Halloween Ghost Story Contest -- 2014
Adult Winners

Second Place

Our second place Adult winner is Victoria Bell of Westfield, Massachusetts.

Blackstone’s Menagerie

Victoria Bell

Rex Blackstone frowned as he shoved the drapes aside and saw that once again his trees had been festooned with what must be dozens of rolls of toilet tissue. It would take the gardener at least a full day to clean up the mess. Damn kids, he grumbled, tugging the drapes closed and turning away. He hated Cabbage Night. It was a nuisance. The same old tricks- soaped windows, overturned flowerpots, toilet paper thrown into trees and bushes, trash cans tipped, eggs thrown against the siding. There was nothing new in this world. Humanity had slipped into mediocrity and become complacent with the acceptance of the less than extraordinary.

Striding out of the study he went to the dining room and took his seat. He sat there for several minutes brooding, drumming his slender, pale fingers against the fine and highly polished grain of the lengthy table around which it had been a very long time since guests had been seated. He had become a rather solitary man through the years. He had aged well. He could not argue that but if truth be told, life had become rather boring for him.

With a weary sigh he reached out, lifted the silver bell and gave it a brisk jangle before setting it back down, signaling the footman that he was ready to be served his breakfast. He hoped it would be something more appetizing than oatmeal and raisin toast. If he had to look at another slice of raisin toast his brain would most likely implode.

Good morning, sir, murmured the footman, a tall, cadaverous man with a receding hairline and a sharp beak of a nose quite out of proportion to his other facial features. His chin was underslung which gave him an overall superior if somewhat peevish appearance. His eyebrows were too bushy above ordinary brown eyes. His complexion was remarkably similar to that of a sun-bleached wax peach. Max set the silver dish down before his master, then whisked the domed silver cover aside to reveal a bowl of grayish lumpy oatmeal and a plate ofraisin toast. Will you be needing anything else, sir?

My pistol and a silver bullet, if its no trouble. Maxs brow rose but his expression betrayed no undue surprise. I would like to blow my brains out.

Shall I lay out a tarp to protect the Persian carpet prior to your suicide, sir?

You might just as easily roll my body up in the carpet and heave the whole bloody lot into the incinerator behind the carriage house.

Very good, sir. He crisply clicked the heels of his highly polished black shoes, made an elegant bow from the waist, turned and headed back to the pantry from whence he had come.

I am quite serious, Max! he called.

I understand, sir. I shall have Bertrand clean your pistol immediately. I am not sure if we have a silver bullet left in the house. However, if we do, I shall polish it until you can see yourself in the casing, sir. It shall be delivered to the table shortly as you commanded.

Oh, dont bother! he snapped, pushing his plate back and rising from his chair. I am feeling out of sorts this morning. Find George and have him begin removing the streamers of single ply from the trees, will you?

I shall give him your direction immediately, sir.

Ill be downstairs checking on my pets.

Very good, sir.

The door to the basement was located beneath the main staircase in the hall. There was a glass window in the door, and the doorknob was cut glass. He opened the door, flicked on the light switch then slowly descended to the large basement. It was beginning to smell rank again. Had he been neglecting his pets? Probably. Sometimes days passed in a blur of ennui.

At the bottom of the stairs he turned right into the control room. Here he pulled the switch to activate the ventilation system that would flush out the stale air and bring in fresh air. The sanitation system was crude but effective when working properly. Max attended to the daily feeding and watering duties but Rex liked to indulge his pets with treats when he visited them.

He selected the treats for each pet, placing them in a plastic carrier with a handle then he went back out into the corridor, walked ahead and entered his private zoo. In a large barred enclosure to his right a roan-colored centaur rose stiffly to his feet upon seeing Blackstone. He glared at the man through flashing brown eyes. I need to be allowed outdoors to cantor. Youre crippling me! it complained. Im getting arthritic joints!

Pity, that. I brought you a persimmon but all this complaining has dissuaded me from giving it to you.

Bastard! muttered the centaur, turning its back on the man, flicking its tangled tail.

Blackstone sighed. The beast had once been brawny and proud. Its muscles were wasting away. Its hide was dulled, not having been brushed and curried. Its tail was a veritable rats nest of snarls and tangles. Feeling a bit ashamed of the neglect of his pets he rolled the persimmon into the cage. The centaur looked down at it then crushed it beneath its hoof disdainfully.

He moved to the tank beside the centaurs enclosure. A green-haired mermaid lay curled in the back corner of the tank. He rapped a knuckle on the glass. She slowly raised her head and looked toward him through silver eyes that looked dull. Opalescent scales littered the floor of the tank. There appeared to be some sort of disease process going on that was eating away her magnificent tail fin, but then he realized that she had been biting her own tail for some unknown reason. Her beautiful breasts had withered away to little more than fleshy sacs that lay against her rib cage. Oh, dear, he murmured, climbing the ladder to reach the slot where he dropped a dozen little crawfish into the tank. She merely watched the little creatures spiral down to the bottom of the tank before lowering her head, curling back up. She resumed biting her tail, her eyes closed, face taut.

A foul stench was emanating from the next cage. The yeti, one of his most prized pets, lay dead in its own excrement. This gave his heart a wrench. It had taken him centuries to track and capture one of these rare beasts. How long ago had that been? Perhaps the thing had merely reached the end of its natural life? But then he noticed the piles of putrid vomit here and there, half dried on the floor. The yeti had been sick. Why hadnt he thought to come down here and check on his menagerie days ago? What had he been so preoccupied with?

Ah, yes. He had been unable to rise from his bed, pinioned there, pressed down by a black mass of depression so profound, so dense he had felt as though he were suffocating. Fortunately, it had passed and he had been able to rise from his bed today.

He moved to the next enclosure. The occupant of this pen was sitting on the floor in the far left corner, knees drawn up, face turned against the wall. The floor of this enclosure was littered with dingy, ragged feathers. Was she molting? Had she molted before? Did angels molt at all? He had one of her feathers upstairs on his desk. It was long, pure white and glossy, pliable. I have a pomegranate for you, my dear, he said. This did not elicit a response from her and for a moment he felt a frisson of apprehension that she too had perished since his last visit. A very slight movement of her wing indicated to him that she was still alive. Come, my pet. You adore pomegranates.

I want nothing from your hand but my freedom, she replied, her voice soft and still musical despite the flat tone.

How can I set you free when it took me one thousand years to capture you? You were my most difficult find. I scoured the known world for you. She said nothing, would not even look at him. “’ziel, he said, calling her by his abbreviated name for her as he has never been able to pronounce her full celestial name. Zia. This is his more intimate name for her for, if truth be told, he has been enamored of her since the moment he found her in the trap he had set hoping to catch an angel. Please, come and take this from my hand. Let us not be at sixes and sevens with one another.

The yeti has passed, she murmured. The mermaid is stressed and starving herself. The centaur is angry, his pride severely wounded. The gryphon has wounded itself, eaten pieces of its own flesh because it too is starving due to your neglect.

But Max feeds you and waters you daily.

It is not the natural foods we normally consume. You have made us subsist on your whims and notions. She made a hopeless gesture. There is no further point in speaking with you. You only hear what you want to hear. Leave me.

He bent, lifted the little door and rolled the pomegranate into her enclosure; closed the door. As you wish, he murmured, his heart heavy but raw around the edges now with some anger and some despair. The combination of two strong emotions acted like a carbolic acid.

The gryphon was in the next cage and he immediately observed the open festering sores. It had been using its beak to nip chunks of its own hide off. This is unacceptable, he cried aloud, disturbed and disappointed by what he was seeing. His private zoo, his pets, his menagerie had always been his pride and joy. The gryphon glared at him through its golden eye, then opened its beak and made a raucous angry noise. Oh, be quiet! He rolled a half dozen ostrich eggs into the enclosure then turned away.

The sphinx lay sprawled on her side, flanks heaving in a pool of her own foul urine. She too was ill. He lacked the veterinary skill needed to keep these creatures healthy.

How had his greatest treasure deteriorated to this degree? He tossed the dead rabbit into the sphinxs cage, hoping the scent would entice her to eat but she did not even stir.

He turned and walked back the way he had come, no longer interested in seeing the condition of the remainder of his collection. He was deriving no pleasure from this visit.

As he passed the angels enclosure he saw that she had gotten to her feet. She was still in the same corner. She swayed ever so slightly backwards and forwards as if the weight of her own wings was too much for her and was throwing her off balance. He noticed that her gown was  thin and tattered, soiled, wrinkled, worn transparent in places, torn in others. Her pale flesh was luminescent beneath a thin layer of grime. Her ginger hair was as snarled as the centaurs tail. Shed had beautiful flowing ginger curls when hed captured her. Her hair was dull now, brittle. “’ziel, he said.

I am praying, she replied softly.

He should leave her alone then. He knew that, but he could not do that.  Of all his creatures she had always been the one he had conversed with easily. He had always enjoyed his discussions with her. If I were to release you, would you accompany me upstairs where we can talk together?

I have nothing more to say to you.

Then you would not need to speak. You could just listen.

I do not wish to accompany you anywhere.

He turned and walked away, throwing the plastic carrier into the treat room before he hurried up the stairs and switched off the lights. He closed the door more firmly than hed intended to.


There is a black cat with glowing orange eyes in the hallway. Blackstone hesitates as he leaves his bedroom, feeling both confused and apprehensive. He does not own a cat, therefore no cat should be present in his home. “Scat!” he says. The cat opens its mouth wide to display it’s impressive fangs, and hisses loudly, back arched, tail like a bristle brush. Then it turns and bolts down the corridor toward the stairs. Damned cat, he mutters, starting after it, wanting to chase it out of the house. One of the servants must have left a door open again.

As he passes a painting, one that should be familiar as all his ancestors portraits line this hallway, something causes him to come to an abrupt halt, to take two steps backwards. He turns to face the portrait. What the deuce!” he cries.

The portrait is of him although he is quite certain he has not yet sat for any artist to have his likeness committed to canvas. It is not even a very good likeness. The artist has painted his face half in shadow and the side he can see is pallid, drawn, the familiar dark eye sunken, the cheek hollow, the lips thin and grimly compressed. His dark hair hangs lank and shot through with white as if he has aged when he knows that is impossible. He is ageless. Isnt he?

He stares at the image, tries to discern the darker half of his image and can just make out a rather skeletal form, the eye socket dark and hollow, the nostril sunken in, the teeth clenched. How can this be! he cries, backing away from the portrait.

A movement in the periphery of his sight draws his eye. It is the cat, pacing near the head of the stairs. He glances back at the portrait. It remains unchanged, resolute. Quickly he resumes chasing the cat, wanting to flee from the terrible portrayal of his countenance.

The cat dashes down the stairs and he follows. It leads him to the cellar door which stands open. This door, he knows, is supposed to remain closed. The cat vanishes down the dark stairs. He flicks on the light but it is a strange, eerie light, much like the orangey-yellow flickering of a fire on the hearth when there are no other lights on in a room.

Quickly he descends into a hellish place. The paint on the basement walls has peeled away from the damp brickwork. Brittle curls of paint litter the cement floor, crunch beneath his boots as he turns the corner to approach the enclosures where his precious creatures dwell. The stench invades his nose and causes his stomach to clench. He instinctively breathes through his mouth, not his nose as he approaches the centaurs cage. The beast lies rotting in the middle of its pen. Glossy black beetles swarm over the corpse. Already sinew and bone are visible above the hoof and at the wrist he can see. “Damnation!” he cries.

He turns to the mermaids tank and finds her floating lifelessly just below the surface of the water, her green hair eerily still, her silvery eyes gone for her face has already deteriorated. He groans as he passes the empty cage of the yeti who was buried only days ago if hes not mistaken.

The angels enclosure appears empty as well. In the next cage the gryphon lies dead upon its back, beak open, claws curled, tawny eyes dulled by death. Turning, he sees the sphinx is dead as well. The stench from the dead creatures is unbearable. How can this be! he cries. His beloved menagerie, decimated by death!

He returns to the angels enclosure. His beloved angel. But the enclosure seems empty! Where is she? Shed been alive the other day. Hed spoken to her. Her lost feathers litter the floor of her cage. She cannot be dead! He refuses to believe that she can be dead! “’ziel!” he cries. “Where are you? Show yourself! His hands grip the bars of her cage and he rattles the gate. Zia! Answer me!

I am here, she replies, her voice quiet.

He leans his forehead against the bars, sick with relief. I thought you had left me, he murmurs.

I am here, she says a second time.

He raises his head and peers at her through the bars. What has happened here? How can this be? How can my beloved creatures all be dead?

You neglected us, she replies. And you neglected yourself. She drifts toward the bars, her wings beating slowly, gently behind her.

He takes a step back as she approaches closer. His foot crushes something on the floor. He tears his eyes from her and looks down, discovers that the sole of his boot has come loose and is turned askew. He gets down on one knee to try to fix it, but the leather of his boot feels coarse and dry to his touch.  “Whats going on here! he cries, suddenly alarmed. His boots have always been kept in good repair- taken to the cobbler, resoled as needed, polished regularly. He stands up, hikes his pant cuffs and sees the other boot is also in deplorable condition. And now he notices the hems of his trousers are stained and tattered. His coat is filthy, the cuffs frayed. His shirt is stained terribly, two buttons are missing and a third hangs by a thread. His eyes widen in shock and disbelief. What is going on here? he cries. And then, when he raises his eyes to meet hers he notices that the angel is standing in the open corridor. He can see the electrical conduits behind her, the pipes above her head.

Spinning around he discovers that somehow he has traded places with her. He is in her enclosure for the floor is littered with dingy feathers that have been swept into a pile in one corner away from the foulness in the other corner. He cannot believe his eyes. His mind cannot grasp what has happened.

Turning back to her, he stares at her, open-mouthed, wide-eyed. How? he croaks. Why?

I prayed,” is her simple response.


Blackstone jerked awake from his dream, his heart pounding. His nightshirt clung cold and damp to his body. His hair was wet, his pillow damp. He felt both hot and cold. Hurling the covers aside he sat up, swung his long legs over the side of the bed, then leaned forward, elbows on his knees, head in his hands. It was a dream, he told himself. It was just a dream.

After a few long minutes he felt steady enough to trust his legs to hold him up. He got out of bed, went to his bathroom and turned the faucets on. Soon the bathroom was full of steam. He stripped off his nightshirt and stepped into the deep claw-foot tub, drawing the shower curtain closed on its steel oval track.

He stood with his head beneath the spray, letting the water wash the sweat from his longish black hair. Then he turned and tilted his face up to the water, his eyes closed. He grabbed the soap and washed himself, then the shampoo and washed his hair. He enjoyed the water for another few minutes, then twisted the knobs to turn off the flow. Looking down between his feet he saw a curious sight. The water at the bottom of the tub looked dirty and was stained red. He shifted his gaze to his pale torso, his legs. His skin appeared to be intact. He checked his arms, his hands. He did not appear to be injured in any way.

He grabbed the shower curtain and whipped it open on its rail, reached for his towel and used it to vigorously dry his hair. He blotted his face then lowered the towel to dry his neck and chest, his shoulders, and that was when he saw her, the angel, sitting on the closed toilet, her elbows on her knees, chin propped in the brackets of her cupped hands. She gazed at him with a serene expression. My God! he cried, lowering the towel to cover his groin.

Mine, as well, she replied quietly.

How did you get here? Who released you? he asked.

You did.

I did no such thing! As she slowly rose from the toilet he noticed that her gown was pristine white. It looked perfect, no tatters, no tears. His eyes shifted to her great tall wings. They too were snowy white, no bent or molting feathers marring them. Her face was beautiful once more, not pinched and strained. How can this be?

You have redeemed me, she answered.


She held her hand up to stop him. I had fallen, she continued. I had fallen and was easily captured in your trap. All the many years that I have been held captive here, that I have suffered at your hand, have led to my redemption. He has called me home and I must go. She took a step toward him. Your menagerie? It was and is the end for all of those creatures. Their kind have all died off. The few remaining in your basement cannot survive in the harsh unfamiliar world of this age. Show mercy, Rex Blackstone and put them out of their misery. Let them go.

Youre leaving me? His voice betrayed his stunned disbelief, his profound sense of loss.

I never belonged to you. I have merely been your prisoner.

No, ziel! No, my Zia! My pet! he cried.

I am no pet, she said quietly.  “Goodbye, Rex. And before his eyes she vanished in a gentle twinkling of light.

Zia! he cried. Come back!

He clamored from the deep tub, slipped and slide into his bedroom, rushed to the dressing room where he quickly dressed. His hair was uncombed, still dripping, as he tugged open his bedroom door and ran down the hall. He passed the line of portraits then slid to an awkward abrupt halt and backtracked to the portrait that had caught his eye in passing.

He felt a cold chill race down his spine as he stared at the visage of the grinning skull in the gilt frame. It was terrible. Horrible. His eyes fell to the brass plate naming the person whose portrait he was gazing upon with disbelief. Rex Blackstone. It was him. Death was him! He was Death! No! he cried, backing away from the portrait, raising his hands to shield his eyes from Deaths deep, black unblinking stare.

But one cannot hide from the truth.

He turned and continued rapidly along the hallway, down the main staircase. Crossing the broad hall he entered his study, went to the cabinet, threw open the doors and reached for his pistol. With a shaking hand he loaded the weapon then turned and left the room with a determined stride.

He wrenched open the door to the basement, snapped the lights on and descended. The smell was horrendous. He covered his mouth and nose with his right arm as he approached the centaurs cell. The beast was on its knees, arms at its side. It raised its head to look directly at Blackstone then nodded once. Blackstone raised the pistol, aimed and fired a single shot dead center into the beasts forehead. The centaurs head snapped back with the force of the bullet then fell forward. Its body toppled sideways and it lay still.

The mermaid, as in his dream, floated lifelessly just below the surface of the water in her tank. She was already, mercifully, dead. He stalked past the empty yetis enclosure and came to the cell where the angel had been confined for such a very long time. The floor remained littered with her shed feathers but was otherwise empty.

The gryphon raised its head at the sound of his approach. He put it down quickly then turned to the sphinx. She was still. She, too, had already died. He walked forward. The unicorn had been gone for a long time. So had the three-headed dog. But the harpy was still alive. She began screeching at him the moment he came into her view. I should have shot you ages ago, he said. As she opened her mouth to screech again he shot her. She gave him a stunned look before falling over.

The other cages were empty. His menagerie had been dwindling for a long time . He realized that now. That he had had them this long was unusual and unnatural.  He understood. Their time here was gone. He could not keep them forever. Only he, he and the angel were eternal.

Already his heart ached for her company. He looked down at the weapon in his hand, opened it and counted the remaining bullets. Three.

Three bullets and they were useless to him. His menagerie was gone. Max and George would remove the remains, bury them someplace on the property in the dead of night.

He returned the pistol to the cabinet, closed the doors.

Wearily he climbed the stairs to the second floor and walked down the long corridor to his bedroom. He closed the door, went into his dressing room, undressed, pulled on a clean night shirt then went out into his room, climbed into his bed and pulled the covers up. He closed his eyes and sought sleep, sought dreams. In his dreams he could go anywhere.

He wanted to go to Heaven.

Continue to the 1st place story

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