Maybe in death, you'll finally get what you wanted.
The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. Every time you had come through, there was never a sign of life. But for some reason, on the day where everything changed…that did too. These woods once offered you silence, solitude, and freedom from everyone you knew. No one knew about the path that led to the cabin in the woods. The cabin that should have been empty, yet a candle now burns from the second story window to the right, right above you.
You would be enraged if the flame didn’t amaze you. Enrapture you. The thought of wishing for better days on falling stars falls away as you watch as it burns, flickering before you. As it dances to a silent rhythm while the woods grow cold around you, leaving you freezing and frozen in time. All those times you passed by and never once entertained the thought to go in and—No.
How stupid it would be, you think, to go inside. To find out the mystery behind that small, yellow light. A light that illuminates nothing but the darkness around you. You came here for solitude. For silence. For freedom from everyone you knew. And that candle is a sign of life. The last thing you should want to do is introduce yourself to whatever ghost is living inside.
What if the ghost is like you, having come to the woods for the same kind of solitude? The freedom. To silence the pain inside you. Why else would the ghost have built a cabin in the woods so far from everyone they knew. Why else would the ghost have watched you pass it all alone, all alone itself and never coming out to greet you? Why else, on this night, would it light a candle, offer warmth, inviting you in and promising you a place to stay in a place that can serve as refuge?
How terribly lonely you feel in that moment. How cold. How empty inside, and oh so very foreign. But the cabin with the candle is too. And so the cabin is familiar, the candle is a friend, and now the flame is calling out to you. And they know the pain of the one who came through the woods often, who was shunned, forgotten, and abandoned by everyone just like they were. And they watched and wished and they waited. Until one night, they put a candle in the window.
So you ignore the voice in your head screaming ‘don’t listen’ and listen to the one whispering ‘come hither’ instead. You forget everyone who had forgotten you and you take a step towards the only one that didn’t. The only one who knew what it was like to be you. Your heart starts to beat to the same rhythm as that candle in the window in the cabin in the woods you once thought you were alone in. In the woods where you wanted to die in but never could bring yourself to. As the world once blurred by darkness suddenly shifts and sharpens into focus, the stars in the sky, the needles on the trees, the barbs of the bushes, all, all surrounding you—bearing witness.
Once you take a step up the steps leading to the front door of the cabin, you feel it. A cold breeze sending shivers through your fingers, up your arms to the warmth against your chest and around your shoulders—keeping it from reaching where your heart is.
“I’ve watched you,” the warmth says as it tightens its embrace “I’ve waited.”
“Will you stay,” you ask as the warmth starts to fade and a ghost takes its place and steps away. Away from you. From where the cold is now starting to settle inside you.
“Only if you do.” The warmth says, taking your hand and leading you up the steps and to the door it opens for you. “Only if you extinguish the candle burning inside you.”
“Wait, what?” you ask as you try to pull away.
But it’s too late.
You’re thrown into the cabin in the woods where nobody goes because everybody knows what it holds: The bodies of those they’ve shunned, forgotten, and abandoned. And the body you fall on is someone whose eyes are still open, still searching and hoping for someone to have and to hold them and to never let go. You scream and cry and scamper away, withdrawing your embrace.
“Oh, and there’s only one escape if you decide not to stay,” the ghost in the doorway claims, before it slams the door in your face.
This can’t be possible, you think as something beats frantically against the doors, the windows, and the walls of the cabin. When you twist and turn and dance to find the source of the beating, but you only find more bodies instead. Bodies with charred hands clutching their chests where their heart is. Where their pain is. Where the wax from a candle now burnt out is. Dripping. Dried just like the tears that were once falling from their eyes is. Binding together their hands, their hearts, their bodies and souls to this place in this room in the cabin in the woods that should have been abandoned is.
Freezing and frozen in time.
For a moment, you forget what the ghost said. The floors tremble and the walls shake as you go to each and every one of them. Trying to commit their faces to memory as a lover does. Trying to see if their stories play in their eyes like a dreamer's does. But all you see in their face is a dim recognition of someone you must have known and shunned, forgotten, or abandoned when you left them to go into the woods. All you can see in their eyes is a reflection of yourself staring back at you…and the ghost that’s standing right behind you.
“Make your choice or I’ll make it for you,” it says.
You gasp as something thunders outside and a life flashes before your eyes. A life of grief and misery and pain and pain and pain. Of finding this place and wishing for someone to stay to stay to stay. Of your wish being answered, but it rips a hole inside you to take and take and take. As you thrive, writhe, and beg and beg and beg for someone to help you. But you’re alone in the woods that nobody goes to so nobody is around to hear you, to see you, to save, to save, to save you. And all the stories of the souls in this cabin are the same, same, same as yours is.
This time, when you hear the beating on the doors, the windows, and the walls of the cabin, your hand goes to the place on your chest where you know your heart is...but find a bleeding hole instead. The warmth, the life, and the love was cut right out of you, extinguishing the fire that once burned inside of you. It’s only when you try to calm yourself with deep breaths that you realize the cabin breathes with you. Rising and falling in time with your chest, beating to the same rhythms as your heart once did.
This time, when you twist and turn and dance, it’s to find the stairs that will lead you to the candle in the window, but the bodies are now souls that surround you. The wax from their hands and chest no longer dried, but dripping like blood from a wound does. Their screams echo around you like the storm outside does, as they beg you to take away their pain and stay to save, to save, to SAVE ME!
This time, when you hear the thunder and the beating rattling inside you, something shatters and breaks and flies all around you: Glass that cuts and pierces and stabs you, reopening the wounds in your heart, your mind, your body and soul. You cry out as another window goes and the storm gets in. And before you know it, you’re running, you’re tripping, you’re stumbling over the bodies littered inside as their souls keep clawing and grasping and reaching to drag you down and keep you from going where the candle in the window in the room in the cabin in the woods is.
And another window goes.
One by one by one.
You shove them away, your steps beating and scraping and pounding on each step up the steps that will take you to the window, to the candle, to the flame that can save you. To the warmth, to the love to the life you must now try to claim for yourself is. To the top where everything stops is. Where you’re alone again—finally. As you always should have been.
But you’re not alone, are you?
You can see the light of a candle from a doorway to your right, right in the corner of your eye. You turn to get a better look and regret it. The flame itself is just out of sight, the light only bright enough to lure you like the ghost who is now before you did. Who lured you like a moth to the flame, a lover to the pain, a knife to the skin did. To give you peace like the woods, hope like the cabin, meaning like the candle did.
“Did you figure it out?” The ghost asks, reaching out to caress and comfort you. “What it is that you wanted?”
“I wanted friends. I wanted family. Connection," you respond despondently. "I wanted love, because I had none."
You had no one who cared as much as you did for them. No one who understood what you did. No one to talk about the struggles and what the point of life is. No one to miss you when you went missing. No one to keep you from going into the woods where it’s better to be alone in than around all those who would take everything they could from you and leave you in pieces.
“Then why are you doing the same to those who want the same as you?” The ghost asks, reaching out again. But this time it's to have and to hold you and to never let go of you, as he adds: “I thought you knew what love is.”
You do. It’s sacrifice. Servitude. Someone who gives as much as you do. “What did they choose?” you ask, gesturing to the souls and bodies of the people you once knew is. But you knew the same as the ghost did. You knew the story behind the pain and the solution as you always did. They kept their candle inside their chests, kept its warmth for themselves, kept it guarded until the wax from the candle dripped and dried and the flame died when it was sealed off from the oxygen it needed to breathe in.
“So this was a test?” You ask as it all starts to make sense. As the thundering starts to shake you, as the beating starts to bruise you, and the screaming starts up again.
The ghost only smiles in answer.
Oh how tragic, you think as you enter the place with the flame that can save all of you is. That they should suffer like this. And oh, how terribly selfish you feel in that moment. To shun them, to shove them away, to forget their pain, to even think about abandoning them to this place. How wrong you feel, and oh so very foreign. But the feeling residing inside you is too. The flame is familiar, the ghost is a friend, and the souls are calling out to you. And they all know the pain of the one in the woods in the cabin that had been abandoned by everyone they knew, until one night you came in because a candle burned for—
“You know what you need to do,” the ghost says, stepping out of the way that will take you to the candle in the window in the cabin in the woods where those who would use, abuse, and abandon you shouldn’t be able to reach you. Where there’s a flame that enraptures you, hypnotizes, and compels you. So you ignore the voice in your head whispering ‘don’t listen’ and listen to the ones screaming ‘don’t be selfish’ instead.
The thought of wishing for better days on falling stars falls away as you watch as it burns, as it flickers before you. As it dances to a silent rhythm as the cabin grows cold around you. As the inside of you stutters, shutters, and creaks in warning. As the world once blurred by darkness suddenly shifts and sharpens into focus, the past, the present, the future—all aligning.
Watching as you bring the candle to the bodies of the souls you can’t shun, forget, and abandon. As it ignites in their hearts, mends their wounds, and warms their blood so they’re no longer freezing and frozen in time. As one by one by one, they leave you alone in the woods, in the cabin, with a candle with a flame that dies just before it reaches where your heart once was.
About the author
Ever since I was a child, I found solace in books and stories of my own imagination. Worlds that I can escape to. After many years struggling with my confidence, I am starting to share my work and try new things!
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
Original narrative & well developed characters
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab