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English Program's spooky story contest is underway

Thirteen words to haunt and terrify in English Program’s spooky writing contest

How scary can a sentence be? Participants in this year’s 13-Word Scary Story Contest are trying to find out.

Students, faculty, staff and members of the Ashland community are encouraged to submit up to two entries each in the English Program’s challenge. The rules are simple; the entries must be exactly 13 words, and must also be scary. The deadline for the short stories is Oct. 16 and should be sent to Margaret Perrow via email.

Last year, Peter Doolin was picked in blind judging by English Program faculty as the winner with his entry, “In the mirror, a set of eyes stare back that aren’t my own. Just like last year, the winner of the 2019 contest will get a $50 gift card, while the runner up will receive a $25 gift card.

The two winning entries and a selection of runners-up will also be published on SOU News. Check out last year’s selected stories here.

While this may only be the second year the English department has asked for spooky short stories, the program is no stranger to contests. Ever since one of its faculty members read an article about public literary displays in 2016, the English Program has been hosting literary contests.

Their first foray into writing challenges was a six-word story contest with an autumn theme. Now their 13-Word Scary Story Contest is turning into a tradition, much like the poetry contest they host each spring. Winners of that contest also receive gift cards, and the writer of the first-place submission is invited to be a featured reader in the English Program’s annual poetry-reading event.

The English Program’s mission – which it promotes through its writing contests – is to encourage a love of words, language and literature (regardless of how many words it takes).

Story by Blair Selph, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer

SOU-scary story winners

Winners announced in SOU English Program’s scary story contest

How many words does it take to send shivers down a reader’s spine? For SOU student Peter Doolin and other entrants in the English Program’s “13-Word Scary Story Contest,” a baker’s dozen was plenty.

“In the mirror, a set of eyes stare back that aren’t my own,” Doolin wrote in his winning entry.

His eerie and concise prose won him a $50 gift card to Barnes and Noble, while runner-up Emily Negus – also an SOU student – pocketed a $25 gift card for her 13-word, futuristic tome:

Human beings evolved to the point where they no longer needed one another.”

All SOU students, faculty and staff were invited to enter the English Program’s trick-or-treat-themed “13-Word Scary Story Contest” last month. Professor Alma Rosa Alvarez, the program’s chair, said there were many entries and contestants enjoyed the assignment.

“One participant mentioned how she took our contest rules and shared them with family members,” she said. “All of her family members wrote 13-word scary stories – even the folks that had been less-connected in the family.”

All submissions were stripped of identifying features and given to the English faculty for blind judging. Doolin’s winning entry received votes from all faculty members, and Negus’ runner-up submission attracted votes from all but one.

“Our list of honorable mentions are folks that also received several votes,” Alvarez said. “We really liked the energy and positive response.”

The honorable mentions:

“Grey skies. Cool wind. Empty street. Door’s open. Odd. I didn’t do that.”
Emily Perry, SOU student

“Porch lights gleam off her yellow snarl. She cackles, winks, handing me chocolate.”
Reilly Nycum, SOU student 

“The water’s rising. I can’t dislodge my foot.  I tried to yell but….”
Moneeka Settles, Innovation & Leadership Program coordinator

“Blood splattered on the cedar clock and the right hand never moved again.”
Emily Negus, student

“Heavily-canopied, black-night country road. No moon. No flashlight.
“Mom, you scared?”

“No.”
Liar.”
Tatiana Bredikin, Office of Student Life

“It’s scary outside.
“It’s Halloween
“Bats hanging down from branches,
“Whispering your name.”
– Everly Carter, 4-year-old daughter of faculty member

The English Program has hosted literary contests since 2016, when one of its faculty members read an article about public literary displays. Another school, to get students excited about words, solicited six-word stories that were written in various locations with paint that is visible only after interacting with water. Students and townspeople were amazed by the magical display of words that emerged on the first rainy day.

SOU’s English Program tried its own contest of six-word stories about autumn, and now hosts a contest each fall. It also hosts a poetry contest each spring, with the writer of the winning entry invited to be a featured reader in the program’s annual poetry-reading event.

The English Program’s mission – which it promotes through its writing contests – is to encourage a love of words, language and literature (regardless of how many words it takes).