Halloween will never end here at Mangled Matters. After some computer and everyday life scheduling shenanigans threw a wrench into my plan of posting like a mad man over the past weekend, I’m here to declare today as the 32nd day of Halloween!
As you may know, there was a short story contest that ran here on Mangled Matters earlier this month and I can’t think of a more fun way to keep the spooky spirit alive than to share the winning story of this contest!
Rather than waste a bunch of space telling you how awesome this story is or how cool the author is (both facts, by the way), why don’t we just get right to it?!
Ladies and gents, for your reading entertainment, I present to you Rachel Hoover’s ‘The Spirit of the House’….
“So where is this place you’re playing tonight?” Marci pried a batch of pumpkin cookies off of her baking sheet one by one.
James leaned back against the counter next to Marci. “It’s a pub up in Milwaukee. The guys wanted to play our usual Halloween thing in the city, but I promised Nick last year that we’d come up for this. Should be fun, George and Jen are coming out.”
“Tell them I said hi…” Marci freed one more cookie from the sheet, then paused and turned to her husband. “Are you going to be drinking?”
“Come on, Mar…” James pushed off the counter and paced to the other end of the kitchen, his arms already crossed.
“‘Come on’ what? I worry about you. After that last time…”
“That was one mistake. Don’t make an issue out of it.”
“You drove all the way back from the city completely wasted!” Marci raised her voice. “You could have killed somebody!”
“I don’t want to have this fight again…” James turned and stared out the patio door into their small, suburban backyard.
“And that’s not the only ‘mistake’– what about last Christmas? You almost slugged my brother!”
“He was being a dick! It wouldn’t hurt for someone to take him down a peg.”
At that moment their seven-year-old son Devin hopped down the stairs and spotted the cooling cookies. “Ooh! Can I have one, Mom? Pleaaase?” He ran to the counter and peeked over the top at the plate.
Marci took a breath. She wiped her hands on the dish towel hanging out of the waistband of her jeans and tousled his wavy golden hair, the same hue as her own. “Sure baby, but only one. How’s your costume looking?”
“Great! I just need to add more blood.” Devin grabbed the biggest cookie he could find.
“Cool. Just make sure you do that outside, okay? Remember our deal.”
“No blood on the carpet!”
“You got it. Take your cookie upstairs, my little werewolf.” Marci patted him on the head. Devin grinned and howled as he ran back up to his room.
Marci spoke again once Devin was gone. “I just want you to be careful. If you can’t do it for me, at least do it for him.”
James defenses went back up. “Don’t use him to make me feel guilty.”
“I’m not the one making you feel guilty. You do it to yourself. Can you at least promise you’ll stay with somebody if you can’t drive?”
James clenched his jaw and looked away. “Yeah, fine. Whatever.” He pushed past her, out of the kitchen and down into the basement.
Later that afternoon, Marci helped Devin with his costume while James loaded equipment into his van. Devin had faux wolf feet under partially shredded trousers and an old torn dress shirt that he had bloodied with the concentration of an artist at a canvas.
“Claws, please!” Devin instructed his mother.
Marci smiled and grabbed the furry gloves they had made, complete with black claws at the ends of the fingers.
James pounded up the basement stairs into the hallway leading to the front door, then paused to check his pockets before turning towards the living room. “Alright, I’m all packed up. Bye, family!” James took a step towards Marci and Devin, then stopped to do a double take at a statue displayed on a small black table near the front door. “How long has that been there?”
“Since last weekend.” Marci replied. “I got it at an antiques store.”
James moved back and forth in front of the limestone sculpture, in which a woman draped in a sheer material stood before a throne, her right hand palm-up in front of her.
“I think her eyes are following me. Creepy!” James opened his eyes wide in mock horror, an evil laugh emerging as he grabbed Devin and swung him up in the air.
Devin adjusted his claws once he was back on the ground. “I’m not scared of her! Werewolves aren’t scared of nothing!”
“You’re a better man-beast than I.” James wrapped his arms around Marci and kissed her. “See you later.”
“Have a good show.” She replied.
“Make sure you save the old man some candy, alright?” James told Devin, high-fiving him on his way out.
Marci grabbed Devin’s werewolf mask from the couch.
“Ready to hit the sidewalk?” she asked, and Devin nodded, jumping up and down with excitement. She pulled the mask over his head. “Can you see okay?” Devin snarled, then howled in response, making Marci laugh. “I’ll take that as a yes.”
The Halloween festivities weren’t quite what Marci remembered from her youth, but there were still several groups of kids wandering up and down the tree-lined streets, and the house decorations ranged from homespun to horrifying. Devin got really into his act, howling and growling his “trick or treat’s” out to the neighbors.
As they made their way up the street, Devin stopped in front of one of the less festive houses on the block. Marci had heard from other neighbors that the woman who lived there was odd, but didn’t know her. Small unidentifiable bundles were hanging from the lone tree in the front yard, and a long bough made up of straw, oak leaves, and small orange flowers was draped over the porch’s overhang.
None of the other trick-or-treaters visited the house, and Marci felt inclined to follow their lead. But Devin looked up at her, the question on his mind showing through his wolf mask.
“You want to stop here? I don’t know, hon. She might not be home.”
Devin looked at the house again, then back at Marci. “Can’t I try?”
“Alright,” Marci shrugged and gestured for Devin to lead the way. As they neared the porch stairs, Marci detected a spicy, sweet smell. She wondered if it was the bundles hanging from the tree, or maybe the bough above the porch. A similar wreath was hanging on the front door. Devin straightened himself up and rang the doorbell.
Several seconds later, the door opened. The woman that peered out at Devin looked surprised, but not bothered. She wasn’t much older than Marci. Her long brown hair was pulled back from her face, a few misplaced strands falling out.
“Trick or treat!” Devin called out. The greeting broke whatever spell of confusion had fallen over the woman, and a smile emerged.
“Well, hello there. I’m sorry, I don’t get many trick-or-treaters, I almost forgot.” The woman looked up at Marci. “I’m guessing you’re his mother?”
“Yep, I’m Marci, and this is Devin. We live a couple blocks down from you.” Marci gestured towards their house, then put her hands on Devin’s shoulders.
“It’s nice to meet you, I’m Cathy.”
“Hi Cathy. I’m sorry if we’ve bothered you…” Marci started to apologize.
“Bother me? Oh no, not at all.” She waved the notion off. “I just don’t get many visitors in general, never mind on Halloween.” Cathy looked back down at Devin. “I love the costumes, though. You must be… a werewolf!”
Devin howled in response. “Yes ma’am!”
The woman laughed. “So polite. I might actually have something for you, wait here.” She returned a minute later with a baggie full of candy corn. “I have such a weakness for this stuff. I can’t resist buying it every year! And a good thing too. There you are my friend.” She dropped the candy corn into Devin’s bag.
“Thanks! I like it too.” He said.
Cathy laughed again. “I’ll bet. So no costume for Mom?”
“She’s too old to trick or treat!” Devin interjected.
“Hey!” Marci gave his shoulders a playful shake. “No, I’ll just pillage some of his candy while he’s asleep. It’s getting late, we might have to wrap this up soon.”
Devin groaned his disappointment.
“Your mother’s right, you shouldn’t be out after dark on Halloween. You might run into someone you don’t want to meet.” Cathy warned him.
“Yeah, like a bunch of high school kids packing eggs.” Marci joked.
“I wish that were the worst of it.” Cathy mumbled. “You seem very nice, and I know this is going to sound strange, but I do hope you’re careful. Nights like tonight… there are dangerous things about. In fact… hold on another moment.”
Cathy disappeared back into the house, then returned with a small cloth bag that looked and smelled similar to the ones hanging from her tree.
“Take this. It’s like a good luck charm.”
“Oh, I uh… thank you.” Marci stammered. It was all starting to make sense: the neighbors’ comments, the charm bag, the house decorations. Marci realized Cathy must be pagan.
“I know it’s an odd thing to give, but I would feel better knowing you had it with you. I hope it doesn’t make you uncomfortable.” Cathy said, sensing the gears turning in Marci’s head.
“No! Not at all. I understand. And really, thank you.” Marci smiled, hoping she hadn’t acted like a moron. “We should let you go, but I’m glad we met.”
“I’m glad, too. You two have a safe night!” Cathy waved as Marci and Devin left the porch and continued down the block.
“Is Cathy a witch, Mom?” Devin asked after they’d hit the sidewalk again.
“No! I mean… maybe.” Marci sighed. “I’ll explain it to you later, bud.”
“I know she’s not bad, I just mean… that bag is magic, right?”
“It’s like she said, a good luck charm. Don’t worry about that now, let’s get going.”
Devin successfully negotiated extra trick-or-treating time, so they didn’t make it home until an hour later. Marci was cold and tired, and she had big plans to stretch out on the couch with her pumpkin cookies and a good, scary movie after she’d put Devin to bed.
Once inside, Devin shook off his claws and yanked the mask off his face, throwing it on the floor. He made a dash for the stairs, but Marci stopped him.
“Hey! I don’t want wolf parts all over my floor! Pick those up and bring them upstairs. And hand over the loot while you’re at it.”
Devin’s shoulders slumped, and he picked up the discarded parts of his costume. He gave his bulging trick or treat bag to his mother.
“Can’t I have just a little bit more? Please?” Devin made his best lost, starving puppy face up at Marci.
“Okay, two more, but that’s it! Choose wisely, and brush well.” She held the bag open for him. Devin grabbed his pieces of candy, and bounded up the stairs with joy.
Marci brought the rest of the candy into the kitchen, pulling out something for herself before sticking it high in a cabinet where Devin wouldn’t get to it. As soon as she closed the cabinet door, the few lights on in the house flickered.
“Mom?” Devin called downstairs.
“It’s okay, it’s just the lights. Maybe there’s a storm starting…” Marci looked out the blinds at the patio door, but things looked calm.
The lights went completely out, and Devin yelled down again, his voice more urgent. The floor rumbled beneath Marci’s feet, causing her to grab the side of the kitchen table to steady herself. The chairs around the table rose into the air and slammed themselves down on the tile over and over again, and the kitchen cabinets smashed open and shut.
Marci ran for the stairs and almost collided with Devin, who was racing down towards her.
“What’s happening?” He was still in his costume.
“I don’t know baby, but we’re getting out of here!” Marci took his hand and headed towards the front door. She had almost grabbed the doorknob when a flash of light to her left stopped her. There was a robed woman floating in the air. A sick, eerie blue glow came from within her, casting shadows over the walls and furniture. The black shapes writhed and reached towards them.
“What is that…?!” Marci gasped and pushed Devin behind her. A spark of recognition flared in her mind. Marci’s eyes flicked towards the table her antique statue had been on for the past week. The base was still there, the throne was in place, but the woman was gone. “No… you’ve gotta be shitting me!”
In the second Marci took to glance at the statue and back, the woman’s face warped from human to monstrous. Her eyes were slitted and black and her features grew long and pointed. She screeched, her gaping maw full of jagged teeth. Her dark wavy hair was now a nest of black slithery creatures, each with one dilated, staring eye at the end.
“Oh god, oh god…” Marci couldn’t tear her eyes away. Her right hand fumbled blindly for the front door, slipping on the lock and handle before wrenching it open. She pushed Devin out first, then whirled around and slammed the door tightly.
“Go, run!” She told him, grabbing his hand as they both took off towards the sidewalk.
“Mom, where are we going?” Devin asked, after they’d passed by a couple of houses. Marci realized she had no idea where to go, which stopped her flight. She waited for something more clear than the urge to run to emerge from her terrified mind.
“I… I don’t know yet. Maybe I should call someone…?” Marci fumbled in her pocket for her phone, mumbling to herself as she tried to yank it out. “Damn it, who are you supposed to call for this?” The charm bag that Cathy had given her earlier fell out on the sidewalk.
They both looked down at the bag, then Devin looked up at Marci, his eyebrows raised.
“Huh,” Marci bent down to retrieve the bag. “Now there’s an idea.”
For the second time that night, Marci and Devin stood on Cathy’s porch, waiting for her to answer the door. When she did, Marci tried to express a polite smile, but she suspected it looked more like a grimace.
“Marci… this is a surprise. Is everything okay?” Cathy cocked an eyebrow.
“Hi Cathy. I’m afraid not… can we come in, please?”
“Sure. I suppose.” Cathy opened the door wider for them. They stood inside a narrow hallway that ended in Cathy’s kitchen. She closed the door and walked back, gesturing for them to follow. “I was just making tea if you want any.”
“No, but thank you.” Marci said, as they followed Cathy to the kitchen. “You’re the only person I could think of that might be able to help. It feels ridiculous…”
“Take your time,” Cathy gestured to the wood slat-back chairs at her kitchen table. “Sit down. Tell me what’s going on.”
Marci sat and folded her hands, trying to sort everything out. “When we got back home tonight, strange things started happening. The lights flickered, the house shook, things flew out of the cabinets… like the whole house was coming to life. We ran for the door, and that’s when we saw her.”
“Her?” Cathy interrupted. She was at the sink, stirring honey into her tea. Her brow was furrowed as she listened, but she didn’t appear frightened. Marci was thankful for that, at least.
“There was this woman,” Marci continued. “She was just floating there with this weird light. Somehow the shadows on the walls were moving on their own. Then she turned into this horrible monster, with these hideous teeth. She came after us, so we ran.”
“Goodness.” Cathy said. She came and sat down at the table. “Are you both okay? You weren’t hurt or anything?” She looked over at Devin, who frowned but nodded.
“We’re fine.” Marci tried to give Devin a small smile.
Cathy looked between the two of them. “Devin, do you like cartoons?” She asked.
“Yeah!” He perked up a little.
“My niece and nephew love Spongebob, would you like to watch some?” She asked. Devin nodded. “Come on into the living room and I’ll put it on for you.”
Devin followed Cathy out of the kitchen. Marci tried to gather her thoughts while they were gone. By the time Cathy returned a few minutes later she felt calmer.
“Thank you.” Marci let out a sigh.
“Not at all.” Cathy sat back down. “Now. You were saying?”
“Right. You’re taking this information pretty well so I’m just going to go ahead and say this, even though it’s crazy. I think the woman came from a statue in my house. She looked like her, before she changed into a monster. And the figure in the statue was gone. How is that possible?”
A small grim smile skimmed over Cathy’s face. “You’d be surprised, honey. Not that this sort of thing happens all the time but… that statue. Hmm… hang on.”
Cathy stood up and disappeared into another room. When she returned, she had a book in her hand. “Yes, this is it.” She sat down and flipped through the book.
“The binding of household spirits.” She tapped the page. “Long ago people had relationships with these creatures. They would look over their home, their farm, the very lives of the families. And sometimes they were bound to objects in the home.”
“Bound? Like to keep it from hurting them?” Marci asked.
“No, to assign them a place in the home.” Cathy read a few lines, then looked up at Marci. “You have to understand, they’re neither good nor bad; these spirits have a role to play. They want to be helpful, but they aren’t slaves. They require an exchange for the services they provide. Bringing one into your home and then not compensating it is like telling somebody you’ll hire them as a maid and then chaining them up in the basement.”
Marci sat back, dismayed at the idea. “So she wants money?”
“N-no. Well, maybe. It’s more like bartering. An offering.” Cathy said.
“Can’t we just… get rid of her? Can’t you do a spell or something?”
Cathy shook her head. “As far as I know, the only way to get rid of one of these things is to burn your house down and salt the earth. Is that an option?”
“Um, no.” Marci shook her head.
“Alright then.” Cathy said. “It’s difficult to get them to leave. When you brought it inside, the spirit bonded with your home and accepted its role there. No spell can break this, it’s just the way things are. The spirits accept their nature, and you’ll have to as well.”
Marci let Cathy’s words sink in. Her stomach twisted at the thought of this thing staying with them. “So what do I do? What am I supposed to offer her?”
“You have to think old school. The most important things to the people she’s used to dealing with were food, crops, livestock, tools. Maybe some weapons or family heirlooms, if they had any.”
“Okay, food, I can do that.”
“Homemade food?” Cathy asked.
“Oh. Um…” Marci thought over the contents of her kitchen. “I made some of it out of a box?”
“That’s okay, I can help with that. But if you can think of anything that you might have made from scratch— a soup, some bread, cookies–”
“Cookies! I have pumpkin cookies!” Marci was relieved to think of at least one thing that wasn’t over-processed and half-prepared.
“Perfect! I have some bread I made that you can have, some items from my garden, and we’ll cut fresh herbs. Do you have anything valuable that you could stand to part with?” Cathy asked.
Marci grimaced. “I have a bracelet. It was my great-grandmother’s. It’s gold with rubies set in it. I was hoping to save it for a rainy day…”
Cathy gave her a pointed look. “Honey, it’s pouring.”
“Right.” Marci frowned. “Okay, what else? Is that enough if I get the bracelet?”
“Not quite… there’s one more thing. Let me, ah… I’ll be right back.” Cathy disappeared again, this time into her backyard. She returned with a cage, holding a chicken with warm brown feathers.
“Please tell me she wants that as a pet.” Marci said, her eyes wide. The look on Cathy’s face confirmed her fears. “Oh Cathy, I can’t…”
“Are you gonna kill it?” Devin had snuck back into the kitchen, somehow intuiting the possibility of spilled blood.
“I am not killing anything!” Marci insisted. “Go back to your cartoons!”
“Man…” Devin slunk back to the TV.
“Marci, please… ” Cathy started.
“No! Absolutely not!” Marci stood up to emphasize her answer. “I can’t!”
Cathy put the chicken down on the floor and took Marci’s hands with a gentle, but firm grip.
“If you don’t, she will hurt you. She will hurt Devin.” She whispered to Marci. “I don’t think she’ll be satisfied unless some blood is spilled. Whose would you rather it be?”
Marci swallowed hard. “Fine. I’ll do it. I might throw up, though.”
Cathy patted her hands. “You’ll be alright.”
Marci ignored the queasiness she felt. “Will this be enough?”
“I’m not an expert, I can’t guarantee anything. But it’s your best shot.”
Twenty minutes later Marci inched her way back to her house, leaving Devin with Cathy. Her load of bread, vegetables, herbs and one anxious chicken was awkward, and she was nervous about facing the terrifying houseguest she had unwittingly invited into her home.
When Marci arrived at her front door she took a deep breath, put the chicken down and twisted the doorknob. The door creaked open a few inches. Marci peered inside, expecting the same scene she had encountered earlier. There was no sign of the woman. Relieved, she crossed the threshold and left her offerings in the hallway. The house was still dark. It was so cold she could almost see her breath and she swore it felt like the house was breathing.
She tiptoed into the kitchen, grabbed a knife, and began gathering some of the food Cathy had recommended. After placing it in the hall with everything else, she padded up the stairs to her bedroom to get her great-grandmother’s ruby bracelet. Marci kept it in its original grey box, hidden underneath some clothes in a dresser.
When she reached the bottom of the stairs again, the spirit was waiting for her. She hovered in the doorway to the kitchen, watching Marci with her head tilted in curiosity.
Marci stepped towards her offerings, and the woman tensed, emitting a hiss.
“Wait, please!” Marci asked her. “I have something for you.”
The woman paused again. She blinked and waited for the offering.
Marci scurried to spread out the food, herbs, and a bottle of homemade wine Cathy had provided. She placed the bracelet in the center and stepped back, waiting to see what effect it might have.
The spirit took in everything then stared back at Marci, waiting.
Marci had hoped to avoid slaughtering the chicken, but Cathy had been right. The spirit wanted blood.
Her stomach started to churn. She picked up the knife she had taken from the kitchen, and opened the chicken’s cage. The bird was skittish, having sensed the creature that stared at it in hunger. Marci grabbed it by the feet. The chicken attempted to get away by flapping its wings. Marci pinned it against her thighs, twisting her right arm into a strange angle. All she needed was a second to make a deep cut in the bird’s throat.
“Oh God…” Marci groaned, as she slashed. The bird still jerked and resisted, but it was too late. Its blood began to spurt out, and Marci did her best to aim it over the rest of the offering. Spatters of it were all over her clothes, the floor, and the wall. Once the chicken stopped moving, she laid it over the rest of the offering and threw the knife down for good measure.
The spirit locked eyes with her, then got down on its hands and knees and made a soft hissing sound. Marci watched a ripple shudder through its skin, a wave of scales that appeared and disappeared under the surface. The woman’s bones creaked and shifted, and her torso lengthened. She opened her mouth, devouring the offering whole, scooping it into her sharp, blackened jaws. She turned to consume more and the rest of her body followed, shimmying and bending to follow its head.
The creature finished, then stood on two legs and closed its eyes. It snapped its body back into a human shape again, piece by piece. It once more looked like a woman, although its dark eyes and sharp teeth were still prominent. The spirit approached Marci, and stood very close to her. It stared, but not in the same way as before. Marci felt it looking clean down into her soul. The spirit curled its mouth into a black, terrible smile and Marci felt herself losing consciousness.
“No, please…” She begged, her knees buckling. Everything sunk into blackness.
When Marci awoke, it was morning. She was in her own bed, still in her clothes from the night before. She jumped, and looked around for the woman. There was no one in the room. Right then, sunlight pierced through her bedroom blinds, nailing her right in the eye. Marci winced and looked over at the clock on the nightstand. It was past noon.
“Shit…” Marci cursed as she sat up and waited for the grogginess of oversleeping to lift. Looking around the room, she realized something was different: no clothes on the floor, no clutter on the dresser, no half-open closet door with junk and shoes spilling out of it.
“Oh God, Devin!” Marci hurried over to his room, stubbing her toe in her haste.
She hobbled over to his door and let loose the breath she was holding. He was kneeling on the floor with an array of action figures.
Marci sagged against the doorframe in relief. “Devin. Is everything okay? Did Cathy bring you here this morning?”
“Everything is totally radical!” Devin responded, currently attacking a Stormtrooper with a Ninja Turtle.
Marci knelt down and snapped her fingers in front of him to get his attention. “Hey, hero-in-a-half-shell, I’m serious. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, Mom.” Devin said it as if it were a ridiculous question. “When we got back you were sleeping on the floor in the living room, but Cathy said you were okay. She brought you to bed, then read me a story before I went to sleep.”
“What about the scary woman, was she there?”
“Nope.” Devin returned his gaze to his toys. “She was back in the statue.”
“Good…” Marci said, sitting back. “Wait, you knew it was the statue?”
“Course! Cathy said you’ll have to do something next year too.” Devin commented.
“Great…” Marci looked around the room and raised an eyebrow. “Devin, did you clean your room this morning?”
“Nope!” He replied.
Marci ignored the inappropriate pride in his answer.
“Did your Dad do this, then?” She asked him. He shook his head. “But your toys are put away, your clothes are in the hamper, there’s no garbage on the floor… Was it Cathy?”
“No, it was like this when I went to bed.” Devin just looked at Marci and shrugged.
When Marci got downstairs to the kitchen, James was putting his breakfast dishes in the sink and pouring himself some more coffee.
“It’s alive!” He joked when he saw her.
“It wants coffee.” Marci met him in a kiss before grabbing a mug from the cabinet. “What time did you get back?”
“Just a couple hours ago.” James took his coffee into the living room. He sat down on the couch in front of an open laptop on the coffee table.
Marci followed him, but stayed standing as she sipped her coffee. “So you stayed overnight?”
“Yeah, I stayed with George and Jen. You know… I thought a lot about what you said.”
“You did?” Marci tried to hold back her surprise.
James half-smiled. “Yeah. You’re right about the drinking. I just… I didn’t want to admit that I was making mistakes. I know I’m stubborn. Admitting that I’ve done something wrong makes it real, makes it a problem. Makes me feel like an idiot.”
“You’re not an idiot,” Marci said, sitting down next to James. “You’re a person with innards and brains and, yeah, imperfections.” She looked into James’ eyes. “But whatever you need to do, we’re here for you. I just want you to be okay, I want you alive and well.”
“I know.” James set his coffee down and put his arms around Marci. “I’m sorry I got so mad yesterday.”
“It’s okay.” Marci shut her eyes and leaned against him.
“I hate to interrupt our nice moment here, but… did you have a cleaning spree last night or something? The house looks amazing!”
“I… don’t know.” Marci cringed at having to fib. “I don’t really remember. It’s all kind of a blur.”
“I’ll bet. Steal too much of the boy’s stash, did we?”
“That could be it.” Marci responded, sitting back up. “I should probably have some food.”
She stood up to walk into the kitchen, slowing down in front of the statue and staring at it. The woman was now seated on her throne, draped across it in a position of cool confidence. As she noticed the difference, Devin bounded down the stairs and walked over to the statue. He placed a chocolate kiss in front of the woman, then continued his journey into the kitchen.
Marci blinked a couple times. “House spirit, huh?” She muttered to herself. “Right on.” She nodded and followed her son.
Rachel Hoover has been a Facebook pal of mine for some time now and, as always, to avoid any sort of bias when it comes to voting, I delete the title and any author name off the story before I even read the first line. This story instantly became my favorite, for a number of reasons, and I am honored to name Rachel and her fantastic story the winner of Mangled Matters’ Second Annual Short Story Contest!