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A Light in the Mountains

by Phar West Nagle 3 months ago in fiction · updated 3 months ago
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Will the candle guide you home?

The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window.

But to Leah, a stranger to this mountain, the sight of the flickering glow filled her with hope, and like a moth to the flame she couldn't help but approach. There had been no other sign of civilization for hours, and as the storm overhead grew stronger, she knew she had to do something. Her heart pounded in her chest as she stumbled over the rocks and twigs that littered the muddy path, but it beat sitting alone in her car in the dark, praying for another vehicle to save her.

The decaying steps and peeling paint of the cabin grew clearer under her phone’s flashlight as she approached, and Leah questioned whether she’d made the right choice leaving the shelter of her vehicle. Aside from the candlelight, there was no indication that anybody was there at all. Her steps slowed as she approached the door, an old fixture that looked as if it had been haphazardly repaired and reattached at the hinges. She checked her phone one more time for signal.

No luck. Her cell service had died about half an hour up the mountain. Its battery wasn’t fairing much better.

Before her hand connected with the door, it creaked open, and she stumbled back. “H-hello?”

“Oh, sweet pea. You are positively drenched.”

She was honestly relieved to hear such a feminine voice greet her. “Um, I’m so sorry to bother you at this time of night, but I was hoping to use your phone to call for some help. Mine might as well be a brick up here, and it looks like my car has a flat.”

The woman in the cabin materialized into the candlelight, just enough for Leah to make out the smile on her face. She was again relieved to find that the woman looked so normal. “Yeah, I’ve heard that a few times before. Come on in. Power's out, but I do have a landline you can use. Beyond that, I can’t offer much else but some hot tea and shelter from the storm.”

As quickly as she'd appeared, she moved back into the shadows of the house, leaving the unfortunate traveler with an open door and a decision. A flash of lightning cracked across the sky, and with a small shriek Leah darted in, closing the door behind her just as the thunder started to rumble.

“Phone’s over there for you, sweet pea,” the woman called from her chair, pointing vaguely into the kitchen. “Hope you know the number.”

She dialed quickly, twirling the cord between her fingers. “Please pick up, please pick up.”

“Hello?”

“Babe! Oh, thank god. I need help. My car got a flat and -”

“Oh no, please tell me you’re not still on the mountain,” he groaned. “Don’t you have a spare?”

“That was the spare.”

“Why are you already driving on your spare tire, Leah?!”

“I don't think now is the time to have that conversation, is it?”

“I told you, you should have just flown here.”

She rolled her eyes with such irritation that she was sure he heard it. “Can you help me or not?”

“Look, even if I leave now, there’s still no way I can get there before morning. Are you safe where you are?”

She glanced over at the woman who had let her in. Despite the smile on her lips, her facial features appeared harsh in the candlelight, and it gave Leah a feeling of unease. But, given her circumstances, she figured it was her imagination. It was so easy for the mind to make monsters in the dark. “I think so.”

“Stay where you are then. I'll be there when I can.”

“Mile marker 91.”

“Right.”

She bit her lip as she hung up. “I know this is terribly awkward, but is there any chance you could let me stay the night? I can sleep in my car, but -”

“As long as you’re willing to share a cup of tea with me,” she replied, nodding to the seat across from her. “Would probably do you good to warm up a pinch.”

It seemed like a worthwhile trade. Leah slid into the other chair, and the woman gestured to the kettle on the table. She poured herself cup and wrapped her hands around the hot surface gratefully. “Thanks.”

“Don't even mention it, sweet pea. It's a part of my nightly routine regardless.”

“Oh, I don't want to intrude. If you're getting ready for bed -”

“No, no. It's been so long since I've had company. I don't get many visitors nowadays.”

Leah nodded, sipping from her tea tentatively. “This is good. I don't think I've ever had anything like this before.”

“Oh, it's my own special blend. There's a lot of good stuff in these woods, if you know the difference between your poisons and your delicacies.” Her host smiled. “My daddy made sure he taught me and my sister that young. Didn’t want us getting lost in the woods and accidentally killing ourselves while we tried to survive.”

Leah chuckled. “I guess that’s a good life skill if you’re going to live out here.”

“Most definitely. My sister was never really good at it though.” Her gaze drifted away from Leah and settled on the candle still flickering in the window. “Come to think of it, you kind of look like her.”

They sat in near silence after that, Leah sipping her tea and the woman across from her watching the dancing flame. “People used to pass through all the time, you know,” she said suddenly. “Every so often someone would break down and show up at my front door. Like you did.”

Leah shifted in her seat. “Lucky for them.”

“Yes indeed. But traffic lessened quite a lot after the murders came to everyone's attention.”

She clenched her cup a little tighter. “The what?”

“Oh, yes.” The woman looked over at Leah with a crooked smile. “It all started with the sheriff from the town below finding those abandoned cars along the highway. Each one belonged to a missing woman. As the numbers grew, a pattern emerged. Nails in the tires. A trap. And that's when they found the bodies in the lake.”

“Oh?”

“Right behind this very cabin.” She glanced out the dark window wistfully, her expression growing grim. “It's an incredible view. It's why my daddy built our home here to begin with. Of course, he left the place to my sister, who never appreciated it or these woods enough to deserve it. Figures that she’d go missing out here.”

“Was she…one of the victims then?”

“You could say that.”

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Don’t be, sweet pea.” Her smile returned to her face, but it somehow felt less welcoming than before. “I got the cabin, didn’t I?”

Leah was unsure of how to reply, and the woman laughed. “But that was years ago. Don’t you worry. The killer’s long dead, and now it’s just a story that haunts this mountain. Still enough to scare most people away.”

Leah sighed in relief, trying to ignore the chill that rolled over her. She hadn’t been able to make out what had caused her flat tire in the darkness. “Lucky me, I guess.”

“Lucky you indeed. You look just the type. Pretty thing with long, dark hair and a trusting face. Just like all of them. Just like her.”

She yawned, the late hour seemingly catching up to her despite her discomfort. “So, how'd he die?”

“Hmm?”

“The killer. How'd he die?”

“I guess most serial killers are men, aren’t they? I imagine it’s easier to get away with murder if you don't fit the usual profile.”

“You don't say.”

“Anyways, they say the killer holed up in their home after the authorities caught wind. By the time the police busted down the door, they'd killed themselves. Better than prison, they probably thought. There had been no standoff. Just a quiet death.” She paused. “But the killer doesn’t rest peacefully. Oh, no. They say their ghost still haunts these mountains, trapped alone in the wilds just like their victims. Just waiting for something that might set her free.”

“I’m not really one for ghost stories.”

“No? That’s too bad.” The woman stared at Leah, unblinking, her head cocked to one side. “Tell me, why did you make the trek up here?”

“I was just passing through.”

“No, no, sweet pea. To my doorstep.”

She hesitated. “I saw the candle from the road. My mom always told me that a candle in the window is like a beacon to guide people home.”

“That’s such a nice thought. Such a shame she was wrong.”

“Excuse me?”

“See, my daddy, he used to tell my sister and I stories about lights dancing in the wilderness. Will-o’-the-wisps, he called them. From a distance, a traveler might mistake them for a lantern. But, if you follow them, they just draw you further into the woods, never to return.” She sighed. “My sister didn’t really listen to that though. Trusted just about anything that appeared before her. People, omens, offerings from strangers…”

Leah's eyes began to droop further, and she put her cup onto the table with shaking hands. “How did your sister die?”

The candle in the window was wasted away to nearly nothing. “Oh, same as the others, sweet pea. She never was very good at knowing her poisons.”

The flame finally flickered out, and Leah’s cup smashed to the floor as she fell from her chair. As the shadows overtook her vision and the night embraced them, the last thing she saw was the woman’s crooked smile over an untouched cup of tea. “You really do look just like her.”

-

The storm had broken by morning, making way for sunlight that pierced the thin veil of fog over the roadway. Leah’s boyfriend looked up at the sound of footsteps in the mud. “I was wondering where you were. I was this close to getting lost in the woods looking for you.” He smiled at her as she reached the car, gesturing proudly to the repaired tire on the driver’s side. “It wasn’t a hard fix. You just had a nail in your tire. I’d still feel better if you followed me home so I can make sure it doesn’t give you any more problems, though.”

She took a deep breath of the fresh mountain air and watched him pack his tools back into his truck with a crooked smile. “Thank you so much, sweet pea. It feels like I’ve been waiting to get off this mountain for years.”

fiction

About the author

Phar West Nagle

Poet, author, lover, mother, friend.

Lover of mystery, the supernatural, psychology, philosophy, and the poetry that lives in all of us.

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Top insights

  1. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  2. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

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