Cabin to Safety
"Here with this candle, we promise to be good. Follow all rules, and no one left behind."
The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window.
Amanda and her family spent every summer here when she was a kid. She remembered the excitement she felt in the weeks before their arrival. She and her brothers Mike and Tim would stay up late talking about the things they would do: fishing down at the lake, stick carving, building a fort deep in the woods. But their favorite activity was a game they'd play with the neighboring kids called "Cabin to Safety."
The game was silly, and its origins predated any of the current players. No one really knew who started the game or why it was a game that every kid inherently seemed to know how to play, but the mystery of it all was part of the fun.
It was, in essence, a game of glorified tag. Still, the ambiance created by the creepy woods and the dilapidated cabin that served as the game's centerpiece heightened the thrill of the chase.
The gameplay is relatively simple and requires few supplies, but the rules must be followed. Legend says that breaking any rule or trying to leave the game early will have dire consequences for all who play.
The game can only be played beginning at dusk and may not, under any circumstances, be left unfinished. The playing field is between the edge of the front yard of the cabin, marked by two crumbling wooden pillars, each adorned with what were once handcrafted crow statues, and the front porch of the cabin where gameplay begins.
In the broken-out window near the front door sits a small rusted taper candle holder glued to the window sill by years of wax buildup. Here, players must place a virgin, white taper candle that will be lit at the beginning of play, and the game continues until the candle burns out.
Each game requires at least six players, though there is no upper limit. One player will be assigned to act as the Ghost, one the Watcher, and all other players will be the Haunted. The first Ghost is always the youngest player, and the Watcher, for the entirety of the game, is the oldest.
The Ghost acts as "it," chasing the Haunted from the porch steps of the cabin where the Haunted attempt to make it to Safety (one of the wooden pillars at the end of the yard) before being possessed by the Ghost and turning into a Ghost themselves. Play continues between the Cabin and Safety until all players have been turned into Ghosts, and play restarts with the last captured starting as the Ghost in the next round. Play begins after all players recite the "Cabin to Safety" oath and the Watcher lights the candle. The Ghost then takes its place in the center of the yard, a circle of dirt in a patch of otherwise healthy green, the supposed site of an altar. The Ghost may not leave the circle until it cries:
"I have awoken!"
At this point, the Haunted must race to Safety before being tagged by the Ghost.
The Watcher acts as a guard for the candle, ensuring that the flame does not extinguish prematurely, oversees all gameplay, and alerts all players to immediately cease play once the candle flame burns out.
Once the game is over, all players must scatter wordlessly back to where they came from.
Amanda's younger brother Tim was always the first Ghost. He was fast and athletic and always managed to turn someone in the first round. Amanda's older brother Mike was always the oldest and had played Watcher for every game that she could remember. He was 15 that last summer and had to be convinced to even come to play at all.
"I hate being the Watcher. It's so dull. All ya do is sit on the mushy wood watching everyone else have fun." Mike grumbled the whole walk to the cabin.
Amanda and Tim dismissed his grumbles, reminding him how much fun he ended up having last year.
"Well, it doesn't matter anyway, Mike. You've already told Lisa you were coming," Amanda reminded him as the three spent the rest of the walk to the cabin in silence.
The trio was the last to arrive at the cabin that early evening and they were greeted reverently by the twins, Billy and John, and their younger sister Tess; a tall, awkward girl named Annie and her very handsome, athletic brother, Phil, and the quiet, pretty, much discussed, Lisa.
It had been the same group for the last three years, though the core group had been playing since early childhood. Lisa was the most recent addition when she joined last summer. She was an only child and had heard about the game when Amanda's family had met her family at the market the day before the game and invited her. She was Mike's age and had long, flowing black hair, violet eyes, and a dainty freckled nose that turned up slightly.
Amanda rolled her eyes at the hormones wafting out of her brother, but she was happy he'd agreed to come. Phil was the next oldest, and frankly, Amanda didn't trust him to be Watcher. For all his griping, at least Mike was reliable.
Mike pulled out the candle from the bag and the paper with the Oath scribbled carelessly for Lisa. She hadn't yet memorized the silly ritual.
As they lit the candle, the players recited:
"We invite all spirits to join our game in this wood,
Here with this candle, we promise to be good.
Follow all rules, and no one left behind.
Keep an eye on the flame, our measure of time.
The Watcher, the Ghost, the Haunted, be Free.
We promise to play honestly."
And with that, the game began. Tim ran to the circle where everyone watched on tiptoe, ready to pounce off the steps.
After a few minutes of suspense and catcalls, Tim yelled the magic words that sent everyone racing.
Mike watched Phil and Lisa brush hands, and once they both reached Safety, Lisa threw her arms around Phil's neck, giggling at their triumphant escape.
"Focus on the game, guys!" Mike yelled; his voice raised a pitch higher than he intended.
Billy had been caught and joined Tim in the circle. Everyone else readied to bolt for the stairs on the Ghosts' cue.
Billy and Tim paced about their circle for what felt like an eternity before nodding to each other and in sync, saying, "We have awoken!"
Annie, Tess, Phil, and Lisa all managed to escape, but Billy had captured John before he even passed the circle, and Tim caught Amanda just before she could touch Safety.
Phil grabbed Lisa from behind and pulled her back into his chest playfully.
"I've had enough of this," Mike yelled as he crossed the porch to meet the group.
"Hey, man. Chill. We're just having fun." Phil said, stifling a laugh.
"You're not even paying attention to the game. You're not taking this seriously." Mike retorted.
"Taking what seriously, man? It's a stupid kid's game. Just adding a little fun," Phil said as he weaved his fingers through Lisa's hair.
Mike started towards Phil before Amanda got between them. "Mike, you're the Watcher. Please get back up to the candle so we can continue with the game."
"Jesus, Amanda. It is just a kid's game, like Phil said. Who cares about this anyway? I'm always stuck up here 'watching.' Watching what? This?" Mike pointed at Phil and Lisa, who were still flirtatiously intertwined. "This is a stupid game, and I'm out."
"Mike!" Amanda shouted as she ran after him. "You know you can't leave. You know what the legend says if we don't finish the ga--"
"Again with the fucking legend. Grow up, kid. None of this matters. None of it," he said as she started toward the woods, back to the family's cabin.
"Please, Mike!" Amanda yelled over the others who had joined in the calls for his return.
"Hey, guys," Annie said quietly over the raised voices. "Guys! Look..." She was shouting now and pointing to the candle that was now flickering from an invisible breeze.
"We have to keep playing." Amanda insisted, gesturing to the other kids to take their marks.
"Oh, please," Phil said. "It's just the wind." He eyed Lisa, offering his hand to her, "You want to get out of here?"
Lisa smiled and placed her hand in his. The two skipped eagerly off the steps toward the woods, where they could still see Mike's silhouette getting smaller and smaller.
"Guys! Please come back. We have to finish the game," Amanda pleaded.
"Well, why don't we just assign a new Watcher and keep going?" Billy asked.
"Yeah, Mands, that'll be fine. We still have six players," Tim said reassuringly.
So, the group, now three down, attempted to resume the game.
"Well, who's the oldest now?" asked John, eyeing his fellow players.
"I think that'd be Amanda," Tess said without missing a beat. "She was born in July, so she's older than you guys," pointing to her brothers.
"But I was a Ghost, so shouldn't I finish that?" Amanda asked.
"Yeah, good point," Tess said. "So, I guess it's you, Billy.
"Well, actually," Amanda interjected, "Annie's birthday is at the end of July, so she's the next oldest."
Tess, now very embarrassed that she had forgotten that Annie was even there, nodded knowingly and smiled timidly at Annie, who was bright red. They all nodded, and Annie agreed to her post.
Tim, Billy, John, and Amanda went to the circle and called their battle cry.
Tess ran toward the gates as fast as she could but was caught by John almost instantly.
"And Tess is our new Ghost!" John shouted victoriously.
All the players ran back to the porch, except for Tess, who marched to her circle with mocking, ominous steps. "You'll pay for that, bro!" She called playfully after her brother.
Annie, still on the porch watching the candle with extreme intent, felt a shiver up her back before a heavy wind blew from inside the cabin, again causing the flame to flicker.
With the wind, the once pristine white candle turned to black.
Annie tried to call out for the others, but before she could speak, a woman's hoarse voice whispered in her ear, "You are not the Watcher."
Annie screamed, and the group turned to see her standing pale before crumpling to the ground, her lifeless body only a shell.
The wind ripped through the group standing on the steps as they all fell to the ground, their bodies, too, now lifeless.
Tess turned to run toward Safety, but the wind turned itself into an invisible rope before her feet and tripped her. Tess lay on the ground looking up at the crow statues, willing herself to move forward as the same hoarse voice whispered into her ear, "You did not play honestly." And with that, Tess, too, was gone.
Phil and Lisa, who had heard Annie's scream, had turned around and headed back toward the cabin.
The wind wrapped around the two and crushed them into one another.
"You invited me to a game and promised to be good," The invisible grasp around them grew tighter and tighter as it lifted them into the air. "And you were not good."
The wind suddenly stopped, dropping their bodies to the ground.
Mike, also having heard the scream, turned around and ran back to the cabin. When he arrived, he saw the bodies of his friends, of his brother and sister, scattered all across the steps and grass where he had been only moments earlier.
Before he could let out the scream that was building within him, a deep shiver pulsed throughout his whole body as the wind encircled him, lifting sticks and dead leaves off the ground. His arms were pushed into his sides, and his knees were knocked together as he was lifted off the ground.
"You broke the rules, and now they have all been left behind."
The wind suddenly stopped, dropping Mike to the ground with a hard thud. He felt his legs buckle underneath him as he tried to stand, running toward his siblings, hoping desperately that he could do something to bring them back.
"The game is now finished," the voice whispered, leaving Mike alone in the woods.
And the candle went out.
About the Creator
Writing for fun and as an escape from the everyday. After all, what is life for if not to create?
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