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Hello Mary Lou: The Haunted Inkwell 2

Happy Halloween! Last night we had a blast doing Halloween-themed writing prompts for our yearly Haunted Inkwell. This year, we each picked a character, place, and object from a set of cards, and spent five minutes writing a short scene. The results were sometimes spooky, and sometimes hilarious. Here are mine!

Round One
character: investigative reporter | place: police station | object: demonic mask

Ronnie hid in the supply closet until the station grew quiet. The night shift was just one deputy and a dispatcher. Ronnie could see them at the front desk, watching Game Seven.

He almost laughed out loud when he realized he was actually tip-toeing down the dark hallway. The chief’s office was unlocked. A half-empty bottle of Pepto sat in the middle of the desk, and next to it was the mask.

Ronnie poked it with the tip of his pencil. The rubbery surface sprang back, and for a second, Ronnie thought he heard a low sound, an inhale of breath.

The mask was white, a dull, dingy white that reminded him of mummy wrappings from old movies they played on Channel 7 late at night. All white, except the eyes, which were ringed in dark red and—

glowing.

Ronnie dropped his pencil. He screamed as the mask floated off the desk. The deputy and the dispatcher screamed then, too, and their joy at the grand slam covered Ronnie’s terror.

Round Two
character: starting quarterback | place: covered bridge | object: funeral wrappings

Billy’s hands were full of… not paper, but not cloth. Handfuls of mummy clothes? Dammit, he needed Shelby. She always knew the right words. But whatever had worn these… wrappings… had taken Shelby and run off toward the covered bridge.

Billy stopped right where the shadow started. He wasn’t scared. He threw three touchdown passes and rushed for 40 yards in the comeback game of the season versus Waterloo just the night before. A guy wearing old bandages was no match for QB 1. 

Shelby screamed.

Billy’s bladder let go. He rubbed at his crotch with the wrappings, and then squealed when he realized what he was doing. There were wrappings in the dirt at the edge of the bridge. What did it look like without them? Why did Billy’s brain insist on calling it an it?

“I’m coming, Shelb,” Billy whispered, and stepped into the black. 

(Clearly I confuse funeral wrappings with… mummy clothes.)

Round Three
character: computer nerd | place: school boiler room | object: hot air balloon

Nelson crouched behind a stack of 1986 yearbooks. The mold down here was going to set off his asthma soon, and his inhaler was up in the computer lab. No worries. It would only take a few minutes to reprogram the device, save the school, and—

Footsteps. How had Agent Jones found him down here? The last time he’d seen Jones and his partner, they’d been sailing away over the Bluff in a hot air balloon. Nelson was sure he’d shot Jones at least twice, but here he was, coming straight toward him past the boiler with its fiery heart.

“Seems like you have nine lives, agent,” Nelson said, bounding to his feet.

One quick move and Agent Jones would be screaming his last breath, his flesh melting in the heat of the school furnace. The perfect ending for the diabolical government agent.

“You’re really a pain in my ass, you know that, kid? Why couldn’t you just walk away when you found that computer virus?”

(I will never forgive Alex for making ‘hot air balloon’ one of the objects. What even happened in this story?!)

Round Four
character: school janitor | place: submarine | object: silver mirror

Why Rob gave up his boring but safe job as a school janitor to join the Navy was beyond him. It sounded adventurous, sure, but here he was, cleaning toilets on a submarine in the middle of the North Atlantic. He hadn’t heard from Julie Ann in a month.

His fellow sailors were slobs, to say the least. He found the most disgusting shit in the stalls at the end of the night—condoms, sure, cigarette butts, skin magazines. But also stuff he couldn’t wrap his head around: a vial of what had to be blood, a crucifix with Jesus upside down, and a leather bag full of chicken bones. 

He was nearly done when he found the mirror. It was small—it fit in the palm of his hand—but heavy. Silver.

He looked at his reflection—buzzed-off hair, black eye and split lip, and thought of Julie Ann again.

And there she was, in the mirror, smiling at him. Turning around and around, in nothing but a little nightie he’d never seen before. And there was Billy Johnson. Rob squeezed the mirror until his hand dripped blood.

Round Five
character: plucky teenager | place: college quad | object: quill pen

Jemma looked out at the quad over the top of her glasses. Across the grass sat the lot of them—Chelsea, and her sorority friends. Jemma felt heat rise in her face as she remembered listening—again—to Chelsea and Brandon the night before, all panting and grunting. She nibbled the top of her pen.

“It that a quill pen?”

Jemma looked at the girl who’d sat down beside her. “It is.”

“That’s amazing. Can I hold it?”

Jemma handed it to her. She wondered if the girl could feel the power that coursed through it, if she could tell the pen held dark and terrible secrets. Write a name with that pen, and both ink and blood would flow. Jemma had written C-H-E-L- before being interrupted.

The girl turned her notebook over and scrawled her name before Jemma could even scream. Her throat split, ear to ear, a ghastly grin. Jemma screamed then, and people came running. She buried the quill in her bag.

(Clearly I forgot about the plucky teenager part. Well, Jemma seems like she was probably plucky before college, right?)

Round Six
character: werewolf | place: crossroads | object: knife

We’d reached the crossroads. Metaphorically and literally. We could keep going into the night, try to outrace the angry mob and frightened families on our heels. Or we could surrender. And there was a choice there, too: the silver knife that lay between us on the cracked leather of the front seat, or wait for village justice, a rusted ax or shower of bullets.

Jess’s breathing slowed. She turned more slowly than I did. At the first moment of the full moon, I was on my haunches.

“What do we do?” she asked.

I found her hand, the nails long and ragged now. “Let’s run,” I said. She nodded.

We peeled away from the crossroads in a spray of gravel. The knife clattered to the floorboards beneath Jess’s feet. 

In the rearview mirror, I saw headlights. We howled. We ran.

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The Haunted Inkwell

Welcome to the most wonderful time of the year! Yep, PY Writes got together once again to try our rotting, disembodied hands at haunting and horrific Halloween-themed writing prompts! Here’s what I came up with. (Stories appear as they were written, which is to say, they haven’t been edited.) Each prompt was just five minutes long, so if you don’t like abrupt and unresolved endings, look away! Otherwise: Enter if you dare. 

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First prompt: Write a mini sequel to a classic horror story.

He grew sick of the cold after two days on the ice. He didn’t seem to grow cold—his skin was toughened, like the hides of animals he’d slept near in barns reeking of offal—but the endless white nothing was too much. And so he clambered over the ice and snow, avoiding the rare ship ablaze with torches, wooden hulls creaking, and found his way to a little farm on the edge of a glacier. 

A woman sat alone by the hearth, asleep, a pile of knitting in her lap. Her cheeks were rosy from the heat of the fire. The monster gripped the edge of the frost-coated windowsill with his clumsy fingers.

“You there!” A hand clamped on his misshapen shoulder. “Pervert! Get away from there!”

A young man, too young to grow more than a shadow of a beard on his weak chin, stood before the monster. Or beneath him, as he barely came to the creature’s chest. The sound of his neck snapping rolled across the empty fields.

Second prompt: Pick an image (from the cover art of Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark) and write about it. 

Creepy bird. Zombie bird, maybe?

Creepy bird. Zombie bird, maybe?

The French exchange students and their American classmates stood in a clump in front of the zoo exit. The gates were down, and locked.

“Mon dieu, mon dieu,” Chantal sobbed. Isabelle put her arm around Chantal.

“What is that?” Alex said, and pointed a shaking finger above their heads.

A bird—or what was left of a bird—wobbled on the branch of a tree near the Snack Shack. It opened its beak and uttered a sound, half squawk, half gurgle. 

At the same time, a guttural growl grew from the quickening gloom behind them. They turned together, clutching whichever hand was closest.

A lion, the bones of his ribs and spine glistening in the dying light, sauntered toward them, thick gray strands of saliva dripping from its jaws.

“In here!” a voice shouted, and the students turned again.

Third prompt: Write about what scares you the most.

It took me a few minutes to realize that my eyes were open. Wherever I was—laying on the cold ground, pebbles pressing into my back—was so completely void of light that I might as well have been blind. 

I sat up. The smart thing to do would be to stand up, or reach out and feel my surroundings. But what if something was there, right in front of me, beside me? What if something was holding its breath, waiting to breathe when I breathed, what if—

Something hairy and hot plopped onto my head and skittered down my face. I screamed hard enough to make my throat burn. Whatever was in wherever I was with me had plenty of time to breathe when that happened.

I did stand, finally, when my foot cramped up. I hobbled across the empty space, hands out in front of me, spine stiffened against whatever terror my fingertips were about to touch.

And then: A light switch!

This is the cover of the notebook I was using last night. Which, given the things I wrote, is a rather unsettling thought. Happy Halloween!

Subtitle: Ahhhhh!

Subtitle: Ahhhhh!

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Award-Winning Writer? That’s Me!

Yesterday, I had the honor of receiving the Charles Hauser Prize for Prose from the Chautauqua Literary Arts Friends at the Chautauqua Institution for my short story, “Through the Storm.” It’s the tale of a young girl, her ailing brother, and one fateful stormy night.

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Here’s what the judge for the contest had to say about it:

This piece pulled me right in with rich detail and a distinct voice from the opening sentence. I feel as if I’m right there in the scene with the characters. The author was able to compress a lot into just a couple of pages with lyrical, rhythmic description like this: “…listened to the rain come down on the roof and the yard and the busted car in the driveway, on the barn with the lonesome dog that wouldn’t let anyone pet her anymore, on the mailbox with the flag rusted up forever like we were putting out mail every day, sending letters to the whole world.”

I visited Chautauqua for the first time earlier this summer, and can’t wait to spend a week there next year. And yes, I’m definitely going to refer to myself as “award-winning fiction writer Bethany Snyder” from now on!
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Finger Lakes Famous?

IMG_4973Check out this interview I did with The Finger Lakes Times. And if you can, pick up a copy and flip it below the fold to see my giant head (not because of the press, but because of the size of the photo!)

Here’s an excerpt:

Snyder said writing has been part of her life since she was 8. She credits one of her teachers at Penn Yan Elementary, Geraldine Turner, with encouraging her. “She was the first person who ever asked me to write a story, and I knew that was what I was meant to do,” she said.

 

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