The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. Among the treetops, a video drone passed over the woodland. A keen eyed fire watch volunteer noticed the light in the restricted area and turned on the radio.
The ranger’s office was an array of modern surveillance and communications technology nested in a rustic, wooden bungelow. A bulletin board was filled with alerts about missing persons. A glassy eyed deer head oversaw it all from its vantage on the chimney. Mark Stevens sat at his desk, dealing with some administrative duties when the message came through. He listened to the account of the suspicious light.
“Where is it?” Mark asked.
“In the cabin on That Hill.”
“I’ll be right over,” he sighed and stood up.
Ranger Mark Stevens adjusted his hat, stepped outside, and started up one of the park trucks.
The ranger grumbled as he drove toward the unattended fire. The air was searing and dry. A single abandoned candle could cause the entire park to go up in flames. Summers were the worst. That’s when most of the missing persons cases happened. Even with all the security measures and safety equipment installed in the park, almost none of the disappearances were explained. The park had become a lightning rod for conspiracy theorists and occult enthusiasts. The oldest cabin in the park was particularly interesting to them: his current destination.
Mark parked by the side of the road. He paused at the foot of That Hill. The infamous landform got its nickname from the IT staff. Whenever a ranger would put a ticket in for a piece of bricked hardware or an electrical failure, more often than not, the problem was attributed to that hill. Eventually, the staff capitalized the phrase, thus planting it in park history. The most plausible explanation that anyone could muster was that there was a natural electromagnetic anomaly beneath the ground. That Hill was involved in many of the missing persons cases, being the last place where the people were seen. Even the animals gave the site a wide berth. Mark wished everyone else would too as he walked up a steep, grassy rise. For all its mystique, That Hill, looked unremarkable, if not slightly higher than the surrounding topography. The cabin on top of the hill was utterly nondescript. Many people often forgot it was even there. It was rumored to be a hideout for bootleggers a long time ago, but nobody really talked about it. Mark tried to recall its exact appearance, but the task was comparable to assembling a jigsaw puzzle out of stained, warped, unrecognizable pieces. The old building always seemed to be on the verge of collapse, but nobody would ever demolish it for some reason. As the cabin grew nearer, a chill traveled down Mark’s neck. He walked up the incline. One hand swept the surroundings with a tactical flashlight, the other hovered near his service pistol. Nobody was in sight, but a strange scraping sound came from inside.
“Hello?” Mark said. Silence loomed in response. Not even the chittering of insects could be heard around the hill.
“Probably just some kids,” the ranger muttered to himself as he wiped some chilly sweat from his brow. Then he spotted the candle.
Behind the pane of glass, a bone white flame danced upon a colorless shaft of wax. Mark fumbled for his keys and unlocked the door.
The interior of the cabin was completely undisturbed. There were no signs of forced entry. Mark looked around in perplexion at the empty building. He leaned over to blow out the candle, but looked into the luminous form as it rolled and undulated compellingly. His eyes focused on the twisting shape. Mark put his face forward to extinguish the candle and reared back in pain.
A gust of air had come out of nowhere and blown out the candle, burning his forehead. Suddenly, Mark heard a rushing air current, like the breath of a great beast. He clambered through the darkness, tripping over a trapdoor on his way out. The ranger burst out of the enclosure and sprinted back to his vehicle. He drove back to the office and logged the incident. Ranger Mark put his hat away and went into the bathroom. His face ached, and a red mark was on his forehead.
“White flame, must have been hot,” Mark said as he rubbed the irritated dot. Perhaps it was where he bumped his head. He went to his bunk and tried to get some sleep.
The man found himself back atop That Hill, the cabin door invitingly open. Although it was the dead of night, The interior was illuminated with a white brilliance. The trapdoor was open, leading to a stairwell. At the bottom was a chamber with a gigantic, irresistible emerald in the center. Mark reached out to the stone’s unblemished surface.
He woke up in a cold sweat, just before the alarm. The ranger got up and went through his routine. The injury had grown into a dark contusion and ached even more. This wound warranted medical attention. In the infirmary, Nurse Thatcher examined Mark Steven’s head and shone a light into his eyes. “This is a very strange looking hematoma. How did you get it?” He asked.
“I was investigating a disturbance in a cabin, and I tripped over a door in the floor.”
The nurse scratched his head. “None of the cabins here have a basement.”
Mark was about to correct him, but he remained silent. “It was dark, I must have been mistaken,” he stammered. The nurse looked at him oddly. The ranger’s cell phone rang. “Hello? I see. I’m on my way.” He ended the call and said, “I have to deal with something my the lake. Is there anything your can do about this.”
“You don’t appear to have a concussion, but maybe you should take it easy for a couple days as a precaution.” The nurse gave Mark an analgesic and sent him on his way.
“Treasure,” Mark mumbled as he drove to the campsite. The cabin was an old criminal hideout. Surely someone must have stashed some of their gemstones in the cellar. He went about his park ranger duties, dealing with people as the summer sun clung to the sky. He noticed unnerving looks in people’s eyes. Did they know about the treasure trove too? Eventually, night fell. Mark avoided his co workers until he could sneak out of bed.
He crept past the truck. The engine might alert someone as to what he was doing. By the moonlight, he made his way to That Hill. The door was unlocked. Mark gasped before realizing he had forgotten to lock it last night. He turned on his flashlight. The floor did have a trapdoor in it. He opened it, and tiptoed down the stairs. The stone steps spiraled into the darkness. The flashlight’s rays could not even touch the floor below. After what felt like an eternity, Mark’s feet touched the dirt floor. He saw a door just like in his dream. On the other side, The gemstone sparkled in the light. Mark walked up to it, but he realized that it was not an emerald. This stone was sickly green and felt gummy to the touch. He saw faces reflected in its facets, but they weren’t his. The blood drained from mark’s face as he recognized the myriad visages from the missing persons posters all the office. A primordial power from within the earth snapped the trapdoor shut, and the flashlight went dead. Mark tried to retreat, but he was trapped by the sticky green monolith.
Six months later, Ranger Adelaide Marsh was doing a routine check of camera footage. On the windowsill, or the restricted cabin on that hill, someone had lit a candle. She went past a bulletin board full of missing persons posters, including the former Head Ranger, and started the truck.