WEDNESDAY: If the Floorboards Creak

Halloween Week 2023
Runner Up


Copyright is held by the author.

I USED to visit this room, with its delicate shadows and dusty lace curtains. Its smell a combination of old sweaters hanging forgotten in a closet and something strangely chemical. I’d wander here through a door at the end of the hallway in my grandmother’s house, only to be disappointed when I’d try to find it again the next day. The room was never there when I went looking for it.

Now that I’m here, I wonder, why isn’t anybody looking for me? I am looking for me, but in the mirror my face is absent. Mirrors aren’t supposed to play games like that.

Sometimes, when I used to come here, I’d see an old woman sitting by the window. It was as if she was waiting for me, and I’d wonder if she was the ghost of my great-grandmother. But she was always just out of reach, a hazy mirage. There were other days when I couldn’t see her at all, yet I knew she was there with me. I knew it the way someone knows it’s going to rain without checking the weather forecast. Something about the surrounding air. Indescribable yet palpable to the senses.

There is a spherical bottle of nail polish on the window sill, like always. It was as mystical then as it is enchanting now, the colour seeming to change between a dark blue and forest green depending on ambient warmth, like the mood ring I wore as a young girl. I reach for its rounded glass curves, and watch, transfixed as its content shifts toward my energy, affirming that I am still worthy of reaction.

I am becoming very aware of my aloneness now. It’s like I’m trapped here. I can’t seem to find the door out, no matter how many circles I spin. For the first time in this room, I feel a sense of dread in my chest and the back of my throat, like a spoiled hard-boiled egg pushing up through my esophagus. I used to love it here and was always so happy to have found my way back again. With each thud of my heart in my chest, I wonder, what has changed?

Pulling the window curtain back while looking desperately for a way out, I get distracted by movement through the foggy pane. My focus goes to a tricycle on the sidewalk. Its pedals are going fast, around and around and around; the handlebars jerking from left to right as though a toddler is on it and playing “speed racer.”

But no one is on the bike. I can’t see anyone, anywhere.

I hold my breath as the tricycle takes a turn too quickly. I know what’s going to happen.

Then I hear the shriek of a child surprised by the unforgiving nature of pavement on tender skin and growing bones. I let the curtain fall so I can cover my ears and close my eyes, like I used to when something would come on the TV that scared me. But now there’s no one for me to ask, “is it over?”

After a few minutes, I chance opening my eyelid, just one to start. Then I lift my sweaty palms from my ears, and as I release the pressure I’ve held for the last few minutes, I feel circulation flow back to my lobes. I take a seat in the wooden rocking chair and the floorboards creak under my weight.

If a floorboard creaks in the absence of listeners, does it make any sound at all?

I reach for the nail polish, and it emits a strong odour when I unscrew the cap. I go to paint my pointer finger but I miss and hit the window sill. It’s like my depth perception is off. After three attempts, and three paint marks on the windowsill, I give up. I try to wipe the polish away but it turns a bright red under the warmth of my palms and leaves behind a disturbing-looking smear that dries by the time I try to wipe it away with my sleeve.

Now what?

There is an old TV in the far corner, with antennas poking out of the top. I go to it, turn the dial, and the machine releases a crackling of static. I adjust the antennas and a picture flickers across the screen, fuzzy at first, but then it sharpens as I find just the right orientation for the left antenna. It’s a game show and I recognize the theme song.

But it’s all wrong.

There’s no host.

No contestants.

No audience clapping their hands.

But I can hear them clapping. They’re getting louder. Why can’t I see anyone? Where is the sound coming from if no one is there?

I slam the TV off, just as a bookcase across the room folds in on itself, revealing a hidden door. I jump back against the wall. Warm air rushes in, followed by whispers of a little girl. I hear her tiptoe towards the windowsill. I’m forced to follow the sound of creaking floorboards, because I can’t see her. I hear her move, and then release a gasp upon reaching the window sill where I left the nail polish, cap still ajar.

“Who did that?” she asks.

“I did.”

“Who opened the nail polish?” she asks again.

“It was me!” I say louder.


God, she has a loud scream. It’s like she can’t hear me.

I try a different tactic. I walk to the bookshelf and push a big hardback off the shelf. It crashes loudly on the floor, and the little girl screams again – a piercing, rich, shriek like that in a horror film.

I’m standing right by the doorway and I feel the warmth of another body coming into the room.

“Emma, what are you doing in here?” I’ve heard that voice before. It sounds like the woman who I thought was my great grandmother.

“The book fell,” the little voice says. “I’m scared.”

“Oh, sweet pea, probably just a draft in this old house. There isn’t a lot of air getting in this room. When you come in after a while, things might wriggle and shift.”

“But the nail polish. It’s never been opened before. And look at the marks on the windowsill. Is that blood?”

“Let’s get going honey, we can go downstairs and make cookies. You can see there isn’t anyone here.” But I’m here!

“But the book fell off the shelf!”

“Things like that happen in old houses. Don’t worry. I’ll lock the door on the way out. Grab the nail polish if you want to bring it with you.”

I hear footsteps go back to the windowsill, then watch, completely transfixed and perplexed as the bottle floats towards the door in the bookcase. It’s starting to turn pink, so I know little clammy hands are clutching it tight.

“Will you lock the door behind us?” the little girl asks.

“Absolutely. No ghosts allowed in the main house, my love.”


Image of Ruth Hawley

Ruth Hawley has an MFA in Creative Writing from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine. Her writing has appeared on the The Write Launch, Half and One, and The Twin Bill (2023 Best of the Net Nominee). Her website is, from which she sends a delicious little newsletter called Weekly Bites. You can find her on Instagram @the_wildcarrot. She lives in Bremerton, WA.

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