Congratulations to our Runner Ups: Lillian Y. 5th grade, Not-So Spooky Story and Praneet R. 6th grade, The Haunted Souls

Alive

Grand Champion: Anna W. 7th grade

The house remembered the good old days, when it’d been a tree, growing strong and bulky, king of the Wild Wood. As it turned out, it wasn’t the king. The humans were. They came and cut down every tree in their sight, and when there were no more, they moved on to another section. The house remembered. It’d vowed, from the day it’s family had been carted away in planks and boards, in triangles and squares, in trapezoids and blocks, that it’d get back at them. It’d turn life against them, overthrow them from their current position as ruler of the world. It’d show them. Trees, unlike humans, never break their vow. Their word is always honored.

This was one of the worse nightmares. Ever. Why? It never ended. This nightmare was reality. And she just happened to be trapped in it. How could she have been so careless, throwing away her mother’s warnings, “Stay away from that house now, hear?” and “Stay safe”, so easily? Look where that’d gotten her. Here. In this house. The one that was rumored to be alive. Of course, she didn’t believe those rumors……right? She’d never been superstitious, but this house radiated “GO AWAY”. Yet despite all of the signs along the way not to go even near  this house, she’d still taken that dare and tiptoed into the house. She’d said she would only take a peek inside, but the door had slammed shut behind her before she could get back out. She’d turned that knob so hard, her hand became chafed red by the rough wood, covered in blisters that appeared out of nowhere. Since when were the locks on doors outside instead of inside? Her scream of frustration echoed throughout the house, so loud in the silent, oppressive atmosphere that it almost seemed enough to break the fragile windows.

Footsteps. She could hear them. Slow and ominous, somewhere in the house. Was she not alone? This creeped her out more than anything else. This house was supposed to be abandoned. Unless…no. It wasn’t a ghost, just the wind. Just the wind, just the wind. Still, she better keep moving. Staying in one place couldn’t be good, not here. Bracing herself for what was about to come, she slipped down the long hallway leading down to the parlor. The parlor obviously had once contained beautiful velvet sofas and chairs, but they were now ripped and torn, along with cracked teacups and a teapot, bearing the memories of warm afternoons and long chats. A thick layer of dust covered everything, except for the tablecloth, which appeared to be exceptionally clean after all these long years. Abruptly, she turned away, pained by the memory…

“Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere! Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share!”

Dad had always loved to sing. He sang while he worked, he sang while he cleaned the kitchen counter, he sang while he dusted every piece of furniture in the house, especially the tablecloths. He would clean the cloth, flip it over, not minding a bit that the vase of flowers on top crashed to the ground. He wouldn’t dust the table, mind you, only the table, because “that’s the part we eat on”. His little ritual had continued on for years, and when she’d become of age, he let her help him. She’d kept that ritual going even after his death, a single memory in the utter darkness.

She trudged up the spiraling staircase, testing each step before putting her weight on it. A little more than halfway up the staircase, a huge crack resounded through the house. She bounded up the rest of the stairs in one leap, recklessly, no longer throwing caution to the wind. Like a xylophone, the stairs crunched into each other, leaving a huge gap that could seriously injure anyone who tried to jump it. This was the point of no return.

Considerably shaken, she turned around to find herself staring at a line of paintings along the wall. Under each painting was a plaque, engraved in spidery handwriting the name of the man in each painting and how long they’d lived.

Millicent Narle, 1810-1840. The young man’s eyes looked haunted.

George Narle, 1835-1855. The man in the photo looked boyish and young, except for the scar running down his cheek.

And the names went on, each family member having something that just wasn’t right about them until the most recent plaque: Chester Narle, 1980-2011. Chester. Her father’s name. The man in the photo stared at the space above her head, eyes vacant. She stumbled back. That wasn’t possible. He looked just like…just like dad, in the year before his death, hurried and nervous, as if some horrible secret was always gnawing at his insides, making him die painfully and slowly. How could this be? Her father’s last name was Foster, not Narle. This simply couldn’t be.

“Daddy, how come your last name is Foster?” the little girl asked.

“Ah. Now that’s no story. Not worth wasting breath on,” he answered.

“Pleeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaasssssssssse,”she begged and pleaded.

“Alright, alright. It’s simple, really. Your ancestors always stuck with their last name, but as a boy, I detested it. The name carried too much hunger for power, too much horror. So I decided to change my name to match a close friend of mine. We used to pretend we were brothers, laughing at the restraining power my parents thought they had over me……,”his voice trailed off.

“And……that’s it. Nothing much. Now your daddy’s gotta go fix that car tire. Talk to you later, ok?” he ruffled her hair.

Later that day, the little girl tripped on her way to the driveway to play hopscotch. As she struggled to get back up, she became eye to eye with the car tires. They were perfectly normal.

Immediately, she lowered her eyes from the strange painting. Her gaze fell upon the plaque, and she crouched down to see it better. Underneath the name and lifespan, there were 2 words, so shallowly carved that she had to squint to see. Body taken. She felt herself beginning to shake. Her brain was being overwhelmed by this painting, this plaque, this house. Her head was throbbing with the start of a massive headache. Someone, or something was playing with her, like lions play with their prey. Here, she was the prey. What was the lion?

Creak. Creak. She immediately snapped out of her dazed stupor at the sound of floorboards creaking. She would recognize that sound anywhere. Someone was sneaking through the house. After her. But…the stairs had collapsed. How would they have spanned the gap? Her nerves now fully shot, she whirled around and went down the nearest hallway. There had to be a way out of this horror movie. Where was the attic?? She could probably go onto the roof from there and find a way down. Her shadow danced on the walls, even though there was no visible light source. Suddenly, she skidded to a halt.

The passageway was a dead end. How could she have been so careless, yet again? The creaking was getting louder. Creak. CReak. CREak. CREAk. CREAK. CREAK. Whoever or whatever it was, it was getting closer. And closer. Heart pounding, she dove into the nearest closet, shutting the door behind her. The air inside was stuffy and musty. It was strangely lit inside, though, and when she lifted her head, she found the reason. A window. A beautiful window that signaled freedom, freedom at long last. Grinning, she pulled herself up using the first shelf. Reaching up, she climbed onto the second shelf, and then the third. To get to the fourth(and then the window) she would need to let go of the third shelf, holding on with one hand only, and pull herself onto the fourth shelf with one arm. Taking a deep breath, she counted to 3. 1…2…3…go! Her arm shot out, grasping onto the first thing she could find; what felt like a cold, smooth piece of…fabric. After pulling herself up, she got a good look at what she’d held onto. A hand. A HAND. Her scream could’ve woken the dead.

Her dad’s hand was hard and calloused, large and rough. They always held her gently; strong but comforting. The day of her dad’s funeral, she’d held his cold, large hand in both of her’s, comforting herself with the hope that he’d come back. When he didn’t, she broke inside. She’d sank into depression, no longer caring about life.

She recoiled away from the familiar hand and scrabbled at the window. She pounded at the window pane, no longer caring about secrecy. CREAK. CREAK. CREAKKKKKK. So she’d been found. Taking a nearby wooden stick, she broke the window pane, cutting her hands and arms. She scrambled through, but not before feeling cold fingers on her calves, pulling, scratching, grabbing. Wrenching free, she fell down the steep roof, crashing onto the hard ground many yards below. She lay completely motionless there.

The next day, Anastasia Foster was found wandering next to the old Narle house. Her eyes were vacant, pools of darkness. Trying to remember….what should be left alone.