The Halloween Contest

October 1959
Peggy Standish

         Sister Mary Therese's pointer smacked against the blackboard! White dust floated from the word written in nearly perfect penmanship.
        “CONSCIENCE,” she said loudly, “is what we must rely on to tell us what is right from wrong."
        Then she put down the pointer and took up the chalk. Pulling back the long sleeve of her robe, she added more words so it read, “Conscience is the moral compass that guides our souls.”
        Sister Mary Therese was an imposing figure enough, but when she waved that pointer of hers around, you knew you’d better pay attention.
        I thought about what those words meant. Most of the time I was able to let my mind steer me away from doing something I thought might be wrong. Still, there were moments when my will was weak, and my compass wasn’t always pointing north.


Enter the school newspaper contest
And give us a thrill,
Have your Halloween story published

They’ll be winners from each grade
One through Eight,
We’ve got deadlines to meet
So don’t be late!

Runners-up will read their compositions
 at the Halloween Assembly
With the winners to be announced afterward.
1st place - a case filled with new art supplies
2nd place - a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys book
(depending on who wins)
3rd place - Bozo the Clown Lunch Box
Deadline for entries October 15th


        My best friend, Kenna, and I looked at the flyer hanging on the hall bulletin board.
        “What? School just started a week ago and they’re already putting up things about Halloween?” Kenna shook her head.
        I reread what the prizes were, and barely heard her grumbling. Who cared about the lunch box, I was in the sixth grade and wouldn’t be caught dead with one. Though the Nancy Drew book sounded good (Heck! I’d even like the Hardy Boys book), it was the first prize that caused my eyes to shine. A box filled with new art supplies.
        Last year, I’d made a surprising discovery about myself. I could draw. Actually, draw!
        It started one Sunday morning when I took the Chicago Tribune and tried to copy Snoopy and Charlie Brown from the Peanuts comic strip. As much as I liked my new hobby, only Kenna and members of my family knew my secret. I wasn’t ready yet for the world to know, not until I got better and felt more confident. That case of new art supplies was just the ticket I needed to help me on my journey to get there. I wanted to win first prize more than anything.


        For the next few weeks, I worked on my entry, writing story after story. Nothing seemed to be working. It needed to be different; it needed to be needed to be the best. I had given up my favorite television shows, Dobie Gillis and Bonanza (twice) and a trip to Buffalo’s ice cream parlor. But my sacrifice didn’t yield a single word that pleased me. Nothing I wrote was good enough.


        It was Tuesday, October 13th. I looked at the flyer once again in the hope that I had read the submission date wrong. But nope. I stared at the flyer, searching for I don’t know what, and like the beacon of a lighthouse shining through a foggy haze, the words guided me right to an idea. The flyer rhymed, and so would I. 
        I had just two days to make it work. That evening, filling the wastebasket with crumpled paper, the pressure mounted. Anybody who's ever tried to make words rhyme knows it’s not easy. Each time I wanted to give up, I thought of new brushes and bright colored tubes of paint. I would have to wait all the way till my birthday or Christmas to get what could be mine by Halloween.
        It was late Wednesday evening when I reprinted everything and read it out loud. I wasn’t sure that it rhymed the right way, but it sounded OK to me, and if I do say so myself, kind of spooky.
        Next, I needed an audience.  After all, I’d be expected to read it in front of the whole school. I was about to ask my older sister, Babs, and thought the better of it. She might tell me what I needed to know, but didn’t want to hear. Instead, I headed straight for the twins bedroom and asked them if they wanted to listen to a bedtime story. 
        They were only five, and for a moment, I hesitated. Was my story too scary for them? Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. I knew that Katie could be a bit morbid. She had a section in our backyard near Mom’s flower garden where she kept an animal cemetery. Dead birds, squirrels, rabbits and who knows what other carcasses made their way into Katie’s makeshift graveyard, so she might be able to handle my Halloween poem. And as for Jimmy, well he did have a sensitive nature. But Heck! I needed someone to listen. If he got scared, he’d just have to get over it. 
        “Who wants to hear a story I made up?” I knew I’d get a positive answer.  The pair of them would jump at the opportunity to garner attention from one of their older sisters.
        “Sure,” Jimmy said, climbing to the top of his bunk bed.
        “What kind of story is it?” asked Katie sliding off her slippers. 
         “It’s a poem, the kind that rhymes. It’s about Halloween,” I answered.
        Giving away no more details than that, seeing that they were settling in their beds, I sat on the floor cross-legged. Opening my black and white composition book, I began to read.


Margaret Louise Standish
St. Sebastian School
Grade 6

           We couldn’t wait for costumes,
                       and bags of candy to collect,
                               for party games at school,
                                       and jokes and pranks to pull.

           Halloween was coming,
                     excitement in the air,
                         the old word for it…All - Hollows - Eve,
                                our word for it …The BIG SCARE.

          This year was going to be different,
                      this year was going to be rare,
                          cause we thought up something awful,
                                for our annual Halloween dare.


                 At the end of Shady Tree Lane,
                 stands an old abandoned house,
                     it’s been cursed, some say, for many years,
                              ever since the last owners moved out.

          Our parents won’t tell us exactly why,
                  “It’s much too horrible to hear,
                       for a child’s delicate ears.”
                          “If we told you, you’d have nightmares
                                                     for a solid straight year!”


                So, on Halloween night,
                 a ghost, a tramp, a vampire, and clown,
                       headed out together to the edge of town,
                          to a place that was cold, gray, 
                                                     and crawling with rats,
                          with rickety shutters, fallen gutters, 
                                                                and flying bats.

        The wind seemed to whisper a warning of,

               “Don’t go, stay away,
                                      from that house today.

                For wicked things happened
                                within that space, 
                                           and evil still lingers
                                                     about the place.

               You’ve one last chance to change your fate
                                 go not a step further,
                                                    before it’s too late.”
      Above the ancient stone house
                 hung a haloed moon,
                       Casting down its silver glow,
                                        a sense of impending doom.

        I should have paid attention,
                 to my feelings and the signs.
                       ‘Stead, I chose to ignore it,
                                      told myself, “It’s in my mind.”

            We joined hands beneath the white bones
                 of an old dead tree,
                                   The ghost,
                                             the tramp,
                                                         the clown,
                                                                   ...and me.

        We took an oath to seal our dare,
                              and swore to each other
                                               to take on The Big Scare.

       "One of us …,
                             must spend the entire night,
                                                in that empty shell.

       One of us…,
                           must come out and (hopefully)
                                                              live to tell.”

       Just then, for a moment, I swore I heard it again.
                                          The wind whistling in my ear,

                      “Don’t go, stay away,
                                     from that house today.

             For wicked things happened
                                    within that space,
                                            and evil still lingers
                                                           about the place.

            You’ve one last chance to change your fate,
                                    go not a step further,
                                                          before it’s too late.”

    Then clown opened his big red mouth,
                                broke the spell and spit,
                      “Yea, but who’s gonna' be the one?
                                    Who’s gonna' walk into that pit?”

    This shook us from our trance,
                      we dropped our hands to our sides.
                                  Our bond was broken,
                                     by what we now had to decide.

      Each of us thought the -“other guy”
                                              had nothing to fear.
             Guess we were hopin’ that the - “other guy”
                                       would be the one to volunteer.

   Cowards may be short on bravery,
                              but they usually have ideas to spare,
   “Let’s draw straws. The shortest gets the rap,”
                                                         the ghost declared.

   We searched and found,
                        some old dried brambles,
                                             broke them in fours,
                                                      and took the gamble.

    Each of us drew one,
                                      till there were only two left.
    It was between tramp and me,
                                    I could hardly catch my breath!

       Funny how quickly time can fly.
                                A years’ already come, gone,
                                                     and past us right by.

    Each of us knows our lives will never be the same,
                                     all because of that stupid game.


      Ya’ see...
                 I was the lucky one that night.
                            The tramp drew the short straw,
                                and was bound to take on the fright.

   Slowly, he crept up the path,
                           toward the crumbling old home,
                                    We stood by, watched him walk,
                                                           by himself, all alone.

    He stopped for moment
                and asked with his eyes,
                                “Call me back, please,
                                                      won’t you guys?”

   But I wasn’t,
                  and ghost wasn’t,
                                  and clown wasn’t,
                                                 going to be the one…

   To break the oath,
                        to pop the pact,
                                 to tell him to turn around
                                                       and come on back.

  So the tramp kept on movin’
                  even though he didn’t want to go,
                               till the shadow of the house,
                                      seemed to swallow him whole.

  Silence can be really noisy,
                   if you know what I mean.
                                It seemed to last forever,
                                     till we heard a curdling scream!

 Then the house itself,
                    began to rattle and shake,
                                  the ground beneath us,
                                                      shifted and quaked.

 Green bolts of lightning
            shot out through boarded up windows,
                           thundering down on us,
                                        like clashing cymbals.

 Knocked right on our backsides,
                by the rolling land.
                               We found our feet,
                                          scrambled, and ran.

 We spoke not a word,
            just read each other thoughts.
                      What happened back there,
                                                 was all our fault.

  No one ever saw
            the little tramp again,
                  And we swore we’d never tell a soul
                                   what happened to our friend.

 Living with a guilty secret,
                  and living with fear,
                     can really gnaw away at your conscience
                                                if you’ve done it for a year.

  This Halloween night we’ll hide beneath a cover,
                        in the attic or under the bed,
                             But if you ask me, it won’t matter,
                                   'cause nothing can stop the dead.


   Sure as dark clouds loom high in the sky,
            I can feel it way down deep in my bones,
                  the tramp’s comin’ to take one of us back,
                                to the other side, he now calls home.

  A sudden gust of coldness
             just rushed past my side.
                             It blew off my blanket
                                                under which I tried to hide.

  A familiar voice, a warning,
                                      whispers on the wind,

                    “Don’t stay, run away,
                                      from your house today.
             For wicked things will happen
                                                within this space,

                                     and evil will come
                                                tonight at your place.

             You’ve one last chance to change your fate,
                                             I‘m sorry…
                                                            I think it‘s too late!”


        “What did you think of my poem?” I asked them closing my notebook.
        “I like the Cat In The Hat better…that rhymes too you know,”  Katie answered, her voice muffled beneath her blanket.
        I looked up at Jimmy. He was sitting in the corner against the wall with his Davy Crockett covers pulled to his face, only his large blue eyes were visible as they looked down at me. 
        “What about you Jimmy? What did you think of it?”
        “I think we should leave the light on in our room tonight, that’s what I think,” he answered.
        “Awww come on,” I chided them. “Don’t act like such little kids.”
        “We are little kids,” mumbled Katie, still buried under her bed covers.
        The pride I felt in my hard written work overshadowed any guilt I should have had. Now, I was sure that I had it made in the shade with my spooky story-poem. I walked out with a smile of satisfaction on my face, leaving their bedroom light blazing brightly.


        The next morning as Mom poured cereal into my bowl, she was still in her robe and pajamas. Unusual for my mother, who was up and ready, well before any other family member, frying eggs or working on some kind of hot breakfast.
        “Jimmy and Katie crawled into bed with us last night.” She yawned, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “It seems that story of yours frightened them.”
        “It did?” I asked, trying to feign an expression of innocence.
        Dad was reading the morning news. “Yes.” He barely lifted his eyes from the paper. “We didn’t get a wink of sleep last night.” He immediately returned to his reading and randomly said, “This is interesting, they launched the Explorer 7 yesterday at Cape Canaveral.” And then went off mumbling something about it measuring the energy of the sun.
       Mom wasn’t sidetracked for a second. “They are too young for such things," she continued with her lecture. “You know how gullible Jimmy is. I would have thought you had better judgment than to read something that would scare the ba-jeebers out them.”
       “OK, OK.” I scooped up my last spoonful of cold Post Toasties. “I won’t read it again to them.”
        And that was the truth. Of course, as I left the table, I omitted telling her that this was the tale I would enter in the contest and most likely be reading it to the whole of St. Sebastian’s students. I was sure the kids at school would love the spookiness of it. Mothers don’t know everything.
       “I mean it. No more of those,” she added one more time, as I walked out the door. “It’ll give them nightmares!”


        That very day at noon, I handed my entry to Johnny Hersztski, the editor of the Eagle’s Quill.
        “Looks like you put a lot of work into this,” Johnny said, flipping through the pages.
        “I did,” I told him proudly.
        “I’m glad you got it to me on time. There aren’t many sixth graders who entered the contest. Counting yours, only three. It’ll go before the committee of judges this week, you’ll find out soon if you made the cut. Those in the running will be announced over the PA Friday or Monday afternoon.”
        “Only three?” I asked, hoping he would tell me who. 
        “Only three,” he confirmed, divulging no more information.
        The next few days were filled with anticipation. With only a few entries from my grade, I was a shoo-in. I imagined myself taking on a project with my secret hobby with new paint, crayons, and pencils. It would be a challenge to draw the fashionable Katy Keene comic book character. 
        I suppose it goes without saying that rehearsing my poem was a priority. I kept trying to get just the right effect. Soft and whispering for the voice on the wind, bold and loud for the main character’s voice. If the contest was a close call, this could be the difference between winning and losing.


        While we lined up to leave the classroom for recess, I was just about to give up on Friday, resolving to wait for Monday, when the principal’s voice rang out over the speaker.
        “Good afternoon boys and girls,” Mother Scholastica's voice crackled. “I would like to announce the following contenders for the Eagle's Quill writing contest.”
        As she slowly read through the names of each grade level, I scanned the room to see if I could detect who the other sixth grade contestants might be. I knew that one of them would be upset if they lost out. Curbing my enthusiasm when my name was announced wouldn't be easy. It isn't nice to gloat.
        Finally, Mother Scholistica said, "And now for the students of Sister Mary Therese's classroom. “Janice Gomez, Ronald Lawson...”
        “And, and?” I held my breath.
        “And…,” she said, “now for the seventh-grade class."
        I was stunned into silence. “Wait a minute, I don’t think she’s done!” I wanted to call out.
        After that, I didn’t hear a word. My mind couldn’t cope with the catastrophe of defeat. Gone were the brushes and drawing paper, even Nancy Drew fell through my fingers.
       Leaving the classroom, my shoulders dropping in disappointment, I said to Kenna, “I can’t understand it. I worked so hard on that poem.”
        “Me neither,” my best friend agreed.
        Johnny Hersztski, who was right behind me, heard the two of us talking and said, “It was great, I think it should have won,” he told me. “Mother Scholastica liked your work too, she said it was very creative. But the principal has the final say so on the contest.”
        “Then how come Peggy’s poem didn’t make it?” Kenna asked for the both of us.
        “Cause of the younger kids," Johnny said as we walked out the door, "she told me it'll give em’ nightmares!”

        THE END     

Copyright Joyce E.S. Pyka ©
(Summary: Young Adult Historical Fiction, Spooky, Humorous, Halloween, Short Story)

About the photographs:

Photograph 1
Katy Keene was a comic book character in the 1950s. Sophisticated and stylish her books were quite popular with young girls back then and in later years. Today, some of the older issues are highly collectible. This picture was printed with permission of To see more of Katy Keene comic books follow the link to their website:

Photograph 2
The Explorer 7 Satellite was actually launched in October 1959. The space race was on, and anything launched from Cape Canaveral was exciting and big news. Follow the Wikipedia links for more on the Explorer 7 Satellite and Cape Canaveral: