The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. The glimmer of the flame was strangely steady, with barely a flicker to be seen, yet the light was a welcome relief to the exhausted hiker staggering into the small clearing.
He’d been wandering for hours now. An unexpected rainstorm had washed out the trail he’d been following. Forced to make a detour, he became lost in the woods, disoriented and unsure which direction to go. As the sun sank slowly beyond the treetops he stumbled upon an overgrown track. It was little more than ruts in the earth, hollows filled with water from the recent rain, but it must lead somewhere he thought. Perhaps even back to the campground.
In the fading light he chose a direction at random, rubbing his arms against the chill of the cooling air. Weeds and grasses grew tall and thick along the narrow track, thorny brambles clutching and clawing at his pants as he struggled onwards.
As the last of the light drained slowly from the sky a chill wind crept among the trees, tugging at his damp clothes with icy fingers. By the time full darkness fell he was hungry, staggering with fatigue. The sight of the ramshackle cabin quickened his steps. Eagerly he hurried now, heartened by the faint glow ahead, the small flame sparking thoughts of warmth, food, and shelter.
The steps leading to the porch sagged beneath his feet, old nails screeching in protest as aged boards shifted under his weight. Something in the woods fled at the noise, crashing away loudly through the undergrowth. The sound startled the man and sent his heart racing. Panic pushed him forward, making him oblivious to the decay and signs of neglect all around. Darkness shrouded the cracked windows and splintered weatherboards. Fear obscured the smell of rot, the mold and mildew growing thick on damp rotted wood.
Pushing open the door he stepped inside.
No sound but the wind sighing softly among the rafters.
Dust covered the floor, cobwebs lay thick in the corners and the deep shadowy recesses of the small room. Dim yellow light to the left drew his eye. As he turned to investigate a smell filled the air, a strange, almost familiar scent. His eyes flickered, lids heavy and drooping. He shuffled forwards, arms loose and limp at his sides, his mouth hung open, a thin line of drool beginning to form.
The man groaned faintly as the hairs on the back of his neck rose, goosebumps forming on arms and hands. Something deep within him tried to resist, but the allure of the scent was overwhelming. He drew closer, step by step, like a moth to a flame.
The candle looked strange, dark and shiny, but not waxy at all, more like moistly glistening. It seemed to be segmented, and there was no flame, simply a strange bioluminescent glow.
The intoxicating aroma grew stronger, the air thick with a sickly sweet, almost nauseating miasma. With a choking cry the man leaned forward, compelled to come closer. He was almost touching the strange object now. It’s alienness sickened him and bile rose in his throat.
Suddenly he saw black pincers open, thin dark tentacles darting forth. Before he could pull back it was upon him. He began to scream, but it was in his mouth, gagging him, clawing its way deeper, chewing through soft flesh. In the now darkened room the man stumbled backwards, arms flailing wildly. There was a horrendous crunching within his mouth, felt more than heard, a piercing pain, dizziness and nausea, a rising numbness.
There was a thud as the body hit the floorboards, a brief tattoo of heels drumming against wood, then all was still in the cabin, quiet save the sound of slow labored breathing.
* * *
The sound of birdsong was oddly absent as dawn broke. The nearby woods were hushed as slanted rays of sunlight edged slowly across the floor. Motes of dust drifted within the brightness. As the sun climbed higher in the sky the body was revealed, lying almost motionless amongst broken furniture and windblown leaves. The chest rose and fell gently, a slow trickle of drool and blood coming from one corner of the mouth.
The sunlight made its way gradually across the room, eventually leaving the body in shadow once more. As daylight faded towards dusky twilight the body began to twitch. With erratic and jerky movements it rose in a grotesque parody of life. The eyes stared blankly, the mouth was slack, lips cracked and bleeding, the tongue now gray and swollen.
Within the skull the creature twitched, tentacles probing, pushing, pulling. It directed its host towards the door, slowly gaining better control of its movements. The creature felt stronger now, revitalized after such a long period without a suitable home. The feeding process had taxed the host body significantly however. Already it could feel the process of cellular breakdown accelerating. With luck a new victim could be found close by.
The creature and its host stalked the woods for many hours, through the night and a second day. Twilight eventually fell again, the perfect time to hunt.
* * *
The creature moved slowly through the trees. The host body was decaying rapidly, the flesh loose and hanging. Folds of skin snagged on thorns and branches, tearing off in chunks, leaving a trail of bloody meat. It required a new victim to feed upon urgently.
Ahead was a flicker of light, dull red and orange, the faint smell of smoke. In a clearing among the trees it made out dark shapes clustered around a campfire, low voices and hushed whispers. The host body spasmed unnaturally, limbs jerking as the creature coiled and squirmed eagerly within the brain.
Closer it crept, moving from the shadow of one tree to another, a trail of bloody footprints left behind in the soft earth. Hungrily it stalked its prey. From time to time came the soft rustle of leaves or the quick crack of a twig from a misplaced foot. Each time the creature stopped, lurking in the deeper shadows. It waited to see if any of the figures ahead noticed the noise. Sometimes one would turn to look around, peering nervously into the blackness of the forest, primal instincts warning of danger.
The wind stirred the branches above. Small animals moved through the undergrowth. Any that came close quickly fled from the strange creature that crept among them. The night noises helped hide the creature’s movements. We’re safe, the figures around the campfire told themselves. Nothing to be afraid of out there. Just ignore the sudden goosebumps, the cold chill you feel when you stare into the shadows under the trees.
The internal organs of the host were beginning to rupture and putrefy. Bodily fluids were leaking out, dripping onto the ground and seeping into dark forest loam. The reek of decomposition was growing ever stronger, threatening to alert its prey.
The creature’s craving for a new host grew ever more urgent, a raging red-hot hunger.
Creeping closer it drew nearer to the circle of firelight. Another rotten branch broke under foot. The body tripped and stumbled with a rustle and crackling of old dead leaves. The figures around the fire look around again, but they’ve been staring into the fire, they can’t see what lurks within the darkness of the forest.
Now the creature waits patiently, crouching low, keeping still while blood and pus drain slowly but surely from a dozen cuts and wounds. The skin on the body hangs like wet rags, gray and mottled yellow. The eyes are sunken, almost entirely filmed over with white, the black hair lank and wet, falling out in clumps.
A figure rises from the circle. It makes noises directed at the group then turns away. Now it approaches, stumbling in the darkness on the rough ground. It draws nearer to the creature’s hiding place.
Closer it comes.
The creature releases pheromones from small glands, forcing the host body to breathe them outwards. The figure catches the scent, slows, turns. Slightly dazed it moves directly towards the shadows beneath the trees.
The creature strikes. Skeletal hands reach out, fingernails bloodied and jagged, snatching the figure with hideous speed, dragging it into the undergrowth.
Holding the victim down the host body opens its mouth. The figure squirms, but it cannot escape. It watches in horror as something dark emerges from the mouth, long and thin, segmented, covered with grayish slime, small pincers and tentacles snapping and writhing. As the victim opens its own mouth to scream, the creature crawls inside, choking off the cry for help.
The victim gags and coughs, jerking spasmodically, arms and legs flailing, heels hammering at the ground. There comes the sound of a sickening crunch, the soft palate being pierced. The victim lies still.
The new host rises, brushing off dirt and leaves. It walks away, clumsy at first, but quickly improving. The previous host is left behind, a putrid sack of liquifying flesh and slowly dissolving bones.
The warmth of the fire beckons. The creature walks towards the light and the small group of figures still seated there. They’re laughing and telling tall tales. It sits down among them, tentacles twitching slightly to activate facial muscles. It smiles at the circle of campers, warm yellow light dancing across their happy faces.
“I know a scary story,” it says. “Are you guys ready?”
There are nods and smiles from the group. Someone adds more wood to the fire. Sparks rise on a pillar of smoke, mingling with the stars above.
"Okay, it goes like this. The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window…”