Halloween Ghost Story Contest -- 2005
Adult Winners

Second Place

Our second place Adult winner is Paul Melniczek of Reinholds, PA. Mr. Melniczek's past writing credits include Lost on the Darkside, Restless Shades, Frightful October, A Halloween Harvest, and Dark Harvest, as well as winning first place in 2003.


Paul Melniczek

With hands pressed against the cool glass of the window, Matt stared outside at the lengthening shadows as they hunted down the last markings of day, and with the inevitable shrinkage of light, his own despair deepened.

Outwardly, the scene appeared serene enough, if looked upon with a lighter heart.

But Matt’s own heart was heavy with dread, and had been for the past year, since his mother had gone away from the world...

He watched the leaves circling the yard, their dried forms tumbling and dancing in an autumn waltz. The trees, laid bare by the trappings of the dark season, held branches skyward, the boughs twitching and swaying. Summer was a recent memory, but spring seemed a lifetime away now, the countryside fighting to keep an early winter at bay. Frost was on the pumpkins, and melted later each day. Across the front yard, the barn loomed like a small hill, concealing secrets within its wooden rafters.

Perhaps it did, Matt thought.

He waited for several minutes, listening behind him as the grandfather clock ticked from the living room like a deathwatch beetle. The house felt empty and it weighed him down, an invisible shroud filled with childhood trappings, the only home he’d ever known, ever needed. Memories both joyous and terrible surrounded him now, taunting and whispering to Matt of his past. The present.

And an uncertain future…

Still he waited.

His throat felt dry, but his hands were moist. Chills spread across his back, lingering unpleasantly, and he knew they would vanish briefly, but could be recalled within an instant.

A single jack-o-lantern beckoned to him from the porch, the flame guttering in the breeze, one he’d carved himself, more in ritual than celebration. For there was nothing for him to celebrate anymore. Halloween had emerged from its dark slumber, making long strides across the fields and hills as October grew deep, but the household had felt its coming long before the month had even given birth. This beginning had its roots when Matt’s mother had succumbed last year, right on All Hallows Eve itself, so the darkest holiday had never really left the home, but merely hid within the crevices and shadowed places of the old structure, biding its time.

And now it had returned in full glory, any pretense of costumes or illusions thrown aside.

Matt squinted, battling to see through the growing gloom, and he peered intently at the barn, watching and waiting.

And he wasn’t disappointed…

A figure emerged, hunched over and carrying forth a lantern like a will-o-wisp beginning its lonely trek across the centuries, crouched down and lost of hope.

As promised, the chills returned with a vengeance, and Matt’s entire body felt encased in ice.

The figure trudged forward, each footstep sending a spike of cold through Matt’s chest like a physical attack. The world seemed to pause and hunker down as the figure -- a man -- moved through the yard, making his way steadily to a grassy path which opened between the large expanse of corn surrounding the farm, a pale ocean of dried husks and tall stalks. Matt’s face pinched against the glass, until the man was swallowed up by the shadows, his tiny light insignificant against the monstrous maw of darkness which awaited his arrival.

He was gone, and Matt remembered to breathe once more.

If any skeptics could observe such a forlorn scene, been privy to its doubts and history, they would be sorely shaken. It was a snapshot of Matt’s evening ritual, where he found himself a helpless bystander as he watched the man leave the barn without fail and disappear into the corn field, every evening, right after dusk. Equally fascinated and frightened, Matt was powerless to do anything but stare.

It could very well have been a terrible shade, a lost spirit weaving its way from one ghastly existence into another, unaffected by wind, rain, or any elements of nature or humanity alike, its final destination unknown.

Yes, to anyone chancing a glance, it could be a ghost haunting the farm house. But despite all appearances as such, in reality it was flesh and blood, muscle and bone. And it had a name. Jarvis.

Matt’s father.


The following day found Matt up early, seeing to his morning chores around the farm. His father was already in the field somewhere, working on the crops. Harvest time was in full gear, and the small community embraced the season with a deep-rooted passion, a commitment and love to the countryside and its bountiful yield. Father and son spoke very little these days. They passed each other at odd times throughout the day, and Jarvis was all business, giving the teenager instructions on what needed to be done. Matt had graduated the year before, deciding to stay on the farm and continue helping his father, especially since his mother had died.

Matt had first observed his father’s unusual behavior several weeks ago, in late September. Jarvis began leaving the farm in the evening, walking into the cornfield, and coming home an hour later, sometimes more. The man never spoke about where he went, or for what reason, and Matt wasn’t about to inquire. He figured it was his father’s way of mourning in some way, a releasing of grief. But as the days dragged on, and turned into weeks, Jarvis talked even less, his face grim and unreadable. Something was dreadfully wrong, and Matt had no idea what was happening. He tried to breach the subject a few times, but every instance, when the words lay on his tongue, he met his father’s gaze and saw the emptiness within the older man’s green orbs.

And it terrified him…

Matt simply couldn’t bring himself to ask the question. And in some ways, he didn’t want to know. It was a constant argument inside his mind. Something needed to be done, or else Jarvis would fall victim to his despair. Matt knew this, deep within his heart, and it troubled him greatly.

He walked into the barn, searching for a screwdriver and hammer to fix a loose section of fencing. Jarvis was out, and the cattle shuffled about in their pens, the bovine eyes glassy as they looked over at him. Matt found what he needed, and he caught himself daydreaming again, trying to unravel the mystery behind his father’s impassive face. The loss of his wife had devastated the man, certainly. A stage of mourning was natural, expected. But it had been a year now, and things were getting worse. Matt couldn’t turn to anyone with his problem. Jarvis was too proud to seek help, his feet planted firmly in the earth, and he would follow his own path.

But the road he traveled seemed to lead only into blackness, with not even a glimmer of healing.

Mulling around such grim thoughts, Matt then noticed something.

In a corner of wall shelving lay a bright piece of cloth. He recognized it as one of his mother’s favorite dresses, one she’d reserved for Sunday dinner. Blue and yellow, she had always looked radiant when she wore it, the vibrant colors a perfect match for her smile and pleasant disposition. And for some odd reason, now it was in the barn. Or part of it, at least.

Matt drew closer, examining the fabric. There was no question that it had come from the original dress, but most if it was missing, cut away.

Shivers crawled Matt’s spine at the implications. His father had brought it here, and cut it up. No one else visited them on the farm, and the closest family members were two states away. Jarvis never threw anything out, and now he’d rummaged through his wife’s clothing, taken her favorite dress, and sliced it apart. And where was the rest of it then?

Matt had no idea, and he stood there for long minutes, unable to chase away the clammy fingers of doubt and fear as they marked him as one of theirs.


The day passed uneasily for Matt, and he immersed himself in work, trying not to think of his father, or the fact that it was October 30 th . Already the terrible anniversary was nearly here. He shuddered and felt his eyes moisten. The past year had been brutal, an unending routine of keeping constantly busy so his mind didn’t dwell upon the death of his mother and his father’s downward spiral into black depression.

But it had been impossible to move on, block it out.

He stood in the kitchen, hands placed firmly on his hips. He shook his head, trying to physically banish the dark thoughts from his mind. Failed again.

Matt was startled as the back door opened without warning, his father stepping inside. Cold squeezed his spine immediately, and he locked gazes with Jarvis. There was a slight pause, and within that fraction of time Matt wrestled with himself, all his senses screaming that he must breach the subject, do something .

But his father’s eyes were glazed, unfocused. They looked through Matt, almost dismissing him, then went far beyond, to a black country visited only by those who had journeyed too far down the road of despair, until their physical presence in the world of the living was a mere husk, a withered spirit, seeking answers from far away. Matt realized that there was nothing he could do or say that would change anything. His father had always been resolute to the point of obstinance. Not in a mean or disrespectful way, but his views of life and the universe were unshakable, reaching to the very foundations of his existence. Once he’d taken hold of an idea or belief, it couldn’t be pried loose. And whatever reasons he now had for going out every night were his to keep.

“Hello, son. Finishing up with the fence?”

The tone of his voice was an incredible contrast to the emotion which his eyes gave away. There was nothing abnormal, or unlikable about his vocal expression or body posture. And this made it even more chilling to Matt’s scrambled thoughts. He scarcely responded, and could only nod, a worthless gesture which belied his own helplessness.

Jarvis opened the refrigerator, poured himself some milk from a glass he kept inside, and filled it to the top. He lifted the cup, drinking slowly, Matt hearing the steady gulp as his father swallowed the entire drink. The man’s movements were so even and casual they seemed mechanical, someone going through the motions without any heart or soul. Jarvis never looked at the boy again, and he walked towards the dining room entry, pausing for a moment. He didn’t turn around to face his son, but he spoke quietly instead, his voice never breaking from its flat tone.

“It’s getting dark. Halloween is almost here.”

With that he continued on, melting into the shadows of the house.

The words echoed in Matt’s ears. So simple yet profound at the same time. Powerful because of the tragedy surrounding their family. Yes, All Hallow’s Eve was only hours away. And Matt felt a terrible sense of impending disaster, that something would happen to his father. But this he already knew, and it wasn’t the greatest shock. Matt had prepared for this day -- or at least his mind had taken invisible, subliminal steps, attempting to shield him in some way.

No, the greatest fear he had was in what form would it take?


Matt waited in the living room again that night, watching as his father left the barn and disappeared into the corn field. Beneath the backdrop of dead leaves and a mournful moon overhead, it was a canvas of despair in living form, bleak and painful. Matt felt as if his heart were being slowly drawn to the surface of his skin like poison siphoned from a bitter wound. His own depression had only deepened the past year, bolstered by the defeat of his father’s inaction, a concession of will without fight, lacking even the superficial benefit of words. It had dragged the boy down into his own personal well of sorrow, and it was here he found himself floundering.

He decided to wait for his father’s return, no matter the hour. Matt believed himself partly to blame for their situation, as he’d failed to recognize the road early on, and had been a bystander as his father continued to move forward, deeper and darker. Tonight, he would make an attempt at something… Discover what secret was out in the field. Jarvis would go straight to bed upon his return, and never bothered to check on his son, as Matt normally retired early. But there was nothing normal beneath the eaves of the household anymore, and each door seemed to harbor its own sinister purpose.

The wait was long, and several times Matt’s eyelids fluttered. He sat up from the chair, peering out the window. The jack-o-lantern on the porch leered at him, the candle inside a pawn dancing against the cold wind.

There’s something sitting on the fence out there,

In the moonlight sitting on the fence out there…

Lyrics from a childhood Halloween song taunted him, the words  chilling him to the very bone.

There’ s something flying in the air out there,

On a broomstick flying in the air out there…

He pulled his flannel shirt tight, shrugging off the draft.

But I’m not scared I’m safe inside,

I’m not scared but I think I’ll hide…

But there was nowhere for Matt to hide. All his places of safety and security had long been exposed and vanquished.

There’s something scratching on the porch out there,

In the moonlight scratching on the porch out there…

He could almost hear long, cruel fingernails clawing their way along the wooden planks of the porch, seeking him. The midnight hour rang out behind him, the grandfather clock welcoming the dark night.

But I’m not scared I’m safe inside,

I’m not scared but I think I’ll hide!

And with the last word dying in his mind, a flame appeared from the cornfield -- his father returning at last from his late-night journey. Chills feeling far worse than living talons raked their way across Matt’s body, filling him with the cold dread of the unknown.

He pulled back from the window, straightening the chair. Jarvis would enter through the kitchen door, and head directly for bed. Matt held his breath, waiting for the telltale sounds of the man’s entry. Within moments he heard the back door screech, it hinges protesting, and the soft thud of footsteps followed. Matt crouched down, one shadow among others, and listened as the evening routine neared completion. The footsteps entered the dining room, and continued upwards along the aged staircase. Matt swallowed several times, frightened of his own father, who now seemed an alien being, not the man he’d been raised by and grown to love so dearly. In the distance, another door opened, and then silence came after -- a quiet so profound and startling that Matt wondered if the very world still existed around him, or maybe the house had been ushered away to some far off and bleak place in a remote corner of the universe.

He dared to stand, and he checked his pocket for the flashlight. It was still there, and he breathed in deeply, twice, then opened the front door.

It was time for him to face the goblins of his father’s nightmare… and his own.

The night wind brushed against his face, the leaves rustling about him. October possessed its own vibrancy, a vastness of mystery and thrill with Halloween as the vortex, the night of the dead, and it was all around Matt now, surrounding him with whispers and half-imagined things.

The moon was sliding across the sky, harassed by slow-moving clouds. But they would never catch it… How many other such nights had the moon seen? What terrible events had taken place beneath its sleepless gaze? The boy tiptoed along, afraid of a false step, not wanting to crack a fallen branch. He was painfully aware of the house behind him, and the desperate man who waited inside. What if he were watching even now?

He must not dwell on such thoughts… It would overcome him, undo him. Send the youth drowning beneath a black wave of fear and anguish, where no one could save or find him. He was alone.

Matt entered the field, following the grassy path. It led into the very heart of their land, plunging into the rows of corn until it ended in a small wooded hollow. He knew that his father traveled there each night, on his own dark mission. And now he was going to find out why.

It was a terrifying thought. If he stopped in his tracks now and dwelt on it, there would be no going forward. The horror lurked just behind the tall rows of corn, waiting for the right moment when his fear and indecision would be too much. He dared not think of anything except the path before him.

He switched the flashlight on, sweeping the ground ahead. Nothing to be seen except for grass and corn husks, which rippled in the wind like an undersea grotto of kelp. On he went, his lean neck craned forward as if willing the rest of him to follow. He knew it was over a mile until he reached the hollow, and time inched ahead. The night sky was his companion, a billion stars catching a glimpse of him moving between the rustling stalks. It was a forage into oblivion, and still he pressed on. When his beam illuminated the wide trunks of the first trees, he knew the end was close. The corn vanished, giving way to thickets and old hardwoods. The path continued and he trudged ahead. The forest was little used, except as an occasional dumping ground, but only for items which would break down and return to the earth. His father didn’t believe in polluting the land, but nurturing it. It was a striking contrast, Matt thought, as his father had let himself become corrupted by despair.

And why had he let his own son be forgotten?

Matt shook his head weakly, the guilt weighing him down. He was not blameless. When was the last time he’d given his father any words of encouragement? Told him he loved him?

The question hung in the cold air, and the answer was unpleasant. Never…

He plunged through the trees, the ground sloping downwards in a gradual decline. A screech owl called from nearby, and something shuffled through the bushes to his left. His heart skipped a beat and he froze.

Night creatures on the hunt. Or so he hoped.

Matt reached the end of the path. There was a circular depression here, filled with old tree stumps and empty cardboard. It had been a while since he’d last stood there. Longer than a year.

And here he was.

He lifted his light, scanning the area. Nothing unusual, wait…

There was something else.

He lifted the flashlight, his eyes growing wider as it revealed something unbelievable, something monstrous…



The day lacked the bright holiday colors, cloaking itself in gray and faded fall hues. Clouds sank low in the sky and mischief was in the air, the wind scattering individual aromas and blending them all together in a foul witches’ brew of decay and bitterness.

Matt had not left his room yet.

It was late afternoon and still he remained inside, a prisoner of his own keeping. The door was locked and he was frightened. For himself, for his father, of his father.

He’d seen something terrible last night, something so vile that he’d shrieked in horror and ran back through the corn, crashed onto the cold ground, and huddled there for countless minutes until his mind had recovered from the initial shock.

His father.

The secret.

It was worse than Matt had imagined.

And so he waited there all day, while back in town children scampered through the hallways in costume, gleefully shouting, grabbing, and shoving in a mass throng of goblin revelers, celebrating Halloween in the classroom and streets outside.

But the real spooks were in Matt’s home. A cherished mother dead for a year now and a living shade inhabiting the husk of a man who once had been a loving husband and father.

Matt sobbed. His father hadn’t done anything to hurt someone, though. What he’d done in the forest was an act of desperation, madness, even adoration, but in a twisted way. And he wasn’t finished yet.

Oh, no.

Matt had seen nothing of his father that morning, or afternoon. The man never even came up to the boy’s room to see if he was all right. But then why should he? There was nothing all right within the walls of their home anymore.

It was Halloween, and tonight would be the culmination of his father’s loss and bitterness. Jarvis would again enter the cornfield and hollow one final time, that was certain. But Matt wasn’t sure what he would end up doing .

All he could think about was the terrible vision of what he’d seen last night -- the hideous scarecrow staked within the hollow, dressed in the tattered clothing worn by his mother, the wedding ring on the straw hand, the blue hat on its head, the Sunday shoes on its dead feet, and the dull glimmer reflecting from something within its orbs which Matt dared not wonder too much about…

And so he sat and waited until the sun went down and darkness descended. It was only then that he left the room.


Halloween was dressed in full glory as Matt entered the path once again. Long shadows trailed after him as the moon stared down from above, the sky clear and bright. Nearly full, there was enough natural light that he didn’t need his own. He shivered. The air was crisp, even biting, and steamy breath came from his mouth. Matt knew his father was out here. Every fiber in his body tingled with that certainty. He hadn’t see him leave the house, but it was unnecessary.

He was out here.

With the heinous scarecrow, the thing dressed up to look like Matt’s mother. But for what purpose? To try and resurrect her in some way? Give life where there was only death? Had Jarvis reached the edge of his dark road to ultimate despair?

Matt thought so.

And what exactly would Jarvis do tonight, the eve of the tragic event?

That was what Matt was going to find out. No matter the cost to himself, he had to know. Guilt-ridden over his inability to help, even talk to his father, Matt still retained the strength to remain what he’d been all along -- an observer. It was an ugly fact. Maybe it was that part of him which couldn’t pull away from seeing terrible things, feeling some of the pain. Like an accident on the side of the road, the faces of those murdered on TV, the obituaries in the newspaper, the fresh names on tombstones. He didn’t know the reason, but only felt the compulsion.

And tonight would be the ultimate prize. Watching the self-destruction of his father.

There was an emptiness in the pit of his stomach, so vast and deep that it would surely never heal. Like a ghoul, one with the night, he kept walking though, prepared for the worse in whatever form it would take. Yes, the guilt ran deep, and he recognized it for what it was. What he was. And his sorrow was real. But there was that small part of him which was fascinated by his father’s actions. Repulsed and drawn at the same time. And there was nothing he could do to intervene or pull away…

The trees soon appeared before him and he halted, listening to the night. The quiet took hold of everything, hushing the landscape. He was alone in the world. If he remained standing there, time itself might cease to move.

But somewhere ahead was his father and his rendezvous with fate. And that was cause for Matt to move once again.

The hollow welcomed him with vague silhouettes and dim suggestion. He could have been surrounded by a host of nameless creatures drudged up from the bowels of the earth on this forsaken eve. Trees and bushes, ghosts and goblins, it didn’t really matter to him. They were all observers tonight.

Matt soon reached the end of the path. Here the moon couldn’t watch, and darkness was the dread master. The youth took out his flashlight, hesitating. His father was here, so he needed to be careful. There was no telling what he might do. Matt was convinced that his father knew his secret had been uncovered, but what that meant was impossible to say, so he crept forward, searching for any movement around the depression, moving ever so slowly towards the center. He waited for long moments, hearing nothing. He inched his way further, knowing that the scarecrow -- that thing created to resemble his mother -- was only yards away from him.

He dared to whisper then. “Father…”

The words croaked from his mouth, filled with apprehension. Silence answered him back. The flashlight shook in his hand. His finger fumbled at the switch, pressure mounting as he tried turning it on. He could still go back, he told himself. Still…

But no, it was too late for that. Matt had gone down his own road to despair, reached his own abyss. And now he was peering into the black depths.

The light flashed on…

And his eyes widened as he saw two figures before him -- a pair of scarecrows so terrible the world had never seen the likes of before. But one had been recently of the living, and now it slumped there on a new stake. Jarvis. And his hand was locked onto the other one in a death grip.

It was horrifying, but Matt couldn’t look away.

His father had returned on the night of his wife’s death, taking his own life so he could join her. Here was the end to his dark path. They were together again.

Matt reeled back in horror. An act of love, born in despair?

His parents were both gone now. He missed his mother badly, and the sting had never really lessened in the past year. And his father? He’d lost him soon after that. The empty figure wandering the farm hadn’t been the father who’d raised and loved him. No, that man had died upon leaving his wife’s death bed.

As Matt stood there, he’d known all along it would come to this. He’d been certain that his father would do something drastic. The only question was the form it would end up taking. And again, Matt was the observer. He would never be able to lift all the guilt from his own shoulders. In many ways, he hated himself for his inaction, and that part of him which was fascinated by the morbidity of his father’s downfall. He almost envied the singular focus of the act. Jarvis certainly hadn’t backed away from his conviction, even until the horrible ending. On every level, Matt was devastated. Inadequate, a failure. And now, completely alone.

He then noticed something else to the side, the beam slipping in his faltering grip. There lay another stake, smaller than the other two, and realization crushed down on him, grisly but unquestionable.

The shackles of his inaction finally crumbled. He made his decision.

Matt walked towards the stake, lifting it gently in his arms.

And it may have been the cool October wind swirling around the gloomy hollow -- or something entirely unexplainable -- but the hands of the scarecrows seemed to grip even tighter together.

Continue to the 1st place story

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