Sample 1 by Tiera Nhem
That old man gave Krystal Gean the creeps. She thought back to the spam-looking email asking her if she would be willing to take on a renovation project for the old bookshop down the street, Burke’s Books. At first she had been overjoyed. She loved going there to unwind, the smell of old paper and cedar wood greeting her with open arms after a night spent furiously working on designs for clients. With this project, she felt a spark that had been missing for quite some time. So after tentatively responding, she had arranged a meeting time with the owner to discuss plans for the shop.
Now that she was here in his office, however, she couldn’t shake the nagging sense of dread crawling around her stomach.
“I want to ensure that every single book is accounted for — do you understand that, Miss Gean?” The bookshop owner was an old, spindly looking man. His long, spider-like arms slid across the table as he leaned forward and said, “During the construction, if I find any books damaged — ANY AT ALL — I will be holding you personally responsible.”
“Yes, I’ll make sure my team is especially careful during the process, Mr. Burke,” Krystal stammered. “You can rest easy; you’re in good hands.”
He leaned back and stared at her a moment longer than she would have liked and simply said, “For your sake, I better be.” Despite herself, a cold shiver slithered down her spine.
The next day, Krystal tried to shake her feelings of worry. She had spent most of the morning measuring dimensions of the area Mr. Burke had closed off for renovation, but now she was taking a much needed break. Unpacking the lunch she had brought with her, she munched on a sandwich, aimlessly walking along the shelves, eyes glancing across the various titles and authors. Just as she was about to turn a corner, one book in particular caught her eye. It looked like it was bound entirely in blood red leather. No title. No author.
That’s strange, Krystal thought. She switched her sandwich to her other hand and reached to slide the book off the shelf.
She couldn’t explain the crawling sensation she felt as she began to open the book. Upon closer inspection, it almost felt like skin.
This must be really expensive leather.
The first page looked like it was written entirely in Latin in… red ink? She went to flip a few more pages and caught a glimpse of an illustration when a cold, bony hand grabbed her arm.
She screeched, dropping the book and her sandwich, spinning around. An older woman stood looking at her with worry.
“Are you alright, dear? I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” she rasped in a high, brittle voice. Before Krystal could respond, the old woman continued on, “You see, I was just wondering if you could help me find a book.”
“Well, what are you looking for?” Krystal asked.
“The Collected Dilbert.”
“Like… the comic?” The old woman simply nodded.
“I, uh, don’t think you’re going to find that here, sorry,” Krystal replied weakly. She went to say something else when a figure from upstairs caught her eye. Just like before, Mr. Burke stood staring at her. Before she could do or say anything, he whisked away behind a row of shelves.
She turned her attention back to the woman, but she was already tottering away. When she looked down, she saw that the book was gone.
“What the fuck is happening here?”
[Insert Story Name Here] by Juin Yeh
Once upon a time in the spooky hours of midday, a man stood behind the counter of his beloved bookshop called “Yes Kids I Have Books”. Normally, the shop didn’t see much traffic, a fact the owner was very confused about since the sixty year old, falling apart building was very much still in peak condition in his eyes.
But one day, when the door bell sung the second greatest sound in the world, the man cast his expecting, bloodshot eyes only to find a black and white little pipsqueak standing in front of his counter. Disgusted at the thought of not being able to end the day with the future of food in his stomach, his hand lifted to wave the creature away when an actual customer came in.
Krystal Gean, the famous architect he sometimes saw buying strange books cast him a look before turning towards a bookshelf in the back. He watched as she went, bloodshot eyes as happy as they could look following her path, forgetting about the lost little creature still standing nearby.
It was perfect, he exclaimed internally because villains need to keep their plans to themselves. He needed to get his reward for the day. Grinning smugly, the way too smug man headed to the back, a water bottle in one hand because he was “thirsty”, and a metal bookend in the other hand because he still had a job to do.
When he got close to Krystal, she took a step back from the shelf and asked, “Do you have the book A Murderous Rage?”
The bookshop owner smiled and nodded, replying, “Yes, I’ll show you.”
When she turned around to watch him, he sprayed water out of the bottle at her with a yelled, “Distraction!” As she reached up to wipe at her eyes, his metal bookend occupied hand started to swing when a knife lodged itself next to the man’s head and into the wall.
He turned around, bloodshot eyes surprised at the sight of the disgusting creature from before, but with sprouted red horns on its head. The creature was not smiling though, for a knife had landed close to its own head, the object still shaking after being stabbed into the counter.
The red-horned demon penguin looked back to see an old woman standing at the doorway, a smug look in her eyes, smirk gracing her lips, and a prized books of collected Dilbert comics in her hand.
The evil look got eviler as she raised her book-clutching hand. “I’ve waited so long for this opportunity, and I’ve finally got it. The chance to get… a free book.”
Evil and suspenseful music plays as she leaves the store, turning her back on the forever perplexed, now frozen-in-time characters because the story reached the end.
Sample 3 by Daniel Nash
The stoplight on Denny Way had been red for three minutes going on forever. Krystal Gean, sitting in her least comfortable and best looking pantsuit in the back of an Uber Black, stared blankly out at a liquor store next to a storefront sign advertising a cocktail lounge connected to, of all things, a dance studio. The name of the establishment was — and Krystal imagined the owners had really congratulated themselves on this one — “Neighborhood Barre”, barre being spelled with an extra “r” and “e”.
Next to Krystal sat her client Calvin Waters. Well, almost next to her — he’d placed his hover board upright between them, even belting it in like it was his precious child. Calvin wore a very comfortable, mediocre-looking at best, fleece vest with a Wocka Flocka concert shirt and olive cargo shorts. The boy — there was no way in hell he could be over 24 — had moved to Seattle a year ago from some old-money part of New England to make his fortune in “tech”. After 11 months drinking La Croix and playing ping-pong on South Lake Union, his start-up had flopped, and Calvin had looked deep into his wallet full of Daddy’s money and declared himself an “entrepreneur”. He immediately bough a decrepit bookstore on Capital Hill and hired Krystal to make it “baller af” and also “lit”. She planned to ask him how if he ever got off FaceTime.
Calvin was on minute twelve of a run-on sentence with a friend only called “G-Dawg” who he’d caught on a trip to a vape shop.
“I’m telling you. I. Am. Telling. You. My Uncle Jack has a hold in with Reprise Records, and he promised me two of the three Jonas Brothers for my opening night gala.”
They both whooped, “JO-NAS”, piercing Krystal’s ear drums. The Uber driver turned up his stereo volume, a Lil Uzi song.
Calvin sighed and leaned back, spreading his legs irritatingly wide into Krystal’s space. “Pretty soon, bruh,” he said, “Everyone’s going to see it. The name Calvin Phineus Waters across the city skyline. I’m gonna be the next Google.”
“You’re doing it, bro!” G-Dawg said.
Krystal rolled her eyes. Calvin’s “next Google” was him demolishing a historic building to make way for vague plans built around “automated drone photography”.
Still, he was paying big money, which meant she was all in. The light turned green.
Sample 4 by Maxine Metzger
INTERIOR BOOKSHOP — EVENING OF OCT. 31
Betty: Sir, I just want my copy of The Collected Dilbert, and I’ll be on my way.
Simon: Ma’am, I told you three days ago that we don’t carry terrible comics in this shop.
Betty: (bitterly) Well, what am I supposed to do then?
Simon: (flatly) Get better taste.
[Suddenly, a loud banging erupts as the shuttered windows fling open. The lights flicker ominously.]
(mutttering) That goddamn demon- Does this every blasted Halloween.
He walks around the counter to shut the windows. His grandson, Gunter, suddenly appears from the storeroom, dressed for Trick-or-Treating in his penguin costume.
Gunter: (whining) Grandpa, can we go now? I’ve been waiting for hours.
Simon: (sighing, exhausted from the child’s pestering) Yes, alright, Gunter.
[He opens the front door, gesturing to the old woman.]
Ma’am, we’re closing early. You need to leave, now.
Betty: (grumbling) No good- Lousy- Rotten-
Before she could exit, a dark shadow appeared above her. She stopped in shock, and before she could utter another word, a lamp dropped out of the darkness, smashing into her head. She fell to the ground, unconscious.
Simon: I’ll kill you, demon!
Krystal Gean: Now what’s all that raucous?
[She peers over the second floor banister.]
Oh, my! Is that poor woman okay?
Simon: Pipe down, Miss Gean! Gunter, fetch my shotgun and my rock salt casings — it’s time to go demon hunting.
THREE HOURS LATER
Krystal Gean: (whispering) Mister, why are we bringing this here dead rabbit up to the attic?
Simon: It’s bait for that bloody demon, Miss Gean. The summoning circle it originated from is in the attic.
Gunter: (from behind) My papa’s a demon hunter!
Simon: (gruffly) Retired.
Krystal Gean: Huh. (pause) I’ll make a note to paint over the, uh, “summoning circle” during the renovations.
Simon: That’s kind of you, Miss Gean.
The trio entered the attic, with Simon placing the bloodied rabbit in the center of a glowing pentagram on the floor.
Simon: Now Miss Gean, I would like you to stand in front of the circle and chant “in omnia ferratus”. That will call the demon to the circle. Gunter, stand by the light switch. Keep the lights turned off until my signal. I’ll hind behind this here pile of boxes. We’re gonna surprise the motherfucker.
Both took their places without question — Krystal Gean looking nervous, Gunter looking determined.
Gunter hit the lights, leaving the room lit only by the faintly glowing summoning circle.
Krystal Gean: (quietly at first but gaining in volume) In omnia ferratus.. in omnia ferratus.. in omnia ferratus.. in omnia–
A dark smoke began growing inside the pentagram.
Demon: (booming) Well, well, well. I see we have a tasty little morsel here for me to devour.
Krystal Gean: (weakly) Uhm… yeah… I- I hope you like rabbit.
Demon: (laughing) I was not reffering to the rabbit, my dear.
The face of the demon appeared floating in the smoke, gums stretching over rows of wickedly sharp teeth as the beast smiled.
Simon: Now, Gunter!
The boy moved to hit the lights, but a dark hand reached out from the smoke and intercepted him, grabbing him by the throat and lifting him in the air.
Demon: You are an old fool, Simon. I see you’ve lost your touch. Tsk- tsk- tsk. You should have known it would not be so easy to trap me.
[He began squeezing the boy’s throat. Gunter’s choked cries echoed throughout the attic.]
It’s a shame your grandson has to die for your stupidity.
Simon stepped out from his hiding place, defeated.
Simon: NO! Take me. Leave the boy. I beg you.
Demon: I could do that. Or… I could kill you, too!
A second hand reached out from the smoke, grabbing Simon’s throat. As it squeezed the life from him, the beast’s body began to materialize from the smoke, lending it strength on this plane to destroy the formidable demon hunter and his kin.
Suddenly, the lights flicked on, and a salt-coated spear emerged from the demon’s chest from where it entered through its back. A roar of agony filled the space as the beast collapsed into dust. The old woman emerged from behind the defeated beast, panting.
Betty: I just wanted my book.