Haunting Hooks: Haunted House Edition… with guest judge R.L. Stine!

We have a winner! For Dictionary.com’s third annual spooky writing contest, we challenged you to write an original opening to a haunted house story using 50 words or less, and you came knocking, submitting more than 3,300 (!) spooky entries! Then it was all up to guest judge R.L. Stine.

The Winner

Guest judge R.L. Stine has made up his macabre mind, and the winner is… Betsy Dusenske!

If I hadn’t stolen this antique pen, Lucy would still be here. If she hadn’t used it to draw this stupid house, she’d be flesh and blood like before. I traced my shaking finger over her face—just lines on the page now, staring at me from the attic window.

Betsy Dusenske

Here’s R.L. Stine himself reading Betsy’s exquisitely spooky entry.

Congratulations, Betsy! You will receive a signed copy of the first book in R.L. Stine’s new Goosebumps series, House of Shivers! Plus a $100 gift card and Dictionary.com swag.

Read the official contest rules, terms, and conditions.


Here are the rest of the five finalists, whose entries were selected from thousands of spirited submissions. Each of these stood out for hooking the reader in a different, hauntingly creative way.

After the sixth night, I stopped closing my eyes. I stopped trying to reach for the cord on the bell. The hands were always cold as they lifted me from my bed. This time an icy finger wiped the tear off my cheek, and I began to count the stairs.

Amelia McKee

It seemed, by the way it appeared to thrust itself out of the weedy ground, that the House had not been built, but rather grown, its wood and stone and metal emerging from some dreadful seed, nourished in the dark, and now, wretchedly alive. And alive, could it die?

Brian F. Schlosser

Mom glared at me.

“How dare you look so much like your father?”

“I wouldn't know. You never told me where you hid his body.”

“And you never told me where you hid mine!” she snapped.

Lisa Roderick

Under the reassuring gaze of the moon, 23 Barrow Lane looked like a house in much the same way that an angler fish might seem like a potential girlfriend to a confused shrimp. But Pete wasn’t fooled. It had eaten his cat and was now sharpening its eaves for him.

Daria Denisova

More Standout Entries

We told you that your unique interpretation of “haunted” and “house” is what would make your opening stand out. Here are some of the frighteningly fresh takes on the haunted house tale that we received, even including a haunted birdhouse and a haunted outhouse!

Jennifer Hess

Sea captains’ widows. Displaced soldiers. Victorian children. These are the specters I'd come to know. Familiar. Predictable. I turned the doorknob of a room untouched for 20 years. Amid the dusty boy band posters, teen magazines, and makeup, I saw why I’d been sent. Nothing had prepared me for this.

Sophia Eckl

It was the chipped paint that caught her eye. Not the rusted, wrought iron fences or the ominous stain atop the creaky, front porch floor boards. No. It was the single chip of eggshell white that fluttered to the ground as she passed. As she saw what lay beneath it.

Casey Peta

The feeder hangs empty. Withered leaves skitter in the wind, no feathers among them. The warblers and swallows have long gone south. Not a bird to be heard, and yet, a sinister song drifts out of the birdhouse at night. I click on my flashlight. I have to look inside.

Joseph R. Terrazzino

Blood on the silverware. French press. Crumpled into abstract art, hurtling around the dryer. Thudding mercilessly. This djinn keeps making its point. Yesterday, glass coffee carafe, smashed to shards, inside a pillow. Back’s still raw. Looks like I slid down an upright bed of nails. Waking up is the nightmare.

Ian Parker

Benson eyed his trophy: the outhouse atop the hill, chewing a crooked silhouette into a moon as bloated as his bladder. Above the night’s chorus of chitters and whispers, he heard desperate fingernails tear at the inside of the rotted door. The arm had come back.

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