The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window...
"What is?" I ask my older sister, Dani, and join her by the window. As I do I hear a distinct chirp from outside.
She points to the cabin across from ours. "A candle's lit. I thought the Air B&B host said that cabin was abandoned?"
I shrug. "Maybe they were wrong. It's not like they're here to know what actually goes on." I lift a steaming mug of liquored eggnog to my lips, smirking to myself as I catch the words printed on it reading 'I'd hike that' with a little mountain under it.
My mom comes up with my sister's two kids, looking haggard. "Kylie put her shoe in the toilet and Kaleb somehow managed to pee on his shirt."
I burst into laughter as my sister gives her kids incredulous looks. "I thought you two were potty trained? You're three and five, what's going on? You're acting like animals."
"My shirt is too long!" Kaleb snickers.
No, it isn't.
"UGH!" She places her own cup of eggnog down on the window's ledge. "Can't trust either of you to behave anywhere, even with Oma watching you."
Our mom nods with a bland expression, looking rumpled from her short trip to the bathroom with them.
"Come on," My sister huffs with exasperation, "Let's get you kids cleaned and ready for bed."
Kaleb gives me one last devious grin before his mother ushers him off to the bathroom.
Such little trouble makers.
"Today we are meeting with a woman who says she's never seen her face."
The startling announcement grabs my attention, and I turn to face the TV. Weird, weren't we just watching a movie?
"Today's topic of discussion is 'unexplainable circumstances', the stories you'd hear or tell around a campfire. Our first guest is Melanie Davis. Melanie is a thirty-five-year-old woman who grew up in Palm Springs, California." The familiar host I recognize to be Ellen DeGeneres says to the camera. "She has a husband, a daughter, and a dog named Toto." The audience members in the studio let out a scripted laugh at the famed pet name. "She hasn't taken a photo or seen her face since she was four years old."
Intrigued, I move toward the couch to get a better view of the screen.
"Melanie, tell us about your experience." The host says to a blonde woman sitting on the couch next to hers.
"You want to watch this?" My mom asks, surprised.
"She's never seen her face," I explain as though it were obvious. That's reasoning enough for me to become interested. I love creepy things.
"It's not even real," she counters, turning towards the hallway. "I'm going to help Dani with the kids."
"O-kay." I sip on the warm eggnog with my eyes glued to the screen. To me, the only thing better than renting a cabin in the woods is drinking alcohol and listening to scary stories while renting a cabin in the woods. That would be the most effective way to get my introverted self to leave my house.
"It started when I was a kid," Melanie tells Ellen. Her blue eyes appear sullen, yet relieved. Relieved to be telling her story, maybe? "I was four when the photos my parents took of me stopped showing my face."
"We have some of those photos to show you guys," Ellen says to the audience. "But first, let's see Melanie as a kid before the strange occurrences took place."
An image shifts onto the screen of a child. A baby.
The audience 'awes' at it. Once again, sounding scripted.
"This was when I was born, so the pictures of my face had not been obscured yet." Melanie clarifies.
The next image is of a toddler holding onto a stroller. She's smiling brightly at the camera. "I'm two in this picture."
I jump as a high-pitched squeal comes from down the hall. A second after, I hear my sister scream, "Kaleb!"
Curious about the commotion, I glance over my shoulder just in time to see my nephew run across the hallway wearing my sister's black underwear on his head, calling himself Batman.
Hmm. I look down at my mug. Maybe I should stop drinking before I'm the next one to indulge in childish activities.
The TV flickers, recapturing my attention, showing static for a moment before it settles on the show again.
A new photo appears of Melanie as a child, looking slightly the same, only this time she's sitting on a man's lap. "I had just turned three here."
"Is that your dad?" Ellen asks her.
"Yes, that's my dad, John."
The screen cuts back to Ellen and Melanie. "I just want to prepare everyone for the next image you're about to see. To some, it might be disturbing. So just brace yourselves."
I lean forward on the back of the couch as I impatiently wait for the next photo. Itching to see what was such a fuss that Ellen decided to do a story on it.
"Here it is," Ellen says.
My heart pitches in my chest when the image pops up. I had not prepared myself enough.
It wasn't blurry as I expected it to be. There wasn't a glare from light or a smudge on the lens. Her face wasn't covered by some object either.
The child, who's once again on her father's lap, appeared as though the pigments of her skin were being sucked by some unseeable source. Floating upward towards the top of the picture where a dark shadow looms. Her body was fine, but from her shoulders up she had no recognizable features.
How? What could possibly make an image distort in that way but not affect anything else in the picture?
"The next one is a bit more startling," Ellen warns.
More startling? What could be more startling than this?
When the portrait flashes onto the screen, my breath catches in my lungs. The audience in the studio gasp their horror as well.
"This was supposed to be my kindergarten photo," Melanie says in a melancholic voice.
In the picture before, her skin looked like it was disintegrating. This one looks as though it's being pulled. Her face looks translucent and stretches across the screen in multiple directions, like some mutated ghost.
Where her eyes would have been are elongated hallow parallel lines. Her mouth looks detached, hanging open like her yawn was overextended and slanted.
I feel like I'm watching that scene in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban where all the dementors are draining Harry's essence.
"Oh my god." My mom says from behind me. "Why are you still watching that?"
I glance over my shoulder at her. "Because she wants people to listen," I tell her. "She's finding the strength to talk about her experience, it must have been difficult for her to live with her whole life." I turn to face the TV again. "Imagine being her. How would you feel if you couldn't see yourself? You'd want people to reassure you that you exist, right?" I swallow and drop my eyes to look at my mug. "Because... what would be the point of living if you didn't feel real?"
At least, that's how I'd feel if I were her.
"That was morbid." My mom grumbles but stands next to me anyways, rubbing her arms troublesomely. "I still don't think it's real, but if you believe it's what she needs, who am I to disagree?"
The screen returns to the studio. "Can you tell us what happens in videos?" Ellen asks Melanie.
Melanie shifts uncomfortably in her seat. "My face... deforms."
"Deforms?" Ellen parrots.
Melanie slowly nods. "It continuously morphs into... I don't know... I look inhuman."
Ellen looks at the camera. "We're going to put up the only video recording her parents took of Melanie growing up." She looks at Melanie again. "After this incident, you never allowed photos or videos to be taken of you again, correct?"
Melanie nods again, sniffing. "That is correct." She drops her head, looking down at her hands in her lap.
"I said this before, but I need to say it again," Ellen announces softly. "I must warn you, this video is unsettling."
The video pops up of a little girl running away from the camera, chasing a butterfly. "Meli, don't go too far." A man's voice calls out- probably her dad.
She turns, and my stomach falls to my feet. Blood drains from my face and tingles; feeling numb. I inadvertently reach up to touch it, making sure it's still there as I stare at the screen in disbelief.
The little girl's face is moving. Not just moving, but pulling, melting. Being warped and disfigured in different angles. It's almost like running water with currents leading it every which way.
Then, all at once, they stop and reverse. Gravitating towards the center of her face at a quick and disturbing pace.
Her dad curses and drops the camera. It lands showcasing the girl. This time when we see her, there's a dark pit where the bridge of her nose would be, growing, and it seems to be the source of the pulling as her skin, hair, and features are all sucked into it: a black hole swallowing every detail of her facial characteristics.
The sight of it is brief before the clip ends.
People cry out with shock in the studio as Ellen and Melanie return to the screen.
"I don't like this B." My mom says to me.
I look at her with concern. "You don't have to watch it."
"When exactly did this start happening to you?" Ellen asks Melanie, snagging my attention again.
"That photo, where I'm sitting on my dad's lap and my face begins to disappear, was the first incident." She fiddles with her fingers nervously in her lap. "It was taken when we were on a camping trip. I haven't seen my face ever since."
"Not ever?" Ellen asks.
"No." Melanie sighs heavily. "I can't see anything in mirrors; it's as though my vision becomes spotty when I try, and all I see is darkness."
"You've been to the doctors?"
"Multiple times," Melanie answers, her voice cracking. Her bottom lip begins to quiver. "I-I've told them what happens. I've even shown them the proof. They made me take an eye test and found nothing wrong with my vision."
"Did they give you medication?"
"Yes. At first." She wipes her nose with the back of her hand. "They also did MRI's, and EEG's, thinking maybe I had a brain tumor. But everything came back normal. They don't believe anything is wrong with me." Her shoulders tremble as she starts to cry.
Ellen reaches out and squeezes her hand. "It's okay. We're listening to you." She offers Melanie a tissue. Melanie takes it. "What do you think is causing this?"
Melanie huffs humorlessly. "It sounds crazy. But after the video of the shadow on my face, my dad believes a demon attached itself to me."
Static flickers on the TV once again, causing both my mom and me to jump. This time I hear a warbled sound coming from its speakers; like a bird's song had been warped and garbled. I get a sense of foreboding when I realize I recognize it. Almost every night since arriving I've heard this trilling, believing a nocturnal bird had been perched outside my window.
My stomach twists with unease and my hands begin to tremble. The warm eggnog sloshes, and some spills over onto my hands. I try to swallow but the back of my throat had cemented, and the breaths I suck down went nowhere.
The static clears and the piping chants stop, resuming the show right where it left off. I release a shaky exhale. There's nothing to be afraid of, I'm just being paranoid because of the show. With a hand still quivering, I bring my mug to my lips and take a tentative sip.
Ellen tilts her head. "Why would a demon do that?"
Melanie stops crying. Her face becomes bleak and hopeless as she whispers, "Because it wants me to suffer."
Ellen leans back in her seat, scanning the audience for a moment. "Well, we all can see you, Melanie. Right guys?"
A collection of 'yes' from the audience responded to her question. Melanie's shoulders sag slightly.
"Where was this photo taken?" Ellen prods, pointing to the screen behind them to the first image of Melanie's face draining while she sits on her father's lap. "Where did you guys go camping?"
She looks straight into the camera with leaden eyes as she answers. "Hume Lake, California."
I flinch. My whole body turns to ice as a cold shiver runs down my spine.
Unexpectedly, my mom yanks my arm, causing the eggnog to fly everywhere and I yelp. "We're in Hume Lake!" My mom cries, tears collecting in her eyes.
"Mom, it's fine," I assure her, but my croaky voice betrays my confidence. "It's not real, remember?"
"I don't want to watch this!" She turns hurriedly and seeks out my sister again.
I actually don't want to watch it anymore either. Putting down my empty mug, I start searching for the remote.
"Melanie, we're going to try something if that's alright with you?" I hear Ellen ask as I lift a decorative pillow from the couch. I peek a glance at the TV, despite my fright I can't help my curiosity.
Melanie looks at Ellen in confusion.
"We're going to project you, sitting here in this studio, to the screen behind us," Ellen explains. "Is that okay?"
Melanie's eyes darted nervously between the screen and Ellen. "I haven't had a camera aimed at me in twenty years." She says worriedly.
"It's okay, we're all here to remind you we can see you," Ellen assures her.
Melanie chews her lower lip as she considers it. After a moment, she gives Ellen a curt nod.
Ellen smiles at her but it looks forced- unfriendly. "It will be fine." She turns to the camera and I frantically resume my search for the remote, feeling apprehensive. "After twenty-one years of never knowing what she looks like, let's finally show Melanie her face."
"Where is it?" I hiss through my teeth as I begin tearing the couch apart- my back towards the TV.
A loud hissing cracking noise comes from behind me. I gasp, vaulting onto the couch and swiveling to face the chilling sound. The screen had become static again, but as I stare I notice the white and black lines pull towards the frame of it.
It lasts only for a moment before displaying Ellen and Melanie sitting in the studio. Melanie faces the screen, so we are given a view of the back of her head. My body locks up as shocks of icy alarm inject into me when I realize... something wants me to watch this.
"Is it working?" She asks, then turns to face the camera.
My hands fly up covering my mouth to stifle my scream.
People shout in alarm as the screen displays her face as nothing but a smooth oval. No eyes, no nose, no lips. No features to give her life.
At that moment it occurs to me- it's not the screen behind them showering her that way...
It is her.
"Can you still see me?" She asks with distraut. No lips move where the sound would be coming from. No eyes to express her fear. "Please! Tell me if you can see me!" She became hysterical as the studio of people continued screaming and shouting, desperately trying to leave their seats. Even Ellen is nowhere to be seen.
A crash sounds. The noise is revealed to be people knocking over a camera in their efforts to flee the studio, fearing that whatever she has might be contagious.
"Please!" The lady begs through sobs. "Just tell me you can see me!"
Like a shot, her face is sucked inward, leaving a sunken pit in the middle of it.
A blood-curdling screech I can feel in my soul comes from the TV before Melanie brings her shaken hands up to touch where her cheeks would be. There's no telling if it was her who made that horrific sound or someone else in the studio.
People in the audience yell that the lady 'has no face' before the screen goes completely black. Then, just like every other time the show wasn't broadcasted, flickers with static, and the haunting chirping sound returns with it.
My panic propels me into motion again, and distressing determination to find the remote becomes my main objective. The tweets turn into ripples of clicks that fade into an echoing hiss. I can feel my heart hammering through every part of me as the sound slowly increases its pace.
I drop to the ground, forcing myself to be brave before looking under the couch. A relieved breath escapes me when I locate the remote. I quickly grab it and whirl around to turn off the TV when a cold sensation smacks my face.
"What the hell?" I groan as I clutch my eye and quickly turn off the TV. Scanning the room, I try to make sense of what just happened. That was the freakiest thing I've ever experienced.
"Oh good, you turned it off." My mom says, entering the room and looking relieved. That expression changes the moment she spots the mess. Her eyes slowly drag to me and her jaw drops. "Are you okay? What happened?"
I hold up the remote in explanation. "I couldn't find it."
She looks down in front of her with exhaustion. "I'll clean the spill since it was my fault if you want to wash up."
I look down at myself, finally noticing some of the eggnog got on me. "Yeah, I'll do that." I cringe as I peel my sticky hands off the remote. Whoops. I'll clean that up later.
Rising, I head in the direction of the giant mirrored wall that supports rows and rows of alcohol bottles. There's nothing in them, the wall is solely meant as an aesthetic decor.
I pass it going towards the hallway and the first door to my left is the bathroom. Once I'm inside I turn on the light and close the door. Absentmindedly, my eyes cast to the mirror as I stand in front of it and I freeze.
I clutch the bathroom sink as I stare at my reflection, or, try to stare at it. From the shoulders up I can't see myself- everything's black. It's as though the lower half of my body is in the light, but my upper half remains in darkness.
My head jerks to the light switch to make sure it's on, flicking it up and down a couple of times to prove to myself I'm not going crazy.
I throw the door open in a panic and rush to the glass wall, removing bottles of liquor to see myself and find the same thing. Only this time I get speckled, foggy, black dots like the mirror is aged and distressed... I had no face.
"Mom!" I shriek. "Mom! Dani!"
They both come running toward me in alarm. "What's wrong?" My mom asks.
"I can't see my face!" I sob and pull out my cell phone. "Take a picture of me!"
"Oh my god," Dani scoffs. "I thought something happened to you."
"Something did happen!"
"No. You're being paranoid because of that show," She argues. "Mom told me what you were watching."
"Then explain why I can't see myself even with the light on?" I shout as I point to the bathroom.
"Fine," Dani sighs irritably. "Mom take a picture so she can stop scaring my kids."
I look down at my niece and nephew as my mom takes my phone. They're clutching their mom for dear life, staring at me like I'm a monster.
"Can you see me?" I ask them.
Kylie continues to stare, but Kaleb nods. "Yes." He says quietly. "I see hands too."
I stiffen in horror. My eyes sting as they brim with unshed tears. "What?"
"Here." My mom hands me back my phone. "I could see you just fine."
I open the pictures app so quickly that I don't even glance at them before tapping the first one.
Dread hit me with full force making my breath catch in my throat, choking me as I stare at the photo.
Black claw marks rake across my face like a hand swiping through mist. One of the streaks crosses over my left green eye- the one that still stings from earlier when an icy blast struck me.
All thoughts emptied from my mind as I grew numb. My feet felt like lead; fused with the ground beneath me, but the sensation spreading through the rest of my body felt like the rise of smoke crawling its way to oblivion.
Then, as though to taunt me, the memory of my own words whispers in my head. Because what would be the point of living if you didn't feel real?
Tears streamed down my face. My chest rises and falls rapidly as I start to hyperventilate. Air. I need air.
I drop my phone and rush forward, ignoring my family as they shout at me to calm down.
Flinging open the front door, I stumble outside into the cold frigid night but don't feel it. I feel nothing... I've become nothing.
The hairs on the back of my neck rise and I stop dead in my tracks as an unsettling cacophony of rattling clicks surrounds me; like an anthem. Only there's nothing holy about it, rather it sounds demented. Now that the thought has come to my attention I relate them to a chorus of cheers. Cheering my sufferage.
Having a career working with animals I understand its connotation. These are no birds, that's the sound of predators taunting their prey.
No longer able to support myself, I collapse onto my knees into the snow. The life I held inside of me now feels like a dead weight too much of a burden to carry.
Abruptly, everything becomes eerily quiet save for a single trilling.
My head slowly rises to look in its direction- towards the cabin across from ours.
I have to blink a few times to make sure my eyes aren't deceiving me. When I finally process what I'm seeing is real, the rest of my soul hollows, sinking into the earth below me. What I had thought was once a beautiful melody of a nocturnal songbird has revealed itself to be the guise of something far more sinister, something demonic. Standing at the window illuminated by the candle is a shadowy figure... wearing my face.
About the Creator
I never believed the sky is the limit, therefore my passions are expansive. My interest in writing stemmed from poetry but my heart lead me to Sci-Fi Fantasy. Consequently, my stories are plot-driven with splashes of evocative elements.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Original narrative & well developed characters
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme