So here it is everyone, the long list for our first ever major award. Seventeen stories have been selected, each one vying for a $1000 first prize. We see some familiar faces, and some new ones as well, as well as plenty of interpretations on a theme.  The long list will remain up until the end of the month while our judges deliberate their favourites. In September there will be a culling (such a brutal word, but fitting perhaps, given the tone of some of the stories) and the remaining stories will face off fort he grand prize. We’ll also be bringing you some interviews and BTS chats with the Cellar Door authors. So check back regularly, or follow us through our social pages. Best of luck everyone. The full …

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Rebecca’s first story with Needle In The Hay is Birdcage, nominated for the long list on the MYSTERY OF THE CELLAR DOOR Award. She’s a lawyer by trade, so we checked our precedents before we threw a few questions her way. First Up, What brought you to NITH? I was searching for story contests, and I came across the Mystery of the Cellar Door. I loved the premise, so I looked around on the site and discovered that you’ve got something very creative going. I like that readers have the opportunity to provide feedback; I enjoy reading short stories. I’ve commented on a couple, and I look forward to reading the other entries in the Cellar Door contest and seeing what people did with the premise.I like the idea of …

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It was time to get rid of the wallpaper. Gordon wasn’t sure why he had put up with it for as long as he had. He’d lived in the house for 10 years, and the wallpaper had come with it. It had been the first home he’d looked at, and despite the wallpaper, it had called to him: a small brick bungalow, right for a young bachelor with no discernable taste, boring but well-maintained. His brother, Tom, a contractor, had come along and given the structural integrity a cautious thumbs-up. “You can just get rid of the wallpaper at some point,” he’d said without prompting, their mutual understanding of its ugliness unspoken. The wallpaper was cheap and tacky. It was a dull white with a large pattern – empty brass …

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Mr Türöffnung clenched the steering wheel at the nine and three o’clock positions as he eyed the red light. None of this ten-and-two-o’clock crap. That was for hacks. Even through the closed windows, the winds howled. At least it wasn’t raining. The overhead power lines swayed while the stars and moon shone. He glanced at the clock on the centre console which read 21:13, then back at the red signal. This was to be the last job for the day. He could have waited til tomorrow if he really wanted to but his client didn’t mind the relative lateness. And besides, customer satisfaction and security was Türöffnung’s life. He sat, nice and warm, in his van at the intersection, watching the green light glowing at the perpendicular direction but there …

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Jenny Bowers never thought she would be the type of person to freak out over a sock. But sure enough, she was paralysed with fear when it appeared during the tidy up of her messy bedroom. A man’s black sock that had been sitting, hidden, for over two months while she passed by it obliviously. It was one of the souvenirs that Mark had left behind during his many night visits into Jenny’s room. She had sometimes found herself pondering if Mark saw her the same way, as a discarded item not worth a second thought before sneaking out. He would always be gone by morning, probably minutes after Jenny fell into post coital sleep. Though she had a nice-looking face, no-one could picture Jenny with the handsome neighbourhood charmer. …

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Blood dripped slowly onto the floor. Sy watched, mesmerised, as another crimson droplet formed, swelled and detached, becoming elongated in its path through the air. It hit the growing pool with a little splash spraying myriad smaller droplets around it. His fascination grew with each new drop. A rough tongue scraped down his cheek. He started awake, sitting bolt upright in his dream-tangled sheets. Wulf sat on his haunches, waiting. The door to his room opened and Ellis came in, handing him a mug of tea. *** I heard Sy tossing and turning. It sounded like he was having the nightmare again, after all this time. I brewed some sleep tea and took it in to him. “You had the dream again.” I kept it simple – no accusations, no …

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Maya walked into the old, abandoned house. Debris was cracking underneath her boots as she advanced carefully. Maybe this was a mistake? The house was only a few miles from hers, and stood a bit apart from all the other houses. People avoided it by all means, and rumor had it that it was spooked. A man was said to have brutally murdered his whole family with an axe, before he had used it to kill himself, right in this house. Maya took a few more steps down the hallway. Thick cobwebs and layers of dust were everywhere. The paint on the walls was cracked and some spots had completely blistered off. What was I doing here again? Maya thought back to the note she had left on the kitchen …

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You wake to an itch on the back of your left thigh. You try to move your hand, desperate to scratch the irritation. Your arm feels heavy. It’s stuck to the dirt. Dirt. Why are you lying on dirt? You open your eyes. You are met with absolute darkness and it provides no clues. At least your eyelids follow your orders, you suppose. Your arm still refuses to budge. You clench your muscles, trying to convince your leg to stop itching. Eventually it complies. With the discomfort having passed, you can finally give your surroundings your full attention. Your eyes begin to adjust to the light. They see little. The dirt stretches uninterrupted to a wall. At least, you assume the slightly darker shadow ahead of you is a wall. …

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The door closed with a bang and the blanket of darkness encased them, wrapping them tightly in her grasp. The air was cold and heavy like an underground cellar, the lights and noises from the carnival were gone. No turning back now. Riley nudged Abby forwards, but the other woman refused to budge. ‘Don’t want to go first?’ Riley asked. ‘Not a chance,’ Abby didn’t even pause in her whispered response. ‘You’re the one who isn’t afraid of these Halloween theme parks.’ Riley’s smirk went unseen as she tucked a curl of chestnut hair behind her ear and stepped away from the safety of the door. Abby followed quickly, huddling close. Her blue eyes adjusted, their surroundings taking shape: an upholstered chesterfield lounge suite; one mahogany chair that lay in …

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  “This famous linguist once said that of all the phrases in the English language, of all the endless combinations of words in all of history, that Cellar Door is the most beautiful.” Donnie Darko. 1. Mr. Leiano sat looking at the steadily dripping tap. The droplets would land gently on the base of the sink before trickling away, disappearing down the drain and through the pipes to god knows where. He watched the water forming around the mouth of the spout. Eventually the weight became too much and the water drop would subsequently fall to its dark, dank death. Or perhaps a new life somewhere far away? Mr. Leiano wasn’t sure and he had never really asked anybody for his or her opinion on the matter, lest he seem …

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We had been standing around the yawning hole in a shared reverie. My eyes were tracing the way the dirt splattered carelessly around the edges and the walls fell away sharply towards the centre. I shuffled closer to the rim, reflexively wiping the sheen of sweat that coated my upper lip. The heat was oppressive and getting more so the higher the sun rose. I looked down into the hole, apprehensive. It was deeper than I had expected, more a tunnel than anything. “You sure about this?” I murmured after a few seconds. My brother was squatting on the side across from me, his head bent as he gazed meditatively into the dark void. He was holding a large torch and its beam fell solid and lonely down the tunnel. …

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  She rapped urgently at the door. There was no rush, other than to escape the howling southwesterly. He opened the battered wooden door so slowly it groaned under the duress and came face to face with the desperate looking young woman. Her frizzy burst of orange hair covered most of her face and added a new dimension to his unease. “Hi, I’m Iris, Iris-Rose actually, although if I had my way it’d be the other way ‘round. Gosh, I love roses. I noticed you have some out the front, all sorts of colours. My favourite is yellow. Did you know the giving of a yellow rose denotes friendship? Anyway, you can call me Rose; I prefer it. Some people call me Iris and I don’t even respond you know, …

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The red wood tables sit with angular indifference in the fifth floor restaurant.  The setting’s spines and surfaces mark out the avenues of movement between the opposite bar and entrance to the kitchen as the staff glide gracefully between them. Waiters and waitresses in perfect white garments pulse from chef to customer and back again like snowflakes on the breath of some great beast. The thick windows show the distance to the world beyond and madness of the busy street below as a reminder that this place, ‘The Cellar Door’ is sanctuary. The heavy chairs shift, slide and scrape over the black tile floor, beneath the black tile ceiling making the only accidental sounds to shutter out over the personal whisperings of customers. The space is dark, lit only by …

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It isn’t relaxing, it’s boring. My brother has taken away my perfectly good PC and left me with this monstrosity, which has no internet connection, no art software and a broken spacebar key. The mouse has a ball in it for goodness sake, a ball which needs cleaning! This is far from the calming substitute he had in mind when he left it behind. Perhaps he has done it with the best of intentions, but how exactly are the ancient games he’s left me with supposed to offer any entertainment? The images on the point and click adventures are horribly pixelated, something I personally can’t stand as a graphic designer. Worst of the lot is the one I’ve been plodding through for the last half hour, no pictures at all! …

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By James F. Troschke 1 Senior Warden Vincent Robinson liked his job. He understood dealing with deluded and sometimes violent schizophrenics wasn’t for everyone, and that’s why he liked it even more. It made him feel special, because he could help them. He could make them feel like valued members of society; normal functioning individuals. If that meant doubling (or tripling) their medication without a doctor’s consent, so be it. He was the master of this realm, and ethics was not a word he was very familiar with. He also liked to listen to the patients; follow their twisting trains of thought, try and understand why they thought the things they did. If that proved impossible, he liked to study their faces, their expressions. Few men took delight in looking …

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Its eyes bore into him. Francis backed away, terrified. He swung the spiked metal pole franticly at it. It shrieked gutturally at him. He thrust and the thing’s eyes widened horribly. He had pierced the thing’s neck. It screamed wetly, red pooling in the wound as Francis pulled the pole out and the creature collapsed. It looked so human now. It still had blackened gums and sharpened teeth. And bluish-grey tinged skin, but in its stillness he saw human life. Human death. He didn’t know what he was looking at but it horrified him. The sight of it lying there, pooling blood, made him sick. He ran, as fast as he could. There were trees everywhere. He tried to appreciate the smell of the breeze blowing through the fresh wood. …

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In the midst of all the hub and bub finalising entries for the CELLAR DOOR award you might be forgiven for forgetting about ANNABEL’S LOST AND FOUND Award, an award idea dreamed up by one of our regular competitors. It is with great and somewhat belated pleasure that we finally get to print this author’s name as a winner, but if you’ve been reading NITH short lists for any period of time, or even participated as a judge, you would know what a wonderful and observant writer she can be. Please congratulate the perennial ‘student’ Clarissa NG! Clarissa has participated in just about every competition since she discovered NITH, and from what we understand, she has been making a lot of headway in other writing endeavours as well. Perhaps it’s …

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This story is set in the late Roman Republic but all characters and events are fictional, any resemblance to actual historical events or persons is coincidence. The wails of women soared and echoed above the deep beating of the drums. Lamenting songs were sung, creating a cacophony of sound that accompanied the funeral procession. Below it all, one could hear muffled shouts coming from the covered litter where the body was carried. Shadows shrouded the funeral procession as they reached the tomb even as the moon cast a pallid glow across the rest of the Campus Sceleratus. Manius Lartius Galeo, the Pontifex Maximus, headed towards the edge of the tomb. As he began his prayers, the bearers set the litter down. The Executioner took out a small, female body wrapped …

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The door jolts open and clatters against the wall. A brief gasp punctuates the air and then two distinct thuds echo down the hallway. He winces, face contorting; part of him hopes the pain will go away, if only he can screw his face tight enough. Another part—the unfortunate, secondary thud otherwise known as his ankle—just screams at him. Perhaps elevating the mattress was not a good idea after all. ‘You’re still here?’ Andrew says to the mostly-dark room. The blinds are still drawn; the only source of light—apart from the hallway behind him—is from the always-on computer tower underneath his roommate’s bunk. The intermittent flashing lights mean something. Probably. Lacking a response, Andrew tries again: ‘Didn’t your class start half an hour ago?’ Indiscernible moans erupt from the pile …

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I was always encouraged to think outside the box and it was fair to say that I was quite good at it which was why I was so good at my job. Ideas flew into my mind like small birds flitting in and out; sometimes leaving before I knew they had come; abandoning me with a sense of vertigo and a chance missed. When they stayed, they danced about in my head spinning all my other ideas out of control like loose pieces of paper in the wind. And then, at times, ideas would come together and fight, vying for space in my thoughts. It was fun thinking outside the box and it was always safe but I went a bit too far and went out of the box completely. …

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