The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window . . .
Come, little children, I’ll take thee away . . .
The fire burned hotly in their hands. Hot sparks popped erratically as its fingers reached for the stark black sky beyond the evergreen trees. The forest was silent but for the moaning of leaves under the childrens feet and the flutters of four anticipating hearts.
Sabina and Mabel huddled around their torch, tugging their cloaks closer to their bodies as the chilled autumn breeze fought to freeze their every step. Wendy walked ahead of them with Randall, a slightly younger boy who had yet to experience the changing of his manhood, beside her. He held a hunting knife in one hand and whittled a branch as he spoke into the sizzling air. His words hung over them as they crunched through the forest.
“Come on, Randall! Tell the story,” Mabel begged. Her voice held a thick northern accent that bounced from word to word.
Randall grinned over his shoulder at her. The light from the fire revealed the gaps between his teeth and set aflame the silver around his irises.
“As you wish,” he gestured with his knife. “The tale can be heard from Dover to Plymouth. A twist of truths and wrongs mended together by the threads of accusation and the illusions of men. They hide in plain sight, blending into civilizations without so much as raising the hairs on our necks. But the bumps on our skin do not lie. They are among us. Evil and sin birthed into the bodies of our brothers and sisters.”
“Who is among us?” Sabina twirled her hair around her fingers and looked up at the taller boy.
“They are his servants. Walking around to commit his sins and send our souls to purgatory. The Devil’s servants, they are.”
Sabina let out a small gasp. Her face caught in horror at his story. Randall smiled mischievously.
Just ahead of him, Wendy spun on her heels. Her torch whipped inches away from Randall as they came face to face.
“Do tell us, how would you know what the servants of the Devil look like?” Wendy wound her fingers around the string from his collar and tugged lightly.
Randall’s breath blew hotly on her lips. She could smell the stew his mother had made for supper. Beef and carrots with the hint of stale bread. Wendy looked into his silver eyes and beat her own with the precision of a practiced woman.
“I wouldn’t. I listen to the stories.” Wendy fought the urge to shudder. It was so rare to meet someone who held onto their native tongue. But Randall’s hard Scottish accent sent shivers down her spine.
. . . Into a land of enchantment.
Come, little children, the time’s come to play . . .
They stood in silence as the wind began to whisper to them. It was a hum, soft and sweet and easily dismissed.
The land dipped behind a hill and the lanterns from the town faded behind them as they ventured deeper into the heart of Blackwood Forest. Sabina began dancing. Swinging around the trees and following the soft crackling of the torches as her head tipped to the stars. Mabel, hunched over in her cloak, kept her head lowered as she waited for Wendy and Randall to press on.
“Sabina,” Wendy called. The girl whimpered once but followed obediently. “As you were, Randall.”
He nodded and stepped around her. “His servants hide in plain sight. Nestling themselves in the new cities and practicing their black arts.”
“Are they the bad people taking the children away?” Sabina sang, her voice sweet and luscious. She frowned when the girls cast her sharp glances. “Everyone whispers about them. Their hushed voices could fill the church.” Then she shrugged and danced on.
“The church believes the Devil’s servants steal the children in the middle of the night. Whisking them away with promises of fun and sweets.”
“Sweets?” Mabel’s face perked at the idea of sugary treats.
“Hush, Mabel.” Wendy was firm and the girl sunk back into her cloak.
“No one knows for certain how they do it. How their magic is fed to them by the Devil. How the witches bemuse and bewitch the minds of children to follow them to their demise.” Randall held his knife to Wendy’s torch, letting the metal glow orange.
. . . Here in my garden of shadows . . .
An owl hooted not far from them. Wendy could hear its wings flap as it sailed from the tree. Somewhere, a rabbit fled from its hole and deeper into the woods. Her feet sunk into the moist soil, creaking over the twigs. The holes in her cloak caught the wind. But her smile remained hidden behind a knowing face.
“What happened to the children?” Wendy offered to the silence.
“They say they are taken at night. When the people are most vulnerable and believe themselves safe tucked inside the hoods of their homes. Silent abductions followed by inaudible screams undoubtedly marking the death of the children who’ve wandered after their promises.” Randall pricked his finger with the tip of his knife, drawing the blood to its tip and letting it fall to the forest floor.
“Are they really dead?” Mabel asked hushedly.
“Only the witches and the Devil and God know,” Randall answered passively.
The song sang again as they passed beyond the creek. A silky voice drifted towards them.
. . . Follow, sweet children, I’ll show thee the way . . .
Randall stopped and looked into the forest. “Did you hear that?”
The girls cocked their heads at him and shook them in unison. “Hear what?” Wendy questioned.
He shook it off. “Nothing then, just a whisper of the woods.”
The wind grew heavier and the temperature dropped several degrees. The girls each reached for their hoods and placed them gently atop their hair. Randall was disappointed to see each of their faces disappear beneath them. He could only tell each of them apart by the locks of their hair. Sabina with her long blonde strands; Mabel with her crow black waves; and Wendy with her fiery curls. Focusing on their features brought Randall the comfort that was slowly dissipating with the night.
“Where are you taking us?” Sabina sang as she skipped to a nearby tree. When her face swung around he saw her eyes gleam a phosphorous green before snatching something from the bark and dangling it into her mouth.
“This town is full of fables,” Randall continued, despite the queasiness that he felt growing in his stomach. “The Devil’s servants vex your tongues and sully your minds. No two persons can agree on one thing save for one tale. A renounced cabin that lays alone in the Blackwoods. This, sweet ones, is where I lead you.”
The girls cast side-eyes at each other. Randall observed the exchange and allowed himself to enjoy the pleasure of their timidity. The girls huddled together around the torches. Stepping in tune behind him as he turned left.
. . . Through all the pain and the sorrows . . .
“They say the cabin was once home to a servant of the Devil. A lonely witch who cast her spells and practiced her magic. Her song called to the children, long after their parents had slept. She sang to them, luring them through the woods. If they knew what they were doing, their bodies made no move to defend themselves. When they arrived, a single flame was lit inside the home. A black flame whose shadow reached across the forest.”
“The Devil’s flame.” Randall looked at Mabel oddly having noticed the slight gasp in her throat that was to cover the growl of rapture before it.
“The Devil’s flame,” he agreed. “When the candle is lit, she sings and waits for her next sacrifice to knock on her door.”
“Sacrifice?” Wendy lifted her face from the cover of her cloak. “You believe she sacrifices the children to please the Devil?”
“And what do you, pray tell, believe she does with the children if they do not return from their visit?”
Wendy stood in front of him. Her eyes stared daringly into his. “If the children were sacrificed, who then was left to pass along their story?” Randall’s mouth fell silently open. Baffled and amused, Wendy cackled lightly.
. . . Weep not, poor children, for life is this way . . .
Randall tore his gaze from her and looked into the woods. His hand shot up, pointing the knife into the empty woods. “There it is again.”
“There what is?” Mabel stepped up behind Wendy.
“That voice. That singing.”
“What voice?” Sabina crept up to Wendy’s other side. They looked at him queerly.
Wendy smiled at him. Her teeth were small and half-filled and they grew crookedly. Her hand slipped over his, sliding over his fingers until she nudged the knife into her own hand. Randall did not notice the void in his hand while he stared hesitantly at her smile. “Take us to the cabin, Randall.”
Swallowing his waning pride, Randall pushed further into the forest.
. . . Murdering beauty and passions . . .
It wasn’t long before they met the edge of a clearing and found themselves peering at the lonely cabin. Wendy watched as Randall gawked at the open window. A single lit candle idled in it. The smell of stew flushed across the clearing. Wendy knew the smell well enough to call it supper.
Randall shook his head, not caring if he looked a coward. “It is specious.”
“Specious does not mean irrefutable,” Wendy hummed.
This time, when he looked at her, her face was firm and her lips pursed. She had cocked an eyebrow at him.
“Take us to the cabin, Randall.”
Sabina and Mabel flogged to his sides. Sabina danced incredibly close while Mabel hunched over until she was nearly falling into him.
“Take us to the cabin,” Mabel spoke from the side of her mouth, pursing her bottom lip over and out. It was outlandish to see even for his Scottish blood. Her laugh crept over his skin.
“Take us to the land of enchantment,” Sabina sang. She twirled around him and Mabel before pausing at his side and caressing her hand down his temple to his arm.
Randall swallowed. His heart leaped inside his chest as the lump in his throat swelled. He recognized the sweat on his brow as fear even as his feet forced him forward. Where had his mind gone that he could not control the ways of his own feet?
. . . Hush now, dear children, it must be this way . . .
He heard a woman’s voice growing as they neared the cabin.
“Come little children, I’ll take thee away . . .” her voice trailed off as they stepped onto the small porch, the wood bending under their weight. “Is someone there?” Quiet and dainty, the woman floated to the door and nudged it open. Then she smiled kindly at the children.
The door swung open, welcoming them in. Wendy went first, guiding the rest in silent pursuit of warmth. Wendy bent over the pot above the fire, drawing a death breath in and sighing with pleasure as Sabina and Mabel guarded Randall.
The woman closed the door behind them. Her hand found Randall’s shoulder. Cold fingers traced a line across his back and over his collarbone.
“So young,” she whispered. She breathed deeply through her nose. “Eleven, maybe twelve. Still fresher than most who haven’t yet claimed their manhood.” She rounded to his front until he saw her in the soft candlelight. Her eyes crinkled around the edges when they closed. Ash matted her face with dark circles. Her cheeks sagged grossly and her chin folded thrice over her throat. Old age had set in and it held not her secrets.
“Who . . . who are you?” Randall stumbled.
She laughed and turned away. Her hair fell untraditionally loose down her back. Thick gray curls accented her black corset and teased her black skirt.
“Isn’t he perfect?” Mabel poked at him and laughed.
“Don’t quip, Mabel,” the woman snapped.
“Sorry.” Mabel shied away to the corner. Randall watched her depart, his eyes widening when he saw the candle in the window had gone black.
“What is your name, child?” The woman took the wooden spoon and dipped it into the oversized pot that simmered over an oversized hearth.
“Randall,” he whispered across the room.
She smiled. “Are you hungry, Randall?”
His stomach growled. He hadn’t known he was hungry until then, having thought himself too full for his mother's pastries after supper just hours before. Randall nodded.
“Sit. Supper is nearly finished. My specialty. Rabbit's foot and toadstools.” She spooned a heap of it into a bowl and placed it on the table in front of him. “Eat. It would put my mind to ease knowing I sent you home having been taken care of.”
. . . To weary of life and deceptions . . .
Randall didn’t want to eat. The cabin in the woods. The burning of a candle in the window. The lonely woman. His stomach turned as he obediently ate a spoonful of stew. It tasted as she had said: of rabbit's foot and toadstools. He looked at the woman who smiled back.
“Eat up,” she urged.
“Eat up! Eat up! Eat up!” Sabina caroled.
The elderly woman cast her a warning glare and Sabina muted herself. When the elderly woman’s attention returned to him, he sank further into the chair.
They watched him eat. Each casting turned glances his way. Mabel by the candle, her fingers teasing the black flame. He could hear Sabina dancing behind him, her arms swinging in circles above her head as she hummed a tune. All the while, Wendy flipped through a rugged book on a stand near the fire, licking her fingers as she turned the brittle pages.
The crone began to sing again. He listened as he finished his stew. “Come little children, I’ll take thee away. Into a land of enchantment.”
Randall’s eyes grew heavy; his vision blurred. Blinking hard, he moved his hands to rub away the haze but his arms did not move. He hastened to shake then yet he felt them limp on the table. He raised his head in question, but his tongue swelled in his throat and his head fell back against the chair with a hard thud. His body felt like a stone, hard and still.
“Come, little children,” the woman gestured to the girls who joined her by her side. “The time’s come to play.” She placed her hand above her knees and bent over, swaying to her right to look at Mabel and Sabina, then to her left at Wendy. She nodded twice and the girls copied her stance.
“Here in your garden of shadows,” Sabina finished as she bent closer to Randall.
They pursed their lips and drank heavily. Not even they heard the screaming through his silent sagging mouth. But they saw it in the bulge of his eyes even after his death.
The woman brushed back her golden air as she knelt in front of Randall’s body. The girls clung tightly to her sides. Mabel poked curiously at her face where the wrinkles had been replaced by fresh dewy skin. Wendy marveled at her transformation, her mind racing with tiny mad ideas and her crooked smile inching across her face. Sabina clapped as she wiggled in the embrace.
But the woman only looked at them. A cross between loving eyes and a devilish grin. She petted their heads, in turn and squeezed their arms as she nudged them to the cots. Tucking them under scratchy blankets with their cloaks to protect them from the chill.
Waving her hands, she cast the room into darkness, rendering the cabin black as night with only the wisps of smoke to color it.
“Rest now, my children, for soon we’ll away,” she sang. “Into the calm and the quiet.”
*Lyrics in italics inspired by Kate Covington’s cover of “Come, Little Children” from the movie “Hocus Pocus” (1993).
About the Creator
From crafting second-world fantasies to scheming crime novels to novice poetry; magic, mystery, music. I've dreamed of it all.
Now all I want to do is write it.
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