In case you haven’t noticed, we here at Pique like sharing stories. And not just the headline-grabbing hard news that is a community newspaper’s bread and butter. Pique has, for years now, endeavoured to tell stories that go beyond the weekly news-cycle hamster wheel, be it our longform cover features, our irreverent, highly opinionated columnists (looking at you, Max), or the longstanding annual tradition of publishing a batch of short stories to mark that most hair-raising of holidays, Halloween.
Maybe it’s the awe-inspiring force of the wilderness around us, or maybe it’s Whistler’s natural tendency towards escapism, but Halloween just seems to hit different here. You see it in the looks on the kids’ faces when they’re excitedly trick-or-treating through Tapley’s Farm, and you see it in the raucous Halloween parties that dot our neighbourhoods and village ever year.
We hope our annual selection of spooky short stories contributes in its own small way to that feeling. All penned by local (or, at least, formerly local) writers, this year’s collection of tales seemed to hew to that love of storytelling that we here at Pique try to nurture on a weekly basis. There’s a resentful student witch straining under the labour of her teacher’s homework assignment. There’s a disillusioned young woman yearning to disappear—at an unimaginable cost. There’s an old, leatherbound sketchbook found in an abandoned cabin in the woods filled with images of strange beasts. And, finally, there’s a writer following in the footsteps of a literary icon who discovers the true cost of genius.
A big thanks to all four submitting writers this year, a mix of familiar names for anyone who has read Pique’s Halloween editions before and, well, one newbie (hey Robert!). We hope you enjoy these frightening tales as much as we did, and who knows, maybe you’ll find a scary story of your own this Halloween, somewhere out there in the deep, dark woods...
- Brandon Barrett
A One-Thousand-Word Essay On Why We Should Not Cast Spells Upon Classmates
by Katherine Fawcett
My teacher Mrs. McInnister told me to sit quietly at this small, light brown desk in the back corner of the English Nine room and write a thousand-word essay on why we must not cast spells upon our classmates, such as Luke. I believe this assignment is a good opportunity for me to contemplate what I have done while also working on my skills as a writer and not causing any more trouble. There is definitely a great deal to say about the whys and why nots of casting spells, but one thousand words is a very large number of words. More words, perhaps, than I have ever written on one subject, until now.
In my opinion, Mrs. McInnister was correct in her decision to send the other children outdoors for Early Recess, while she attempted to figure out how to “unfreeze” Luke. Presumably, Mrs. McInnister would like Luke, who, everyone knows is an excellent student, and recently received an A+ for his work on our MacBeth Partner Presentation, for which I was his partner, and, for the record, did all the work, to be able to raise and lower his right arm up into the air vigorously and repeatedly to provide answers to the questions that Mrs. McInnister asks our class about Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and Banquo and MacDuff and The Three Witches and King Duncan, etc., etc., etc.
But first, I would like to take a few sentences to point out how curious it is that while Luke was given the highest grade possible, I received a B- for the same MacBeth Partner Presentation. Since Luke did all of the talking during the presentation, I suppose it is understandable that an English Nine teacher such as Mrs. McInnister might be swept away by his confident public speaking and charming demeanour. But I digress.
So now I will return to the subject at hand, which is: “Why We Should Not Cast Spells Upon Classmates.” As I stated earlier in this one-thousand-word essay, this is an important topic, even though it could be argued there are times when casting a spell is better than, say, resorting to violence. For the record, most spells can be reversed quite easily by whoever did the casting, and generally speaking, the subject of the spell will have no recollection of the time when he or she was under the spell.
But if everyone were to run around willy-nilly, casting spells upon each other all the time, then yes, I could see how this would be problematic, in school and actually in society as a whole. Having spells such as invisibility, silence, blindness, falling asleep, becoming stone, becoming a frog, becoming a puff of smoke, becoming an old woman or becoming frozen being cast all over the place means things wouldn’t get done. And, obviously, in order for society to work, things do need to get done. For example, things such as doing all the research and the whole write-up for an English Nine MacBeth Partner Presentation.
I’ll admit, seeing Luke sitting like that now, frozen stiff at his small, light brown desk in the front row of the English Nine classroom, does make me feel a little sorry for him. I can only see him from behind, but his tanned arm is lifted slightly off the desk, and his long fingers are arched upwards, as if they are reaching for the sky. In retrospect, I think I cast that spell on Luke more out of frustration than anger or any wish to cause harm. He was about to answer another question that I knew the answer to. I simply lacked the courage to raise my own hand. Is Luke to blame for that? Perhaps not. Perhaps we, Luke and I, would actually make a good team. A partnership, per se. But now, his answer is stuck inside him, as are all of his words, thoughts and actions. His golden curls sparkle in the sunlight that streams through the classroom window, and the motionless outline of the muscles of his back and shoulders are visible through his light green T-shirt.
Perhaps Mrs. McInnister was correct: maybe it is wrong to cast spells upon our classmates. Maybe it’s the teacher instead—the one who assigns partner projects and doesn’t recognize the individual strengths and skills that each of the partners in the group bring to the project—who needs to be taught a lesson in fairness. Maybe it’s the teacher who needs to spend some time cast into a frozen state, and maybe while she is under the spell, I should unfreeze Luke and thank him for doing the public speaking part of the presentation, since that really isn’t my strength.
Back in a sec…
OK, well, it is likely that Mrs. McInnister is currently second-guessing her chosen form of discipline with me. I assume she’s happy that Luke is OK and moving around freely again. Perhaps she’s wondering how many words I have completed on this one-thousand-word essay. I bet she’s wishing she didn’t leave her computer open with the Grade Nine English Marks spreadsheet on the screen so anyone could alter their mark on a particular assignment, especially a student who was unfairly given a B+ when they deserved so much higher, as even Luke agrees.
But it’s hard to gauge Mrs McInnister’s emotions, since she’s currently frozen solid, her mouth open wide, a red pen gripped between her long, wrinkled fingers, and a very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very cold snarl curled upon her face.
Katherine Fawcett is a Squamish-based author, playwright, teacher and musician. Her newest play, “Blustery Ever After,” a follow-up to last year’s “Once Upon a Cold Snap” will be staged in Squamish by Between Shifts Theatre starting on Nov. 30.
By Sara Marrocco
I wish I could disappear. Not forever. Just for a little while. People wouldn’t bother me and I wouldn’t bother them. I could just rest and relax and do my own thing. I could use this invisibility to check up on friends, maybe even prank them. I could make things levitate and slam doors and do all those things you see in scary movies. I could steal all the imported cheese I’d like; I wouldn’t have to pay rent; I could go see my favourite bands for free. Maybe not existing in the flesh would make the heartache go away, too.
I didn’t think I’d ever get an opportunity to actually disappear, but there it was—an ad on my social media feed. It said, “Holistic Pain-Relief,” and like the good consumer I am, I clicked on it. It didn’t take long for them to call me after that, knowing that I was somewhat interested. I won’t lie, it sounded very appealing. These scientists have found a way to isolate the human personality, or soul, if you will, giving you a vacation from the pain inside your body. Your soul would exist in the world as it normally would, yet without the body, you’d essentially be invisible. You choose the length of time you want to be pain-free and when your time is up, you’re put safely back into your body.
That was the plan anyway.
They were honest in explaining that it was experimental, although they’d successfully conducted more than a thousand extractions. I even got to chat to someone who’d gone through it to ask them any questions. It was quick, painless, reasonably priced, and for a limited time, they were offering a free, one-hour therapy session afterwards. The idea of being unburdened for even a week was too good of an offer to pass up.
It’s not like I had anything to lose. Nathan and I were pretty much done. Our final argument was last week and we’d both reached our limit. It wasn’t working. Another relationship failure to add to my collection. I’d lost my job as well and hadn’t found anything permanent since. My mum was being so obnoxious, constantly calling me to ask what I’m doing with my life and tell me how concerned she was. She mentions how much she likes Nathan, as if I don’t and as if I haven’t been trying my arse off to make things work.
I’m also losing my dog Loki because he seems to like Nathan more than me, so it looks like they’ll be leaving together to a new apartment. The icing on the cake is that the only houseplant I’ve ever owned is struggling and probably going to die. I’ve either watered it too much, too little or too inconsistently. Who knows with these things. They’re like avocados— sensitive, temperamental and the timing needs to be perfect for you to enjoy them.
No, what I needed was a vacation from myself and a vacation from others. So I went for it. I signed the dotted line, paid up and booked the procedure. It was a surprisingly basic process. They had me lie in this tunnel like you would for a CT scan, with these pads and electrodes attached to my body. There was about five of them working on me all in white scrubs and medical masks. I couldn’t tell any of them apart unless they spoke. The man in charge had a high-pitched, monotonous voice and pronounced my name wrong. I hate it when people do that.
The machines made a series of noises and I had to stay as still as I possibly could. It felt like about an hour before there was a loud, deep buzzing and the whole room was vibrating. I got a flashback to the EDM festival I went to last summer. The bass shook the whole grounds then, just like it was now in this metal tomb.
Then, a sound like an old-school camera flash bulb, followed by silence.
It was a strange feeling. I was weightless—what I imagined being in space would feel like. As I sat up and turned around, I saw my lifeless body behind me and I felt free. I felt like the weight of the world was off my shoulders. I was invincible. I walked the streets without being judged. I went for a midnight walk through the city’s biggest park without fearing for my safety. I sat at cafés and stared at beautiful people just because I could. I went to my favourite ice cream shop to get a giant scoop of chocolate chip cookie dough, but that’s where I learned that I can’t eat. I guess I don’t need to. I also don’t require sleep. I’ll just have to find ways to keep myself busy.
I went back to my apartment. All of Nathan’s stuff was gone including his couch and all the dining room furniture. The space was lifeless and sad. Loki’s dog bed was gone, but his fur was still scattered in little tufts in the corners of the room. I could still smell his soft little ears. I’d have to mention this to the scientists—I was meant to be pain-free in this existence. And yet I could still feel. There was a tension in me; a tightening where my throat would be and a clenching at my chest. There was still a deep sadness in me.
What a rip-off. I was supposed to not feel anything. Frustrated, I turned to leave and go somewhere, anywhere but here. Then I noticed my houseplant on the windowsill. Nathan must have moved it. The little sun we had that day was poking through the curtains, illuminating the last few leaves the poor thing had. And at the root, a new leaf had emerged. A tiny, frail, springy green leaf poking up from the soil. Well, how about that.
After the initial excitement of not being seen, I must say it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. I did everything imaginable: jumped off a building and flew; got hit by a train; walked through fire; went to the bottom of the ocean; ran naked through the main city square… It was fun, but it was lonely. I was ready after that week to get back in my body, so I excitedly made my way back to the clinic at the required time.
I got there early just to be sure. I walked into the high-rise building lobby and through to the elevator where I noticed the company name wasn’t listed on the same floor. In fact, it wasn’t listed anywhere. I clearly remembered that it was on the 21st floor, because that’s my birthday. I made my way to the 21st floor anyway, and it was completely different. It looked like it was becoming some sort of law office. There were movers arranging office furniture and people in suits with clipboards instructing them. No. This couldn’t be happening. This wasn’t real. I went to every floor in the building running, screaming, asking people where the clinic went, but of course no one could hear me. I went to every building in the block, to every floor and there was no sign of it anywhere. I spent hours, days, weeks retracing my steps. Nothing.
It’s been two years since that day. I never found my body or the clinic or anyone else who succumbed to the temptation to live a pain-free existence. I sat with my mother as she called the police to report me missing. I followed Nathan as he drove around the province trying to get answers to my disappearance. I slept beside Loki wishing I could feel his soft fur on my palm. And I was witness to the arrangements that were made to honour my life with a memorial.
And now here I am. Sitting here at the church watching the people who loved me mourn me. Nathan is here. He looks defeated and betrayed. I never got to tell him that I’m sorry, that I wish things were different, that I truly do love him and would do anything to feel his hands on my face again. My mother sits in a pew lifelessly, empty, abandoned. She didn’t deserve this.
They’ll never know that this was a stupid mistake I made or that I’m still here watching, screaming, wailing, pounding my fists on my coffin begging it to make a sound, for anything I do to be noticed. But nobody hears me. Nobody sees me. They don’t even feel my presence like they do sometimes in the movies when someone just knows that their love is sitting right next to them. No. I don’t exist. Not even to Loki.
This is what I wanted, right? People don’t bother me and I don’t bother them. I can just rest and relax on my own for the rest of time.
Sara Marrocco is an actor, writer and musician based in Squamish, B.C. When she’s not hogging the microphone, she’s trying to perfect her Nonna’s biscotti recipe.
By Robert Wisla
It was a nippy fall day. The sun was piercing through parted grey clouds, and the birds were few and far between as Hallows Eve was nearly upon us.
I decided to go on a walk through a nearby forest, having heard rumours of a beautiful trail that threaded through towering old trees and led to an abandoned cabin from days long past.
Hopping in my vehicle, I made my way down some winding roads. It was eerily quiet, without a soul in sight, a road so solitary I wondered if I had taken a wrong turn.
When I arrived at the trailhead, the air was musty and damp. The forest floor was caked with brown, red and gold crumbling leaves. The rain that recently came through awoke the towns of toadstools along the snaking trail, an unwary forager’s perilous delight.
I scoffed when I heard the trail was long and challenging, with dozens of twists, turns, hills and cliffs. As I began to huff and puff along, I discovered all the rumours I had heard of the trail were true. It was a twisting path through ancient forests. I began to realize that my pounding heart was fuelled not just by the steep and rocky path, but by a tingling sense of adrenaline, warning my body to be on high alert.
The days were growing shorter, so I had limited time to make it up to the abandoned cabin and back to my vehicle in the warming light of day before night wound her creeping tendrils around me. The race was on.
After three hours of hiking, I finally reached the abandoned cabin. Decades ago, the house served as the base for a lonely trapper, a forest hermit that kept to himself, surviving off foraged food and the viscera of the woods.
No one knows what happened to that trapper. There are whispers that his ghostly form has been spotted defending his ruined domain—town gossip intended to scare would-be miscreants away.
The cabin was more significant than I expected. The forest had nearly enveloped it, and the tree canopy helped the aging roof survive. I pushed tentatively on the door, which groaned open with a slight resistance as if to warn me not to proceed.
Spiderwebs covered every windowsill. Dust coated the worn wooden floor, and the single small room held a metal stove, a lone rusted kettle, and an old cedar table.
Casting menacing shadows in the waning light, sharp long hooks adorned the walls. The lowering sun deepened the shadows over the scratches gouging the cabin’s frame.
As I stepped through the door, I noticed an old notebook propping up one of the table legs. My curiosity got the better of me, and I wrenched it out. What was this old trapper reading by himself in the woods?
There was no title on the front of the book; it was wrapped in a homemade leather dust jacket. I opened it to find nothing but sketches of wildlife: deer, birds, mountain goats. Then, after about 20 pages, the illustrations suddenly turned into a weird-looking creature I had never seen.
It was a bear-like beast, with fangs and long, bat-like ears. A hundred pages in a row featured this creature, each sketch more detailed than the last. As I flipped through the pages documenting the mysterious animal, a blast of wind came through the window and slapped the cabin door shut.
The loud bang brought me out of my trance, and I realized I should be getting back to my car. Daylight was going to be leaving soon, and the cabin was not one I would wish to stay at deep into the night.
I began heading back to my car, taking the sketchbook with me. As I journeyed back down the difficult path, the sunset drew near.
Unfortunately, after two hours of hiking back to my car, it grew dark, and the rough trail became difficult to see. I knew I had an hour still to go, but it might have to be in the dark. I had to use my cell phone’s flashlight to light the path; it was barely bright enough to see the gnarled roots in front of me, and it quickly drained my battery. If it were to run out, I would have to find my way through the deep, dark forest without a guiding light, I feared. Twenty per cent remained.
I picked up the pace, walking quickly through the creaking forest, mindful of every spindly root and tree along the path. That old sinking feeling of fear began to claw its way to the front of my mind. What happens when my battery dies? How will I find my way back to the road?
The forest began to feel eerie in a way words can’t quite describe. As if the trees grew eyes and began to watch me clamber through their home. A breeze picked up and shook the branches, rocking back and forth as the forest moved around me.
I didn’t have long before my phone would die. My pace grew faster as I made my way through the cavernous forest. Ten per cent left.
I went faster now, running along the difficult-to-follow trail, branches scratching me as I flurried through the forest.
Cold beads of sweat trickled down my back, and I was terrified that it would soon be pitch black. I gripped my dying light and the sketchbook tightly. Its rough leather pressed tightly in my hand. Then I saw something that stopped me in my tracks.
Straight ahead of me on the trail, a colossal creature, black as night, stood hunched over in the middle of the track with glowing, beady red eyes and long, jagged white fangs. It was the creature from the sketchbook.
Spattered and matted, the creature grumbled and sauntered on its two back feet. Its long arms protruded from its sides and swayed in front of it with a dozen claws protruding from clublike paws. I immediately froze. It was unlike any creature I had seen, as if a bat and a grizzly had merged.
The creature turned its mangled body toward me and glared at me with its ruby-red eyes, fangs reflecting in the moonlight above. I didn’t know what to do. As it moved closer, I could hear its growl grow louder.
I was left terrified, my cold hands shaking. Could this even be the same creature from the sketch? I stood there, frozen to the ground. My legs couldn’t move even if they wanted to. I was rooted in the forest like the towering trees around me.
Given its size, I had little hope of outrunning this thing. Was this the end? In defiant terror, I threw the leatherbound sketchbook at the creature. It landed right in front of it. To my surprise, the beast stopped.
It stretched out its long arms, clasped the book between its razor-sharp claws, and let out a blood-curdling scream. My phone died. And there I stood in the pitch black, barely able to see the shadowy creature before me, terrified at what would happen next.
Robert Wisla is a reporter with Pique Newsmagazine. When he’s not working, you can usually find him hiking, going for wine tastings or travelling around the world.
The Scribe of Samhain
By Angie Nolan
The craggy tread down to Anam Cottage had always been a challenge for Cathrain Morrigan, but now, in her 82nd year, it seems damn near impossible. With each step, her wheezy respirations drown out the chill of Glencolumbkille’s coastal winds as they whip and twist around her fragile frame. Still, the impending Hallows Eve storm is no match for Cathrain, a woman not easily dissuaded.
Continuing down the harrowing descent, Cathrain death-grips the cold of a tempest battered railing. She stops three quarters of the way down to take in the view. Something in the cinereous skies and silvery slate of the angry Donegal sea brings great comfort to her. There is no other place in the world that knows the bones of her better.
It has been almost 50 years since Cathrain bought the cottage on a whim after her second novel, The Bread and the Blood, was a bestseller. It was a success that afforded the writer the kind of life only young novelists dream about. She’s always known it isn’t her best work. Even after six relatively successful books, she still finds herself in an endless pursuit of the perfected word and the characters who long to inhabit them. Both of which she can never seem to catch.
All the same, Ms. C.S. Morrigan of Cnoc Na Naomh is determined to be remembered.
A kelly-green, paint-chipped post box greets Cathrain at the bottom of the stairs. Her lank fingers feel their way around the unit until locating a secret slot underneath. In it, she finds a rust-tarnished skeleton key. She clumsily plucks it out of its hiding place and laboriously shuffles along the wooden slat path leading to the front door.
The key click-clacks in Cathrain’s feeble hands until the lock releases and the creak of the weighty portal welcomes her in. The smell of soot, sea-salt mold and dried lavender swiftly greet her. One look around and the author knows this night is going to be something quite different.
Cathrain immediately gets to work dusting off a full season of human inactivity. She stumbles around the thatched dwelling for an arduous two hours, sweeping, wiping, fixing and moving things into place; creating a writer’s sanctuary. The final ritual is uncovering the lightly cobwebbed 1930’s Imperial Good Companion vintage, manual portable typewriter that sits upon the same desk it always has for over 50 years. It was a posthumous gift that came with the place, left behind by the writer who died while plucking away on its keys.
The town has long whispered a tale of a promising young writer, Thomas Anam, who tortuously scrawled in a carnal hunt for the impeccable word. He would go days without sleeping or eating; hammering away until his fingers bled. His sanity went first and then his heart; leaving him lifeless at the desk with an unfinished work of art. “Dead” was the very last word he typed.
Cathrain’s memory flickers back to her 32-year-old self and to the real estate agent mumbling something about frightful cries and unnerving activity in the dark. At the time, she remembers scraping a dried red substance off the “D” key of the typewriter and telling the agent she wasn’t afraid of a little haunting. Heck, it might even help her creative process.
Amidst the discovery of a few unfinished drafts of Thomas’ work, Cathrain has often felt his presence here. The inexplicable slamming of doors, the fire lighting itself and the wanting wails from the typewriter at night are all things she has learned to accept. As if that, in some primordial sense, living with such horrors will eventually be her gateway to greatness.
A knock on the door breaks Cathrain’s foggy reminiscence. Her ragged body has been pushed too far today. She faintly beckons for the caller to let themselves in and a bouncy young woman enters. It’s the neighbours’ teenage daughter Tally, dressed as a druid queen. She’s been instructed to drop off a plethora of celebratory treats before the Halloween festivities begin. A thermos of tea and cream, soda drop biscuits wrapped in wax paper and two plates of roast dinner. One is to be used as an offering to a spirit of Cathrain’s choosing. After a smattering of small talk, Tally takes her leave with a promise to pop by later. She’ll bring back an ember from the bonfire for Cathrain’s hearth. The writer is not sure she will be up that late but promises to try.
Cathrain lights the flat wick kerosene lamp in her window; watching Tally and her friends rollick down the beach toward the furthest point, where a handful of bonfires begin to blaze. Carefully unwrapping one of the dinner plates and placing it in the window next to the lamp, she contemplates her next move. Her strength is waning and she has important things to write. In the window, her spectral reflection exposes a woman not long for this world and yet her greatest masterpiece still must be completed.
Cathrain feebly reaches into the only bag she brought with her, pulling out a half-finished manuscript and a totable pharmacy with it. ACE inhibitors, angiotensin receptors, neprilysin inhibitors, sacubitril, valsartan, beta-blockers all fall to the floor. She ignores the mess of heart meds and focuses on the pages in front of her. Sliding a blank piece of bond paper off the top of its pile, she places it delicately in the feed lever, rolling and clamping it into place. Methodically tearing a strip of the title page of her manuscript, Cathrain tenuously scribbles the last note she’ll ever pen.
It reads: Dear Thomas, I’m ready now. Let’s write.
Hands shaking, she slips the note under the plate of food. As she calls out for Thomas, the crackle in her voice frightens her a little. Outside, the skies swoon to the swelling bonfire down the beach. Spirits are rising. A guttural gust smashes up against the cottage window as the shutters bash and bang in morse code. A perilous screech exhales from the belly of the 1930’s Imperial Good Companion vintage as it jumps across the desk toward Cathrain. The lamplight flickers and an ominous shadow oozes out from the ribbon strand and floats to the table beside her. Unshook, Cathrain remains stalwart to the cause. “I’m not afraid.”
Her fingers involuntarily thrust themselves upon the carriage and the skin of her osseous digits stick like spider scapulae to the keys. The creative contract is signed. For hours, Cathrain’s body jolts, reels and writhes in tune to the songs of the unveiled. Lost souls arrive one by one at her window, asking for directions. She can only answer in words she does not know. Words that travel through her. She is all but a vessel now with sweat-fevered skin and moulting fingertips. In frenzied flashes, the author catches small glimpses of the text before her. It’s genius at work.
With each new page Cathrain feels her heart failing. A part of her wants to stop; wants to see another day; wants to see her family again but she knows that’s a fool’s wish. She plods away through the next few pages until she reaches the end. As dawn sneaks a peek into the horizon, the apparition wraps its billow around the writer and helps push her through apneic chokes. A flash of Thomas Anam’s face flutters in the window then withers away in the wind. Cathrain’s shredded flesh sticks to the very last key of her masterpiece like flypaper and won’t move. That damn “D” key.
Cathlain’s slumped corpse was discovered at 5 a.m. by Tally and her friends. They expeditiously put the promised ember in the hearth as a burning assurance that the author’s spirit will travel well.
Two years later to the day, Lilly Morrigan accepted the Booker Prize on behalf of her late mother, for what was to be considered the greatest work of fiction in modern times.
Angie Nolan is a Vancouver-based writer, director, actor, educator and award-winning filmmaker.