The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. The numbers 111 adorned the time-worn wooden plank, dangling by its last nail above the equally worn wooden door. A tattered front porch spanned the entire length of the small white-washed bungalow. Another more modern-looking cabin sat about 200 feet away slightly down the other side of the hill. It was from there that a woman of about 60-ish years of age troded. She tugged a red wagon filled with hand-made blankets, pillows and matching cases; and a couple of lanterns.
Approaching the cabin, the old woman could hear its inhabitants’ conversation. No one seemed very happy. “OMG! – There’s a huge spider in the corner,” Kimmy exclaimed in her high-pitched voice.
“Kill it!” Jess encouraged nonchalantly.
“No,” Tipa retorted.
“Got it!” Jess yelled proudly after smacking the spider with his shoe.
“Thank you,” Kimmy said, relieved and with a childlike sweetness. “I can’t stand spiders.”
“You killed it!” Tipa pouted disappointingly. “Asesino,” she rebuked in Spanish before slamming the bedroom door behind her.
“Don’t worry about it Jess,” Andre consoled. “Tipa won’t even step on an ant.”
“But, what did she say?” Jess pleaded.
“Oh, nada mas,” Kimmy replied. “She just called you a murderer.”
“I’m no murderer,” Jess retorted. “Kimmy’s afraid of spiders and didn’t want her to be scared. That’s not a good feeling. I’m afraid of bears and I hate being scared of anything. You know what I mean, right,” Jess rambled on.
“I get it,” Andre agreed sympathetically. “I’m afraid of birds.” Kimmy and Jess looked at Andre and chuckled
“Don’t judge me,” Andre rebounded.
“Hey, Kimmy,” Jess said with a mischievous tone. “What’s Tipa afraid of? You’re her roommate, I know you know.”
The old woman adjusted the strap diagonally crossing her yellow raincoat making it easier to carry the blue square food box attached to it. A bit dismayed over the conversation she was hearing, The old woman carefully stepped over and around the wet stones sprawled throughout the front yard. The scent of food permeated the air as she approached the steps of Cabin 111.
“Hey do you all smell that?” Tipa asked loudly, swinging the bedroom door open.
“Man, I’m so hungry, I think I’m actually smelling things too,” Jess admitted.
“I’m famished,” Kimmy added. “I know it’s really wet from the storm, but it’s passed now. Maybe we can make it back down the hill and across the river to the resort.
“I’m sure that’s a bad idea,” Andre interjected. “But, I definitely smell food and my nose is never wrong.” Sniffing through the air led Andre to the front door. He opened it just as the old woman stepped onto the porch.
“I saw you all running up the hill during the storm,” The Old Woman said softly.
“Oh hi,” Andre said, surprised to see anyone, especially an old woman.. “Are you lost too? Can we help you?”
“No, I’m not lost,” the old woman explained. “I live in the house just down the hill. Folks round here call me Auntie Addy; you can too,” she replied. “Just so you know, when it storms like that the river floods and the ferry stops running til the next morning.”
“Oh, yeah we figured,” Andre acknowledged.
Eagerly the four young adults were plastered between the doorway hoping that the food they smelled was for them. Auntie Addy set the food box on the black plastic crate next to the front door. She unzipped the box and continued, “I figured you’d all be hungry.”
“Oh, we are,” Jess enthusiastically agreed.
“Well, I know the house is vacant,” Auntie Addy continued. “But, there’s seating over yonder by the fire-pit. You can take the bedding in. It’ll keep you warm till morning. Bring over those lanterns and that small gray duffle bag from the wagon too. I’ll have the food ready for you.”
“Yes ma’’am,” they agreed unanimously and moved swiftly to follow Auntie Addy’s instructions.
Auntie Addy sat on the long hollow log and quickly lit the fire-pit. She removed the plates, utensils, tray of fried chicken, and large stainless steel bowl of mashed potatoes from her box. Everyone sat accepting their paper plates stacked with homemade cooking. They all ate hardily and humbly thanked Auntie Addy for their dinner. With full bellies the happy adventurers sat chattering about the sparkling, star-packed sky left glistening after the storm.
The Making of S’mores…
“Well, thanks again for the meal, Auntie Addy,” Tipa said politely.
“Yes, thanks so much,” everyone else chimed in.
“My pleasure,” Auntie Addy replied. “I don’t get many guests up here these days. And, when they come, they don’t stay for long,” she said sullenly, reflecting as she removed a long metal stake from her duffle bag.
“Oh, a knife!” Kimmy screamed.
Auntie Addy shook her head as she watched Jess jump backwards off of his stump; Andre crossed his arms in front of his face to protect it. Tips laughed hilariously. “First spiders, now this,” she chuckled at her friends’ silliness.
“What is that Auntie Addy? Kimmy asked.
Auntie Addy ignored their actions. “Well, I know you all have had a long adventurous day?” she began to explain. “This is part of your next surprise.” Everyone seemed to perk up at the thought of another surprise from Auntie Addy.
“No outdoor meal is complete without dessert and a ghost story,” Auntie Addy informed everyone. These are stakes for your marshmallows,” she said, handing one to each of them. “Tonight we make s’mores; but, not just any s’mores. These are magical, you’ll see.” Auntie Addy continued confidently. She emptied her duffle bag of its remaining ingredients: a bag of marshmallows; a bag of Chips-A-Hoy soft Chocolate Chip Cookies; and a handful of 75% cocoa dark chocolate bars.
“Minus the storm, this is one of our best outings yet,” Jess surmised.
Kimmy felt bad and apologized for jumping to conclusions about a knife. “I am so sorry Auntie Addy,” she said sincerely. “It has been a long day.”
“It’s okay,” Auntie Addy replied and continued to hand out the s'more ingredients. Everyone, except Auntie Addy, placed a marshmallow on their stake. While their marshmallows browned, Auntie Addy discretely removed a brown felt pouch from the pocket of her raincoat. She stuck her hand inside the pouch and returned it full of a red clay-like powder. Extending her hand toward the fire, Auntie Addy tossed the strange clay into the fire pit.
Before anyone could comment, Auntie Addy began, “Storytime!” Right after she spoke, sparks glistened upward from the fire-pit. A mist appeared to envelope the entire space. Jess, Tipa, Kimmy and Andre appeared oblivious to multi-colored sparks silently streaming from the fire-pit like firecrackers on the Fourth of July. They continued putting together their smores while Auntie Addy started her story..
“There was once an Old Woman who lived alone on a hill,” she began. There was a vacant cabin nearby and once a year a single candle mysteriously burned in its front window, Noone ever visited the cabin or even came up the hill because as legend goes, the Old Woman was a Witch. She’d bewitch anyone who trespassed on the property and they would never be heard from again.” Auntie Addy waited to see if anyone would respond. No one did. They just continued to unwrap the chocolate bars and cookies for their s’mores.
Satisfied that her visitors were sufficiently in trance, she continued to speak. “The Old Woman was indeed a Witch; good or bad, depending on who you asked. You see, the Old Woman had one job. That job was to help people face their fears. She was an old maid and had learned that life was meant to be lived and enjoyed. She understood that because our time here is finite.”
“Hear me well youth,” Auntie Addy continued, “Living in fear decreases your ability to enjoy life. Fear causes ill-will, ill-health, and interferes with imagination. You agree, right,” she added, looking toward her guests. They all agreed, still continuing to make their smores.
Auntie Addy smiled mischievously and continued, “The most treacherous of fears is concocted by oneself. Therefore, your greatest ally is often your fiercest opponent.” By now everyone had completed their smore, but they sat immobile just listening to Auntie Addy’s voice resonating throughout the night’s air. Again, she perused their faces then continued.
“Fear is your enemy,” she said resolutely. “Conquer it!” she commanded and outstretched her arms toward the fire-pit over which swirled the mixture of clay and flames. She rotated her wrists counter clockwise several times and encouraged her guests to now enjoy their smores. Each took one bite from their dessert. As they did, the fire-pit’s sparks formed a small circle above the pit. The circle was black with a dim flame around its perimeter As everyone chewed their smores, the circle enlarged gradually.
Auntie Addy continued to speak as if conjuring a spell, “Whether it be spiders, bears, birds or water,” she began looking directly at Kimmy, Jess, Andre and Tipa respectively. “You must conquer your fears. In doing so, you will never fear anything again, even death. Only in this way will you live a complete, fulfilling life. Do you accept this, my final gift to you?” She asked them all..
“Yes,” they simultaneously agreed.
“Remember,” she added, now standing and staring directly into the fire-pit. “Dessert is the spice of LIFE,” she emphasized and thrust both arms down to her sides. One by one, Jess, Kimmy, Andre and Tipa were sucked into the black hole which closed immediately behind them with a fizzing out sound. Auntie Addy sat down, exhaled and casually removed a marshmallow from its package. She peacefully hummed the tune from Celine Dion’s song, ‘I’m Flying on My Own,’ as she added a marshmallow to her stake and extended it above the fire-pit.
Inside The Black Hole.
Screeching screams are all that could be heard throughout the darkness. On the other side of the hole, terrified young adults were strown from emptiness into a replica of the wilderness and Cabin No. 111. They looked around expecting to see fire in the firepit and Auntie Addy, but did not see either. All they had as a sign of the past couple of hours was each other and the once bitten s’mores that each held in hand. In fear, they looked at each other then about them.
As Kimmy turned to walk around, she kicked over a coffee can. She opened the lid to find it empty, but clean inside. She stashed her s’more inside. Jess followed suit as did Andre and then Tipa. “We’re gonna get each other’s cooties,” she mocked. Kimmy tucked the can gently behind the long log on which she had once sat.
What sounded like leaves rustling from the woods startled the group. “Come on,” Jess entreated them. “Let’s go inside.”
“Yeah,” Andre agreed. “It’s probably safer there.
As they ran toward the cabin, Tipa said aloud, “I wonder what happened to Auntie Addy?”
“And the fire-pit,” Andre added.
“Yeah,” Jess agreed.
Everyone perched next to each other on the floor. The bedding and lanterns were also nowhere to be found. As they began to question what was going on, Kimmy went to the restroom. As soon as she opened the door she screamed repeatedly in high pitched tones. “Ahhhhh! Ahhhhh!”
As the others ran toward her, they stopped abruptly running into Kimmy shuffling backwards in a panic. They saw what she saw. A Black, hairy spider the size of a kitchen stove stalkingly swaggling its legs in their direction. Andre grabbed the back of Kimmy’s shirt and pulled her in the opposite direction. “Run Kimmy!”
Jess and Tipa had already darted out the front door. Andre and Kimmy followed closely slamming the cabin door behind them. Breathing erratically and sweating profusely, Andre and Kimmy joined Jess and Tipa at the fire-pit. Wrinkled foreheads, frowns and eyes as wide as siller dollars plastered across their faces in lieu of words.
“I gotta pee,” Jess admitted and stepped about 10 feet away into the brush. Tipa was looking curiously in Jess’ direction. Kimmy angled her ear toward the same area.
“You okay,” Kimmed asked worriedly. “Did you hear that thumping sound?”
“Huh?” Jess grunted in response, not clearly hearing them.
Kimmy stood up and repeated, “We thought we heard a sound. Are you okay?
In that instant, “Awww-Uhhhh!” Jess ejaculated the most pronounced screeam the others had ever heard. Andre started to run towards Jess, but what he saw halted him in his tracks. Jess emerged from the brush with his right shoulder dangling from under his maroon t-shirt, almost detached from its socket. There was so much blood that it blended with the color of his top. Holding onto the remnant of his arm that remained attached to his torso, Jess still tried to warm his friends. “Get away!” he yelled. “Run, save yourself!”
The others were frozen in disbelief of what they were witnessing. But, nothing could prepare them for what came next. A huge bear dashed behind Jess and snatched him up above its head. The bear looked up at Jess and roared with impunity.. Jess was in shock and still trying to hold onto his arm. The bear growled so loudly that Andre’ was afraid for Kimmy and Tipa. He instinctively pushed Kimmy and Tipa away, accidentally launching them down the hill.
“Ahhh!” Kimmy yelled, her screams becoming more and more faint with every passing second.
“Oh my God!” Tipa hollered similarly with in between ‘ouches’ and ‘awwws’ interchangeably interjected as they bounced and rolled through trees and brush. Then finally Andre heard double splashes, letting him know that there was a lake or river at the end of their fall. He was slightly and momentarily relieved. Then quickly Andre’ eyed and grabbed a nearby stick. He threw it toward the bear hoping to distract it and give Jess a chance to get away.
As Andre’ threw the stick, the bear thrust Jess toward the ground. Jess’ arm totally detached from its socket and blood drench the soil beneath him. Before Andre knew it he was bent over vomiting shavings of mangled chicken and potato skin bits. When he looked up, the bear was standing on its hind legs with Jess’ body slung over one shoulder and his detached arm in its opposite claw.
Before Andre could think of what to do next, he began hyperventilating. He tried to scream for help, but couldn’t. While trying to catch his breath, Andre noticed that the stick he had thrown toward the Bear was halted in mid-air just above the blood-stained soil. From where he was, he angled left, then right as if examining this phenomenon.
As if this wasn’t strange enough. Andre stood and watched as the stick sprouted wings on each side, a head and feathers rapidly formed into a black crow. It was still suspended in the air, flapping, but not moving. Andre’ and the bird stared into each other's eyes. The center of the crows' jet black eyes morphed to a mustard yellow color. The bird began to screech, directing its voice toward Andre’. As he took one step backward, for the first time, the bird inched forward toward him. When Andre stopped, the bird also stopped. Andre stepped backward again. The bird followed suit by one inch again. Andre quickly realized that to the degree that he moved, the bird likewise reciprocated. Afraid to run for fear of being attacked by the crow, Andre slowly lowered himself and sat indian-style on the ground. The crow remained suspended in the air.
“I’m coming,” Kimmy yelled, climbing back up the side of the hill. Andre, no longer heard the hammering thuds from inside the cabin. Instinctively, he shifted his eyes toward it. Andre was afraid to move his entire head or even parts of his body as it might instigate the crow to attack. What he could see were three of the spider's rail-like legs extended through the window and onto the front porch. It was pumping part of each leg upward attempting to raise the window high enough to finagle the remainder of its oval body through the glass opening. Andre didn’t know what to do. Kimmy was coming, the spider was coming and the bird was coming, to the degree that he moved or did not. And, still he hadn’t seen or heard Tipa’s voice.
Kimmy made it back to the campsite. She was panting and dripping wet. With one arm extended onto the closed tree to rest herself, she glazed forward observing Andre and the suspended in air crow.
“What the hell,” she exclaimed.
Before he could entreat Kimmy to run, the spider slid fully through the window headed straight for her. Too tired to run, Kimmy picked up a huge gray stone from the base of an oak tree and hurled it toward the spider. The spider flinched, but kept coming. Kimmy darted from tree to tree picking up the largest stones she could find and repeatedly threw them hitting the spider wherever she could. Eventually it fell, legs stretched out to the max, and ceased to move. Panting feverishly, Kimmy crawled toward Andrew and asked, “Why don’t you run?”
“When I move, it moves,” he explained. “I’ve got matches in my jacket pocket. See if you can light the fire-pit,” he encouraged. Thankfully the ground was drier than when they had arrived, what seemed like days ago. Still on all fours, Kimmy edged her way to the firepit, gathering mulch and twigs along the way. Keeping one eye on the crow, she lit several matches, but none took. With only two matches left, smoke finally emerged from one of the twigs. She blew rapidly until the smoke turned to fire. Immediately Kimmy stuck a branch the size of a baseball bat into the pit. The small fire grew until the flames were above the pit’s rim.
As if on autopilot, the bird, released from its suspension, charged toward Kimmy forcing her to escape over the side of the hill once again. Andre grabbed the burning branch from the pit and began to swing it at the crow while masterfully dodging in figure eights attempting to avoid being pecked. “Uhhh!” Andre gasped each of the three times the crow’s knife-like beak penetrated the skin of his stick-waving arm.
Fearing to turn his back on the aggressive crow, Andre tripped backwards over a rock and dropped his flaming branch. Andre’ intentionally froze his motion. The crow once again ceased flight and suspended in mid-air staring at him. When Andre moved, so did the crow in equal measure. They repeated this game once again.
Suddenly, Tipa staggered up the side of the hill virtually carrying Kimmy who was bleeding from her forehead. As soon as the crow saw Kimmy, it de-suspended and raged toward the girls. “What the hell!?” Tipa exclaimed, clinching Kimmy closer and covering each of their heads with an arm for protection..
Fear left Andre. He jumped to his feet, lept into the air and crabbed the crows' wings; one in each hand. As if possessed, Andre held on and slung the crow to the ground repeatedly. As blood began to splatter from the crows core, Tipa turned away and Kimmy covered her eyes. Eventually the crow ceased to move. Only then did Andre release its wings and collapse exhausted onto the dirt beside it.
Squeezing water from her clothes and still panting,Tipa couldn’t believe what her eyes had seen. Stepping over and around the lengthy legs of the deceased spider and past the crow the girls exhaled as they seated themselves on the same logs where they had earlier enjoyed a delectable meal with Auntie Addy. Somewhat composing himself, Andre joined them on his respective stump.
As Andre sat down, everyone grunting sounds were heard from the brush. Before they could run away, Jess emerged holding a pile of leaves with fingers dangling from one edge and a pitchfork. They were so happy to see Jess who emerged from the brush clearly fatigued, but with a look of triumph on his face. About five feet from where they were seated, Jess dropped the rope tied to the bear’s torso and continued to seat himself on the remaining log. Bare chested, with a makeshift bandage of leaves stuck over the hole that once held his arm, Jess tossed the pitchfork to his left and slumped the pile of leaves onto his lap.Everyone was at a loss for words
They were all war-torn and looked at each other pathetically and sympathetically. Tipa’s tattered and dripping wet clothes made removing the leeches attached to her neck, shoulders and ankles nearly impossible. She had bleeding scratches and aching red and blue bruises; a side-effect from rolling down the hill and into the stream. Kimmy's clothes were torn and damp. She was barely conscious, still bleeding from her head, and likewise adorned multiple scratches and bruises similar to Tipa’s. Andre had three, four to six inch gashes on his left arm. They oozed blood through his opposite hand’s fingers, even as he tried to stop the leakage by piling on leaves. Each wanted to help the other, but could not. Fortunately, everyone was stabilized or stabilizing themselves.
“Is it just me,” Andre began. “Or, is no one else freaked out by what’s happened here? I mean, Jess’ arm is in his lap wrapped in leaves. There’s a huge dead bear, a gigantic spider, a killer crow that I had to beat to death just to survive myself; and…” Andre hesitated.
Everyone looked at Tipa. “Tipa, umm,” Jess paused attempting to find the right wording. “What I mean is – Was there an um – Not that I wanted you to have one or anything, but–” Jess continued to stumble over his words.
“He’s trying to ask–” Andre interjected. “What happened to you? You’re clearly no more okay than the rest of us. Did you have to hurt anything, anyone?” he asked reluctantly.
At that moment, Tipa buried her face in her hands and started to weep. “It was awful!” she cried, becoming more emotional following every encounter she recalled. “I’ve never been so afraid in my life. It felt like I was in the water for an eternity. Everytime I’d get close to the edge of the bank, the water’s pressure would suck me back in. One moment I’d be treading water, and the next my mouth and nose were congested with water. You know, like in the movies when the spies would be waterboarding by an enemy. That’s how it felt. I was drowning and screaming, but no one could hear me.”
“I heard you,” Kimmy admitted. “I was so afraid for you.. I know you can barely swim and that you never go near any water. But, I couldn’t get to you. There was like a wall; no, more like a magnetic field keeping me from going past the bank to get to you. When I touched it, it shocked me. When I tried to jump through it, next thing I know, I woke up next to the water. I didn’t hear you screaming anymore. I cried. I thought you had drowned, and I’m so sorry.”
“It’s not your fault,” Tipa consoled, wiping tears from Kimmy’s eyes with one hand and her own cheeks with the other.
“So, then how did you get out of the stream?” Andre, asked inquisitively.
Tipa sighed with relief and began to explain, “I started to go under water for the unteenth time,” she explained. “But, by this time I was so tired that I felt like my life was draining from me. I started to sink again, then as if out of nowhere I heard my mother’s voice,” Tipa paused as a faint smile came over her face.
“But, your mom’s been dead for what, like ten years, right?” Kimmy questioned.
“Exactly,” Tipa continued. “Like I said, it made no sense. But it was as if she was right next to me. I could hear her coaching me like back when I was a child. She’d walk right beside me in the pool and rhythmically repeat the steps so that I would remember: ‘1-2-3 – Hold your breath; Arms out straight and tight like an arrow; flap your feet as hard as you can; and you will swim like a minnow.’ It was her voice, her instructions that saved me. She gave me the courage to try again; and it worked. I made it to the bank and walked out almost effortlessly. That’s when I saw Kimmy and helped her up the hill, only to find you guys in your own hell.”
“Damn!” Andre ejaculated uncharacteristically.. “This doesn’t make any sense.”
“Maybe no, maybe yes,” Jess began to reason.
“What do you mean,” Kimmy asked.
“You were afraid of spiders,” Jess continued. “It was the first thing we encountered in the cabin; first small then as a gigantor spider.”
“Oh, wow!” he’s got a point, Andre acknowledged.
Jess continued, “I have always been deathly fearful of bears and it literally tore my arm off. Not until I had the courage to pick up a pitchfork and stable it to death, was I free of it.”
“Right,” Andre agreed, adding to Jess’ speculation. “And, that bird had me spellbound. I couldn’t even move without it coming after me. Kimmy couldn’t even scare it away with fire. I had to actually kill the crow to be rid of it.”
“And, not until I conquered my fear of drowning was I able to get out of the water,” Tipa added.
“All of this seemed to be about fear; our fears,” Jess concluded.
Everyone agreed. But, I think it’s more than that,” Jess speculated further.
“What do you mean, man?” Andre asked again.
“Tell you in a minute,” Jess replied. “Be right back,” he said as he headed for the bushes.
“Where are you going?” Kimmy asked, terrified.
“To pee,” Jess responded matter-of-factly.
“Look where that got you last time,” Andre quipped, too exhausted to do more than chuckle in pain.
“You can go in the cabin now,” Kimmy explained. “I mean, the spider is dead.”
“Good point,” Jess agreed, now turning toward the cabin.
Jess lifted his foot to step over one of the spider’s legs blocking the path to the front door. Everyone heard a sizzling sound, like the wick of a firecracker accelerating just before it pops. Brightly colored lights whirled around the spider. Suddenly, the spider’s carcass turned into a likeness of Kimmy, then disintegrated.
A moment later, similar lights covered the bear. It reformulated into Jess, then disappeared. A second after that, lights surrounded the crow. Likewise, it changed to resemble Andrem then faded into nothingness. All evidence of blood disappeared and displaced sticks and stones returned to their origins.
Jess looked fearful, but hopeful that maybe his arm would also return to normal. Before anyone could speak, the whirling lights enveloped them all. As they screamed in agony, Jess’ arm regenerated in a matter of seconds. Almost instantly their cuts and bruises were repaired, their blood-stained bodies and clothing were cleared and returned to their original states.
Thoroughly exhausted everyone resituated onto the logs, speechless. Silently they wondered what manner of dream they had collectively entered.
Back to the Present…
“I don’t know that I believe what happened here,” Tipa confessed. Everyone agreed.
“Yeah, this was some next level stuff,” Jess added. “But, now what? How do we get back?”
“What can we do now?” Kimmy asked.
Andre’s stomach growled loudly. “Well, I could eat,” Andre admitted.
Kimmy immediately remembered their s’mores and darted back toward the fire-pit to get their coffee can. The others followed. Kimmy pulled the tin from behind the log, snatched off the lid and handed everyone a s’more. “Cooties is the least of our worries now, right,” she smiled. “Let’s eat!’
“Here’s to being fearless,” Jess toasted
“And to dessert which is the spice of life,” Tipa added, quoting Auntie Addy.
“Here, here!” Everyone agreed, tapping their smores together.
Kimmy’s words and the other’s agreement triggered the black hole to reopen. Just like before, it started from the size of a golf ball and expanded to the size of double doors. Fearless now, everyone took a bite of their s’more and willingly entered the dark sphere. Momentarily, they looked back at Cabin 111 whose candle in the window had long since extinguished. They knew however, that the lessons Auntie Addy had taught them would last a lifetime.
On the other side of the hole, time had rewound. Jess, Tipa, Kimmy and Andre returned to earlier in the day, just before they were about to board the ferry to hike in the hills across the lake. They overheard a passenger ask loudly, “Isn’t it supposed to storm today? The four stopped in their tracks. “Oh, hell no!” They exclaimed almost simultaneously and darted back toward the resort.
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