You don’t have to look far these days to find ways to scare yourself. The nightly news is chock full of horror stories, while social media only amps up the anxiety further.
But there’s something escapist—comforting, even—about intentionally seeking out and crafting our own frightful tales. There’s been ample research done to show that horror flicks and true crime stories, both as popular as ever, can serve as a means to make sense of the senseless and give power to the powerless when the quote-unquote real world gets to be too much.
For years now, Pique’s venerable Halloween tradition has been to share spooky stories from local writers across the Sea to Sky, and this year, that feels as timely as ever with what’s going on in the wider world.
This Halloween, the short stories run the gamut from sentient gourds to an all-out war of the supernatural, one of the more diverse selections of terrifying tales we’ve had the pleasure of sharing. We hope you find your own form of escape within them.
- Brandon Barrett
By Katherine Fawcett
I see you, Pumpkin, and I am so sorry.
I bear witness. I share your story. I feel your pain.
It is my duty as a fellow gourd on this planet to give voice to your torture.
You, there, in windows. On doorsteps. On display, everywhere.
A billboard for the season. An icon, lit up from within. Dead, yet alive, stuck in the purgatory that is October.
I stand in solidarity. And for those guilty, I have so many questions:
Why were you put in that plywood bin outside the grocery store when you so clearly belonged in the produce section with the rest of us?
What made you different? Was it your perfect skin? Your voluptuousness? The sensual curves of your body? Your size? You knobby stem?
Who spread newspapers on the kitchen table and gathered the children for Carving Night?
Who held the knife that cut out your eyes?
Who made a hole in your skull?
Whose hand reached inside and extracted your guts? Your marrow?
Who complained—complained!—about the slime getting caught beneath her nails?
Who tossed a stringy chunk at her sister?
Who screamed when the chunk landed in her hair, orange on blonde, and tossed it back?
Who got mad at both daughters when there were bits of your insides, your membranes and intestinal matter, on the white kitchen walls? On the hardwood floor? On the backsplash? “Clean it up before it dries,” she said, sipping a latte that had been infused with your very essence. “Otherwise, it’ll be a real stinking mess.”
Who scraped the soft sinew from the hard flesh of your belly with a large metal spoon, until your insides were as clean and smooth as the inner curve of a new shovel?
What temperature was the oven set at when they opened the metal door and slid the tray in—the baking sheet strewn with your unfertilized babies, salted, oiled, picked clean?
How long were they left there, to roast, roast, roast?
Who cursed when those innocent seeds were left in the scorching oven too long, and your babies were burnt, burnt, burnt?
What did you ever do to deserve being put outside on the cold concrete steps on a windy October night?
Who lit the candle whose flame flickered through your vacant, triangular eyes? Through the gaps between your teeth? Through your missing nose?
And when November came, who blew the candle out? Who let your mouth cave in, your eyes sink, as insects, mice and mould took advantage of your vulnerable state?
Who dropped you off a bridge, into a river, to float, float, float until you bobbed to shore to be eaten by a raven? A wolf? A bear?
I can’t answer these questions. Perhaps no one can. All I know is this: “There but for the grace of God go I.”
Pumpkin, I feel your pain.
My heart of squash bleeds for you and all you’ve been through.
Don’t bleed for me, butternut. I don’t need your dry autumn tears.
You—along with acorn, kabocha, spaghetti, hubbard—you big vegetables are all the same. You don’t care about me. Not really.
You’re just jealous. That’s what you are.
You and your earth tones. Your warty irregularity. Your soupy flavour.
You WISH you were put on a pedestal, literally, for a month every year, and honoured by all the world, just like me.
I get a face; you get a dash of salt and pepper.
I get a soul; you are puréed and served to people without teeth.
I am immortal; you are a carbohydrate.
No, you lump. Don’t lose sleep.
I’ll tell you who spreads the newspapers under my hard, sunset-hued body, gives me eyes, mouth and nose, caresses my innards, rejoices in my soul, bathes my seeds in warmth and love, and sends me back to nature, floating down the November river, too precious to put in the compost heap.
It’s not some monster; some creep.
It’s the same ones who buy you because you are on sale and supposedly healthy, but promptly forget about you in the dark recesses of the pantry until they find you rotting and stinking and weeping from your mushy sections the following spring.
Don’t bleed for me, gourd.
It is Halloween.
And I am Pumpkin.
Katherine Fawcett is an author, playwright, teacher and musician who has lived in the Sea to Sky for more than 20 years. Her latest books are The Swan Suit (Douglas & McIntyre) and The Little Washer of Sorrows (Thistledown Press.) For details on her upcoming writing retreat, running Nov. 2 to 5 in the Upper Squamish Valley, please visit katherinefawcett.com.
All Hallows’ War
By David Song
Lieutenant Vernon Davis sprinted through the forest. His heart pounded, as did his boots, crunching leaves underfoot. His squad was gone. He had to reach the rendezvous point, or at least to a place where his radio would pick up a signal.
And he only had 12 rounds left in his weapon to get him there.
Sudden movement to his left. Vernon’s eyes darted in that direction as a grotesque wolf-like creature burst from the foliage. In the seconds it took for him to raise his rifle, Vernon observed the beast’s long sabre teeth, the bony thorns protruding from its shoulders. Then he pulled the trigger, once, twice. The beast’s head jolted back, and it crumpled mid-lunge.
His breath was coming in ragged spurts. Sweat trickled into his eyes, and he blinked furiously to clear his vision. Were it not a moonlit night, making his way through the trees at speed could have been disastrous.
Footsteps thudding behind him. Vernon planted his foot and pivoted. It was another lycanthrope, bearing down. It was fast.
Not fast enough. Vernon’s rifle erupted three more times, felling the perverted beast.
The soldier hurried behind a tree and placed his back to it, sucking oxygen. As a one-per-center, he was far faster, stronger and more resilient than a normal human, which was the only reason he still drew breath. Even so, he had limits, and lycanthropes were fully capable of pushing them.
If any vampires decided to join the party—or worse yet, the Knight-Watcher—he’d be truly screwed.
Vernon’s radio crackled.
“All stations this net, all stations this net: standby for sitrep. Supernatural elements have broken through the Garibaldi defensive line and friendly assets are falling back to Creekside Village. All air support is fully committed. We are not evacuating civilians fast enough. I say again, we are not evacuating civilians fast enough.”
A brief pause, then, “Semper Fi, Blackcomb Actual out.”
Judging by that last phrase—Semper Fi—Vernon identified the man on the radio as a U.S. Marine Corps officer. He himself served with Canada’s Joint Task Force 2—not that petty things like nationality and ethnicity mattered anymore. They were all human, and thus they were on the same side.
Seattle was gone, Vancouver turned into a hellish no-man’s land. Now the monsters were pushing north and east, making Whistler—his hometown—part of the new frontline.
Vernon inspected his automatic rifle. The rounds within weren’t normal—it took dozens of ordinary bullets to kill a lycanthrope, and they bounced off vampires like you were shooting a tank. Soldiers these days packed armour-piercing ammunition made of tungsten and silver: tungsten to punch through a monster’s rock-hard skin and silver to poison them.
He’d already lost his pistol, so when that rifle ran dry, he’d be down to knife and fists. Not a proposition he wished to bet on.
It was a brisk, bright night. The stars were out in full force, dotting the black canvas above like a million tiny sand grains. Moonbeams sliced their way through the stoic pine boughs all around, casting haunting shadows upon the forest floor. A tinge of aurora hung in the sky, an ever-shifting, phantasmal light.
It was one of the most beautiful things Vernon had ever seen. Under different circumstances, he would have marveled at it for hours.
He took off, making it five or six steps before an invisible force swept him off his feet like a giant hand.
Vernon flew sideways and slammed into the unyielding trunk of a tree with enough force to snap a normal person in half. He slumped to the ground, winded.
Four figures came into view. Each was slender and statuesque, with luminescent irises of red, orange and yellow. Their ivory skin appeared to be airbrushed and delicate—you couldn’t tell by looking they were bulletproof. They wore human street clothing and grinned sadistically, revealing viper-like fangs.
Somehow Vernon had managed to keep hold of his rifle, but seven rounds weren’t going to get it done. Not against four.
“Well, well.” One vampire stepped forward, crushing a twig under her high-heeled leather boot. “What do we have here?”
Her voice had a melodic, singsong quality. It was the loveliest sound Vernon had ever heard. She was so beautiful, with those piercing scarlet eyes and luscious blonde locks.
Wait. Was her hair blonde or red? He couldn’t tell.
As a one-per-center, Vernon was immune to the hypnotic effect vampires had on most people, yet somehow that didn’t apply to the female slowly approaching. As soon as he heard her voice, his mind became clouded. His combat reflexes abandoned him. He was dead.
Another vampire, a male, got impatient and lunged. He made it halfway to Vernon before something tore his body asunder, and he exploded into black mist with a shriek.
Suddenly, another being was in the clearing with them. He—or it—was clad in some type of armour, an ebony set of plate that gleamed like obsidian, yet sounded and moved like steel. In his hand was a massive halberd, a seven-foot polearm boasting a heavy axe head and a jagged spear point. It, too, appeared to be carved from obsidian.
“Traitor!” hissed the female vampire. She and her remaining cohorts dropped to a low crouch, their fingernails elongating into talons as they surrounded the interloper. Gleaming eyes were visible in the slit of his helmet, but unlike the vampires, his were a deep cobalt blue.
The fiends attacked as a single unit. One went for the Knight-Watcher’s back, another his lead leg, and the woman straight for his throat. Nobody, not even a one-per-center, was fast enough to avoid all three at once, but the warrior stepped back and pivoted, causing his rear assailant to roll off his pauldron and smash into the woman. As they went down in a growling pile, the Knight-Watcher thrust downwards and impaled through the head the vampire who’d pounced at his leg. He, too, vanished in a flash of mist.
Now the armoured figure advanced, swinging his polearm in a lightning-fast arc. The female vampire ducked, but the axe head tore through her male companion’s chest. Another shriek, another boom, and he was no more.
The woman lunged. The Knight-Watcher raised a hand protectively, and her talons raked through his forearm guard. Vernon heard the sound of breaking glass as the armour partially shattered, obsidian shards spraying the dirt below. Yet the female vampire had overcommitted, leaving herself open.
The warrior brought his halberd down in a crushing two-handed blow.
That should have been the end, but the female vampire lifted her hands and a shimmering field of dark energy spouted from then. The Knight-Watcher’s weapon impacted head-on, detonating the field in a blinding explosion. The monster sailed backwards and crashed into a tree.
She clambered to her feet and bared her fangs. “You will pay,” she snarled, her voice feral—a far cry from the lovely drawl Vernon had first heard.
“No,” declared the Knight-Watcher. His voice was indeed masculine, a grounded and powerful baritone. “You are the one who will pay for shedding innocent blood.”
She ran. He pursued and was gone in a moment, leaving Vernon with more questions than answers.
David Song is the sports and interim arts reporter for Pique Newsmagazine. When not at work, you can find him watching sports, playing video games, writing his own fiction, and volunteering at Whistler Community Church.
By Drea Moothu
I awoke from the scent of the misty morning carrying the pine dew through my open window. It was cold that day, as the last several mornings had been. The weather turned quickly and I couldn’t accept that winter had arrived early, hence the open window. I shivered but enjoyed the stillness of the crisp air. The birds didn’t chirp as loudly and the cicadas were in hibernation, at least from what I could remember. I always enjoyed the quiet. which was a relief, as I abruptly lost my hearing seven years ago. I contracted meningitis when I was 22, in my third year of college. The doctor said it was a miracle I didn’t die. For the first few years, I wished I did. I lost a lot more than my hearing from getting sick. Suddenly becoming Deaf felt impossible to adjust to, for myself, my family, my friends, even strangers. My friends slowly disappeared, one by one. I dropped out of college and became isolated, alienated and alone within two years of contracting meningitis.
I decided shortly after that I needed to get out of this rut. I was stubborn and refused to accept this was my new life. I signed up for sign language classes. The teacher was Deaf, and I soon learned that’s how it should be—sign language should always be taught by a Deaf teacher. I easily made a lot of new friends, all Deaf or hard of hearing. I found everyone in the Deaf community was so welcoming, it was like discovering my long-lost family. That’s where I met Celia. She had been born Deaf and taught sign language to the hearing children of Deaf parents. She was so patient with me, unlike everyone else in my life who viewed me as a burden. The most vivid image I have of Celia within the first year of knowing her was her hands, and how comfortably she took up space with them. She used them to speak, of course, but I always admired how calloused they were. She was an artist and often used her hands. She loved to build things. She knew carpentry and was a sculptor. She told me she loved building from a young age because she took great pleasure in textures and the feel of everything in her hands. She would imagine the way her materials sounded when she smoothed her hand across a freshly sanded wood surface or the squish the clay would make when she would mush it between her fingers. She enjoyed the vibration of it. Everything had a resonate vibration and she seemed so attuned to it. She would have her mother describe it to her as best she could, but always knew she’d never truly know what the sound would feel like reverberating off of her ear drums.
That’s when I made it my mission to describe all the sounds I could remember to her. She was the motivator for me to learn more and more sign language. Of course, I wanted to impress her, but seeing her smile and her eyes light up, I felt purpose fire up in my belly again. I fell in love with her swiftly and she grasped my heart with her calloused hands as skillfully as she would a piece of clay, begging to be moulded. Luckily, she fell for me right back.
After years of feeling utterly useless and alone, Celia was a breath of fresh air. She saw the world so new and beautifully. She saw things I never noticed, and I quickly realized I took so much for granted when I was still hearing. I proposed to her soon after and we immediately moved in together. We chose a small house in a small town a short drive from our families. Although our day-to-day was soundless not by choice, we desired our home to match our quiet little world. Our house was surrounded by tall, thick trees that towered over our humble cabin. Our neighbours were close, but not close enough that you could walk over and borrow a cup of sugar. We liked it that way. Being Deaf, Celia and I had become accustomed to our family fawning over us. Disability can be crippling in some ways, but both Celia and I were fiercely stubborn and independent so getting some distance between us and our families was a relief, especially when we had the support of one another.
Despite our independence, we hadn’t left each other’s side for the first several years we lived together. We traveled together, shared the same bed and even did our groceries together when our schedules allowed it. We couldn’t get enough of each other. That’s what made Celia leaving for two weeks so hard. Celia had an art exhibit in another town and I was booked to be a Deaf interpreter for the same week at a conference. I wasn’t allowed to do the gig remotely, which made sense as interpreters are best in person. We decided both events were too important, especially this rare exhibit, so Celia left without me, for the first time, late last night.
I think that’s what made this morning even colder than the last few days had been. I walked over to the window to close it when I noticed the bushes below rustling. I usually don’t think much of these things, as we are surrounded by wildlife, but the rustling was more pronounced than anything a squirrel could accomplish.
I went downstairs and walked around the wrap-around porch. I peeked over the rail with slight hesitation, as our area is known for having bears. I saw nothing moving. What I did see were footprints in the slight bit of frost that had accumulated in the soil below the deck. Celia told me she asked the neighbour to come check on me periodically while she was gone, so I had written it off as them stopping by—but maybe I didn’t see the flashing door alarm at the time because I was asleep. Nonetheless, I was spooked, so I went back upstairs to put in my hearing aids. Wearing them was rare for me, but I had them in case the situation called for it. Plus, I’d rather it be silent. The problem with the hearing aids is that it’s impossible for me to tell if that silence is empty or not, which drives me a little nuts. And it quickly did over the next few days.
I couldn’t stop hearing random sounds all day into the late evening, and they were sounds that I didn’t recall being part of a normal soundscape. Most nights, I swore I heard footsteps, even talking sounds. I wanted to take my hearing aids out at night, but I was so afraid I had a feeling I would be making a grave mistake if I didn’t keep them in.
One night, I heard a loud banging. From what I remember glass sounding like, it faintly reminded me of someone knocking on a sliding screen door, like the one we had. I flicked on the back-porch light and peeked through the glass. I saw footprints in the frost again but this time they were imprinted in the deck. I pressed my face as much as I could against the glass to see where they led and followed them around the corner of the deck. I was terrified and promptly texted 911, but my stubborn confidence and curiosity got the best of me. I opened the door. I grabbed the bear mace and followed the footprints. I turned the corner of the porch and the footsteps stopped, right in their tracks. I stood there, dumbfounded, staring and wracking my brain trying to figure out what could’ve happened. That’s when it hit me: the tracks stopped right where the bushes rustled a few nights ago. I peeked over the rail and there was nothing: no footprints, no rustling, no sound. That when I felt it. The porch shook subtly, as if someone was walking towards me. I whipped my head around and there was no one there, but the porch trembled, stronger and stronger. I noticed the windows rattling, and the steps became quicker, like someone was running on the porch. I could feel at any moment something was about to turn the corner. I backed away but slipped in the frost and fell hard on my back. I felt paralyzed. My bear mace fell out of my hand and I watched it roll until it met a pair of large black boots, turning the corner of the deck.
Drea Moothu is a storyteller, poet and community organizer. Moothu enjoys shining a light on the unspoken experiences of disabled, queer women of colour and often includes themes of accessibility in her work.
By Kate Heskett
James sits on his couch, feeling unseasonably warm in his Slayer shirt and shorts, staring at the Domino’s Tracker app, watching his pizza order progress. He’s calculated that on an average Saturday night, based on 10 months of logged data, his pepperoni will arrive in a median time of six minutes after going “Out for delivery.” As long as there are no outlier events, like the time the neighbour’s blue heeler jumped the fence and chased the driver back to the safety of his car.
James clears a space on his coffee table, removing last night’s Cariboo cans and adding them to the shiny green sea of tins on the floor. Maybe the cans are providing insulation? He adds “cheaper hydro” to his mental list of defensive arguments. It’s not that James doesn’t like cleaning. It’s just that without Ava around, he doesn’t see the point. What to the casual observer might look like piles of garbage and decaying leftovers, James sees as a testament to human resilience and ingenuity. Take the pizza boxes, for example. Rather than let them languish as single-use items, he’s constructed a colonnade from the lounge to the kitchen, each tower of boxes stacked all the way to the ceiling for structural integrity. When he has enough for a full column, he stands on the kitchen table and carefully slides the last family-size pepperoni box into place, imagining himself a stonemason lowering a keystone into an arch that would outlast him. Pie-onic columns, he calls them. They mark a clear pathway through an ocean of partially-drunk beer and pop cans, the oldest of which, he was pleased to see, were developing an impressively thick layer of slime.
Slime, or Blob, as he preferred, watched on with pride as James completed yet another high-rise apartment building, this time in the new neighbourhood of Cariboo. It was sorely needed. The tins were a great starter home for young couples, plenty of privacy and abundant food. The ideal place to bunker down and replicate. But once their families started to expand, they really needed more space to play. More sunlight on their spores, more warmth for their hyphae. Some groups had really embraced Blob’s vision of community housing. The residents of Cola-ville had banded together—mould, yeast, fungi, all sorts—and used their spore prints to make colourful multi-story murals on the cardboard walls of the box complex. Blob’s favourite is a pink and brown pop-art tribute to the Coca-Cola can that had been their original home, back when Ava first left. Those layabouts over in the Old Milwaukee complex could really learn a thing or two from the can-do folk over at Cola-ville.
James’ screen flashes red. Six minutes until pizza. Ava would have a fit if she saw what he’d done to the place, especially since the lease is still in her name, but wasn’t she the one who said he needed to start thinking about the future?
He’d first had the idea while watching a TV program that featured swanky architects talking about “developing construction alternatives using materials derived from living organisms” and how “mycelium could be the natural building blocks of the future.” They’d waxed lyrical about different philosophies and ways of understanding the complex interactions between humans and the invisible colonies of yeasts and fungi that we rely on every day. He’d seen another show where scientists were starting to use mushrooms to clean up oil spills, but were having trouble finding the right mushroom to take up the oil as a food source. James figured that anything that could grow inside a can of Coke could probably adapt to other toxic environments, and given the various moulds already present in his damp, ground-floor Creekside apartment, maybe he could be like the guys who invented the first sourdough. Just leave the ingredients lying around and hope that the right microorganisms find them.
Pizza should be here soon. What to watch this evening? James picks up the remote and begins to cruise through his viewing options. A trailer for a film catches his eye but when he hits play a blood-curdling scream blasts from the speakers and smacks him in the chest. Shit, that was loud. It felt like the house shook. A few Pop! figurines fell off the shelf, but the pie-onic columns… are still standing. Blob takes a deep breath. The town is visibly shaken. A few cans roll on their sides, but the completed high-rise apartments are still there. On the construction site, a tower that was only partially completed has toppled onto the couch, thankfully sparing the citizens of Sprite-ton below.
A knock on the door. Pizza!
“What the fuck are you doing in here? Torturing women, no doubt.”
Ava steps past James and into the apartment.
“No, you’re just torturing me. Are you for real right now? What is all this crap?”
James looks at his feet.
“You know I can’t… I just…”
Ava struggles to find words her ex will understand.
“There’s an inspection next week. I emailed the notice to you, but did you even..?”
She tries to make eye contact but it’s no use. She knows better than to try and engage him when he’s in this state.
“James,” she says softly, “I’m sorry, but you can’t stay here anymore. You need to move out.”
He says nothing, his attention fixed on a moving Kokanee can. Is it rolling towards him?
“I’m sending a cleaning crew over next week. I need you gone by Wednesday.”
Ava turns to leave, there’s nothing more she can do, and almost knocks the pizza out of the delivery guy’s hands.
“You okay man? I heard someone scream.”
Pizza guy sticks his head through the door, looking for victims. You can’t be too careful these days.
“Just the TV.”
James hands the pizza man a fiver, shuts the door and hits play on the horror movie with the extra loud soundtrack, because fuck the neighbours.
As he munches on his pizza, he fails to notice that behind him the sea of cans has begun to vibrate, softly at first, but then faster and faster. He also can’t hear Blob’s ultra high-pitched rallying cry.
Blob hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but a failure to plan is a plan to fail, and a cleaning crew is not a threat to be taken lightly. They’ll all need to pull together and feed, fast, if they’re going to survive.
James reaches for his cold beer, brings it to his lips, and…
Now! Blob leads the charge, leaping from the can to his face. James drops the beer, and paws at the gooey mass but he can’t get a grip. When he tightens his fist, it moves like mercury, splitting and reforming, flowing over his hand. He tries to stand but his legs feel strangely heavy, as though they’re stuck to the couch. What the heck?
He screams but no one comes. The residents of Cola-ville coalesce, oozing up James’ legs and pinning his arms. Blob moulds himself to James’ face, creating a perfect seal over his nose and mouth. As blackness comes, James has to smile. He was right, after all. There’s money in beer mould. It will make a great sealant.
Kate Heskett is an award-winning poet and writer with a deep love of body horror and all things David Cronenberg.