Halloween Ghost Story Contest -- 2021
High School Winners

Third Place

Our third place High School winning entry was written by Max Samuel Lundqvist, a 9th grader who attends Briar Woods High School in Ashburn, Virginia.

The Founder’s Nightmare

Max Samuel Lundqvist

The dreary fog and frost lingers in the air of Bryn Shander. Suddenly over the mountains, the dim light signals mornings' arrival. As people exit their homes to go to their various jobs and attend to their business, a lone figure watches from the second floor window of an iron forge. Devon HammerArm, a 89 year old dwarf, sits on his chair and watches the city he has lived in for years, and sighs, for he knew today was his last day in Bryn Shander. For the past two years, all anyone felt was cold, cold and fearful, because not long ago a wicked being called Auril cast a powerful enchantment upon their home, keeping it in perpetual dreary winter.

There would be blizzards every other day and it was starting to get normal to see someone frozen to death on the side of the carved out paths that snaked around and through Bryn Shander. Sometimes when they were digging out those paths after a blizzard they would find bodies underneath the snow, and some bodies were never found at all. Bryn Shander had become a city of death, not just to those that died to the cold but the light and warmth in the people's eyes had vanished, even in the children's eyes. Inevitable corpses drudged through the sleet and snow.

Devon had been alive since before Bryn Shander was founded 50 years ago, an endeavor of which he had been party to. He remembers sitting in a lush valley, a construction site behind him, as one of the more long lived species of the world, dwarves saw the world in a kind of slower motion than humans, and as such Devon was less worn out and tired than the other residents of Bryn Shander. He would try to help where he could, he thought of it as his duty because he was the last of the founders still alive. He set up torches through the main paths, but it didn't go so well. He started handing out blankets to the elderly, but some vagabond stole them all later. Devon was surprised at how the city he had helped make had devolved in the past two years, especially when he learned of the lottery.

One day about a year ago, the town speaker called everyone to the town square, known by the younger generations as Old Man Michael. Devon knew him as Lighting Mike, called that as a kid because he was the fastest of the children back then. Michael was around 24 years old but everyone says that his wisdom and his unique worldview makes everyone think he was like an old man, thin in build, around 5”11’ draped in a heavy winter coat. You couldn’t see his face, black as night hair poking out from his hat, and goggles that everyone in Bryn Shander wore to protect their eyes against the almost constant snow. There were some who wondered if he worshipped Auril. Michal stands up at the podium and in his most formal voice stated

Citizens of Bryn Shander, I’ve been granted a vision, a vision of warmth, of power, of respect, and it starts with Auril...

Upon the mention of the frostmaiden, Devon could feel the atmosphere harden and shrivel, the cheerful-ish gathering had become a dreary and suspicious congregation. Michael paused before carrying on with his speech “... I know that this may come as a surprise but through her grace we can rise above this wasteland, this was our home, I understand that...” Upon saying that, he looked straight at Devon, as if he were regarding to Devon’s status as a founder, “... but now it is nothing more than an endless tundra, one to which we lose more and more to everyday, so I beg you to listen, to keep your children safe we must sacrifice. The other town speakers and I have talked about this and we have decided that each town will sacrifice something to Auril, in return for peace, and safety from the blizzards and the cold. Many of the towns will begin to sacrifice warmth, or food to her for one night every month but Bryn Shander will do something more, something splendid, something that will surely please her!

As his speech kept on going his voice and tone seemed to descend deeper and deeper into a crazed frenzy. No longer talking in his practiced formal voice, but yelling at the top of his lungs at the crowd, a hint of insanity in his voice.

I believe that this world can be better, I believe we can be better if we allow her to lift us up above it all. Targos’ offering to Auril is one of their citizens, and we shall as a show of our reverence to her, give three citizens to her amazing grace.

This riled the crowd, some voices called Michael mad, and some yelled to know who would be sacrificed, but most people, including Devon, stared silently in horror, unable to move. The more rebellious members of the group tried to run but were soon restrained by the guards. It seemed like hours passed in a stupor of fear and confusion but eventually Michael continued

I understand your concerns and I shall explain everything if you will allow me, there will be a lottery system, and because I know it is unfair to drop this on you and then impose it, I will pay a price. I will be one of the three sacrifices for this month. Three names will be pulled every month, two for tonight because I will be the third, and we shall throw a massive party to celebrate the sacrifice. Three will go home with their families to mourn for the rest of the night and at noon the following day they will be stripped to their underwear and sent into the tundra without any gear or supplies, banished from Bryn Shander and any other towns. Children under the age of 16 are exempt from the lottery under all circumstances. All women who currently bear a child are exempt from the lottery. All others are included in the lottery. To refuse would cause Auril to exact revenge. Now then, let us pick our names for today.

He beckoned to a guard and he brought forth a transparent fish bowl with little paper strips inside. He pulled one out and called “Cassandra Terra.” A choke of sobs broke out from the far right of the assembly and Devon saw a girl in her early twenties step forward. Michael beckoned for her to join him, while Devon could hear her mother begging for her to stay, the girl hesitated but when looking at the guards, whose blades were already drawn she marched forward. Michael reached for the bowl, pulled out another strip of paper and read “Jessie LaNoue.” This name came with no sobs, just the shuffling of feet as the crowd parted to let a lone woman pass through, a woman much older than the one before, probably around 50 human years. When the ceremony concluded the people were ushered into the town hall and the feast began, the feast was grand, so grand in fact that Devon had only been to one other like it before.

The following morning Devon awoke late, to the tune of trumpets blaring. He raced to get ready and went outside just in time to see a parade of people streaming by, all of them pushed forward by their own morbid curiosity. The ceremony was swift and informal. It was just hordes of people who came to watch three march into the tundra. The first to leave was Michael who stripped instantly and charged forward, the older lady was next, she wearily started trudging into the tundra not caring what anyone thought, and the youngest was last, once she was done she started running into the tundra, fueled by embarrassment and easily passed the older woman but soon slowed to a walk when she deemed herself far away. They were never seen again.

The next year passed with eleven more of those ceremonies, but on this morning it was currently around 8 o’clock in the morning, and Devon had been staring outside his window since the night before, unable to sleep. The horrible news had come the night before, that he would be one of the sacrifices. So that night he feasted and ate more than anyone, laughed more, and tried to reassure his fellow sacrifices. But when he got home, he sobbed and cried and screamed, for he was truly afraid of death, but he resolved to see it through. Eventually noon came, and a knock of wood against metal hit the door with a heavy thunk, Devon HammerArm opened the door with only the barest of winter pants and his undergarments and marched out with his chest and head held proudly saying “It took you long enough.

The ceremony was identical to the others, and as they reached the border of the town, Devon took off his winter pants and went trudging into the tundra. He could feel the cold right down to the bones and every step caused more pain. In the distance he spots a grove of gnarled and twisted trees, each one accompanied with its very own corpse hanging from its branches, and Devon could see faces of so many people he had seen grow up, preserved by the cold. Many of them are missing limbs or other extremities. Devon notes 35 bodies hanging from the trees and realizes that one is missing. As the crunch of snow signals the arrival of another, Devon turns around and sees a heavy winter coat, midnight black hair, and an axe clutched in his right hand. He hears Old Man Michael say “Welcome to your afterlife.”

Continue to the 2nd place story

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