The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window.
I didn’t see it. Thren did. From her hiding spot. When she was running away from her foster parents or from the other kids, she’d go to a place just inside the yard of the cabin. No one, not even adults, would go past the sequoias. So, she was never found.
She told me about the candle later, that same night. We were in my hiding spot, which was a little cave in the creek bed near some old porta potties. It wasn’t as safe from prying eyes as the yard of the cursed cabin, but the smell had a similar effect. Alone, I was hiding from my parents as well. Together, I was hiding from the other kids. Hiding my friendship with Thren. Earlier in the evening, when she had seen the candle, I had been following along with Adrian and his posse, hunting for Thren, making sure to look in all the wrong places. I felt awful about it, but no more awful than I normally felt, day to day. And Thren understood. She knew what the other kids thought of her. What everybody thought of her.
She had dark skin and dark hair and the darkest eyes. She was almost as cursed as the cabin. Her foster parents beat her, the other kids beat her, but she wouldn’t be beaten down. I idolized her. One night, a while back, I had asked her if she thought life would have been better if her real parents hadn’t left her. She looked at me with sleepy eyes and shrugged.
“Do you know what ‘thenody means?”
“I looked it up.” She leaned back and stretched, all bored like she was talking about the weather. “It’s Greek for ‘lamentation.’ It’s all I have from the folks who had me. I don’t think I would like to meet them.”
“Why don’t you run away for good?” I asked. “We could go together. Down the stream. Like Huck Finn ‘cept you’re a girl.”
“I’m uprooted,” Thren said, “but I belong somewhere. I’ve got this feeling that somewhere is near here. Besides, I won’t let myself be beat like that.”
It’s not that I didn’t know why the others hated Threnody. I felt what they did. She was different. She had confidence beyond her position and a strange atmosphere hung about her. She would speak and run at full speed but with an attitude that was half asleep. Looking in her eyes made you shiver and standing by her made you feel small. Her voices made your fears seem real. I felt it. But I suppose I was drawn to it.
The night when the candle was lit, Thren and I sat in our hole and she asked me to go to the cabin with her.
“No.” I said.
“Because it’s scary. It’s alright for you, you’re not afraid…”
“What do you mean?” Threnody smiled at me sleepily. “I’m terrified.”
“You don’t look it.” I glanced away from her, determined to hold out. The cabin was cursed. Everyone, even adults, said so. You only had to walk by the sequoias rimming the yard, feeling the shivers running up your spine, to believe it.
“I’m scared of the cabin; I’m just not controlled by my fears. That would make me a coward.” Threnody went for the win. “Are you a coward, Connor?”
“Yes. Get wrecked, Thren. Can’t pressure someone with no dignity.” I picked at the roots coming out of the rough sides of the hole. “And you can’t convince me.”
I shut up. Threnody was frozen, her head was cocked. There was the sound of rustling grass.
A voice spoke. “Why are we here again?” It belonged to Regency Green, a friend of Adrian’s.
“That brat is hiding somewhere.” This was Adrian. His voice had lowered sooner than the other boys, adding boatloads to his authority. ‘That brat’ was, of course, Threnody. “We need to find her spot,” Adrian continued, “and I just remembered this place.”
“Where’s Connor?” This time, it was Jase. I was surprised he even remembered me. I wish he hadn’t. His voice also meant there were at least three of them.
“Well, that’s the thing,” Adrian said, “this place I remembered. It was Connor’s go to. A couple years back.”
“You think he’s helping her?” Jase again.
“If he is, I’m going to grind his nose into his brains.”
Threnody shifted silently, leaning towards me.
“Get. Ready. To. Run.” She muttered slowly. “to the cabin.”
I shook my head, surprised I could move that much.
“If you want to keep your nose,” Thren said as she moved from her seated position to a crouch, “you’ll run.”
Shakily, I copied her movement. By the sound of it, the boys were getting closer. And there were more than three.
“Anybody home?” Adrian hollered.
“Now.” Thren said, and exploded.
The boys shouted as Threnody appeared and vanished in an instant, a blur between the cave in the creek bed and the trees on the other side. I followed her, almost as fast but nowhere near as graceful. Desperately trying to keep her in sight, I whirled my legs across the rough ground and over obstacles, barely keeping my feet. Adrian and the others were obviously on my tail. The crashing of the stampede through the underbrush thundered in my ears.
No doubt they would soon notice where we were headed.
In front of me, Thren glided and wove through the forest, blending with the shadows. If not for her silver jacket, I would have lost her. The wood seemed to be helping her along. She didn’t even hesitate as we reached the ring of sequoias that marked the ‘edge of the curse.’ Ignoring the sweat on the back of my neck and the pounding in my ears, I closed my eyes and ran past the tree line.
Behind me, the boys came crashing to a halt, but didn’t stop shouting. I heard my name a couple times, but nothing else. My mind was elsewhere.
It was focused on the fear that held me, like a frozen hand had just reached into my chest and squeezed my lungs, like my stomach was filled with lead and my eyes were about to pop out from my skull. Every hair on my body was on end, like the quills of a porcupine. My legs slowed and I barely saw Thren coming back to me.
“Come on,” she said, taking my hand. it was as cold as mine, but stronger. I could hear the yells now.
“Connor, don’t be an idiot!”
“Get away from there!”
“We’ll leave you alone, you moron, just come out!”
I don’t know when their yells had changed from angry to scared. I didn’t look back at them. I could hear enough desperation in their voices to know what they would look like. Their genuine terror for my sake was almost enough to make me forget how much I hated them. Almost.
But I focused on Thren’s hand in mine. The rough callouses on her palms, the crooked finger that had never fully healed since Adrian had crushed it under a rock, and the deep purple bruise on her wrist from her last beating. And I hated them more than ever.
“Let’s go.” My voice was strange in my ears. It didn’t sound like my own at all. Thren just nodded and led the way.
I felt odd. Thren was leading my body. It would follow where she went. My thoughts were slow and out of focus, trying to back away from the chill that had settled across my skin. But a voice screamed in my head and another whispered. Both were my own.
The first voice screamed fear and panic.
Run! It shrieked. Run! Turn around and go! Run! Run until you can’t anymore!
But it was somehow just background noise as my legs stumbled, still moving forward, and my eyes rolled around, taking in the place that I had never had the stomach to visit. But, despite the lack of reaction, it still screamed. I just squeezed Threnody’s hand and kept walking.
She was so calm. Less bored and tired than she normally looked, but wasn’t she afraid? The whisperer in my head was beginning to get annoying.
Why isn’t she scared? It asked, can you really trust her?
I ignored it like I ignored the screams. Thren was my closest friend, even if I never had the courage to admit it out loud.
“There’s the cabin,” She said.
Finally, we slowed to a stop. Thren’s grip tightened, whether to comfort me or herself, I didn’t know. In front of us was the cabin. A plain log structure with a small porch and a single window. As promised, a candle was lit on the sill.
The moment I laid eyes on the cabin, both the screaming and the whispering voices vanished. In their place my head felt like it was crammed full of clouds. Fuzzy like cotton candy and freezing cold. In the back of my skull, something struggled, but I couldn’t make it out.
I blinked and let go of Thren’s hand to press my palms against the forehead. She flinched and stared at me. Heavily lidded eyes studied my face with more curiosity than worry. I blinked again as she turned back to the cabin. My limbs felt heavy. Why had I been scared to come again?? Obviously this place was more than a mere cabin. I was far from deceived by the simple appearance it took. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a feeling speaks more truly than either. The atmosphere around the cabin was heavy and cold, like death hung in the air, weighting it down. but the fuzziness behind my eyes and the weight in my own skull made me match my surroundings. I fit in it like a jigsaw piece.
Breathing hoarsely, palms still on my head, I turned to Thren. Was she feeling this?
She was feeling something. Eyes half closed, unlike me her breathing was short and rapid. Excitement wasn’t an emotion I had seen on her before, but that’s what it was. She turned to me again and smiled.
“Let’s go in.”
As we approached the door, another candle was set on the sill of the window. For a moment, I saw thin fingers wrapped around it, but then they were gone.
I watched the window as Threnody fumbled with the door. the pressure in my head was building and a chilly feeling was spilling out my ears. Without thinking, I raised my hand to my temple, expecting find something wet and cold leaking down it. Blood, maybe. But my hand came back dry. I was staring at it blankly when Thren got the window open.
Swinging out with a rackety creak, the gaping doorway revealed a dusty room, empty of anything but a stuffy smell. Thren took my hand again and pulled me in, leaving the door open behind us.
The moment it shut, a thunderous knock rattled it on its hinges, raining down dust from the rafters as the booming noise shook us to our bones. Thren jumped and flung the door open again. No one was there. Only silence and darkness.
I hadn’t moved. I was feeling so cold and heavy that I couldn’t feel surprised.
“That wasn’t an ordinary knock,” a voice said. “You won’t find a knocker.”
Thren jumped and whipped around, scanning the dark corners. I turned my head slowly. The voice had been dry and crisp, like burnt paper. Near the back wall of the room, in a spot that had been empty when we had entered, an old woman now sat in a chair, knitting.
The woman fidgeted with the yarn in her lap and looked up at us. A raggedy plaid blanket was slung over her shoulders. Her dress was blue calico, and her hair was a cloud of thick, white frizz, as if she had given up on taming it lifetimes ago.
“Bless your hot little hearts.” She smiled. “Aren’t they just racing? I had some cookies here once that could calm a child down, but I’m afraid I don’t know where they’ve gone.”
I glanced around. There was no other furniture aside from the chair she was rocking in. Zero places for hiding cookies. Zero places for us to sit. Not that I would have touched any food that she’d offered, and not that I wanted to sit down. But she wasn’t wrong about my heart. It was skittering around inside my ribs like a trapped bird. And the pressure in my head was building. I glanced at Thren. Her eyes were wide and focused, taking in the old woman and the layers of undisturbed dust around her. The room was empty of all sound except the clicking of knitting needles and the gentle sigh of the rocking chair. Wind should have been rattling the cabin’s window panes. Outside the open door, I knew sequoias were swinging and groaning like the masts of sailing ships at sea. But I heard nothing.
The woman looked up and stared past me. I felt needles dance across the back of my neck. Clearing her throat, the woman spoke again.
“The door, honeybear. You mind?”
I did mind. But my reaction was somehow disconnected from my desire. “Yes, ma’am,” I said. “Sorry.” I stepped back and felt for the door. Grabbing the handle, I pulled it shut.
“Who are you?” Thren demanded. “What are you?”
The old woman ignored the second question.
“Call me Nana,” she chuckled, “I bet you sweetlings could use some nice homemade socks.” She pulled up her skirt and raised her feet. They both were wrapped in poorly knit, sagging brown socks.
The needles on my neck were spreading down my back and arms, and my mind was growing fuzzier. Warmer. Thren leaned near me to share a whisper.
“Too solid for a ghost,” she whispered.
“Much,” the old woman’s creaky voice responded loudly. “Much too much.”
“Sorry.” Thren shuffled her feet.
The candles were…bugging me. When I looked at the old woman, the light from the candles burned in the corners of my eyes, and the flames cast long shadows on the floor.
“Ma’am…” Thren began.
“Nana.” The old woman corrected.
“Sorry,” Thren said again, “um, how did you get here?”
“Silly question,” the woman, Nana, said in her crinkly voice, “want a cookie?”
Something cold clamped around my left ankle. I choked in surprise and tried to jerk my leg free.
“Ach!” Thren jumped and stomped at the ground. The old woman kept knitting.
The dark hand of my own shadow was gripping my ankle. Gripping it tight and worming up my pant leg, cold against the skin. Burning cold.
I yanked my leg, trying to pull my foot free, but the shadow hand came with it, my own arm extending from my own shadow.
In some deep corner of my mind, I realized that I was screaming.
Icy fingers closed around my other ankle, and all at once the two shadow hands jerked my legs out from under me. I hit the floor hard, and a cloud of dust swirled around me before funneling down my throat. My screaming died. I couldn’t make a sound, and I heard Thren’s muffled coughing beside me.
Above it all, knitting needles clicked.
Icy fingers gripped my calves and icy arms slithered up around my thighs and pulled tight. Pressure enveloped my legs. Panic overwhelmed every sensation, as I watched my legs disappear into the floor. I couldn’t feel them. I couldn’t feel anything. I croaked, trying to scream. Flailing, I searched for something to grab on to. The dark icy fingers clutched at my chest, at my shoulders, at my throat.
I reached up and grabbed the handle of the door. I jerked myself back up to my knees in the floor and looking back, I saw constricting shadow hands jerk Thren into the floor, deep in a pool of her own shadow.
The old woman was still knitting.
Nana smiled benevolently. “Sock heels are hardest,” she said, “can’t get the turn right half the time.”
Dust still clogging my throat, I pulled at the door handle, heaving myself further out of the floor. I could feel my thighs, still icy cold, but still there.
I heard Threnody scream.
I watched as she sank a couple inches into the floor. I pulled myself out further and the shadow hands pulled her down further. We were connected. Pulling free meant drowning her in darkness. The fuzz in my mind erupted in pain as I watched a black hand close around Threnody’s neck. She was almost gone.
I let go of the handle.
Countless limbs leapt from my shadow and wrapped around me. I couldn’t hear Threnody anymore.
Pressure swallowed me. My vision flickered but I saw the old woman rise from her chair, yarn rolling off her lap and turning to dust as it bounced. She hobbled across the floor, past Thren’s clutching hand, to the window. She glanced back and what was left of my vision met her gaze.
She leaned down and blew out the candles.
And there was only darkness.
About the Creator
”Some days I feel like playing it smooth and some days I feel like playing it like a waffle iron.” -Raymond Chandler
Bits of fantasy and poetry and whatnot here, comedic comics on Instagram @mostlymecomics
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