Short Story Competition

Competition Time!

Be in with a chance of having your writing made into a hand-crafted book by our Archives Conservator and published on our website.

The challenge is to complete a short ghost story written by Lincs Inspire Libraries Development Officer, Lawrence Dunn. 

The competition is open to everyone. Simply read the short story in its incomplete state below, before adding your own ending and titling the story. 

Entries should be emailed to lawrence.dunn@lincsinspire.com with the subject line of the email marked 'Ghost Story Competition' and your name, surname and contact telephone number in the email, with a copy of your story attached as a Word document.

The closing date for entries is midnight on New Year’s Eve.

The winner and top entrants will be notified by Monday 10th January. The winner will then be presented with the hand-crafted book shortly after and all the top entrants' work will be published at lincsinspire.com and linked to from Lincs Inspire Libraries Facebook page.

I began to write a short story that is a pastiche of the stories of MR James, with influences like Dracula by Bram Stoker and The Woman In Black by Susan Hill thrown in.

It was written over a series of evenings. I would write for exactly half an hour putting the words that came into my head straight onto the screen. As I wrote, I found ideas for the direction of the story would come into my head. Derek proof-read the story and provided some good turns of phrase that fitted in well with the language of the era.

Lawrence Dunn, author of the untitled and incomplete ghost story

Short story so far...

In relating all that happened at Carfang and the events that surrounded the arrival and departure of Miss Mina Carruthers it is necessary to explain the circumstances of her life up to that point.  She had been born in India, her father being a British army officer posted there and her mother being of one of those families that had arrived from Ireland several generations ago and had never really left.

At the time of her infancy, persistent outbreaks of cholera had led her parents to the decision that it was safer for the child to be raised by an aunt and uncle in Hampshire where they ran a minor boarding school. She attended classes with the other children and was accepted but always a little apart, not quite fitting in with the others.

She displayed a keen intellect and a willingness to learn. In her there was a particular aptitude for languages; gaining fluency in French and Italian and being able to get by in German. Maths and the sciences also came easy to her, for she had a capacity for orderly thinking tempered with the ability to put a problem in perspective.

There was not, she would have said, a superstitious bone in her body. She did not touch wood or cross her fingers or worry about broken mirrors or black cats. Whilst at school the caretaker when asked would tell the children about the apparitions that were said to haunt the surrounding countryside. In her mind she was apt to think of him as being a throwback to an earlier time. She was reminded of the stories told by her grandparents of the fair folk in Ireland. They that bestowed blessings and curses on lowly mortals and in some ways co-existed with the saints and sinners who lived on in old songs and stories. The statues and shrines she remembered from India seemed to have the same quality. Missionaries may have come and gone but it was often unclear who had converted who, layers of belief on top of each other.

The Great War having ended a few years previously, the dead were absent only in the physical sense to many. There was much talk of how they could be contacted by those with the gift. Her own parents had died tragically in a railway crash in India and the exact perceptions of the day never left her. It had been a warm day with the scent of freshly mown grass coming through the windows and furniture polish used on the Welsh dresser. The letter had arrived shortly after breakfast, explaining the accident. It was short and to the point. She had not felt any sense of foreboding that people sometimes said occurred before hearing news of a death.

At that time she had a job at an establishment for young women in Knightsbridge. It was a finishing school for the daughters of families who had more aspiration than means to achieve them through financial independence. Its purpose was to make them that little bit more eligible for marriage and add a layer of polish to give them a choice of suitors. Mina did not approve whole-heartedly of the aims of the school but she did her best to encourage her charges to have a mind of their own. She being only a few years older than her pupils did wonder whether she was a warning to them as to what would happen if a suitable husband could not be found. If so, she was happy with that. She accompanied the pupils on the school’s miniature version of the Grand Tour through France, Switzerland and Italy. While it was important for them to see the architecture of Paris, the landscape of the Alps and the galleries of Florence and the like it was also important not to shelter them from the harshness of what the world had to offer. It was essential that they be protected but also have an idea of what they were being protected from. She made it clear to the women in her care that it was not just some foreign men that could lead them astray. A gentleman in England could be a rake in Naples or as the saying went “An Englishman Italianate is the Devil Incarnate”.

An English gentleman could appear so among his peers and be a blackguard in a marriage. It was important for a woman to have her wits about her all the time. Amongst the other staff, Mina was well-liked but wouldn’t have been aware of it. Her focus was on her employment and her charges. There were three colleagues that she was good friends with. One had married young and had been widowed in the war, another had lost her husband to consumption and a third was happily married to a husband that her family had considered beneath her. The joke was not so much that they had been left on the shelf, more that all the furniture had been scattered and nobody knew what was supposed to be where. Mina had her fair share of admirers and had accompanied men to society functions but she had not found anyone more than someone to pass the hours with.

Several months after hearing of her parents death a letter had arrived from distant relatives. Its contents were very much unexpected and out of the blue. It was from her great aunt on her father’s side of the family and invited her to visit them at Carfang in the Malverns.

Term was about to finish so it seemed an opportune time to take in the country air. On the train journey to Carfang many thoughts ran round her head. She had hazy memories as a child of seeing her great aunt and great uncle and assorted relatives but they were for the most part faces and not names. Aside from those two she could not remember who was who. She wondered why they wanted her to visit now of all times. Had they known she was present in England for her schooling? Had it occurred to them to invite her for the holidays? Had they something to hide? Was there a mad woman in the attic or was it a mad man? This thought made her giggle. Did they think she had inherited money from her parents? Was this what they were after? Would she live to tell the tale? How would they dispose of her body? She was not of a nervous disposition and recognised her over-active imagination for what it was. The truth was more likely to be prosaic. Her family were not demonstrative in their affections. Her relatives would have thought that the child was being well looked after in school by other family members so there was no need to go to any trouble for her. With that clear in her mind she carried on reading the novel she had brought with her.

Occasionally she looked up at the activity in the carriage. As she got closer to her destination the train became less crowded and more people got off than got on. Without looking at the landscape outside it was clear the train was on a rural line. The hands and faces of most of the other passengers had the look of people who spent much of their life outdoors. There were one or two others that she guessed serviced to the needs of the farm workers, one she thought was a junior solicitor new in practice and the other she thought owned several shops. What the shop sold she couldn’t decide. How easy it was to make an educated guess and then extrapolate from that to build up an entirely false picture of an individual. It would have been an amusing detective story in which Watson had met a different Holmes whose deductions were false. Where she had been curious about the possible solicitor and the shopkeeper she now wanted to find out whether she was right.

It may be, she thought that the solicitor was not only not a solicitor but was masquerading as one. He was a master swindler who was taking a break from fleecing British expatriates on the continent. He bestrode Europe leaving a string of robbed families from Biarritz to Trieste. Just the sort she warned her charges about. The real truth, she thought was that he was a clerk at a Friendly Society and gave the matter no more thought.

Her mind began to wander again, thinking about what the other passengers thought about who she was. Would they have guessed that she was a teacher? What clues would they have picked up from her appearance? She would have been the first to admit that her mode of dress suggested she was in possession of comfortable means; the appearance of which was maintained through a mixture of thrift and discerning shopping.

Her reverie was interrupted by the train stopping and she gazed with interest at the little station. After this the next stop would be her destination. There were now no other people in the carriage. The scenery was pleasing to the eye, rolling hills interspersed with fields and little woods. Finally, she arrived at the village near Carfang.

Lifting her small suitcase off the rack she alighted the platform. A few other people had got off from the other carriages. Something about the station she couldn’t quite put her finger on lifted her spirits. It felt like the sort of place where strangers were just acquaintances and friends one hadn’t met yet.

A car appeared and parked and a heavily built man with a pleasant round face got out. “Miss Carruthers”, he enquired and she nodded. The man introduced himself as Forbes and took her suitcase and then held the door for her. When she was comfortable he started the engine and set of at a steady pace. There was a precision about his movements on the steering wheel and the gear stick that put her at ease. She asked how long the journey would be and was disappointed to be told it would only be ten minutes at most. It reminded her of being a child on the ship from India when the sea was calm. The noise the car engine made was like a lullaby.

Her eyes were starting to close until she first caught sight of the house. From what she could see the outline was in the Elizabethan stone style with different parts added on over the centuries. It had two wings at either end and a small porch in the centre. She could see lights on through the windows of one of the wings, but the rest of the house was in darkness. She thought it a place of stories stretching back over time. A house where maybe priests had hidden in holes and royalists had hidden a king. The fortunes of families would have waxed and waned here over the generations. It would take a lifetime itself to find out all that had gone on here. Forbes stopped the car on the front of the drive and opened the door for her. After she had climbed out, she instinctively looked for her suitcase.

“I have been instructed to take you straight to your great aunt and uncle. The servants will unpack your suitcase in your rooms.”

The plural of the last word surprised and pleased her as she followed Forbes to the door in the porch.

The door was set in a little alcove and was made of solid oak. He lifted the key out of his pocket and unlocked it in one swift motion, pushing it with his other free hand. She was surprised how little sound it made as it opened.

The entrance hall was small and well-lit. There was a dumb waiter with various coats on and paintings and photographs hung on all the walls. They were a mixture of portraits and landscapes. The figures in the former had the facial expression and clothes that indicated they were expected to exhibit derring-do and sang-froid in whatever profession they ended up in. The clothes were a mixture of uniforms for the services or respectable attire for the professional classes. She supposed that the landscapes depicted the places where reputations and fortunes were gained and lost. Pictures of the Egyptian pyramids went alongside paintings of Indian temples and scenes in a market she guessed was Hong Kong.

In her mind the house stretched out like a tree. The most recent growth at the top was here. One had to move down the trunk and along the different branches to find a way to the roots. She followed Forbes through the house. As they went it became clear to her that finding her way around would take some getting used to. Each of the rooms they passed through seemed to have many more doors and exits. Their route was well-lit but she could see that the areas around them were not. Finally, they came to a room that was at the back of the house with wide windows and homely decorations. This, she thought is a room that is in the present. There were two wide and tall armchairs facing the window and an empty chair next to a fireplace to one side. A newspaper and a book rested on a table by one of the chairs. A dog sat still on the rug and as she walked forward, he raised his head and yawned.

Figures rose from each armchair. When they turned to face her she felt a strange sensation. She wasn’t sure whether she had meet them before and if she had she didn’t know where. Uncle Festus was tall with the air of a man who could steer an easy course through a stormy life. Aunt Bernice was cut from the same cloth; the phrase savoire-faire could have been invented for her.

“Please dear, sit. You have had quite a long journey. How was it?” Bernice said.

When she replied she was aware of how they both observed her. She was reminded of seeing a lepidopterist discovering a butterfly. She wondered whether they saw her as a butterfly or a caterpillar. Were they interested in who she was or what she would become?

“It has been too many years since we have seen you.” Bernice replied,  “we should like to get to know you better. We hope you will enjoy your stay with us and will want to come again. The run of the house is yours. Please go wherever and whenever you like. There is history here of which we know only a part. The house will keep its secrets”.

They talked of many things. Bernice and Festus were especially interested in her memories of India as a child and of her parents. Bernice asked most of the questions but it was Festus that seemed to weigh up her answers more being the quieter of the two. Mina did most of the talking and found she enjoyed talking about her early life.

The conversation continued over the evening meal. The three of them made their way to the dining room. They sat together in the middle of the long table. On the walls were many portraits, it seemed to Mina the faces in them gazed on approvingly as if spaces had been left for them at the table with its gleaming silverware and polished fine china plates. They ate a hearty meal; fish soup then game pie followed by cheese.  

After the meal, Bernice showed her to her room.