Storms scare me, even daytime ones. The barn shook with every thunder clap. Joe tried to help by stroking me with his hairy legs. He’s very kind for a spider. Then the door opened. ‘People!’ I whispered. I don’t like strangers but I had to be brave, I had to ask for help.
There were three of them, looking for shelter. A small one at the front, a girl about my age. Praying they could see me, I ran towards them and then I heard;
‘What the ... a ghost, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!’
I was running too fast to stop and went straight through the girl which is always unpleasant. I watched them flee. ‘Come back,’ I called, ‘Please help.’
A few days later, I was surprised to hear a voice echo round the barn. ‘Is anybody there?’
It was the girl. I didn’t want to frighten her again so I emerged slowly from the gloom. She could see me! She smiled in wonder. ‘So you were real.’ Then, she froze staring in terror at Joe who was dangling above my head.
‘That’s just Joe,’ I said. ‘He’s very friendly.’
She shuddered, ‘It’s silly but I’m scared of spiders.’
‘I used to be scared of everything; spiders, storms, the dark, ghosts....’
She laughed. ‘I’ve always wanted to meet a ghost. I heard you asking for help so... I came back. I’m Phoenix by the way.’
She held out her hand, I tried to shake it but mine passed right through.
‘Charles Hanworthy’ I replied.
‘So, how come you’re a ghost?’
What could I say? Truth is I don’t know. I remember having a mother, father and little sister and going to school and being scared of the masters but that’s all. I can’t remember dying, I just hate being stuck here not knowing why.
‘You’re here for a reason,’ said Phoenix. ‘In ghost stories, there’s always a reason. Perhaps you were murdered and want revenge.’
I shook my head, I didn’t feel vengeful.
‘Maybe your bodily remains have been disturbed’
It was embarrassing discussing my remains with a girl. I’d have blushed if I’d had any blood.
Phoenix went on, ‘We need to work out why you’re here before you can move on.’
‘Move on where?’ I asked
‘Wherever ghosts go when they stop being ghosts.’
I must have looked scared because she added ‘ You move on to wherever your family is.’ That sounded nice.
‘I’ll help,’ she grinned, ‘I’ll search online for you, might take some time - the connection’s slow round here.’
And with that she left, leaving me wondering why she needed to search on the railway line or catch a slow connecting train.
The next day, Phoenix burst in shouting. ‘Guess what? I found you! You lived on a farm but this barn is all that’s left. You died in 1905. What happened was ...’ she stopped. The door was opening. She ducked out of sight.
Six older boys and girls staggered inside, smoking and swigging from bottles. Phoenix groaned and moved quietly to back of the barn. I followed.
‘Sixth formers from my school. They’re vile.’ she whispered.
‘This place is haunted!’ one of the boys shouted.
‘That’s just old stories,’ drawled a girl.
‘Know that stuck-up family that’s just moved in?’ Phoenix winced. ‘Apparently they saw something weird here last week.’
A boy lunged at a girl making her shriek. Soon they were all chasing each other. They didn’t notice the overturned bottle leaking on to the hay or the dropped cigarette until WHOOSH, a burst of flame shot up.
The biggest boy thrashed the fire with his coat. When it caught alight, he threw it down setting fire to more straw. A girl threw the contents of her bottle at the flames but that made things worse. It was mayhem. They swore, then ran.
‘Let’s get out of here Phoenix,’ I turned but she was frozen in fear. ‘Come on!’ I screamed but still she wouldn’t move and then – then I remembered everything.
I’d gone to bed but been too scared to blow out my candle. It must have fallen because when I woke, my room was on fire. Terrified, I ran into the garden. I knew I should raise the alarm but I froze. I watched the flames move from my room to my sister’s. Hester! Suddenly I was back inside, calling for my parents, racing to my sister. I pulled Hester from her bed, pushed her towards the door then something fell from the ceiling and everything went black.
The barn fire was spreading fast. Phoenix was still just standing there. I grabbed her, expecting to feel nothing but found I had a solid hold on her arm. Somehow, I picked her up and carried her through the flames.
Once outside, she came to, coughing and gasping.
‘I remember!’ I shouted, ‘There was a fire. It was my fault. I ran away. I could have saved them but I was scared and waited too long. My family died because of me.’
‘No they didn’t,’ cried Phoenix, ‘You saved them. You died in the fire but they got out. You were so brave, there’s a memorial to you in the church. Charles, you’ve been stuck here because you died thinking you killed them but they survived.’
We stared at each other. Then I felt a hand holding mine. I turned to see my sister and beside her, my parents. They were smiling.
‘Phoenix’ I said, ‘My family are here. I have to go now ... I have to go wherever ghosts go when they stop being ghosts.’
Phoenix watched Charles slowly fade. She heard sirens and saw a fireman running towards her.
‘You alright?’ he cried, ‘Is anyone trapped inside?’
‘Not any more’ replied Phoenix. She felt a tickle on her neck and saw the fireman jump as he spotted the enormous spider on her shoulder. She laughed, ‘That’s just Joe. He’s very friendly.’
Interview with the author
Niall Dorrington is the ghost story competition runner-up in the 15-and-under category with his entry Frozen In Fear.
The 11-year-old, who goes to Springfield School in Drayton, was set the challenge to write a story by his teacher Miss Bolton.
She encourages her students to enter every year and one of her former pupils has won the competition, so Niall wanted his effort to be just as good.
He said: ‘There was quite a lot to live up to. I wanted to make her proud.’
He has not entered any writing competitions before, so it was a nice experience for him.
‘I gave it a go and obviously it worked,’ he said. ‘I started to write and it just came to me. I introduced flashbacks, which is the first time I’ve ever done that.’
Niall worked on his story for about a week before submitting it and enjoyed the whole process.
‘I did quite a lot of drafts but I’m really pleased with it.
‘It was my first time writing a big story and I really enjoyed doing it.
‘I tried really hard and it was quite fun and really interesting to do.’