Thinning the Herd by Eric Montag

We’re thrilled to give you a Halloween treat– the winners of the Cult of Weird/ Milwaukee Paranormal Conference short fiction contest. We absolutely thrilled that all of our story winners (and honorable mentions) have been narrated by the extremely talented Darren Marlar on his Weird Darkness program. Light some candles and listen here:

And check out more Weird Darkness programs/ submit stories to Darren here: www.WeirdDarkness.com

We had 40 entries in our contest, a lot of unique and chilling takes. The only contest requirements were a 1500 word limit, a paranormal theme, and Wisconsin as a backdrop. Our top three stories were separated by a mere one point margin. Here is our third place contest winner.

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Thinning the Herd

By Eric Montag

My name is Harry Swinton, and when I went looking for Leonard Crowley, I was Police Chief Swinton. My youngest brother, Isaac, was a volunteer deputy, and he went with me. So did my younger brother Carl, a retired school teacher who had moved to the Northwoods.

Isaac owned a successful taxidermy business. He called one evening to tell me that Mr. Crowley, an Ill-Annoyan with a nearby cabin, had brought him a buck’s head to mount. He told me that he was certain that something had gnawed through the deer’s neck to separate the head from the body. He had even found five puncture wounds at the base of the deer head, and that the arrangement of these wounds suggested that whatever had done the gnawing had a thumb. He said, “Something held that deer down and chewed through its neck.”

And further, he also told me that he didn’t like the looks of Mr. Crowley. Said the old guy looked like a nut, and it might not be a bad idea to stop by Crowley’s cabin and do a friendly check-up. Just to remind him that he wasn’t in a lawless territory. Isaac even got our brother Carl involved. Each got the other wound up with theories about Crowley torturing animals, or running some kind of dog fighting scheme.

I told them that I’d go myself. It wasn’t the first time I’d done such a thing to get a good look around a place. Isaac went on badgering me, and reminded me that I was the only full-time officer in town, and it wasn’t smart for me to go alone. I told Isaac that he could ride along in the cruiser and wait in the car while I did the talking. He agreed. And then he invited Carl. Both agreed to wait in the cruiser.

I knew which cabin Crowley owned, and we went there. I parked behind Crowley’s car, a black Lexus with Illinois plates and tinted windows that looked out of place in the middle of the woods.  It was damn cold that day, with a biting wind that made my eyes water and nose burn. But that didn’t stop my brothers from joining me as I walked up to the cabin door. I had just enough time to cuss at them before the cabin door opened.

It was my first good look at Leonard Crowley. I had never seen him before. He was tall, maybe six four, with gray hair pulled back in a loose tail behind his head. He was wearing jeans that were tore up on his left side, and a flannel shirt that looked like it had been put on by someone who was just learning to put on shirts. There were buttons, but some were unbuttoned and some were buttoned wrong. Parts of his skin showed. He flashed us a grin that looked friendly from farther back and descended the stairs of his tiny porch. He was a little older than me, maybe mid sixties, but he moved smoothly, like there were oiled machine parts beneath his skin. “I help you?” he asked as we approached each other.

I introduced myself and told him that I had gotten some reports from hunters about a pack of wolves or wild dogs in the area harassing and killing animals. I asked him if he had seen any evidence of that.

As he approached, I could smell him. Even with the wind, I could smell wet dog. Only one thing smells like wet dog, and that’s wet dog. “I haven’t seen anything of the kind,” Crowley said. He was still smiling, except his smile looked less friendly. More like a gash in his face. Despite several days of beard growth, I could see that the corners of his mouth were raw.

I told him that I assumed he was a hunter, and I’d just come to warn him about potential wolves. Then I asked if he had any dogs that might get hurt by a pack of wolves. He didn’t answer me right away. Instead, he turned his smile to Isaac. Crowley was close now, and I could see his eyes. They were yellow. I wondered what kind of guy wears yellow contacts. “I am a hunter,” he said, “but I’ve got no dogs. I hate dogs.” I didn’t like how Crowley was looking at my brother.

“What do you shoot?” Isaac asked.

“Whatever’s handy,” Crowley said. “Aren’t you the owner of that little shop that I was in yesterday? Isaac, right? Isaac Swinton. And you two are Swintons, too.” He nodded like he had just told a little joke. “Three Swinton brothers, come all this way out to the woods to see me. How about that?”

Isaac crossed his arms in front of him as the wind picked up. “Just checking up. For your safety, Mister Crowley.”

Crowley nodded again, and turned back to me. The wind didn’t seem to bother him at all. It flapped the loose flannel around his body, but he didn’t so much as shiver. “Perhaps you three would like to come inside? We can talk about all this business where it isn’t so cold.”

“No,” Carl said. I turned to him, and saw that he was staring over at the edge of the clearing. There wasn’t too much snow on the ground to tell that there were dead animals over there. A deer, a cow, and something else that had either black or dark brown fur. From where I stood, it looked like a small bear. Or maybe a large bear. I wondered what in the hell was a bear doing out in winter.

Crowley followed Carl’s gaze. “The cold gets animals great and small. I found that cow there, froze to death. Must have wandered away from its herd. Meat’s probably okay.” It looked like the thought of a cow freezing to death amused him, and I decided to get my brothers out of there. Isaac, the fool, had left his gun in the cruiser, Carl had no gun at all, and I did not like Leonard Crowley one tiny bit. I told him that we had others to check in with, and thanked him for his time. Then he stuck a hand out for me to shake.  I didn’t realize until I had already taken it that my gun was hanging on my right side, and it would be unreachable if Crowley didn’t let my hand go. He did let it go, but before he did, he bent toward me, and sniffed. He sniffed me, and thanked us for stopping by to warn him. I remember that sniffing sound very well. I hear it in my nightmares now.

We left. On the way back to town, I asked Carl and Isaac what they made of Leonard Crowley. They both agreed that he was “odd,” but Carl reminded us that being odd was not a criminal offense. And he didn’t think that Mr. Crowley was into animal torture at all. He suggested that maybe Crowley was just a man who was passing off dead animals as hunting trophies. Isaac, the one who had gotten us all involved to begin with, agreed. He even said that he was probably wrong about the puncture marks. Probably just sloppy knife work, and not worth pursuing further. We should drop it.

That was the last we ever talked about it, the three of us. We came face to face with something evil that day, and we looked away and pretended it wasn’t there. Crowley had been completely without fear before us, and we had turned tail and not looked back. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I am sure that he came to the Northwoods just to see us. Must have heard about three little Swinton brothers, and had to come see.

Carl didn’t have to live with that knowledge long. He died a month later. Heart attack while shoveling his driveway.

Isaac abruptly decided to close his taxidermy business. Didn’t even try to sell it, just packed up and left town. Told me he had the urge to move to a bigger city where there was more to do. Maybe live in an apartment building in downtown Minneapolis. And that’s what he did. Except that two months after moving, he vanished. I have not heard from him since.

I moved to Wausau, into the senior community that I live in now. There are lots of people around me, and I like that. But two nights ago, I woke up and saw a black Lexus parked in the parking lot. I could not go back to sleep. I stayed up last night to watch, and saw the Lexus again.

I’m going to stay inside and keep my gun handy, but I’m also going to write this down. Just in case.

Leonard Crowley.

Black Lexus.

Chicago, Illinois.

If you meet him, don’t look away.

Please support the Milwaukee Paranormal Conference and our programming by making a donation today. More info: www.gofundme.com/savempc

Short Story Contest Winners!

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Milwaukee Paranormal Conference and Cult of Weird launched a short story speculative fiction contest on the first day of Summer and now on this, one of the first days of Autumn, we are thrilled to announce the winners! We challenged people to write stories with a paranormal theme and a setting of Wisconsin as the backdrop. A fantastic response of 40 stories that chilled us to the bone crept into our inbox.

We had four judges for the contest– Matthew Wamser of Furrow (a UWM undergraduate literary journal), author Rachel Green (First Contact), author J. Nathan Couch (Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? and Washington County Paranormal)and Christina Rickman of Cult of Weird. They had quite a challenge and competition was fierce, but based on their totaled scoresheets, here are our winners:

1st Place: “The Devil in the Cornfield” by Zelia Edgar

2nd Place: “The Fortune Teller of Rhinelander” by Marlin Bressi

3rd Place: “Thinning the Herd” by Eric Montag

Honorable mentions:
“Stopping Sirens” by Cassie O’Rourke
“Beware the Bindlestiff” by Carolyn Toms-Neary

You will be able to read “The Devil in the Cornfield” in our conference program (accompanied with original art from Xeroine Illustration) and all three placing stories will be posted on our website on Oct. 30, Halloween Eve.

Our winning authors are invited to read their stories in a special session at the conference, Sunday, Oct. 16 4pm in Union Ballroom West, hosted by author Kat de Falla. The top three contest authors also get conference tickets and a prize pack that includes signed books, a gift from Grave Digger Candles and MPC merch. Honorable mentions will receive free conference tickets.

Thanks to everyone who participated, we appreciate your efforts and we hope to host the contest again next summer!


Please support the Milwaukee Paranormal Conference and all of our programming by pre-ordering conference tickets here: milwaukeeparacon.brownpapertickets.com

Follow us on Facebook: facebook.com/milwaukeeparanormalconference
Twitter: @MKEparacon #MKEparacon2016
Instagram: @paracon_mke

 

Writing Contest update!

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We know some writers are probably checking our site today looking for writing contest results. We are going to have a slight delay. We received 40 entrants to the writing contest and we want to give the judges enough time to get through the all the entrants efficiently.

So, our new announcement date is a week from today, September 22. As it happens, this is a more appropriate day to announce winners as it is officially the first day of Fall and our summer writing contest was launched on the first day of Summer!

So tune back in next week for the announcement!

Meanwhile, be sure to get your conference tickets here: milwaukeeparacon.brownpapertickets.com

That’s a Wrap on the Summer Writing Contest!

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When the clock tolled twelve midnight last night, our Summer Short Fiction Contest (presented with our friends Cult of Weird) came to a conclusion. And what good timing– we’re just starting to feel a hint of Fall in the air.

We received 40 entrants to our contest (more than our expectation!) and we got quite a mix of creative ideas for paranormal stories set here in our home state of Wisconsin. The stories offered us a ghoulish parade of haunted houses, eerie cornfields, and things that go splash in the night in Lake Michigan, among other frights. These stories our now in the hands of our judges, who we’re sure will read them with all the lights on!

Our judges include representatives from Furrow, a literary organization and magazine for undergraduates at UW-Milwaukee, UW-Washington County’s creative writing department, and Cult of Weird. We are shooting for a Sept. 15 announcement, but bear with us as judging might take longer with such a great turn out.

1st place winner gets a conference VIP pass, their story printed in our conference program, and a prize pack. 2nd and 3rd place will have their stories posted on our website and will receive a 2-day Super Pass and prize packs. Prize packs include candles from Grave Digger Candles, signed books from conference speakers, Milwaukee Paranormal Conference merch, and more. The top 3 will also be invited to read their stories at the conference in a session hosted by author Kat de Falla in Room 191.

Most importantly, we’d like to give a heartfelt thanks to everyone who took time to submit their stories. We are thrilled with the interest in this contest and can’t wait to share the results. Good luck to all!

You can help us make our programming possible by pre-ordering tickets and merch via our Indiegogo. We need your support to make this happen! igg.me/at/milwaukeeparacon

Cult of Weird and Milwaukee Paranormal Conference Summer Writing Contest!

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Cult of Weird and Milwaukee Paranormal Conference are inviting you to show off your storytelling abilities with a short speculative fiction contest!

Here’s the contest rules:

  • The story needs to incorporate a paranormal theme somehow. Should fall somewhere in the realm of one of these genres: horror, science fiction, fantasy, mystery.
  • The story setting needs to be Wisconsin, but it does not need to be a contemporary setting.
  • The story should be no longer than 1500 words. You can submit previously published pieces if they fit the guidelines.
  • Deadline is September 1 at Midnight.
  • Submit stories as word docs to: milwaukeeparacon@gmail.com
  • Winners will be announced on Sept 15th. Judging will be done by Cult of Weird, Furrow (a UWM literary organization and magazine) and creative writing staff from UW-Washington County.

First place winner receives a Milwaukee Paranormal Conference VIP Pass, a prize pack of cool stuff from our vendors and sponsors, and their story published (along with original art provided by one of our amazing artists) in our conference program.

Second and Third place winners will both receive Milwaukee Paranormal Conference 2-Day Super Passes, a prize pack, and will have their stories published on the Milwaukee Paranormal Conference website.

All three placing winners will be invited to read their stories at the Milwaukee Paranormal Conference on October 15-16 at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Student Union.

June is our VIP ticket drive. VIP tickets raise from $75 to $100 on July 1. All Milwaukee Paranormal Conference tickets available here: milwaukeeparacon.brownpapertickets.com