The Grey Lady – a short story for English reading comprehension

This is a ghost story. Maybe not for the weak-hearted but I will leave that to you.

This short story is perfect for English reading comprehension and for any ESL class. It comes complete with a 1000-word story, reading comprehension questions and discussion questions.

Teachers can use it in their ESL or any other English class and students can use it in their free time to help them improve their English vocabulary and reading skills

Have fun and let me know what you think in the comments below!



The Grey Lady


I should have left Karl’s house earlier. Then I could have caught the last bus home.

But we got talking, listening to music, laughing about stupid things.

I pulled my jacket collar up against my neck as the cold air wrapped itself around me. I cursed at myself for the hundredth time for missing the bus.

Stupid, so stupid.

It had to be at least seven kilometres back to my house. The walk didn’t bother me. It was the hollow that unnerved me.

Everyone at school had stories to tell about it.

The hollow. That’s where she died. The Grey Lady. You can see her there at night. She’s waiting for someone. Waiting for revenge.

And we all rolled our eyes and laughed at those that told the tales.

There’s no such thing as ghosts, I heard myself say.

But now I was just two minutes away from the hollow. And things didn’t look the same here when I was on the bus. Things seemed too quiet. Too still.

Either side of me trees whispered in the shifting breeze that slid between them. Their voices called out to me in hushed tones.

Not too late to go back, not too late to go back…

The road rose up ahead. I never noticed it on the bus, it always seemed flat. But now on foot, it was as if the road itself was trying to make me turn back.

After the crest in the road just blackness. No light, no sound. Nothing but all-encompassing dark.

I took a breath and increased the pace of my walking. On the bus, the hollow seemed less than a minute. But how could I be sure? I never timed it. I didn’t pay much attention to what was outside. Either staring in a daze at the road in front and the back of the driver’s head. Or lost in a series of dumb messages from Karl and our friends.

I increased the speed of my walking as I got to the top of the small rise in the road. When I got to the top of it, I gazed down into the hollow.

Nothing but total darkness.

I looked back over my shoulder and saw the dim cone of light that shed out from a street lamp way back in the distance. I turned to the front and squinted my eyes to try to make out the next street light. Nothing. Only sheer blackness.

Another breath and I took the first step down into the hollow.

My aunt said that she killed all her children. The memory of another Grey Lady tale slithered into my mind. She killed them all one by one then took her own life. People said she had lost her mind.

I saw the face of the kid in my school who spoke these words. An unpopular student at my school who everyone laughed at behind his back. He spent too much time by himself and I never gave him a second thought.

So why were his words of the Grey Lady so prominent in my head right now?

I marched ahead into the total darkness.

The outline of the trees disappeared from view either side of me like they no longer existed like they were no longer part of this world.

Once again the breeze danced through the branches and their voices called to me.

You can’t go back. You can’t go back.

I shook my head, pulled the collar tighter around my neck and quickened the pace. My breath came in sharp breaths now. I told myself because I was walking so fast but that little gremlin of doubt whispered in my ear. Because you’re afraid.

My hands thrust so deep in the pockets of my jacket, they restricted my movements, made it difficult to walk. I pulled my hands free and found that I could walk even faster. I broke into a half-trot. Stopped, walked again, walked faster and faster still.

She cut their throats. The unpopular kid’s face clear in my mind. Then cut them into little pieces and buried them in the trees in the hollow. People didn’t find their bodies for years. They put the Grey Lady in a mental institute. She screamed every night until she died.

I swirled around. The street light I saw before now completely invisible. I was surrounded by the gripping darkness. Enveloped in its arms.

Panic took hold of my breathing. I swallowed and forced a lungful of air inside my chest. I turned on each foot. My eyes darted into the eternal blackness all around me and for a second I could not remember which direction I was going.

I leaned down and saw the white lines of the road and raced along them. They could lead me out of the hollow and into safety.

The wind hissed through the trees as I ran ahead. It was racing with me, keeping me company or mocking me, I could not tell.

As I ran down deeper into the hollow, my head filled with tales of the Grey Lady. Stories and fables that I paid no attention to before now all surging back into my memory. My mind showed the speaker of each story as the words unfolded in my ears.

She stays in the hollow, waiting. Waiting for someone. Waiting for revenge.

She was driven insane by a curse. She was the daughter of a rich landowner and a local witch put a curse on her.

She loved her children. Even though she took their lives.

My feet stumbled ahead and my hands clawed at the cold air in front of me. Then I found myself going uphill again. I had done it! I had got to the bottom of the hollow. Now I was on my way out again.

I let out a laugh of victory. My lungs burned as I took deep breaths and lurched ahead into the dark.

Then the sheer relief of a silvery-white light ahead. The next street light!

Thank god.

I slowed and gave myself permission to walk. My heart pounded in my chest and my breathing slowed.

The light grew brighter and I could make out the trees on either side of the road again.

How stupid of me, I said out loud. I’ll laugh about this tomorrow with Karl.

The light ahead grew brighter and brighter. I could make out the trees more clearly.

I bowed my head and laughed to myself again. I turned behind and looked into the blackness of the hollow. How small it looked now. Before it seemed like a huge chasm. Something inescapable.

I faced the front and peered into the light.

Then my breath stopped.

A figure.

All grey.

Surrounded by light.



Reading Comprehension


Why is the narrator walking home?

Why did he miss the bus?

How far is it to his home?

What is the thing that worries the narrator on the walk home?

What is the story of the Grey Lady?

Does the narrator believe these stories usually? How about now he is walking home in the dark?

Try to describe where he is. Use your imagination to talk about his surroundings.

When he says the trees whisper to him what does he mean?

What is the difference in his perception of the hollow in walking in the dark and being on the bus?

Where are the street lights?

Who tells the stories of the Grey Lady in his school?

How did the Grey Lady murder her children?

Where did the Grey Lady spend the rest of her life?

Describe the narrator’s feeling when he starts to walk uphill again.

Then how does he feel when he sees the light?

How does he feel when he looks back into the hollow?

What does he see at the end of the story?



Discussion Questions


What do you think of this story?

If you were the narrator in the story, would you walk home alone?

Do you believe in ghosts? Why/why not?

Do you know of any ghost stories in your neighbourhood? How did this story start?

Are there any areas of your hometown that are scary at night? Why? Describe these areas to the class.

What is it about the dark that makes people imagine things?

What do you think the narrator saw at the end of the story? If you saw this, what would you do?

Do some cultures believe in ghosts more than other cultures? Why/why not?

Why did people believe in ghosts in the past?

Do you know anyone who has said they have seen a ghost? What do you think about this?

Do you think it is good for us to tell ghost stories to each other? Why/why not?

Can ghosts harm us?

Is there a scientific explanation for ghosts?



Was this short story interesting to read?

I hope it was useful in your studies to help you with your English.

And as always, let me know in the comments below!


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8 thoughts on “The Grey Lady – a short story for English reading comprehension”

  1. Thanks! It was an awesome story and could be used across the board with any English student. It is very well written and incorporates very useful vocabulary. I think stories like these make much more interesting reading than those provided in most textbooks and they will ultimately motivate students to enjoy ready while improving their proficiency. The only thing I missed was knowing who the author of the story was. A reader might want to get more stories from that author.

    1. That’s really encouraging to hear, Leona! Much appreciated! The author of the story is me. Maybe I should add my name under the title…

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