Johnson County Library is pleased to announce that Alexandra S. has won third place in the 12-14 age group for the Scary Stories 2021 Youth Writing Contest with her piece "Hell-No-Ween"
“Ava, wake up! It’s Halloween, remember?” Henry announced. Not announced, more like shrieked into her ear. Ava rubbed her eyes and sat up as her eight year old brother bounced on to her bed.
Halloween. Of course it was Halloween. How could she have forgotten? Henry didn’t understand how horrible Halloween was, how just the word made Ava’s insides squirm and shiver. Halloween.
“Go away,” Ava grumbled. She slid back under the covers, trying not to be annoyed by how happy Henry was. It had been—how many?—two years since she had first seen It. She just called the thing—him—It.
There was another reason Ava didn’t want Henry in her room. Well, alright, It only came out at 12:00 PM sharp or midnight, but just in case, Ava still wanted Henry out of her room.
Henry ignored this. “Candy?” he offered, holding out a piece of taffy and popping another into his mouth.
Ava glared at her brother and snapped, “No.”
Frowning, her brother flopped back on her bed. “Why do you always have to be such a flop on Halloween? Can’t you be more light-hearted?”
The notion was so ridiculous, Ava almost laughed outright. Light-hearted? On a day like this? Impossible. Henry was astounding in his innocence.
“Just go downstairs. I’m sure Mom’s cooking up something good.”
They both knew their mother was probably the World’s Worst Chef, but Henry took the hint and bounded out the door, singing, “Today is the Candy Day! Today is the Candy Day!”
When Ava was sure her brother was safely down stairs, she crept out of bed, closed the door, and peered under her bed. So far, no sign of It, as she had suspected.
She stayed on her hands and knees, stealthily crawling to her closet. Just to make sure, she glanced around quickly, opened the door an inch, and felt around for something. Her hand found the corner of the shoebox, tucked far under her bed, and the last hope of a happy Halloween dissipated. Ever since Halloween two years ago, it had been there; although the box had simply appeared out of nowhere, it would not disappear, despite Ava’s best prayers and wishes.
Pulling it out of the closet, Ava opened it and inspected the four different compartments labeled BOOKS, MUSIC, QUOTES, and ACTIVITIES. Every Halloween since It had appeared, Ava had to put in two books, two lines of music for the violin, two quotes from the people It wanted when It appeared, and two activities.
Ava found it ironic that It wanted these things, because Ava was pretty sure It couldn’t do any of them, but he always demanded it, holding his threat over her head, and there was nothing she could do.
She grabbed two books off her bookshelf (Alice in Wonderland and Out of My Mind), tossed them into the BOOKS compartment, and then, after looking up Violin Music, scribbled down the measures and placed it in the MUSIC compartment.
QUOTES would have to wait until It appeared, so for activities, she jotted down Tell Ghost Stories (It would either love that or hate it) and Paint Pumpkins. There. Done.
She pushed the box under the bed, where it would disappear when It found it to reappear the following day in her closet, and flopped on to her bed to wait. Two hours until It came out.
The hours passed quickly. Ava’s mom stuck her head in once, during which Ava pretended to be reading.
“Honey, why don’t you come down? We’re watching scary movies,” Mrs. Evall said as a futile attempt to engage her daughter.
“I just thought—”
“Okay, I get it. You’re being teenager-ish. Well, if you ever feel like—”
So now Ava was flat on her stomach, checking the clock (11:59) and then back under her bed. One minute. 59 seconds. 58 . . . 57 . . . 56 . . . the seconds felt like forever. Each “tick” of the clock was one more second closer to the nightmare that would be the next hour, or however long It decided to stay—last year, It stayed until bedtime, and Ava had to figure out an explanation of why she was locked in the bathroom for two hours.
Ava squeezed her eyes shut to ready herself and then opened them just as her clock Ka-BOOMed, announcing it was 12:00. She really had to talk to her mom about a clock that didn’t Ka-BOOM. A nice bar of music would be nice.
As always, It was right on time. It came floating out and whooshed straight through her face. Ava winced. It did that every Halloween just to disquiet her; she hated the cold, clammy feeling.
It hovered in mid air. Ava’s eyes traced over It’s stuffy suit that was clearly outdated, his hair puffed out on both sides. It didn’t have any color, since he was a ghost, but he was short, fat, and had a stout mustache. A pocket watch, just to make him look important, she supposed, hung out from his pants.
It didn’t like impolite people, and he considered staring at someone too long very impolite, so she tore her eyes away from It and stared at the floor.
Soon it will all be over, and I can forget about his threat until next time, Ava reminded herself. Whenever she imagined what would happen if his threat came true—if she became a ghost herself—Ava knew that there was no other option. She would have to do this every Halloween, or face the consequences. And telling someone was definitely not an answer. They’d call her crazy, and It had said that if she did, he would make good on his threat.
There was one vulnerability It had, though. One vulnerability all ghosts had. Fire. Well, not fire exactly, more like the smoke from the fire. It didn’t think Ava knew, but during their first meeting, It had accidentally let it slip. So Ava knew.
It was something about how the smoke fogged up a ghost’s body and distorted it, until the smoke made the ghost into no more than a shapeless fog.
“Ava!” It said, snapping her back to the present. “Did you hear what I said?”
“Quote,” he said impatiently. “And then you know what to do.”
Ava sighed and found two good quotes, which It approved, and then rummaged around in her closet for the other thing she hid, her violin. Apparently It also liked to listen to the violin, not just play it. He’d transferred some of his violin playing skills to Ava, so she didn’t have to worry about learning it.
It handed her a new piece to play as he went about sealing up the door, to make sure none of Ava’s family could hear her play and go up to investigate. She readied herself, then drew her string across her blow. Immediately It closed his eyes and began to relax.
That was when an idea struck Ava. What if she could continue playing, during which It’s eyes would be closed and he would suspect nothing, and go into her bathroom, where there would be matches (each member of Ava’s family kept spare ones) and a candle? Then Ava could bring the candle over to It while continuing to play (that would be the hard part) and let the smoke do its job.
She decided it was worth a try. Ava continued to play as she moved across her room, constantly checking to make sure It’s eyes were still closed. But when she tried to open her drawer to get out a match, she realized that she couldn’t play the violin and do everything else at the same time.
Another brilliant idea (Ava didn’t have a lot of those) was given to her. Why didn’t she just play the music on her computer? She could give It an excuse to get out of It’s sight, like Ava could say she had to go to the bathroom, and grab her computer on the way.
As Ava pondered this, she realized her arms had stopped moving. She quickly leaped out of the bathroom before It could ask why she was in there, but there was no need. It’s eyes were still closed.
After a few moments, though, his eyes flew open. “Why did you stop? Keep playing!” he barked.
Ava inched towards her computer and debated whether to hide it in her sweater as she went to the bathroom.
“Keep playing,” he demanded again.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” she lied.
It waved his hand impatiently. “Go, go, but be quick about it.”
Ava nodded. “Yessir,” she said. She turned so It couldn’t see what she was doing, her hand ever so slightly darting out to grab the computer and tucking it safely in her jacket.
After closing the door and locking it securely—although Ava knew that wouldn’t do anything, considering It could just pass through the door—she quickly found what she needed on Apple Music. It was exactly the same piece as what she’d been playing before, and Ava expertly paused it right where she thought she would stop playing.
This done, she grabbed the candle and matches and set them on the ground. Working quickly, Ava lit the match and the candle. She hoped It wouldn’t be able to notice anything when she opened the door.
“Hurry up!” It shouted just as she slipped out of the bathroom.
He floated directly up to Ava’s face and said, “Now, no more interruptions, young lady. Hop to it.”
Ava nodded and made a big show of picking up her violin. It looked at her, waiting for her to start playing, and Ava realized It wasn’t going to close his eyes until she played.
She moved the bow across the string, and slowly It’s eyes fluttered closed. Ava continued to play as she went into the bathroom again and, at the right moment, did a quick switch, stopping playing the violin and starting to play the recording.
Ava poked her head back into the room, but It’s eyes were still closed and he didn’t seem to have noticed any change. One of the good things about the ghost was that he was old (okay, he wasn’t old, he was dead, but old by ghost measures) and a bit deaf.
She crept back to the bathroom and carefully picked up the candle, which thankfully was generating enough smoke to get rid of It. Ava knew It’s smell wasn’t the best, either, so she was confident that It wouldn’t notice the smoke.
Ava stealthily moved closer until she was a mere five feet away from It. In one giant leap, she landed directly in front of It and held the smoke up to him.
It was still so immersed in the music he didn’t notice how his body had begun to move, which would have made Ava laugh on any day other than Halloween.
It’s body began to move even more, and it was beginning to fog up. In a few moments, even if It opened his eyes, he wouldn’t be able to do anything. His body’s sharp lines turned softer and blurry, and now Ava knew what she had done was irreversible.
At this moment, It’s eyes flew open and widened when he looked down and saw his body. Then he glared at Ava. “You!” he snarled.
“Yes, me,” Ava replied calmly.
“Arrrgh!” It tried to move, but his body and his face had become distorted and were fading away. The last of him was “You’ll be sorry you did this!” before It faded away forever.
Ava stared at the space the ghost had been a moment before. Everything was silent, a rare moment of peace Ava hadn’t enjoyed since Halloween two years ago.
That is, it was a moment of peace until Henry burst into Ava’s room. “Time to trick-or-treat!” he announced.
“Be right there,” Ava told her brother. Henry looked like he was going to argue, but instead he turned around and ran back the way he’d come.
One last thing to do, Ava thought. She walked to her bed, lay down, and peered under it. There was nothing there. Satisfied, Ava grabbed a bucket to stash candy in and went to join her brother. Ava hadn’t gone trick-or-treating for the past two years, but no time like the present, right?