Miriam’s manor is a living, breathing entity. It tore her family apart once. Now it’s coming back to finish the job. And this time, it wants her.
It started with a death, as most hauntings do. A forceful push from the terrace. Arms raised to the side like a bird in flight. A resounding thud. Blood pooling toward a bed of roses. Then, a stillness broken only by the sound of bubbly laughter and clinking glass. His body would not be found until dawn when the partygoers stumbled into the garden in a drunken haze, their screams shaking the hostess from her champagne-induced stupor. And somewhere far above, a figure was watching, staring at its handiwork before flickering out of existence. 6 months later Dinnertime was complicated for Miriam. Her mother insisted that dinners required the presence of every family member, though that notion held more weight when they had been a family—not this fractured semblance of one. Miriam’s mother was seated at the head of the mahogany dining table, her daughter flanking her right, two other empty seats filling up the remaining space. Dishes of duck in bright orange sauce, creamy mashed potatoes, and tender venison were meticulously arranged, yet Miriam’s mother tapped incessantly on the table, her irritation growing with the rhythm of her fingers. She was glaring at the empty seat across from her, while Miriam’s own eyes darted nervously to the clock; her father was late again. Ring Ring. Miriam’s mother gestured at the maid to answer the phone. “Mr. Thornby will be working late tonight.” Miriam’s mother pursed her lip in displeasure, taking one last sip from her glass before tossing it haphazardly to the side, her expression unflinching even as the wineglass shattered into tiny pieces. Then she left as she had come—angry and silent. That was how dinner went most days now. Some meandering, then the inevitable dismissal, and finally, Miriam was alone, the night typically ending within the confines of her room, her sanctuary. It was the only place that let in light anymore, the only thing that stayed constant, like the baby blue curtains and glow-in-the-dark star stickers she’d had since she was a child. Knock. Knock. If she had any qualms about her room, it was the noises. They came like clockwork every night at exactly a quarter to 10 p.m. She often chalked up the sounds to rodents, yet an unsettling feeling nagged at her. This was an old house she assured herself, old and creaky. Knock. Knock. The noises were even louder in the bathroom, a phenomenon she attributed to the rusty pipes within the house’s infrastructure. As Miriam brushed her teeth, she focused on a tiny crack in her bathroom’s ceiling, watching as a spider crawled out and zig-zagged across the flickering light fixtures. There was a time when her house had been in pristine condition—the floors perfectly polished, the chandeliers glittering with bright lights, and each party more extravagant than the next. Miriam looked at her reflection in the mirror, noticing her disheveled surroundings. With a sigh, she thought, ‘all for naught.’ Suddenly, a figure moved out of the corner of her eye. She leaned forward, her eyebrows wrinkling in confusion. Something, someone was curled up in her bathtub, its head burrowed between its knees. Miriam frantically whipped her head around. Drip Drop. Just the runny faucet. The house was playing tricks on her. 3 a.m. KNOCK KNOCK. Miriam’s eyes shot open. The sounds were deafening tonight. She had been having a nightmare, and though the details were blurry, she recalled blood-splattered roses, the moon, and the feeling of falling, falling, falling. “Help me.” The shadows looked alive tonight, skittering from corner to corner. She stayed very still under her covers, trying to draw as little attention to herself as possible, even as the sounds turned to whimpers, to wails, growing louder and louder
coming from one side of the room,
then the other. Miriam held her breath as a tall, slinky shadow crept closer to the foot of her bed until it was nearly towering over her, its dark face like an inkblot. “Please,” she whispered, a last appeal for mercy. “Stop it,” the voice of a young boy said with strength. “Sammy?” Miriam’s voice was shaky, uncertain. The last time she had seen her brother was at his funeral. And here he was, looking now as he did then—pale waxen skin, dark eyebags, a smudgy, dented forehead. The shadow turned around slowly, cocking its head almost questioningly to the right. “You can’t have her,” Sammy glanced at Miriam for a brief moment, an undecipherable understanding passing between them. “You have me.” After a pause, the shadow reached out its spindly hand, beckoning Sammy to come closer. He joined hands with it and they began to walk away, their backs turned to Miriam. “Wait.” They stopped. Sammy turned his head to the side, a ray of moonlight shining on his face, lending him an almost angelic quality. “Don’t leave me again.” Miriam choked out, her throat closing up. But Sammy turned back to the shadow, nodding at it before they both melted into dust and dirt. And then, at that moment, Miriam knew she was truly alone.
I have always been extremely interested in the horror genre, namely novels that feature ghosts and haunted houses, as I believe fear and the supernatural are great avenues to explore more serious topics such as grief and death. Horror directors and authors like Mike Flanagan, Shirley Jackson, and Stephen King have all been my sources of inspiration for the way they use horror to delve deeper into the human experience and psyche. As this is one of my first ever completed stories, I’ve learned a lot about how to map and outline a story along with finding the right pacing and transitions to use. Ultimately, I’ve realized that writing is an ongoing process, and though the result may not always match up with what was intended, something is still better than nothing.
Nicole Liu is a student at Stuyvesant High School. She is the arts and entertainment editor at her school’s paper, The Spectator. She likes to run and read books—everything from classics to horror stories. A fun fact: She has a twin brother!