Write a horror story of 250 words in which the specific form of the horror is not spelled out. Texture and restraint are key.

Winning Entry – Lauren Smith’s little chiller got everything right: no explanations, a number of horrific and unexplained details (“her bony little arm ended in a gauzy white stump”; “She bit a boy doll and tore its arms off”). And it featured the best sentence of all the entries. The little girl protagonist describes her invisible ally in these words: “She’s made of spiderwebs and cold water.”

“How old are you honey?” the psychologist asked.

 Sadie punched the air. “I’m a high five!” she yelled, but her bony little arm ended in a gauzy white stump. She dropped it before the psychologist decided whether or not to touch it. Her remaining hand fiddled with the dolls.

“Do you know why you’re here?’

“I woke up in Adam’s bed. I’m supposed to stay out of their room.”

“Can you talk about that?”

“It was wet and sticky. Like paint. It got dry and crackly on my arms. It made the sheets brown and scratchy.” She bit a boy doll and tore its arms off.

“What happened to your brothers?”

Sadie screamed as loudly as she could. The sound felt like rusty blades scraping the psychologist’s eardrums. When Sadie stopped, she giggled. “Everybody hates it when I do that. They can’t ignore me.”

“You family ignores you?”

“Always! I’m small. But Lily helped me.”

“Lily?”

“My… friend.”

“Can you tell me about her?”

“She’s waiting behind you. She’s made of spiderwebs and cold water. Her teeth are super sharp. But she’s got a proper hand now. So we can hold hands…. Mine will grow back. ”

The psychologist cringed. “How did ‘Lily’ help you?”

Sadie piled up the rubbery heads and limbs from the boy dolls. “Lily said she could take Adam and Alex away if I gave her a present. Then Mommy and Daddy would love me more.”  She looked up and smiled. “I’m an only child now.”

 Honorable mentions go to a range of writers. We loved Joan Schrauwen’s “The Garden” for it’s the subtle foreboding tucked into its tail.

When the estate agent skipped over the listing of the ‘haunted’ house where a woman had died in dreadful and mysterious circumstances the wife insisted on viewing it, as the house was in the right neighbourhood.   Her husband winked at the agent.

‘Doesn’t seem to bother her,’ he said.

The house was huge and completely empty of furnishings. They walked through the sun-filled rooms downstairs. The agent hesitated when she walked towards the stairs.

‘I’d like to see the bedrooms,’ she said, admiring the elaborately carved staircase.

He shrugged his shoulders and led the way, casting uneasy glances over his shoulder.  He shivered as he saw her sliding her hand lovingly on the polished banister.

From the bedroom window she noticed the gardener. Leaving John to negotiate possible terms she went down to investigate.

The young man was good-looking and she smiled at him flirtatiously.

‘We might buy the house.’

He looked at her intently.  ‘I hope you do,’ he said.

Esra Marshall for her details (she’s always good at details, come to think of it).

Unlearning

The hardest thing in life is to unlearn the unnecessary and absurd knowledge you’ve learned from your parents, from school and even from church. Now that I am a real adult; a married woman, I have to do it; I have to unlearn.

Frank and I married last month after only three months of romance and moved into his dead grandmother’s house for now, just to save money. The house is so old that it talks, wails and cries everyday, all day. Dripping water pipes, dark wooden floors, dusty ancient furniture… They are like an orchestra that never stops playing.

I never believed in ghosts. All that horror movies; so stupid and so… What was that noise?! A kind of whispering and begging comes through the air vents once in a while. Can it be Frank’s practical joke? I am getting to know Frank more, now we are living together. I found out that he was married before, twice. He didn’t mention it until I found old ID cards of two women.  He said they were his ex-wives, long gone. He said I am the one and only for him now. To show his honesty he burned them in the fire place.

As I said, I don’t believe in ghosts or how they say it “paranormal”. I think a living man can be evil than anything. Dating was like a minefield. Rapists, married man and God knows what else. But I am lucky; I found Frank to protect me.

Corinna Turner’s little story about the unseen menace in the night outside… or is it just behind the bedroom door?

She didn’t lock her door… in the quiet of the night, sounds from inside the house magnified. Jana lay, trying to breathe quietly, willing the old mattress not to squeak.

Dum, dum; Dum, dum; Dum dum. The blood pounded its urgent way through her brain. She could not collect her thoughts. Was this a nightmare? A floorboard creaked. Galvanised into action, Jana jumped from the bed, sped across the room, turned the key.

Silence reigned. She backed towards the bed, as if safety lay in the tumbled bedding. The door knob moved. Jana crouched, listening. The silence grew. A clicking noise, moving away.

Jana was frozen, terrified to move and attract someone – someone who might throw themselves against her door, crack the wood, gain access, devour her, drink her blood… her mind was moving again, but not in a helpful way. It was throwing up images she’d prefer not to see.

The house was pregnant with an unnatural stillness.

It hit her like a lightning bolt – her bedroom window was open. Jana leapt off the bed and ran to the window. Pulling it down with a crash, she locked it, yanking the thick velvet curtains together to shut out the night.

The crash brought a response from the room next door. Her father called, ‘What’s going on?’ A muffled thud and grunt, feet padding along the landing. With relief she ran to unlock the bedroom door…

But the last sight that Jana ever saw was not her father.

Amos van der Merwe’s “Dead Heat”, for his restraint.

It’s the smell that wakes me. That – and the shuffling of the many unseen feet in the corridor.  In the quiet of the dark hours, the sound of their approach seems deafening. I feel the icy hand of terror clutching my throat while I fight to control my breathing.

I was warned about this. Well, sort of. The estate agent said I was the third buyer in the two years the house has been on the market. I told her people die every day; it’s just a coincidence that the two previous buyers … departed … the way they did. I also informed her I’m not superstitious about living next to the crematorium.  The knock-down price of the apartment made up for the address, which is near my work. A lowly clerk at the undertakers cannot afford much more than this, anyway.

Whatever is out there isn’t dead. It can’t be. Corpses can’t walk – or shuffle. I know that. I’ll switch on the light and scare them away. If they know I’m awake, they’ll flee.  The switch clicks in the dark. Nothing. The electricity must be off again. It happens occasionally when the crematorium works overtime.

Okay. Breathe. Think.

I’ll slip out of bed, make it to the window, and jump.

I locked the door, didn’t I? But no, I hear the handle turn and the hinges squeak. Now, the smell is overpowering – a combination of rot and burning … flesh.

The window. Open it…!

Frankie Francis for her very specific evocation of the bush – and the untimely end of the naturalist’s wife.

The bloodied jaws clamp onto the thigh bone with iron-man strength, and with one more powerful crushing crunch, the white calcareous mass cracks open, revealing the succulent marrow inside.

Spellbound by this show of strength just 30 meters away, Robbie focuses his night-vision Zeiss binoculars on the spotted hyena’s 2 front incisors.  Saliva dribbles out of its mouth, the bloodied gums torn open by fragments of bone.

Liza sits on her camp chair next to their Toyota land-cruiser, parked under the giant jackal-berry tree.  The roar of a distant lion vibrates through the air, sending shivers down her spine; a lone jackal howls nearby, hoping to scavenge a meal; a leopard creeps stealthily along gnarled branches, every muscle pumped with adrenalin.

By the light of the full moon, Liza scribbles down notes dictated by her zoologist husband.

‘This is a scientific break-through ’, exclaims Robbie in excitement.

The infra-red camera trap continues to click away.

Liza continues to scribe.

The luminous moon casts eerie shadows across the parched earth, and highlights Liza’s blond hair, which flutters in the breeze, sending tendril-like shapes over her notebook.

‘It’s getting darker’, comments Liza.

‘Shh – don’t talk’, whispers Robbie.  ‘Write this, its mind blowing’, his eye firmly glued to his binoculars.

 ‘The moon’s gone. I can’t see to write. Where’s my torch?’

‘shhh, This is awesome’.

 ‘Robbie, it’s……..’

Mesmerised, Robbie watches the hyena as a blood-splattered blond curl wafts across the camera’s lens.

Ramona Chetty for the rhythms of her prose.

Dark clouds are gathering in the sky. May watches them circle the moon until her breath mists the windowpane and veils the night. She fidgets with the frayed sleeve of her cotton nightgown. She’s listening for when the Valiant’s purr will trespass down her driveway.

“All your fault, Mavis,” her shadow taunts in a dance on the wall. Years of fear; of the dance have shrunk her while her shadow looms larger. Strange now, how years seem to ooze through her pores in split seconds these days.

When the diesel engine switches off; her breath will run shallow. A lock will click. Then, the back door’s rusty hinges will shriek. Her fists will clench. A scrape will engrave another semi-circle into those parquet tiles. Her nails will dig into her palms. Rubber soles will squish; exhaling and will stagger up the dim lit passage. She’ll smell their rot, persisting toward her. Her bedroom door handle will jerk. She’ll see her shadow gag her.

It’ll be gone in the morning; her shadow. She’ll be left behind, pieces of her, sweating in that musty coat and feather scarf and they’ll tsk and cluck and peck about her in the aisles and Father Joseph will crow about the glory of dawn’s mercy from the altar.

May feels the ebb and flow of her ribcage. Far off, from where the moon draws tides. She’s touching trickles on the windowpane that skew the clouds stranglehold on the moon. When, ssshh, she hears the Valiant purr.

And Angela van Schalkwyk for the care with which she set her story up.

The night slid by. The car lights caught the road ahead before it disappeared into blackness. I was on the gravel turn-off Dad had taken on the previous night.

I blinked back tears and gripped the steering wheel.

Weariness crept down my back. I opened the window. Damp mist swirled inside followed by a shrieking noise as two bikers shot past. “Careful dammit!” They were so close I could see the red spider insignia on their jackets and the girl’s long blonde hair beneath her helmet.

Five minutes later, two bikers again skimmed past the car, spattering loose stones.

Just short of Little Bridge, I stopped. It was as well, for the two bikers again bore down on me.

I walked cautiously to where I could hear the rush of water below. I peered over the bridge wall but it was too dark to see the wreck of Dad’s car on the rocks. I looked up and saw two bikers standing in the mist a short distance from the end of the bridge. I would have to pass them. I shivered. When I looked again they had vanished.

A week later on the same road with my mother, we drove over a rise and I saw Little Bridge below.

“Look,” said my mother. Next to the bridge, stood two white crosses.

“It was raining and their bikes – young man and girl – careered over the wall onto the rocks … about three months ago. Same place as your father.”

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