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The Fire Inside

It was there the whole time

By Bonnie Joy SludikoffPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 12 min read
The Fire Inside
Photo by Oscar Dario on Unsplash

The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. Francie noticed the change immediately; one extra spark on her walk home made everything feel completely different.

Francie's mother was always warning her about taking shortcuts, but she didn't see the harm. The woods near her home were such a tranquil hideaway in the mornings and afternoons; why should anything in the world be different at night for a girl? 

As Francie grew older, everyone seemed compelled to warn her that many things in her life would be different. It always seemed to be her responsibility to adjust.

With her fourteenth birthday quickly approaching, Francie was still expected to be an obedient child, but she was also asked to carry out more adult responsibilities than many girls her age. 

Though she was due home, Francie could not resist the flicker of the candle. 

The old house had been empty for years. Rumor had it that it belonged to a man who "loved many women who had never loved him back," whatever that meant.

No one ever expected anyone to move in, but maybe there would be someone her age to spend her time with. It was dark out, but it was only a quarter past seven. Francie wondered if it was too late to knock.

She knew her mother would not approve, but her mother did not really approve of anything and the teen was feeling adventurous.

Francie grabbed a handful of wildflowers and stood at the door nervously. When she held up her fist to knock, she realized the door was already open a crack.

"Oh. Umm…hello?" she said quietly.

But no one answered. 

Francie shoved the door forward an inch and it swung open, revealing a dusty room, much different from the way it appeared through the window. 

"What the…" Francie started to say. She scrunched up her face, confused. From outside, she could see the rocking chair and the side table with the lit candle on top of it. But peeking through, the candle was not lit at all.

She didn't remember telling her feet to walk in, but somehow Francie wound up in the middle of the room, where she watched the front door close, seemingly on its own. 

She looked around her. It looked like no one had been inside for years. She didn't head back to the front door right away. Somehow, she knew it wouldn't open.

"I shouldn't have come in here," she said quietly. Francie knew better than to stray from the path. She knew that anything that happened to her now would be her own fault for entering a place where she didn't belong. Her mother had taught her this clearly. 

Time felt different in the abandoned cabin. Francie explored every inch, studying the smooth wooden paneling and the cold windows. 

Had it been hours? Days? Weeks?

At some point, Francie suspected she had somehow died, but she couldn't remember it. All she remembered was being in the front room of the cabin. 

There was a bedroom in the back, but something kept her from going back there. She spent her days alone in a daze.

When she finally saw another little girl outside, Francie went right up to the front window and banged on the glass.

"I'm in here!" she cried. "I'm in here!"

But the girl just stared back blankly as if she couldn't see her at all. 

Francie knew there must be some way to get the little girl's attention. She looked around and thought about throwing the table right at the window. And that's when she saw the matches on the table. 

Had they been there the whole time?

Francie took a match and lit the candle. With the extra light, she could see the image of the curious little girl even more clearly now. She was a beautiful child of twelve or so.

"Please get help" Francie called, banging on the front window. "Can you hear me??"

But the girl looked dazed like she'd seen some sort of magic trick. Francie thought the little girl was walking away, but then she realized her footsteps were just going to the left of the window, where the front door was.

The door swung open, and the little girl entered.

"Huh," she said, noticing the old candle on the table. 

Francie looked back at the candle which was burnt out once again and suddenly appeared decades old. She didn't understand what she was seeing.

"Can you hear me?" she asked the little girl, getting right in her face. "Please! Can you see me?"

The little girl seemed unmoved. She tucked her hair behind her ear nervously.

"Is anyone here?" she called "Is this a prank? Jimmy Willoughby if this is you, I'm going to kick your BUTT!"

Ginny sighed, not yet understanding her own predicament. "Well... I'm going now."

But she stopped suddenly, noticing the front door had closed behind her. Somehow, she wasn't surprised to understand that it was locked.

"This was my fault," Ginny thought, regretfully. "Why didn't I just stay out of trouble like a good girl?"

Francie watched in horror, slowly understanding that this little girl would meet the same fate she had. She went over to the door and began to pound on it as well, but it did no good. 

For days, Francie tried to make contact with Ginny, but it was as if they were not in the same room at all. 

Though, maybe it hadn't been days. Time passed so strangely in the cabin, and things did not feel real at all until the next sign of life.

"I don't believe it," Ginny said, getting up from the corner of the room where she sat most evenings. She went over to the window and pressed her face against the glass to see a teenage girl staring in.

"Please get help!" Ginny cried. "I'm inside!"

But the girl stared back blankly.

Ginny knocked harder. "Hello!!! Don't you see me?? I'm stuck in here!"

It was dark outside, Ginny figured. She stared at the candle, sadly. If only she had…

Then she saw the matches on the table. 

Had they been there the whole time? 

Ginny struck a match and lit the candle.

The teenage girl outside was shocked to see it flicker.

"Cool!" she mouthed.

"Yes!" Ginny said. "It's going to work. Now go get help!!"

But the girl did not go for help. She took a few steps to the left and came through the front door, which had somehow opened just a crack.

Dena was seventeen, but small for her age. People often treated her like she was a little girl. It was her first time running an errand for her mother, who was sick in bed. She'd gotten lost, but she was on her way home with some ingredients for soup. 

She knew she shouldn't stop, but the candle in the window had captured her attention.

"Hello?" Dena called, pushing the door open. 

She took a few steps inside.

As the door closed behind Dena, she was confused. But both Ginny and Francie knew what was happening. Francie, who had arrived first, could see both girls, but Ginny, who had arrived second, could only see Dena. 

And as for Dena, she thought of herself as being alone - that is, until the next girl showed up, sometime later.

So, the newest girl always finds the matches, Francie thought to herself. She wondered where they came from- they were never on the table until right at that moment.

And why couldn't the other girls see her? They all thought it was only them-- at least until the next girl showed up.

For what seemed like forever, Francie, Ginny, and Dena had all lived in the one-room cabin, completely disconnected. Their spirits walked right through each other without even noticing.

Ginny wondered about things, too. She'd been getting lonely. She hoped that someday, Dena would be able to see her. Maybe they could be friends.

But Dena was still in a daze, feeling that she was alone in the cabin. That is until Ernestine walked by.

"Hey," she called. "Hey…. Hey girl, I'm in here!" But Ernestine was about to walk past.

Dena looked around frantically for something to get the girl's attention. Finally, she noticed the book of matches on the table. 

Had they always been there?

But as she reached for the matches, they fell on the floor violently, almost as if someone pushed them.

"Noooo!" Dena said, trying to grab a match off the floor, panicked that the girl outside would leave without noticing her.

"HOLD ON!" Dena cried. 

She finally got the candle lit, and the rest of the girls sighed, helplessly.

"Oh, thank goodness," Dena said, not knowing any better.

When she saw the candle ignite, Ernestine almost dropped her satchel.

"What the…" she stood in place for a moment, wondering if she should leave. It didn't look like there was anyone inside. Was it some sort of haunted house?

Ernestine hated to miss an adventure, and she noticed the front door was ajar. There couldn't be any real harm in just peeking through. 

"Hello?" Ernestine called. She was on her way to see her boyfriend, but she'd told her parents she was headed to the library. That's why she took the back route through the woods.

"Is anyone in here?" Ernestine came all the way in. When she noticed the candle was out, she looked around cautiously. She didn't even see the front door close behind her.

She approached the front door, "Hello? Anyone?'

The other girls sighed, knowing what was next. 

Francie was tired of being ignored. It felt like no one had acknowledged her in years. She decided that even though the first two girls had not noticed her, this one would. She took off her shoe and threw it at the front door. Ernestine didn't notice.

"Why doesn't she notice me?" Francie asked out loud.

"Young ladies never notice what's right in front of them," a male voice answered her. 

Francie nearly jumped out of her skin. She had not had anyone address her for as long as she could remember.

She turned around to see Edgar Bilton.

"Who are you?" she asked, but when he moved towards her she instinctively scurried to the far corner of the room like a roach. "Stay away from me! Stay away."

Edgar sighed. "Now, that's no way to treat the master of the house, Francine. And besides, I'm no stranger; we know one another quite intimately at this point."

"You did this?" Francie asked.

"Well, someone had to," he said, sitting down in the rocking chair.

He pulled out a stool for Francie to sit on and after a moment of hesitation, she joined him by the window, afraid to disobey. As she sat down, her foot accidentally kicked a small wastebasket.

"Oh let me get that out of your way," Edgar said, pulling the wastebasket to the side.

Inside were hundreds of matches.

"Such a shame," he said, shaking his head. "So many lost girls."

Francie looked at him with desperation. "I thought it was just the three of us girls in here."

Edgar smirked. "My impact is much larger than that, dear girl."

"Why are you doing this?" she asked, struggling to her words out. "We're just…we were just kids. What did we ever do to you?"

"You didn't do anything, my dear girl, " he said. "And nothing has been done to you. Thanks to me, that is. I saved you."

Francie shook her head.

"I know it's hard to accept," Edgar said gently. "But the fact that you can finally hear me is a sign that you're listening. Hundreds of girls and you would think I'm invisible. Here I am doing so much for all of you and no one even knows I'm alive. They were right about nice guys never winning."

Francie could not open her mouth to form any words, so Edgar continued.

"But I think," he said, "that someday the girls will be better. They'll be more grateful. This next generation is feistier. Maybe the following one will be more ladylike. Anyhow, I keep trying."

"We had lives," Francie finally said. "We had families."

"I saved you," Edgar said with a deep hurt in his voice. "How can you be so ungrateful? Don't you know what's out there? Don't you know the dangers that await young ladies like you?"

Francie crossed her arms as Edgar continued.

"Oh, wait. No - you don't know, because I got you out before you had to experience any of it. The world has just gotten worse while you've been here. More unsafe for young girls every day."

"You are what is unsafe," Francie said, and Edgar scoffed.

"I didn't make any of you come in here. Your curiosity got you; you were just asking for something to happen."

Francie turned away. She could not bear to look at Edgar for one more moment.

"Well, alright little girl," he said. "Maybe we'll talk again some other time. For now, I'm afraid I do not appreciate your tone."

"I'm not a little girl," Francie said. "How many girls have you taken?

Edgar looked down at the wastebasket full of matches.

"Funny, how girls claim to be such nurturers and yet you light the way for one another to walk into such dangerous places. But this is nothing compared to what might have met you outside, Francine. Don't you know that by now?"

"I don't want to see you anymore," Francie said quietly. 

"Yes, I know," Edgar hissed. "The mean old man who did what was right. Well, I'll be here if you need me, just as I always have."

Francie looked across the room at Ginny and Dena sadly. They were just feet away, but they had not heard her conversation. 

Francie felt sad that she had not been able to save them, and wondered how many girls felt their own despair over even more young women. Was there another girl who had watched her sadly, unable to help?

If things worked the same way for everyone, there were girls who had watched hundreds of young women suffer, unable to save them. Francie could not imagine the weight they must have felt.

"It's not your fault," Francie said out loud, to no one in particular. "You didn't know how to stop it."

She went over to the wall she had studied so many times. She came across a small pocket knife and started to carve something.

"No More" she scrawled. She wondered if the other girls could see it, even if they could not see her. Within moments, she noticed that four other "No More" markings had appeared on the wall in pen, marker, and even a thinly carved line that looked like it was done by a sharp fingernail. Soon there were dozens.

She had finally made contact, but it was clear that even if the girls all became aware of one another and convinced the last girl not to light the candle, Edgar would be able to do it himself.

He didn't need them. That was why he never kept the girls alive for long.

The next evening, a little girl made her way to the woods. She was the youngest one yet; not even 11. Olivia noticed the candle flickering in the window.

She was playing hide and seek. 

"You can't find me Justin!" she called. "Count to 30!"

Olivia had noticed the light and thought the cabin would be the perfect place to hide but when she opened the door something was different than it had been. 

Normally Edgar would blow out the candle and close the door behind his next girl, unbeknownst to anyone. But all of a sudden there were lights all over the room; Matches seemingly floating in thin air, all lit and burning quickly, like something right out of Harry Potter.

"Whoa," the little girl said, backing away. 

"Put those out" Edgar shouted, turning his back on the little girl who ran away. He tried to go after her, but a match landed on the leg of his pants, then another, and another. As his body ignited, the blaze became visible not just from the isolated spot in the woods, but for the whole town to see.

The little cabin would be gone by morning and so would the trapped souls of the girls who'd been stolen because they had the nerve to be born female.

Edgar sat alone with his thoughts.

"No one appreciates a nice guy," he mumbled, rocking in his chair. There were no more matches to be found in the old cabin, and the door was finally closed, once and for all. 

But the walls, on the other hand - the ones that had kept hundreds of girls imprisoned and sheltered at the same time - those were long gone.


About the Creator

Bonnie Joy Sludikoff

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Easy to read and follow

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Comments (1)

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  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarran2 years ago

    Wow this was a fantastic story! Different from the others that I've read for this challenge. I loved the concept that the girls could not see those who came to the cabin prior to them. Excellent storytelling. Very captivating!

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