Halloween Ghost Story Contest -- 2011
High School Winners

Third Place

Our third place High School winning entry was written by home-schooled eleventh grader Doug Ducott of Saugus, Massachusetts. With this victory, Mr. Ducott joins the very exclusive club of authors who can boast four or more victories (the record is five) as he also won last year, in 2008, and in 2007.

Everything is Relative

Doug Ducott

What was it with this house? I've walked this route a thousand times and never paid any attention to it. So why, all of a sudden, was I so drawn to it? The last few times I passed by, I found myself just standing there, staring at it. Mesmerized. And now, here I was again.

It was a typical early fall day in New England.  The sun was shining.  The air was crisp. A gentle breeze carried the sounds of children playing, while their parents raked leaves.  Everyone out enjoying the beautiful day.

But as I stared down the dark, tree-shrouded driveway at the strange house beyond, it was like looking into another world.  The contrast was unnerving.  I wondered who would want to live in a place like this.  Devoid of sunshine and color.  Even the fall leaves looked gray in the shadows.

I inadvertently took a few steps closer, taking in the surreal scene.  The house was larger than most on this street.  Tall and stately in it's day, I imagined.  Now it stood in total disrepair.  Roof sagging.  Paint gray and peeling.  Shutters hanging crookedly alongside dirty, cracked windows.  Treacherous-looking front stairs leading to a door with one of those big, heavy knockers.  The kind that disappeared when doorbells were invented.

My focus drifted around the weed-choked yard.  The place definitely looked abandoned, but somehow I knew someone was still there.  I guess I didn't really know for sure.  It was just a feeling.

A low growl jolted me out of my reverie.  I was startled to find myself at the bottom of those rickety stairs.  I had somehow wandered all the way down the driveway.  To my right stood a large brown dog.  Head low.  Eyes menacing.  Another low growl escaped his throat.  I took a step back, weighing my options.  I knew if I ran, he'd chase me.  But if I didn't.....he wouldn't have to.  "Good boy.....stay.....nice doggy....." I mumbled, which was pointless and barely audible through the panic rising in my throat.

When he pawed the ground like a bull about to charge, I started backing up fast and tripped.  As I fell backwards, I saw a mass of teeth and fur coming at me.  I hit the ground and covered my head and face with my arms, bracing for the attack.  And then.....nothing.  No impact.  No teeth.  No growling.  After several seconds, I dared to open one eye halfway and peek through my arms.  It was eerily silent.  I hesitantly sat up and scanned the yard.  The dog was nowhere in sight.  I got to my feet in disbelief and moved slowly toward the driveway, every second expecting a reappearance from behind a bush.  To my surprise and delight, I made it to the street without incident.

It felt good to be back in the sun.  Everything was as it was before.  People in their yards.  Children playing.  As I headed home, I warned a few people to keep an eye on their kids because there was a big, vicious dog on the loose.  I didn't stop looking over my shoulder until I was safely in the house.

When I came through the door, everyone was already sitting down to supper.  My mother was glaring at me.  My brother was smiling.  I tried to explain why I was so late, hoping my near-fatal dog attack would inspire sympathy.  Unfortunately, since I didn't have a scratch on me, all it did was make my parents question why I was trespassing in someone else's yard in the first place.  Which, of course, made my brother smile more.

As the night went on, my mind kept drifting back to that house.  Why was I so fascinated with it?  I tried to sleep, but I kept reliving the dog encounter.  It just didn't make any sense.  Why hadn't he attacked me when he had the chance?  I was on the ground right in front of him.  He had me.  Then he just disappeared.  I fell into a fitful sleep around 3 a.m.  Suddenly, I was startled awake by growling.  I instinctively threw my arms up over my face, only to hear my brother burst into uncontrollable laughter.

I was getting the distinct feeling that nobody believed my story.  And, as I replayed the whole scene in my mind again and again, I started to wonder myself.  It began to seem less believable even to me, and I had lived it.  At least, I thought I had.  I had to go back there.  There was no way around it.  I walked my usual route and stopped when I reached the driveway.

I was trying to convince myself to investigate further, when a pickup pulled up across the street.  Glad for the reprieve, I decided to ask the man a few questions.  He was a tall man about thirty or so.  He smiled when I approached and asked what he could do for me.  I told him I was researching the old house across the street and wondered what he could tell me about it.  He couldn't tell me much.  He said he and his wife had only lived there a few years, and it had been vacant since before they arrived.  Most of the houses on the street belonged to young families who hadn't been there more than 7 or 8 years.  Then he remembered an old woman down the street who had lived there all her life.  He pointed out "old Mrs. Wilson's" house and said if anyone would know the history of that house, it would be her.  I thanked him and headed toward Mrs. Wilson's.

I had knocked twice and was about to leave when the door creaked open.  A tiny old woman, who looked about a hundred, stood in the doorway holding a cat who looked about as old as her.  I quickly explained why I had come, and she asked me to come in.  After insisting I have a cup of tea, she began telling me a story.

She described the sweet, kind woman that had once lived there with her abusive husband.  She had often warned the young woman not to stay with him, as she feared for her safety.  Apparently, things went from bad to worse after the birth of their only child.  "One night, in a fit of rage, he threatened to kill her and their infant son.  She was so afraid that she hid the baby with me.  I begged her not to go back to that house, but she felt she had to try one more time to reach the man she had married, not the monster he had become.  That was the last time I saw my daughter alive."

I was too stunned to speak.  As if this story hadn't already been disturbing enough.  After a minute, she continued.  "He convinced them it was an accident, of course, but I knew the truth.  I had to protect my grandson now, as she had tried to do.  He was all I had left, but I knew he wasn't safe with me.  I had to give him up.  It broke my heart."

She sat quietly for a moment, lost in thought.  Then, in a faraway voice, she said, "A friend of mine arranged a quick, secretive adoption.  I was assured he'd be raised in a safe, loving home.  I never saw him again."

The old cat rubbed against her leg and brought her back to the present.  She smiled at me and said, "I'm sorry.  I'm sure that was much more information than you ever wanted.  I haven't told that story to anyone in the 16 years since it happened.  I'm not sure why it all poured out tonight."

She reached for a dusty old photo album and turned a few pages.  She turned the book toward me, pointing to a pretty woman with dark hair.  Next to her was a muscular-looking man with scraggly dark hair and whiskers.  I gasped when I noticed the dog behind him.  It looked just like the dog that had attacked me.  When she asked what was wrong, I told her my story.  She looked confused and said it was impossible, since the dog had died long ago.  She said it was as mean and ill-tempered as it's master and was always by his side.  Both had died within months of each other several years ago.  I sat in stunned silence for a few minutes before heading for the door.  I thanked her and left, feeling more confused than ever.

When I saw how dark it was, I realized I had stayed longer than I thought.  I knew I'd be passing the house, since it was the only way home.  I slowed down as I neared the driveway, still trying to digest all Mrs. Wilson had said.  A light rain had started to fall, making the house barely visible in the darkness.  I stopped and stared, even as the rain became heavier, unable to resist.  Even though I was scared, I was oddly curious as well.  My brain was telling me to turn and run, but I felt compelled to walk toward the house instead.  As the rain pelted my face, vivid lightning lit the yard.  I ran toward the stairs seeking shelter.  I stopped at the door, thinking I must be out of my mind.  A blinding flash and explosion of thunder confirmed it.  I was going in.

Once inside, I searched for a light switch near the door.  I quickly found one, but it didn't work.  The electricity had probably been off for years.  I'd have to rely on the little bit of light that filtered back here from the street.  From what I could see, the inside of the house looked as shabby as the outside.

As I walked around the house, I began to think I heard voices over the thunder.  Was somebody shouting?  I walked to the next room.  It seemed to be coming from upstairs.  Was someone else here?  I found a flight of stairs and began to climb.  It was definitely a man's voice, and he sounded angry.  Then I heard a woman scream and a door slam.  I stopped short and the banister almost gave way.  It got quiet, except for the woman's faint sobbing, so I chanced a few more steps.  And then I heard it.  The same menacing growl from yesterday.  The dog was on the staircase with me.  This time, I didn't hesitate.  I took the last few steps two at a time and bolted through the first door I came to, slamming it behind me.

In the dim light, I saw the sobbing woman near the window.  I cautiously approached her to see if she was alright.  When a flash of lightning lit up her face, I stared in horror.  There was no mistaking it.  It was the woman from the photograph.  Mrs. Wilson's dead daughter.

I couldn't move.  She suddenly got quiet and looked in my face.  She stared right in my eyes for a moment, then reached out and touched my cheek.  I was frozen in place, but somehow I wasn't afraid of her.  I knew she wouldn't hurt me.  With tears in her eyes, she said softly, "You've come home."

Before I could react, the angry voice of the man boomed through the house.  Her serene expression turned to panic.  "You have to leave!  You're not safe here!" she cried.  Suddenly, the door burst open and the man stomped in.  The dog stood by his side, teeth bared.  He stared at me for a long minute and then something like recognition began to show on his face.  A sneer began to form on his lips.  "Welcome home, son," he growled.

I finally found my voice.  "What are you talking about?" I shouted.  "I'm not your son!  I don't live here!  I don't even know you people!"  The woman suddenly jumped in front of me and screamed at the man, "I won't let you hurt him!"  He brushed her aside like a feather and hissed, "It's time I finished what I started 16 years ago."  He backhanded me, and I flew across the room, striking my head on the wall.

As my vision blurred, I saw him coming at me again.  Just then, there was an earth-shattering crack as lightning smashed through the window, striking the man and setting the house on fire.  The dog ran to his side, as I crawled to the woman.  I lifted her unconscious body and staggered down the stairs as the house burned.  When I reached the front door, she opened her eyes and smiled weakly.  When I stepped outside, she was gone.  The last thing I remembered was falling on the rain-soaked grass.

I was dazed and incoherent when they found me.  The man across the street had seen the fire and called 911.  The fire crews tried to put the fire out, but it was too late.  There was nothing but ashes left of the building and no bodies were found.  The next day, I learned that Mrs. Wilson had a heart attack and died when told about the fire.

My parents never mentioned that I was adopted, and I decided not to ask.  I looked like my mother, father and brother.  How could I have been related to Mrs. Wilson and her daughter?  My father always says that everything is relative, no matter what's under discussion.  For once, it seems appropriate.

Continue to the 2nd place story

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