By Katie Caracciolo
In the fall quarter of my freshman year, I had a dining experience that I’ll never forget. This was right around finals season, and I’d started keeping strange hours, so, as usual, I was eating alone in Portola Dining Commons, isolated on the edge of campus. The sun had just set and the dining commons was nearly abandoned, with most people having already headed home for the holidays. I sat down at my usual table beside the southern bank of windows, arranging my array of pasta dishes carefully before myself.
Digging into my dinner, I was surprised when my dozenth bite jolted me out of my sleep-deprived, caffeine-numbed stupor. Pain shot down my neck, radiating from the back of my jaw. I reached into my mouth, pulling something small and hard from between my back teeth. I was horrified to see, pinched between my first two fingers, a human tooth — a molar — broken before the root as if it had been snapped out.
Frantically, and suppressing a scream, I scrambled my spoon through the thick, slimy noodles, gripping the edge of the table as I revealed a horde of human teeth stashed within the cheesy sauce, specks of blood flecking the creamy goo. I scraped my spoon along the bottom of the dish, revealing a strip of what appeared to be gum tissue smeared in a lump of blood and pus.
I felt dizzy and closed my eyes, pressing my hand to my chest and willing myself to take deep, though trembling, breaths. I told myself that it was just some kind of weird hallucination, just the stress and loneliness of finals season getting to me, and yes, when I opened my eyes, the gore was gone. I poked around in the macaroni with my finger and rifled through the other plates of pasta. Nothing. But I could still feel a pain in my jaw from when I’d bitten down upon that human molar.
I had no choice but to continue eating at Portola for the rest of the year, though I did so sparingly. I stuck to cold, safe foods, mainly fruits and dry cereal. I couldn’t keep anything else down. I felt the impacts of my diet on my health, but there was nothing I could do. I’ll forever keep my distance from the thick stews that could be hiding dark secrets in their oily, murky depths, never knowing if something might reach up to bite me back.
By Zoha Malik
By the time I stepped out of the library, it was a little past 11 p.m. The campus was almost completely deserted, and to my surprise, a fog had visibly begun to roll in. I checked my phone for the time and hurriedly began the short trek to the bus stop.
The trees and buildings were unfamiliar in the whiteness of the fog. I took a left earlier than usual and ended up in a little alleyway. Pausing, I crinkled my nose in disgust. Something smelled foul. Nonetheless, I picked my way down the path, eventually making it to the opening. From there, I could see a lone figure standing by the bus stop. I squinted — there was something wrong with their silhouette. Their head looked strange, disfigured.
I walked closer and my body, as if on instinct, began to slow down as my field of sight cleared. It was a person — no, a body — with a pumpkin in place of a head. It had been grotesquely slashed on all sides and was dripping wet, dark bits of pumpkin flesh out of every opening. Slowly, the pumpkin turned its body towards me. The front of it had needle-sharp teeth, all moving against each other as if chewing. Slime oozed out of its mouth and I saw that it was not slime at all, but a person’s mangled eye, the optic nerve trailing slowly behind it. Numb with horror, I had barely turned away before I fell unconscious.
I woke up in my bed and felt something strange in my mouth. Lying on my tongue was a flat white seed, sharpened to a point.
By Maya Salem
Two weeks ago I received the worst and best news of my life: I had COVID-19. But I was asymptomatic. Stuck with a purple COVID-19 badge, I had to stay holed up in my apartment as the 14 days trudged by. On the morning I returned to class, I stood outside, loading up my cleared green badge.
Wait — why is it still purple?
Fingers shaking, I refreshed the page and took the survey again.
Purple again. Huh, weird. Thinking it was just a bug in the system, I opened the door and immediately felt my classmates’ eyes on me. A few people whispered and pointed to their phones. I quickly glanced down, just to check I was, in fact, wearing clothes. I slowly moved toward the back corner of the room. As soon as I sat, people knowingly exchanged glances and gave me a wide berth. I opened my emails and a message caught my eye. The subject line read: “COVID-19 case close contact.” It was the standard message that a classmate had tested positive. Coincidentally, though, it was that same class. I scrolled to the end.
My heart beat faster. My throat tightened. My mouth went dry.
My name. And next to it, my picture. They had photoshopped a mask onto my ID photo like it was a wanted poster. My stomach dropped. I felt helpless, now understanding my classmates’ looks. I wanted to explain that I was safe. That I was negative. I frantically looked up to find a hundred phones thrust at me. A sea of green screens met my gaze. They waited, expectantly. I glanced down again at the purple badge displayed on my phone.
No words came out. I ran.
By Kenneth Moody
When I was 8 years old, I spent at least a part of every school break at my great grandma’s house in the rural part of Georgia. On a particularly gloomy winter day, I was napping alone in the living room of her one-story house. The sofa bed I was lying on was next to the window that leads to her front porch, and if I were to look down the other end of the bed, I would be able to see all the way to the back of my great grandma’s house as it is connected by a single corridor. I was awoken by the sound of the neighbor’s truck pulling up into my great grandmother’s gravel driveway and immediately, I was on edge.
No one should have been coming there because, from the street, anyone can see the absence of my great grandma’s car. I listened, frozen in place as my neighbor hastily walked up the driveway and threw open the porch door. My heart leaped into my throat when he started banging on the entrance to the house and manically yelling. I struggled a bit to understand him through his thick country accent, but I could hear the words, “Get out!” I cowered under the covers until he stopped banging, got in his car and left.
I peeked my head out from under the covers and looked down the hallway. Due to the clouds concealing the sun and the lights being off inside the house, everything looked as if a black-and-white filter had been placed on me. It was so stark that I doubted myself before I saw what looked to be the black silhouette of a child all the way at the end of the hallway. Tears of fear welled up in my eyes as I realized that I was not alone in this house. Then, as if the sun were controlled by a light switch, everything went dark.
I woke up again, but this time I was at my house in a different part of the state. I blew a huge sigh of relief as I realized that had all been a dream. I turned onto my back to look up at the ceiling and my whole body tensed, stricken with fear. The figure from the dream was right above me, the pitch-black, gangly hands reaching out to me.
By Aaron Wells
I’m disappointed that this was put into the “horror” section alongside fiction stories. This should be taken more seriously. In March, I learned about someone near me in Isla Vista who claimed their house was haunted. Wanting to create a short article about it, I talked to him and he said I could visit his house at midnight.
I entered the place with my phone and notepad in hand, the air inside was cold and stale. He rushed to me and said I came on a good night — things were happening. I turned off all of the lights and waited.
The next hour was met with no activity, just a cold breath and a strange sensation in the back of my mind, but the owner still cowered near the front door. Suddenly he yelped and I heard the front door open and slam shut. He left me alone in the silent house.
Then, something shifted. It was slight, but I heard it. Right behind me.
I remember holding my breath. I knew if I moved, something would happen. I knew that I was being watched. I felt it. Right behind me was something, or someone. The owner lived alone, and he had just left.
My body was still, but I saw it in the corner of my eye. A picture frame, moonlight reflected in the glass, slowly slid across a table and came towards me. I didn’t want to look at it, but I saw in the frame a face staring back, the frame tilted so it gazed at me. A faded picture of a woman, mouth wide and happy, but eyes devoid of emotion.
It rattled, breaking the silence as it continued drifting to me. I had to run. I made for the door, and as I grabbed the handle, I heard the picture fall to the floor and the rattle of furniture.
I left the house. I couldn’t rest for days after. I never decided to publish this because thinking about it fills me with dread, and I can still see the house outside of my window.
By Kate Lewis
I’m not the best sleeper in the world. Usually, my nights are spent lying awake, staring at the blank ceiling until sleep comes to me, but there are rare occasions where I’ll fall asleep as soon as my head hits my pillow. Even when these rare occasions come to me, there’s no guarantee that it will be a full night’s sleep, or a restful one. A lot of the time, bouts of sleep paralysis will come to me instead.
This one instance though, I’m not entirely sure was a bout of sleep paralysis and perhaps was more or less an encounter with something unknown.
I was tired that day. Sleep came to me easily, and I took it graciously. It must’ve been a few hours later, but the first thing I remember is how dark my room was, and how I felt aware, but I couldn’t move or escape the state I was in. It wasn’t until I adjusted that I noticed the black figure in the corner of my room. Its bright, white eyes stared at me. We made eye contact, and it bared its teeth at me in an attempt to smile. I heard steps across the wooden floors as it came closer to me, until I could feel its heavy breath against my face. It pressed on the center of my chest, and its eyes grew brighter, and out of its distorted mouth came a maniacal laugh fueled by the idea that I couldn’t escape from it. I called out my sister’s name, but no sound left my lips. The laughter grew louder, and my breaths grew infrequent. My fate felt unknown, until the figure let out a shriek and suddenly I was completely awake again, gasping for air.
When I woke up the next morning, my sister told me that she heard laughing in the middle of the night.