Winter Ghost Story Competition Winner

1st Prize: £500.00 – Jane Booth
2nd Prize: £200.00 – Clyde West
3rd Prize: £150.00 – C.Gordon
4th Prize: Flash Fiction Writing Course – Sarah Edwards

House of Marianne

by Jane Booth

The cottage was dark and depressive but it was exactly what Calvin needed, even so, shivers ran down his spine at the thought of staying too long in these tainted shadows. Looking around the room he could imagine the murder that took place here only too well, blood splattered walls and the dismembered body. He wondered what her last thoughts would have been before she lost consciousness.

The house, famous for its murderous past had long stood empty, the current owner had inherited the property and had tried to sell it for years, ensuring that the essentials of the house were cared for during those viewing times, but he had long since given up on trying to sell it as its reputation was too grisly and even the locals tried to avoid the house. Calvin imagined that in its former glory, it would have looked beautiful. It was large for a typical cottage and some of the rooms had fairly high ceilings avoiding the claustrophobic feel of other cottages he had been to but the doorways were low and he had already managed to bang his head when he had struggled in with his cases. As the sun emerged from behind the clouds, shafts of golden light filtered into the gloom and when he looked out the window, the unloved garden showed glimpses of its former beauty.

Calvin stepped back out of the cottage into the sunlight and breathed a sigh of relief. He didn’t believe in ghosts and the fact that the cottage was reported to be haunted didn’t faze him but he had to admit, it was good to get out of the murky gloom. He followed the jagged pathway around to the back of the house, noting how the weeds were choking the life from the remaining plants. He surveyed his accommodation and surrounding garden with curiosity, if the right person bought the place, they could do so much to it, he mused. The garden was big, densely planted, overgrown but it had that typical country garden feel to it and it could be a restful place, charming even.

A large oak tree sprawled impressively to one side, its branches reaching towards him like a giant claw. An old wooden swing hung from one of the branches and he wondered if anyone used it now. The swing was moving gently and Calvin furrowed his brow wondering if the breeze was strong enough to cause the movements, but then he shrugged and turned his attention elsewhere. Drawn to the thicket clumps on his right, he began pulling away large quantities of  choke weed, feeling a sense of satisfaction as the taught vines gave way under the pressure. As he continued to clear some of the undergrowth, the sun emerged, golden rays warming his back and chasing away the shadows. The light glinted on a small object half buried in the soil. Prizing it from its resting place, he straightened up, holding it up to the light, a small golden pendant faded with age and covered with dirt, it was elegantly designed but he couldn’t make out any details without cleaning it up first.

Calvin stepped back suddenly from the borders; as a wave of giddiness threatened overwhelm him.
For a second or two, he swayed, fighting the roaring noise in his ears and the trembling in his legs. ‘Must have stood up too quickly’ he thought, steadying himself as the waves of dizziness dissipated. The pendant felt warm in his hands, unnaturally so and yet suddenly Calvin felt cold. A shiver ran eerily down his spine as if being watched and he turned quickly, looking back at the house. Scanning the garden, he noticed the swing moving eerily but there was no one watching him. As the sun disappeared behind a series of grey clouds, Calvin left the pile of weeds and raced back to the cottage as the first drops of rain splattered to the ground.

As darkness enveloped and the rain splattered against the windows, Calvin typed away on his battered old laptop, inspired by his surroundings as he continued with his series of commissioned articles on ghost watching. As a non-believer, he hadn’t wanted to turn down the writing commission as money was short but trying to write as a ghost hunter enthusiast hadn’t been easy. Talking about his frustrations in his local pub over a few beers had led to the suggestion of him staying in a haunted house overnight to experience the thrill for himself, and then someone had mentioned this cottage, speaking of the young woman who had been murdered and the blood ravaged body that had been found some weeks later.

The rest was history, Calvin mused as he tried to focus on the tasks at hand, he was here and he was still struggling to conjure up his enthusiasm for the articles. He had to admit though that it was far easier to succumb to the creepy atmosphere now that he was here and he could at least see why people reacted in the way that they did. Shadows danced around the room from the four large candles and only the light from the laptop pierced the gloom convincingly. But even so, he wasn’t scared, merely enjoying the sensation of becoming more ‘aware’ and touching base with an inner sensitivity. Not the flickering flames in the sudden cool breeze, or the creaking floorboards on the stairs could make his heart race dramatically. He just simply didn’t believe. The house was old, floorboards were unstable and wood contracted in the coolness of night, there was always a scientific explanation.

The murder had been real though. The young woman’s remains had been found in the house and the murderer never caught. He felt sorry for her, could imagine the fear of facing your last moments so brutally. He wondered who had been so evil to end the life of an innocent woman so casually and why. Calvin yawned, moving his laptop to one side, it was time for bed. Maybe inspiration would strike in the morning. Taking one candle up the old staircase and refusing to turn on the lights, he bent his head to avoid the low beams and walked into the largest room at the tops of the stairs. At least the owner had taken the time to make the bed fairly comfortable for him; he was so tired that he couldn’t wait for sleep to overtake him. Leaving his clothes in a discarded heap on the floor, Calvin collapsed on the bed, his eyes shutting instantly and consciousness slipped away.

His dreams were torrid. He watched as the young woman was held down and gagged, he felt each and every blow as she gradually regained consciousness and was beaten again and again. He felt his limbs being pulled apart, the searing pain as a heavy bladed saw cut through skin, and felt the jagged edge as the saw connected with the hardness of bone; he sat upright in bed screaming, clutching his arm.

It took Calvin a while to realize he had just been dreaming. His skin was drenched with sweat and he checked his body relieved to see that he was intact, the vividness of the dream refusing to ebb away.. without a doubt sleep had deserted him and he clambered out of bed to put on the light. Relief flooded through him as the shadows disappeared and he saw he was unscathed and still alone.
He didn’t remember the last time he had experienced a nightmare of those proportions but this had been truly terrifying.

With lights blazing, he made his way downstairs to his laptop, thinking that a practical approach to his article writing might clear his head of cobwebs. He felt drugged, head foggy and he still ached. Surely a nightmare couldn’t actually inflict physical pain. As he leaned over his laptop, clicking to his article page, he stepped back in sudden horror….the name ‘Marianne’ was typed all over the page. Mouth dry, skin pricking, Calvin shivered, how the hell had this happened? Who could have done this?

Common sense reasserted. It had to have been his friends, after all, weren’t they the ones who had suggested this house to him?  It was likely that they were just trying to scare him, prove that he wasn’t as tough as he seemed. Taking a deep breath, he checked the front and back door. They were securely bolted. Doubts filled him mind again, Marianne, who was she? The girl who was murdered? Damn it, he didn’t believe in ghosts. The locket glinted in the electric light compelling him to pick it up, and as before, the gold burned into his skin and the room started spinning. He knew without a doubt that the locket had belonged to her and held on to the desk until the dizziness passed. Just what had happened here all those years ago? Was it the trauma of her violent death keeping her bound to this house?

He remembered the swing moving in the garden, hadn’t it looked as if someone was sat on it, moving it gently? Was that Marianne? Or had other things occurred here? Calvin suddenly felt an overpowering urge to know, his fear ebbed and his determination rose. Was it too late to uncover the truth and put Marianne’s spirit to rest? Suddenly Calvin knew that he had a mission, it would be the investigative journalism assignment of the year, hell no, of the century and he had the opportunity to do something worthwhile and of course, complete his ghost watching series with relative ease.

As he dressed, Calvin made his plans. Go and see the owner, extend the rental period to a few weeks at least and then start his research in earnest. He just needed to pick up a few more things from his apartment if he was going to stay longer. As Calvin walked down the path, he welcomed the new day as a hazy sun emerged and began its trail through the sky. Calvin stopped at the gate and looked back towards the house, and breathed in sharply, it might have been a trick of the light but he could have sworn the shape of a woman was standing in the doorway watching him leave.

‘Don’t worry’, he whispered, ‘I’m coming back and I will find out what happened to you Marianne’.

When he blinked, the figure had gone and he wondered if tiredness was affecting his judgment, but as he turned towards the wrought iron gate, it swung open in front of him, guided by an unseen hand and as he walked through slowly and with shock, it closed gently behind him clicking back into place. A shiver went through him but also, a sense of anticipation for the tasks ahead.

He smiled at thin air, wondering if she knew he was trying to help her and then made his way back to the car, it was six am and he had a lot to do if he was going to unravel a mystery that had laid dormant for almost a hundred years and finally reveal the truth about the house of Marianne