Robert Kostanczuk

The August Selected Writer is Robert Kostanczuk

Feel free to email Robert at: hoosierkos@att.net


by Robert Kostanczuk

The cold whistled death, but the night was alive. A biting wind knifed through leafless tree branches and across rock-hard, frozen pavement. The resulting sound bore aspects of a faint, but sustained, high-pitched shriek.

Jace Remerek surveyed the residential street outside his living room window. It was stark. The houses were lifeless and morose as the air bristled around them. The street itself had been plowed by the city earlier in the day, but a sheet of rough, hardened snow and ice remained in the single-digit temperatures. The neighborhood was remote, and bordered by woodlands that stretched to the rocky shores of the Atlantic Ocean.

It was only 10 o’clock, but most of the lights in the homes were off. Many senior citizens lived on the block. There was nothing better to do in this December dark than sleep, Jace reasoned. Still, he bemoaned—and detested—the blanket of isolation that engulfed his realm.

A boring, dead Monday. No one even had Christmas lights up except for one nondescript ranch home at the end of the block. There was the faintest of glimmers from that dwelling.

Jace always felt that his home anchored the block. It was a linear, one-level, elongated design. The exterior was largely unadorned, save for red brick that outlined the small doorway. It was just one step up to the entrance.

The shriek of a screech owl pierced the crisp, clear air. It redirected his thoughts to the mission at hand. He needed to find his award. He needed to figure out how to go about that. Not having it was slowly driving him mad.


Things had been fine just twenty-four hours ago. Jace and his on-again, off-again girlfriend were eating popcorn and watching a holiday movie on television in what passed as a recreation area in his rather unkempt Cape Cod-style house.

Both Jace and Tamara were in their early twenties. Jace was a car mechanic who didn’t party much, didn’t socialize much and was conservative in his politics. Tamara was a certified public accountant who was allowed to display some of her edgy look at the progressive firm from which she drew a handsome salary. She seemed to enjoy assessing people and considered herself to be a perceptive student of the human condition.

She also considered herself a witch.

“Opposites attract,” she told Jace when they first met. And she was generally right, but Jace never warmed to the idea of all the darkness.

“You dress goth a lot, don’t you, Tamara?” he asked her out of nowhere.

“Yep, I do. You don’t like the way I dress?” she asked, and he could feel her bristle.

“Sure, everything’s good,” he assured, not diverting his gaze from the TV screen. “I know witches are usually dressed grimmer than most folks; maybe that’s because witches are more negative than most people.”

Tamara turn her head to the right to look directly as Jace as they sat on the couch. “You think I’m negative?”

Jace felt cornered. “Not you, just the witch thing. I don’t get it. It’s weird, and a little creepy. But maybe I’ll get past all that. Maybe I’m not understanding it right.”

Tamara got up from the couch. “Maybe I’m not understanding you right,” she shot back. “Maybe I need someone I can understand better.”


Twenty-four hours after the argument, he bumbled about the house, feeling alone, depressed and angry. It wasn’t until an hour earlier that he found a note from her tucked away in a corner of the kitchen counter, next to the toaster.

Her message was scribbled on a napkin. “I buried your bowling trophy in the snow in the backyard. Have fun finding it.”

Rage flew through Jace’s very being. That award represented a coveted achievement in life. Bowling always had been serious business for him.

An uncomfortable thought nibbled at the back of his mind…the trophy was a very personal item to him, even engraved with his name. Weren’t witches known to cast spells with personal items? Didn’t he read somewhere that they took hair or fingernail clippings and buried them to create a hex? Could the same be done with something that had his name on it?

A large amount of snow had descended the night before. If he thought he could follow Tamara’s footprints to his trophy, he was wrong. They were all covered with the white blanket. Where in the backyard could it be?

That same thought again nibbled at his brain. You’d better find it fast, before she has time to cast a spell with it.

He took a deep breath. Nonsense, he scolded himself. He wanted to find the trophy quickly, not because of any hocus-pocus, but so it wouldn’t be ruined by the wet elements outside.

His backyard was huge. It was part of a contiguous section of three homes which had no fences separating the rear yards. Finding his trophy would be akin to coming up with proverbial needle in the haystack.

He surveyed the backyard from a sliding-glass door he had installed to accommodate a wider view of that tract of land. It had character, he thought. With its stately elm tree in the middle, and several pine trees lining one edge of the yard, the property ranked as his personal slice of nature.

However, Jace couldn’t help envisioning a lurking monster. The single-digit cold radiated through the thermal glass of the sliding glass door. The snowfall had given way to a clear, full moon. It coated the hardened top layer of snow with an almost glistening sheen.

There would need to be a Herculean effort to find the trophy in snow that was a foot deep, and even more when it came to the drifts that layered some of the yard.  As the wind picked up, it started to howl.

Jace turned around and headed for the hallway phone to call Tamara. Deep down inside, Jace knew part of the reason for calling was to feel out Tamara for more details on this demon she had supposedly unleashed.

Being alone in his house in the desolation of night fueled wild thoughts. The hardwood floors seemingly creaked more than usual as he moved toward the phone on a small, two-shelf bookcase tucked into a corner.

Tamara’s phone only rang twice before she answered the call. “I really don’t want to talk to you,” she said in a lifeless tone.

“All I want to know is the general area where you buried my bowling trophy.”

“I don’t know if I want to tell you that.”

“Just tell me, and I won’t bother you again.”

There was no immediate response.

Five seconds passed. Then ten. Then fifteen.

Jace could not take it any longer. “You don’t have to be a bitch about this,” he said.

“Let me think about it,” Tamara said in a quiet, reserved tone. “In the meantime, better not go in your backyard. It will protect my hiding place.”

Fury shot through Jace. “You don’t have any powers!” he yelled.

“I put a hex on you; it will stick.”

“You are insane!” shouted Jace, his voice a mix of incredulous spite and exasperated resignation.

“I’m done talking,” she told him. “Before I go, I will tell you that the protector of my hiding place is stealthy, and has foul breath. So if you smell something rotten, you’ll know. And if you hear footsteps, it’s already too late.”

Tamara hung up on him. It made him ready to search for his trophy. No more delays. Now was the time. He would just proceed with caution once out in the yard.

Jace put on two sweatshirts, his thickest winter coat, and doubled up on the gloves and stocking cap he would normally wear in December. He grabbed a shovel from a utility room and headed toward the back of the house.

Unlocking the sliding glass door, he slid it open and then unlocked the complementary screen door, easing it aside. He stepped into the heart of winter. The stinging air revitalized him, sharpening his senses.

The snow’s surface was smooth, except for what looked like rabbit tracks in a far corner of the backyard. Jace stood still for a minute or two, taking in everything around him. The wind occasionally kicked up, slapping his face with painful ferocity.

He had turned on the rear outdoor light, but it only mildly lit up a small section of the ground in front of him. In the distance was the bare elm tree, perhaps forty feet away. He proceeded methodically to the tree, shovel in hand, scanning both sides of him for any unusual activity.

His confidence grew as he neared the tree: no strange sounds; no overwhelming fear on his part. Once by the tree, he started skimming the top layer of snow, forming a wide semicircular swath in front of it. Jace was banking on the trophy not being buried too deeply.

Something rustled above him. He quickly looked up, but saw nothing.

He remembered Tamara’s words about the footsteps. He didn't want to hear footsteps, or any type of sounds that signified the smooth surface of snow was being disturbed. The cold breath from his mouth wafted into the moonlight. He dug deeper in random spots of his semicircular search area, but found nothing.

His small tool shed, only ten feet away, was targeted next for the search. He took two steps toward it, then stopped. Did he hear something again?

He held his breath so the breathing did not interfere with his hearing.

A methodical shuffling became unmistakable. The noises were coming from behind him. Jace knew that if he looked over his left shoulder, he could see the source. But fright set in, and it was paralyzing.

In the yard next to his home, he could see, out of the corner of his eye, that something was skittering across the snow—something very low to the ground. Whatever it was, it made its way onto his land.

He turned to face his fear. Jace saw something approaching that was about the size of a large raccoon, but it wasn’t a raccoon. Heading his way was a slug-like creature. Legs—Jace thought he saw legs splayed out from the thing’s body … six of them. Its legs, in the middle, were slightly arched as it approached.

He screamed and dropped the shovel. He needed the shovel; it could be a weapon.

He bent over to pick the shovel back up, but when he straightened, the creature was gone. He stood in the moonlight, gasping, trying to slow the beating of his heart.  He turned all the way around to take in the whole yard, as much as he could see in the lunar glow.

He didn’t think he heard anything now, either. That was good.

He was letting Tamara spook him, that was all. He hadn’t seen anything. He wouldn’t let her get the best of him. He made up his mind to go ahead with the task at hand.

As he threw a couple of more shovelfuls to the side, something snapped up from the depression in the snow. It appeared to be wires springing out.

Jace dug his shovel into the snow one more time to clear more of it. He wanted a better look at what had appeared out of the ground. The wires seemed to be moving with abnormal frequency.

They wriggled.

Jace put down his shovel and knelt down by the hole he had dug. He reached his hand toward the wires. Perhaps they were part of a mechanical device that had somehow found its way to the yard.

Leaning over as close as he could to the ground, Jace’s head was snapped back by something that propelled itself out of the snow. Dazed, he was thrown on his back. A weight was on his chest, thrashing about.

He was under attack. He realized two antennae were dangling over him. Tearing through his coat and other layers underneath, the creature lacerated his chest and then his arms.

Screaming, Jace viewed two dark eyes that were at opposite sides of a wasp-like head. He tried fighting back with his fists, but his arms were being slashed and held down. The thing had several limbs which alternately raked his body and pinned him down. A pungent smell enveloped Jace. Bites pelted his head and parts of his face; pincers of some sort exerted huge pressure.

The furious assault halted for a few seconds. There was quiet, followed by a gradually louder hissing. The beast was making the noise directly in his ear.

Just as suddenly as it had attacked, the creature pulled off of him. Jace laid in the snow, sobbing.  He could hear rustling as the thing snaked across the snow.

He continued to sob, not believing that this was not his night to die. He was frozen, not by the cold, but by disbelief that perhaps, just perhaps, he might survive being attacked by a monster.

After a while, he took the risk to sit up. He removed his gloves and dabbed his hands against his face. Looking at the palms, he saw them smeared with streaks of red and glistening droplets of blood. Stumbling to his feet, he surveyed his neighbors’ homes.

He could only see one lit window, with a person peering out to check on the ruckus. Jace managed to get back inside the house.

He collapsed in shock and exhaustion on the carpeted floor just inside the sliding glass entrance.


One week passed; seven full days. The frigid streak had broken.

Jace now rested in a recliner he had moved in front of the sliding glass door. He wanted to look out on his backyard.

He knew he exhibited signs of anxiety and paranoia. He wasn’t even sure Tamara had buried his bowling trophy in his yard, like she said. The bitch probably took it with her, he imagined. She wanted to play with his head. He grimly acknowledged it had worked.

Jace sat placidly in his recliner. There was a sense of resignation over what happened.

The tepid smile on his face disappeared as his attention swung to a slice of the outside world in front of him. Out of nowhere, he caught sight of something poking out from the receding snow. It was to his left—just a few feet from the back entrance to the house.

Getting up from his seated position, he put his face up against the door’s glass. Joy cascaded over him. It was the bowling ball of his trophy, rising up from the ashes like the legendary Phoenix.

He shook his head to clear out any cobwebs, and looked again. Yes, it was the top of his trophy peeking out from the frosty earth.

He was about to turn around and get dressed to go outside when the bowling ball quickly disappeared.

It was fast.

It was as if something from below had yanked it under. Something snatched it.

Jace’s heart sank. The evil force, he concluded, was that inexplicable creation which mauled him. He was sure of it, even though he could not even begin to understand what it actually was.

His attention was drawn to the chime of his phone. Someone had texted him. He viewed the screen.

Tamara wrote: “My demons take all shapes and forms.”

Robert Kostanczuk is a former full-time entertainment/features reporter for the Post-Tribune daily newspaper of Northwest Indiana.

His short story “Safe Haven for Nathan” was published in Homicide Lullabies: A Collection of Adult Horror Stories (2016: Severance Publications Ltd.).

He received an honorable mention in the June 2014 short story writing contest sponsored by the online site Chilling Tales for Dark Nights. He earned semifinalist recognition for the short story “Getting Lost at the Corner Bar” in the 2013 William Van Dyke Short Story Prize contest presented by Ruminate Magazine. His horror-themed short story “I Eat Anything” was included in Shocking Stories (2018), a collection released by the Rainfall Publishing Company of the United Kingdom.

Robert lives in Crown Point, Indiana.