For years now, Pique has scoured the Earth—or at least the Sea to Sky—to find a fresh batch of scary stories to delight and fright readers at this most wonderfully spooky time of year.
This year's submissions all come from women writers, who have searched the darkest corners of their minds to craft a triumvirate of terror-inducing tales. You'll find everything from a dying witch and her ungrateful daughter, a ghost that may or may not have been inspired by the reportedly haunted Maury Young Arts Centre theatre, and that most terrifying of dating apps, Tinder.
Happy Halloween from everyone at Pique Newsmagazine!
Mary Wonderful's new Grimoire
By Katherine Fawcett
A cold cottage at the dark end of the wobbly woods lies a dying witch. By her side is a faithful cat. Thunder is normally a sleek feline with sea-green eyes and fur as black as a moonless night. But the imminent death of his mistress has thrown the furry creature for a loop. He has become depressed and completely let himself go. His fur is mangy and matted and he has lost the will to even swat a cockroach.
Oh, don't think it's cute, a kitty-cat "grieving" its dying owner. Cats are selfish beasts, with about as much capacity for compassion as they have talent for typing. Thunder's state-of-mind is not based on love per se, but is directly related to how the hag's demise will affect her capacity to toss him scraps, provide a soft lap for him to curl up in, or scratch under his chin.
"What about meeeeee?" thinks the cat as his mistress exhales green smoke that smells of rancid poultry and burnt hair. Her complexion has become a much paler shade of mauve than usual and Thunder considers jabbing a pointy foreclaw into the skin of her neck to see if a little cream might seep through the puncture wound for him to enjoy.
"Do it!!!!" a voice suddenly calls. The cat jumps two feet into the air and lands on the counter, face to face with the witch's daughter, Mary Wonderful. "Claw her! Why not? Stab her! Draw blood! Draw cream! Draw battery acid! No one cares about her now, and no one will care when she's dead!"
Mary Wonderful is a kindergarten teacher. She has a Schnauzer named Happy. Sings in a choir. Lives in a condo, decorated in a simple, Japanese motif. She named herself; forged the paperwork on her birth certificate because her mother hadn't bothered to name a child she didn't really expect to live. She hasn't been back to the cottage since the day she escaped through the chimney when she was a toddler. But she suspected the old boot was on her last legs because of a tell-tale rainbow that had appeared in the sky over the cottage recently.
"You???" thinks the cat. "What are you doing here?"
Mary Wonderful plucks Thunder off the counter and chucks him to the floor. Sometimes she wishes she did not have the ability to read the minds of animals.
"I'm here to collect what's rightfully mine."
The cat hisses, then skulks off to hide under under the stove.
A typical daughter, upon seeing her mother at death's door, face twisted in agony, body riddled with disease and infection, would sit with the woman, offer a few words of comfort, hold her shriveled hand or brush her thin hair.
But not Mary Wonderful. You see, all witches keep a diary—a daily record of spells, rituals, recipes, incantations and other magical information. It is called a grimoire, and it's the only reason Mary Wonderful is here.
Why does she want such a book? To cast spells of her own? As a reminder of her heritage and genealogy? Does she wish to sell it to the Canadian Museum of Sorcery? Or perhaps a private investor?
Whatever the reason, she begins searching. The place is a disaster. Witches are terrible housekeepers, and this one is also a hoarder. There are bags of bones and boxes of buttons. Food scraps and beeswax. Birchbark and bike parts. Crumpled silk and rotting milk. There are mushrooms under floorboards; in the drawer, a dead duck. As for the grimoire? Alas, no luck.
She stands in the middle of the mess, hands on hips, and listens to the crone's raspy breath. Perhaps it's a myth that all witches document their lives. Perhaps her mother's just lazy.
She is about to give up when the cat reappears, dragging a leather-bound volume across the floor by strings used to tie the cover shut.
"You looking for this?" he thinks. Oh sure, he could have brought the grimoire out sooner, but you know how cats are.
Mary Wonderful snatches the book. She plans to dash straight home, but flips it open for a peek first.
She is shocked by what she reads.
Dear child, love of my heart, charm of my soul. I see that you have found a foster family. I am so happy that...
What? She flips to another page.
Good luck on your final exams! I'm placing my Brilliance Spell on you so you'll get all A's!
How could this be?
Oh, daughter, you changed your hair! I loved it long, but the short spiky look suits you as well!
It's not a grimoire, but an extended love letter. A scrapbook. A dedication from a witch to the daughter who considered herself a motherless child.
She must have disguised herself and watched her every move, thinks Mary Wonderful. Of course! She is a sorceress! Able to transfigure at will. She turns to the last page.
My only wish is to see my beloved girl before I die. To feel her close to me and tell her I love her. To give her—
The handwriting trails off.
Mary looks at her mother on the rickety bed in the cold cottage and begins to wail. "Oh, Mother! I'll never forgive myself for foresaking you!"
And then, ever so slowly, the witch's eyelids rise.
Mary gasps. "You're awake!" She puts a hand upon her heart.
The muscles in the old woman's neck strain like a net full of fish as she tries to lift her head. Her lips quiver. She is trying to speak.
"What? What is it, Mother?" Mary Wonderful leans close. The smell is nauseating, but she doesn't turn away. The witch's crooked pointer finger curls up, motioning for her daughter to come closer still.
Then her eyelids wilt shut again.
"No! Please! Don't die!" Mary Wonderful wraps her arms around the old woman and lifts her to her chest. She is so thin it feels like she might snap like a twig. They are forehead to forehead, nose to nose. "You loved me!" Mary sobs. "All this time, you truly loved me!"
Their faces are so close that when the old witch opens her mouth, the girl doesn't see the spider crawl up her mother's tongue, over her rotten bottom teeth and onto her cracked lip. It is a beautiful spider. Black, with silver hairs. Like a piece of jewelry. An heirloom.
She feels her mother's muscles slacken and her body go limp.
She doesn't feel the spider pull itself along on a thread of spun silk it has lashed from the old woman's dry, grey mouth into her own wet, pink one.
She feels a tickle in her throat as the spider enters, but because she's sobbing and carrying on about not being a good daughter, about how she wants more time with her mother now and blah blah blah, she doesn't feel the little arachnid go down, down, down.
Mary Wonderful lays the crone's dead body back onto the rusty bed and takes a seat in the rocking chair by the stove. She scratches Thunder under his chin and he settles into her warm, soft lap. He purrs as she opens the leather grimoire, whose bewitched pages no longer read like a love letter from mother to daughter, but have been transformed back into a record of spells, rituals, recipes, incantations and other magical information. The cat licks the fur on his foreleg as his mistress flips to the section with instructions on what to do with the corpse of a witch whose soul has been reincarnated into the body of a young woman.
Katherine Fawcett is the author of The Little Washer of Sorrows (Thistledown Press, 2015). She lives in Squamish. The above story is a companion piece to Fawcett's short story, "The Maternal Instinct of Witches," from Pique's 2017 Halloween issue. You can read it here.
By Angie Nolan
The actress in her light is fair
Her performance weak
and hard to bear,
She hears the whispers everywhere
"Act on this stage, if you dare!"
Laughter bellows from the wings
With no one there
As the backstage sings,
Empty rafters and eerie rings
"You have no talent to do this thing"
She floats around the flats in fear
Gasping to speak
"Who is here?"
A chilly spectre hovers near
"Act better or I'll have your ear."
She backs away, with shiver in spine
"I can act,
And my ears are mine!"
The ghost ponders, but for a time,
"You ghastly thing, that's not your line!"
Then comes a flash; then comes a thud
The pain is fierce
Then comes the flood,
An earless girl, a theatre dud
Lacking talent and covered in blood.
"How dare you take my ear from me!"
She screams and reels
"Come from the shadows and let me see
This judge of 'to be' and 'not to be's'."
Thump! Crash! Flicker! Creak!
A cue to cue
For the ghost to speak.
"I do stir; I do creep
In this theatre, five times a week".
"I am the Writer of the night
Who darken my light.
Hiding in parodos; hiding from sight
So, how are you with a little stage fright?"
"Well I do get nervous, a little bit"
As she holds her breath
And bites her lip.
"It's not always me, it's often the script"
The stage rattles mad and the curtains rip.
"You dare to question, you dare to tread
on a ghostwriter's words,
Is that what you said?
Your connection is weak, your delivery dead
Now do it better, or I'll have your head!"
The actress froze before uttering a word
And vision blurred,
"Yes, I need practice, so I've heard,
But off with my head, are you absurd?"
Now, a spirit's strength can't be ignored
But the actress runs
Straight for the doors,
And as this phantom is keeping score
He hurls the light grid to the floor.
It crashes down and splits in two
The performer's skull
And body, too.
And as she quivers dead and true
The shadow whispers, "I so love you."
From the carnage, her soul arose
With ferocious eyes
And an actor's pose
Now every night she finds her prose,
Or that is how the story goes.
The technicians shudder in their booth
For an empty stage
Can still tell truth.
Flickering lights and things that move
Is more than final curtain proof.
The staff here really don't last that long
For these hauntings play
From dusk til dawn.
Some have stayed, but more are gone,
Perhaps they forgot...
to leave the ghost light on.
By Cathryn Atkinson
I got to know Aiden quickly. Isn't social media like that, especially Tinder. This shit is so addictive when you're granted access to an interesting mind or an intriguing body, and there's a never-ending drip-drip of people trying to sell themselves out there, so you can ignore, unfriend, mute or swipe left to your heart's content until you eventually come across someone you want. Everyone is disposable. Everyone is fake.
Swipe right! Swipe right! I was shopping around my soul and my weekend, and Aiden's photo immediately put butterflies in my gut. I sent him a message fuelled by wine-courage; he was there and answered straight away. Aiden was funny. We talked for an hour and he said, "I gotta go, here's my number."
I was like,
OK, sure thing :-x
Aiden texted the next day. We talked about our jobs for a while and I hinted about meeting up. He was really interested. But then he wrote that he was going out of town for his company and, "Would you be upset if I got back to you in a week, when I've got more free time?"
"It's wasn't the emoji, was it?" I asked.
"No. Yer cute and cool and I want to meet you, but I'm just too busy right now. Don't be offended. I'm not trying to blow you off."
Fuck. I wrote, "Not offended, lol. Call me when you're free." Two weeks went by and Aiden receded into the background. My job happened to be crazy busy, too. But the second Friday rolled around, and I was at the point of not caring. No harm, no foul. Little shit.
Then, later that night, I got a text: "HEY! Here I am, did you miss me? LMAO. My buddy is DJing tomorrow at 8pm at a music festival at Hollis Square. Would you like to meet up and we can go for a drink and dinner after the gig and we'll see what happens?"
Damn. I found Aiden's photo (It was still in the download folder, so it wasn't officially on my computer desktop). Hells yeah. I told him I was free. He said he'd be the one with a white rose in his teeth, dancing near the stage.
I found him on Instagram. His description said "Actor. Dancer. Aesthete." More dazzling photos and (Oh no!) 9,000 followers. Was he real? Why me? Why on Earth me? I corrected myself, "Why not? Why the hell not?" Radical self-care blogs never told me to leave Aidens off the list. Babes are people, too.
He texted me the next day, to make sure I'd be there. He told me he couldn't wait. After a night of limited sleep, I spent half the afternoon on myself. I was looking good and felt more than able to hold my own against him.
I got to Hollis Square 30 minutes early, and on the approach, everything looked great. The DJ was onstage playing a sweet, danceable tune; around 100 people were getting into it. I hardly noticed anyone, only as obstacles in my vision line that prevented me from seeing him. A good-looking adult male was headed my way, and I planned to give him the night of his life.
As drinks were being passed out by cheerful waitresses, I thought I'd stumbled into a new kind of heaven. People were popping pills and offered me one. I finally noticed my surroundings. A good two-thirds of the dancers were women. Maybe I should call that a bad two-thirds. More were arriving all the time.
I hadn't eaten all day and I was suddenly ravenous. I stepped out of the fray and bought a hotdog from a stand across the street. Another woman crossed the street, bought a cola and stood next to me. We started talking. Mandy was recently separated. She seemed a little vulnerable.
"I'm here to meet a guy," she said. "My first date since I left Sid."
I said: "So am I. Seems like the right place for it, though we may have to beat off the other ladies when the guys turn up." Mandy laughed. We stood around for a while and I was getting pretty stoned.
My phone pinged. Aiden: "I'm running a little late but come to the stage and I will give you that white rose when I see you." Me: "Sure." But I stayed where I was.
Then Mandy's phone pinged and she read the text.
"Christ. I'm allergic to the perfume of flowers," she tells me. "And he wants to give me one."
Oh, the ecstasy of dancing to a great beat. An hour later, the party was going full tilt, and still no sign of Aiden. The DJ was laying out some amazing tracks. Mandy and I had crossed the street and were dancing in the crowd. It was a sultry night and the sweat was pouring. The drinks still flowed.
Mandy saw a woman from work. Ruth was more wired than I was. She was waiting for a guy, too. I asked her his name.
"Aiden," she replied.
"Me too," Mandy said. Then we started to ask some of the others around us. In 10 minutes, we were up to 25 dates waiting for Aiden. The crowd was getting angry.
"That fucker worked on me for a week. I'll kill him," Mandy said.
"Get in line," said Ruth.
"We won't get an explanation if the little shit doesn't turn up," I said.
As if on cue, a limo pulled up on the other side of the square. A minute later, a guy climbed onto the stage. And there he was. And while the sun was still throwing fading light into the sky behind Aiden, there was no call for the sunglasses he was wearing. Maybe the bright stage lights hurt his eyes. He was holding a bucket full of white roses.
"What the fuck is he up to?" I said to Mandy.
"I'm confused," Mandy said.
"I'm wired," I replied.
The DJ stopped playing, but everyone had already stopped dancing. We were all waiting for Aiden to explain.
The social-media personality had turned up, as beautiful as promised. People turned on their cellphones and started filming.
Aiden threw the roses out into the crowd and some actually tried to catch them. He then took the mic and thanked everyone for coming."Did everyone get a drink?" Aiden asked. Some cheered in response.
"I bet you're all wondering what this is all about," he said.
Somewhere to my left a woman yelled out: "Yeah, Aiden! What the fuck!" There was a buzz already. Shock in the air was beginning to boil into rage.
Aiden: "The women here tonight I met thanks to Tinder. Some of the guys, too. Ha."
Expressions dropped, an uncomfortable sound came from the crowd as 400 spiked heels scraped and shuffled on the concrete.
Aiden: "I've invited you all here for the chance to go on a date with me! It's going to be a LOT of fun."
He told us what it would take to date him, the competition he had been planning for weeks and the publicity the winner would get. It was all going out live on Instagram.
"The winner will be treated like a princess!" Aiden promised. "You'll spend time with me and my A-Team—it will change your life!" Then he told us to line up and explain why we wanted him into the mic provided. He would select the finalists from there.
After a minute of rules, regulations and promises of fun, he capped it off with, "You might even get laid!""I'd rather fuck the DJ!" someone yelled back.
The crowd was still laughing when a perfectly aimed rock flew out of the crowd and hit Aiden in the forehead, leaving him bloody and staggering. With that, the DJ fled.
I hadn't seen Mandy leave my side but suddenly she was onstage. She pushed Aiden and he fell into the crowd. That was it. I lost sight of him in the mob, and I lost sight of Mandy when she jumped into the throng.
A woman's arm thrust a man's arm above the crowd. There was no man attached to it. There were gasps and cheers and blood rained down on us all.
Then it really got crazy.
Later. Here we are at my place, Mandy and myself. She came away with a pinkie finger. I got a white rose, which was mashed in the melee, without most of its petals. Just a stick with thorns, really. In the end, everyone who wanted came away with a piece of who Aiden was.
Mandy and I are not really speaking. We're looking at a YouTube video posted of the attack. We can't see ourselves. We can see him, though.
Already terrible comments are showing up online. An anonymous MRA throws out threats. Was there cannibalism? A lady never tells. Besides, if there was, it had nothing to do with me.
I wasn't hungry. I'd had the hotdog.
Cathryn Atkinson is the former arts editor of Pique Newsmagazine and a 2018 Whistler Film Festival Praxis Screenwriting Fellowship holder with her screenplay, Charlie the Liar.