In a Cabin, In the Woods
little candle by the window stood
The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window and signified the Court of the Candle was in session.
The shack's gray boards, mold, and moss made up the structure that leaned slightly right in the shadowed forest. The metal roof leaked streaks of rust and created unique patterns of art down the sides. An ancient Oak tree abutted the twenty-foot by twenty-foot structure as a counterbalance to the price of the decayed leaves, acorns, and twigs littered on the roof. Vines, some dangerous, others innocuous, wrapped the sides like wire in support. Within, lay the real danger, the Court of the Candle.
George, known about town for his disregard for anything but his own gratification for the forty years of his life, stood in the center of the cabin and cursed himself for taking the dare.
"A full moon rises tonight. I dare you to spend the night in the haunted cabin on old man Joseph's land," his long-time sidekick Joey had said, "unless you are chicken. Bak, bak, bak.... Chic....koooooon."
A stupid dare accepted while drunk and the weakness of his ego had led him here, the story of his life. Though most of his peers thought of him as a forty-year-old going on thirteen, he could not appear weak and accepted the dare.
Inside the cabin, cobwebs drifted in the corners. Stagnant perfumes of dust and mold pervaded the air as the suns failing horizontal rays left the forest in darkness. George had spread his sleeping bag on the warped boards of the unadorned floor to sleep, drained his quart bottle of Mogen David, and passed out.
He awakened at midnight to the scent of burned wax and candlelit shadows that danced on the ceiling. A table rested near the far wall with a white-bearded, black-robed man seated behind. On a bench on the cabin's back wall sat three men in white collared black suits and three women in long black dresses.
A clean-shaven bald man stood to the right of the table and wore a white collar over a black suit. Left of the Judge, a woman sat in a long flowing satin blue burial gown. The pallor of her face and skin was grayish and decayed. Her innocence, another stolen beauty, destroyed by the grave. Her face seemed vaguely familiar, but years of drugs and alcohol had diminished his mind.
The young woman of the grave, with her hands in her lap, rocked forward and backward. She sang quietly and her eyes devoid of light stared at the floor.
In a cabin, in the woods,
little man by the window stood,
Saw a rabbit hopping by,
Frightened as could be.
George jumped up and bolted for the door to escape, always his first defense. He yanked the handle, but the door would not budge.
"Order---order, order in the court, the Court of the Candle is now in session.”
He turned to the intruders with his back to the door. They stared straight ahead in silence as if he were unseen. The light and shadows from the red candle in the window danced in harmony on their faces. One second the jury appeared bright; the next, dark and monstrous.
"What the hell is going on here?" George said and introduced his second defense.
He believed he could talk his way out of anything, and the technique had worked well in the past.
"The accused will remain silent while the charges are read," said the Judge. The air reverberated with the shock of his gavel as it hammered the table.
"Read the charges."
The bald man stepped forward.
"On December twenty-fourth, nineteen and sixty-three, the defendant, George Smatters did murder, by strangulation, the victim present when he believed she would go to the police for his crimes against her. He allowed a hobo passing through the town to be accused and imprisoned for life where he shortly thereafter perished," he said.
"You are accused of murder, George Smatters. How do you plead? Guilty or not guilty?" said the Judge.
"This isn't a court of law. What kind of joke is Joey pulling here? This is sick and disgusting, and I'm leaving," George said, turning to pry the door with his fingers in the cracks.
"Guard, detain the accused," the Judge said.
Out of the shadows and before unseen, a man six feet seven inches in black pants, a black smock, and arms like prized hams stepped forward. His features were hidden under a black hood except for rust-colored homicidal eyes that reminded him of his neighbor's Pit Bull.
The guard seized George, lashed his hands behind his back, stood him in the center of the cabin in front of the court, and moved to the window by the candle.
"The Court of the Candle has simple rules and must be followed,” the Judge said.
“One, answer the questions asked of you.
Two, the candle represents your life; you will live as long as the flame burns.
Three, do not lie, or the candle will hold you in contempt.
Four, the jury's decision is final, and there will be no appeal.
Five, if found guilty, the penalty will be executed immediately. Any questions?"
George swore to himself he'd never drink Mogen David again, MD2020 was the worst, and stared hypnotically at the ten-inch candle as its flame danced as if alive. He made the decision to play along with the gag.
"I repeat, how do you plead?" the Judge said.
"Not guilty, your honor," he said. The candle flickered and dimmed.
"The candle holds you in contempt, sir. Guard, trim the candle.”
The jury, with one voice, murmured, "Nine."
The monstrous guard extracted a knife from his sheath, cut one inch off the bottom of the candle and placed it back in the window.
"Ooooo, this is getting scary," George said and chuckled. "You guys are good. How much are they payin? I might pee my pants."
"The prosecution may proceed," the Judge said."You may question the accused."
The bald man, the prosecutor, stepped in front of George.
"Where were you on the night of December twenty-fourth, nineteen and sixty-three when the victim was murdered?" he said as he pointed to the young woman in the burial gown.
The woman appeared less decayed and more vivid to life than moments before. George's mind sparked a memory, and he grew afraid when he recognized her, Vivian Joseph. In fear, he employed his patented third defense, lie.
"I do not know this woman, I have never met her," he said.
The candle flickered and dimmed, the Judge nodded, and the guard cut another inch off the bottom.
The six jurors, with one voice, spoke with increased fervor, "Eight."
George thought the prosecutor near his face reeked of garbage until he realized the offense was his own body odor and the alcohol-saturated sweat on his stained shirt. Sour acid rose from his stomach, and he gagged in a new fear.
"Hmmm, let me think, Christmas Eve, I would have been twenty years old and with my family."
The candle flickered again, the Judge nodded, and the guard sliced another inch off the bottom.
"Seven," shouted the jurors.
"Okay, this isn't funny anymore. On Christmas Eve I was with my friend Joey, and we had a party at an abandoned cabin, like this one," he said and repeated softly as he looked around the cabin, "just like this one."
The prosecutor continued.
"Did you commit acts of cruelty and sexual impropriety against this woman?" he said and pointed again at Vivian. George's memory became more precise.
"No, no, no! I remember now. She came up the trail and wanted to join the party. Women! They ask for it and when it happens they blame the man. No, I did not."
The candle flickered, and the wick dimmed to an orange glow and struggled to stay aflame.
"George, the candle holds you in contempt for four lies in your last statement," the Judge admonished, “guard!"
"Six, five, four, three," the jurors in unison shouted as the guard cut four inches off the base of the candle.
With a growing realization this may not be a game nor a gag, George fell to his knees and his body shook as his life fluttered like the challenged flame of the candle. His heart raced, and his breath grew shallow as his mind sensed his life was connected to the candle.
The prosecutor turned to Vivian.
"Did the accused who stands before you attack you on the trail, kidnap you, violate you, and strangle you to death?”
With eyes mixed with fear and sadness of a life stolen in its youth, Vivian pointed at George and nodded her head in the affirmative.
"Yes, he is the one," she said.
"I did not," denied George, "She is lying."
"Two," the jurors cried, and the candle was cut again.
"Stop this madness; the joke is over; I want to go home. Let me go!" George pleaded and launched his fourth defense; blame others.
"Joey killed her, I admit I was there. But she is mistaken. He's the one you want."
"One," screamed the jurors.
The prosecutor returned to the side of the Judge. Cautiously the guard lifted the nub of the candle and cut off the last spare inch of the candle's contempt. The half flame danced on the stub and struggled to stay ignited. The room grew dimmer, and the Judge and jurors appeared as no more than masked shadows.
"George Smatters, your lies and contempt of the candle have brought you within an inch of your life. I must admonish you to refrain from lying again. The punishment will be brutal, swift, and eternal. Do you understand?" the Judge said.
"I don't understand anything. I came here to beat a dare not to be tried for something that happened years ago. I don't know who you think you are, but this isn't legal," George snarled.
"As you are a hostile witness, I have one question for you. George Smatters, did you murder Vivian Joseph to prevent her from forcing you to face your crimes?" the Judge demanded,
"Yes, or no?"
Twenty-two years of living a life of lies festered in George's mind, fueled by his abuse of alcohol and drugs. His lies had become his reality, and though the truth stood bare before him, he decided denial was the best path forward. What could they do? This wasn't a legal court. He didn't have a lawyer but would use the final defense his legal counsel always advised.
Deny, deny, and deny, and then he would see every one of these pious idiots in jail before the sun set the next day. His uncle was the Sheriff, and he would believe anything he told him. The entire candle ruse was bull.
"The accused will answer the question," the Judge ordered.
"No," George said with defiance. The candle flame died, and a tendril of smoke curled into the air.
"Guilty, Guilty, Guilty, Guilty, Guilty, Guilty," shouted the jurors, each in order like a six-person firing squad expending their rounds.
"Guilty," barked the Judge as his gavel came down on the table, and the sharp thud echoed like a gunshot throughout the cabin.
"Is the show over with?" said George as he laughed, "I'm extremely tired and ready to get out of this dump. You guys got me. Heck, you almost made me pee my pants."
The guard scooped the candle's remains from the window ledge, stepped between the table and George, and dropped the deformed tallow on the floor.
The soft red wax spread outward into a circle, melted through the floor, and formed a red-rimmed, blackened pit that revealed a deep pool of waxen red lava. Smoky vapors rose from bubbles as they burst on the surface of the molten wax. Jagged lines of fire streaked through the fiery mass like lightning bolts. Sulfurous gases like rotten eggs rose and filled the cabin. A dark wet splotch expanded on George’s crotch as he stared into the candle's heated fury.
Movement alerted him, but he was too late to evade what would befall him. Vivian shoved him, and he fell into the fiery pit.
"Guilty," Vivian said.
The last thing George witnessed through his tormented eyes, as his clothes burned and flesh dissolved into the hot wax of the pit, was Vivian peering down from the rim, fully restored to the appearance and beauty of her youth. She sang and smiled.
In a cabin, in the woods,
little candle by the window stood,
Saw her murderer, pay the price,
Happy as could be.
The following evening, Joey, went in search of his friend who had not returned to tell his tale.
"George, you in there?" he said as he approached the cabin.
Joey pushed the door open and entered the dilapidated shack. A red candle in the window ignited a new flame, and the door slammed shut. In the dark, he tripped on George's sleeping bag and fell to the floor.
An authoritative voice broke the silence.
"Order---order, order in the court, the Court of the Candle is now in session."
About the author
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
Original narrative & well developed characters
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme
Zero grammar & spelling mistakes
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions