As some of you may know, I help with the judging on one of Writer’s Digest magazine’s contests… the Your Story contest. It’s a fun contest that gives you a story prompt and you come up with a story (or an opening sentence or opening paragraph… depending on the prompt). Winners are published in Writer’s Digest magazine.
Being a writer myself I thought it only fair that I try entering a similar contest so I can go through the same process. Of course I can’t enter the Writer’s Digest one, so I entered NPR’s 3 minute fiction contest. The judging for the contest is over, so I figure it’s okay for me to post my story here (I didn’t win or make it into the finals or anything like that, by the way… but I did have fun writing the story which was based on a haunted house prompt). Competition is always tough for these types of contests and there are lots of great submissions. My advice is to keep submitting to contests whether you win or not… it makes for great practice.
Here’s my story. Let me know what you think:
by Scott Francis
Some people swore that the house was haunted. And anyone would believe it, too, just looking at the thing. Tendrils of ivy covered the foundation and crept up its sides weaving all through and around the alligatored paint. And those windows with their wavy glass distorted by the years; peeking through them was like looking back through time.
Benjamin Caulfield’s wife (her name was Effie) fell in love with it. Their antique pickup had parked in front of the house one afternoon and she pulled him by the hand all over the place. And Ben, he looked the house over and over, kicking loose bricks and rotten boards, just shaking his head and laughing. Effie was a pretty red-haired thing and as she stood there in her sundress and you could tell he’d do just anything for her.
It was a sunny September morning when they moved in and the whole street pitched in to carry boxes and furniture. Ben mowed the waist-high grass while Effie ran out to pick up a couple of buckets of fried chicken for everyone. The house had stood empty too long and folks sat on the porch steps smiling at the new couple.
Effie soon moved her work inside. While Ben worked to repair floorboards on the old front porch, painted, and climbed on the roof to fix loose shingles, you could see Effie standing at one of those wavy windows, polishing it with a white cloth. She didn’t come outside much after that. Ben came and went, running errands and going to his new job with the town’s newspaper. Everyone assumed they were expecting a baby.
Work on the outside of the house slowed as Ben became busier and busier with work, but through the windows you could see Effie moving from room to room. She’d stand at the windows, frowning as she wiped at the glass. Outside, the ivy seemed to return overnight and then new paint had already lost its sheen as spots and stains crept to the surface.
But the windows gleamed.
Halloween came and costumed children dared each another to sneak onto the Caulfield’s unlit porch and twist the antique doorbell. They screamed and ran down street when, as if on cue, Effie appeared in a window, cloth in hand.
The neighborhood began to whisper. They watched Ben come and go. His clothes were wrinkled and dark circles had appeared beneath his eyes. Widow Travis said Ben had stopped to talk to her as she tended her roses. He’d asked her if she knew anything about the house; about the people who had lived there before. It was a funny thing, but no one could remember anyone having lived there. The house had always been abandoned. It was never tended to and no one took much of an interest in the property.
Folks wanted to help Ben, but he would shake his head, smile weakly and just say how living in a new place is hard and that it was an adjustment and that was all. Meanwhile Effie continued to pace from window to window.
Things went on like that for a while until one night Effie screamed. The street’s porch lights came on as Effie ran out of the house in a white nightgown, her hands covered in blood. Ben was right behind her. “Effie… your hands.” Effie just stood there wailing at the windows of that house. Without another word Ben put her in his truck and drove off into the night. Nothing was ever the same again after that.