They had no clue what their future held.

When suddenly from out of the bushes he charged.
With a roar much louder than thunder.
Slashing one way, and ripping the other,
There wasn’t much left to plunder.

Beware tonight, you Sandlapper friends,
Death roams the Palmetto banks.
No evil comes close,
No vampires or ghosts,
Not even a wart covered haint.

The girl which remained was too terrified to scream,
Her voice was stuck deep in her throat.
The creature grabbed her up, heading back for his tub,
To dive deep into the black water’s cloak.

Who knows what spell the creature is under,
What evil could transform him this way?
But with just one kiss from his scaly lips,
And his Queen arose from Gum Swamp Bay.

Together they swam up the Savannah River,
The creature along with his mate.
He knew her hunger would drive her insane,
He must find some food for her plate.

As they come ashore on the N. Augusta side,
The creature searches for a human spleen.
So if you’re a Yellow Jacket, don’t go near the Greeneway,
For death awaits this night of Halloween.

Beware tonight, you Sandlapper friends,
Death roams the Palmetto banks.
No evil comes close,
No vampires or ghosts,
Not even a wart covered haint.

By Norah Lin Iezzi

Twas the night after halloween, and Lucas lay in his bed with his eyes halfway open. “Night mom,” he muttered.

“Goodnight, honey,” his mothered replied. Then she closed his bedroom door.

Lucas opened his eyes. Morning, he thought. But strangely, it was dark in his room. His fan was blowing gently again, but it was annoying Lucas because for some reason he was already extremely cold. He got up to turn it off and, to his surprise, it wasn’t the fan annoying him. It was his… calendar? The calendar pages were turning rapidly and making a strong breeze. That was really strange. First darkness, and now his calendar is going crazy! Really, really strange. And his alarm hadn’t gone off either! Sighing, he got out of bed to put his hand down on the calendar. In the process of getting up, he noticed his alarm clock’s hands were going crazy, and spinning so fast it was shaking his night stand. Lucas was starting to get scared. Nevertheless, he continued walking over to the calendar. He reached out his hand to stop the pages, but the second he touched the pages it gave him a paper cut. Stupid paper cuts. Lucas backed away from the calendar. There really wasn’t any reason to though. I mean, it’s not like the calendar would jump out and attack him….was it? Lucas was really scared now. He went to turn the lights on, but they weren’t working. Maybe the power had gone out? Yes, that was it, he thought. It would explain the alarm clock, but not the calendar. A little less scared, Lucas walked over to his window to open the blinds. And what he saw when he did, terrified him.

Darkness. Pitch black. Emptiness. Nothing. All words to describe what he saw. He didn’t even see the dogwood that normally was right up against his window. Stumbling back, the terrified boy leaned up against his door. It was babyish, it was stupid, but Lucas was definitely sleeping in his parents room tonight. He reached for the doorknob, but it was as cold as ice! Jerking his hand back, he thought about what had happened in the past few minutes. One, his calendar went crazy (and his clock), two, there was nothing outside his window three, his door knob was as cold as Antarctica! This could only mean one thing. Lucas had to getting out of there. His hand shot up to the doorknob and gave it a quick jerk, opening his door. His hand felt like it might fall off it was so cold! He opened the door (by grabbing the side) and looked out. It was just like his window. Nothing.

Lucas was terrified. Nothing was outside his room. His parents; gone. His halloween candy; gone. His friends; gone. But, what was that? A voice? Yes, a voice! It sounded weird, like the person speaking had swallowed a bee, but it was a voice! Lucas peaked his head outside so he could hear better. “You…” was all it said. W hat? t hought Lucas, leaning his head out further. “You…are…” it whispered.

“What? I’m what?? The chosen one???” he whispered into the darkness. He leaned out further, so his upper body was sticking out of his room.

“You…are…” the voice whispered.

“NOTHING,” it screamed. Lucas could feel a powerful suction, and he was pulled into the emptiness. Screaming. Calling for help. But no one could hear him.

Broken Vow
By Philip Weinrich

The ground felt cold in Oconee Hill Cemetery as Brandon laid there, aching to have Heather by his side once again. He’d heard the sorrow of lost love lessened over time, but that wasn’t his experience. Loneliness grew in him like a cancer, spreading through him until there wasn’t a single part that didn’t feel the emptiness of her absence.

If it was possible to love someone before meeting them, that was how Brandon loved Heather. Almost cliche’d, they met at a friend’s party, talking and laughing well after their host’s bedtime before going to The Grill to continue their conversation. He waited 6 months before proposing because he didn’t want to rush her, but he said he would have married her that first night had she asked him to.

Brandon ran his fingers along the tombstone’s edge. The finality of the granite stood in stark contrast to his belief that their story wasn’t over. When they said their vows, he struggled with “til death do us part”; not because he couldn’t commit, but because he refused to believe that was how things had to be.

At times here, he felt her presence so overwhelmingly that he believed if he stretched out his arms enough, he might experience her embrace again. Occasionally, if he concentrated, he thought he could hear her calling his name, saying she missed him. He knew how crazy that made him sound. He knew there was no way to bridge the gap between the living and the dead. And yet…

The love they had was stronger than most couples. They didn’t have children, so their love was not dissipated in any way. Brandon felt an almost physical connection even when they were apart, as if she were standing right behind him even though she was at work.

That feeling was happening less and less lately. The last few times he had felt her manifested there, the distance between them seemed greater. Brandon worried their bond might weaken so much he wouldn’t be able to revive it. If he didn’t do something soon, he might run the risk of losing her forever.

Brandon felt Heather’s presence surround him again. This time seemed different, as the contentment he usually experienced was replaced by growing anxiety. Focusing his concentration toward where she was, Brandon became alarmed. Interspersed between sobs, he could hear her saying things like “letting go”, “can’t feel you anymore”, and “goodbye”.

GOODBYE? Nononono! Brandon panicked. Had he waited too long? In desperation, he started to dig. He had nothing to dig with, so he used his bare hands. A week’s rain and his frenzied mindset made digging easier than expected. He feverishly scooped away handfuls of mud, each one inching him closer to his Beloved. “I never left”, he hoped she could hear him saying. “I’ve always been right here!”

Suddenly, Brandon’s fingers broke through the ground into the open air. The rain washed the mud away from the bones which were all that was left of his hand. He had been underground so long he forgot how good movement felt. He flexed his fingers, working out the stiffness of years of disuse.

Before Heather could notice, Brandon’s fingers closed around her ankle and he began to pull her down. The rain-softened earth allowed him to bring her almost to her knee before fear ripped a scream from her lungs. She clawed at his tombstone, frantically trying to hang on to the granite, but it was slick and she quickly sank deeper. Brandon pulled her closer to him, overjoyed that they would soon be together forever.

Bad Luck to Kill Spiders
By Paul Guillebeau

Francis Eleanor Key, Frankie to her friends. The students at Westside Elementary preferred Freaky or Frankenstein. Each successive class thought they were very droll for inventing these nicknames but never used them within earshot of their teacher. Miss Key was tall and big. She was not by nature of stern disposition; she was an imposing figure to third graders, a giant among Lilliputians.

Frankie loathed spiders. She detested little fat bodied spiders with their messy cobwebs. Frankie hated the hairy ones that ran through the grass. Nothing gave her greater pleasure than to grind a spider under her practical black leather shoe. For many spiders, the shadow of Frankie’s shoe was the last thing saw.

Fear begat loathing. A single thread of spider silk could trigger a panic attack. The thought of a spider crawling on her while she slept terrified Frankie. The bed was two feet from every wall. The bed skirt was very short. Each bed leg was wrapped with sticky tape sold to catch roaches.

Since she read about the brown recluse spider, Frankie only removed her shoes when got into the bath or the bed. She would not enter the basement laundry unless the overhead lights blazed on the floor.

Frankie could recall every word of the article she had read. “The brown recluse spider is a large spider common in some parts of the country. The bite of the brown recluse causes a large necrotic wound that may leave a disfiguring scar. Brown recluse spiders hide in dark place during the day and hunt at night. The brown recluse spider can be readily identified by its six eyes. Nearly all other spiders have eight eyes.”

In a recurring dream, a giant brown recluse spider hunted Frankie, light reflected from six lidless eyes and a drop of venom on the fangs. She ran in molasses. When the spider reached for Frankie, she would awake with a gasp. The bedside light stayed on until morning.

Friday afternoon came, and Frankie was tired. The children were always more boisterous near summer vacation. Frankie looked forward to a quiet week-end alone. At 5:00, she locked her classroom and consulted briefly with a colleague about a troublesome boy with a rubber spider. She talked with the custodian about the weather forecast and walked out into the bright sunshine.

As she drove home, Frankie thought about what she needed for the book discussion group. Frankie stopped by the supermarket and bought grapes, a microwave dinner, and a compact fluorescent light bulb to replace one in the laundry.

Frankie parked near her backdoor and entered through the kitchen. As Frankie opened the refrigerator to put the grapes away, her phone rang. It was a text from the leader of the book group. “Meeting canceled. Sick child.” Frankie was pleased that no one was coming; leave the dishes in the sink.

Frankie peeled back the plastic cover, and put the plate into the microwave. Frankie pressed the buttons; the oven hummed. Then, she picked up a light bulb and headed to the laundry. The afternoon sun shone brightly through the basement windows.

Frankie could reach the light fixture if she placed a sturdy wooden box on the third step and stretching to her full height. Frankie found the box and placed it in the middle of the step.

She mounted the box and reached for the ceiling. The clatter disturbed a wolf spider under the edge of the stairs. The spider crept out, abdomen teaming with spiderlings and crawled across Frankie’s shoe.

The movement caught Frankie’s eye. The spider writhing with babies was more than Frankie could stand. A dozen baby spiders were dislodged from their mother and scrambled across Frankie’s sock.

Frankie flailed and screamed. Frankie, the spiders, and the box fell ponderously to the floor. Despite the pain and shock, Frankie continued to slap at the spiders. The spiders were gone, but Frankie’s knee was broken or sprained. Frankie could not rise from the floor.

During bouts of semi-consciousness; Frankie felt spiders crawling under her dress. Every spider she ever crushed came from the shadows. Frankie screamed; no one heard.

Frankie could not mount the stairs. Gloom spread across the basement. No one was coming. Frankie began to cry, followed by gasping sobs.

The crying disturbed a spider hiding beneath the washing machine. Her six eyes peered into gloom; it was time to hunt.

A New Friend
By Basil Mattox

I was walking down Chattooga Avenue where the old train tracks and water tower are. I saw a strange boy that was wearing clothes that looked as if they were from the 1960’s. I tried to keep walking but one of his words caught me, “Hi.” I turned around and replied, “Hi”. As I turned back around to continue my walk, he asked these very sudden questions, “How old are you? Do you live near here?”. Because I’m nice, I turned around again and answered the strange boy’s questions , “I’m 9 years old and I live just up the street on Nantahala Avenue How ‘bout you ?” He started at me, slowly though. Just then, he reached out his hand and…. “TAG!”. After that, we had a pretty awesome day. We played Wiffle Ball and had “ghost” runners whenever we had to stay on one of the four bases. We also played tag for a little bit. I went home and brought back some PBJ’s and we spent the rest of the day by the train tracks. Soon the boy said , “Sorry, Basil, I have to go”. “Wait! How did you know my name?!?” The boy replied, “your shirt”. Sure enough my shirt had my name in big, red letters. “Oh, yeahhhh… bye! Um, meet up same time, same place tomorrow?” “Sure!” the boy said. I really wanted to know where he lived so I followed him secretly. The house that he walked intos’ number was “366 Chattooga”. Then I ran home and told my mom about the boy and where he lived but, while I was talking to her she interrupted me and said, “Buddy, 366 Chattooga burnt down in 1968…killing everyone including that little boy”. I never went back.

The Devil on Nacoochee
By Ella Salt

“Turn here!”

My brother veered off Boulevard past Bread Basket and Big Jim piling the last unsold pumpkins back on his truck. Despite a drizzly dark night, children in the playground of Chase Street School gathered for trick-or-treat: a few traditional ghosts, a Jedi, a mini Wonder Woman, two pirates.

Cruising at a snail’s pace down Nacoochee we took it all in. And then, there it was. Our childhood home.

I waved at Jack Loman, the man my parents had sold it to back when I started high school.  He was propped up out front in a clown costume with a plastic pumpkin full of candy corn and a cooler of beer.

“Bill and Evie Stone, join me!”

Years had passed since we’d been on that porch. It felt weird. Drinking PBRs we reminisced as trick-or-treaters came and went. At one point Jack pointed across the street. “Someone finally bought Cat Lady’s house.”

Cat Lady. Wow, she’d been ancient when we lived there with a house full of felines and newspapers stacked up past the windows. I nudged my brother.

“Remember ringing her doorbell and running?”

“Yeah… but the only time we really saw her was when Ronnie Lester went for a walk. They bickered like two dogs on a leash.”

Ronnie Lester. The name sent a chill up my spine. The strange man who wore a top hat and lived in Rondavel apartments.

“He was so creepy,” my brother shuddered, “Like someone out of a different century.”

Growing up we’d watched Ronnie Lester stroll along every afternoon smoking a cigar. He knew our names and offered us quarters. Cat Lady would holler half hidden behind her screen door, “That ain’t no treat it’s a trick. I know what you are!”

I can still see him halt lean on his walking stick, blow smoke and smile. “Be quiet old witch.”

“Keep your coins ‘Ron Devil Man.’”  

She called him that. ‘Ron Devil Man.’ And since he lived in Rondavel apartments the name stuck. School kids used to sing a tune as they ran after him, “Mister Ron Devil Man, give us a quarter.”

That exchange went on for years.  But the Halloween after I started Clarke Central High School something tragic happened. Two trick-or-treaters at Cat Lady’s door got spooked when they saw her and ran screaming straight into Rondavel apartments. No one knows why they went there. They were never found. Police searched Rondavel top to bottom, parents made posters, pictures of the children appeared in the Flagpole. Nothing. Not a clue. They simply vanished.

Rumors flourished then faded. Cat Lady died. We moved. Ronnie Lester disappeared. Rondavel apartments were demolished to make way for the hospital and people slowly forgot about it all.

Jack Loman interrupted my trip down memory lane. “Hey, here comes the gentleman who bought Cat Lady’s house.”

My brother and I saw him exactly at the same time.  A familiar figure in the shadows. A thick smell of cigar smoke in the air. It couldn’t be…the identical top hat. Bill grabbed my arm as if he were about to faint.

Under the dim streetlight two boys in tattered  costumes trailed on rusty bikes. The man paused, leaned on his walking stick, blew smoke and smiled. “Good evening Evie and Bill.” He flicked a coin our way and then Ronnie Lester disappeared into the moonlight. I can still hear the boys’ song dutifully following him down Nacoochee…

“Mr. Ron Devil Man…give us a quarter.”

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