Halloween Ghost Story Contest -- 2016
High School Winners

First Place

Our first place High School winning entry is by Benjamin Andrew Fouché, an eleventh-grade student enrolled in the Seton Home Study School.

The Ghoul of Maple Hill

Benjamin Andrew Fouché

Over the course of many lengthy and dreary months, there have been several documented disturbances which have transpired at a quiet, rural cemetery in northeastern Vermont. They began as mere sightings, isolated across the days of each passing week. However, they have insidiously increased. A few witnesses have sworn to have seen a creature prowling about the burial yards. In some cases, the alleged beast was holding a corpse in one of its hands, devouring the head. But what made these sightings all the more distressing is that there were many findings of which supported the claims; graves had been unearthed, and in some circumstances, the coffins were missing.

During one encounter, a small, stone family crypt, partially constructed within a hillside, had been utterly ransacked—the coffins were later uncovered by a farmer who discovered them on the edge of his cornfield. The cadavers, from which had reposed inside them, were gone without a trace. And as if the predicament could not have been anymore peculiar than it already was, what they did find were monstrous claw markings on the sides of the ruined coffins.

In another case, a well-aged corpse was found mutilated, lying against the trunk of a lofty hickory, atop a knoll. What appalled many was the fact that animal-like teeth marks were left upon the dried flesh—teeth that define no earthly animal of existence. Was this a ghoul; an ethereal creature that dines on the dead by night? Nothing was certain, and that is exactly why I, a mere detective of Hemlock Vermont, was assigned to investigate the ghastly scenes of Maple Hill.

I arrived at the cemetery before nightfall, by foot. For I did not want to be seen by whatever was responsible for the sullen occurrences. Silently, I advanced towards the cemetery's gates. The quietness and solitude was to a degree, rather disquieting. Never before had I investigated such a twisted and unsettling case by the accompaniment of no one other than myself. I was alone, and felt as if I were a wandering soul, venturing into the abyss of darkness and dejection. Perhaps what unnerved my soul most was that all of my fears were the fears of the shadowy unknown. I was unsure of what I was to expect that evening.

The twilight was ceasing as I warily strode forth. The old and knotty maples hung their limbs over the hilly grounds, blanketed in the withered leaves from the past autumns. The timeworn, wrought-iron fences were webbed in spiders' dusty silk and the gray, melancholy headstones were crooked. Some of which were even strangled in dried, stiffen brush. While I proceeded down an older path, I noticed something several yards away. Straining my eyes, I could scarcely discern what it was.

With keen awareness, I moved hither and thither through the thin copses that were spread about the graveyard, until I came within arm's length of the baffling sight. There before me was a disinterred grave. The rotting coffin was torn apart, and as expected, a deadened stiff there was not. I knelt down to have a closer inspection of the dark soil. It was evident that an animal had excavated the gravesite, but the question of greater magnitude was simply this; what species possessed such a vigorous competence?

I thoroughly examined the earth, searching for an imprint or claw marking. Surprisingly, I discovered precisely what it was that I was seeking. There indented into the smooth dirt was the impression of a hind foot. However, this was the footmark of no other creature native to the vast surrounding wilderness. It appeared birdlike, but the longer I studied the odd track, the sooner I came to realize its skeletal characteristics. I could visibly distinguish the joints that linked the bones together. Hence, I came up with an illogical supposition; it was indeed a ghoul.

Still, I refused to accept such an incoherent preconceived notion. You see, I needed further proof to acknowledge that such an elusive being could manifest itself. Therefore, I continued on, skimming around the soundless cemetery. While I was quickening my stride down a narrow path, there suddenly came a fork. And as soon as I neared it, the dread of which I cannot describe began to sluggishly settle in. Inexplicably positioned in between the two branches of trail was a purposely desiccated and disfigured corpse. The arms were erect and in the hands the stiff held its very own decapitated head. It perched like a vulture with its emaciated knees against its ribbed chest. Unfortunately, the slight apprehension for which I felt was still not significant enough to frighten me away.

I carefully observed the disturbed remains. It was a horrid sight, but did not convince me that this latent ghoul was residing in Maple Hill. For all I knew, it was the sick work of a rather morbid individual. I knew there was more to be uncovered, and so I quietly carried on my task. There was still an unreciprocated enquiry that unnerved my soul. A question that was extremely difficult in explaining to my bemused mind: what had unearthed the coffin? All of my conjectures had proved to be in vain and the more I pondered upon the idea of there actually being a real, living ghoul, the more uneasy I became.

After a while of scrutinizing the melancholic grounds of Maple Hill, I came across what I would call another oddity, to say the least. There were about eight graves that had been exhumed. The coffins that were scattered all about had been shred to pieces. They were thrown into the mangled limbs of the barren trees, and upon the land they laid scratched and tattered. The whole area was strewn in chunks of soil. As expected, there were no bodies to be found. The very same ghoulish impressions of which I had seen earlier were speckled here and there.

It was then clear that there merely was no sensible interpretation of the grim scene. I was unable to gather my thoughts; each time they became repressed by the conception of there actually existing this feasible ghoul. Something unnatural and wicked was befalling Maple Hill. Something of the supernatural. Something beyond control of any mortal. And what was I to do about the situation? Nothing—and nothing more. I unwaveringly decided that it was time I had left the horrid place.

While trudging through the thinly wooded sections of the cemetery, I began to feel an unrelenting anxiety. A persisting acuteness of a malevolent presence. This insufferable and unforgiving sensation of darkness pervaded my spirit. I began to wish I was home. Safe within the comfort and warmth of my fireplace. Sheltered underneath my roof which would reflect the bitter coldness of late November. Oh, why had I chosen to undertake this horrific case? Was I to perish in a horrendous manner that night? Only time would tell, as I hopelessly wandered farther into the massive graveyard, becoming lost in the inexorable blackness.

I recall there being a sheer sliver of moon that vaguely gleamed down upon me. But before I could even feel grateful for the bit of luminosity it offered, the slender crescent was swallowed by the darkened billows which were consuming the nightly heavens. Whether it was an ill-omen or purely nothing, there was an instinctive perception that something of a rather malicious nature was imminent. All attempts in easing my spirit were ineffective—I could not disregard any thoughts about this ghoul. Was it watching me? Could it hear my every breath? Was I to be its midnight feast?

All at once, in an abrupt moment, there called out a daunting cry. I immediately became equally as petrified as all the corpses that rested below the very grounds of which I stood. Motionless and aghast, I seemed to wait for what was to happen next. The bellow was unearthly. It was one of the most dismaying sounds my very ears had garnered while dwelling within this temporal realm. I so greatly wanted to disperse from the cemetery—yet there I was; vulnerable and disoriented by the reaper's sickness.

I had to make a decision and there was unquestionably no time for it to be rational; I was going to flee. And I was going to flee far from this looming nightstalker. I did not care if I made a sound—all I desired was to escape the impending fate that awaited me—the impending fate that I had inherited the moment I set foot upon the cursed land. As I ran straight through the deathly gloom, another horrifying howl resounded through the blustery air.

I then heard a blaring snarl followed by a loathsome shriek. I hastened through the impenetrable duskiness, wondering if the end was near. Was this to be my final night on the earth? Would my soul have to haunt the forsaken Maple Hill for all of eternity? Surely this would not be the end—it could not be—it was not supposed to! Oh, how unmerited—how undeserved! I could already hear the wings flapping of the creature. Gusts of dead air were stirred and ran down my spine. I could hear it breathing heavily as it drew nearer.

As if all hope had vanished, suddenly, there stood an old chapel upon a hillock. A dim light flickered from within the thin windows. I had never felt such relief; the joy of which I contained was immense. I dashed with all of the might that I possessed and sprung through the dark, thickset doors of the sanctuary. When inside, I hurriedly shut and locked the doors. The ghoul did not violently knock against the door as I had anticipated. Instead, there was a rather lifeless silence.

The quietness endured while I kept watchful over my surroundings. Dust had accumulated upon the maroon-velvet floor—opaque shadows hung over the far side of each row of pews—and on the alter, there stood a silver candelabrum. Its crimson candles had been lit and a blackish wax slowly ran down each stick. The flames were disconcertingly unmoving; I had never witnessed such an unhallowed sight. My relief was gradually shattered as I continued to gaze around the chapel. Something was indeed very wrong.

Without prior notice, emerging from the shrouding darkness of the back doorway, came a strange, old man. He had a steady, yet menacing gait. His face was corpselike. His fingers were exceedingly gaunt. The eyes peculiarly sunk inwards. And the nose—skeletal. He was formally dressed, and his ebony cravat seemed to be knotted tightly around his neck. He stared upon me, and slightly grinned.

"The Darkness has been good to me." said he. "His wraith shall descend from the nocturnal heavens, and with passion, he shall sully the earth. The living are quite deplorable and imprudent." He paused a moment, as if lost in deep thought. "My endeavor has been accomplished; farewell, mortal." He took backwards steps and as he disappeared back into the obscurity, the candles snuffed themselves out. I stood in the unlit sanctuary, deliberating upon what had been revealed to me by the old man. Had I clearly not seen what was really happening? As I recollected all of my remarkably odd encounters in the cemetery, everything came to light. It was uttermost disturbing—sickening—terrifying; Maple Hill was the heart of a grisly conjuring and I had stumbled in the midst of it.

My intolerable premonition strengthened as the bell tolled twelve; I had to leave at once. Rushing through the sturdy doors of the chapel, I fled to the cemetery entrance. The leaves whirled in the furious winds, and thunder threateningly groaned far in the distance—a tempest was brewing. I charged headlong through the relentless gusts, trying to grasp the bit of hope that remained. Alas, before I could pass beyond the sharpened gates that imprisoned the spectres within the graveyard's boundaries, they swung shut. I gripped the wrought-iron rods with my hands so firmly, pleading that the spirits would release me from the God-Forsaken place.

I plummeted to my knees, and leaned my head against the gate in despair. I wished that I had declined the offer of investigating Maple Hill. I wished this all to be a mere nightmare—but a nightmare it was not! All optimism had died within the clutch of misery; just as my spirit had. And suddenly, there came a heavy breathing behind me. I felt its abominable presence feeding upon the fear of which I reeked. I knew it was hungry and yearned to digest something more lively than a measly stiff. The beast held the two halves of a torn cadaver in its spiny hands. The head had already been chewed from the corpse's stiffened shoulders.

The creature's thorny, bat-like wings arose broadly. The ribs were arranged slightly slanted; all meeting at the sternum. The legs were thickly structured and the feet matched the footmarks of which I had discovered earlier that evening. Its skulled face was wide and the jaws bore sharp, thickened teeth. In the creature's hollowed eyes glimmered an orange glow. A mist drifted from his nostrils, as he inhaled and exhaled deeply. Dreadfully leering upon me, the enormous fiend released the corpse from his hold.

The creature raised his arms high and forced his chest forward—the wings spread farther than they had before—he unleashed a low-pitched, thunderous laugh. It was over, and willingly, I embraced the gruesome death which I was fated. The Ghoul of Maple Hill lunged at me and begun feasting upon my morsels and bones. With many agonizing cries and screams, my soul departed. Alas, and henceforth, I have haunted—and lingered within the fence of this forlorn cemetery. I know not what will happen, but we phantoms sense that The Darkness's advent of which the old man spoke of is forthcoming.

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