Masque of the Red Death Writing Contest Winners

It’s time to reveal the winners of our Edgar Allan Poe-inspired writing contest, which we held to celebrate the release of Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin.

Our three winners were all asked to write a short piece inspired by one of Poe’s works. Click below the jump to see the winners & what piece of Poe’s writing inspired them!

First Place Winner: Elizabeth Tankard

Inspired by: “Eleonora”

It was like wrapping up in her favorite blanket, warm and familiar. She hadn’t realized how much she’d missed it until now.

Nora wound her way down the path, fingertips brushing the waist-high grass. She could practically feel the life of the valley humming in her veins.

Barefoot, she padded towards the river. He was there, as always – so straight and stiff, silver-white hair dappled in the shade of the trees. His posture relaxed as she drew near, the crease on his brow lifting, replaced with a brilliant smile as he swept her into his arms. He buried his nose in her hair. “Eleonora.”

Nora leaned into him, breathing him in. “I’ve missed you.” It wasn’t a lie, not this time. Not after being away from their valley for a week. Ever since she could remember, she’d visited this place in her dreams the moment her head hit the pillow. But recently she’d been missing days. It was something she hadn’t wanted to think about.

“And I, you,” he murmured, grazing her bare shoulder with his lips. “Where have you been my little dove?” He pulled back and tilted her chin up, locking gazes with her. His pale eyes were that same strange mixture of concern, hurt, and something dark she couldn’t identify. It made her skin prickle. “I was worried something had-”

“Riniel,” she interrupted. “How many times have I told you not to worry? I will always come back to you.” She reached up, her palm flat against his heart. “Always.”

He smiled, reassured for the moment. How long would it last?

They walked hand in hand to the riverbank. Laughing, she slipped away from him, disappearing into the high reeds along the shore. She didn’t notice it until it was right under her.

Gasping, she jerked her dress away from the oily water. Nestled among the grass was a tiny bird, its corpse partially decayed. Delicate bones pushed through colorful plumage. The earth around it was rotted, blackness spreading from it like a disease.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. The promise she’d made, the vow she’d taken so many years ago, was supposed to make all of this impossible. How, then, was death before her, mocking her openly?

Guilt stabbed her like a knife as she stared into its blank eyes. This was her fault. This wasn’t the first dead thing she’d found in paradise. There had been lifeless flowers, dried butterflies. She hadn’t put it together before, but now it was crystal clear. It had all started when she’d met him in the real world. He smiled and flowers died. He held her hand and birds fell from the sky.

Heart hammering, she fled back to Riniel, dragging him away from the river with promises of distraction elsewhere. She couldn’t let him see what she’d found.

But even as he smiled at her, kissed her, loved her, all she could see was a dead bird and another boy who had dared to hold her hand.

Second Place Winner: Natalie Richards

Inspired by: “Annabel Lee”

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee.

He kept her arm in a bruising grip as he dragged her out of the carriage. The salty sea wind stung her eyes and hair that had come loose in her struggles lashed across her cheeks. She continued to fight him through the castle and up the winding staircase. He flung her into the tower room with such force that she fell painfully to the stone floor.

Defiant words died on her lips when she saw the gleam in his eyes as he looked at her disheveled figure. She scrambled to her feet, fear burning in her breast as her captor backed her into the wall.

“You will be my wife at dawn. Your poet,” he spat the word, “can’t save you.”

His fingers dug into her pale neck as his mouth came down on hers. Straining away from his touch, she tasted blood when her teeth succeeded in finding his lip. With a curse, the back of his hand exploded across her face and she found herself on the floor again. She heard the door slam behind him as she cradled her injured cheek in her hands.

Night fell, but she didn’t sleep. She stood gazing out through the narrow slit of a window, watching a ray of moonlight play across the sea.

“Oh, my love, I will miss you,” she whispered, her heart breaking, before she turned to the heavens. The stars were shining brighter than she had ever seen them before as she prayed. She prayed for freedom. She prayed for death. She prayed and begged until her voice was hoarse and the first hint of light showed over the water. She bowed her head in defeat; her tormentor would be there soon. A single tear slid down her cheek – then stopped. She touched it, only to find that it was frozen to her skin. A wind so cold it stole her breath rushed through the chamber. She smiled even as her lips turned blue.

Her abductor came at dawn to find her dead on the floor. There was a sparkle of frost in her raven hair and her garments were crusted with ice despite the warm sun streaming through the window. Weeping at what he had done, he built her a sepulchre of pure white marble, there beside her beloved sea.

As dark fell the night after her passing, her lover crept to her side and lay down with her, closing his eyes and listening to the waves as he imagined her eyes laughing at him. And, if you listened very carefully, you could hear the angels singing, welcoming Annabel Lee.

Third Place Winner: Stephanie Parke

Inspired by: “The Cask of Amontilado”

I listen closely, hoping, praying that some sound would come out of the darkness. I whisper but no sound comes. I scrape my hands, looking for the trough he dropped but my seeking hands fail to find it. I search, scrabbling for it, raking my hands across the stone, making them raw. I feel the blood trickling from my broken fingernails before my eyes see it. The dimly flickering torch casts just enough light for me to see the last brick sliding in place.

I scream loudly, but no one comes. I continue to scream until I am almost completely hoarse. I can hear the thrum of the party going on floors above and I wonder why no one has missed me. The horror of the situation trickles slowly down my spine and I know that he had left me here to die. I wonder now which I fear more, dying here or dying in the dark.
I kick out as the light flickers and begins to go out. A portion of the wall collapses and a breath of cool air fills my cell. A flurry of dust imbued with the remains of the dead coats the air and I begin to cough. I try to escape it but there is no way out. The thick air coats everything including my lungs. I gag at the taste but have to breathe it anyway because it is better than the air inside the cell.

Suddenly his face appears in the hole in the wall and he clicks his tongue disapprovingly as he surveys the damage. He smiles with glee as he begins to brick up the hole. I scream so loud but my voice is nothing more than a whisper, but I try anyway. The light that he tossed in with me sputters and dies as he shovels the mortar in place and slaps bricks on at an incredible pace.

“Why are you doing this?” I ask weakly as I jerk at the chain. He only smiles and laughs harder, a crazy look in his eyes as he works. I curse and scream but it does no good. Slowly the light disappears and I feel my skin begin to crawl. I feel as if I should be able to slip right out of it, slip to freedom, but my skin and the shackles hold me.

The hole in the wall closes up until there is only one brick left. His face appears, eyes the only thing showing and I see them crinkle as he smiles. He pushes the last brick into place closing me in. I struggle and the bells on my hat jingle, the sound eerily joyful in the darkness.

He walks away whistling and I continue to pull at the chain. I shiver in the darkness as the last of the alcohol wears off and I am left with myself and the horror of my situation. I hear his whistle grow fainter and I cannot help myself, I scream.


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