Vote for Your Favorite Halloween Mad Libs

Thanks to everyone who participated in this year’s Coffin Hop Contest by giving me your answers for the Mad Libs challenge! Everyone who submitted their responses ended up creating a fantastic tale. But the contest is far from over. Now I leave it in your hands: vote for your favorite Mad Libs story below, and whoever gets the most votes by 11:59 pm on October 30th will win the grand prize!

I asked you for a series of adjectives, nouns, and more to fill in the blanks of a micro-story that I wrote. Now, without further ado, here is the story you all completed:

Corn Maze

It was a/n (adjective) and (adjective) night, the moon lighting pale and ghostly on the haunted cornfield. As legend had it, an undead (noun) was said to (verb) through the whispering stalks each Halloween, but (name) did not believe this. This Halloween night, s/he (adverb) entered the (adjective) path that wound through the corn. As s/he (verb, past tense) deeper and deeper into the maze, the rustling of the stalks in his/her ears, (emotion) began settling into his/her heart. The maze was impenetrable; s/he lost all sense of direction, seeing only by the light of the (noun) overhead. A low (sound) issued from the corn straight ahead, and suddenly a (monster) emerged from the parted stalks. (name from before) (verb, past tense) in terror as the creature approached. In the distant farmhouse, a clock struck midnight, signaling the end of Halloween. The creature stepped forward, opened its massive jaws, and said: “(phrase).”

So… what did everyone come up with? Here are your completed stories. Vote for your favorite below!

By C.W. LaSart:

It was a CORPULENT and DISEASED night, the moon lighting pale and ghostly on the haunted cornfield. As legend had it, an undead SPLEEN was said to SQUEAL through the whispering stalks each Halloween, but AXEL HOWERTON did not believe this. This Halloween night, he SQUEAMISHLY entered the PESTILENT path that wound through the corn. As he CRIED deeper and deeper into the maze, the rustling of the stalks in his ears, MISERY began settling into her heart. The maze was impenetrable; he lost all sense of direction, seeing only by the light of the BEARD overhead. A low BLAT! issued from the corn straight ahead, and suddenly a HARPY emerged from the parted stalks. AXEL HOWERTON WHIMPERED in terror as the creature approached. In the distant farmhouse, a clock struck midnight, signaling the end of Halloween. The creature stepped forward, opened its massive jaws, and said: “I’M JUST A PRETTY BUTTERFULY!”

By Kevin:

It was a BRIGHT and CHEERFUL night, the moon lighting pale and ghostly on the haunted cornfield. As legend had it, an undead TEDDY-BEAR was said to CUDDLE through the whispering stalks each Halloween, but SUSIE-LEE did not believe this. This Halloween night, she EXCITEDLY entered the WONDERFUL path that wound through the corn. As she ELIDED deeper and deeper into the maze, the rustling of the stalks in her ears, CONTENTMENT began settling into her heart. The maze was impenetrable; she lost all sense of direction, seeing only by the light of the DAFFODIL overhead. A low TEE-HEE issued from the corn straight ahead, and suddenly a COOKIE MONSTER emerged from the parted stalks. SUSIE-LEE ENJOYED in terror as the creature approached. In the distant farmhouse, a clock struck midnight, signaling the end of Halloween. The creature stepped forward, opened its massive jaws, and said: “I’M A HAPPY CAMPER.”

By Skye Callahan:

It was a FRESH and DERANGED night, the moon lighting pale and ghostly on the haunted cornfield. As legend had it, an undead PILLOW was said to GROVEL through the whispering stalks each Halloween, but BRUCE did not believe this. This Halloween night, he APATHETICALLY entered the ROUGH path that wound through the corn. As he GRATED deeper and deeper into the maze, the rustling of the stalks in his ears, EXCITEMENT began settling into his heart. The maze was impenetrable; he lost all sense of direction, seeing only by the light of the PLAQUE overhead. A low SPLAT issued from the corn straight ahead, and suddenly a LOCH NESS emerged from the parted stalks. BRUCE SHUDDERED in terror as the creature approached. In the distant farmhouse, a clock struck midnight, signaling the end of Halloween. The creature stepped forward, opened its massive jaws, and said: “TALLY-HO!”

By Lori Parker:

It was an OPALESCENT and MALODOROUS night, the moon lighting pale and ghostly on the haunted cornfield. As legend had it, an undead PRISONER was said to EXHALE through the whispering stalks each Halloween, but CASPER did not believe this. This Halloween night, he UNDERHANDEDLY entered the MOLDY path that wound through the corn. As he SLUNK deeper and deeper into the maze, the rustling of the stalks in his ears, REGRET began settling into his heart. The maze was impenetrable; he lost all sense of direction, seeing only by the light of the FOUNDATION overhead. A low DRIP issued from the corn straight ahead, and suddenly a BIG FOOT emerged from the parted stalks. CASPER WITHDREW in terror as the creature approached. In the distant farmhouse, a clock struck midnight, signaling the end of Halloween. The creature stepped forward, opened its massive jaws, and said: “ON THE OTHER HAND.”

By Jessica McHugh:

It was a ROTUND and SMELLY night, the moon lighting pale and ghostly on the haunted cornfield. As legend had it, an undead BROOMSTICK was said to CRAM through the whispering stalks each Halloween, but RUTGER did not believe this. This Halloween night,/he FASTIDIOUSLY entered the CRUSTY path that wound through the corn. As he SMACKED deeper and deeper into the maze, the rustling of the stalks in his ears, TERROR began settling into his heart. The maze was impenetrable; he lost all sense of direction, seeing only by the light of the BONGO DRUM overhead. A low GRUNT issued from the corn straight ahead, and suddenly a SNALLYGASTER emerged from the parted stalks. RUTGER PORKED in terror as the creature approached. In the distant farmhouse, a clock struck midnight, signaling the end of Halloween. The creature stepped forward, opened its massive jaws, and said: “AND NOW YOU KNOW THE REST OF THE STORY…”

By Matt Cowan:

It was a GREGARIOUS and SURLY night, the moon lighting pale and ghostly on the haunted cornfield. As legend had it, an undead PANTS was said toe THRUST through the whispering stalks each Halloween, but BRENDON did not believe this. This Halloween night, he DREADFULLY entered the HORRIFYING path that wound through the corn. As he FORGOT deeper and deeper into the maze, the rustling of the stalks in his ears, DEPRESSION began settling into his heart. The maze was impenetrable; he lost all sense of direction, seeing only by the light of the TOMBSTONE overhead. A low KABLAM issued from the corn straight ahead, and suddenly a MANTICORE emerged from the parted stalks. BRENDON DIED in terror as the creature approached. In the distant farmhouse, a clock struck midnight, signaling the end of Halloween. The creature stepped forward, opened its massive jaws, and said: “LET’S TRY THAT AGAIN.”

By MW:

It was a BIZARRE and SENSUAL night, the moon lighting pale and ghostly on the haunted cornfield. As legend had it, an undead LINGERIE was said to SING through the whispering stalks each Halloween, but DR. FRANK N. FURTUR did not believe this. This Halloween night, he COQUETTISHLY entered the SEDUCTIVE path that wound through the corn. As he GROPED deeper and deeper into the maze, the rustling of the stalks in his/ ears, LUST began settling into his heart. The maze was impenetrable; he lost all sense of direction, seeing only by the light of the TRANSVESTITE overhead. A low MOAN issued from the corn straight ahead, and suddenly a ROCKY HORROR emerged from the parted stalks. DR. FRANK N. FURTUR  WEPT in terror as the creature approached. In the distant farmhouse, a clock struck midnight, signaling the end of Halloween. The creature stepped forward, opened its massive jaws, and said: “GIVE YOURSELF OVER TO ABSOLUTE PLEASURE.”

By Ash Krafton:

It was a SLICK and HOLLOW night, the moon lighting pale and ghostly on the haunted cornfield. As legend had it, an undead SEVERED LEG was said to YODEL through the whispering stalks each Halloween, but LO PAN did not believe this. This Halloween night, he HESITANTLY entered the MUSTY path that wound through the corn. As he STUMBLED deeper and deeper into the maze, the rustling of the stalks in his ears, DESPERATION began settling into his heart. The maze was impenetrable; he lost all sense of direction, seeing only by the light of the HACKSAW overhead. A low SKRITCH issued from the corn straight ahead, and suddenly a CHIANG-SHIH emerged from the parted stalks. LO PAN HOPPED in terror as the creature approached. In the distant farmhouse, a clock struck midnight, signaling the end of Halloween. The creature stepped forward, opened its massive jaws, and said: “YOU GOT YOUR CHOCOLATE IN MY PEANUT BUTTER!”

By Renae Rude:

It was an ARCANE and ELDRITCH night, the moon lighting pale and ghostly on the haunted cornfield. As legend had it, an undead SHADOW was said to REPULSE through the whispering stalks each Halloween, but LANGSTON did not believe this. This Halloween night, he LUCIDLY entered the HARROWING path that wound through the corn. As he PROWLED deeper and deeper into the maze, the rustling of the stalks in his ears, ELATION began settling into his heart. The maze was impenetrable; he lost all sense of direction, seeing only by the light of the MUSIC BOX overhead. A low HOWL issued from the corn straight ahead, and suddenly a GHOUL emerged from the parted stalks. LANGSTON IMPRISONED in terror as the creature approached. In the distant farmhouse, a clock struck midnight, signaling the end of Halloween. The creature stepped forward, opened its massive jaws, and said: “DEAR  GOD! HOW CAN SUCH A THING BE ALLOWED TO EXIST?”

By Erik Anderson:

It was a WISE and CRUDE night, the moon lighting pale and ghostly on the haunted cornfield. As legend had it, an undead WINDOW was said to EXCRETE through the whispering stalks each Halloween, but CYRUS did not believe this. This Halloween night, he POWERFULLY entered the WARM path that wound through the corn. As he MET deeper and deeper into the maze, the rustling of the stalks in his ears, BETRAYAL began settling into his heart. The maze was impenetrable; he lost all sense of direction, seeing only by the light of the BRANCH overhead. A low TAP issued from the corn straight ahead, and suddenly a MUMMY emerged from the parted stalks. CYRUS GREW in terror as the creature approached. In the distant farmhouse, a clock struck midnight, signaling the end of Halloween. The creature stepped forward, opened its massive jaws, and said: “HE JUST WANTED TO GET HOME TO WATCH THE GAME.”

By Mallory:

It was a MYSTERIOUS and BLOODCURDLING night, the moon lighting pale and ghostly on the haunted cornfield. As legend had it, an undead PUMPKIN was said to SCREAM through the whispering stalks each Halloween, but MARC did not believe this. This Halloween night, he GHASTLY entered the GRUESOME path that wound through the corn. As he POSSESSED deeper and deeper into the maze, the rustling of the stalks in his ears, FRIGHT began settling into his heart. The maze was impenetrable; he lost all sense of direction, seeing only by the light of the BOTTLE OF POISON overhead. A low CRASH! issued from the corn straight ahead, and suddenly a BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN emerged from the parted stalks. MARC CACKLED in terror as the creature approached. In the distant farmhouse, a clock struck midnight, signaling the end of Halloween. The creature stepped forward, opened its massive jaws, and said: “(LEGEN—WAIT FOR IT—DARY.”

By Bev:

It was a GRUESOME and WICKED night, the moon lighting pale and ghostly on the haunted cornfield. As legend had it, an undead SPIDERWEB was said to MUTILATE through the whispering stalks each Halloween, but JANE did not believe this. This Halloween night, she GLOOMILY entered the HIDEOUS path that wound through the corn. As she BREWED deeper and deeper into the maze, the rustling of the stalks in her ears, HORROR began settling into her heart. The maze was impenetrable; she lost all sense of direction, seeing only by the light of the MUSHROOM overhead. A low CLANG issued from the corn straight ahead, and suddenly a VAMPIRE emerged from the parted stalks. JANE DANCED in terror as the creature approached. In the distant farmhouse, a clock struck midnight, signaling the end of Halloween. The creature stepped forward, opened its massive jaws, and said: “I SEE DEAD PEOPLE.”

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Death By Drive-In: A Coffin Hop Anthology

For this year’s Coffin Hop, I have the great pleasure of introducing you to the first ever Coffin Hop anthology: DEATH BY DRIVE-IN. Inspired by B-monster movies, the anthology brings you drive-in delights including:

Brains from Space! Robot Squids Gone Wild! Radioactive Microwave Men! Monster Mash Massacres! Crotch Tentacles! Pinterest-loving Werewolves! Cannibal Bikers! Vampire Seduction! Man-eating Toilet! Robot Lincoln & Zombie Jackson! Interior art by Nicolas Caesar! Foreword by Stink of Flesh director Scott S. Phillips!  And awesome cover art by www.lizhowertonphotography.com.

Want to win a free copy? Read on…

death-by-drive-in

The masterminds behind this devilry are none other than some of your favorite Coffin Hoppers. The authors include:

Amy K. Marshall  •  Jessica McHugh  •  C.W. LaSart  •  Red Tash

Erik Gustafson  •  Claudia LeFevre  •  Julliane Snow  •  Jason Darrick

Dan Dillard  •  Brent Abell  •  Nina D’Arcangela  •  Joanna Parypinski

Penelope Crowe  •  Jamie Friesen  •  A.F. Stewart  •  Pavarti K. Tyler

R.L. Treadway  •  Rob Smales  •  Katrina Byrd

Best of all, this is a charity anthology. The proceeds will be going to LitWorld.org, a non-profit organization supporting child literacy and social improvement throughout the world. As a bonus, all the proceeds from our Coffin Hop store will also be going to LitWorld, so you can feel good about getting that creepy mug for your morning joe or that fright night t-shirt you’ve been wanting (I already got mine!).

DEATH BY DRIVE-IN is now available in all formats:

SMASHWORDS (PDF, EPUB – good for iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, and most e-reading apps)
KINDLE
PAPERBACK

That’s great and all, but you want to win yours for free, right? Well, I’ve got one digital copy (in the format of your choice) to give away. Enter to win by leaving a comment below answering this question: What is your favorite monster movie?

Leave your comment before 11:59 pm on October 30th, at which point I’ll be choosing a random winner.

If you don’t win my contest, there’s good news: everyone participating in the Coffin Hop will be giving away one digital copy of DEATH BY DRIVE-IN, so you’ve got tons of chances to win! Of course, if you do end up having to pay, you can feel good knowing those dollars are going towards helping improve world literacy.

Here’s a peek at the brilliance you’ll find within these pages:

  • A strange outbreak in the wilds of Alaska just may spell unexpected doom for the world.
  • Who are we, really? Where did we come from? And who stole Betty’s brain?
  • Glenda is hot, available, and addicted to Pinterest. She’s also totally wild, in the most primal sense of the word. What else could a lonely guy ask for?
  • Did old Mrs. Danek really see a spaceship? Her doctor questions her sanity, but can he explain her symptoms, or survive the last appointment of the night?
  • A strange creature haunts the depths of the Black Lagoon, and all he wants is some peace and quiet from the wife and kids.
  • A scientist chooses love over duty and dooms a modern colossus in the process.
  • An unexpected knick-knack leads to the total destruction of suburbia.
  • Los Chupacabras! at the last lonely strip club in a desert wasteland.
  • Baked goods on the warpath!
  • An accursed bathroom stall spells doom for wayward souls.
  • The superpowers bestowed by a faulty microwave may not be all they’re cut out to be.
  • Karma comes calling in a black Mustang.
  • A mechanical monster lays waste to a Hollywood film.
  • The Queen of Screams finds her voice through pain and sacrifice.
  • The ancient bane of Tokyo looks back on a life of carnage.
  • The creatures of the night don’t take kindly to your condescension.
  • Lady Marikova meets her new husband, and he’s a legendary ladykiller!
  • Bee hates spiders. She might want to lock the doors.
  • Frank’s idea of “playing dead” just got dead serious.

Which of the above describes my story? You’ll have to get the anthology to find out…

Don’t forget, today is the last day to submit your Mad Libs responses to me before we start voting on our favorites, so give me your best adjectives, adverbs, and nouns (oh my!) to win the grand prize.

If you want more word-game contests in your life, check out The Storyteller’s Horror Writer Word Scramble! Then keep hopping.

The Hollow Sleep

And now for a Halloween story to keep you up at night. The artwork for this story was drawn by horror enthusiast (and also my mother), Bev Parypinski.

Adlai2

THE HOLLOW SLEEP

© Joanna Parypinski

Wendy opened her eyes. Something had woken her.

She gazed around the dark bedroom, at the moonlight slipping in through the parted curtains, at the green glow of the clock. 3:48. Paul lay still beside her, a breathing shape beneath the white sheets. Resigning herself to the interruption and preparing to settle back into sleep, Wendy rolled over on her side, facing away from Paul. But she didn’t  close her eyes.

Instead she trained them, wide and unblinking, on the figure standing in the corner of the room.

Wendy froze. In the darkness, the figure was a mere silhouette, but it stood tall and solid, facing her direction. Watching her. How had he gotten into the house? Had Paul forgotten to lock the door again when he came to bed? Could he see her staring eyes now in the moonlight, knowing that she was awake? Why did he stand there, so still?

“Paul,” Wendy whispered, hardly daring to move. “Paul, wake up.”

Paul stirred but didn’t wake.

She feared to close her eyes. Her vision grew watery, but the figure remained.

“Paul, wake up,” she pleaded, voice rising despite her attempt at remaining quiet. “There’s someone in the room.”

“Hmm?” came the half-asleep reply.

“Wake up, there’s someone in the room!

Paul startled then, reaching his long arm to the light and switching it on. One moment, the figure was there, cloaked in darkness. The next, the light fell over the empty corner. No hanging clothes—nothing that might have created the shape of a man. Nothing.

“I saw him. He was just there,” she murmured, sitting up and running a hand through her bedraggled hair.

She glanced at Paul, who rubbed his eyes as he sat back against the headboard. “You know your eyes can play tricks in the dark—”

“I saw him, Paul. And I wasn’t dreaming.”

She stood up and pulled on her terrycloth robe against the chill of night. Heart pounding.

“Babe. Come back to bed,” said Paul, sliding down to his pillow. Wendy paced left, then right, eyes never leaving the empty corner of the bedroom. Finally she shook her head and stalked down the hall to the kitchen. She dumped some coffee grounds into a filter and listened to the burbling sounds of the brewer working its magic. Outside the windows, the moonlit haze of predawn settled blue over the sweeping front yard with its mess of Halloween decorations. Gravestones erupted from the browning grass, thick white spiderwebs stretched over the bushes, and pumpkins sat on the porch, waiting to be carved into leering faces.

Wendy sipped her coffee. The sun crept its way over the horizon, reaching its tendrils across the October night as it slogged steadily toward dawn.

* * *

With only a few weeks until Halloween, Wendy found it difficult to concentrate. Chatter about parties and haunted houses and cable movie marathons echoed down the halls of the college. She assigned “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” to her literature class under the guise of discussing how Washington Irving created an American literary tradition and played with unreliable narration—but really, she assigned it because it had been Clayton’s favorite story.

Her brother had always loved Halloween, and it was perhaps because of this that Wendy found herself drawn back into the holiday every year. A remembrance for Clayton. Had she and Paul not inherited her childhood house when her father had moved into the nursing home, the memories might not have been so strong. Yet in all the old decorations she remembered putting up as a kid, in all the groans of the house’s floorboards and the woods trailing off out back where they used to play hide-and-seek, she sensed the ghostly imprint of his memory.

The last students straggled out of the classroom, laughing about headless horsemen. Wendy, staring out the window at the drifts of fallen leaves, hardly noticed.

* * *

“You seem distracted,” said Paul as he came up beside her. She sat on the front porch, stuffing the annual straw man who would hold vigil until Halloween. When Wendy was a kid, she, Clayton, and their father had found an old gray suit at Goodwill with the name Adlai etched onto the inside collar. After filling the suit with straw, attaching gloves and shoes, and topping it with a stuffed and upturned burlap sack for the head, they named Adlai their greatest success in yard décor. They cut eyeholes in the sack to give the appearance that the straw man was always watching.

Then, come Halloween, Wendy’s father would quietly empty Adlai’s suit and don it himself, pulling the burlap sack over his head and sitting still, so still, on the porch—propping himself against the wall as if he, himself, were made of straw. Trick-or-treaters would race up to the house, thinking him a dummy, and Wendy’s father would rise to his feet, sending the children shrieking away in terror. He became something else entirely when he wore the Adlai suit. Something greater and more terrible than the mere man that was her father. He became the very essence of fear.

Clayton had wanted to put on the suit ever since he was ten, but it was an adult’s suit and too large for him. Their father had said he could wear it when he was big enough. “Not yet,” he’d said. “It’s a big task to be Adlai. You’re not ready.”

Every year, Adlai came, dusty, out of the basement, and every year Clayton tried him on and found he could not fill the straw man’s suit.

Instead he pulled a white sheet over his head and hoped his “boo!”s would scare his friends as much as their father’s transformation into Adlai did. He went off trick-or-treating, leaving little Wendy at home. She preferred handing out the candy, and Clayton always gave her half of his bounty, anyway.

Until that year, of course. When Clayton didn’t come back.

“Huh?” she murmured, looking up from her memories into Paul’s concerned face.

“You don’t have to do that, you know,” he said, motioning with his head to the half-stuffed suit that was so old and worn it had begun to unravel at the seams. “Maybe it’s time to put this guy to rest.”

“It’s tradition,” she said, going back to stuffing the sleeves with straw. In a way, Adlai was part of the family. The only part of the family she had left, unless she wanted to drive up the long and winding way to the nursing home where her father lay wheezing on his oxygen, only half-cognizant of the world around him.

“I don’t like that thing,” said Paul, looming over her as he frowned at the suit. “Kind of gives me the creeps.”

“That’s the point, isn’t it?” Wendy replied as she picked up the flat sack with its two cut eyeholes, running her fingers over the rough cloth. She remembered how her father had changed when he put it on. Even those who knew of his annual trick could not contain their horror when he leapt, an inanimate dummy turned animate, from the porch. There was nothing so fearsome on Halloween night.

Paul sighed. “Getting cold,” he said, arms wrapped around himself. Through her jean jacket, Wendy felt the brush of autumn chill; the breeze swept her cheeks, but she didn’t mind. “I’ll go warm some cider. Come in when you’re done.”

He went inside, leaving her alone on the porch. The road was empty, but she saw her neighbors taking out the trash, lighting candles in the windows—performing their own preparations for the witching season. Though she had a stack of ungraded student papers sitting on her desk inside, Wendy worked slowly, deliberately. The essays could wait. Adlai lay patiently on her lap, waiting to be filled.

* * *

She had a hard time falling asleep that night. She kept snapping her eyes to the corner of the room, expecting to see a figure hovering in the shadows. There was nothing there. Paul’s snores began filling the room as sleep claimed him. Wendy remained awake, thinking about Halloween.

People always seemed surprised at her devotion to Halloween—especially those who knew about Clayton. They wondered how someone with such a tragic history connected to the holiday could put up decorations every year, hand out candy to trick-or-treaters, and even fashion her classroom activities in accordance with autumn festivities.

That year—Clayton’s fourteenth—he’d run with a crowd of high school kids, some a little older than he, some who carried paper bags filled with whiskey bottles and went house-to-house smashing jack-o-lanterns into a pulpy mess on the street. If he couldn’t be Adlai, he had decided he would be something else. A corporeal ghost, perhaps, who went about causing mischief. A poltergeist.

He’d said he was going trick-or-treating, but instead he’d gone with his friends to the cemetery to drink booze and unroll toilet paper and play loud music on a boom box.

Wendy never got the whole story. All she knew was that some commotion had stirred—from the booze or from the knife someone had brought or from a stranger who had stumbled into their midst—and Clayton was stabbed. Wendy pictured the body lying crumpled beneath the sheet, blood spreading on the white cloth.

It was an accident.

She rolled over, sleep drifting farther and farther from her grasp.

* * *

She’d asked Paul if he would put on the Adlai suit this year. He didn’t seem eager to take on the role.

“Come on,” she’d said, half-joking. “Don’t you want to see how dapper you’d look in this antique?”

Last year, Adlai had remained a straw man throughout Halloween, and Wendy didn’t like it. The eyes in the burlap sack stared almost accusatorily into the night. I will not be forgotten, they seemed to say. Clayton had always wanted to put on the suit, and now he never would. I will not be forgotten.

* * *

At some point, Wendy must have drifted off, because when she woke again, it was in the darkness of the three o’clock hour. She blinked, trying to orient herself in the still of night. The moon glistened through the curtains like a spiderweb strand blowing on the wind.

Still sleep-clouded, Wendy turned her eyes to the corner of the bedroom.

The figure stood in the shadows.

Her heart paused mid-beat, then rapidly restarted.

Her eyes adjusted to the darkness, and the figure resolved itself. Solid, real, it stood in the corner, face turned toward the bed. That face appeared misshapen, as though the skin were hewn from some thick, rough material. Moonlight washed in through the window, and she saw it: the gray suit, the burlap sack with two dark eyeholes cut away so that whoever—or whatever—inhabited the suit might see.

She tried to call out for Paul, but her vocal cords were frozen. The figure in the suit, standing in the thin beam of moonlight, did not move. It was still—still as a straw man. Still as the person who had once inhabited the suit.

“Dad?” her voice cracked on the word, on the dread pooling in her chest. She lay on her side, afraid to move. Even as she called out for him, she knew it could not be her father. He was dying slowly in a nursing home fifty miles north.

Then another thought came to her—one that turned her insides cold. She let out a shuddering breath.

“Clayton?”

The figure did not move. Wendy choked back a sob and whispered again, “Clayton? Is that you?”

The straw man watched her through the black eyes of his burlap face.

Unable to stand the stalemate the two of them shared in the darkness, Wendy turned over, her back to the figure, and reached out for Paul. Her hand fell on a cold, flat sheet and Paul’s indentation in the mattress. He wasn’t there.

Wendy sat up quickly and looked back at the figure still standing the corner. “Paul?” she said, her voice harder now. “Paul, take that off. It’s not funny.” The figure gave no response. Her heart clawed its way into her throat, even as her mind told her, it’s not Paul. She grasped at the sheets, pulling them up around her as if to shield herself. “Paul, you’re scaring me.”

All she could hear in the silence was her own labored breathing, her heart pounding in her ears. Then a creak in the hallway—footsteps? Was Paul out there, unable to sleep? And if he was, then who was wearing the suit?

“You’re not Paul,” she whispered.

Slowly, the burlap head turned left, then right.

Her hands clutched the sheet so hard her knuckles started to hurt. “Who are you?”

A low, creaking voice—an ancient voice on a rusty-hinged jaw that hadn’t been used in ages—replied, “Adlai.”

Wendy threw off the sheet and dashed from the room, down the hall, looking around for Paul. She called his name as she raced through the darkness, fell into pools of moonlight. “Paul!” she shouted as she entered the kitchen, which lay dormant and dark. A cool breeze blew, and Wendy turned around. The front door stood ajar.

She crept toward it. “Paul?” She peered outside. All was dark and still but for the rustling, windblown leaves. The porch sat empty of its straw man. The rest of the decorations—spiderwebs, gravestones, pumpkins—remained.

Fear shivering through her, Wendy closed the front door and turned back into the dark foyer. “Paul?” she called again. She felt naked, vulnerable. Stepping back into the kitchen, she fumbled around until she found her sharpest butcher knife. She crept back down the hall to the bedroom, feeling her way through the darkness. The silver shine of the knife gleamed before her.

Standing against the wall and breathing slowly to calm her nerves, Wendy peered through the open doorway to the bedroom. A shape lay under the white sheet. Sleeping, perhaps. How, she wondered, could Paul sleep at a time like this?

Adlai was gone.

As she approached the figure on the bed, she couldn’t help but think of Clayton: a corpse beneath his ghost sheet. She knew it must be Paul sleeping under there, but still she reached tremblingly forward. Before she could pull off the sheet, the floorboards behind her creaked with a footfall, and she spun around and thrust the knife deep into the chest of Adlai’s gray suit.

Where she had expected to find a thin packing of straw, instead the knife sank into solid flesh. Blood bloomed around the protruding hilt.

Wendy let go of the knife and stumbled away from the creature, who now bent over the wound, clutching with gloved fingers at the knife. She reached up for the burlap sack and pulled it off, revealing the face of Paul, pale and sweaty with pain—Paul who wasn’t Paul but was Adlai, his eyes already glassy as he sank to his knees.

Horror rushed through Wendy as she watched him fall, watched him wheeze his last struggling breaths and then go still. Still as a straw man.

“Paul?” she whispered, disbelieving her eyes.

If Paul was wearing the Adlai suit… Wendy turned around to the figure on the bed and threw off the white sheet. What lay beneath was a pile of straw shaped into the semblance of a man.

She looked from Paul’s body on the floor to the straw on the bed.

She was still holding the burlap sack in her hand, its black eyeholes staring and staring.

Maybe there was only one person who was meant to wear Adlai’s suit. To embody the spirit they’d brought into their home long ago, the one etched into the fraying seams of the gray jacket. Not Clayton, not Paul. Maybe not even her father.

Slowly, Wendy pulled the burlap sack over her head.

Halloween Around the World

Several years ago, when I was studying abroad in Spain, the distinctly American tradition of celebrating Halloween was just becoming popular: costumes, trick-or-treating, decorations. This American export has already infiltrated many countries, but what about those with their own autumnal celebrations of the dead? If you’ve looked back through my older posts, you’ll find I’ve already explored Día de los Muertos in Mexico, as well as the Celtic origins of Halloween and the festival of Samhain. But now I broaden my search to all the inhabited corners of the earth in order to discover different incarnations of my most beloved holiday as it is celebrated around the world. Join me as we venture across the globe in search of the dead…

CHINA: “Hungry Ghost Festival” or Yu Lan (盂蘭)

hungry ghosts

In Buddhist and Taoist tradition, the fifteenth day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar is called Ghost Day, when the spirits of the dead return to earth. During their long journey, the spirits grow hungry, so the families of the dead prepare great feasts during the festival. They even leave an empty chair at the table for the ghosts. Intrinsic in the celebration is the tradition of ancestor worship. This involves ritualistic food offerings, burning incense, and floating paper lanterns on water.

If the spirits are pleased by these offerings, then good fortune will come to the living. The Hungry Ghosts Festival is celebrated in many parts of the Far East, including China, Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia.

PHILIPPINES: “Pangangaluluwa

filipino halloween

Translating to “Soul-ing,” this rural Filipino holiday shares certain similarities with American Halloween. Children dress in the guise of the dead and go house to house offering a song about the souls in Purgatory in exchange for abúloy (alms for the deceased). Sometimes the children are also given súman (rice cakes).

Mischief, an ever-present connotation with these types of traditions, occurs in the form of small items mysteriously disappearing, only to be found the next morning in the yard or street. This symbolizes the belief that ghosts return to their families and make their presence known by taking these items.

INDIA: “Fortnight of the Ancestors” or Pitru Paksha (पितृ पक्ष)

pitru paksha

“Fortnight of the Ancestors” is a 16-day period when Hindus pay homage to their ancestors, through food offerings and the death rite Śrāddha. The festival takes place during the autumnal equinox, starting on the full moon day. According to Hindu mythology, there is a place between heaven and earth called Pitru-loka, which is ruled over by the god of death, Yama. This is where the souls of the three preceding generations of one’s family reside before they are able to move on to heaven.

It is these three generations of spirits for whom the Śrāddha rite is performed, so that the spirits may leave Pitru-loka and stay in their descendants’ homes for a month until the next full moon.

ROMANIA: “St. Andrew’s Night” or Noaptea Sfântului Andrei

romanian halloween

Also called “Night of the Vampires,” this night before St. Andrew’s Day is rife with superstition thanks, at least in part, to Bram Stoker’s iconic Dracula. The vampire’s real-life counterpart, Vlad the Impaler, lived in what is now Romania and his castle remains, now the site of some epic Halloween parties.

Ideas of vampires, however, reach back farther than Stoker’s fictional depiction of them. During the night of St. Andrew’s, it is believed that vampires and “strigoi” (the undead) come out to dance at crossroads. Some villages participate in a tradition called “guarding the garlic,” which is an all-night party involving a pot of garlic to keep them safe from the rising undead.

HAITI: “Day of the Dead” or Fête des morts

haiti halloween

Similar to the Hispanic version of Day of the Dead, Haiti’s Voodoo-inspired celebration centers around the Ghede spirits, who rule the underworld. Altars are filled with offerings of food, cigarettes, rum, and clothing for the Ghedes. As with other versions of the Day of the Dead, this festival is a time for communicating with spirits of the deceased and dissolving the barrier between this world and the next. Often there are Voodoo rituals performed in accordance with the holiday.

GERMANY: “Walpurgisnacht

walpurgisnacht

Celebrated exactly six months from Halloween (at the end of April), Walpurgisnacht is the night when witches are said to meet on the top of Brocken Mountain for the coming of spring. Also called “The Witches’ Sabbath,” this holiday involves bonfires, singing, and dancing. In other countries, there is a carnival-like atmosphere that may seem to Americans like a blend of Mardis Gras and Halloween.

Similar versions of the holiday are held in Sweden, Finland, and Estonia. In the Czech Republic, they celebrate the burning of the witches, a symbolic act that brings winter to an end.

CONCLUSION

Halloween may be a largely American (and also Canadian, English, and Irish) affair, but it comes from a long tradition of festivals surrounding the return of the dead to the world of the living: something that is celebrated in various incarnations across the globe. Though now the holiday is highly commercialized and often seemingly superficial, let’s not forget Halloween’s dark and superstitious roots around the world, for every culture has its own version.

Not sure where to hop next? Check out Axel Howerton’s Coffin Hop Art Show!

Or keep hopping to the rest of the blogs at CoffinHop.com

Coffin Hop Contest 2013: Halloween Mad Libs

The time has come again for everyone’s favorite part of Halloween: free goodies! This year, I’m doing HALLOWEEN MAD LIBS. Even if you don’t win the prize, you’ll still end up with a unique, creepy, or hilarious story of your creation, just by filling in the words! So let’s have some fun.

HOW TO ENTER:

All I need from you is a list of words. I’ve got a Halloween story just waiting for you to complete it. Leave a comment below with your name and e-mail (so I can get in touch if you win), and a word of your choosing for each of the following:

Adjective:
Adjective:
Noun:
Verb:
Name (of a person):
Adverb:
Adjective:
Verb (past tense):
Emotion (noun, e.g.: happiness):
Noun:
Sound:
Monster:
Verb (past tense):
Phrase:

You’ll have until 11:59 PST on October 27th to enter. At that time, I’ll compile my favorite responses and post the stories with your words. Then, dear Coffin Hoppers, I leave it up to you: you’ll have from October 28th until the start of Halloween to vote on your favorite story. Whoever gets the most votes wins!

And what will you win, you might ask?

THE PRIZE*:

Coffin Hop Prize

  • 1 autographed paperback copy of PANDORA
  • 1 PANDORA bookmark
  • 1 Damnation Books metal bookmark
  • 1 Damnation Books pen
  • 1 Starbucks Pumpkin Spice VIA

*candy not included

Not sure where to hop next? Check out some cool pumpkin art by C.W. LaSart.

Coffin Hop 4

HAPPY COFFIN HOPPING!

Third Annual Coffin Hop

Can you believe it’s only 16 days until Halloween? Maybe it’s the continued 80-degree Los Angeles heat and the lack of fall foliage, but I sure can’t. Of course, if we’re this close to Halloween, then you know what else is coming even sooner: Coffin Hop!

Coffin Hop 4

For those new to the horror blogosphere, the Coffin Hop is the brainchild of Axel Howerton (author of Hot Sinatra) and Julie Jansen (associate editor of Dark Moon Digest). In 2011, these two came together to create what would become, unbeknownst to them at the time, the biggest annual Halloween blog hop this side of the internet, boasting over 100 authors and bloggers in 2011 and over 200 in 2012 (yours truly included in both of those numbers). Each year, these indie horror writers have lured in thousands of readers to their devilish web of Halloween-love and contests galore, in which they’ve given away e-books, paperbacks, autographed copies, toys, décor, movie posters, etc…

So, what is the Coffin Hop?

Starting October 24th and running the whole week leading up to Halloween, you’ll be able to “hop” between all of the participating blogs, which will be dedicating their posts to the holiday. You can find the master list for 2013 and other info at the official Coffin Hop website.

Some other things you’ll find at that site: a link to the official online store, which has shirts, shot glasses, hats, and other Coffin Hop themed goodies. You’ll also find info death-by-drive-inon the forthcoming Coffin Hop anthology: Death By Drive-In. Inspired by B-movies, this monster-filled antho is going to be brimming with originality, hilarity, and some good old-fashioned scares from the likes of C.W. LaSart (Ad Nauseum), Red Tash (Troll or Derby), and other Coffin Hop veterans—including me!

Death By Drive-In will include such delights as: Brains from Space! Robot Squids Gone Wild! Radioactive Microwave Men! Monster Mash Massacres! Crotch Tentacles! Pinterest-loving Werewolves! Cannibal Bikers! Vampire Seduction! Man-eating Toilet! (One of these describes my story. You’ll have to read the anthology to find out which one).

Stay tuned to find out how to win a copy of the antho, as well as other prizes I’ll be revealing when I unveil my own contest on October 24th. Last year, I admit I slacked off a little: but this year I’m going all out. Check back often, because I will be posting something every day of the Coffin Hop. I’ll also be checking out everyone else’s posts daily and linking to one that I particularly enjoyed each day of the hop.

Want more Halloween in your life prior to Coffin Hop week? Take a look at my 2011 Halloween Countdown, an epic list containing everything you need to do to prepare yourselves for Halloween.

I’m going to make sure that this year’s Coffin Hop is bigger, better, and more Halloweentastic than ever. Get ready, folks: it’s on.

Coffin Hop 2012 Contest Winners

Hallween is, sadly, over: my fake spiderwebs have caught a dead bee, and my jack-o-lantern has sunken into a pit of black mold. But before we leave Halloween too far behind us, I want to thank everyone who stopped by during this year’s Coffin Hop and announce the winners of the contest!

THIRD PRIZE

James Garcia Jr. won an e-book copy of Pandora!

SECOND PRIZE

Jason Darrick won an e-book copy of the Coffin Hop sampler anthology, Death By Drive-In!

FIRST PRIZE

And the winner of the signed paperback copy of Pandora is… Kim Koning!

Congratulations to everyone who won! Look out for an e-mail from me in the next few days. To everyone else, I hope you had a fright-filled Halloween!

The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story

This year, the haunted house experience is getting a makeover with the popularity of interactive horror plays like Delusion: The Blood Rite here in L.A. As we Halloween lovers stretch our creative wings, the Halloween experience becomes more unique, and these kinds of plays seem to be a new type of activity that will soon become popular among lovers of horror and hauntings.

“The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story” is a Chicago attraction taking place at the Peabody mansion on the Mayslake estate. The mansion is surrounded by a forest preserve, and the play tells the story of Poe’s life, interwoven with depictions of his stories and poems. This is the personal account of the play I got from my mom and sister, who both went this Halloween:

Library at “The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe”

“A lot of important women in Poe’s life died of consumption: his mother, the woman who took him in, and his wife. He went to live with an aunt and cousin, and he married the cousin, Virginia, when she was 13. He had a love story with Virginia until she died at a young age. We walked to different rooms for different scenes. We were divided into two groups of about 35, so it was an intimate setting, close to the actors.

“Some of the depicted work was: The Bells, Ligeia, Tell-Tale Heart, The Pit and the Pendulum, Masque of the Red Death, The Raven, and Annabelle Lee. The mansion was dark and creepy and the acting very good, especially the actors who were mad. In the Pit and the Pendulum, we were in total darkness and listened to the prisoner talk so we could experience what he did. The actor for the Tell-Tale Heart was very creepy in his madness.

“The show focuses on various aspects of who Poe was: his manic states, depressive states, his longing for Virginia, his hatred of consumption, and his love of all things macabre. We all started together in the library and split off into two groups, so there was a lot of walking, sitting, and standing throughout the two hours. The actors really embraced their characters and made their stories believable.

“It’s a great way to spend an evening around Halloween if you do not want to go to the scary haunted houses with people jumping out at you.”

If you’re interested in an alternative to the typical haunted house, preferring a creepy atmosphere and Gothic setting to jump scares, then this type of play could be just what you’re looking for this Halloween. I’d love to attend one of these sometime, as they seem to be a new innovation in the mix of interactivity, acting, and a Halloween setting.

Of course, a nice free way to travel through spooky scenes can be done from the comfort of your own computer. Check out what else is going on in the Coffin Hop, and don’t forget to enter my contest to win a signed copy of my book, and more!

“Sometimes I’m terrified of my heart; of its constant hunger for whatever it is it wants. The way it stops and starts.”

—Edgar Allan Poe

Pumpkin Carving

Yesterday I posted this year’s Coffin Hop contest and asked you what your favorite Halloween tradition is. As for me, I have a lot of favorite traditions, from decoration to creating creepy treats and drinks. But one tradition that I can never pass up is carving pumpkins! This year, I carved the Oogie Boogie Man from The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Happy Coffin Hopping! And don’t forget to enter the contest: it’s really easy, and you have multiple chances to win a free book!

Coffin Hop Contest 2012

WIN FREE HALLOWEEN GOODIES!

Here’s what you can win for my official Coffin Hop contest:

  • First Prize: one signed paperback copy of PANDORA, one PANDORA bookmark, and one Damnation Books bookmark
  • Second Prize: one e-book copy of the Coffin Hop sampler anthology, Death By Drive-In (featuring crotch tentacles, demon fish, Pinterest werewolves, and more!)
  • Third Prize: one e-book copy of PANDORA (ePub or PDF only)

HOW TO ENTER:

This contest is a random drawing. All you have to do is answer this question:

What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Then, in a comment below, please include:

  1. Your answer
  2. Your e-mail address
  3. The ebook format you use (ePub, Mobi, none of the above)
  4. Any extra entries you can claim (see below)

You can get multiple entries, which gives you a greater chance of winning! You get one entry for doing each of the following:

  • Follow me on Twitter @JoannaPary
  • Like me on Facebook: http://facebook.com/JoannaParypinski
  • Follow my blog using the e-mail sign-up on the right-hand side of the page
  • Post about PANDORA or Pandora’s Pen on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, etc. (You can do this multiple times to get more entries, just be sure to mention/link each post in a comment below).

Please let me know which of these you’ve done in your comment (links, while not necessary, are always appreciated! It’s the honor system, folks). If you already follow me and want to claim that entry, just mention it!

CONTEST ENDS 11:59 PM (EST) OCTOBER 31st

Happy Coffin Hopping!