October 31, 2008 Features & Images » Feature Story

Creepy Crawley Halloween Short Story Contest 

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The winner

Messages from the Afterlife

by Lisa Richardson

We bought a church, my partner and I. A renovator, with character. (Pink and aqua paint scheme, floorboards rotting away at the entrance, sun-warped shingles that fly off in thunderstorms, layers of dust that trigger prospective vendors’ allergies. In short, a fire sale.)

Cue jokes about lightning strikes, blasphemy, sex on the altar, David Koresh. But the most common question, after “Can I have a stained-glass window?”

‘Is it haunted?’


Our tenant suspects so. She lives in the finished half of the building, while we prepare ourselves, amongst plywood floors and plastic sheeting, for Phase 2. She wakes up at 3 a.m. Her stereo has suddenly come on: the luminous green of the LCD glows across the room. Heart slamming, as though her slumbering soul has been snapped back into her body like a violent bungee, she switches it off, resists the urge to cross herself.

She visits a psychic.

“Tell me about the little red church,” she asks.

“Don’t do it,” warns the psychic.

“It’s too late. I moved in a month ago.”

“I see a fire,” says the woman.

We talk to our insurance broker.


Lisa’s boss lives in a priory, outside Gravesend, England.

It’s called Gravesend because that’s where they dumped the bodies, in mass graves, during the Great Plague. Too many bodies and not enough time to dig individual plots. A bucket of lime and away you go.

The priory is haunted. This is a known fact, recorded in travel guides and history books. Someone has researched the ghosts of Kent, and interviewed previous tenants from the heritage-listed building. Her boss gets a kick out of this macabre fame, but Lisa thinks it’s so he has some company apart from his witch of a wife.

The ghost is a woman in a habit. Long skirts, a veil covering her hair. Previous visitors are reported to have come down for breakfast and said, “Please thank the nurse for her kindness last night. I had such a headache, and she brought me a wet cloth; it was very comforting.”

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