Every year, Pique asks a handful of writers to come up with their spookiest and kookiest Halloween short stories to read around the campfire.
The entries always differ wildly — and this year is no exception. There's everything from talking grizzlies to witchy moms, striking the perfect balance between hair-raising horror and pitch black humour.
So sit back, relax, sneak an extra chocolate bar from the kid's pillowcase, and enjoy Pique's collection of scary stories just in time for All Hallow's Eve.
BY JOEL BARDE
Sitting in bed, I look at wall. Can't sleep. Today daddy killed a bear.
Daddy and friend were hunting, when they saw it. Great big one — a grizzly — with a giant hump on back.
Daddy shot four times. I watched Daddy and Daddy's friend skin it. Bloody body.
Grizzly looks different. Looks gross, like human.
Think of bear in bed, wonder about grizzly life, how it got so big. Daddy says grizzlies are mean and bad and eat other animals and would eat me if it could.
I don't want to be eaten.
Can't sleep. I hear noise. Maybe it's Daddy's hunting friend?
He and Daddy got in fight. Celebrating kill and daddy got mad.
Hit friend with rifle. Friend fell, then left.
I call out Daddy's friend's name: "Paul!"
Nothing back. But more noise — groaning, scratching, like a giant dog outside.
Disappear under sheets. Use secret hole to keep vision.
Then I see bear — grizzly — in glass.
Moves around, looks angry. Bigger than bear they killed. I feel scary. Then bear thwaps window with paw. Breaks window and walks in.
Daddy doesn't move. Still not awake, sleeping with head on table. Too many drinks.
Grizzly walks around. Finds Daddy's gun.
Breaks over knee — snap!
Then Grizzly moves close to Daddy, making Daddy look small, like baby. Puts face right near Daddy's.
Daddy moves face other direction; bear keeps breathing.
Then Daddy wakes. Looks sick, like going to throw up.
Runs to corner. "Get out of here!" yells Daddy.
Grizzly looks calm, waves Daddy over.
"Where's Paul?" says Daddy.
"Paul is fine," says Grizzly. "Now, please calm down."
Daddy goes quiet, and Grizzly sits beside table.
Then waves daddy over. Asks Daddy to sit down.
"I want to tell you about my brother — the bear you killed today," says Grizzly.
"He was my favourite brother," says grizzly. "Our interests and values always aligned. And do you want to know what I am going to miss most?"
Daddy shakes head. "No," he says.
"His sense of adventure," says Grizzly. "We would walk high into the the mountains and send boulders vaulting down the hill. We'd pick targets, watch them gather speed, and collapse entire trees, as though we were picking up spares at a bowling ally."
Grizzly looks sad. "It was magical," he says.
Daddy keeps quiet.
"Why are you here?" asks daddy.
Grizzly doesn't answer. "Why are you here?" he says.
Daddy looks fidgety, goes silent.
"It's the thrill of the hunt. I don't expect you to understand. I want teach my boy how to hunt." Daddy's speech trails off. "And I've always wanted to take a grizzly."
"Because it's a trophy?" says Grizzly.
"Yes — that's a big part of it," says Daddy.
"What will you do with my brother?"
"Honour it," says Daddy.
"Getting it stuffed and keeping it in my home, for everyone to enjoy and appreciate."
"Having it will bring you joy?" says Grizzly.
"Yes," says Daddy. Maybe Daddy, not me.
"It's difficult to explain. I don't have the words to explain it," he says.
Then Grizzly looks at me. I close hole more, disappear. But Grizzly comes close.
Then Grizzly pulls blankets.
"And what if I did that with your son?" says Grizzly.
"No!" cries daddy. Begs Grizzly not to, tells Grizzly he loves me.
"You will leave and never come back," says Grizzly.
"Yes," says Daddy.
Then Grizzly gets up, walks out door and into the night. I look at him, wonder about his life, who else he will meet.
"Goodbye," I say.
The Maternal Instinct of Witches
BY KATHERINE FAWCETT
Witches these days have large chunks of free time.
That's because they don't have regular jobs and they don't have any interest in physical fitness or tidiness. They don't have hobbies, they don't watch television, and they don't enjoy music. And due to changing market conditions and consumer habits, services for incantations, spell-casting and fright-night appearances are rarely called upon any more.
Yes, witches cook, but they never clean up after themselves. They just use the same dirty pots for the next day's meal. There's no garbage or compost to worry about either. If the scraps, peels, rotten ends, bones and other sharp bits aren't needed, they are given to the cat, whose name is usually Thunder. Poisonous parts are put in jars for safekeeping.
Now and then, a witch becomes bored with this leisurely lifestyle. Staring out the window at the neighbours' comings and goings, reading spell books and cracking one's knuckles gets a little stale after a while.
One way for a witch to solve this problem is to have a child.
Everyone knows that having a child can be very, very good for getting a lady out of a rut; for breaking up the routine when life begins to feel same-old, same-old.
Besides, having a child is no big deal for a witch.
When she is ready, she simply wraps a piece of thin white satin around the base of one of her skin tags. (Oh, there are plenty of dangling little beauty-warts to choose from — for example: over her eyebrow, between her breasts, in the armpit area.) She pulls the ribbon tight, ties a double fisherman's loop, pours herself a glass of vinegar, known among witches to prevent morning sickness, and waits.
Within a few hours, the skin tag, at first the size of an engorged tick, begins to swell and pulsate. Pulsate and swell. Soon it grows to the size of a peanut. Two tiny dots become visible near the top. These must be the eyes! And behind them, under skin like wet rice paper, a wee oyster of a brain! Little flippers appear — the hands and feet. And if you look closely at this growing lump, you may see what looks like a small black fist in the middle of the body, squeezing and pumping like it's preparing to punch someone. That's the baby witch's heart!
The pregnant witch lies on her bed for the whole next day as her skin tag grows and morphs and grows some more. It is still attached to her body, but is now kicking and twisting and jerking around. Whoa there, cowgirl, says the witch. This one's gonna be a handful!
Tradition dictates the blessed witch wait until midnight — the "bewitching hour" — to give birth. When both hands on her old grandmother clock point straight up, she gives the ends of the white satin ribbon a sharp tug, and with a hiss, a pop, and a crunch, severs the connection between herself and her parasitic offspring. The process is actually quite neat and tidy. After releasing about a quarter of a cup of minty afterbirth, the hole where the skin tag used to be closes up like a sphincter. And the white ribbon that initiated the pregnancy holds the child's hair up in a cute top knot.
The baby witch grows quickly, and makes a lot of noise. Of course, the mother witch does not feed it, because she is teaching it to be self-sufficient right off the bat.
Unlike other children, babies of witches are born with mouths full of teeth as sharp as foxes, pubic hair in all the normal places, the ability to speak three or four languages, and the urge to flee.
But the best part of motherhood is watching the young witch try to find its way out of the home. Ha! cackles the witch. Good luck, lassie! For there is no door in the house and the only windows are shuttered with panes of shatterproof glass. Everyone knows witches fly up their own chimneys if they ever have to leave the house. But the child doesn't know that...yet.
The mother witch laughs and laughs as the child crawls, and scratches, then climbs, jumps and even tries to fly to escape. She looks like a hen in an elevator! thinks the mother witch.
The more desperate the child witch is to get out, the more hilarious it is to watch. This doesn't mean the witch doesn't love her child. Quite the opposite! Love in witches equals novelty plus narcissism, and a frantic child who has the same nose as you offers both in spades.
However, in every life there are difficult decisions to be made. If the child witch doesn't figure out how to escape soon, the mother witch will know it is weak and feeble-minded and she will roast the little thing in her oven and feed it to the cat, who is now sharpening its claws in mouth-watering anticipation.
Oh, don't judge! A mother bird will shove her baby out of a high, high nest and watch as the terrified creature flails and spins and tries to figure out how to outsmart gravity before thunking onto the ground and smashing its itty birdie bones into smithereens. It's called parenting.
If the child witch does figure out how to escape, and zips into the fireplace and up the chimney flue, the mother witch will go back to cracking her knuckles, spying on her neighbours, and reading spell books. That was fun, she'll say, then pour herself another glass of vinegar, also known to prevent postpartum depression and empty-nest syndrome.
Deep down she'll be of two minds. Partly, she'll be relieved to have her own life back, along with all that free time. Partly she'll miss the noise.
And as the child flies out the chimney, over the rooftops and into night, she'll be so happy to be free that she'll yank the white ribbon out of her hair and throw it gleefully into the air. It will crackle and flash in the sky. People below will stop what they are doing and look up at the lightning bolt. Only a few will be aware that this is a signal that a child witch has escaped. Most people will chalk it up to a freak storm on an otherwise lovely day.
A few moments later, the ear-splitting growl of a witch's cat will send shivers up and down the people's spines. It seems Thunder sharpened her claws for nothing.
Katherine Fawcett recently moved from Pemberton to Brackendale. Her latest book, The Little Washer of Sorrows (Thistledown Press, 2015) was nominated for a Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Fiction of the Fantastical. Katherine teaches music at the Whistler Waldorf School and is working on a new short-story collection.
BY DAN FALLOON
I'm not an experienced hiker.
I don't clamber up and over jagged rocks or carefully dig in my heels to make a steep trail descent.
But that doesn't mean I don't like to get into the great outdoors every once in a while. I appreciate the opportunity to explore the beautiful scenery that surrounds me in this province.
So when I heard about the Trainwreck site in Cheakamus, I decided to go check it out.
It was a chilly, rainy October afternoon, but after a weekend spent lounging on the couch, binge-watching the latest Netflix original about a ninja clown mafia, I decided it would be best to get some fresh air. I'd thought about it for a long time, so why not?
I drove to Jane Lakes Road and parked my Jeep as the downpour continued to pound. I slipped on a rain slicker before venturing out, and grabbed an umbrella as I slammed and locked my door.
As the raindrops slammed into my poncho, they sounded like microwave popcorn kernels as the final digital seconds tick down, bursting forth with a clamour upon contact. At least the trees would provide me some protection.
I stepped onto the trail leading to the site, which I was told was well marked and only 15, maybe 20 minutes away. I still had an hour or so left of sun, or what wasn't being choked out by the charcoal clouds, anyway.
The path dipped down, veering left and right but not overwhelming my novice knees and feet. There was plenty of traffic going in the other direction — happy families of all ages skitting along — and I started to wonder how big the site must have been to accommodate them all relatively reasonably at one time. And there also didn't seem to be that many vehicles at the trailhead. Well, they weren't paying us any attention, so maybe I shouldn't be all that invested in their business either.
After a perfectly prescribed 18 minutes to get close to the tattered trains, we trotted down the final descent before the suspension bridge taking us to the final approach.
Now, I hadn't realized there was the need to cross the Cheakamus River and wasn't all that enthused about needing to use the bouncy, shaky bridge to do it. After a few moments of silent analysis, I let out a sigh and set one foot on the bridge as it began to sway slightly. I pushed my foot down to further test its give and, ultimately satisfied with the new information, slowly but surely made my way closer to the trainwreck.
Suddenly, as I approached the halfway point, the bridge started to shake. Not the typical suspension bridge squiggle but a full-on rumble trying to shake me off. I grasped onto the guard and bear-hugged the wires. Realizing it was only starting to intensify, I knew I needed to make it across. As the bridge careened side to side, I shimmied my way steadily across, hoping to not be thrown into a roaring river below.
Land drew near and I leapt to safety, lying on the ground as the quaking halted and everything was calm. And in the most nonchalant manner possible, after all that, especially, the bridge slipped away from my side of the banks and dangled in the canyon.
I knew enough that it wasn't the end of the world, that people had been accessing the site illegally by crossing the tracks for years. After what had happened, I wouldn't let the guilt of a quick traverse get to me.
With a grasp on things, I felt I should at least go explore for now and I rambled up towards the train cars, some of which were certainly in better shape than others. A note nailed to a tree caught my eye, detailing how the timber train had derailed and the cars were placed further away from the tracks after the fact. It also said no one died in the crash. As I scanned the type again, the date jumped out at me — sure enough, it was exactly 50 years ago to the day. And no one had died? It couldn't be a haunting we were experiencing. Just some sort of freak natural thing, a brief earthquake, I guess. It was terrifying but could at least be explained. Just a coincidence.
I descended back in the direction of the river, where one of the more beat-up boxes slanted toward the water. I looked the car up and down and thought I'd have a closer encounter.
Setting one foot forward, I hauled myself up into the car. I took a couple apprehensive steps, appreciating the craftsmanship and the fact that 50 years of weathering took less of a toll than one might think. But then everything went dark as a slam banged my eardrums. Both doors shut and the car started to heave forward into the tree it was resting against, almost magnetically drawn to the water.
I grasped for the handle and once I had it, felt the tremors rumble through me. I felt like a can held in place on a rickety electric opener, terrified that the whole contraption was about to be sent into a crusher. The door wasn't budging, seemingly locked in place.
In the darkness, it felt as though the tree was giving more and more and more. Pretty soon I would be in the river without any solid paddle. Aha! It came to me! The flooring had its weak spots. I hurriedly stomped at the dead wood, praying for a quick break. As I manically whacked my heel on the floor, I felt something give way, failing to resist my attacks. Splinters dug into my shin, but I'd take a billion of them to get out of this without becoming one myself.
I ripped at the frayed edges and broke off small piece by small piece I was shaken to and fro. CRACK! As the supports gave way and the car began to veer toward the river. I snapped off the final piece I needed to slide my frame through the hole and lunged towards safety.
I landed on a flattened canvas tent and heard a crack of bones as I collided with them in the damp, dreary darkness.
BY CATHRYN ATKINSON
"Rest in Peace."
Each time Celeste would drive on the highway she would come to the same bend in the road that compelled her to lift her foot off the gas and say those words.
A long scorched pattern screamed out from the pockmarked concrete 22 months after the accident and fire that killed Simon; he was driving his ancient Audi northbound to her place when he texted to say he had something important to tell her that was better off not being shared over the phone.
A simple 30-minute drive through the wilderness, from town to town.
The shapes and spread of the scorching told the story of a heavily rainy night, too much speed, a slide into oblivion, and an inferno that closed lanes in both directions for seven hours.
And for nearly two years, Celeste passed this grim reminder twice a day as she travelled to and from work, and she dreamed each night of the mystery of what Simon wanted to say. The dreams would start with a kind of hopeful joy, veering into an unfulfilled longing, and crashing into the permanent estrangement that only death can bring.
For a year, they looked something like this: Celeste standing on the threshold of a field; on the other side of it was a man — Simon? Not Simon? Yes, Simon. His face and body were turned away.
Celeste would always call out, "Don't get into the car!" But Simon always would. He would drive off with a screech, and she would know what was next. Her nightmares never showed her the fire, and yet there was no mercy. When she awoke, each time she felt as though she had been burned through, and what created that feeling she could never remember. Whenever she woke up, she could never remember what was said.
The situation was toxic. There was a girlfriend, Penny. Simon had said it was over; it was ending soon; he was confused; it was over. Celeste was already pulling away from him, convinced he was in turns a manipulative, flakey, dishonest, predatory, indecisive asshole. Then she agreed to the last meeting.
Instead, the next time she was in his presence was at the funeral. Penny was led out before she could speak to anyone there and thank them for coming, or not. Celeste had no any indication of just how much she knew. What was real, what wasn't.
After months of nightmares, Celeste went into counselling; she took on all the trappings of mindfulness and self-care. She'd run for an hour when it felt relentless.
None of those things helped until she decided there was a ghost, and that he needed to be sent onto whatever was next with compassion.
So Celeste started saying, "Rest in Peace" to Simon every time she drove over the crash site. She, a non-believer, even prayed for him. She had no faith in closure. Instead, she told Simon what she thought — from the rage to the love.
It wasn't formal. There were no churches or Ouija boards guiding her. It was pure intuition, but the dream never went away.
The signs were up before the roadwork started. And before the roadwork started, the cones went out. All the unknowable trucks, the ones that scraped and prepared the highway, the one that laid out the asphalt and sealed it to the substrate, and the final one that rolled it flat — they were all there and ready to dig out the section, removing and replacing the burn marks forever. It was a long stretch waiting to be fixed after a winter of potholes, and it included the accident site.
When she saw the construction, Celeste pulled over in a panic. When she attacked the foreman, the police were called and she fled into the forest. Traffic was stopped for almost an hour until they found her.
Celeste checked herself into a sanitarium. The agreement she had with the psychologist was such that he would tell her the highway project's progress on a daily basis and then help her work through her feelings. They agreed confrontation was the best cure; the only way out was through. When he finally told her the scorch marks had been covered, she cried.
The nightmares ended. No more Simon on a field out of reach. No more waking up to the feeling that her bones and skin had crackled in an inferno. No disembodied voice. He was resting in peace.
Eventually, Celeste was free again. Work immediately took her back. On the first day, she got into the car and made the journey, noting the bend in the road and seeing nothing untoward. No need to "Rest in Peace." Celeste reacted like any other driver, meeting the curve with a slight turn of the steering wheel. Everyone at work greeted her like a long-lost friend.
She got through the day — a barrage of computer work that required no outward reaction. It was the same for everyone there. Her focus was tolerable. She worked late and it was dark when she pulled into the Chevron before exiting to the highway.
The dark trip home, with the black tarmac passing under the car, was like an eternal night. There was no traffic.
The bend in the road came up quickly, and Celeste pulled onto the shoulder. She had to walk back to the spot; this was a little difficult because the gas can was full and heavy.
Celeste carefully poured gas across the road. She knew she couldn't repeat the pattern and believed it wouldn't matter anyway. She knew Simon wouldn't mind, and would come back in her dreams all the same. She craved the unknowable voice because of the hope it gave her, and even with his back to her across a field, at least he was present. She wanted to be able to tell him to not get in the Audi.
The match hit the road and the flames jumped up. Celeste was thrilled until she realized that the marks would not be dark enough, the fire was not intense enough, the asphalt was too fresh.
"Peace. Rest," Celeste said, and went to pour more gas on the fire, laughing as the flames reached for the sky and then for her.