Halloween Ghost Story Contest -- 2014
High School Winners

Second Place

Our second place High School winning entry was written by Paige Alexis Gargett-Bean of Jamaica, Vermont. Ms. Gargett-Bean has been home-schooled for the majority of her high school career but recently started taking a writing class at Brattleboro Union High School.


Paige Alexis Gargett-Bean

Melanie let out a frustrated puff of air, drumming her fingers impatiently on the side of the steering wheel. She was crawling along the back road at fifteen miles under the speed limit, stuck behind a leaf peepers driving a ridiculous, immaculate baby blue SUV. She was on the way to join her family at her grandmothers for a family reunion, late as it was and-she glanced over to check the time-at this rate she wouldnt be there for another twenty minutes.

While Melanie loved her grandmother, and had always looked forward to visiting her cute little yellow cottage in Vermont, she hadnt been back there in years. It was her very favorite place in the world as a small child, she reminisced, smiling fondly despite the irritating driver. Some of her earliest memories were of the apple trees in the yard, the sturdy rock wall that looked like it was held up by nothing less than magic, yet not one stone had ever wobbled out of place, and the archaic cemetery that lie directly beyond that barrier.

She supposed that at such a young age she shouldve been afraid of cemeteries, but the thought never crossed her mind when she played there. There was nothing grim or spooky about it, that she could recall. Quite the opposite, in fact, it was usually rather sunny and cheerful. The grass was soft and green, perfectly comfortable for her to spread out a quilt on and have doll picnics. The rough, dull gravestones were covered in pillowy moss that she could use to make doll beds. The apple tree growing near the center had provided her and all her children shade when the sun was too intense at midday. She could spend hours there, playing amongst the peaceful graves. Her mother had been concerned at times, but she had a faint memory of her grandmother sticking up for her, telling her mother Oh, Katherine, shes fine. Let her play. She isnt harming anything, and the fresh air is good for her. Besides, you should be grateful that Melanie plays so well by herself.

By herself? Adult Melanie intentionally pulled out of the recollection, shaking her head in confusion. Had she been by herself? She tried to remember whatever was niggling at her, thinking hard. Just when she thought shed lost whatever deeply buried memory had given her pause, she was able to snag the tail end and reel it back. There was another little girl. She would come to the cemetery, too - a neighbor child, no doubt - and play with little Melanie.

She rubbed at a temple, coming back to her senses to gasp, Oh, Sh- and slam on her brakes just in time to avoid having to repair that moronic baby blue paint job. She fumed, seeing a middle-aged woman emerge from the passengers side with a camera. The SUV had stopped in the middle of the road to take a picture of a covered bridge. Melanie groaned and let her head fall upon the wheel, unintentionally tapping the horn with her forehead and scaring the wits out of the woman to the extent that she physically jumped, causing her shelacked hairdo to flop out of place in a most comedic manner. Melanie chuckled darkly, too irked to truly feel bad. She soon stopped, though, as another scene washed over her subconscious, apparently knocked loose by the whack to her head.

Watch me! called her little friend, turning a cartwheel on the lush grass. Melanie clapped her hands, delighted. She was a few inches shorter and likely a year or two younger than her playmate, and duly impressed by the older girls antics.

Show me how! I want to try, too! implored the small girl, trying to mimic her friends beginning position.

No, no, not that way, Mel. Here, watch again. And Melanie watches, ever so closely. The girl plants her stockinged legs far apart, shiny black shoes pointing outward. She gracefully raises her pale arms in their puffy white sleeves over a curly blonde head and in one fluid motion turns a perfect cartwheel, her powdery blue dress swishing around her legs for a moment, revealing layers of lacey skirts before falling smoothly back into place. Her lips purse in an angelic smile as she curtsies for her one small admirer, clearly pleased with herself. Now you try. Do like I did.

Melanie tries her very best to do it just like the other girl did, but still ends up in a crumpled heap on the ground, having tripped over her own fancy dress-up tea gown. She harumphs as she picks herself up, swatting angrily at the dirt clots and grass stains. Her friend giggles at clumsy little Melanie and helps her brush herself off. Melanie remembers thinking, in that moment, that everything about her friend was so light and gentle. Her laugh was tinkling and bell-like, her hands, where they skimmed Melanies dress, fluttered like butterfly wings. That same soft white hand now took hers, unexpectedly cold for the warmth of the day. Or expectedly? Melanie tried to recall which. Had her friend always been so icy, as well as gentle and airy? In any case, little Melanie didnt think much of it, concentrating hard on where those dove-like hands moved hers, guiding them to the right stance. At the end of that summer, Melanie recollected, she had gone back to school and taught her friends to cartwheel, too.

The baby blue menace had started rolling again, and the turn Melanie needed to take toward her grandmothers house was coming up fast. She threw one last annoyed glare at the leaf peepers, but to her concertation, the color of their vehicle now reminded her of her friends dress, the color of the sky on a crisp morning. She rubbed a fist over her eyes, trying to focus on the road but mostly preoccupied by the fact she had forgotten the little girls name. She pondered and grumbled all the way up the mountain, nearly missing her grandmothers driveway, swinging in at the last moment and parking haphazardly hear the rock wall. She contemplated the cemetery from the sanctuary of her car, almost seeing ghostly images of herself and the girl turning cartwheels near the back row of gravestones, near one in particular, a small round-topped one that had a carved picture of an angel. This grave had previously slipped her mind, but she felt a rush of familiarity, as if shed loved that angel carving as a child.

Chastising herself for being so silly, Melanie threw open her door to the chilled fall air and marched inside. The door opened before she could knock and the smell of the roast browning in the oven, as well as the tantalizing yet indistinguishable aromas of the other dishes being prepared wafted out of the cottage. She didnt have any time to appreciate it though, because in a second her nose was buried in her grandmothers hair as old but firm hands pulled her into a soft, pillowy hug. Melanie! We were starting to worry!

She was hustled into the warm abode so the door could be pulled shut as she was saying, Oh, sorry, Gram. I was stuck behind some out-of-staters. There were groans of sympathetic understanding from around the room.

Anyhow, her grandmother continued chipperly, Youre here now. Come on in to the kitchen. Come say hello to your mom.

Melanie smiled indulgently but inwardly groaned. There was a reason she only saw good ole Mom at family to-dos. She manfully steered herself toward the kitchen, however, obligingly greeting and embracing her mother, who responded, Youre late. Come help us with the pie.

So Melanie spent the next hour in the kitchen in an ancient apron decorated with frolicing kittens. In the slight respites she took to the living room to chat with various family members, she wondered where old ladies always seem to find these ridiculous aprons. Kneading a hunk of delicious-smelling but coarse and scratchy gingersnap dough, it popped into her head to ask her mother, Hey, Ma?

Hm? her mother replied inattentively from where she stood reading the big, oil-stained recipe book.

Do you remember the little neighbor girl I used to play with when we were here? What was her name?

Her mother flaps a plush oven mitt-ed hand dismissively. Dont be ridiculous. You were always playing alone, over in that creepy graveyard. Wouldnt have played with the little boys across the street if I paid you to.

No, Mom. Melanie insisted certainly. The little girl. What was her name?

For the last time, Melanie. Her mother snaps, irritated, slamming the book shut. There was no-

Youre talking about Melissa. Melanies grandmother had appeared in the doorway, toting a sack of sugar retrieved from the pantry.

Melissa? Marveled at the same time her mother sighed,

No, Mom. Your memory is going. This is Melanie, not Melissa. MELanie.

Grandmother and granddaughter both ignored her. Thats right! Melissa! What ever happened to her, Gram?

Her grandmother grinned absently, perhaps having a forgetful spell after all, muttering, Oh, shes still around.

Melanie continued working on her cookies, remembering. Of course. Melissa. We were both Mel, thats why I couldnt remember. She ruminated on this until she placed her tray in the oven, taking a break and slipping unnoticed from the kitchen and out the door, heading over to look at the cemetery. Shes still around? Did that mean Melissa still lived in the area? Perhaps when Gram was feeling less forgetful she could tell her where Melissa lived, and they could get in touch. That would be nice, she thought.

Reaching the wall, Melanie considered being mature and walking down to the road to access the cemetery gate, but quickly decided to do as she was wont to do as a child and just clamber over the short wall. Once over, she surveyed the surroundings that were both familiar and foreign to her. Adulthood changes the way one looks at things, and what we see is usually highly disappointing compared to how we once viewed the subject through the rose-tinted lenses of childhood.

For the first time in her life, Melanie did find the cemetery dull and just the smallest touch spooky. Now that she had come all the way out here, however, she figured she might as well walk around. She needed to touch everything, make sure it was real after the surreal quality of her memories. Her fingers ran along rough headstones, caressed cool but still soft grass. When they met a branch of the apple tree, the wood disintegrated in her hand. Surprised, she took a closer look. The tree was long dead. Saddened, she brushes the slivers off on her jeans and wouldve left, but then she remembered the carved angel. Cutting through rows of graves, she reached the small stone in the back corner.

Melanie smiles at the little angel, and unwarily bent over to read the inscription. Then, her blood runs cold.

Our Child
Melissa Ebner
Went Away With The Angels
December 17, 1862
Aged Eight And Three Days.

Melanie gasped, standing up with full intention of jogging back to the sanctity of the house, but she stopped in her tracks, heart pumping triple-time as a small, tinkling-bell voice echoed from behind her.

Melanie? Have you come to play?

Continue to the 1st place story

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