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Updated: Nov 9, 2023

Karigan Durso - November 1, 2023

- Spooktober 1st Place Winner!

Tucked away amid the corn and soy fields of the Midwest stands the town of North Valley, Indiana. It is an ordinary town, too sleepy for the likes of most of its younger residents, but not for Bethany Nicole Bell. Betty, as she likes to be called, is turning 23, though strangers would place her age closer to her 50s. Time has not treated her well; she looks worn and haggard with dull reddish-brown hair streaked with white. Her face looks like that of an old woman whose skin has borne the brunt of the sun for many decades. She wears the same gray and ratty clothing every day and her eyes are the color of rust.

Betty lives alone in a small, shabby house that contains hardly anything: a little bed, a moldy couch, a box tv, a small kitchen table with a few half-broken chairs. Everything about the house is dated, from the peeling stained wallpaper to the dated kitchen cabinets hanging haphazardly, ready to fall at the slightest touch but somehow managing to stay mounted, clinging for life. She works just enough to keep the lights on—which she never turns off—and food on the table. Leaving her house only when she has to, she keeps the curtains closed, the door barricaded and locked. She spends her days huddled up in blankets, covering her ears and eyes as she tries to drown out anything that might or might not be there. She can never be too sure. Every noise or movement terrifies her.

It is no mystery to the town why Betty is the way she is. When asked about her, they describe her with pity or annoyance laced in their voices while muttering something about an old ghost story. Sometimes truant kids would come pounding at her door and windows, taunting her with chants. “Hanging Helen is comin’ for you! Hanging Helen is gonna string you up!” Betty would react with screams of terror each time this happened, but the kids would only shriek louder with laughter, and this would go on until a neighbor chased them away because “they were making too much noise.”

Most towns have ghost stories, haunted places, or incidents of the paranormal, and North Valley was no exception. These stories are usually spawned from tragedy and exaggerated by the bored and superstitious minds of people as was the case for an 18-year-old Betty and a 16-year-old Sarah.

“Sarah, please! It will be fun, I promise you nothing bad is gonna happen.”

“Liar! You're just trying to get me to go to that old, creepy haunted house because you’re bored and want to scare me. Guess what? I’m not gonna fall for it! Not this time!”

“Are ya sure?” Betty said with a charismatic grin, “I guess I can’t force you, but….”

“But what?”

“Oh, it’s nothing. I was just thinking maybe I could be persuaded to go to that one pizza place you really like for dinner….”

“Don’t,” warned Sarah.

“...but, I guess it can’t be helped since you don’t want to come. So I'll let you be all alone in this great big house….”

“FINE!” Sarah yelled with exacerbation, cutting off Betty. “But you’re paying.”

“Works for me, let’s go. I’ll pull the car in front.”

Betty grabbed her car keys and ran out the front door excitedly to get her car. When the car pulled up about a minute later, Sarah hopped in the passenger seat and Betty sped off.

After a few minutes of driving, Sarah said with visible discomfort, “Why did you have to take this route?”

Betty looked at Sarah and said sarcastically, “Why? Are you scared?”

“NO. Just…those creepy eyes on the hill. They always make me feel like I’m being watched. It’s especially creepy since it's dark,” Sarah said with a shiver while gripping her arms.

“They’re just Halloween decorations. Oh look, we’re here!”


Betty parked the car in front of the infamous Abel farm house, lovingly nicknamed “Hanging Ranch” after its last owners, Helen and John, who were found hanging from the barn rafters in the late’ 50s. A note had been found written in Helen’s distinctive handwriting next to their bodies nailed to a post that read I’m sorry which led to Helen being suspected of murdering her husband and then hanging herself from guilt. Apart from the grisliness of the murder, there was much speculation about how Helen was able to kill her husband and hoist his body up to the rafters of the barn. She had been described as a thin and small figure compared to her husband who was nearly 2 feet taller than her. Rumors about demon summoning and dark forces swirled among the minds of the town residents as a possible explanation, leading many to believe the house to be haunted.

The old farm house was a structure of rotten wood and broken glass, and standing next to it was the equally unstable barn. Betty jumped out of the car into the warm night air which was quickly cooling off. With excitement, she walked eagerly up the steps of the farmhouse onto the porch.

“Aren't ya comin’?”

“I’d rather not get crushed to death by rotting wood or possessed by spirits.” Sarah replied dryly.

As Betty spoke the words “Oh, you’re no fun,” she spun on the heels of her tennis shoes towards the house and walked through the open back door whose lock had long been busted open by vandals and vagrants.

The moment she entered the house Betty was overwhelmed with a strong sense of apprehension and worry. It hit her just like the freezing air, which was so cold she could see her breath, and smell of sulfur, strong enough to make her nauseous. Betty nearly backed out of the house— back towards her car and back towards her sister— but she forced herself to stay; She didn’t want to seem stupid; after all, she was the one who had wanted to come out here in the first place. With her mind made up, Betty forced her feet forward into what apparently had been a kitchen. Listening for any signs of danger, she walked out of the kitchen through the dining room and into the dusty entryway, careful to avoid the holes in the floor. Feeling as if someone or something were watching her, she stood at the base of a staircase that led upstairs looking into what was once a comfy living room now covered in a layer of filth. Trusting the old staircase more than she should, Betty slowly went up, gripping the handrail tightly with each step groaning as if it were in immense pain under the pressure. Reaching the top, she froze in pure horror. What stood before her in the entryway of a room was a woman who could only be described as misshapen and hideous. Her dress, nothing but rags; her hair, stringy and white, she smelled of rotting flesh and her neck was clearly broken, angling downward at an unnatural and impossible angle. But the most horrible thing about her was her wide decaying smile. Betty wanted to scream but was stopped when the woman, without making a sound, simply put her finger to her lips and whispered, “Shhhhh.”

Betty followed her finger as it moved from her lips towards the window. Her face paled as she realized what the woman was pointing at—the barn. Betty turned and bolted down the stairs through the entryway and out the back door, all the while hearing the evil cackling of the woman echoing behind her. She stopped, panting, looking around her wildly. “SARAH!” she screamed.

Betty jumped off the porch and ran as fast she could towards the barn, but it was too late. When she jerked open the rusted and splintered door, what she was met with was the dangling corpse of Sarah, her eyes bulging and her mouth half open.

Betty ran to her side pleading with whatever gods existed, “Please, Sarah, please be alive.”

She felt for the pulse on her unnaturally cold arm—Nothing.

“NOOO!” Betty sobbed. “Nooo….”

For years that night followed her everywhere: to the store, to her work, to her home, to her dreams. When she closed her eyes, all she saw was Sarah’s limp body. Even when her eyes were ope, she swore that Sarah was always there, standing in the corner of her vision.

“Why won’t you let me move on?” she pleads to whoever is listening.

Then an idea pops into her head. “I know what I have to do.”

Gathering up her courage and strength, she grabs her keys and goes to get her car.

The rotting wood of the barn and house, the smashed windows, the warm night air, all of it is the same as Betty remembered it. This time she walks calmly towards the barn stopping at the large, imposing doors. She turns, looking up at the window which the woman had pointed out of for a second, before turning back and entering the barn. She knows what she has to do as she strides towards where she found Sarah’s hanging body. A noose is hanging on the rafter and next to it a ladder. Knowing whom the noose was meant for, she climbs up and stands on the wooden beam looking down. She bends down and grabs the noose before straightening her back again. Putting it around her neck and tightening it is oddly easy.

Closing her eyes, she takes a deep breath. “I’m coming, Sarah.”

Then she steps off.

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