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Curse the Darkness

Candle in the Window

By Bernadette JohnsonPublished 9 months ago 13 min read
Curse the Darkness
Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash

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

Two battery powered lanterns, however, provided the bulk of the illumination, one on a folding table in the middle of the room and the other on the floor next to the cooler.

“Velcome…to Camp Dread,” said Billy in a Dracula-esque accent. He plopped down in one of the camp chairs by the table, six-pack in hand.

“Gimme,” said Tamara, who was sitting adjacent to him.

Billy dislodged a beer and tossed it to her over an assortment of snacks.

“It’s actually Camp Dead,” said Tamara.

“Oh, even better,” said Billy.

He took another beer and held it out toward a woman who sat by the window, hugging her legs to her chest. “Gwen?”

Gwen looked over her shoulder at him. “Not right now.”

Billy opened it and took a sip, struggled briefly with a bag of chips, then crunched away.

“You sure you want to stare out there all night?” said Tamara.

“She’s right,” said Billy. “The zombies always get the one by the window first.”

“Cut it out,” said Gwen. “This place is creepy enough.”

“Creepy but cheapie,” said Tamara.

“As in free,” said Billy. He raised a beer and toasted, “To squatting!”

Tamara took a drink.

Gwen shook her head. “Aren’t you afraid we’ll get in trouble?”

“No one ever comes out here,” said Tamara. “Not even the park rangers.”

“How do you know?” asked Gwen.

“I went to camp here,” said Tamara. “Back when I was a kid. Things…happened.”

“You?” Gwen asked Billy.

“Nope,” he said. “But I heard stories from Tams.”

“What kind of stories?” asked Gwen.

“You really want to hear that sort of stuff right now?” asked Tams. “I mean we are hiding out from your psycho….”

“You’re right,” said Gwen. “Maybe later.” Gwen looked nervously out the window again.

“He’s not going to find us,” said Billy. “And if he does….”

“You’ll what?” asked Tams. “Throw cans at his head?”

“Yes,” said Billy, grabbing the four remaining tethered beers and holding them over one shoulder. “He’d better watch himself or he’ll feel the wrath of Pabst.”

Gwen smiled and Tams giggled.

He put the beers back down.

“Come on, sweetie,” said Tams, patting the empty chair.

“You’re right,” said Gwen. She blew out the candle, stood up, glanced out the window one more time, then took a seat at the table.

“Drink?” said Billy.

“How about something non-alcoholic,” said Gwen.

“Designated-driver drink it is,” said Billy. He leaned over, opened the cooler, and pulled out a soda.

Tams grabbed it before he could throw it and handed it to Gwen.

“How are you holding up?” asked Tams.

Gwen self-consciously ran her fingertips over the remnants of a bruise that still lingered underneath her right eye. “I’m okay. Still…looking over my shoulder.”

“Who wouldn’t be?” said Tams.

The edges of Gwen’s lips turned up into a weak but sincere smile.

“Let’s not talk about that loser anymore,” said Billy. “To us!”

Tams and Gwen held up their drinks to his toast and drank.

“My kingdom for a couch,” said Billy, readjusting in his seat. “What happened to the furniture in this place?”

“Maybe the ghosts got it,” said Tams.

“Is that what’s supposed to be here?” asked Gwen.

“I dunno,” said Tams. “Never saw any specters myself. But I did see…,” she trailed off, her brow crinkling.

Billy waited a sec, and then said, “Girl, you can’t leave us in suspense. Spill.”

“I don’t wanna upset Gwen,” said Tams.

“It’s alright,” said Gwen. “I could use a distraction.”

“Okay,” said Tams. “Back at camp, my last year, I saw…one morning, when I walked out of my cabin…”

“This cabin?” asked Billy.

“Yes,” nodded Tams.

“Seriously?” asked Billy.

“Let her finish,” said Gwen.

“Fine,” said Billy. With a flourish of his arm toward Tams, he added, “Continue.”

“I saw…two people…two counselors. Mary Jameson and Billy Drake…,” said Tams.

“Seriously?!? His name was Billy?” said Billy.

“Go on,” said Gwen, giving Billy a look and placing a hand on Tams’s shoulder. “You saw Mary and Billy.”

“Hanging. From a tree,” said Tams, pointing toward the window. “The big oak out there.”

They all looked toward the window.

“Like hanging hanging?” asked Billy, mimicking holding up a rope, his head dropping to the side.

“More like tied up by their arms, blood dripping onto the ground,” said Tams. “But just as dead.”

“Oh, my god, Tams,” said Gwen. “I’m so sorry.”

“Seriously?!?” said Billy.

“Know any other words?” asked Tams.

“I hope you’re pulling our legs, girl, or we are out of here,” said Billy.

“I wish I was,” said Tams. “And we shouldn’t go out.”

“And you brought us to THE cabin?” asked Billy.

“It’s the best of the bunch,” said Tams with a shrug. “The others are falling apart.”

“What happened?” asked Gwen. “With the counselors, I mean.”

“Papers reported it as a double suicide, but…,” Tams shook her head. “I still have nightmares. And I freak whenever someone blows a whistle near me.”

“A whistle?” inquired Billy.

“Associate it with camp, I guess,” said Tams. “That and the smell of mildew.”

“Camps are always damp,” said Gwen.

“I wouldn’t know,” said Billy, turning up his nose in mock snobbery. “My fam wasn’t rich enough to send me away for the summer.”

“And still you’re as snooty as a boarding school brat,” said Tams.

Billy threw a chip at her. “You love my snoot.”

“Every annoying bit,” said Tams, blowing him a kiss.

He caught it and went, “Awwww. Friends fah…ev…vah.”

“You two are adorable,” said Gwen.

“You’re my other bestie,” said Tams, giving Gwen a sudden side hug, almost knocking them both out of their chairs.

Gwen giggled as she caught her balance.

“We can be the three musketeers again, now that…,” started Billy. Tams gave him a look and he changed the subject. “So why bring us to the camp that gave you PTSD?”

“We needed someplace remote,” said Tams. “Hard to find, not associated with Gwen.”

“And who in their right minds would hide out at Camp Dead?” said Gwen.


“Who indeed,” said Billy, taking another sip.

“No one ever accused us of having sense,” said Tams. “Anyway, we’re fine as long as we stay inside until morning.”

“Say what now?” said Billy with a raised eyebrow.

“The people who died,” said Tams. “They all snuck out at night.”

“All?” asked Billy. “It wasn’t just Mary and my long dead namesake?”

“No,” said Tams, looking at the tabletop.

“How many are we talking?” asked Gwen.

Tams looked up, counted on her fingers for a moment, and said, “Seven? No eight. If you count the first one.”

“Eight counselors?” said Billy.

“One camper. Then seven counselors,” said Tams. “Oh, and the owner a little later. But that really was a suicide, I think.”

“What…? How did…?” started Gwen, not sure where to take the question.

“It happened over a couple of decades. The camper died first. Drowned. Then camp counselors started dropping about every three or four years. At first everyone thought it was just angsty teens offing themselves, copying the first so-called suicide, one after the other, but that last one...” Tams’s brow crinkled and her lips pursed.

“This story sounds familiar,” said Billy, pressing a finger to his chin. “Did you perchance do a camp slasher movie marathon and dream all this up?”

“No,” said Tams. “Pretty sure a lot of those flicks were inspired by my childhood haunt here.” She motioned around.

“Haunt is the right word,” said Gwen.

“I’m surprised OSHA didn’t visit,” said Billy.

“The owner shut it down when I was twelve. After the oak tree incident. A few months later he…,” she put two fingers to her temple, made a gunfire noise, and threw her head to the side.

“How’d the others die?” asked Gwen. “The counselors.”

“Same way as the last two,” said Tams. “Just one at a time instead, and different trees.”

Gwen looked wide-eyed at her friend. Then she pressed her lips together to stifle a laugh. The laugh broke through and a little saliva hit Tams on the cheek. The corners of Tams’s lips turned up, followed by her own laughter.

“What’s so funny, Morticia twins?” asked Billy.

“Oh, come on,” said Gwen. “She HAS to be making that up.”

Tams’s smile dissolved. “I wish I was.”

“Seriously?” said Gwen.

“Yes,” said Tams. “And I’m getting each of you a thesaurus.”

Gwen looked at her for another moment, then burst out laughing again.

“You two are in on this together, right?” said Billy. “It’s just a story?”

Gwen tried to catch her breath and wiped her eyes.

Tams gazed at Billy’s concerned expression and giggled.

“It’s all a joke? Never happened?” asked Billy.

“No,” said Tams through laughter. “It really happened.”

“Then why are you two laughing?”

Gwen started up again.

“I don’t know,” said Tams, wiping away tears.

“Gwen?” said Billy. “Honey-bear?”

“It’s just…hysterical,” said Gwen.

“Then I want a hysterectomy,” said Billy, throwing up his hands. “Cause ain’t nothing funny about this.”

Gwen caught her breath. “It’s just…I wanted to get away from…you know,” said Gwen, sitting up straight and pointing at her eye. “So Tams here brought me to her own personal mass murder trauma site.”

“It is peak Tams,” said Billy.

Tams shook her head. “I dunno. Maybe I wanted to face my fears while protecting you from yours.”

“Wanted us all to face them,” said Billy, throwing another chip.

Tams picked it up and threw it back.

“Don’t waste the food,” said Gwen. “Might be our last meal.”

This time Billy chuckled, and the round of laughter started anew.


Gwen awoke and looked over at Tams and Billy on the queen sized inflatable mattress butted up against her twin one. She turned over in the sleeping bag that rested on her mattress, winced at the rubbery squeak and hoped she hadn’t woken them.

Gwen glanced bleary eyed at the window. Her eyes adjusted to the moonlight.

Something was there.

She sat up.

A face.

Greg’s face. With a wild wide-eyed look she had never seen before. She screamed and sprang out of bed as the visage quickly receded from view.

Tams and Billy woke.

“What…?” said Billy.

“You okay?” asked Tams, jumping up and turning on the table lantern.

“He found me,” sobbed Gwen, hugging herself.

“The killer ghost?” asked Billy, rubbing his eyes.

“No, Greg,” sniffled Gwen, pointing to the window.

“Honey-bear, how would he find you out here?” asked Billy.

“I don’t know,” said Gwen, panic still in her voice.

“He’s done it before,” said Tams, angry.

“Maybe he’s got something installed on your phone,” said Billy. “If it is him, I mean. It was probably a nightmare. Or sleep paralysis. That makes you hallucinate, you know.”

“I don’t get sleep paralysis,” said Gwen.

“Aren’t you the lucky one?” said Billy.

“Billy,” said Tams.

“Sorry. I’m a grump when I wake up at…” He looked at his phone. “3:47 AM.”

“Someone was there,” said Gwen.

“What did you see?” asked Tams.

“His face,” said Gwen. “Looking kind of…odd. Maybe scared. Then it pulled away. Like he backed up.”

“And it was definitely Greg?” asked Tams.

“I thought so,” said Gwen. “But I see him everywhere right now.”

Tams gave her a knowing nod. She grabbed the lantern with one hand, reached into her nearby purse with the other, pulled out a hammer, and stepped to the window.

“Not too close,” whispered Gwen.

“I can’t see anything,” said Tams. “Kinda hazy out there.”

Tams walked to the door and opened it, holding the hammer up.

“Girl, don’t you dare break your don’t-go-outside rule,” said Billy.

“I know,” said Tams. “Just looking.”

She glanced at her feet for a second to make sure they weren’t over the threshold, then looked back out. She couldn’t see much. Shapes. A little movement, but it might’ve been the moonlight and fog and fear playing tricks on her. Gwen and Billy watched and listened from where they were. Gwen had her hands over her mouth.

They heard a rustling sound. Maybe leaves in the wind. Maybe something else. Someone else. Limbs breaking.

When they heard what sounded like a moan, Tams dropped the lantern, slammed the door, locked it, ran back to the queen mattress, and threw herself down in front of Billy, hammer still in hand.

Gwen joined them and grabbed Billy’s arm. He grabbed her right back and they held each other and pressed close to Tams, who was now wielding her weapon with both hands.

“Got one for me?” asked Billy.

Tams shook her head. “Grabbed it from the tool box on the way out of my mom’s garage. Figured we might need a weapon and it fit in my purse.”

“Do you think that was the wind?” asked Gwen. “Or a person?”

“It sounded like someone,” said Tams. “Or maybe an animal.”

“Should have brought the whole box,” said Billy. “I wouldn’t say no to a nice pointy Phillips-head right now.”

“I figured you could stab him with your sharp wit.”

“Funny,” said Billy, not pealing his eyes away from the door.

Tams looked at Gwen, held out the hammer, and asked, “Do you want it, sweetie?”

Gwen shook her head. “No. Don’t wanna bean some poor park ranger wearing Greg’s face.”

Tams nodded. She hugged her legs with one arm and held the hammer out with the other, looking back and forth between the door and window. Billy and Gwen looked over her shoulders.

“Just don’t go outside. Don’t go outside,” Billy repeated softly like a mantra.

A series of anguished sounds built up until a scream pierced the night outside.

Tams dropped the hammer and hugged Gwen and Billy to her. “We’re going to be okay,” said Tams as if to convince herself. “We’ll be okay.”

“Don’t go outside,” Billy repeated

“We’ll be okay,” said Tams.

Gwen chuckled through her tears.

“What’s so funny now?” whispered Tams.

“Guess we’re all getting thesauruses this year,” said Gwen. She reached over, picked up the hammer, and stood up.

Billy grabbed her leg at the ankle, and said, “What are you doing?”

“I’m tired,” said Gwen.

“Tired of breathing?” he asked.

“Tired of being scared,” replied Gwen.

Tams stood with her, put a hand on her arm, and said, “I’m right behind you. But seriously, don’t go out there.”

“Let’s just…look,” said Gwen to both of them.

Tams nodded. Billy removed his hand from Gwen’s ankle and stood up. They crept forward, inches apart, almost knocking each off balance, until they reached the window, ducked down and squinted over the windowsill.

Haze. Lots of haze. But as they stared at it, it started to clear. The moon became visible. They could see the tree. Its limbs cast shadows all around.

As did the other limbs.

“Is that…?” said Billy.

“I can’t tell from here,” Gwen shook her head.

“Should we help?” asked Tams.

“Or call someone?” asked Billy.

Gwen thought for a moment. “Let’s wait ‘til it’s light out.”

“Yeah,” said Tams. “What would we tell them? Hey, we’re squatting in the old abandoned creepy cabin and we think we see something spooky outside?”

“No one would believe us,” nodded Billy.

They moved away from the window and crawled back to their sleep gear, Tams retrieving the fallen lantern on the way.

“So,” said Billy. “Wanna play truth or dare?”

“Truth,” said Tams. “No dares tonight.”

Billy reached for the chips. Gwen pulled drinks out of the cooler. And they waited.


They stood on the porch looking out at the tree. And the bloody figure than hung from it.

“Is it him?” asked Billy.

“Yup,” said Gwen.

“We are definitely going down for murder,” said Billy.

“We didn’t touch him,” said Tams. “Just don’t get near him. Don’t get blood on you.”

“Better him than us,” said Gwen.

“Cheers to that,” said Tams.

“Know any good lawyers?” asked Billy.

Greg said nothing, ever again.


About the Creator

Bernadette Johnson

Bernadette “Berni” Johnson is the author of The Big Book of Spy Trivia, many tech articles, movie reviews, short stories, and two novels in perpetual editing.

You can find her blog, other work, and mailing list at bernijohnson.com.

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