This story is by Katie Redington and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
When I was eleven years old, my whole world changed. As I sat on my bed and looked around the room, the events of the last month ran through my head–Gram’s funeral, packing up our apartment, moving into Gram’s house. This house was full of memories and mid-October usually meant decorating Halloween cookies with Gram, her sewing me a costume, and watching Halloweentown together. Gram had always been there for me. She seemed to genuinely care about me and my interests. I had the best days with her. She gave the best hugs and had the greatest chuckle. It doesn’t seem real that she’s gone.
My twin bed now sat in Gram’s old library. It has always been my favorite room in her house. The shelves are packed full of books, plants on every bookcase, her sewing table, and a comfy, golden armchair. Gram grew up in this house, got married, moved away, and had my dad. When Dad was only five, Grandpa passed away. Gram moved back home with her parents to raise my dad and lived here ever since. This room eventually became her library after my dad graduated. One room had always stayed the same though. There were two twin beds with pink quilts, two teddy bears, and a dollhouse in the corner. Gram’s sister, Rose, had passed away when she was only nine, but she never talked about it and that room sat behind an always-closed door like it didn’t even exist.
I got up from my bed and sat in Gram’s golden chair to run my hands over the comforting, velvety fabric. As I did so, a whiff of Gram’s jasmine-scented perfume hit my nose. I dropped my head and wiped away a tear. As I looked up, my gaze went out the window to the backyard. I could just make out two wooden boards in a tree trunk. I felt an invisible string between me and the tree, like I just had to go take a look.
Two warped, old, wooden boards were still nailed to the tree–remnants of a tree house. I think I remember Dad telling me he used to have a tree house. I think Gram and her siblings did too. I sat down and leaned against the tree trunk, feeling the crisp autumn air on my face. The cool air reminded me of Halloween looming closer. Should I go trick-or-treating this year? As a sixth grader, I wasn’t sure if I was getting too old. Dad told me that Gram used to hate Halloween, but she was able to find joy in it again once I came along. It has always been my favorite time of year–spooky stories, costumes, candy, scary movies, pumpkin patches, hayrides, and the leaves changing colors.
“Alex! Are you out here?” Mom shouted.
“Yep! I’ll be right in!”
As I stood up and looked back at the tree, an idea popped in my head. The idea began to take shape in my mind as I ran inside for dinner.
“Dad, can you tell me about your tree house?” I asked as I dug my fork into his famous lasagna.
“Sure. What do you want to know?”
“What did you use it for?”
“Oh, mostly as a fort for me and the neighborhood kids. We’d play cards, pretend to be explorers, or even sleep outside sometimes in the summer. Why do you ask?”
“I was wondering now that we’re here, do you think we could build something in the tree again? My own fort to invite friends over?”
A grin quickly spread across his face and he put his hand on my shoulder and gave it a squeeze.
“Absolutely, Alex! I know we’ve all had a rough time since grandma passed away and I’d love to spend time with you.”
Over the next few weekends, Dad and I drew up a plan, visited the hardware store, and got to work! We put the final boards up the morning of Halloween.
I spent the afternoon finding my favorite book of spooky stories, grabbing a flashlight, and hauling some blankets and pillows up to my newly-finished tree house. I’d invited the neighbor kids to come hang out to tell scary stories and trade candy after trick-or-treating. I settled on being a ghost for Halloween, because it was classic and an easy costume for Mom to make without Gram here.
It was a nice day for late October in the Midwest and perfect weather for trick-or-treating. At dusk, I went outside and saw my friends waiting. Parker and Max were in fifth grade and dressed as zombies. Taylor was in sixth grade with me and dressed as a werewolf. We set off quickly down the street–excited for candy!
After we’d gone all the way around the first two blocks, my Halloween bucket already had several Snickers (my favorite). As we started down the next block, we turned and headed down a dead-end street.
I thought I heard footsteps behind me and turned around, but no one was there.
The others stopped when I did and looked at me.
“Did you guys hear that?” I whispered.
“Hear what?” Taylor said as she raised her eyebrows at me.
“I thought I heard footsteps,” I mumbled.
They looked behind us, but there were no other trick-or-treaters.
“Alex is getting spoo-ooked!” Parker and Max sing-songed together.
“Last one to the next house is a rotten egg!” I shouted as I took off towards the next house.
They were right on my heels as we almost ran into the front door. As we picked out our next piece of candy, I thought I heard footsteps coming up the walkway. I turned around and again, no one. We crossed the street to trick-or-treat down the other side of the road on our way home.
As soon as we finished, we headed up to the tree house and spent the next hour sorting and trading candy. I read us a spooky story that was a little creepy, but mostly just made us laugh.
After my friends headed home, I felt like I was being watched as I gathered my stuff to go in. I looked over near the ladder and froze.
Looking back at me was a young girl. She looked familiar, but that wasn’t the weird part. I could see right through her. I felt like I should scream, but I couldn’t make a sound. We both just stared, frozen in place. Suddenly, it dawned on me.
“Aunt Rose?” I said hesitantly.
A huge smile spread across her face as she nodded yes.
“It can’t be. Y-you died. How are you here? Why can I see you?”
She laughed as she climbed up the last step and sat on the floor of the tree house.
“Yes, I’m dead. I’m not sure how I’m here, but I am. You can see me, because I wanted you to see me. Any other questions?”
“Why did you want me to see you?”
“I wanted to check in on you since Ruth died, but I find myself here every Halloween. I make sure the kids are safe in this town.”
“Why wouldn’t we be safe?”
“Didn’t Ruth tell you what happened to me?”
“No. She always said she didn’t want to talk about it. I knew it made her sad though, because she left your room the same all these years.”
“It happened on Halloween when I was nine. Our older brothers had gone trick-or-treating with some friends, so Ruth and I went together. We got to the end of Cornhill Road and…”
“The dead end street?” I interrupted.
“Yeah, that’s it. I stopped to look closer at this ghost decoration in a yard and Ruth had run on to the next house for candy. It happened so fast.”
I didn’t know if ghosts could cry, but she looked so sad.
“What happened?” I whispered.
“A bad person put their hand over my mouth and their arms around my stomach. They ran with me into the cornfield, and everything went black. I was gone.”
“Oh Aunt Rose! I’m so sorry that happened to you. I can’t imagine. Do you know who did it?” I managed, before a sob left my throat.
“No. I never saw the person’s face,” she whispered.
“So tonight when I heard footsteps, that was you?”
“Yes,” she said with a smile.
I wiped away my tears and smiled back at her.
“The police never found who killed me, so I stayed. I watch out for all kids in this neighborhood on Halloween. You’ll always be safe.”
“Thank you for watching out for me, Aunt Rose. I’ve always wanted to meet you. So I’ll see you again?”
“Yes, dear Alex. I’ll see you next Halloween.”
I felt her presence surrounding me as Aunt Rose leaned over and gave me a hug. I closed my eyes, trying to hug her back. When I opened my eyes again, she was gone.
“Happy Halloween, Aunt Rose, ” I whispered. “Happy Halloween.”