By the Light
Some see it, most don't
“The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window,” I whisper. I begin my story as the tape recorder spins the vinyl slowly from one side of the deck to the other. My dictation has been perfected over the years. My ritual is the same. The archaic device’s hum fills the silence in the car. I place the recorder in the passenger seat, its microphone facing towards me.
I flick the Zippo lighter between my fingers as I light a cigarette. The fume from the fluid makes my nostril hair sting. I make this pilgrimage on Midsummer’s night every year. Exhaling my breath in the comfort of the driver’s seat, I roll my neck. The events of that one night so long ago altered my life. That night ended any success I might have. Before I ever had a chance. I was robbed of any respectable reality.
Even this car is a piece of shit. It’s an older model equipped with manual controls. I reach under to adjust the seat away from the steering wheel. My hand finds the thin metal adjustment bar. With a stubborn push I have leg room.
Every June 15th I make the pilgrimage to where my story began. I reach behind my shoulder as my fingers feel for the seatbelt. I’ve completed this mission too many times, but what choice do I have? I cannot escape the randomness of my circumstances. Perhaps this will be my last time. The conditions will be met. My mind will be my own again. Perhaps this night will free me. My hands tremble as I put the key in the ignition. If my demons are loose, they are prey for another. I can’t be bothered with that possibility. I’ve born my burden. I roll the driver’s side window down enough to flick the cigarette butt out.
I glance into the rearview mirror. The neon sign of Mac’s Tavern goes dark in the reflection. The bar is closed. I check my watch. It’s exactly three a.m. I start the engine and put my foot on the gas pedal. The tires purchase the gravel in the parking lot as a few loose rocks clank against the wheel well. In the silent darkness, I begin to tell my story.
“My cousin Tommy and I were dispatched to spend that summer with our grandmother. Granny Jean was nice enough to both of us, but she didn’t really care if we were around. That was evident. Tommy and I both knew that our parents wanted rid of us. For a month, maybe two, longer if they could get away with it.” I turn on the headlights as I merge onto the paved highway.
“We made friends with the boy that lived up the street. Eddie McMann, that was his name. His dad was a welder and a drunk. His mom mended clothes and ironed. Old McMann spent all his money on booze at the racetrack. Dogs, not horses.
Eddie was fifteen, a year older than me. Tommy was a year younger than me, but he was the tallest amongst us. Eddie had a mean streak. I liked him. We were three boys from broken homes, with all the angst and anger that comes along with that... In the quiet darkness that summer, we unleashed our rage.” I sniffle as I remember Tommy and Eddie. I can still picture their young faces.
“We started out stealing eggs from Granny Jean’s chicken coop. We had an endless, untraceable weapon. At first, we egged parked cars uptown, outside the local drinking hole. The damn drunks wouldn’t notice the busted yolks. They’d drive off in a daze when the pub closed. In the heat of the summer egg yolk will melt the paint right off a car.”
I squint my eyes as I slow my speed. The turnoff is easy to miss. The gravel road is on my right, covered by a canopy of overgrown vegetation. I ease the car through the weeds as limbs scrape the windows. No one has driven into the woods this way for a while. The gravel road is full of potholes and ruts from the winter rains. I drive slower to accommodate.
“Late one night I was awakened by a pebble on the window. Tommy was snoring in the twin bed beside mine. I got up and looked outside. I didn’t see anyone at first. I saw a flicker of light. It would burn for a few seconds then go dark. Then another flicker of light. The process happened over and over. I unlatched the old wood window. That’s when I could hear Eddie snickering as he hid in the rose bushes.”
I called his name. Granny Jean was deaf as a doormat. Eddie stepped out from his hiding spot. ‘Come on. Get Tommy. We’ve got some mayhem to do’, Eddie grinned as he showed me a box of matches.
I still remember how I felt when I saw Eddie holding those matches. Powerful, in control. But I was scared too. My heart raced as I shook Tommy awake. I knew that we were bound to each other, and that we would cross some unknown barrier. I could feel that it was different. Up until that night, we had only used eggs, toilet paper…But with fire, we had a new set of options. We could destroy things entirely. Maybe that was for the best...
Tommy put on his shoes as I tussled the hair on his head. He asked where we were going. I didn’t have an answer for him. His sleepy eyes trusted me. Trusted Eddie too.
We climbed out the bedroom window. Eddie grinned as his eyes danced in the moonlight. “Let’s go to the woods,’ he said as he marched ahead of us. He was whistling a tune. Tommy whistled too. I looked back at the old farmhouse. Lights off, Granny Jean never knew we left. Didn’t care either.
It wasn’t our first time to go in the woods. Tommy didn’t like it there. He was afraid of poison ivy. The kid could catch a rash just by looking at the stuff. But that night Tommy didn’t protest. Maybe he felt different too. I never asked him why. I never got the chance.
We walked for hours through the woods. Never considered turning back. Or the time it would take to walk home. That should have been a sign. Tommy was excited to use the matches. Eddie promised he could burn something once we found a clearing.
All around us the forest was quiet, no birds chirping. Every so often one of us would crack a limb as we stepped on it. We laughed and joked about what girl's hair we’d set on fire. Eddie grew serious when we talked about girls. That made him angry. None of the local girls liked him.
Tommy and I didn’t care. Not about the girls. We didn’t live with Granny Jean full time, so it was easy to lie. I told Eddie that I had a girlfriend back home in the city. He didn’t believe me. He even made fun of me.
We were deep in the woods. The trees opened up ahead. Tommy saw it first. A cabin in the distance. The outline of the building was dark against the light of the full moon. We debated about who it belonged to. Eddie didn’t know. He scratched his head, became flustered, was adamant that there shouldn’t be a cabin this deep in the forest. He was the local. It was up to him to know these things. We decided to move in closer for a better look. Eddie held onto the matches. Tommy said we should leave it be.
I ease off the gas as the gravel road became a dead end. I put the shift in park and turn off the engine. From here on I will go on foot. I pick up the tape recorder and hold it in my shaky hand.
“As we neared the clearing, we could see the cabin. It looked old. The wood was rotten, the roof sagged in the middle. We knelt down to hide in case a hunter was in there. That’s what I remember thinking. The only logical explanation. Eddie was confused, he kept saying that there shouldn’t be a cabin here, but clearly, he was wrong. Tommy’s eyes were wide while Eddie and I argued about what to do. Tommy urged us to leave but I needed to know who was inside. If there was someone inside. I told them the place was so remote, so off the beaten path that it could very well be abandoned. If it was, it could be our new hangout. That intrigued Eddie. Tommy too. It could serve as our place to hide.
I knew nothing. I should have listened to Tommy. We should have run away. But we didn’t. One by one we made our way through the forest at an angle. Eddie suggested we approach from the front so we could see if there was an ATV or some other vehicle. That would give us insight as to who we were dealing with.
As we got to the front of the cabin, I saw it. I reached out to grab Tommy’s arm, to try to hold him back. Eddie pushed on my back as he whispered for me to go on.
‘What are you doing?’ Eddie whispered in the darkness. I couldn’t speak. I pointed towards the candle burning in the window of the cabin. Tommy and Eddie stared straight at the cabin. ‘What?’ Eddie asked. I looked at both of them.
‘Do you see it?’ I asked, thinking they were messing with me. ‘See what?’ Eddie asked me, over and over. I kept pointing to the window. ‘Something is in there,’ I told them. ‘Can you see the candle?’ Eddie looked at me like I was a crazy person. Tommy started to cry. I took a couple of steps back. This was fucking crazy. My friends couldn’t see the damn candle! My breathing was shallow. As the candle burned a glow illuminated from the cabin. A green haze flickered flashes of light, and that’s the moment I first heard it.
‘You see the light. You are the cursed one,’ the voice said. I felt drawn towards the cabin, pulled into the green light, but I held my footing. I yelled out to Tommy and Eddie, asked them if they heard the voice. Eddie’s nostrils flared as he shook his head. Tommy cried and covered his ears. 'What voice? What did it say?’ Eddie asked.
I knew better than to repeat it out loud. I didn’t want to believe it. I knew I couldn’t leave. I had to go inside the cabin. I had no choice. Eddie threw the matches at my feet. ‘I’m fucking out of here!’ He said as he turned and ran the way we came. ‘Come with us,’ Tommy pleaded as he tugged at the hem of my shirt. I brushed his hand off as I shook my head. 'Run,' I told the boy. My voice had a strange octave about it. It didn’t sound like my voice at all. Tommy’s eyes filled with tears as he ran off to catch up with Eddie.
I went into the cabin. Alone. It was that night that the terrors overtook me. Because I saw the light, it could take me. Make me do things. Things I know not to do. But I have no choice. If you can see the light, you’re doomed. Until you can find another to take your place.”
I push the stop button on the tape recorder. Carefully I eject the cassette and leave the player on the passenger seat. Eddie never saw the light. Even years later.
I open the car door and stretch my back. I roll my neck as I walk to the trunk. I turn the key in the lock.
“Now you know,” I tell the gagged girl with the wide eyes. She holds her duct tapped hands up to guard her face as I drag her from the trunk. I cut the binds from her ankles and place the cassette in her jacket pocket. I grab my shovel and push her forward, towards the cabin.
“The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window,” I tell her. “If you see the light, you become it,” I say. I should know.
“And If you don’t see the light, darkness.”
About the Creator
Soup lover proudly owned by fluffy little lap dogs. Likes: sunsets, chocolate, witty replies, and good hair days. Dislikes: Mean people and flan. Hit that subscribe button.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Original narrative & well developed characters
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme
Expert insights and opinions
Arguments were carefully researched and presented
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
Whoaaa did not see that coming. Loved the twist!
Holy moly that was good!! GREAT narrative and a little terror at the end for the cherry on top. Awesome!
This was so good!! Did not see that twist coming at the end. Well done!
A story within a story, I love that 😁
Great story and plot building. Loved the ending.
Great story and descriptions plus I loved the ending!
Wow I liked the twist at the end. Well done. Hearted and subscribed
I really enjoyed the way this was told, and that twist at the end hit hard. Great work!