The Gazette asked writers in first through eighth grade to submit endings to an unfinished spooky story written by reporter Stephanie Earls. Our judges turned on all the lights, steeled their nerves and narrowed the list of frighteningly creative entries to three.
Third place goes to Alayna Garrett, a fourth-grader at Douglass Valley Elementary; second place to Aztin Arnell, a fifth-grader at Patriot Elementary, and first place to Kate Zerefos, an eighth-grader at Monument Academy.
Here's the story intro, complete with Kate's winning ending:
It was late afternoon on a Friday, and Monroe was in the backyard, attempting CPR on the family's epic fail of a garden patch, when a too-close voice said: "Psssst."
She looked up to find her ancient next-door neighbor, Mr. OddOne, peering through a missing board in the fence.
"I was beginning to think I'd gone invisible again. Ha!" he said. "Which twin are you?"
"Not the one who feeds your cats," said Monroe, standing and clapping dirt from her hands. "That'd be Audrey."
"Oh, yes. Of course, of course," he said. "She home?"
"Sleepover. Mom wants us to 'explore individual identities,'" Monroe said, rolling her eyes and dropping air quotes. "She's a therapist."
Mr. OddOne's real surname was Rodwin, but Audrey had bestowed the nickname that stuck after returning from her first pet-sitting adventure there over spring break.
"His house has more rooms and floors than there should be, and he keeps all the inside doors locked," Audrey had reported, recounting how she'd needed a jailer-sized circle of keys to move through the place. "And even worse, he paid me in lettuce and radishes!"
"His garden's older than you girls - and probably most of the houses in the city," said their mother, as she tossed Audrey's salary into a dinner salad.
"I just don't understand how he gets his plants so lush, when I can't grow a single green bean .."
A slender black cat appeared at Mr. OddOne's feet, slinked a few figure-eights around his ankles and then smoothly leapt through the gap in the fence.
"Falada will escort you 'round front," he said. "I've got some giant Halloween pumpkins that need a good home ... and a favor I'd like to ask."
Monroe found the tall front gate unlatched and the skinny, white-haired man standing, like a person-sized question mark, on the front porch.
As Mr. OddOne tugged on a long, black overcoat, he explained that he'd been called away unexpectedly.
"Falada'll show you where I store the bowls and vittles. Dinner is at sundown, sharp, and - mind - nobody likes it when food is late," he said.
"Don't I need keys?" Monroe asked, as Mr. Oddone strode away more briskly than any 100-year-old man should.
"Oh, I never lock the doors this time of year," he said, as he slipped through the gate.
"I believe children deserve the chance to explore their identities ...."
Kate Zerefos, an eighth-grader at Monument Academy
Monroe had no idea what to do. Audrey was brave; she would already be inside exploring. Monroe ran from the untold horrors next door; her feet were on her own front porch before she could blink.
Just before sundown, yowling filled the air. Low and ominous, it chilled Monroe to the bone. Reluctantly, she left the safety of her room.
The instant she crossed the entryway of his house, the howling stopped. A chorus of purrs grew louder and louder.
Falada and another cat slipped out from behind a large door labeled Food Processing and meowed at something behind her. Monroe turned toward the sliding door that led to the garden. Hundreds of seedlings were pressed against the glass, mouths on their leaves gasping.
"Hello, twin," Mr. OddOne declared as he strode past her, wiping cat blood off the counter.
"I thought it was your sister," he said, throwing cat food at the sprouts. "Easy mistake with twins."
"I'm dying. Soon the plants will need someone to provide for them. They like you more than they like me."
Uncomprehending, Monroe nodded.
"You can be the caretaker, if you want. The plants chose you, after all."
Mr. OddOne stared at her. "What do you say?" He leaned in closer. "Will you feed them next season?"
Monroe glanced over at her house. Every part of her life revolved around Audrey, Audrey, Audrey.
Almost immortality. Forever to explore her own identity, whatever that was. Monroe felt the answer deep inside herself.
Aztin Arnell, a fifth-grader at Patriot Elementary:
Mr. Oddone slowly vanished, startling Monroe. She shook her head blaming it on the fog rolling in. Monroe went back to her garden. She worked so hard that by sundown she completely forgot about feeding Mr. Oddone's cats. "Time for dinner! You've been working all day!" Monroe's mother yelled. She was not very hungry, but she knew better than to argue.
She went inside, washed her hands and took a seat at the table. As her mother sat down the food, Monroe suddenly remember, "Oh no! I forgot about Mr. Oddone's cats!" Her mother said, "Nope, it can wait. You know the dinner rules."
As Monroe ate, she watched the clock get later and later. It was long past sundown when her mother finally excused her from the table. Monroe's imagination was running away from her as she rushed to Mr. Oddone's house, it was spooky enough during the day, but in the dark, it was terrifying. As she went to open the door, it seemed to open by itself. "Feed the cats, that's it, feed the cats that's all." Monroe said quietly to herself.
As she searched for the cats, she saw a door that read "Garden Patch." Curiosity got the best of her, she slowly opened the door. Inside was a small garden gnome. As Monroe, slowly crept closer she saw the gnome looked exactly like Mr. Oddone; just as she bent down to get a closer look the gnome screamed HELP ME!!
Alayna Garrett, a fourth-grader at Douglass Valley Elementary
Monroe smiled wickedly. "Can I carve faces on the pumpkins?" asked Monroe.
"No," came the reply.
"Oh well," Monroe muttered under her breath. "I'm going to carve faces anyway."
"I heard that and that's a very bad idea," warned Mr. Oddone.
"Oh whatever," said Monroe rolling her eyes after Mr. Oddone had left. Monroe crept towards the pumpkins and fished out a pocketknife. After making sure no one was looking, Monroe opened the sharpest, vilest knife and began carving. As soon as she had finished carving the first, she immediately began carving the second, third, fourth, and finally the fifth pumpkin. When Monroe had finished looking over her work, she scampered away for dinner. Later that evening, Monroe heard the moaning and creaking of fence wood. It's just the wind she thought. But then she noticed a faint orange glow, and wondered if someone had lit the jack-o- lanterns.
Monroe crept over to the windowsill.
"Aaaaaaah!" She screamed when she saw what was happening. All five pumpkins were out, creeping around and scaring people. Monroe hoped that her parents thought that her scream was somebody else's. Monroe vaulted into her bed, too frightened to do anything else. Just then, she saw her worst fear. A pumpkin was sitting above her, ready to strangle her. But then, the
weirdest thing happened. Mr. Oddone leaped into the room, carrying four lifeless pumpkins. He
whispered some magic words, and poof! The pumpkin was dead.
"Can't say I didn't warn you," grinned Mr. Oddone.