Fiction logo

Any Old Cabin

“The real world is much smaller than the imaginary" Friedrich Nietzsche

By Grantt EnnisPublished 2 years ago 21 min read
Runner-Up in Campfire Ghost Story Challenge

“The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window.”

My whole body stops, cereal spoon halfway to my mouth, breath caught in my throat. My eyes, the only part capable of movement, whip to the TV screen.

“That’s the title of the latest viral video currently storming the internet.” The national news presenter doesn’t care. He doesn’t even know. Some staffer put this in his script and he’s just running through it like he would anything else. “The creepy video seems like any other; shaky cam footage and scattered voices urge someone into a seemingly haunted cabin, all filmed on a typical hand held device.” They play snippets of the viral video. It’s like seeing an infant with a knife. They don’t realise the potential harm they’ll cause. I still haven’t taken a breath. “But what’s really intriguing about this latest online sensation is the mystery behind it. No one seems to know where it’s from, or who filmed it. Here’s our online expert Terry with the details.”

The spell breaks and I scrabble for my phone with clumsy fingers. I tell myself off when I have to retype most of the video title, but the search function knows what I’m looking for even with all the typos. It’s already part of the algorithm. It’s already popular. My stomach lurches. The search results fill the screen of my smart phone. So many videos. I scroll down and it just continues. Repeat uploads become reaction videos and analysis videos. Teenagers and twenty somethings all talking about it and obsessing over it. No one knows where it is or where it’s come from. That’s impossible, right? No one uploads anything without some kind of trace.

I tell myself I saw this coming. A part of me noticed this video creeping in around the edges for weeks, either as thumbnails appearing as I scroll through my usual online haunts, or in the scattered snippets of conversations I’ve been exposed to in the office and social media. I’ve been ignoring it. Pretending it isn’t there like a toothache, dreading when I’ll finally have to face it. Scared of what it really means. I can’t put it off forever. I tap one of the videos.

A shaky hand cam washes over creeping nighttime woodlands illuminated by thin moonlight. Everything is a shade of grey. It comes to rest on a cabin, a monolithic constant of colour in the shifting tangle of the forest surrounding it. The place is dark, run down and abandoned. A typical cabin in the woods. The type of TV trope that everyone knows. Ask a person to imagine a dog and they’ll ask what breed. Ask them to imagine a haunted cabin and they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about. Except there’s no uncanny valley here. This isn’t an overused theme. It’s where the theme began. It’s primal, like seeing a lion in the wild, or a shark in the ocean next to you. It tingles in your bones like some ancient memory, some instinctual warning sign. It’s horribly real.

Boys voices are urging each other on. You don’t see them, but their differing volumes make it clear there’s a group of them. It must be a dare. They want someone to go inside, but no one’s brave enough yet. It won’t take long. Peer pressure is a powerful magic. It’s in their tone of voice. One of them must be sacrificed.

Then light blooms. An orange glow breaks the monotone grey, adding a splash of brown to the fittings around the window and a dash of green to the weeds on the porch. The voices are scared into silence and the camera zooms in on the light. It’s a candle, sitting tall and proud in the window to the left of the central door. The dancing light of it makes the gloom behind it impenetrable, so you can’t see what lit it. It’s just there. The shot lingers too long, the voices still silent. It zooms in slowly on the candle. It’s like an invitation. An empty moment where you can place yourself and your choices. I feel suddenly sick. It’s exactly as I remembered it. The same cracks in the window pane, the same creep of moss across the rooftop, the same odd angle the door sat on its hinges. Exactly the same.

But that was twenty five years ago. And I burnt that place to the ground.

It was the late nineties and I was seventeen. This was way before I became a wife and a mother, back when I could revel in being different, scowling at the other girls trying so hard to get into the cheer squad. I was part of the alternative crowd. We weren’t popular or sporty or nerdy or goths or anything like that, we just wanted to be ourselves. True castaways in the sea of social strata. It suited us just fine. We were Generation X and proud of it. Everything was awful and we were just looking for a good time. Everyone else was searching for an identity and trying to make their mark on the world. We just wanted to enjoy ourselves before things got real.

It was a different age where things were more traditional and choices weren’t as abundant. There were no smart phones and no real internet. No streaming services to get lost in. All we had was each other, booze, and weed. We wasted a lot of time in places other people wouldn’t be, getting drunk and stoned and listening to music played loud from Tammy’s car, swapping stories about our how naive and fake our peers were. Pretending not to be the same idealistic poseurs everyone else was. We were young.

Spencer brought it into our lives. Spencer liked ghost stories and horror films. He’d devoured Stephen King books as a kid and had developed a taste for the uncanny. We were regularly treated to stories, either recounts of the latest movie he’d watched or some urban legend that he’d butchered to fit into our own community. Sometimes he’d try to make something up himself. One night in early autumn he told us a story about a cabin in the woods just north of us which was supposedly haunted by a vampire. The vampire would light a candle in the window to draw in locals, then feed off them and burn their bodies on a pyre. It would use their fat to make another candle.

Obviously we called bullshit on his story. Spencer was going through a vampire phase so we were expecting a tale about them at some point. We gave him so much shit that he eventually threw his hands up and admitted that he’d made it up - but only the part about the vampire. Even when we doubled down on calling him out, he remained absolutely steadfast that there was an abandoned cabin in the woods with a single candle burning in the window. He got angry about it. He was so certain that it was honestly intimidating. There was a strange warp in the mood of the group because of it. A sudden need to see this for ourselves. If it was real then that was something more than the mundane lives we were so desperate to get out of. If it was fake then we could finally get Spencer to shut up about it.

Six of us went. Greg and Tammy took Spencer with them in Tammy’s car. I went in Foster’s car with him and his brother, Josh. Josh was a few years younger than us and freshman year hadn’t been kind to him. We’d adopted him thinking it would make him seem cooler but it had the opposite effect. He just became more and more ostracised because he was hanging out with his older brother. Thing is, Josh was actually great. He was funny and smart and had a good heart. He’d been genuinely kind to me when Foster broke up with me a year or so earlier. It was the biggest reason why Foster and I were still friends. Well, awkward friends.

Two cars driving into the night, out of the safety of the halogen lit streets and into the tangled dark of the woods. I’d driven those roads countless times before, never even noticing the trees nor caring what lie beyond them, but that night was different. The strange nebulous dark seemed full of the unknown. It was never still. The leaves and branches swaying over one another made the blackness move as if it was alive. As if it was watching you. At first I stared out the windows. Then, as the darkness played on my imagination, I tried to look anywhere but outside. Just in case I actually saw something.

Either Foster didn’t care or he was fighting his nerves in other ways. He and Josh just passed a joint between one another as he drove, offering it to me every now and again. Something about the dark outside made me want to keep my wits about me, so I refused at first. He kept repeating how full of shit Spencer was. How he’d probably take us to some old log shed or boat house and then claim that he swore it was a cabin. “What if he’s telling the truth? Josh said. Foster just drove in silence after that. I took a hit off the joint. There was an unspoken dread in considering the reality of the cabin. Spencer had seemed so certain of it and so persistent about it. What if it was real? What then? What came next after proving it was there?

We had to leave the cars on a dirt track by an old farm and hope that no one came out to check. Spencer lead us across a pair of fields and into the woods themselves, then proceeded to try and bullshit us by complaining about a lack of a trail where there should have been one. We heckled him ruthlessly about it, finding some escape from the fear in picking on one of our own. I remember him having this look of resignation on his face when he eventually admitted that he did know the way.

It took a little over two hours. Tammy, who was wearing exactly the wrong type of shoes for this trek, began complaining at about the halfway mark. Eventually Greg told her to go barefoot and she did. They way he spoke to her stood out to me. Brusque and unforgiving. I can still remember the look in his eyes when he said it. Like she was in the way of him getting something or somewhere. Like she was a distraction. I’d never seen him like that before. We walked in silence after that.

I know it’s cliche, but I think we found the cabin at around midnight. It was a clear sky with a gibbous moon, so there was plenty of light. The woods eventually opened up into an old track wide enough to drive a car through, but it was clear that nothing had used it for quite some time. We followed this until the cabin came into view.

It was a wood cabin nestled beneath two towering old trees. The road lead straight to a small clearing in front of it, large enough to let the moon illuminate the front of the building. The old wooden planks glowed with the silvery light, standing in stark contrast to the undulating forest around it. There was a central door, slightly ajar, flanked by two windows. One was cracked in a spiderweb pattern. A ragged porch covered in outcroppings of weed jutted out from the front of the house, with a pair of ruined benches under each window. It was one story, but the roof seemed tall enough for a sizeable attic. There was something about the building that made us all silent. It was like looking into the eyes of a shark. We all stood silently, just looking at it, afraid of what its existence might mean.

Then the candle flared into life. Light bloomed in the left hand window. We didn’t see who lit it and we couldn’t see further into the building. It just sat there in the window with the spiderweb crack, flickering light playing about the glass. Josh took a step back. Tammy cried out and clung to Greg. I hissed a single “fuck” then clamped my mouth shut, suddenly scared who or what might hear me. It felt like a predator had noticed you.

“Well fuck me, Spencer,” Greg began. “So you can tell the truth.” He broke the spell of the moment and began walking toward the cabin. Tammy objected loudly but there was no stopping Greg, so she eventually followed and so did Foster. Spencer and Josh lingered with me, but Greg just shot Spencer a look. That was all it took. We knew it was irresistible. Rabbits caught in headlights. With my heart beating loud in my own ears, we walked onto the porch of that cabin. The old wood gave slightly as we stepped onto the porch, like living flesh. Greg lingered at the door before forcing himself inside.

It opened into a large open room that spanned the front of the cabin with a fireplace on one side. Everything was overgrown, covered in dust and cobwebs. Vines broke in through the cracks where the ceiling met the walls. The only furniture was a bookcase with rotten books, a small table and a rocking chair. Of course there was a rocking chair. Two doors led deeper into the cabin, both on the back wall. A moth eaten, folded over rug did a terrible job of hiding a hatch into the cellar. The cabin creaked with the wind. It creaked with every footfall. It creaked when you shifted your weight. My eyes were drawn to an old stained painting of a rustic family that hung above the fireplace. The eyes of the family were painted in such a way as to follow you around the room. Watching you.

I wanted out immediately. Every fibre of my body was absolutely desperate to get away, but the idea of being away from the group, of being the weakest most vulnerable part of our herd, that was more terrifying. I couldn’t think straight. I just stayed near Foster.

“This place is fucked up,” Greg laughed, playfully punching Spencer on the arm. Why didn’t you tell us about here before? We can start hanging out here instead!”

The idea made me shiver.

“Shit, I wonder if there are beds? We could camp out here at weekends! Let’s check it out! Foster, you check that way and I’ll go this way. See if there’s a back door. Maybe there’s an old grill!”

I was frantic at the idea of us splitting up but I couldn’t speak. The idea of something hearing me and coming for me was too much. I remember Foster nodding hesitantly, then slowly heading for the right hand door. In a panic, I followed him. Spencer and Tammy went with Greg. Josh stayed behind and moved over to the hatch in the floor.

The door lead to a small hallway that split off to the side and rear. Foster edged forward and we could see that the door to the side had rotted off its hinges. Inside was a small room with a rotten looking bed and a window that looked out into the darkness. It was inky black, with no movement, as if the branches outside had disappeared. I couldn’t look at that window for fear of something appearing on the other side of it.

We didn’t go in. Foster headed straight through and on to the door at the other end of the short hallway. It opened to an old kitchen, the wooden worktops littered with leaves that had drifted in through a smashed back door. There was an old iron stove and a rack that hung above it, covered in small hooks that swung as we made our way into the kitchen. The sink was an ancient metal basin, stained an ochre rust colour and full of ancient looking knives left there to soak. Foster peered outside the window, then stood by the smashed rear door.

“I’ll be right back,” he said, moving to head out the back door. I wordlessly grabbed him and shook my head. I stared out into the inky darkness beyond that smashed door and knew that I wasn’t looking at the same woodlands we’d been in out the front. That darkness didn’t move the same. It was still, like a cat ready to pounce. If Foster went out that door, he’d never come back. He paused and looked at me, puzzled but grateful.


It was Josh’s voice. There was a panic to it. An edge of sudden fear. Foster tensed and looked back toward the main room.

“Josh?” He called. There was no answer. I watched as the colour drained from his face. “Stay here,” he ordered, making to head back.

I peered at the black night outside the back door. “Fuck that,” was my response. I clove to him like a drowning woman to a life raft. Foster didn’t wait long. We barrelled back through the hallway toward that first room, Foster calling Josh’s name as he went. He burst through the door.

The room was empty. No Josh, no Greg, no Tammy, no Spencer. The candle burnt in the window, casting an orange light throughout the room. I scanned my torch around the inside of the cabin, terrified of what else I might illuminate, and caught sight of the hatch leading to the basement. It was open. “Foster,” I pointed.

He moved to the mouth of the hatch. I watched him shine a torch down inside. “Josh?” His voice was quiet and cautious, like he didn’t want to disturb something. “Josh, are you down there?”

There was no answer.

Foster stood in silence, weighing up his options. He looked at me and I saw the fear in his eyes. “I’ve got to go in and find him,” he began, voice tremulous. “Stay here in case he’s outside or something.” All I could do was nod. I stood, utterly frozen, and watched him descend down into that basement, my stomach turning with each step he took. It felt like I’d never see him again.

Then he was gone and I was alone in the front room of the cabin. It was silent save for the steady clomping of Fosters boots on the stairs. Then they stopped. All I had left was the thump of my heartbeat, unfathomably loud in my ears. I peered at my shoes, too nervous to look anywhere else. I prayed for Josh to walk in the front door. For Greg or Tammy to come in from the back. For Foster to reappear, even if he didn’t find his brother. My breathing rasped in the silence.

Then the candle guttered out. I was left with the tiny portion of the world that my torch could illuminate, while reflections of light played in the periphery of my vision. I squeaked involuntarily, a noise of pure terror.

“Foster,” I hissed. “Greg?”


“Tammy? Spencer?”

No response. Only the cloying dark and the creak of the cabin as it shifted in the wind.

I forced my body to move. Putting one foot in front of the other was momentous. Almost painful. I crept to the mouth of the hatch and slowly swung my torch into the maw. Light washed across wooden steps but could reach no further. “Foster,” I called again. Nothing responded. It felt like the still darkness below seethed. I could hear the cabin stretching itself around me, cracking like an opening ribcage or a dislocating jaw. I swear that hatch yawned wider.

I stepped back. I called for the others, my voice strange and hysterical. I moved to the door Greg and Tammy and Spencer had taken, easing it open and shining my torch inside. It was another short corridor, the mirror of the one on the other side. I called again, unsurprised when no reply came. I willed myself to step within, torch clutched before me, and edged my slow way down the corridor, leaning to shine light into the adjoining room. It was a a small bathroom with a scummy bathtub and another window that I didn’t want to look at. No one within. I pressed onwards to the door at the far end, wondering how this corridor felt longer than the other. Felt longer than I’d seen it when I first started walking into it.

Heart in my throat, I pushed open the door and slid into a master bedroom. A large iron bedframe dominated the room, opposite a smaller fireplace. It had two windows leading outside, both washed with inky darkness. There was no one inside. I was about to leave when I noticed the painting above the fireplace. It was the same image as the one in the front room. The absurdity of it caught my attention and I moved closer, scanning the image with my torch. It was exact. Not a copy, but a painted image. The family stood in the bottom right corner facing the viewer. Behind them was the front of the cabin, but against a summers day. Except this one had one slight difference. There was someone in the window with the cracked pane of glass. The window where the candle had burst into life. They stood with their back to the viewer, but I could recognise them. The flannel shirt and the long fair hair. It was Josh.

I think I screamed then. I’m not entirely sure. Everything after that becomes difficult to remember. I was overcome by some raw panic. I tore back through the house, throwing myself into each room and screaming for the others. There was no sign of them. I stood on the back step just outside the kitchen and screamed myself hoarse. I got no response. I threw myself from room to room. They seemed to warp and change, their size shifting with the creaking noise of the old cabin. Doors began leading to different places. I’d open the kitchen door, expecting the corridor, and find myself in the bathroom. When I turned, I was suddenly in the master bedroom. When I tried to cross the room, it seemed to stretch endlessly in front of me, the door racing away as I screamed at it. They began all leading back to the first room of the cabin, Even when I tried to leave that room, the door just opened back into it. It was leading me to the hatch.

I’d never go there. The coiled dark felt like what I’d seen out the rear door, just waiting for me to walk into it. I knew in my soul that no light would ever pierce that darkness. It went somewhere else. Somewhere hard to come back from.

I eventually tried the front door, but it was stuck. I began screaming and crying, imagining them leaving without me. Leaving me stuck in this house to die. I hammered at the door. I tore at it. I screamed until my throat was raw. Finally, I seized the rocking chair and heaved it at the cracked window. It smashed it to pieces and I clambered through, sucking in the cold night air and sobbing as I stumbled into the clearing outside the front of the house.

Greg and Spencer rushed over to me. Tammy was on her knees in the dirt, eyes streaked with tears. Foster stood a little off screaming Josh’s name.

“He wasn’t in there,” I managed past the sobs.

“Did you check the basement?” Greg asked, clearly in a panic.

I could only shake my head. I waited for him to shout at me, call me a coward, but he didn’t. He just stood, quiet and tense, freaking out like the rest of us. He couldn’t bring himself to go down there either.

“What happened?”

“We got split up,” this time Spencer answered. “We all got stuck in there. We can’t find Josh.”

Foster just kept screaming his name.

“He went down there,” I indicated at Foster. Greg peered at him as if seeing him with new eyes. “He went into it.”

Foster’s eyes looked hollow. Like a corpse. They never changed after that. He never got the chance to tell us about what he saw down there.

We stayed outside the cabin for a few hours. None of us could go back inside. Foster and Spencer took off roaming the surrounding woods looking for Josh. When they got back, Greg took Spencer to one side and said something to him that drained the blood from Spencer’s face. Eventually we decided to head back and see if Josh was back with the cars. He wasn’t. It took a lot to convince Foster to head home, file a missing persons report and get the police involved.

They didn’t find anything. We were all questioned. Twice. The second time they focused on our descriptions of the inside of the cabin. They asked me about the painting. Spencer said it was because our descriptions didn’t match, not only between one another but with what the police found when they went there during the day. But Spencer’s full of shit, so how could we believe him? The police eventually ruled out suspicious circumstances, explaining that there was no sign of Josh in the cabin and that he must have left before we did and headed into the forest. The investigation took about a year. I failed my finals and had to retake them. Greg and Tammy broke up. Foster killed himself a couple of months after the police closed the case.

On the evening of the funeral, Greg, Spencer and I went back to the cabin. As we stood in front of it, the candle bloomed into life in the window. It sat, flame dancing, beckoning us to come in. Spencer wondered aloud if Josh was still inside. It was something we were all thinking. Instead, we splashed the building with gasoline and burnt that fucking place to the ground. It almost took half the forest with it. Greg went down for setting a forest fire, but the penalty wasn’t as severe then as it is now. I hear he works for real estate in the city these days. Spencer went to college and we lost contact. I sometimes see Tammy at Walmart. We don’t tend to speak much.

I’d put it out of my mind and tried to get on with my life. Just like everyone else does with their childhood. We burnt it all down. That was that.

Except here it is, in a viral video, clearly shot recently with a portable smart phone. The same grey facade, the same mossy roof, the same rotten benches outside. The same spider web crack in the window. The window I’d smashed to get out.

I back up out of that video and tap another. It’s the same video, but something seems odd to me. I back out again and scroll for a bit before I tap another and watch it through. I can hear my ten year old calling me from another room in the house, but I can’t help but ignore it. I watch three or four before they come to see why I’m not answering. “Not now,” I hiss and they wander off. I can’t let them see this.

I realise what’s off. The voices are the same, the cabin is the same, the movement of the camera is the same, but the setting changes. It’s only subtle, but it changes. Pine instead of ash. A smaller clearing. Gorse bushes where there were none before. Small subtle differences that you’d miss if they weren’t something you were familiar with. Like tiny sign posts to give you a clue as to where this might be. Not enough to tell you, but enough to make you think you know. Enough to get a small group of teenagers or twenty somethings to go looking for it. A thousand different invitations.

I feel hollowed out and empty. Insignificant. Maybe we aren’t at the top of the food chain. Maybe we never were. I can’t help but think of a pitcher plant, its jar-like flower trapping insects and mice foolish enough to wander inside to get a taste of the nectar within. Of angler fish deep in the ocean with their bioluminescent glow luring prey across the vast darkness. Anything to separate us from our herds and make us vulnerable. I’m hyperventilating. That’s exactly what this is. It draws us in and isolates us. It preys upon us. It knows our minds and how we think. How we act. In the past it had been spread by word of mouth. Now it had found another way to catch our attention.

My mouth is dry. I’ve lost count of the number of tabs I have open on my phone, each one with a different video, a different forum, a different subreddit - even a collection of short stories about it. I can’t help myself. I’m desperate to find out more, to follow the glow of that candle until I’ve found every single one. It’s caught me again. It’s caught everyone. It’s just a matter of time now.

I hear the voices of the boys in the video. It’s tinny, played through small speakers. It’s coming from my daughters bedroom.


About the Creator

Grantt Ennis

A UK writer looking to leave a lasting legacy. I write stories about out of the ordinary things and our reactions to them. I one day hope to ride a tyrannosaurus rex.

Enjoyed the story?
Support the Creator.

Subscribe for free to receive all their stories in your feed. You could also pledge your support or give them a one-off tip, letting them know you appreciate their work.

Subscribe For Free

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. Expert insights and opinions

    Arguments were carefully researched and presented

  1. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  2. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  3. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

  4. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

  5. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

Add your insights

Comments (1)

  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarran2 years ago

    Omg that was incredibly fantastic!

Grantt EnnisWritten by Grantt Ennis

Find us on social media

Miscellaneous links

  • Explore
  • Contact
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
  • Support

© 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.