WINNER Campfire Tales Ghost Story Contest: Debt Collectors by Cheryl Anne Gardner

I’d taken about a hundred hits before my center gave way like blubber piled on a shit-stained mattress. I’d done the couch surfing dream sex thing to my father’s porno mags; the bed-wetting thing, hunkered down against my mother’s incessant prayers, which she thought would save my soul; hell, I’d even dragged in a few shaved cats when I was in college. Ma said I was blessed by the Devil, so blessed, I’ve had all the cancer therapy a person can stand before they start to feel suicidal. So here I sit, toking it up until I can hear my own voice echoing off the back of my head. A baseball game is being called out in earnest on the radio when the streetlights start to flicker. I don’t notice right away because I’m sat here thinking about whether or not I had already put fresh brick dust across all the open doorways. “Dusk to dawn, dust them gone.” Ma said that. Said the shadows were on the move. I can remember running down this very street as a kid, trying to hit the porch step before my pop came out and grounded me for being out after dark. “It’s a simple thing,” he used to say while running his fingers over his belt buckle. He’d had a metal plate in his head for a while, but the government replaced it with plastic. That’s why I had to be inside before the streetlights came on. Before the shadows. Those lights were the only warning, pop said, because he’d lost radio reception on account of the plastic, you see. He’d fought in THE WAR. Never said which one, never said he was afraid. Sometimes I thought he was still fighting it. He’d wring his hands a lot, and I heard him tell Ma once that he felt unclean. When he wasn’t in the basement, he was on the porch. He’d sit and listen to the static on the radio for hours, his eyes focused hard on the dark just beyond the porch rail. He’d point every once and a while and say, “Look there boy!” and I would look, squint my eyes, but I wouldn’t see anything even though I said that I had. BASTARDS! he called them. “Fascist F.A.G. f@!#ing ni@#!rs,” he’d say while chucking rocks into the darkness, and I thought his anger seemed kind of personal even though I didn’t know what any of those words meant at the time. Now that I think about it, between the layers of smoke and the equally vague layers of pain, maybe it was personal – for him. Maybe those shadows weren’t for me to see.

Pop didn’t make it home one night before dark. He never came home. Ma blamed the shadows, and I didn’t see them when they came for her either.

So now I sit here on this miserable-excuse-shanty-shack hunk of termite shit porch, nothing left of me but blanched skin. Ma’s gone. Pop’s gone. All I’ve got left is this dilapi-shack, Pop’s hate, and that damn dirty basement. I take another toke on my cigarette and exhale just as the streetlights snap on. I know they’re coming, can feel a tightening in my chest, so I reach down and turn the knob on the radio until I’m tuned into the static.

Then I stare into the dark just beyond the porch rail … I stare, and I stare, and I stare until I scream.

By Cheryl Anne Gardner

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Runner-Up Campfire Tales Ghost Story Contest: Teething Trouble by Gill Hoffs

It was easiest to pull a chunk of bloodied gum out with the teeth, the roots sometimes broke but that was no matter, the dentist would sort that out in his workshop later.  Guy paused only to wipe the handles of his pliers on his apron before getting on with the rest of the mouth.  Several minutes later, the dead soldier’s head had empty jaws and Guy had a bag filling nicely and clinking a little as he hobbled over the legs and tussocks of the battlefield and onto the next intact face.

Old Monsieur Papier had shaken hands on the deal late last night, as the messengers raced through the town on horseback with hopeful faces and the gossip favoured heavy casualties and an end to the warfare on this particular battleground today.  One full bag of pretty white teeth, whole sets where possible but front teeth always preferable, and the ancient dentist would craft Guy a pair of false teeth with the finest wood as a base, sanded till there wasn’t a splinter remaining.  They’d talked briefly of ivory and bone, but since they were renowned for both nastiness of taste and breath, wood was definitely the preferred option.

Especially since he hoped to impress.

Here was a young soldier with a handsome nose and lips begging to be kissed, blue eyes to match his uniform, and nothing left but thick syrupy puddles of blood in the crater where his thighs should have lain.  Pink frills of flesh and shards of bone were all that was left of his legs, and there was the sweet stink of cooked human flesh overlaying the stench of shit and urine from his body relaxing in death.  From the others he’d learned it was easier and far less time consuming to simply break the jaws wide open rather than fight against the tendons and cartilage to reach the great flat teeth towards the backs of their mouths.  It made a popping, wet noise, but nothing he hadn’t heard before or wouldn’t be prepared to hear again.

Pulling a molar free he inspected it for cracks, holes, or the mottling of rot which would mean its rejection by old Papier.  He pulled the scraps of gum from the root, scraping the last stubborn remnants off with his thumbnail before flicking them over to the great black crows staggering about beside him, their bellies full but not yet sated.

On to the next.  This one had brown eyes and a paunch, and part of his pinky-grey brain showing where the top of his skull had peeled off like the softboiled egg Guy had enjoyed for his breakfast.  The odour of the dead barely registered now, but this one had the extra aroma of rancid armpits and halitosis.  Guy was surprised to find the soldier had such beautiful teeth, just the set he’d been looking for.  He was even more surprised when the act of wrenching the jaws apart elicited a gargling groan of pain from the body.  Its eyes blinked at him, the pupils shrinking against the daylight, tears leaking down the temples, running to the mess of hair, skin, and brains nestling into the thick red mud.

The body moved under him, enough to unnerve him, but still he carried on.

Kneeling on the chest, brass buttons hard under his knees, he pinched the nose to hold the head in place and pulled the teeth as carefully as he could, pocketing them, gums and all, the body finally still below him, the eyes losing their focus as he pushed up and stepped away. 

The crows seemed to skip behind Guy as he moved on to the next fallen soldier, knelt in its entrails, and prepared to mine another cooling mouth.  This time, he slapped its face first.

 

“I didn’t think you liked me.  I never saw you smile before tonight.”

They had drunk enough wine to darken their lips and make the space around them fragrant with the sweet scent of fermentation, but not enough to make them sleepy.  Not before they’d gotten to know each other better in the barn, anyway.

Benoit was sturdy with able hands; Guy was discovering just how able those hands were now they were close enough to feel each other’s breaths on their cheeks.  There was just enough moonlight to show off his teeth, but not enough to render the couple visible to any passers-by.  Benoit licked his lips slowly, staring at Guy all the while, and Guy could feel the front of his breeches straining outwards, towards those capable hands.

His tongue was hot and sore in his mouth, the new teeth taking time to get used to after years without, nipping the sides of it and his inner cheeks hard enough to draw blood and set up a tender throbbing that he knew would lead to pain and ulceration over the next couple of days – but for now, he only wanted to focus on the tender throbbing in his crotch.  Or rather, he wanted Benoit to focus on it.

Their mouths closed on each other’s, their hands fondling front and back, pressing, caressing… till the teeth slipped and nipped Benoit’s lower lip.

“You’ll have to make amends for that.”

Benoit’s hands ran through Guy’s ruff of hair, snagging in it, guiding his head down, down, down, till Guy was on his knees and sucking his cock.

He gagged a little as Benoit went too deep then clasped a hand round the base to stop it happening again, using his other hand to gently tickle Benoit’s slightly sticky balls.  They shifted under his fingers like the belly of a pregnant spaniel, and he could tell Benoit was getting ready to come.

Guy rasped his tongue harder along the shaft, fluid seeping into his mouth and burning its way to the back of his throat, making him sniff as his nose ran, Benoit moaning above him, then… it happened.

Chomp.

Right through.

Just shreds of skin and a tangle of pubic hair keeping body and cock together.

A scream rent the air.

Guy spat the mouthful out, hoping the teeth would go with it.

They didn’t.  He tried pushing them out with his tongue, and the teeth snapped whenever it got near them.

Hooking his cheek away from them with a shaking finger, he attempted to hook round the edges, but they sprang apart, locking his jaw as far open as it would go.

Benoit lay moaning on the floor of the barn, clutching his crotch as blood drenched the hardpacked dirt beneath him.  A rat came out of hiding to drag the seeping penis away.  Guy could only gargle and flail, unable to speak, scream, or call out for help.

A shape appeared in the gloom, the pale green of marsh gas and willo’the’wisps.  It was missing the top of its head, and its lower jaw dangled loose and heavy, swinging a little with every step.

It pointed a broken finger at Guy then turned and gestured towards the burial pits over the hill.

Guy’s jaw ached already.

He shook his head.  Benoit lay motionless on the floor.  Crouching beside him, Guy raised the other man’s bloodied hand and stuck it between the worrisome teeth before hooking his own fingers under the wooden rim and levering it out.  The teeth locked onto Benoit’s hand, but he was out of it and past caring.

Free of the spectre’s teeth, Guy rubbed his jaw, and got thinking.

He tore the penis from the rat, and started walking.  If folk bought up dead men’s teeth, who knew what a penis would bring.  He stuffed it in his pocket, and headed out the door.  The spectre shook its head, jaw quivering, and disappeared.

Guy smiled.  He might feel a bit of a prick, but he was free.

By Gill Hoffs

2nd Place Campfire Tales Ghost Story Contest: Hesitation by Joseph J. Patchen

Irony should be Wallace’s new name. As he wakes up this morning, his back snugly nestled against the carpet, staring up at the living room ceiling of his cookie cutter Cape Cod, he realizes it was not a dream. His wife did leave him for someone he doesn’t know, and that seems to be the point.

She left the house empty and full of debt. She took every possession: every picture off of the walls, hooks and all; every stick of furniture; every book and CD; and every stitch of clothing, except for the heaping pile she left stuffed in an overflowing second floor toilet.

She did leave a note. It was written on a torn piece of scrap paper impaled with a carving knife on the apex of the now water logged pile. The note is constructed as she is built – short, sweet and cutting. Three words describing a sex act and his parentage, scrawled in crayon, amounted to her only communication.

He drank dry every bottle in the house while filling her phone and the phones of her friends and relatives with slobbering and panic laden messages. He drank, puking in the spots where their  wedding photo once hung, where their marital bed once laid, and where they had shared their last discussion less breakfast, just yesterday morning.

There would be no work today, no time sucking career to go to this morning. After all, she always said he spent more time there than at home.

All that remains to numb the pain are medications, most of them hers, for ailments she claimed to have suffered from or could afford to be afflicted with. Initially it puzzles him why she left all the liquor and prescriptions. Perhaps she felt healed. But no matter, he is working his way through a variety of cough syrups and brightly colored pills, hoping to drift until he can get a grip.

A few minutes past three a.m., he wakes again, this time to the tap, tap, tap of a liquid plopping onto his face, falling from the ceiling above. Wallace feels he may have slept an hour, but this round he has been passed out for four.  Of course, he thinks it’s the pipes—‘what else can go wrong.’ Groggy, he gets to his feet, but before he can steady himself, the tapping accelerates to a rapid pattering, puddling on the carpet.

With the lights switched on, he can now see a deepening red spot spreading across the ceiling. It is blood, pooling and splattering where he had been lying. His tongue is thick and tastes acrid.  Wallace wipes the back of his hand across his lips and teeth.  It is smeared with blood.

Adrenalin propels him up the staircase to the room that was, until a few hours ago, his daughter’s bedroom. There, lying in the middle of the floor, in a widening pool of blood, is a naked and faceless man. His throat has been slit, a carving knife by his right hand.

Wallace recoils into the hallway, slamming backwards into a wall, struggling to hold onto whatever stomach contents he may have left. But to no avail, he wretches anyway. Lifting his head and wiping his mouth, his right eye catches a glimpse of his reflection in the bathroom mirror just across the hall. Wallace is covered in blood and there are small cuts and gashes on his neck.

Mouth wide open and devoid of thought, he rocks himself back and forth in place. He is sweating and beginning to bleed, feeling the burning stings from those cuts.

The doorbell rings.

As he turns in the direction of the stairs, the dead man rises to his feet, holding his arms out to Wallace, who, upon seeing this, vaults himself down the stairs, two at a time. By the time he reaches the first floor, the corpse and all traces of his blood have faded away as if they had never existed.

Wallace bangs his knee trying to get the front door open. But no one is there. The yard and street appear peaceful and uninhabited. His neighbors’ lights are all off for the night and Wallace’s goose bumps begin to chill. Reason tells him to leave the house, but between all he has ingested and all he has seen tonight, Wallace is frozen in place.

The doorbell rings again but he finds no one there.

 Slamming the door and running back upstairs, he bolts into the bathroom and locks the door behind him. Straddling his belongings, he turns the cold water on full blast and plunges his face into the sink. As he shocks his system into some measure of sobriety, the shower curtain next to him, covering the bathtub, rustles. Shaking the water from his face, Wallace becomes aware that he is not the only one in the room.

It is the faceless man. Faceless, but somewhat transparent.  Transparent, but opaque enough for Wallace to see that the man’s wrists are slashed and mutilated, bleeding profusely, filling the tub as fast as the faucet was filling the sink. This time the faceless man lets out a wail, a cry so piercing that Wallace covers his ears. But even blocking his ears, he can still hear the doorbell ringing.

Stumbling sideways, almost tumbling head first down the stairs, Wallace flees out the door, sliding across the lawn. As he wipes the mud and dewy grass from his eyes, Wallace, sprawled stomach down, can see that no one is at the bell. Wallace shouts and pounds the ground with his fists and feet, crying out, “Why is this happening? Why is this happening? Why?”

 His neighbors don’t hear him.

By the front door a grey mist begins to form.  It appears, not out of the ground or the house, to be gathering itself from a concentration of the air surrounding it. Like smoke, it swirls upwards and floats, yet does not dissipate. Instead it condenses into a shape, taking on the form of a tall and slender, well-dressed and distinguished looking man in his fifties.

Before he can fully materialize, the man locks his gaze upon Wallace, who can’t resist being drawn to the man’s deep blue eyes. While the man solidifies, Wallace stands hypnotized. Nothing is said to him, but somehow Wallace knows and slowly walks towards him. It is only when the two are face to face that the man formally and verbally addresses Wallace.

“Congratulations. You are finally successful. Please take a look. Go in and take a look.”

Wallace steps back into his house and there, in the very spot where he slept, lies a body –  a definitely dead body, dressed as he is, clothes disheveled with limbs bent and contorted, a plastic bag over its head is held in place by an elastic around the neck. And there, on the neck, are irregular wounds, cuts from a knife, some still bleeding and some congealed, cuts mirroring the cuts on the wrists.

Wallace looks over the body, long and hard.

The man, now behind him, addresses Wallace again, “It’s okay. If it puts your mind at ease, by all means take a look.” 

Wallace bends down and begins to unwrap the elastic from the neck in order to remove the bag from the head. There, under all the blood and puke, Wallace sees his own misshapen face. 

By Joseph J. Patchen

3rd Place Campfire Tales Ghost Story Contest: Another Night for an American Wife by Peter Marra

Black streets. Black vision.

Fluctuations.

She smiled to herself as the animals screamed in unison, not recognizing her.

The walls of the houses were ebony. The marquee was grey. The letters were scarlet and blurry. Esmeralda couldn’t read the film’s title.

She had purchased a ticket but didn’t understand things, how it all fit together. She clutched the ticket tightly in her hand, soaking the paper with her sweat. Her black fingernails bit into her palm, almost drawing blood. She could hear the blood rushing in her temples as her stomach grew bitter.

She was outside in the seething July mist at 8 pm, a normal time for a show to start. She peered in through the glass doors. In the lobby the poster frames were vacant.

The box office was closed again and she didn’t understand how she had procured a ticket. Her leather boots were scuffed. Her leather skirt was torn. Her leather mind was spasming, but the door was open and she walked into the theater, stopping briefly in front of the box office to stare at her reflection in the black glass – the glass that had a vacant stare behind it. A shimmering faint green wisp appeared briefly behind the glass, then faded as slight noise touched her eardrums and an odor of burnt hair tickled her nostrils. They spoke to her. She was wet deep inside and fear was incrementally growing. Hoping that no one noticed she gently caressed her vagina then tasted her fingers.

“I can’t stop doing it.”

She ignored her senses and walked down the hallway.

“They’re looking for me,” she whispered to herself. Her mouth tasted of blood, She spit into her hand to see if  her saliva was red.  She stared at the crimson puddle gathered in her cupped palm. It pulsated slightly. She brought her cupped palm up to her face and inhaled the mixed aroma of blood and vaginal fluid.

“My name is Esmeralda,” she whispered to herself.

Her wrists had red marks all around them.

“Pretty bracelets. Pretty bracelets.  I had to do it.” 

A fraction of the universe was sliced off by a knife. Severe thin cold fingertips gently, lightly caressed her face as she walked down the hallway to the cinema gently touching the pock-marked plaster walls. She couldn’t discern the colors of the walls. She was greeted by dank sounds and mildew wafting past her face.

Esmeralda was startled when she came up against a heavy velvet curtain. She breathed deeply and gingerly stepped past the decay and into the theatre. She could barely make out the seated figures that were staring at the screen. Looking straight ahead they paid her no notice. She sat down in the last row. The screen was blank.

“They want to get into my pants, they want to take me away.”

She frequently desired to see her face, so for the 7th time that evening she reached into her purse and took out the cracked hand mirror she always carried with her. As she admired her image’s reflection, two red orbs appeared, superimposed over her hazel eyes. Esmeralda smirked at the image, gently licked the mirror and placed it back in her purse.

“Desire.”

As she sat in the theatre, her flesh started to slightly tingle. Gentle pale hands were caressing her thighs, she could feel it as she squirmed in the seat. The hands had appeared spontaneously, having been dormant for so long. It’s owners ahd smelled her and they had arisen. She looked down – a pale wispy female face was smirking at her, white plasma dripping from its lips. It mouthed words that she couldn’t understand, yet were faintly remembered from another incident. Translucent in the extreme, the face rose up slowly, revealing that it was attached to a willowy translucent body that eventually straddled Esmeralda and wrapped her arms around her.  The figure’s tongue, moist and white. licked her eyelids and gently worked Esmeralda’s lips apart.

Esmeralda had never been as aroused as she was at this particular point in time. A thousand clocks gently ticked and outside on the street the animal chorus was aroused again. When the figure had finished, it vanished and Esmeralda realized that she was sitting in a puddle of mutual female juices and white goo.

“They want to get into my pants, they want to take me away.”

A whirr of a projector drew her out of her reveries and she once again stared at the red marks around her wrists. Her skin was clammy now instead of being flushed. The walls were still breathing and a knife fell from the ceiling landing in the seat next to her. A gift from the mother of all those present.

“Use it,” was whispered into her left ear.

A slender female shadow, clad in latex, wrapped in pleasure, spoke again.

“Use it for me.”

The figure’s breasts heaved under the synthetic flesh. Her eyes burned through the latex and accused Esmeralda, who orgasmed twice. A national climax.

The only thing she desired right now was for the film to start. Whips cracked in the background, in the space behind her head. Her forehead was burning and her ebony hair was damp. Ther was exhilaration among the patrons as the projector whirred, illuminating faint particles of dust in the space above her head. Several seated figures slowly clapped faintly. There were no previews, straight to the main feature.

She prayed as her skin glistened in the faint light and the sounds of leather punishing skin subsided; ebbing pain and slow smiles were present in the air. Several butterflies collapsed on the floor around her and she ground their bodies into the wooden floor with her vinyl black stiletto booths. They only screamed for a moment, but disturbed the other patrons, who were discovered to be female, pale and in possession of glass-like eyes that burned through the darkness.

Esmeralda took the knife that had fallen earlier, flicked it open and drew slight lines over her red wrist marks, just enough to draw blood. Faint crimson always made her smile.

A narration droned:

“We are born into here screaming and we leave here screaming. Some leave quite vocally, some in a more subdued fashion, but there is always the scream: external or internal – it’s all the same.”  

“Welcome to the plague years.”

The stink of the subway, the specters slime on board, some in shock some too stupid to realize what is going on. A mistake forever.

The scantily clad women from nubile to way past prime are there also. Some breathe heavily, heaving. In heat. Somnambulism.”

“Are you ready?” a woman said. 

Smilng,  she put the gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger. The night was crimson. The dark smelled of plasma and heat.

“He walked home having lost her love.  The streets, wet after the rain, crunched ever so softly under his boots.”

“Divine revelation from the night,” the spectators chanted.

Bombarded by these sensations, Esmeralda rubbed between her legs as she usually did when in a panic. Her fingers reached under her skirt, parted her labia, and she fucked herself raw. The pleasure washed over her and she felt slowly drained as her wrists bled. The spectators cheered and floated gently over her head in front of the screen.

Her eyes rolled upwards, she spasmed cold and fearful. Afraid, she panted and her legs shook. Sweat rolled down her thighs. One tear fell from her left eye.

One of the figures tongued her ear, gently intoning, “Divine revelation from the night. I love you.”

She was hers. The clocks ticked louder and the sounds of whipping had ceased.

Esmeralda was now wrapped in black gauze.

“The streets looked funny yesterday.”

“Pretty bracelets.”

“Can’t tell one from the other.”

“Pretty bracelets.”  

“I had to do it.” 

“I love you all.”

The audience filed out, back to the black houses. The projectionist was never seen again.

“As always, I want to go to my room now.”

By Peter Marra