Gazette reporter Stephanie Earls has written the beginning of a spooky tale. How it ends is up to you. Creative writers in grades one through eight are invited to finish the story, in 250 words or fewer, for the chance to win Halloween-themed prizes and publication in The Gazette. Email entries to stephanie.earls@gazette.com by Oct. 22.

Entries MUST include the writer’s full name, grade level, school and contact information

When I was a little kid, afraid of the dark and convinced something sinister lurked in the shadows of my bedroom, my dad would turn on the lights, check all hiding spots, and tickle my arm until I fell asleep.

“Remember, monsters are like spiders,” he’d say. “They’re more afraid of you than you are of them.”

I’m almost 13 now — old enough to know that spiders aren’t out to get me and monsters don’t live under the bed or in the closet.

They live in the ash pit under the fireplace.

If I listen closely at night, I can hear the creeeeeeak of the trap door in the hearth as it’s pushed open from inside, and then the pop and whine of floorboards as something crosses the living room and climbs the stairs.

I sleep with the lights on, when I sleep at all.

“C’mon, lazybones. You’ll make us late again,” yelled my sister Daniella, dashing out the door for the school bus as I gobbled a few scoops of cereal and finger-combed my dirty hair.

I had bigger things to worry about than breakfast and bad grooming. Whatever otherworldly creature was stalking my home in the wee hours, it was definitely not more afraid of me. But tonight, if everything went according to plan, it would be.

At lunch, Spooky Sarah was waiting — as promised — in the hall outside the cafeteria.

“Did you bring it?” I asked my former babysitter, who was heading to art school after graduation.

Sarah’s black-lipsticked mouth curled into a grin, and she pulled a small leather pouch from her backpack. I took it and started to unlace the top, but she stopped me.

“Not here,” she said. “Only when you’re absolutely ready to use it.”

“What’s that smell?”

“Tannis root. Powerful stuff. That’s what you wanted, right?” Sarah handed me a folded up piece of paper and a pillar candle. “Make sure you follow the steps perfectly, or I’m not responsible for what happens. Let’s just say I’m not responsible, period.”

As midnight approached, I crept down to the living room and got to work.

The paper instructed me to keep the room dark except for a single candle flame, sprinkle the stinky herbs on the floor in a circle around me, and then read three lines written in a language I didn’t recognize.

I was halfway through the ritual when the metal trap door started to squeak open, and my sister flipped on the lights.

“What the heck are you….” Daniella said, her words trailing off as she saw the thing crawling out of the fireplace.

Then she looked at me, and screamed.

TO BE FINISHED, BY YOU!

Reporter

Stephanie Earls is a news reporter and columnist at The Gazette. Before moving to Colorado Springs in 2012, she worked for newspapers in upstate NY, WA, OR and at her hometown weekly in Berkeley Springs, WV, where she got her start in journalism.

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