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Calling All Wayward Souls Home

Campfire Story Challenge

By Kaitlyn GilpinPublished 2 years ago 10 min read
Calling All Wayward Souls Home
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. The flame was no roaring beast. Rather, it was a diminutive flicker that threatened to go out under any provocations. It should have been impossible for Janet Crabgrass to see in the unexpected snow storm she found herself in, but Janet did not bother with possibilities. Ah. Civilization! Janet thought to herself as she trudged her way through the ankle-deep snow.

Upon making her way to the cabin’s door, Janet knocked two times and waited. Silence greeted her. Why were they not answering? Had they not heard her? Just as she prepared to knock again, the door opened. Behind it was a young woman with tangled blonde hair. She was a tiny woman on all accounts, equal parts shorter and thinner than Janet who prided herself on being perfectly average. The woman’s strong voice caught Janet off guard.

“Oh no, you poor thing. Come in! Come in!” The woman ushered Janet inside. “Darling, get some blankets! Kids, an extra bowl!”

Janet shrugged out of her winter coat and draped it on the couch. She kicked out of her slightly soggy shoes that were meant to be water resistant. Never buying that brand again. She thought to herself. The woman darted off to the kitchen area located in the same space as the living room Janet had settled herself in. A brunette man entered from the back room.

“I’ve got the blankets!” he shouted.

“Good, good. Give them to our guest.”

The man promptly did so before sitting himself across from Janet.

“Say, you must be a long way off to stumble onto our cabin. How long you been out there?” the man tilts his chin toward the window.

“I’m not sure, the storm made me lose the hiking trail I was on.”

“Hiking? In this weather?”

“It was supposed to be clear skies.” Janet retorts with a grimace.

“Sirus, don’t badger our guest before she’s even had a chance to warm herself up. Here, hon.” The lady offers a bowl of soup to Janet.

Janet eyes the soup.

“It’s a pot roast. Good for keeping you warm.” The woman tells her.

“I see.” Janet takes a small spoonful to sample. Not bad.

“Sorry if it’s not any good. We weren’t really expecting guests.” The woman’s eyes go wide for a moment. “And where are my manners, goodness me! I’ve forgotten all about introductions. I’m Margarette. This here is my husband, SIrus. Kids, come here.”

A boy and girl tentatively step around from the wall they were spying from and into view. They are holding one another’s hand. The free hand of the girl is clutching onto a stuffed grey bunny.

“This is Henry and Chloe. Don’t be rude you all. Say hello.”

“Hello.” They mumble in unison.

Margarette continues to talk but Janet isn’t listening. She eats her food in almost silence, every now and again forcing an “mhm” to make her hostess believe she is listening to her. With the food finished, Margarette retrieves the empty bowl and cleans it in the sink.

Chloe walks up and offers her bunny to Janet.

“Bun-Bun says hi.”

“Hello, Bun-Bun.” Janet made a half-effort at greeting the toy by shaking its hand.

When she pulled away, she noticed some black residue on her fingers. Great.

“Excuse me, where is the bathroom?”

Margarette apologized for her bad hosting and quickly showed Janet the way. Janet lingered in the bathroom after washing her hands. She rinsed her face and looked at herself in the mirror. This was supposed to be a much-needed vacation without any hassle. She should be cozied up in her hotel suite, not in a cabin making small talk with some strangers.

Janet made her way back to her hosts. She expected them to be talking amongst themselves but it was silent until she was nearing the entrance of the room. All at once it seemed they animated. The couple started talking to each other only to stop and smile at Janet. The children started playing with their toys. It was a little strange, but Janet was thankful to be in a warm home. The candle by the window even seemed to keep a steady flame now.

“So, Janet, how long will you be staying with us? Should I make a bed?”

Had Janet told this woman her name? She supposed she did so absentmindedly when Margarette was making introductions. How else would she know? Such a silly thing to be caught off guard by.

“Only until the storm stops.” Janet answered with a half-grin.

“Seems pretty steady.” Sirus commented. “Better make one just in case.”

“You’re probably right.” Margarette darted off again.

“So, you from around here?” Sirus asks.

“Oh, no. I’m vacationing.”

“It’s a good time for it. The isolation gives you time to think over your choices in life.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Janet huffed.

What gave this man any right to judge her? He didn’t even know her! He didn’t even know that she was vacationing to forget about… It occurred to Janet she no longer remembered why she was on vacation. She was a career-oriented woman and she thoroughly enjoyed being a landlady of two immaculate apartment complexes. There were always projects that needed completing and she enjoyed pursuing them. There was no time and no need for vacations. So why had she come out here?

“…I hope you’ll forgive me.” Sirus frowned in shame.

“It’s alright.” Janet grinned. She hadn’t been listening again. “I suppose we keep getting off to the wrong start. I appreciate all the hospitality.”

“No problem, Ms. Crabgrass.” Sirus smiled.

There it was again. Goosebumps raised on Janet’s skin. She already told herself she absentmindedly told them her first name. Why would it be so weird to have given her full name? She did it all the time when she worked. It was the quick pleasantries you had to run past before gaining a new tenant. Tedious as it was, it was necessary. People want to feel heard. They want connections. If you can’t even share your name, how can they relate to you? How can you convince them you need to raise the rent without any questions asked? You have to make them think your friends.

“The bed’s all made. Hope you don’t mind a twin.”

“Not at all. Do you mind if I lie down now? I think the hiking took quite the toll on me.”

“Of course, right this way.”

Margarette leads Janet through a side hallway and into a room on the right. With the toy box and the small space its clear this is the kids’ room. Janet didn’t bother asking where the children would sleep. She didn’t really care. Her hostess deemed this to be her resting quarters and that was fine with her. The quicker she could rest up and leave the better.

“Don’t hesitate to let me know if you need anything.”

“Will do.”

Janet was grateful when Margarette left, but it took herself some time to fall asleep. It bothered her that she still couldn’t remember why she was out here. Had something happened back home? Janet wanted an answer but it would not come to her. She resolved to sleep and sleep she did for a few hours. She woke up uncomfortably hot. Her throat was dry. A glass of water would do the trick.

Janet stumbled her way out of the darkness of her room. In the hallway stood little Chloe clutching her bunny.

“What’re you doing out here this late?” Janet asked.

“Bun-Bun had a bad dream, Ms. Crabgrass.”

The child lifted the stuffed animal to face Janet. Janet took the rabbit and it began to disintegrate in her hands. She quickly dropped the toy, ready to yell at Chloe for pulling such a prank on her. But, Chloe is no longer in the hallway. Was she even there to begin with? Janet looked to her hands that are now all covered in black residue. This again. She thinks annoyed to herself. I’ll just wash them in the kitchen sink.

Janet is relieved to see the end of the hallway is illuminated by some light source. She won’t have to blindly stumble her way around the kitchen area. Halfway down the hall it seems to get brighter. A faint smell hits her nose. It’s a dreadful smell she can’t quite place. Something she doesn’t have to deal with often.

Janet arrives at the kitchen area with ease, if a little uncomfortable. She notes the candle by the window now flicking with ferocity. No one else was up but they left it burning nonetheless. Careless. That word. Janet used that word before. Recently. Who did she use it to describe? She couldn’t focus on that now. She needed water. Her throat was so miserably dry and she was so hot. She needed something to cool her down.

Janet forgot about rinsing her hands. She opened several cabinets before finding the cups. She hastily took one and filled it to the brim. Janet took a big gulp only to spit it out immediately. She started coughing. In confusion she looked inside her cup. No water was to be found. Only ash. She coughed and coughed and searched for anything to cool her down. The sink now sputtered out black sludge. No refreshments were to be found in the fridge. And the smell. God, the smell was so overwhelming. Plastic. That’s what it was. The smell of burning plastic.

Janet had to find the source. It had to be close.

“Margarette! Margarette!” Janet coughed out.

“Yes, Janet?” the hostess entered the room, unbothered by the smell that so troubled Janet.

“Water.” Janet coughed out.

“I’m afraid the water’s out Ms. Crabgrass. “Margarette frowned.

Janet looked at her incredulously before continuing the search on her own.

“Something’s wrong.” Janet said more to herself than to her hostess.

“Everything’s fine, dear. Just a bad dream. Go lie back down.”

Margarette’s laid a comforting hand on top of Janet’s forearm, but the hand was not normal. It was charred and blistered. Janet smacked the hand away and stumbled backward. Her own hand catching on the stove. Janet yelped in pain and pulled her hand away. Blisters were already forming.

“We’ve been trying to get that fixed for months.” Margarette explains. “No one wants to listen though. We’ve been too careless with our money. Always behind on the rent. No point in fixing something for someone who can’t afford the place given to them as charity.”

All at once the cabin morphs. In one blink of an eye, it is the cozy cabin Janet stumbled unto. In the next blink, it’s an all too familiar apartment. It’s the apartment a family of four had been renting for a year. A lousy couple who always asked for extensions on their rent every month. A woman who always complained about the water not running right, the stove getting too hot after running for only a short period of time. The smell. God, did they love to complain about the smell.

Fix it yourself. Janet had told them. She didn’t have the patience to fix something for those who were lucky to even have a place to stay. If they had complaints, they could leave. Janet would easily find someone who’d appreciate having a place to stay at such a stellar price. Why should she have to spend her hard-earned money on some whiny, no-good, occupants? How was she suppose to know the complaints were more than just miserable people trying to spread their misery? She couldn’t have possibly known the wiring was faulty and it would trigger a fire one night. She couldn’t have anticipated the fact not one family member would have survived.

The fire from the candle began to lick the walls of the cabin. The apartment wallpaper began to peel. Janet rushed to the front door. She tried turning the knob but it would not turn. She screamed and she kicked at the door. It would not budge.

“It’s not my fault!” Janet screamed. “It’s not my fault!”

The family gathered behind Janet, watching her claw at the door in despair.

“Just go to sleep dear, it’ll be easier that way.” Margarette tried to assure her.

“Fuck you!” Janet screamed. “I’m not dying with you!”

The family stared back silently. They smiled. Chloe was the first to open her mouth. Rather than saying anything she just screamed. Henry joined her. Then Sirus. Janet pounded on the door. The door was starting to burn with everything else. Tears pricked at Janet’s eyes as the smoke began to waft in stronger and stronger. Her hands were pleading for her to stop, but she couldn’t. She needed to escape.

The window. I can go out the window! Janet realized in her daze. The window was as stubborn as the door. She pounded it with her fists. Behind her the chorus of screams had ascended as Margarette rounded out the quartet.

“Don’t you see I didn’t mean it? It was an honest mistake! Please! Just let me leave!” Janet pleaded with them as her vision blurred.

She was getting too tired to hit anything. Weakly she tapped against the glass.

“Please, just let me leave.”

Janet fell to her knees. The fire and the smoke engulfed her. She could not fight back. She would have screamed if she had any air left in her lungs. Slowly, painfully, Janet fell to sleep for the last time. And as she did, the fire that had danced upon the candle the entire night blew out. The cabin was abandoned once more.


About the Creator

Kaitlyn Gilpin

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  • kt2 years ago

    The plot twist where water turned to ash was excellent. And it’s extra creepy (and fitting) how a neglectful landlord is being subject to the same fate as her tenants. Very well written & great build up!

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