A walk in the woods. A new life.
The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window.
Nora felt drawn to it. To the flame that offered a rest to her wandering. To the warmth that offered a respite from the frigid night air.
She’d left her own cabin just thirty minutes or so ago, but the cold darkness of Winter made it feel like hours. She had the urge to run back to her husband Jack (their argument now seemed trivial), but she needed to make a point.
Today was their first anniversary and they’d spent the last few days in the quaint cabin advertised as “Lovers Landing”; the cabin sat next to a small creek, nestled in thick woods. She and Jack had hiked the area yesterday and found just two other abodes–another vacation cabin (“Bear Lodge”) about a half mile from their own, and the ramshackle one she now stood in front of. It showed little sign of life–the roof looked rickety and a wooden mailbox leaned halfway to the ground–except for a manicured flower bed in front of the porch and the glowing candle in the window.
Tonight’s fight had been serious, but also silly. Jack wanted her to cut back on hours at the hospital while she tried to get pregnant; she called him a “threat to feminism” and he responded by retreating to the bedroom, slamming its door, and turning up the television’s volume very loudly.
If she went back now she knew Jack would apologize profusely and say that of course she could do whatever she wanted with her job. Still, a few hours away would give him time to reconsider her side of the argument. Maybe he wouldn’t just placate her this time, but take her seriously.
The temperature had dropped rapidly, and her hands tightened in the cold. She’d left her gloves on the table by their cabin door.
She considered the cabin in front of her. Someone must be inside if the candle was lit, but the rest of the house was dark and there was no sign of life anywhere nearby.
The candle, though, could at least give her a few minutes of warmth–maybe more. She could take her time getting back to Jack.
The porch creaked as she stepped atop it, as did the slightly-ajar door when she pushed it open. She hesitantly called out, “Hello?” and then a little louder, “Hello?”
“I don’t mean to bother you,” she announced as she stepped into the room, “I just hoped I could come in for a bit.”
Silence and heat welcomed her as she stepped further into the room; “yes, this is a good idea,” she told herself. Her hands unclenched, and the visible frosty breaths from her mouth dissipated.
It almost felt like heat circulated throughout the room, but the only source came from the lit candle sitting atop an old-fashioned desk at the window. The desk looked like one Nora might have used in elementary school, and she smiled at a memory that came to her quickly of freshly-sharpened pencils and childhood friends.
She walked to the desk to investigate the candle, a tall white taper that burned bright and unmoving. No wax rolled down its side into its brass holder.
Curious, Nora mused, but brushed aside. Maybe that’s how candles had always worked, and she had simply never realized it.
She picked up the candle and pushed it into the direction of the dark room; light illuminated every corner, and Nora could see that this wasn’t a ramshackle cabin after all.
Stuck in the past perhaps, but not ramshackle.
A brass bed sat in the center of the room, empty except for a pink bedspread and matching pillows dotted with tiny pink peonies. Next to it stood a nightstand with a ceramic washing basin; Nora peered inside it, but no water filled it. A chest of drawers and a bookshelf stood opposite the bed on the other side of the room.
Nora loved to read and her curiosity drew her to the bookshelf; she ran her fingers along the shelf and felt a small layer of dust. A slight whiff of furniture polish–it reminded her of the cleaner her own Mother had used–belied the dust.
The room somehow felt tidy and taken care of, but unused.
She smiled, feeling at ease in her surroundings. If the owner suddenly showed up, she felt confident she could explain her situation.
I just needed a little break, she’d say. I’m sure you don’t mind.
Nora took the candle back to the desk and sat down; she peered into the darkness outside the window. She could almost see the cold.
The heat from the candle seemed to envelop her, and her eyes began to feel heavy. She almost nodded off to sleep when a slight movement sounded behind her. Was it footsteps? A scurrying animal? A tapping of wind against the door?
She, strangely, didn’t feel fear. Just curiosity.
She willed her eyes to open and turned in the chair to face the bed behind her. No person or animal greeted her, and she pulled a fleece blanket–she hadn’t noticed it before–from the end of the bed to wrap around her shoulders.
Staring back out into the night, comfortable in the blanket and the warmth, she didn’t notice the shadow. And barely felt the blow to her head.
Nora’s head hurt.
She roused from a light sleep, shivering slightly and put her hand to the back of her head. She felt a small bump there, as if she’d hit her head or ran into a doorway; Jack always called her clumsy, and she guessed she was.
She looked around, realizing she still sat at the small, school-sized desk. Wooziness teased the back of her brain and she stood up, wondering if she could pour herself a glass of water.
She shakily walked through the bedroom and into the adjoining room; she hadn’t noticed the small kitchen and breakfast nook before. A candle illuminated the room’s wallpaper, which reminded her of the decor in her grandmother’s home. It made her smile.
The kitchen looked unused but, again, the neatness was a welcome touch. She pulled a glass tumbler from a cabinet, turned on the faucet, and quickly gulped some water.
Hydration, she often told her patients, could cure a lot of ills.
Nora’s thoughts turned to Jack, and she wondered if he felt sorry yet for their argument. Had he suddenly realized that they had plenty of time to start a family? That their lives had only just begun? More likely, he had fallen asleep in front of their cabin’s television, oblivious yet again.
She walked back to the bedroom and sat on the bed, wondering if a short nap might help her head. She touched it again and the base next to her neck felt warm and slightly wet. When she pulled her hand to her attention it held a slight trickle of blood; Nora looked at it, confused.
The darkness outside the cabin’s window seemed too difficult to broach again this night, and Nora decided that Jack could wait until morning. Serve him right, she thought, and fell back onto the bedspread.
She pulled the rag doll lying on the bed close to her. It reminded her of the one she had in her own room so many years ago, its familiar patchwork dress and baby powder smell reassuring her that the morning would give her the needed energy to make everything right.
Darkness still surrounded Nora when she woke up.
She felt as rested as she had in years and smiled at the thought that she had slept completely through the next day. Night had already fallen again, and she felt rejuvenated.
She looked around the room and her eyes lingered on the bookshelf.
Jack told her she wasted too much time in her books–that she needed to stay grounded “in the real world.”
The cabin’s bookshelf offered more than she’d noticed yesterday, or the day before, or maybe the day before that. She pulled out a favorite Nancy Drew and turned to the first page; the words felt familiar, the characters like friends.
She settled into the plush recliner sitting in front of the fireplace, which she just now seemed to notice; it was a lovely stone structure, ablaze with a roaring fire. She looked into the fire, the spitting flames and blue-white glow lulling her into a sense of peace; the fire, the chair, the book felt perfect and right.
She turned the first pages and soon found herself engrossed in the tales of Nancy, George, and Bess; their friendship gave them all the strength they needed–to experience adventures, to solve mysteries, to go out on a limb without a man rescuing them.
Nora finished the book in a quick sitting and moved out of position only slightly when she noticed the movement of what seemed like a shadow from the corner of her eye. She swiveled to look back at the bed, the desk, the door to the kitchen, but nothing made its presence known.
Just an old house, she thought, unafraid.
She spent the rest of the night in a similar state of ease, reading and sitting and staring at the fire. Walking to get another drink of water. Peering out the window. Carrying the candle–still lit, no wax running down its side–to the other rooms of the house.
The cabin was small, with a hall connecting the bedroom to a small sitting room and then circling back to the kitchen. No bathroom, no office, no guest room, no nursery.
Nora thought of the house she had in the city and its expansiveness, and wondered now why she ever needed such space.
The three rooms here felt completely adequate, enough for sitting and reading and imagining.
She settled into the rooms, getting comfortable with a shadow she often saw out of her peripheral vision. Whenever she turned to find what it was, it seemed to disappear and move somewhere new. Until she sensed it again.
She wondered if she should leave. If she should go back outside and walk down the path she knew she must have had come down to arrive at the cabin.
But, she couldn’t find a good enough reason to go.
Nights turned into more days, days turned into more nights.
The nights were deep and long, the days short and cloudy.
Nora loved her new home, and vaguely wondered how long she’d been there. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Life before the cabin had become a fuzzy recollection, a memory that never took concrete form.
But what memories couldn’t provide, other things now gave her joy.
She’d discovered a basement a few evenings ago, full of toys that vaguely reminded her of a time when she might have been a child. Games she thought she’d loved to play, paint sets and sketch books, balls of all colors.
Just that afternoon she’d walked into the kitchen, drawn to the room by the smell of baking bread. She had no desire to eat it, but the scent provided such happiness. It reminded her of something; a kitchen with an aproned woman who loved her. If she closed her eyes hard enough and concentrated, the woman began to form in her mind and she could almost see her in front of her. Close to corporeal.
And then there were the fireflies.
Each night Nora stood in front of the window where she first saw the candle burning. She watched as fireflies began to appear, dancing in the dark night; they circled and jumped, then threw themselves to the ground before soaring high into the sky. Just two or three started the performance, but soon were joined by hundreds. Thousands. Maybe millions.
Nora loved the fireflies and the shadow that often appeared amongst them, dancing like an old-fashioned minuet partner.
Tonight she walked to the window as always, and watched the fireflies come into the yard. She often wondered if she could walk out the door to dance with them, but always chose to stay inside.
The fireflies began; they increased in number; the shadow appeared. And, tonight, the shadow turned to the window and smiled at her.
The shadow, usually gray and fuzzy, morphed into a figure.
A girl, twirling and tumbling with the fireflies, looking as if she held their hands.
Her shape transformed and held more definition, and Nora could see her blonde hair and long dress with the ribbon trailing behind it.
She looked to the window and caught Nora’s eye.
Nora looked back at her and smiled, then laughed. Her laughter escaped her chest like champagne bubbles.
The girl continued dancing as Nora watched, then lifted her hands in the air as if to conduct the fireflies. They followed her lead, gathering into tight clusters and shooting up into the air. She swung around in a circle, her arms wide open, and they mimicked her above her head. And then they flew off on her instructions.
The girl–the shadow–looked to the window again and waved Nora outside. She followed her instructions and ventured there for the first time.
She felt no cold, even though she walked barefoot. No cold breath escaped her lips.
She felt tempted to run back inside the cabin, but her curiosity moved her further into the night with the girl. She was led along a path around the corner of the house to a bed of flowers that glowed bright in the moonlight. Moths flitted around the silky white blossoms of the flowering plants.
“Moonflowers,” the girl spoke, gesturing toward the blooms. “Angel’s trumpet. My favorite.”
She led her past the flowers to a willow tree towering above both their heads, and gestured again. Below the branches lay a body that seemed familiar to Nora.
Petite, yet muscular; blonde hair splayed around her head, as if pulled loosely from a ponytail; a calm sense of surprise on her face.
The girl smiled at Nora, pointing to the body with a shake of her head.
“You can stay with me now,” she said.
Nora attempted to reach into the recesses of her mind for the answer to who the body belonged to; she tried to recall anything that might tell her if she knew the woman.
For a moment she remembered the color of the lipstick the woman wore; she felt the touch of a man who once kissed her; she sensed a life that had been good.
But, the moment passed.
Nora looked back to the girl and knew that the shadow had disappeared. The girl remained.
And they’d remain in the cabin together.
Well done! I like the way the story unfolded. If this hadn't been a horror story, I would have probably loved to stay in that little cabin too just reading and sleeping, lol
Your descriptions here are wonderful, Cheryl. I could really picture the scene as if I were there. 💜