"Is that you son? You came for me"
The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. A young man named Tegan had purchased this long defunct cabin deep within the Lolo National Forest in Montana, edging along Blackhead Peak.
The cabin, nicknamed Hell’s Gate by the family that his Great-Grandfather had purchased the property from roughly 90 years ago sat empty for more than a decade. An ugly falling out had happened between his father and the rest of his uncles after the patriarch of their family, his Grandfather, who had always been known as Papa to both kids and grandkids, had passed away in the very same cabin under suspicious circumstances. A small two bedroom cabin to share amongst 5 brothers and, 4 wives, 10 grandkids and a smattering of great grandchildren resulted in a bitter tug-o-war of entitlement when the ownership came up for grabs. Although most of his uncles had absolutely no interest in taking care of Hell’s Gate, they mostly wanted it for the re-sale value, or to simply prove that they’re getting a bigger chunk of the inheritance.
Of course long ago, in the 70’s when the cabin was still in the direct ownership of his Papa, the boys had all enjoyed being at the cabin for weeks at a time in the summer. Their mother had enough of taking care of 5 boys, each two years apart in age, and simply sent all the men off to Hell’s Gate for all of August. They went day’s a time without wearing shoes, fished in the lake below the Peak, listened to the wolves howl at night when they would lay on the grass below the porch, perhaps with a girl, staring at the night sky. The type of sky dotted with so many stars that it looked like a million little flashlights signalling down to Earth. The boys would lay often stay awake all night making up stories about aliens sending morse code to them, hoping against hope that one day a UFO would crash land in their yard.
The boys were allowed to live in the sleeping shack. A modern structure build just years before that could sleep 12 people if a few doubled up. The blue shack looked amazingly small from the outside, but inside it seemed like a mansion to the boys. Upon entering it had three beds on the first floor to the left, a single bed build in along each wall. To the right a small room with a door for privacy with book shelves on either side filled with ancient National Geographic magazines. The room was luxurious, it had the one of two queen sized beds on the property. The only other queen sized bed was in the main room of the “big” cabin, of course that belonged to their Papa, and it was understood that no one was to enter his bedroom, let alone be allowed to sleep on a real mattress with a bedframe.
Oddly, none of the boys ever felt comfortable on the bed in the room with the door. Although private, the temperature rose to cause an uncomfortable and sweaty night. and even though the boys never discussed this with each other they all suffered from similar disturbing dreams while sleeping in there. Distorted faces, not human, not wolf, not elk, would rub it’s confusing flesh, hair, and bone onto the glass.
For some reason no one ever discussed or suggested curtains.
Instead, the boys chose to go upstairs, a single ladder that rose to the second floor that seemed to defy physics. A long plank in the middle with railings connected two sides of the upstairs. Both sides had a twin bed with a build in frame, and a single bed on the other side on a wire frame. The shack always smelled like fresh cedar, and you could touch the ceiling of the A-frame that slanted over the beds while you went to sleep.
But the magic wears off eventually, four of the boys grew up and moved to different corners of the country. One uncle never moved out of their grandfathers house, although in ill-health he never made the effort as an adult to reclaim the cabin.
His own father was the only person who regularly took trips down in the summer, he took Teagan and his sister and his mother to visit their Papa, who was in his late 80’s but still demanded on making huge renovations all by himself alone in the woods.
Tegan's family moved to British Columbia before he was born. But they still made the 15 hour drive to Montana every summer, and stayed their traditional month of August. Of course his years at the cabin were much different than his fathers’ as he didn’t have 4 brothers to run wild with. Luckily his sister was older and new how to start a fire and allowed him to tag along when she would go down to the beach on certain nights when the weekender kids would come up and they would drink their parents beer late into the night.
Tegan's mother did her best to encourage her traditions in her kids. Of course, since his sister was the one who seemed more interested when their mother would relay her families lore and stories. Tegan liked to hear the stories when he was a kid about spirit bear's protecting the forest. If he had listened more closely, he would have caught the lesson she infrequently spoke of under her breath; the skin walkers. The evil spirits that walk the woods aimlessly but can take the form of anything, even yourself. He would have heard the most important lesson of this story; that they are never to be trusted, and you are never to answer them. Tegan's mother also never spoke of the bad dreams she had, her's were the sound of herself and her ancestors calling out to her at night. She questioned the reality and her connection to the spirit of the forest; and opted for ear plugs and curtains in her room.
She was releived when the summer trips to Hell's Gate came to an end.
In the mornings, his mother, who was from the Sylix people in the Okanagan would make Bannock, a type of fried bread, with bacon and eggs for breakfast. He would often wrap his bacon and eggs with the Bannock and walk down the dirt trail to the kissing bench to eat. It was called this because the bench, really just sun bleached driftwood nailed together, overlooked the lake on the other side of their property at the edge of a cliff. Only about 30 feet down but it made for a brilliant view of the lake and the few other cabins that surrounded it. The other cabins were mostly shaded by the woods and sat much closer to the lake on what little amounts of sand sat between the rocks and trees.
Despite the many fond memories, when Tegan’s Papa passed away the ownership went to one of his uncles that had absolutely no intention of maintaining the cabin or using it. He simply took the keys and let it sit shuttered for more than 10 years. But now at almost 30 he was able to buy back the Cabin from his uncle who was finally shown the reality that keeping Tegan’s childhood from him was a useless cruelty that should be let go.
Of course the circumstances that allowed Tegan to buy his beloved cabin would be considered tragic by the average reader.
After Papa died at Hell’s Gate, his father was understandably suspicious and alienated himself trying to prove that one of his brothers had something to do with Papa’s death.
Although Tegan’s father made a comfortable living working in the lumber industry in British Columbia, he had no match for the funds of his brother who made a small fortune working as an executive for a large mining company in California. The bitter brotherly feud came to a head when his father drove three days to his uncle’s second house in the Indio Valley, broke a window, and ransacked the Mexican style villa, on the ecological disaster that they called a golf course, in order to find proof that their father’s death was anything but an accident.
Instead of calling the police, the neighbors in the gated community simply phoned his uncle. After a distasteful confrontation between the brothers, his father drove off, and well, was never seen again.
His car was located three weeks later at the base of the long winding driveway of Hell’s Gate.
The car was locked, had a full tank of gas, and the cabin was untouched. There was simply no proof of his father’s whereabouts. During the off-season many of the cabins sat empty. However, the caretaker that lives in their own log cabin, fueled by solar power, year round. They claimed to have seen and heard nothing.
Due to his father’s disappearance his mother chose to sell off their house and assets and return to her families home in the Okanagan Valley. She moved back to the farm and returned to her childhood traditions of living off the land and raising horses to sell of to the nearby dude-ranches or other native communities in Northern British Columbia.
His mother generously gifted the money equally between himself and his sister. Being older she had already moved on from the ugliness at Hell’s Gate, got married and was living with her two children in suburban bliss. She had taken much of her colouring and dark skin from their mother and chose to embrace visiting the farm more often and teaching her own children about their First Nations roots, taking up local beading classes for kids and frequenting pow-wows within local communities. Her kids could both ride a horse bareback before the age of 3 and respected nature in a way that modern children sneered at in favour of cynicism. She felt kinship and roots to her mother’s spiritual nature in the same way that Teagan felt an unearthly call to Hell’s Gate.
Although Tegan had promised his mother that he just wanted to restore the cabin to what it was when he was a kid, work on his rock climbing and generally relax, he was really there for another reason.
The first night at Hell’s Gate, Tegan lit candles about the cabin, as the electricity had long been cut off. The night felt exactly the same as when he was just a kid. The night sky was full of so many stars that he envisioned UFO’s descending simultaneously as the lights flickered and waved. He sat on the front porch in the exact chair he had always known, looked up to the ceiling to see the exact cracks and imperfections that seemed to be there since the beginning of time.
As he went to bed in his grandfather’s bedroom he remembered that he had never been allowed in this room as a kid. In fact, he had never even snuck in out of curiosity. While looking around the room he noticed something strange about the shutters on the windows. There were small locks on the inside of the shutters, the windows has small latches that locked them at the bottom, but the shutters each had small padlocks that fasten them to the wall.
He slowly became aware of how quiet and alone it felt around him. Each room of the cabin had windows without any curtains or shutters, but this room, why did this room have wood shutters locked to the walls, what had his grandfather known about the outside, what was he keeping out?
He finally realized that there might be a reason why all of the boys detested sleeping next to windows all of their lives. Instinctually placing his back to the wall he remembered the nightmares he had the few times that he slept downstairs in the sleeping shack. He remembered the faces that he had dreamed about pressed next to the glass, not human and not wolf, not flesh and not bone, but all together grotesque.
That felt so warm and familiar.
Before he even realized he was on his way to the front door. He flicked the lock open and heaved the creaking door, pushed his body through the broken porch door and heard it again.
Outside the cool breeze brushed against Tegan’s skin, the smell of pine needles filled the air, but something else, something that smelled like rotting horror consumed the space, but he couldn’t notice, couldn’t focus on anything else.
“Come over here”
His head whipped around, this one came from the opposite direction. He began to call out to his father.
"Dad! I came to look for you! I can't see you"
“Is that you son? You came for me”
The same voice again, in a third direction. This one came directly from beyond the cliff.
Now Teagan is spinning and frantically searching for some sign of his father. He finally stands still enough to look into the cabin, in the window he saw a candle, and a person that he couldn’t quite make out. But he finally understood the fear that he should have heard while the voices around him continued to call for his attention.