Ghost story contest celebrates all things spooky just in time for Halloween

Halloween is all about candy, costumes, and scaring your friends, and one of the most effective and longest-lasting traditions used to frighten and entertain around this time of year is the telling of a scary story. Ghost stories and folktales have long been a part of Appalachian culture and history, and Lees-McRae students once again had the opportunity to contribute to the tradition.

Throughout the month of October, the college’s English department invited students to write and submit their original ghost stories for the annual Ghost Story Contest. After receiving more than 20 entries, the 500-word-or-fewer stories were judged by a panel of three reviewers and one outside reader on originality, creativity, style, and fright factor.

First, second, and third places, along with two honorable mentions, were recognized in a celebration and ceremony hosted by the School of Arts and Humanities on Friday, Oct. 28. First place was awarded to Senior Wildlife Biology major Julie Banner for her story “Gnaw.”

“’Gnaw’ tells the story of a team of researchers investigating abnormal behavior in a pride of lions following an attack on a tourist. They discover that it is not, as suspected, rabies, but rather a blood curse that steals the souls of the lions' victims,” Banner said. “The story takes place in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, a hub for ecotourism, which is not always as ethical as it sounds. The narrative was inspired by the exploitation of wildlife for tourism and imagines a sort of justice for those who take advantage of nature for personal gain.”

Second place was awarded to sophomore English major Mia Escalera for her story “At First Sight,” while sophomore English major Nate Darden won third place for his spooky tale “Teeth.” Honorable mentions were awarded to freshman English major Alexis Gathings for “Every College Student’s Worst Nightmare,” and junior Outdoor Recreation Management major David Adams for “Ghost Story Poem.”

The first, second, and third place winners will also be featured in the Fall 2022 volume of the Lees-McRae student literary journal, “Ragweed,” alongside other poetry, short stories, sudden fiction, and creative nonfiction written by their peers.

Have a happy (and haunted) Halloween, Bobcats!

"Gnaw" by Julie Banner - 1st Place


“They didn’t eat him,” Nthanda said quietly. Örjan’s mutilated carcass was tangled in a patch of dry reeds, shrouded in the morning mist that rose from the Okavango River at dawn. The Swedish ecologist’s skull had been crushed. His golden hair was matted and bloodied. A clouded blue eye had popped out of its socket, and a gray pulp that was once his brain lay exposed amidst shards of bone. Sethunya, Nthanda’s research assistant, took one look at this scene and vomited. She pushed past the team’s mammologist, Iyawa, and fell to her knees at the riverbank. Iyawa turned away, tears already streaming down her cheeks.

The women had all heard Örjan scream as the lions dragged him out of the camp last night. They heard his cries for help as his bones broke, heard his death gurgles as the big cats crushed his ribs, and heard his skull crack in the lioness’ jaws. Typically, when lions hunt, there’s little left behind. They hadn’t expected to find all of him, pale and crooked, on the edge of camp.

As Nthanda processed the gruesome scene in front of her, a grim realization set in. They were stranded in the maze of braided streams and channels of the Okavango. Unseen dangers lurked beneath the surface of the delta’s seasonal waters, and the mokoro would not return to their research site for another seven days. The epidemiologist sprinted back to camp, turning over bags of clothing and cases of equipment frantically searching for something that could save them: the rifle. Iyawa followed, taking a deep breath, swallowing her tears. Her voice trembled as she spoke.

“So, it is rabies.”

“It can’t be. The symptoms are all there, but rabies is fatal within one to two weeks of exposure. These lions have been behaving this way for twelve months. There’s something else going on here.” Nthanda replied without looking up as she rummaged through supplies.

“Nthanda, what are we supposed to do?” The mammologist was choking back tears again. “This is a pride of thirty lions, how-” A shriek from the river’s edge punctuated Iyawa’s panicked words.

“Sethunya.” Nthanda ran back to the water with the rifle, but her heart dropped when she saw her assistant.

“Please, Doctor,” her assistant’s final words were a whisper. Sethunya’s body had been ripped in two. Her lower extremities lay in the shallows, her torso in the mud. Her hands clutched reflexively at the twisted knot of intestines that tethered her halves together. Her umber flesh was shredded, and blood drained from her doomed form, staining the Okavango a deep shade of ruby.

There was no time to grieve. A low growl from the reeds ripped their gaze from Sethunya’s corpse. A lion, a male, the color of fallow hayfields, emerged from the foliage, fangs bared, snarling. He charged at Iyawa, trampling her under his immense weight, flattening her chest, shattering her ribcage, and squeezing the air from her lungs, cutting short a pained cry. The lion turned to face Nthanda, who now stood alone. She shook as she raised the rifle, aiming it at the beast that was padding towards her, his paws deathly silent on the soft ground, her focus wavering as he closed the distance, each breath rattling her entire body, until she saw his eyes. Blue. Familiar. Sparkling irises that could have been carved from precious celestite.


By Maya JarrellOctober 31, 2022
AcademicsCampus Life