by: Dennis R. Humphreys (the DreamWriter)
The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. That candle burned from then on, every night. Campers asked the park ranger about the place, wondering about the light. Some looked in the solitary window, but saw no one there and the door remained locked. There was a sign posted on the place... 'No Trespassing Condemned'. Concerned that the candle, not in a holder, might burn to its base and cause a fire, one that might spread from the cabin to the forest, visitors complained to the park service.
“No one lives there. It's probably just some kids smoking pot and drinking. I've checked the place out dozens of times. No one likes to go near the place since the eleven suicides in that cabin fifty years ago. It gives them the heebie jeebies,” replied Tom Peterson when people complained.
Of course, as soon as Peterson mentioned the suicides, people pushed to learn more.
“There was this guy...some self-proclaimed minister with eight followers, plus three children with them. He was anything but religious. He had them convinced, the world was going to end, and he was their only salvation. According to him, the earth was going to spiral into the sun over a three year period. Everyone would be cooked before the collision. It would be an excruciatingly painful death. They built that cabin up there to get away from the world and do whatever they wanted. I heard they did a lot of crazy stuff there. The authorities were looking closely at them, because of the three kids involved... you know, the state, child services and all. Before they could do anything, he convinced his commune to take some death drink to avoid the final agony. Campers found one of the bodies outside of the cabin, and then checked inside. Everyone was dead.
The police investigated, but never found the leader... Reverend Alabaster Cozen. His whole group was there, including his wife, but not him. They've been looking for him since, but by now he's probably dead, or pretty old anyway. I guess it's what you call a cold case,” the ranger explained. “There are always a few kids and adults that disappear every year without a trace. That's not unusual in these large parks. People claim its aliens, or Sasquatch responsible... something like that. Some say it's the Reverend Cozen still roaming this forest. A lot of campfire legends came from that incident.”
There isn't anything unusual about the park situated in Maryland, near Catonsville, not far from Baltimore, but it is isolated. Across the state road that takes you there, is another part of the forest. A half mile down a lonely, isolated road, off of the state road, there is a dumping site, where various discarded items find their final resting place.
One evening, after a camper mentioned the candle in the window to the park ranger, and again he recited the entire story, which he knew by heart, he was pushed further for what he knew. The woman asking questions, would not leave it alone. She wanted to know as much as possible about the incident.
“I'm sure the authorities did everything they could. The guy's picture was all over the television. Then they fired the whole story up again with that one television show more recently, 'America's Notorious'. They showed his pic and a number to call with information for a reward.
The place was a mess. The bodies had been in the cabin for several days before they were found. Varmints had started feeding on the corpses, especially the one they found outside the cabin. It was half gone and the stomach opened up. Forensics went in and took pictures. They did what they do. The one boy and two girls had their toys with them, lying by their bodies. The kids were under nine years of age. The boy had one of those GI Smittie dolls and the girls had a couple Potato Patch dolls. At the end of the day, after they transferred the bodies to the morgue, and started bagging evidence the dolls went missing. I guess someone in the department actually stole the damn things. Probably figured they'd be worth something eventually, to some gruesome collector, interested in the macabre. Maybe they felt the incident would become famous,” he explained to the woman, before she was finally satisfied, and left him alone.
“What the ranger didn't tell the woman or anyone else inquiring about the incident, was the reports of individuals seeing very small people, doll-like creatures roaming the forest,..” the youth minister, Barnabas Cheeter, told the six children around the campfire, he and his wife took camping that weekend.
It was one of those kinds of stories, that was perfect for telling on a camping trip around the evening campfire.
“... they were seen by several unrelated people, each confirming what the others saw, at different times, from different places, vacationing at the state park. They were seen leaving the forest and shuffling to the trash dump, stiff legged. Other dolls were seen, besides the GI Smittie and the two Potato Patch Kids returning to the park with the three of them. Of course the park ranger didn't believe what was reported because he didn't see the dolls to confirm what people thought they saw.
Folks said they had strange, animated movements about them, as they walked... as if invisible hands were controlling them, like a child pretending they were alive and enlivening them in play...” the youth minister explained to the attentive youngsters, gathered around the fire.
The evening became more chilly, with the slight breeze, rustling the leaves in the dark. It gave an eerie backdrop to the story, as if there were things at the edge of the forest watching them, moving to get a better look. It sounded like small creatures rummaging in the dark. Perhaps there were chipmunks, or some other rodents watching, making the noise, besides the trees.
Monica Esposito was a cute, inquisitive, little eight-year-old girl. She wandered away from her parent's campsite in the forest, as children that age sometimes do, becoming interested in things they see and inspecting them. Then they realize they've wandered off and don't know where they are. Monica became alarmed as the sun began to set that evening. A glimmer of hope appeared, when she saw an old cabin standing in the woods. There was a light in the window. 'Someone must live there,' she thought. Going to the place, she'd knock and get help. Soon she'd be reunited with her parents, who by now, were likely frantic, as to her whereabouts.
Leaving the forest, she walked into the clearing and stumbled over a piece of wood. The lost girl, picked herself up, and looked at the window that was illuminated by the candle. It flickered, beckoning her towards it with a friendly invitation.
There were two steps, leading up to the rickety old porch. She had to use the railing to get there, because the steps were high, too high for her to climb, without some support. As she approached the door, she heard voices. Very subdued, child-like voices coming from within. Monica was happy, that there were children inside. That meant there were adults too that could help her find her parents.
Knocking on the door, the voices subsided. She listened carefully, but heard nothing, so she knocked again. This time, there were faint footsteps approaching the door. It took time, but the doorknob turned. The old, creaky door slowly opened on its rusty hinges. It opened widely, but she saw no one there. A small, weak voice from behind the door asked her to enter. If she hadn't been concerned about her situation, she would have thought better about entering the place, it was so creepy.
“Please, come in,” the voice said, so she did. Looking around the dimly lit room, with only the single candle light, revealed little.
Monica entered the room unsure, and barely saw some movement in the dark. Lightly illuminated objects, scampered in the shadows... undefined things that confused her imagination. Standing there, the rusty hinges cried out again, as the door closed behind her. Turning, she was surprised at the sight. There, a small doll dressed like a soldier stood on the shoulders of another larger, plump doll with reddish pigtails. It appeared their acrobatics was the only way to reach the door knob.
The little girl was surprised and speechless. These were dolls that moved and talked like people! They weren't just little people pretending to be dolls. Just how could this be?
“You're dolls!” speaking in condemnation. “How is it you can move and talk like live people?”
“It surprises everyone that comes here,” the chubby little red headed doll began. “We belonged to three children who died here many years ago. Their life force became part of us because of their love, and gave us the ability to breathe and move.”
“The man who talked everyone into killing themselves was very evil. He had made a pact with the fallen one,” the second chubby doll said, stepping from the shadows.
She and the other one could have been sisters, they looked so much alike, but this one had blonde hair and a large open cut across her face where a spider lived, crawling in and out of it, capturing Monica's attention in the dim light.
“Since then we have been putting a candle in the window, 'helping' lost children find their way home,” the GI Smittie doll told her.
She was elated to hear that. They could help get her go back to the campsite with her family.
“Here, step into this room. You can call your parents. I assume they have cell phones?” the one doll asked her. She didn't wait for an answer as she pulled her towards the door, since it was rhetorical question.
She opened the door for Monica, but the room was unlit. There was only the faint glow from the light of the candle in the window, streaming through the open door.
“It's dark. I can't see where the phone is in here,” she complained, as she walked through the door.
“We'll turn the light on inside once you go in, it takes a minute for us. Just go,” the one doll commanded, sounding irritated as she pushed her.
As Monica walked through the door, it suddenly slammed shut behind her, and she was plunged into total darkness. Faint whispering in the room and small footsteps... almost imperceptible sounds, became apparent.
“Is someone in here?” she asked, as her voice quivered in the void. Turning, she stepped back towards the door. Her hands searched the surface of the door for the knob. There were small slimy things undulating over its surface, making her cringe as they oozed their muck on her fingers. When she found it she was relieved, until she turned the knob to open it, but it wouldn't open.
Her heart beat, strong and hard, pumping the blood through her body, becoming warmer, as the sound of her heart thumped in her ears. It sounded in syncopated rhythm, quickly becoming louder. She just knew, whoever was here, could hear it too, and was alerted to her anxiety. The dry, coppery taste of apprehension, exploded in her mouth. She wanted to leave this place, even if she had to sleep under a tree on a pile of leaves in the forest overnight. There was no leaving, it was apparent. Slumping down, she slid to the floor with her back against the door. In the darkness, things crawled on her neck and she could hear sounds... whispers and laughing... children giggling. It was like turning down the television to where you couldn't understand what was being said, but you knew there was talking.
“Who's there? Speak to me? Who are you?” she called out hoping to at least hear a voice, to feel calmer.
Finally, thinking no one would answer, a voice emerged from the darkness... light footsteps, and then a hard, little plastic hand touched her right leg. She jumped slightly at the unexpected feeling, unable to see anything.
“Don't be afraid. I'm 'Talking Tina'. We're here to help you,” the voice told her.
“What are you? Are you a doll like the others?”
“Of course,” she answered.
“How many of you are there?” Monica asked the voice.
“There are eleven of us,” 'Talking Tina' replied.
“How did you come to be?” Monica asked her, not feeling any better about her predicament.
“We were animated by the three original dolls. This day and age, no one plays with us anymore. They play with those stupid smart phones. They bury their face in them and play nasty games their parents condone. They don't use their imaginations. Children have become dim-witted. We've been discarded. All of us have come from the dump across the street. All we need to live, is the soul of a child,” the voice told her.
Monica was becoming more apprehensive. She had to escape, but could see no way out. She couldn't even see her hand in front of her face.
“Is... is that, why I'm... he... here?” she asked trying to act brave and unafraid, but the thumping in her ears became stronger, as a chill ran across her arms... she could feel the light hair on her skin stand on end, tickling her.
“Of course. Your soul will empower another one of us at midnight,” Tina responded.
“I found a lovely little girl doll just a few days ago, someone had thrown out. She only has one leg but we don't discriminate with the handicapped,” a male voice added. “We will get back at everyone for abandoning us. It isn't fair!”
Monica, began crying. The doll acted so nonchalant about her fate. The thought of never seeing her parents again, or her brother, was too much to contemplate.
“We need thirteen souls and thirteen dolls to accomplish our ends, but we'll take more. Then we will be strong,” 'Talking Tina' spoke out from the darkness.
Another voice spoke then, one she hadn't heard yet.
“You have two hours before your transformation begins,” it said strongly, with great affirmation. It was a deep, penetrating, breathy voice.
“How... ex... actly are you going to transform... me?” Monica asked, shaking as if she were sitting in a deep freeze. The little girl peed herself just then, feeling the trickle spread out over the floor into a puddle.
“We have a special knife, the largest of us will plunge into your heart,” the male's voice explained.
“Ha! She's pissed herself,” Tina announced to the others, walking though the puddle. It stirred laughter among them.
“What's so special about it?” Monica asked her jailers, hoping this was all a nightmare and soon she would awaken in her sleeping bag.
“It's very old, made for such ceremonies...from ancient Mesopotamia,” 'Talking Tina' announced.
Monica, began crying uncontrollably then, her body shaking. Fear closed around her in some crushing agony of helplessness. She knew there was no use screaming. No one could hear her in this place, unless they inadvertently were at the cabin. A completely powerless feeling swept over her. Then she felt many little plastic bodies climbing on her in the dark, holding on to her tightly. Roaches would have been more welcome.
“There, there... don't be afraid. It will all be over soon. You will have a long life to look forward to without its physical pain. These plastic bodies will last longer than yours. Plastic just doesn't disintegrate like your human body,” one doll told her as she felt its plastic arms grab and hold tightly around her upper arm, in an attempt to console her. She rose to her feet with all the dolls clinging to her as she stood.
There was no consolation, only utter fear making her cry harder. In a very short time, anger overcame her and she grabbed hold of the doll clutching her arm, and threw it across the room. She kicked and pulled off the others she felt clinging to her legs and around her waist. She stomped in an attempt to damage the dolls. She could hear them scuffling away in the dark, trying to escape her anger.
“So that's how it's going to be young lady ,” said the male doll. “I'll enjoy transferring your soul to a more appreciative doll.”
They all cackled in agreement with each other, speaking under their breaths. They were airy sounding voices of various pitches and inflections. Monica wasn't sure if she damaged any of them, but hoped she did. The dolls would stay away from her now. Perhaps if she put up enough of a fight, she could keep them away when midnight came. After all, she was bigger, though there were more of them.
Time passed without more communication from the monstrous dolls. The imprisoned girl stared into the dark, sobbing over her plight. People say, if you lose one of your senses, your others become more pronounced. Unable to see anything in that room, it did seem her hearing's sensitivity increased. When she breathed, there were unknown odors in the stale air of the cabin.
She distinctly heard light footsteps and a sliding sound, most likely the doll missing a leg and making do with some replacement, producing the sound, dragging it across the floor. There was the asthmatic sound of another, with troubled breathing as it labored. One tapped on the floor with its foot, or it was possibly the hand of a larger doll. Faint music played, like a music box with the twirling ballerina, that you activate by winding.
There was a putrid stench too as she felt the breath expelled on her from some of the dolls, close to her... a smell, reminiscent of vomit. It made her hold her breath for fear of getting sick.
A clock alarm sounded in the room and the dolls became active, shuffling everywhere. It must be midnight. One doll lit a match to ignite a candle and illuminate the room. There was discernible movement as the light reflected off the dolls' plastic bodies. Some were whole. Others were retrofitted with parts from other dolls that fit improperly, making them look grotesque. Monica kicked as they moved towards her. She sent one across the room, bouncing it off the wall, determined to fight for her life. Then, as she was feeling in greater control, a hand brushed her hair and reached around to cover her mouth with a cloth. Something nauseatingly strong was on it. She became dizzy and then felt herself slip into unconsciousness, but not before she heard one of the dolls talk.
“It's time you finally got here Reverend Cozen. She was putting up too much of a fight for us!” complained 'Talking Tina'. “The bitch hasn't given up yet!”
The following night descended on the forest. Searchers, looking for the missing girl, stopped at the cabin, thinking she may have gone inside to escape the night. There wasn't a sign of her there. There wasn't a sign of her anywhere. A professional tracker, working for the police, was unable to find any clues. It was as if the earth swallowed her, extinguishing any sign of the girl. He couldn't understand how an eight-year-old child left no clues.
Shortly after the search party left, the sun set. The candle was lit in the window of the cabin...traditionally lit by the newcomer of the group. The doll was a larger, plastic one with half of her hair gone, a stick replaced one of her missing legs, taped to stay on, and she limped markedly as she walked. A plastic eye was missing too, and one hand, almost severed from the arm, was held on with the same tape holding her prosthetic leg to her body. They named her... Monica.”
“Ooooo,” the children cried, as the youth minister, Barnabas Cheeter finished his tale. Pleased, he had sufficiently scared them, he sat back and sipped his cup of coffee his wife gave him moments earlier.
“What did you think,” Mrs. Cheeter asked the group as she sat down on a small rug on the ground.
“That was scary. I'm glad it was just make believe,” one little girl commented.
“But it's not. It's real,” Mrs. Cheeter responded.
“Yes... it's very real. The cabin is here, in these very woods,” her husband answered.
“No, it isn't. You're just saying that,” Max, one of the three little boys there, argued.
“Sometimes real stories are much scarier than make-believe,” the youth minister countered.
“You'll have to prove it,” cried Max, prompted by his friend, Marvin.
“I will. It's too late and dark to go there tonight. Tomorrow we'll go in the evening before sunset.
“But won't it be dark before we return?” Janice asked.
“No... it isn't far from here... just a fifteen minute walk. We'll eat dinner, then walk to the cabin so you see the place and how eerie it is in the shade of late day,” Barnabas told them.
It was hard to determine if the children were excited or scared... maybe both, as they left the campfire to prepare for bed. It took the kids a while to go to sleep, being together, and not wanting to let go of the day when they had fun. They'd continue talking from their sleeping bags. After being told to hush at least three times, they would continue making little irritating noises under their breath and giggling. Eventually they quieted.
“You have them riled up with that story,” Mrs. Cheeter told her husband, leaning against him by the fire.
“They're a good group of kids... so typical. I hate to be leaving town,” the reverend told his wife.
“Oh well... there are a lot more kids out there needing youth ministers like you,” she commented, giving her husband a kiss on his cheek.
The day began like the last two, with a hot breakfast of fresh biscuits, scrambled eggs and bacon cooked over an open campfire. There was no better breakfast. It tasted best cooked over an open campfire. The day had been planned like the others and consisted of a hike to learn about wild herbs and plants along the way. They'd come back and eat lunch, which would be grilled cheese sandwiches cooked on a big iron griddle placed over the campfire. They'd rest then, before going to the lake to swim for the afternoon. When they got back to camp they'd eat dinner, and then as promised, go to see the cabin in the woods.
“Reverend Cheeter... how do we know the cabin you're going to show us is the one you told us about?” asked Marvin, one of the other little boys who usually instigated doubt about anything through his friend Max.
“You don't. You'll just have to take my word for it,” he replied as the boy stood looking and then walked away. “We have doubters, stirring up discontent.”
“There always are. They'll find out differently when we take them there and they see how spooky the place is,” his wife mentioned.
Organizing to leave, it was difficult calming the children.
“Kids... stay together. I know you're excited about where we're going,” Barnabas told the children. His wife ushered them in line to walk through the tall, pine forest, towards the dilapidated, log cabin.
They headed west to the small log house, towards the setting sun. It would be dark in a little over an hour but the place wasn't far. They'd be back before dark. Birds watched the group as they followed the youth minister through the woods. Mrs. Cheeter was the last one in line, so she could keep an eye on everyone. She identified the various birds to the children, as they listened.
The clearing became visible ahead, a small one created by the felling of trees to build the cabin before this was a state park. The cabin was built in the late 1960s by a group of religious hippies. They lived here away from prying, judgmental eyes, before their leader convinced them into some kind of suicide pact. Reverend Alabaster Cozen was a likable man... very convincing, and very controlling.
“There we are kids...that's the cabin. I told you. Go ahead and look around. Just be careful, it's in bad repair. Some of the boards on the porch might be rotten,” the minister warned. The kids were hesitant to approach the building at first, until Marvin, one of the cynics in the group, said he wasn't afraid. He argued the whole story was just an imaginative tale. He moved slowly towards the cabin, and then a candle was lit in the window. The children made frightened sounds while Marvin stopped and looked. He turned around, smiling an unsure smile at the others. He was committed now though, to prove how brave he was.
“Who's coming with me, or are you just going to stand there too afraid?” he challenged them. "There isn't anything to be scared of... Reverend Cheeter set all this up to frighten us.”
Mrs. Cheeter shot her husband a knowing glance and smiled. He looked back at her laughing slightly, as he shook his head. Then he turned his attention back to the children, while they began to move in unison behind Marvin. The boy moved more bravely towards the place, as they followed him.
Marvin climbed the rickety stairs, looking at the candle flickering from the air currents in the single, cabin window. He grabbed the doorknob to turn it. Inside, he hoped it would be locked. Then they could leave, but the knob turned freely and the door opened easily. It was noisy, creaking in defiance of the intrusion. Inside, it was dark, with the only illumination coming from the failing sunlight through the window and the candle light. There was a musty smell too that spilled from it. He stood peering through the door, as the others mounted the stairs, and took their places behind him. Mr. and Mrs Cheeter walked to the foot of the stairs, keeping an eye on them.
“Are you going in or not?” asked Carol, prodding him to move forward.
“Don't rush me,” Marvin warned, The back of the room was dark and he was unable to see anything.
“Go ahead Marvin, "prodded Carol again, but Marvin was hesitant.
The leader stepped into the room. He went further inside, as the others pushed from behind. The minister and his wife stepped onto the porch and walked to the door, as all the children piled into the cabin.
The Barnabas Cheeter reached out, grabbing the doorknob. He pulled the door shut.
One of the last children turned to open the door, thinking the reverend and his wife were trying to scare them, but the door was locked. Marvin looked around the room and noticed the almost imperceptible shape of a chair, the only piece of furniture in the room. Smiling with a solution, he picked up the chair and swung it at the window, but nothing happened. Doing it again, it bounced. The window was unbreakable. An anxious look came over him, as he tried again to no avail. The others in the room became alarmed. One of the children noticed something in the shadows moving. She thought at first it was a rat or maybe a squirrel. A voice called out though, as she tried to make sense of the object.
“Come back here into this room, There's a back door through which you can leave,” the voice announced, and everyone immediately scrambled for the door, one of the dolls opened.
When they entered the darker, windowless room, the door shut behind them. There was no other door they could see. The room was void of light and they were trapped. Voices in the room, other than theirs, were audible... soft, quiet voices whispering and laughing. A few of the children felt small, active objects brush up against their legs in the dark... cold, animated things. The children turned to beat on the locked door and to scream for help. Laughter escalated behind them from the darkness, as fear and desperation mounted among them.
“It smells like puke in here,” Max commented.
“I think I'm going to throw up,” cried Carol as she felt small hands and arms reach around her ankles in the dark.
Something bit Marvin on his leg and he turned to try and kick away whatever it was.
The minister and his wife strolled from the cabin without looking back. Screams of the terrified children filled the air. Crows were the only things that seemed to answer their cries, echoing through the pine forest. Even the squirrels were silent.
“Reverend Cozen... nice work for an eighty-two year old man who doesn't look a day over twenty-five!” she reminded him.
“Stop it... you're going to slip sometime, calling me by my given name,” he admonished her. “Hey! You're pretty hot for being seventy-two. You still look like you did when you were fifteen, when I met you.”
“Thank you... it is amazing what you can accomplish when you deal with the right forces,” she told him. “Let's go back to the camp... we have the place to ourselves tonight. We can even go skinny dipping in the lake tomorrow, before we hit the road.”