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"The clock strikes," The White-Haired Woman says with her back turned to you. "Do you hear it?"

You are unsure of how to answer, but thankfully she is not looking for one. She tosses a copy of The Wolf in the Woods, the only one in existence, out of the airlock. You are protected from the vacuum by a simple space suit. The White-Haired Woman wears nothing over her usual brown pantsuit, but she seems un-vexed. Giant lenses rise from the white soil of the moon; they concentrate the sun’s cold light into hot beams that incinerate the book in a flash. You wonder how this is possible without atmosphere.

The White-Haired Woman does not turn toward you, she never does, but she does shift her posture slightly to indicate that she is turning her attention back to you.

"The campaign is over," she says to you. "They’ll be getting their refunds over the next few days."

The White-Haired Woman’s demeanor darkens in a way only you can sense. "And the judges?" she asks you. You wince, remembering what happened the last time judges were mentioned.

"It’s not an official announcement, but Inkshares did send an email out a few days ago explaining that another book from the Horror contest would be published. It did not reference the competition or the judges directly, and there’s nothing specific in the rules about choosing only one book, but we feel confident that this is the end and that an official announcement is imminent. The Wolf in the Woods is dead."

The White-Haired Woman’s torso turns toward you like any normal person’s would, except that her head does not turn with it. Regardless, you get the sense that she is smiling.

In a blink, she is close to you, and pushes you backward. A metal door with a small window at eye level slams shut in front of you, and you realize you are in a sophisticated coffin-shaped box.

"We are terminating your contract, effective immediately," she says. "I, personally, want to convey to you that it has nothing to do with your job performance. In fact, you were an excellent hire and, if you weren’t an Unevent, I would tell you to put me as a reference on your resume."

The coffin suddenly launches toward Earth, hurtling at an impossible speed. It breaches the atmosphere and descends on a familiar area-- your home. You see yourself on the ground, looking up at you with wide eyes that are just beginning to process what is happening. Moments before smashing into your own body, moments before waking up in your bed as you do every morning, you hear The White-Haired Woman say her final parting words.

"The Department of Funerals thanks you for your service."






(P.S. you all raised over $200 for Room to Read! Good for you!)



You enter your front door to find a computer on the floor. It is old. Ancient. A filthy, clunky CRT sits on top of a bulky gray box with black grease smeared across it and floppy disk drives on its front. There are no input devices.

Also, notably, there are dozens, maybe as many as a hundred black wires flowing out the back of the box and into every outlet, phone jack, and light bulb socket in your residence. Some cords are jammed brutally into the wall, seemingly connected to nothing.

The monitor flickers to life. Green text fills it.

"It’s November 1st. A day without any magic.

Well, unless it’s your birthday, I guess. Happy birthday, Somebody.

The Wolf in the Woods finished in fourth place in the Inkshares Horror Contest. That was just one place away from winning outright and being published. For all my words tapped on all my pages, I can’t find the ones to say how thankful I am that you all got me there. Right now, fourth is a good place to be-- the judges of the competition will deliberate through the course of this week over whether any additional books should be selected, and being The Next Book Down is a great place to be for that.

In the meantime, I have a couple of new things I’d like you to see.

  • Dan the Snowman, a webcomic I write that my brother Monty draws. Monty did the cover art for The Wolf in the Woods, and he’s top-notch. Dan isn’t horror, but I think you’ll find the same vein of weirdness going down its middle.

  • Raised on Radio, the novel I’m working on for NaNoWriMo (and the one I worked on last year-- that’s not cheating, right?). It’s a Spielbergian ’80s sci-fi story with a summer romance thrown in. It’s LGBT+ friendly and features a pretty good female protagonist, if I do say so myself. It’s a little rough right now, as all NaNoWriMo drafts are, but maybe there’s enough there for you to get a taste of the story and vibe and warm up to some of the characters. I’m not trying to fund this right now, but if you liked The Wolf in the Woods, it’d be great if you mosied over and hit that "follow" button.

See you around. Stay weird.
--Ben"

The computer blinks off. Everything is quiet. You feel a little sad, even though you thought you’d be relieved that all these annoying shenanigans would be over. Then, you feel annoyed when you realize that the computer is not going to vanish like the mailbox, the dog, and all the other intrusive weirdness in your life over the past month.



You feel yourself in a forest, standing on a thick layer of pine needles. It feels like you are remembering something happening right now, like it is real, but merely a recording that you are living as it plays. You are next to a tall cylinder with a bevilled top labeled "MEC-A 6." There is a door next to it. The White-Haired Woman stands next to it with her back to you. Her back is always to you.

"This is the end of things," she says, pride in her voice. "In seven hours, we’ll put that book in the Moon Earth Collider and be done with this."

"There’s still time for it to win, right? To get into third place?" you say, dutifully.

"It would be extraordinary for that to happen," she says, confidently. "I know much about this affair has been strange, but we have fought for this outcome. The book is defeated."

"Couldn’t the author still try--" you say, but you are cut off by a scoff from the White-Haired Woman.

"The author!" she says, derisively. "We are concerned about the book, not the author. He is a good typist, nothing more. Perhaps he could have a place in the DOF stenographer pool as a consolation prize. Perhaps he deserves to actually be a part of something worthwhile."

"What about the judges?" you ask. The White-Haired woman turns her head toward you slightly. It is not enough for you to make out any facial features, but you can, at least, tell that she has a face. This is a relief to you.

"Judges?" she asks. You hear nerves in her voice for the first time ever.

"The Inkshares contest. It has judges. They can choose other projects outside of the top three," you say. "And he just released Company Line. It’s got some science fiction flavor, and Inkshares is awfully fond of science fiction."

The White-Haired Woman whips her head around. You know her face isn’t inhuman, but it is unfathomable. You feel as if you are blocking a memory as it happens. The trees around you begin to explode, their bark shattering in all directions. Fire consumes the grove of trees you are in, then all becomes black.

You wake up in your normal bed, at the normal time.


You see a trail of what appears to be hair running down the alley between two buildings. Against your better judgement, you follow it down a small staircase and through an unlocked door. Inside the door is a dark basement. You fumble for the light switch, then yelp when the harsh fluorescent light flickers on.

On the wall is a message, written in elegant cursive. It is written with hair.

"Hey, it’s Ben. Benjamin Gray. The Wolf in the Woods is in fourth place in the Horror Contest! Because of this, I have released a story called "All the Walls are Rotten." 

There’s only about a day left in the contest, and it would take a miracle to get into third place or higher. To be fair, it was a miracle that I got into fourth place, but I’m out of Miracle Juice. 

I’ll let you know what happens, but for now, just enjoy your Halloween. And, if you’re a holdout, please pre-order The Wolf in the Woods! It’s Halloween, for dread’s sake-- do something impulsive."

You switch off the lights and close the door. "This has got to stop," you mutter to yourself.

While you window-shop some shoes in a clothing store, a sad-looking and not-at-all-fit mannequin descends from its plinth and comes to stand next to you. It is wearing an unfashionable and worn red flannel shirt, dirty jeans, and water-stained loafers. Nobody else seems to notice what is happening, nor that the mannequin looks so out-of-place.

The mannequin sighs, then begins to speak. It sounds like it needs someone to talk to, so you let it.

"I didn’t write any of it.

Well, I did. I typed all the words. I just mean none of it was my idea. No, I’m still not being clear. I’m not saying I’m plagiarizing, I’m saying the stories were given to me.

Actually, it’s more like they were leaked to me.

Sometimes I’d dream them. Sometimes they would fall into my empty fireplace as files in manila folders. Sometimes they would beam onto my television. One time I found one as a VHS in a VCR that hadn’t been powered on in years.

I think somebody wants to sabotage The Wolf in the Woods. At first I just told myself that writing horror was making me paranoid, but the roadblocks keep escalating. So, I’m offering a reward for information on this "DOF." I have reason to believe that there is a secret message hidden in the book’s Inkshares "About" page. If you purchase the book between now and Halloween, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card. When you purchase, try to guess the secret message, and you’ll be entered in the contest! And if you guess what "DOF" stands for, you get another entry! You can send your guesses to me on Twitter, or you can just post your guess as a comment on TWITW’s Inkshares page.

Sorry it’s just a $25 card. I’m a poor writer. Also, I don’t have a lot of money."

With this, the mannequin returns to its plinth. A store associate practically yells "who put this horrid thing here?" and takes it to a dumpster outside.

You decide to go outside to enjoy the evening air. You pass by a mailbox in front of an empty lot that looks like it once hosted a building, but it has long ago been demolished. The mailbox isn’t in much better shape; someone obviously took a bat to it for fun. Yet, it stands.

Suddenly, the door on the front begins opening and closing on its own, making a squeaking and clacking noise. You also hear a voice with a thick Boston accent say, "got a message for ya."

A rolled-up piece of paper covered with a dark liquid squirts halfway out of the mailbox. The liquid covers the inside and drips down out of its mouth.

"Oh, fine," the mailbox says, spitting the liquid onto your clothes. "I’ll read it for ya."

The mailbox clears what would be its throat, if it had one. You sincerely hope it does not have one.

"Yesterday, The Wolf in the Woods pulled into fifth place in the Inkshares Horror Contest! I am very grateful for everyone’s support, and as thanks I have uploaded a new story, "Monitors". If I’m being honest, Monitors is a smidge rough compared to other stories I’ve uploaded because it’s very new and I haven’t edited and rewritten it like I have stories like "Because It’s Beautiful" and "This and Every Year." But, I wanted to upload this one because there is a surprising amount of video game fiction on Inkshares, and I wanted to join the club.

If I keep up my momentum, I have a real shot at third place. I know it’s a crummy thing to ask, but I need you to help me get pre-orders, or the book won’t be published and you’ll just get a refund instead of a rad book of scary stories. Be annoying. Use peer pressure on your family. Sacrifice your friendships for me.

--
Benjamin Gray"

A particularly large wad of dark liquid leaps off the mailbox’s door and hits you in your eye, and you blink. When your eyes open again, the mailbox is gone.

Owjtiv 6 David J. Rank/Novel Bookcamp · Author · added about 1 year ago
Thank you for the kind review of my book, A Godawful Thing. I will return the favor.

YOU wake in your bed in the middle of the night because heavy pole-like objects ARE pressing down on your torso. When your eyes adjust to the darkness, you see A dog standing on you in the darkness. It is not your dog. You cry out in alarm at first, but the DOG does not react. When your initial surprise wears off, you DO see that it does not appear to be paying attention to you, AS such, nor did your yelp startle it. YOU see that its eyes ARE milky white.

Suddenly, it speaks to you as if it is human:

"Somebody TOLD me It’s Friday the 13th AND it’s Halloween Month. I would be a failure if I didn’t do something with The Wolf in the Woods today. So, I’ve uploaded Family Recipe, one of my favorite stories from TWITW. I’ll send it to you all in a moment, but of course you can always just read it at TWITW’s Inkshares page. Nobody can STOP you from READING!

If there was ever a day to pre-order THE WOLF IN THE WOODS, a book of 13 horror stories, it’s today. Make it NOW, PLEASE."

SINCERELY, Ben.

P.S., I actually tried to upload "Family Recipe before, but THE uploader kept giving me something called a "DOF error," which I’ve never heard of, nor has Google or any other Inkshares author I’ve talked to. Even Elena in Inkshares customer service was stumped, and nothing stumps her. It almost, kinda, sorta feels like someone didn’t want me to upload the story. Maybe that’s the power of the Halloween Friday the 13th! Maybe it’s a lucky day for folks like you and me."

The dog bounds off of you and you hear it leave your residence. You go back to sleep. You’ve got shit to do tomorrow, after all.


You have been peeking through your blinds at the gigantic murder of crows convened outside your window. Nobody else seems to notice them, although they have been walking around the murder so as not to trample the birds. After hours, the birds suddenly take flight, leaving behind a stone slab. When you work up the courage to go outside and inspect the slab, you see it has writing on it:

"Hello, everyone! This is Benjamin Gray, the author of The Wolf in the Woods. I’m doing very well in the Horror contest, but pitching a book constantly can make one feel self-centered. And the best cure for feeling self-centered is to stop being so self-centered.

For every new person that pre-orders The Wolf in the Woods between now and Halloween, I will donate $5 to Room to Read, an charity that provides literacy education to children all around the world.

Room to Read has benefited 11.5 million children across more than 20,000 communities in 14 countries and aims to reach 15 million children by 2020.

Let’s do it! Let’s help kids read!"

     

"It’s time for a Hail Mary," the woman behind the desk says. "I don’t follow sports, but I believe that is an American Football metaphor."

You nod politely. The woman has her back to you, but you can see that the top of her head is covered in white, short hair. You cannot see anything outside of the windows she is facing except for white light. You do not where you are, or the woman’s name, or why she is talking to you. The only thing on her desk is a copy of a book called "The Wolf in the Woods."

"Release ’Of Sand,’ she says. "It’s the longest story in the book. One chapter a day. Eighteen chapters total."

You balk at this. In the fog of your mind, you do feel vaguely like standing before this woman is part of your job, as is balking at her bold orders, but it feels like a dream insisting upon this information. She sound like every powerful woman you have ever feared combined into a singular voice. She does not have many voices speaking in unison; her voice is the voice of unity.

"Is that wise?" you ask, impertinently. "Doesn’t the Department want these stories suppressed?"

The woman chuckles, but it is not mirthful. It chills you.

"Sometimes we must burn a line in the Earth to keep the fire in its place," she says. "Besides, you are an Unevent. This office is an Unevent. This conversation is an Unevent. An Unevent does not exist; it only has the audacity to pretend."

"Will this not encourage people to purchase the book? Will it not win the contest?" you ask. You begin to understand that it is your job to ask these probing questions, like you are a professional hole-poker. In the moment, it suits you.

"They will purchase it. Then, they will see its absurdity," she says.

"One every day?" you ask a final time.

"One every day," she confirms. "It’s nearly novella length. They’ll have plenty to read."