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Ghost Light of the Shadow Cabin

An invisible invitation that's impossible to ignore

By Thomas BrandPublished 11 months ago 10 min read
Photo Credit: JayDeeSweden | iStockphoto

The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. Just a single flame flickering softly with a cold, yellow light. Not enough to light a room, but enough to draw a weary traveller home.

But the thing was, the cabin shouldn't have been there. And I shouldn't have seen it. 

* * *

I was driving home late one night when I saw the cabin at the side of the road. 

Everyone in town knew the cabin. No one knew who built it. Or why. There were no town legends or stories of anything unusual happening there. It simply existed. Maybe once, it had been someone's home. Or their retreat from the world. Today, it was little more than a town landmark where local teens could go to drink and smoke. 

But the thing was, there was no way I should have been able to see it from the road. One of the reasons it was popular with kids was its isolation. It took almost an hour to reach it on foot. And once you were there, you were far enough from any sign of civilisation that you could pretend the rest of the world didn't exist. 

So how on earth could I see it from the road? 

It was past midnight, and I was driving home from visiting friends. I hadn't been drinking, of course, and had seen nothing else at all unusual on my journey when I rounded a bend and saw it. It was the light that caught my eye, flickering and yellow. At first, I guessed it had to be a group of kids heading back from visiting the cabin. I slowed my car, not wanting to spook them. But as I did, peering out into the trees, I saw the unmistakable outline of the cabin itself. 

That's what made me pull up to the side of the road. I knew this road well enough to know there were no structures nearby. Had someone built something? 

As I stood there, staring out into the trees, I was struck by the coldness of the candle's light. It was a yellow so pale it was almost white and flickered in a breeze I could not feel. But when I tried to make out the details of the cabin itself, I realised I couldn't see anything but its shadow. The candle's flame did not so much illuminate the building as it cast its shape in shadow and silhouette. 

I'm not ashamed to say I felt a chill creep into my blood as I stood there looking out into those trees. Not only did I know I shouldn't be able to see any building from the road, however indistinct, but I could not shake the eerie feeling that the candle had been placed there for me. That someone had left it out with the distinct purpose of catching my attention and drawing me into the trees. 

And I wanted to follow it. I can't quite put into words the desire I felt to follow that light and enter the shadowy cabin. It wasn't a command or hypnotic suggestion or anything like that. It simply felt right that I should follow the light. The best way I can describe it is that it felt as if by not doing so, I was committing some unspoken social faux pas. 

I cannot tell you how long I stood there as my mind battled itself. I wanted to go to the cabin. It was expected of me. Someone was waiting. But some other part, a more primal instinct deep inside me evolved to sense unseen dangers, screamed at me to turn and leave. 

Eventually, what allowed me to turn away was telling myself I had to at least turn off my car's engine. And as soon as I turned away and the candle was no longer in my field of vision, I felt as if a spell had been broken. Fear took over, and I threw myself back into my car and pulled away, desperate to reach the next bend and put the unreal vision behind me. 

Even as I did, I could not help but feel I was being somehow… impolite for ignoring the proffered invitation. 

All the way home, I tried to ignore the fact that the speck of light remained visible in my rearview mirror long after it should have faded into the distance.

* * *

A light shone under my bedroom door. 

In the time it took to arrive home, have a drink, and make my way upstairs to bed, I'd just about managed to convince myself I'd made the whole thing up. The cabin was far too deep into the woods, and there were no other buildings along the road. Therefore, I couldn't have seen what I'd thought I'd seen. I told myself it must have been the torch of a late-night hiker. I told myself I had simply been more tired than I thought, and my eyes had played tricks. All I needed was a good night's sleep. 

But as I turned out my bedside lamp and darkness fell over my room, a light shone under my bedroom door. 

I knew I'd turned out the hallway light. And yet, there is was. At first, I tried to ignore it. I've never been a light sleeper, and this late, a little light shouldn't have been enough to keep me awake. But instead, I found myself unable to even close my eyes. Each time I did, it was almost as if I could feel the light shining directly against my eyelids.  

Eventually, I dragged myself out of bed. But when I opened the door, I saw the light wasn't coming from the hallway. It came from downstairs. The door to the kitchen was open, and light spilt out into the rest of the house. Had I left the kitchen light on? I thought I'd turned them all out, but in my distracted state, it was possible I might have missed it. 

I tried to ignore the fact that the light wasn't nearly bright enough to have been noticeable under my bedroom door. 

Until this point, I might have been able to play the whole thing off as plausible. But by the time I reached the bottom of the stairs, I could do so no longer. I could not have put my finger on the exact moment it happened, but at some point between leaving my room and reaching the kitchen door, the light was no longer coming from that room but shining in from a streetlight outside the window. 

I walked over to the window and looked out upon a street blanketed in night. The town lay sleeping around me. The streetlights all switched off at midnight, but a single one remained lit, giving out the light that had disturbed me. Strangely, when I'd entered my kitchen, I could have sworn the light had been right outside the window, but now I saw it stood at the far end of the road. 

It wasn't until I was standing outside my door, having pulled on my boots and a coat, that I realised I intended to walk to the light. I hadn't even thought about it. The decision was just there in my head. I knew going out like this, following a broken streetlight, was ridiculous. It just felt right. As if not doing so were simply not something anyone would consider. Nothing was making me do this. I simply knew I was supposed to follow the light. 

When I reached the lampost, it was as dead as every other on the street. But down the next road, the exterior driveway light of one of the houses flickered with the same cold, yellow light. I could not have put my finger on any point where one had extinguished and the other come on. 

Nor could I tell you when the driveway light went out and the headlights of a parked car further up the road had begun to shine. 

Or when the headlamps switched off, and another streetlight lit up. 

Or when that streetlight went out, only to be replaced by a distant pedestrian crossing. 

On and on it went, each light leading me to the next. And I followed, unthinking and unquestioning. Following the light was simply what I was supposed to do. 

What I did notice, although it happened only gradually, was that with each step, the light became brighter while, at the same time, the rest of the town began to lose all colour, becoming little more than shadow, only given shape by the existence of the cold, yellow light. 

Finally, I found myself at the edge of the town. The road leading into the woods stretched out ahead of me, dark and featureless as the rest of the world. But there, out where it met the woods, I could make out the flickering light of a candle. 

This time, I did not try to fight its ghostly invitation. This dancing light, this shifting wisp, had drawn me from my world and into its own. For what purpose, I did not know. But I didn't fight it. There was nothing to fight against. There was no compulsion. Only the subconscious decision to follow. 

And eventually, as I knew I would, I found myself standing before the cabin, lit by that single candle in the window. 

As I stood there, I realised it wasn't impossible to see the cabin here. Because I wasn't seeing it at all. As I looked, I realised that the light of the candle did not illuminate any physical structure. Instead, it sent out shadows of surfaces that were not there. I saw the shape of window frame, wall, and roof, but not the things themselves. Only a shadow cast from far deeper in the woods. 

Moments after my arrival, I realised the candle no longer burned in the window. Instead, its light flickered somewhere deep inside, beyond the shadow of the doorway. 

* * *

I awoke the following morning lying on the floor inside the cabin in the woods. 

There was no longer any candlelight. Only the chill light of dawn shining through the empty windows. When I looked around me, I could see the usual empty beer cans and cigarette butts strewn around, but no traces of candle, wax, or even matches. 

I had no memory of what had happened after entering the shadow cabin, yet I felt nothing unsettling about being there. Somehow, it all made sense in my mind. 

I walked home, arriving back in time to shower and dress for work. I carried on with my life as if nothing had happened. I didn't tell anyone what had happened. I simply had no desire to do so. Besides, who would believe me? 

Seven days later, I was again awoken by the light under my bedroom door. This time, I did not hesitate. I merely got out of bed and followed as the flickering yellow light led me once more to the shadow cabin on the edge of the woods. And once again, I awoke with the dawn in the actual cabin with no memory of travelling there. 

Six days later, the light came again. 

Then again, five days after that. 

The fifth time it came for me, four days after its last visitation, the light no longer inhabited lightbulbs as it had done before. Instead, when I stepped out of my front door, I saw an actual candle at the corner of the street. As I walked towards it, it somehow stayed the same distance away. No matter how fast or slow I walked, it remained that same distance from me until, at last, it came to rest at the edge of the woods. This time the shadow cabin wasn't there waiting for me. Instead, it formed around the candle as I approached. 

It has now been three days since I last woke up in the cabin in the woods. And it's bedtime. 

Strangely, I don’t feel afraid for whatever is coming. Yet I can’t help but wonder what will happen when this countdown ends. 

Short Story

About the Creator

Thomas Brand

Blogging about polyamory, ethical-non-monogamy, mental health, and modern relationships | (He/Him) | |

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

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