Haunted Short Story Competition - Winner

Ruth Turner

Haunted Short Story Competition


Ruth lives in Slough and works as a careers officer at a secondary school. She has been writing on and off for years, is great at starting new writing projects, but not so good at finishing them. This is her second ever competition entry and hopes this confidence boost will spur her on to finish some of the half-written stories languishing in her notebooks.

Waiting By Ruth Turner

Moonlight filters through lace curtains, filigree patterns on scarred floorboards. The house is hushed, waiting. Nothing would happen for hours yet but I am content to sit, serene in the knowledge they are coming. I rock slowly back and forth, back and forth, the gentle rhythm and familiar creaking of my rocking chair soothing me, waiting.
My chair has my name painted on it; Lucy, ornate in blue, the curl of the y ending in a single forget-me-not. I remember Ben hauling it through the doorway, grinning and telling me to try it for size. I had dragged my body off the bed and lowered myself on to the cushioned seat. The chair had rocked gently, claiming me as its own.  It was perfect, calming and peaceful; I smiled gratefully at Ben as he knelt before me, his hands tender on my swollen belly.
The moonlight is dimming now, floorboards showing silvery scars before the shadows come to carpet them. My house is making soft sighing sounds as it settles down for the night, familiar, comforting.
I remember the first time we saw this old house, pulling up outside in our little red mini. How young we’d been, full of love and hope and plans for our future. The house had seemed to sag a little, missing roof tiles gaped and a boarded up window winked at us. The front door had groaned gently as Ben pushed it open; but once inside we knew it had to be ours.
I sit in the gloom, rocking back and forth, back and forth. An owl hoots and I imagine it swooping pale, silent as a ghost across the garden behind my house; my garden which is alive with memories of my family. I picture Toby and Jenna splashing in their pool; kicking up leaves; building a snowman; swinging on ropes suspended from the chestnut tree. I see Ben leaning against his shed, arms folded, watching them. Laughing. It’s all so vivid; I can hear their voices haunting me. I want to cry, but I can’t so I smile at the memories instead, even though they hurt.
I rock back and forth, back and forth, cradling my arms and trying to remember the weight of a baby snuggled into me, trying to remember that distinctive baby smell. Memories resist. I rock, back and forth, back and forth. Memories suddenly flood through me. Jenna, blonde curls and those little snuffling noises she made, Toby with his steady blue gaze and ever-moving tiny fists. The sense of loss is overwhelming, and the rocking has, for now, lost its power to comfort and soothe. I stand and move over to the window, my reflection shimmers back at me, hair pale and wispy around my pallid face, my nightdress hanging straight down from my shoulders. Remembering.
At first, I hadn’t understood what was happening; I could still see them; hear them, why couldn’t they see me, hear me? They seemed lost and confused, hurting, just like I was. I tried so hard to reach them, tried everything I could think of, but they left anyway, together, leaving me alone.
Going on without them seemed impossible, but I’m still here now after how many years? At first, I thought them irreplaceable, but over the years I tried, so very hard, to have a new family. So far it hasn’t worked out so well, but tomorrow I get another chance, a new family to complete me.
My new family is perfect. Daniel is tall, well built just like my Ben was, and the children; they make my arms itch to hold them. Donna is so pretty, not blonde like my Jenna, but she has the same pixie face and naughty smile, and Jamie has blue eyes just like my Toby. When I first saw them all tumble out of their battered Beetle, I knew they were the ones, the ones who would be mine forever, the ones who wouldn’t leave me behind. This time I will make it work, I’ve learnt a lot over the years, grown stronger in so many ways.
I go back to my rocking chair, the only constant, apart from me, in this old house. New families with new furniture have come and gone, but they always leave the chair behind. They always leave me behind, rocking, back and forth, back and forth, waiting.
When strangers first came to look at my house, I felt angry, helpless. The estate agent looked anxious when they asked if someone had died in the house but brushed it off, telling them it was a natural death, nothing violent or anything like that.
If I’m honest, my death wasn’t violent, but I did fight violently at first in the hospital in town. Eventually, though, I came home. I remember Ben wrapping me in a fleecy blanket and placing me in my chair so I could look out of the window. He was sitting on the floor with his head in my lap when I had to go.
When they moved out Ben didn’t take the rocking chair. Just before they went I found him crying, sitting in it, rocking back and forth, back and forth. He left it rocking forlornly in the empty room in the empty house as I watched them drive away, leaving me alone and bereft.
Alone, bereft, confused, angry; I didn’t want a happy new family in my house, not if I wasn’t to be part of it.  I discovered I could make my presence felt to unwanted visitors, though to start with my screams of rage only created little draughts where there shouldn’t have been draughts. But soon, I could whisper in their ear, stroke cold feathery fingers through their hair, trace chills down their neck. But I only targeted the women; those merry wives, those joyful mothers would shiver at my touch, shudder at my sighs. It’s funny, but I soon realised people don’t see the rocking chair if I’m sitting in it, as long as I keep still. Once I start rocking, however, back and forth, back and forth, it’s a different matter. Then they notice the chair. This always gets rid of the persistent ones; they go pale and bolt out of the door. Sometimes it made me laugh.
Eventually, excitingly, my second family moved in – David and his children Suzy and Trevor. It was wonderful, the house was full of energy and life and love. When the children were asleep I’d sit on their beds and stroke their hair, stroke their faces, just as I had with Jenna and Toby. I’d lie on the bed as David splashed about in the bathroom anticipating the mattress dipping as he lay down beside me. When he was asleep, I’d put an arm over him and snuggle as close as I could get. Sometimes he’d mumble to me in his sleep. I thought they would feel my love, my presence, and we would be a family together. Surely with all the energy in the house, I would get stronger. Maybe in time, they would even be able to see me. But David brought Samantha into the house. Samantha, who was pretty and bubbly, who cuddled Suzy and tickled Trevor, who made love to David. I got rid of her though; a sigh, a murmur, a tingle on her scalp. Icy fingers at her throat. I didn’t even have to get into my rocking chair. She refused to come to the house again but my triumph was short-lived, my new family left me, alone, for her. I sat in my chair and rocked back and forth, back and forth as they drove away.
The sun is rising into a pink sky, and the floorboards have taken on a rosy hue, their scars softened and beautified. My house is shifting and creaking, anticipating the day to come, the sounds familiar, reassuring.
The birds are awake; a blackbird flutes joyfully from my windowsill and I remember my reflection in the window last night. I really thought my last family would be pleased to see me. Unfortunately, little Sally took fright at my sudden appearance in her bedroom mirror and shattered it with her wooden hairbrush. Her screams still echo in my ears. It was very upsetting, I can’t help my appearance. Over the years I’ve been hurt and bewildered as all my new families leave me; but at last I understand, at last I accept, I can never, ever join them. Names and faces have faded, although I can still see Ben, Jenna and Toby as if they were right in front of me, and I wonder, if I could do then what I can do now, would they still have left me?
Sunlight filters through lace curtains, filigree patterns on scarred floorboards. Not long now, soon the hush will be gone for the last time. I rock back and forth, back and forth, waiting. A car is crunching into the drive, they are here. I stop rocking and smile. This time will be different; I will not be left alone again. I’ve learnt a lot over the years, grown stronger in so many ways; I can be seen, heard and felt – if I want to be. I can rock my chair, open doors, close doors, and turn keys in locks. I can turn on the gas. So, tonight my new family will join me. The gas rings; the gas oven; the gas fire in the lounge. That should do it. I will stroke their hair, stroke their faces, just waiting. 

Judges Comments

Lucy, the ghost in Ruth Turner's Waiting, the winning story in WM's Haunted short story competition, has been given such a gentle, plaintive voice that her story insinuates itself suggestively, and memorably, into the reader's mind. Ruth has created Lucy beautifully, allowing her to tell her story - an apparently tender one of love and yearning to be part of a family, albeit with increasingly creepy undertones - in a way that draws the reader's sympathy and understanding as well as laying the foundations for the darkness that's only revealed at the end.

As with all good ghost stories, there's a wonderful sense of creeping unease that builds from the beginning. In Waiting, much of this comes in the way the rocking chair at the heart of the story is transformed from an emblem of comfort and security into Lucy's method of scaring the house's inhabitants. The chair is the focus point for Lucy to act out her various roles: wife, expectant mother, mother, ghost.

In this story which is all about suggestion, we're never told the precise details of what happened to Lucy or why Ben and the children moved away. We wonder, at the end, as Lucy talks about the powers she's gained as a ghost, how malevolent her impulses might have been when she was alive. We are made to sympathise with this gentle ghost but given the dawning awareness that she's a sinister presence as well as a sad one. Waiting is a story that really fulfils the 'haunting' brief - a story about a ghost that stays with its reader and haunts them, too.


Runner-up in the Haunted Short Story Competition was Peter Gallagher, Glasgow, whose story is published on www.writers-online.co.uk. Also shortlisted were: Terry Baldock, Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire; Dominic Bell, Hull, Humberside; BK Bolen, Wesley Chapel, Florida; Michael Callaghan, Glasgow; Damien McKeating, Penkridge, Staffordshire; Kaelum Neville, Newbury, Berkshire; AJ Reid, Wirral; Linda Sainty, Bristol; Emma Stead, Epping, Essex; Kirsty Sugar, Monmouth.