In honor of Halloween and the nightmares (mostly election-related) that have been haunting me of late… here are the ghost stories (both "ghost" and "stories" should probably be in separate sets of quotes) I wrote when Suzy and I went to the IPRC Write-Off the other night.
Here's how it worked:
- Each participant was asked to write down two genres on slips of paper. Apparently "genre" could be extended to cover both subject matter (fantasy, SF, romance) or form (two-character play, villanelle). My choices were "limerick" and "footnote." I was really really hoping that "footnote" would be chosen, but alas, it wasn't.
- All suggested genres were cast into a hat; then, with much ceremony and darkening of lights, one was drawn forth and announced.
- All participants wrote furiously for 15 minutes, making a more or less serious attempt to stick to the given genre. (This was when I wished dearly that I had brought a laptop, rather than the Miquelrius 4 notebook and black roller-ball pen that are my ordinary away-from-home writing companions.)
- We took turns reading our creative outputs. Two judges scored us on a rubric with 10 points possible in each of 3 categories: Originality, Style (I think that's what it was… anyway, writerliness…) and Spookiness.
- Steps 2-4 were repeated with a second genre.
- Each person was given a final score: the higher of his or her total scores.
And so, without further ado, my humble attempts at fastly and deftly writing two spine-chilling snippets, untranslated and unimproved (though they grievously needed it) from the original chickenscratch:
Genre: Personal Ad
Powell's last Saturday, in the Purple Room just before closing. You: long black hair, long black veil, pale & trembling. Me: brown hair, brown eyes, normally eloquent musician tongue-tied at your beauty. You dropped your copy of Joseph Campbell and I made a quip about the Hero's Journey as I crossed the aisle to return it. We talked about Classical history. I offered you a ride home and you were glad to accept. But when I turned to check that you were behind me on the Orange Room stairs, you had disappeared. I'm dying to see you again–a cup of tea this time? Would love to give you back your veil.*
The door creaked; the curtain flapped. Hector looked up, annoyed, from polishing the bar; the wind must have blown the door open again. He'd meant to replace the lock but had let it slip his mind again.
A man stood in the shadows just inside the entry. Rain dripped from his long coat's hem; his hat's wide brim hid his face.
"We're closed, buddy," Hector said. "Didn't you see the sign?"
"I beg pardon." The voice was like a snake's skin dragging over cold ground. "I did not mean to intrude. But I am stranded here in the village, waiting for a ride–may I stay and warm myself a minute?"
Hector shrugged. "Suit yourself. I'll be cleaning up a while."
The man seated himself at the bar. His boots creaked; his fingers twined & knotted as he drew out cigarettes and a match.
"Here." Hector slid him an ashtray.
The match scritched; the man inhaled deeply. He was smoking some god-awful foreign thing, smelled like vanilla asphalt.
"It was on just such a night as this…" the man murmured.
His gaze met Hector's. His eyes were deep-set, dark and strange.
"On such a night…" he breathed, leaning over the bar's gleaming copper surface, and Hector found himself drawn closer, stepping near as if in a trance.
"What happened?" Hector heard his own voice, hollow, far away.
"She had to die." The man's eyes were distant yellow fires sunk in depthless pits. "She had to die–God forgive me!–but their touch was upon her, and she could not live." He stood suddenly and rocked back on his heels. "And though I were damned a thousand times for it, I could not have let her live." He began to pace, the foul-smelling smoke belching from his lips in acrid puffs.
"She begged me to do it, at the last–as I stood above her in the circle, knife in hand. For a moment the madness left her, and she ceased to struggle at the ropes. 'Kill me,' she said. 'If you ever loved me. Kill me now.' And she raised her throat to me, and I–God! God!" He broke into gulping sobs.
"Do you need me to call someone?" Hector's hand hovered over the telephone.
"Call the police, the madhouse, whoever. It makes no difference. I waited too long to strike, and now–"
The door creaked; the curtain flapped. A white shadow passed by.
"She is here!" he cried. "She is here for me!"
* this was supposed to be a retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, but I really don't think anyone got it. Well, maybe Suzy. I need to stop assuming people are going to pick up my obscure mythology-geek references.
Anyhoo, go read Suzy's stories, or exhort her to post them if she hasn't gotten around to doing it yet. And if you're a writer, or fancy yourself one, or would like to be one when you grow up, or are just bored and need something to do, I highly recommend getting together a bunch of friends and/or fellow writers and having a Write-Off of your own. Don't forget the prizes! (Mine was a gift certificate for an IPRC workshop. I am going to learn to screenprint without having to pay for it, yay hooray!)