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NEHS announces horror writing contest winners

Seniors Abby Comey and Justin Kim win literary contest

Photo+obtained+via+Google+Images+under+a+Creative+Commons+license
Photo obtained via Google Images under a Creative Commons license

Photo obtained via Google Images under a Creative Commons license

Photo obtained via Google Images under a Creative Commons license

Siddarth Shankar, Editor-in-Chief

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The jack-o’-lanterns and costumes of Halloweens past have given way to a new tradition for National English Honor Society (NEHS) students: writing horror stories to celebrate the scary night.

NEHS recently announced the winners of its horror story writing contest on Oct. 26 as seniors Abby Comey and Justin Kim. Comey wrote the story, “Amelia and Dave’s Funeral Home,” while Kim, the A&E editor on The Highlander staff, wrote “Horror Show.”

The story contest is part of a service project run by NEHS called “Lit Love.” The project aims to promote a love for literature in the McLean community at-large. The winning entries by Comey and Kim are printed below.

 

Amelia and Dave’s Funeral Home

By Abby Comey

They were out of job applications at CVS. The lady sighed and went to check in the back. As always, she wore her gray hair in two braids like a young girl. I felt nostalgic for her. Maybe in grade school she dreamed of being a zoologist or a jazz pianist. Or perhaps she dreamed of being a cashier at CVS. It was, after all, a perfectly respectable profession, one that I aspired to take on.

“Looking for work?” asked the man behind me in line. He clung to a shopping cart, even though all that was inside was a tube of store-brand toothpaste and a greeting card.

“Going to college next year. Turns out it ain’t cheap.”

He waited for me to smile first before laughing. I couldn’t tell whether his grin made it to his eyes. His glasses were too thick.

“You know, we’re hiring down at the funeral home on Birch Street. I bet we pay better than these corporate folks.”

I glanced down the candy aisle. No sign of the cashier. The clerk at the second register called for the next customer. The man let someone behind him go ahead. He was having a chat with the young lad, he told her.

“Wow,” I said. “What an offer. My heart has really been set on CVS for a while now, though. Some kids dream of being zoologists or jazz pianists. I dream of wearing the blue polo shirt. What can I say?”

The man looked down at the carpet. The wheel on his grocery cart kept getting caught in a hole in the weaving as he pushed it back and forth.

“It was silly of me to ask,” he said. The silver schoolgirl was making her way back to the counter now. Back and forth and back and forth went the cart. “Amelia is always telling me to give it a rest. She says to me, why in the world would a teenager want to work at a funeral home? And I always tell her she’s not giving them enough credit. And she shakes her head at me and now I see why. Sorry to have bothered you.”

The man was called to the second register again, and this time he made his way toward a teenage cashier who looked like he would much rather be emptying body bags at the funeral home on Birch than ringing up gum-sensitive toothpaste. With tired hands, the kid turned over the greeting card. The words thinking of you were wrapped around a vase of smiling flowers.

“I got the—” the silver schoolgirl began.

“Actually, I think I’ve already got a job.”

The man looked up from counting change and smiled so brightly that I could make out the wrinkles around his eyes through the lenses of his glasses, as thick as a funeral home bible.

 

I didn’t get to handle any corpses right away. I was mainly in charge of answering phones and arranging flowers. In fact, only Amelia was allowed near the “guests,” as she called them. They stayed on the lower floor, at the bottom of a rotting ramp behind a door that read “Authorized Personnel Only.”

“You just have to let her alone,” Dave once told me over a bouquet of lilies. He kept removing his thick glasses to wipe pollen from his eyes. “She has a very particular process.”

Dave met Amelia at his mother’s funeral. She ran the home by herself at the time. She offered him a handkerchief as he wrung his knuckles into his eyes beside his mother’s casket.

“Are you and your mother close?” she had asked.

“No, but I am allergic to pollen.”

She carried a plastic bouquet at their wedding.

 

During smaller wakes, the air feels stale. I guess there isn’t enough breath to fill the room up, to overpower the emptiness of a sleeping corpse. The air was staler than a potato chip under the front seat of a minivan when Dave came to find me in the office. I was pretending to be answering phone calls, but really I was drawing stick figures while cradling the receiver between ear and shoulder.

“I hate to do this to you, but Amelia is caught up downstairs,” he said. “I need help setting up the open casket. It’ll only take a second.”

I usually stayed in the back during the wakes. I hate the way people talk in hushed voices, as though they might disturb the dead person perched at the front of the room. I hate the way the place is so cold that no one takes off their coats. I hate the way mourners look at the family, with pouted lips and sad eyes. I hate sad eyes.

It took more than a minute. We had to carry the casket from the lobby into the reception room and set it on a stand that squealed under any weight. The coffin was a cheap one, too, so it kept slamming shut on its flimsy hinges. I hadn’t paid much attention to the body, out of respect and fear, until a button fell off of my shirt and onto the forehead of a silver-haired woman. I didn’t recognize her at first. She didn’t have braided pigtails. Instead, her hair pooled around her resting head. I wanted to shake her awake, to ask her where they kept the ibuprofen. I wanted her to scowl at me for trying to use expired coupons. I wanted to watch her fight a smile when a boy with hair that hung over his eyes tried to buy a box of condoms. But she only laid there, silent and unmoving.

“I think we should switch out this casket for another one,” I said to Dave.

“I guess you’re right. I’ll go check—”

“No, you don’t have to do that. I’ll wheel her downstairs and plop her in another one, no problem.” Dave tilted his head at me for a moment, then nodded.

The air was even colder and staler downstairs. I wheeled the silver schoolgirl down the ramp and opened her casket. Then, just like my younger sister had taught me, I began to braid the woman’s hair. It was soft and smelled somehow like the sticky underside of an envelope. Without really thinking about it, I reached down to take in the scent. Just as the tip of my nose was about to touch her forehead, the coffin fell shut.

“Jesus!” I cried out, rubbing the spot on my neck where the thing had hit me.

“What are you doing down here?” said Amelia from the opposite side of the casket. It was as though she had appeared out of thin air, all with the snap of a latex glove.

“This casket doesn’t work.”

“What do you mean it doesn’t work?”

“It keeps slamming shut. I was gonna move her to a different—.” She began rolling the coffin away before I could finish. I followed.

“You know you aren’t allowed down here,” Amelia said without slowing her pace. “You’re lucky I wasn’t with a guest.” At the back wall of the basement, she opened the casket and frowned.

“I told her she looks childish with her hair braided, but she won’t listen,” said Amelia. Then, her wrinkled fingers worked their way through the braids and laid the loose hair back on the silk. “There you go, love. I promise it looks better this way.” The room felt colder now. “This casket will work fine. We only have one left over and I’m saving it in case the velvet starts to chafe Mr. Seaberger’s ankles. He has sensitive skin. It makes him cranky.” I stood there, staring. “Run along, now. There are things to get done,” said Amelia before walking away.

She left the casket open as she wheeled it off. I listened to her humming gently to the woman.

“Amelia?” I called before she made her way around a shelf of occupants. Reluctantly, she turned. “What was Dave’s mother like?”

“Talkative,” she said and slammed the coffin shut.

 

Horror Show

By Justin Kim

It wasn’t until several minutes after I woke up that I noticed something was wrong.

All seemed normal at first. I pulled myself out of bed, rubbing my eyes and glancing at the watch on the ground. 5:30. Good, I can make it to work on time.

Going over to the bathroom, I splashed cold water onto my face, grabbing at my toothbrush at the same time. It woke me up a bit, and the bathroom came into sharper focus. Rejuvenated, I cleaned up quickly, wiping the rest of the water off of my face with my sleeve.

Coming out of the bathroom, I took in the bedroom for a brief moment. The curtains were drawn shut, but it still let in a faint dark-blue light from the dawn. The small bed was pushed unceremoniously to the corner, and the nightstand had only a single lamp and a thermos full of coffee on it.

It was a plain sight, nothing much to get worked up over, but it was comforting nonetheless; seeing the same sight every morning was a reminder, a reminder that I was in control of my schedule.

I changed in front of the closet, stretching a bit in the process. Going over to the nightstand, I opened the thermos and poured the coffee down my throat. A few hours old, having been made last night, the coffee still was effective, bringing my brain completely out of the fog of sleep. Letting out a content sigh, I bent down to pick up my watch.

The watch.

I frowned, looking down at my feet. I hadn’t noticed when I first woke up, but my watch wasn’t on the nightstand, its usual place, but lying on the ground.

That was strange. Even one difference like that felt huge to me, after such a long period of constancy.

I supposed that I could have knocked the watch off the nightstand; it was close to the bed after all. However, it was still strange; I had never thought of myself as a rough sleeper, and I definitely have never swung my arm in my sleep wide enough to knock off the watch. Also, the thermos had been right next to the watch, but it was perfectly fine.

It was probably a coincidence, an event that would never happen again. Putting the watch around my wrist, I opened the bedroom door and went out, ready for work.

***

The next day, I noticed the anomaly far more quickly.

I woke up, the previous incident already gone from my mind. I pulled myself out of bed, absent-mindedly grabbing my watch from the nightstand. I swung my feet over the edge and stood up, stretching.

Something warm touched my foot.

I gave a start, looking down in surprise. My right foot had landed right in the middle of a black liquid. I caught the scent – coffee.

Looking over at the nightstand, I realized the thermos had been knocked over, its lid off and rolling on the ground. The rest had spilled onto the ground, making a small puddle by the bed.

I stepped out of the puddle in disgust, and quickly went over to the bathroom. Grabbing a bunch of paper towels, I wiped off the liquid from my foot, then threw it onto the dark puddle on the floor, quickly absorbing the coffee.

Annoyed, I started going about my normal routine, albeit slightly later than usual. However, I couldn’t help but thinking back to the thermos. First it had been the watch, now it was the thermos. I thought I would have known if I had violent sleeping habits, but I suppose this was proof. I made a mental note to put the nightstand farther away from the bed tonight. I didn’t want anything knocked over anymore.

***

I pulled myself out of bed the day after that, rubbing my eyes and feeling a bit more tired than usual. I had taken extra care last night; I had pushed the nightstand a bit further away from my bed, and had gone to sleep making sure I was turned the other way. I woke up exactly in the same position, facing the dim light coming in through the windows. I reached over to get a drink of coffee.

My hands grasped empty air.

I looked down, and saw the nightstand lying on its side on the floor.

Sleep left me quickly, and I stepped out of bed abruptly. This wasn’t right. No matter how much of a rough sleeper I suddenly became, there was no way that I could have knocked over the entire nightstand in my sleep and not been woken up. It wasn’t possible.

Besides, the nightstand hadn’t even been in my reach when I went to bed last night. Unless someone else knocked it over, there was no possible explanation.

Someone else…

I set the nightstand back in place, a bit of unease tugging at the back of my mind. I retrieved the thermos, but I discovered that the watch face was cracked.

Even more ruffled now, I opened the door and stepped out for breakfast.

***

When I woke up the next morning, I didn’t even bother spending a few minutes half-asleep. I looked right at the nightstand, now put almost at the corner of the room. If it was knocked over again, it would now be the time for true worries. I’d have to either report this to the police or get therapy for sleepwalking.

The nightstand was still there, exactly as I had left it. The thermos and the watch were untouched.

I let out a small sigh. So maybe my worries were just delusions. Of course, if I was indeed such a violent sleeper, I’d have to take care of that. But as long as that was the problem, I was fine. I could continue to keep my security.

My spirits lifted slightly, I went through my normal routine, washing up and changing for work. After a long drink of coffee and putting the watch around my wrist, I opened the bedroom door and stepped out into the kitchen of my small apartment.

A puddle glistened in dawn’s light.

For a second, I was very confused. Then I noticed a small drip, drip, drip sound coming from the kitchen counter. Walking over to it, I looked over the counter.

I froze.

On the counter, the milk carton had toppled over. The contents had spilled all across the counter and was dripping onto the floor, slowly adding to the puddle of white.

I snatched up the carton and put what was left of the milk back in the fridge. I threw a rag over the puddles, watching as it soaked up the liquid. Going over to the cupboard, I pulled out a slice of bread, buttered it, and stood at the counter, all the while staring at the milk.

It could have been a miss on my part. It could have just been a careless movement of the arm that knocked over the milk.

But I knew myself. I knew that I had put everything securely in the fridge last night. I hadn’t left the bedroom, so there was no reason for the kitchen to be touched. And yet it was.

I felt something trickling down the side of my face, and realized it was cold sweat.

The evidence started to match. Objects around my home were being tampered with every night, some of them that I shouldn’t have been able to get at night.

I wasn’t alone in this house.

I quickly pulled out my cell phone. I needed help. I had to get out of this situation.

My fingers flying across the screen, I had almost dialed 911 when I stopped.

Then again, would the police come for this? After all, all this situation had resulted in was a broken watch and a few spilled beverages. If someone had actually been in this house, they’d have done more, taken more. But they didn’t. Therefore, it wasn’t a far-fetched idea that this was all just some massive coincidence.

A part of me highly doubted that was true, but the other half simply shrugged it off. I’d have to call the police eventually, but until I can figure exactly whether there truly was someone in my house, I couldn’t go acting based off of suspicions.

Yes, that’s all they were, suspicions…

***

I stepped outside the bedroom, closing the door cautiously. So far, nothing too unusual had happened. Perhaps today would be a day without any anomalies –

A crunching noise broke me out of my thoughts.

I looked down. Several bits of glinting material were scattered about the floor right outside the bedroom. Looking down, I realized they were the shattered remains of my drinking glasses.

I lifted my feet up, almost in a trance. Glass shards were stuck in it, and lines of red were starting to run down past the wounds.

Glass. In my foot. At least a dozen of them were embedded into the soft pink.

Only when I perceived all that did the pain register, and I cried out, falling against the wall.

I stumbled back into the bedroom, leaving bloody footprints behind. I burst through the bathroom door and quickly pulled out tweezers. I set to work, pulling out each and every glass shard, wincing in pain as I did so.

Yet pain wasn’t the reason I was shivering, why my hands were shaking. The glass. Had I simply dropped them there? Could I find some way to justify this happening as just another coincidence? Or had somebody put it there, knowing exactly what would happen?

The glass didn’t hurt as much as the new proof, the proof that showed me that my house wasn’t empty except for me.

I painfully pulled out the last shard, but I didn’t stop shaking. My eyesight was blurring over. Somebody had put the glass there. Somebody had gotten into my apartment, into my kitchen, and had thrown the cups by my door. Somebody had done that without getting anyone’s attention.

But who could it have been? I didn’t know anyone around here. Any person I did know, both good and bad, lived nowhere near my current location.

I blinked, and realized that I was picking my flesh with the tweezers now. My whole body was numb; it felt like everything around me was in slow motion.

I couldn’t go to sleep tonight. I couldn’t. The moment I went to sleep, the intruder will come back. And with its increasingly violent antics, it was only a matter of time before I became the victim.

***

I woke up with a start, flinging the covers off of me. I panted, momentarily not knowing what exactly was going on. Sweat had soaked the front of my shirt, and was running down my back in an icy trickle.

Then it came back to me. I hadn’t gone to sleep last night. I had sat at the foot of my bed, trying to keep myself awake, and catch whoever was invading my home and my privacy. I had made it almost to 2:00 in the morning before I blinked, and I was lying on the bed, and it was morning.

Breathing heavily, I wiped the sweat off my face with my sleeve, furious at myself for not being able to catch the invader.

When I pulled it away, my sleeve was stained red.

I looked down at myself. Small cuts were all over my body, some already closed up, and some still leaking drops of blood. They were on my arms, my legs, my chest, my back, my forehead.

Then I saw the knives. My kitchen knives and forks were scattered all around me, stabbed into the mattress, every single one of them with my blood on it.

There was a dull ringing in my ears. I raised my hand to my mouth, and realized I was hyperventilating. I arched my back, letting out a small groan. Someone had been beside me last night. Someone had made all these cuts. Someone could have killed me without anyone knowing. The only reason why I was alive was…what? Did the intruder want to play around, like a boy toying with a grasshopper? Was I just amusement?

My vision came into focus, and I realized that I was on the ground now, retching. Wiping my mouth, I shakily pulled myself up.

Whatever was going on, one thing was clear. The intruder was growing far bolder by the day, enough to cause me bodily harm. And tonight…how far would it go? Would it settle for even deeper wounds? Or would it decide it was time to dispose of its new toy? Either way, it was clear I was on the edge of a cliff here. I had nowhere to back down.

***

I stared at my watch through the broken screen. The clock hand moved agonizingly slow, and I could hear the tiny tick it made every second.

It was nearly five hours past my usual sleeping time. I sat in my bed, hugging my knees, waiting for a sign, any sign, of the intruder. I gripped my thermos in my hand. Whoever it was, whoever that was disrupting my normal routine life, I was going to catch them. I would make sure it ended with this night.

Was that a thump I had just heard? I dropped my thermos and slowly grasped the kitchen knife beside me. My fingers tightened on the handle and I strained my ears, desperately trying to catch a sound, any sound that would indicate that the intruder was here to finish me off.

Something shifted right beside me. I gasped, swinging out with my knife, but only hit empty air. I slowly stood up, standing beside my bed and waiting, waiting as the watch ticked relentlessly on.

Did I just hear another thump? Yes, there had certainly been a sound outside in the kitchen. I was sure of it. I drew in my breath, trying not to go into shock once more. A tinkle sounded from outside, then stopped.

For a moment, all my ears could hear was the ticking of my watch.

Then I began to hear a different sound. Soft and irregular noises, as if something was being dragged across the floorboards. It was coming from very close, coming towards my bedroom. Coming towards me.

I closed my eyes briefly. I had to do it. I had to defend myself. I couldn’t live in fear of this intruder any longer.

The thump came the third time, this time right outside my bedroom.

With a strangled cry, I ripped open my bedroom door and stabbed forward.

The knife slashed through empty air. Caught off balance, I stumbled forward, and buried my knife into the wall. I crashed against it, the wind momentarily knocked out of me.

I slumped against the wall, I looked around, trying to see what the source of that sound had been, but found nothing. What was going on? Where was the intruder?

I slowly pulled myself up, but my vision began to darken. My mind, already ragged from the stress, couldn’t handle this anymore. I tried to make my way back to my bedroom, but it felt like my legs were dropping out from beneath me.

I made it halfway to the bed before I collapsed. I fell, my vision plunging into black. I knew that it was over. I was going to die at the hands of the intruder, my pathetic attempt at retaliation forever gone to waste…

Just before I blacked out, my vision drifted over to the mirror on the bedroom wall. Someone was standing there, someone holding a knife. It was watching me as I fell, knowing that it had won.

But that wasn’t right…I had already fallen down, so why was the mirror showing only one person that was standing?

And why did I see my own face, leering down at me from the mirror as the last bit of my consciousness faded away?

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NEHS announces horror writing contest winners