Harington School Gothic Writing Prize 2022

At the end of last year, Harington students pushed their creative minds to the limit in our annual Gothic Writing Competition. Students were challenged to write a short story or opening to a novel that chilled the judges to the bone! Entries were of a very high standard this year. Some were inspired by wild and remote landscapes, dark and foreboding castles, fearsome or haunted characters, and some imagined a terrifying futuristic world. The four winning entries that you can read excerpts from here were original, imaginative, beautifully written and utterly compelling.

FIRST PLACE WINNER: A Devil Behind The Lens by Jessica, Year 13

After the fire, neighbours made snide comments about Edward and his mother. Myths of fraudulent insurance-seeking was the talk of the town. No one spoke of the man burned to death next door. No one dared. They gossiped though, gossiped of the boy who lost his eyes in the fire. The boy whose sight was superseded by two empty sockets.

A cold winter was doused by a feeling of wounded despair. Edward and his mother, Eleanor, orphaned by their home, became frantic in search of sanctuary. Eleanor was so suffocated by the trauma that it became Edward’s duty to find work. Only no one could bear to employ a boy with no eyes. Despite restless anxiety, Eleanor took to the local library to supress her nerves. She had heard of a supposedly unorthodox ‘Healing Clinic’ not far from their street, but had done her best to avoid it until now. She was only too familiar with the horror stories of backstreet hospitals, but with no more than a handful of coins and a grief-stricken son, she dialled the number and awaited the voice at the end of the line.

Edward had been here before. Nothing could soak away the awful stench that licked the corners of his memory. Until now, he had tried to forget about the sinister alley, but then again, until now, he had thought it was safe.

It was a sickeningly sterile theatre. Branded by engravements on the door reading: The Research Clinic, and under it a list. Cosmetic Practices, Skin-Grafting Facility, The Eye Bank. Beyond the impenetrable exterior, a tongue-coloured hallway gave access to various tentacles of barren passage. A row of ivory doors sealed the approaching rooms like gum shields, disallowing trespassers and ensnaring inpatients from departure. Not a speck of dust disturbed the corridors nor any trace of life. Natural daylight was banished, conquered by the harsh spotlights that clung to the ceiling like parasites. Each door was labelled: Pupils, Corneas, Retinas, Spares. Motionless, and rapt by the malodourous air, pupils: glued to their allocated units as headstones to a yard, lay in their graves. Unmoving, pained and disturbed corneas scorned the atmosphere as though drenched in unfinished agony.

SECOND PLACE WINNER: The Nefarious Case of Bathory Mansion by Lily, Year 13

Standing in the great hall of the mansion, silence hummed through Eugenia’s ears like the murmurings of spirits in a sepulchre. Spattered around the room, furniture lay buried under layers of dust sheets. From the corner of her eye, Eugenia mistook them for ghosts, glaring at her as she passed through the room.

The paintings were left uncovered. One portrait, hung on a wall, grasped her attention with unrelenting claws. An ethereal woman peered back at her with golden eyes as though freshly polished coins, the ones on the eyes of corpses, had replaced her irises. Hair as white as skin leeched of blood cascaded over her shoulders and the woman was dressed in a fashion long dead.

Eugenia could not look away from the face not dissimilar to her own.

After hours of perusing the artefacts, a thick layer of dust marred her gloves and the sun’s light had long since been snuffed out.

A dull tremor reverberated through the walls as a clock, concealed in the darkest depths of the mansion, struck midnight. Eugenia waited for a moment, stock still and ears ringing with effort. She did not have to wait long before a scream cleaved the silence. Laced with agony and terror, the sharp edges of the shriek trailed down her spine and deep into the marrow of her bones as ice oozed into her veins. It was a man’s scream. The old floorboards howled in protest of movement on the floor above. Somewhere upstairs, someone paced the halls.

Eugenia had nothing to fear, she told herself firmly, but her feigned confidence could not disguise the nausea boiling in the pit of her stomach.

The case of Bathory Mansion was a long one, murky enough for the rest of the detectives at the agency to shy away from. Those stories had been forgotten for centuries by the public, the agency neutralising any scandal that arose, although the recent outbreak of events brought the attention back on the house and its occupants. Camilla would argue that the men of her family were far more despicable than her, but Camilla was deranged half the time and asleep the rest. And now she was awake.

Eugenia rushed upstairs before drawing a breath, clinging onto the banister as if it were the only solid thing in a world full of shadows, but the mansion had fallen silent once more. Through her gloved hand, she did not feel the banister slick with a deep red substance. She reached the door to the West Wing and at the sight of it, she halted.

Splattered across the ornately carved wooden door was blood.

THIRD PLACE WINNER: Untitled by Tomasz, Year 12

November 3rd 1886 

I wake again to the dripping of water. Drip, drip, drip. Often it hits my pillow, leaving it soggy and damp to my head, but sometimes it will strike me right in the nose or the mouth or the ear and then I will be awoken early, wet and tired. Once I wake up I can never get back to sleep, a bad habit I picked up during childhood that has stayed a vice to me ever since. Not that it would matter. Nights on the lake are as painful as cycling with arthritis. The mist rolls in not long before eight, so thick that one could not see past their own hand, then at nine the water starts to become choppier and angrier, rocking the boat gently like a see-saw and then, finally, at ten the screams begin to echo from those murky depths. 

The screams are the worst of it. I was told before I joined the Loch Trading Charter that they would come every night at ten and that, yes, they would be the tortured cries of those who had been abandoned on the mainland. Sometimes they were the low barking of my angry father, stuck in some drunken stupor. Other times it was my wife’s haunted wailing. Worst of all would be my little daughter crying out for her father. She was the worst by far. I could bear the achy groans of the others but her screams pierced me like a knife, ripping my heart from my chest and letting me bleed great tears whilst I cowered in my corner of the boat, trying to retain some semblance of brittle sanity… 

My skin is deathly pale to the point where the moonlight reflects off of it and you can see the blue and red veins pumping my ever so precious blood around my disgusting body. My feet have mould leaching a living off me, green and pungent. I gag as I put a knife to them and trim the bits of mildew that have deemed my toes a utopia. The rings around my eyes make me look like a freshly dug corpse. My eyes are blank and grey and remind me of the very mist that is cloaked around me and my pitiful little dingy. Hooked is my nose like the beak of a raven often dribbling with streams of snot and blood. My wife used to say it was from the stress, perhaps she was right. My mouth is a cracked, cratered mess of bitten lip and swollen gums. The teeth located inside aren’t much better, all yellowed and crooked more like that of a rabid dog than a human. I collapse onto my sodden bed and try to catch a wink of sleep before the mist rolls in and the screams start their routine torture.

HIGHLY COMMENDED: Death of the Author by Anwen, Year 12

Rain gently tapped at the windows of the old study. The storm of the previous night had lost its ferociousness, reduced to soft rumbles. What sun that could break through the remaining clouds and oak trees outside shone through the window, illuminating half a desk. Crumpled-up paper balls surrounded a man, Edmund, sat down, holding his head in his hands.

The page laid out before him had two words written on it. It had been that way for the past few hours.   

Edmund sighed, defeated, and screwed up the page, throwing it down on the floor to join the other failed attempts. He had not written anything of substance for months, too busy comforting his beloved wife and muse, Marie, through her grief.   

Slumping back on his chair, Edmund reflected on woman he met at university, wondering if he would ever see her again; bright, with a wicked love for fun, and wit to match his own. He’d chosen to marry her due to these qualities—she became not only his wife, but his secretary, advisor and closest friend. When she lost her sister, Edmund lost Marie.    

Coming to her family’s estate had seemed to lift her spirits. It was not to his taste—the layers of dust covering each surface and cobwebs in every corner were not befitting to the great writer he envisioned himself as— however, it revived happy memories for Marie. She regaled him with picnics in the garden, scoldings in the nursery, dances in the ballroom, all with a small, fond smile. Marie was returning to normal, though less witty and mischievous, more reserved, more thoughtful, more…

Like her sister.