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The Curse of Timber Den

by Jet Garner about a month ago in fiction · updated about a month ago
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You hear your own voice as you begin speaking ominously around the campfire gathering; the faces of your friends are reflecting the final embers before bed. All of their eyes are on you.

The Curse of Timber Den
Photo by Mihály Köles on Unsplash

The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. A candle that marked the passing of yet more young souls consumed by a curse in the quaint New England town of Timber Den. A curse spat by a witch as she swung from the rafters of that cabin thousands of campfires before.

That was when the deathwatch beetles began swarming Timber Den.

Timber Den was a quiet town on the edge of the Hundred Mile Wilderness in Maine. It is rumored that a woman accused of practicing dark arts a couple of hundred years ago out in the deep untamed forest had been apprehended by a mob from Timber Den. She was then dragged to her domain, hauled up, and swung like an old pendulum in a grandfather clock until she stopped moving. That’s how the story went, anyhow.

The story grew legs when a group of young boys happened by the cabin some decades later. The boys thought to explore the old cabin they had found in the virgin forest while playing, and made a game of it. The details of the game are lost to time, but what is known is that only one of the boys came back. Caked with mud, covered in blood, and ailed by a stupor that never shook off. Upon returning to town, he lived a short couple years before he died without uttering so much as a single word about what transpired in the forest. He was buried at the cemetery near the edge of the wood, and that was that.

What the town did know something about was the beetles. Deathwatch beetles by the swarm had invaded Timber Den. The beetles, ya see, burrow in timber. They eat it; live in it; lay eggs in it; etc. A telltale sign that you have a deathwatch beetle infestation is that the males will tap on the inside of the timber to attract a mate. It is said that any soul that hears this sound – that rhythmic tapping within their walls – is spelled with impending doom. Hence, the infestation of an entire town of such things can be maddening. Particularly a cursed town.

As they took up residence among the different homes and shoppes in town, nefarious events began befalling the occupants of each structure. Some would merely hear the tapping, then tumble down the stairs and fracture a knee that afternoon. Some amount of mothers miscarried after hearing the deathwatch in their homes. A few of the less fortunate would fall down the well in the center of town to the dark inky depths that swallowed them up, or spill lantern oil on themselves and manage to get lit aflame. Occasionally, but perhaps the least often, children that heard the sound would feel – drawn – to the cabin in the woods.

This became an accepted facet of life in the town of Timber Den. Many families had left the dreary little town at the edge of the Hundred Mile Wilderness; the edge of that dank, emerald abyss that drunk in light and spat out decay for the forest floor and its mossy familiars. Despite the curse, plenty of families stayed. Die-hard citizens that refused to be bullied by mysterious forces of unfortunate souls who clung to their Bibles during the day, and clung to their sanity every night.

+++

Yet more decades rose and fell. The town slowly converted to primarily brick buildings. Partially because of the inevitable modernity that creeps into every dark recess of many old wooden structures throughout the world, but in part because of the lack of timber for the deathwatch beetles to inhabit. The curse cut back on business within the town, ya see, so the residents of Timber Den didn’t so much like the beetles. Well, they cut back on all business except for maybe the coroners’. Their lot were sad to see much less of the beetles.

Despite the loss of warm cozy buildings to inhabit, the swarm did not move on or die out. The beetles simply migrated to the outskirts of town within the countless trees of the surrounding wilderness. It is among those very trees that our story bears fruit on a warm summer night outside Timber Den. That fruit is named Timothy.

+++

Timothy was out camping with his local church youth group, let’s call them, the Royal Rangers. The Royal Rangers were all sitting around a campfire on their second night away from Timber Den in the Hundred Mile Wilderness. Their Commander (and chaperone) was teaching them how to roast bacon over a fire with nothing except a paper bag. It isn’t an easy thing to do, and most of the boys lost their bacon to the flames. Timothy did not, however. Timothy managed to cook his bacon far enough away from the fire that the grease did retard the flames, yet close enough to fry the bacon. Timothy ate bacon for supper, and his Ranger Commander was indeed proud.

The issue with being one of the boys to eat bacon that night is that Timothy also had to take care of business when nature came-a-calling. And naturally, this happened at the extremely convenient time of – in the middle of the night.

So Timothy, a no-nonsense, strapping young man of nearly thirteen, was not afraid of the dark. He slunk out of his sleeping bag as quietly as he could without disturbing the others within the tent they all took chore in carrying in their rucksacks. He was decidedly more cautious with the zipper to escape into the night unheard.

Timothy did as he was taught by his Royal Ranger Commander. He dug what is called a ‘cat hole’ to take care of business. It's the most respectful, environmentally friendly way to take a ‘number two’ while out in the bush. Six inches deep, four inches wide, one hundred feet from the nearest trail, and at least two hundred feet from the closest water source. Timothy was a competent Ranger, and even in this instance, these measurements and the precision of his ‘number two’ mattered to him.

As he squatted down, he began listening to the dark forest around him. His narrow vision was lit only by a little battery operated lantern he carried with him, which actually did more to impede his overall night vision than actually enhance it. That is when he heard it.

Timothy heard an odd tapping.

It seemed an out of place sound in the quiet darkness. He was used to hearing owls, crickets, frogs, and so on, but hadn’t heard this sound before. It came again. Sounding sort of like a woodpecker in slow motion. A hollow tap, tap, tap. Both slow and rhythmic in nature, like something tapping a claw on the inside of a hollowed tree.

It also seemed to be readily approaching.

After enough maddening tapping, Timothy quickly finished his business, and hurried back to the tent. Slinking not quite as smoothly as he had upon leaving, he settled back into his sleeping bag feeling nervous and a little flustered. He wasn’t entirely sure why he felt so flustered, but he did. He also had no intention of letting any of the other boys know that this experience had happened, but it had.

+++

The next morning, the Rangers and their Commander broke down camp and fit it back into their respective rucksacks, and began their saunter on the next leg of the trip. Timothy felt normal, but was fiercely anxious about his surroundings. He kept looking around at the other boys to see if any of them expressed similar mannerisms or anxiety such as he. Searching for a sign that perhaps someone else had an uncomfortable experience like he had. He received no clues as to the truth of that.

As the day trudged on and they reached the second camp, the Rangers set up again and undertook yet another cooking challenge at the behest of their Commander. Timothy didn’t win this time, and he got to eat jerky and trail mix instead of hot food.

It was around twilight that he first noticed the glow.

Out in the darkness of the wood, Timothy noticed a faint glowing he hadn’t seen before. He asked his friend Joshua if he saw it too, and Joshua had told him no. Joshua said that Timothy must have messed up his night vision with the recent fire, and that nothing was there.

Puzzled but trying not to worry about it, Timothy went about setting himself up to sleep with the other boys. But a buzzing kept catching his attention. It sounded like it was coming from the same direction as the glow.

Coming out of the tent, Timothy looked out into the night. It was warm and muggy. It felt like the night air of a swamp more than a mossy wood. He could see the glow brighter now, and the humming had grown louder. He looked in towards the other boys. They showed no sign of hearing it. Everyone else seemed oblivious to what plagued Timothy.

+++

Following the glow through the ominous woods with no more light than his lantern, Timothy had grown curious and frustrated about the flickering light and buzzing sound. Although he was anxious as well, his frustration and feelings of isolation from the group was consuming him.

After walking far into the night, he wasn’t sure how he would navigate back to camp when this exhibition was over, but he pressed on nevertheless. He was determined to find the source of this noise and the teasing glow that was getting brighter as he followed it through the wood, searching for the source.

Finally, Timothy arrived at a rickety cabin in a glen. The clearing itself was only lit by the few stars out, but there was a single window facing Timothy as he stepped out into the forest grove.

There was a single candle burning in the window.

Timothy had grown up in Timber Den, and he had never heard of a cabin residing in the Hundred Mile Wilderness. Although he was trying to think about why he hadn’t heard of such an intriguing structure, he couldn’t stop watching the candle in the window.

He felt hypnotized by it. Like it was drawing him in the way insects are drawn to firelight.

Walking up to the decrepit front door, Timothy was surprised he hadn't lost his nerve. Outside of the cabin were wooden statues scattered throughout the grass. Some were of intricately carved crosses, like that of a graveyard. Some were gargoyle looking spiders and insects. Carved almost like Tiki-type statues Timothy had seen on TV located on tropical islands. Just to the right of the door stood the largest statue.

It was that of a large wooden beetle. Timothy thought he had seen the type of beetle before, but couldn’t place the name. Almost as tall as he was, the beetle had great teeth and had its legs up and arched in a menacing fashion very unlike that of actual beetles. At least any beetle that Timothy had ever seen. He noticed something else about this statue and the others scattered around.

They were covered in little holes about as big around as his index finger. It looked like the world’s largest woodpecker had albeit destroyed most of the wooden figures.

Hands sweating with trepidation, Timothy grasped the knob that worked as a handle on the wooden beam that barred the door. After several tugs of effort, he managed to slide it aside.

A little wave of dust and air puffed out at him, causing him to raise his arm in defense of his eyes. Those same eyes went wide with what he saw inside.

Hanging in the center of the cabin was the corpse of a person dangling from a rope by its neck. The rope was thrown over a rafter and attached to an iron stake that was nailed to the window sill on the far wall of the cabin.

Timothy had to put a hand over his mouth to not make any noise at seeing the skeletal body hanging in the center of the one-room cabin. It was perfectly still and had remnants of what looked like a tattered robe covering it. Long blonde hair fell around the corpse's face obscuring Timothy from seeing the skull.

Looking around the rest of the room, nothing else seemed out of place besides the candle burning on a little table within view of the front window. A desk was in disarray with scattered pages of nearby rotted books. Dried herbs hung on every wall of the small cabin. A couple of bookshelves holding flasks, beakers, and yet more rotten books joined the herbs as the only things that gave a feeling of decor to the bland space. That and the copious inch-deep dust that rested on all flat surfaces.

Timothy then noticed a fireplace behind the hanging figure on the other side of the room directly across from him with several jars of gross looking blobs and chunks suspended in unknown fluids. The corpse had distracted him from noticing the hearth at first.

The rope holding the body aloft snapped and the bones crumpled to the floor.

Timothy shrieked with the sudden sound and movement, and a wave stench like death itself assaulted his senses. Raising his hands again to his face, he caught vomit rising into his mouth and quickly tried to choke it back down before he lost his dinner.

Turning away, he fell onto the door frame to breath fresh air to try and stem off the feeling of sickness. Looking out to the lawn, the wooden statues had all turned.

Now they faced the door to the cabin. A cacophony of rhythmic tapping like he heard in the woods filled the warm night air all around.

One of the Tiki-like bugs fell forward onto its legs, and began stalking forward towards him slowly. Then another, and another. Even the crosses fell to the ground and started inching towards him, the wood creaking as it bent impossibly to life rippling like great caterpillars in his direction. The tapping sounds grew with intensity and number as he watched the wooden totems creep ever closer to the cabin door. The loud tapping, all in unison, swallowed him whole.

The beetle statue next to his face by the door suddenly snapped its wood-cutting, multiple hinged jaws at his face. Timothy fell back, the vomit forgotten as he screamed at the top of his lungs.

The door slammed shut of its own accord. The candle snuffed out. The cabin was abruptly pitch dark. Timothy noticed that his lantern had gotten turned off during the turbulence. Fumbling with the lantern, Timothy heard a popping, and then a clicking sound behind him that sounded low to the floor, level with him on his side. He froze, suddenly aware of how close he must be lying to the remains of the person that had been hanging in the center of the room. The hollow tapping outside grew louder, and louder, and the wooden lawn statues sounded ever closer.

He scrambled to his feet and his fingers found the dial to turn on his lantern. Dim orange light licked over the interior of the cabin.

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

Timothy looked down to where the human remains had been laying when the cabin went dark. His young eyes, glowing orange in the lantern light, went wide at the revelation.

Timothy screamed.

+++

When the sun came up, the other boys woke up to some bacon and eggs made over the fire on a cast iron skillet by the Ranger Commander. They thought that Timothy had gotten up a bit early since he wasn’t in his sleeping bag when they all rose from their collective slumber. The Commander wasn’t worried initially, but it had been nearly an hour since the troupe rolled up their kits and backed them away in their rucksacks. He was growing concerned.

It was no later than the final piece of bacon had finished sizzling in the skillet that Joshua, Timothy’s good friend, shouted aloud and pointed with his finger across the campsite. The Ranger Commander turned his head over his shoulder. Across the way standing alone and still, was Timothy.

Relief washing over him, the Commander stood up and walked over to him, kneeling slightly upon reaching him. Concern and sympathy were etched in his voice as he asked how Timothy was.

Timothy didn’t reply. He looked up into the Commander’s eyes, a calm expression on his young face. He smiled, but said nothing to the Commander. The Commander noticed faint scars on both sides of Timothy's mouth he didn't recollect seeing before. Must have slipped his mind, he thought.

The Commander smiled back at him, further relieved. He assured Timothy all was well, and that he was glad he made it back to camp.

Timothy ate then. He ate more than any of the other boys or even the Commander, and faster than any of them had ever seen before. They all sat mostly finished in slack-jawed amazement at the ferocity at which Timothy mauled his breakfast.

The teeth smacking, snorting, loud intensity of his fist fulls of eggs and chasing it with bacon had them all a bit disgusted if not entirely put off. He wasn’t even using utensils, just his bare hands.

He was eating like an animal. Like a feral cat with the first can of tuna anyone had ever spared for it.

When the scarfing had abated, Timothy looked up expressionless and surveyed the other campers. Six sets of eyes watched back at him, totally still. After an uncomfortable silence, Timothy smiled.

The Commander, breaking the silence, instructed the boys to clean up from breakfast and then went over to Timothy who had walked away to stand alone at the edge of camp facing the woods.

The other boys paid attention passively as the Commander said words none of them could hear. All were concerned about how their friend was acting. Timothy was normally pretty social. Sometimes annoyingly helpful and sort of a teacher’s pet. Him acting out in this way gave them unsettling pause, and scared them.

+++

After breaking down and packing away camp, the boys and their chaperone continued on their meandering circular path to lead themselves back to Timber Den. The final night of the trip was quickly falling upon them as the sun began to set, and the darkness crept back into their lives. Timothy said nothing throughout the entire day. He would just look out into the woods with a blank stare on his face as they hiked. Sometimes locking eyes with one of them, and smiling.

Joshua had tried talking to him some throughout the day, but got nothing in return. Merely the odd smile and a twinkle in Timothy’s eyes, then Timothy would break the connection, and walk off. It had Joshua growing more and more anxious about his friend.

After camp had been prepared and the evening fire had been snuffed out at the conclusion of dinner, the boys began settling down for bed. Joshua, his curiosity having gotten the better of him, whispered at Timothy as they lay in their bags. Timothy was laying on his back staring at the roof of the tent, that same eerie smile spread on his face. Joshua wanted to know where Timothy had gone the previous night, because he had noticed that Timothy left the night before. Joshua knew that Timothy hadn’t gotten up early, he heard him leave the tent the night before. As his best friend, he demanded Timothy tell him the truth. Timothy looked over – the smile dropping like a tired curtain from above a window. He nodded his consent to Joshua, and the boys got up and quietly got dressed as not to disturb the others.

+++

Timothy stepped out into the glen calmly and deliberately. Joshua watched him in wonder as he fearlessly pressed onward towards the cabin in the center of the glen. Nervously looking around, Joshua trotted to catch up to his friend who had not slowed down or sped up for the entire time it took them to trek to this site from their camp. Timothy seemed in a form of trance and felt neither exhaustion or urgency. He woodenly just – was. It gave Joshua the shivers watching Timothy move about the way he was. He moved sort of like a puppet.

Joshua noticed a glow in the window of the cabin. It was flickering Timothy’s form in silhouette as he approached the door to the little structure. Joshua noticed it was a candle burning. Why would a candle be burning out here in the middle of nowhere? Did someone live in the cabin?

Timothy opened the door and went inside as Joshua slowly made his way across the grassy lawn of the simple old house. The lawn was clear and empty, with strange scattered plots of dirt without grass all around and long streaks of damaged grass streaking in lines from each spot towards the house. It looked like it was previously covered in stones that had recently been dragged inside. Joshua hurried past all the dirt blotches and joined Timothy at the doorway into the cabin. A wooden statue of a weird looking beetle haunted the right side of the doorway. It looked like a beetle crossed with a dragon, or one of those Chinese sculptures of lions with dragon-like features. It scared Joshua, so he hurried passed the statue and followed Timothy inside.

The door slammed shut behind them, and the candle snuffed out. Joshua jumped at the loud bang and sudden lack of light. The only light was Timothy’s battery operated lantern he held in his outstretched arm towards the center of the room. Joshua looked at what he raised his arm towards, and shrieked aloud.

In the center of the room hung a dead person. It faced them, the empty sockets of its eyes bearing down on Joshua; its blonde hair framing its menacing dead face. It was perfectly motionless. Outside, Joshua began to hear a rising tap, tap, tap sound, like small strikers on wood that was getting closer and closer.

Timothy walked to the side of the room with the table and the candle in the window, casting the shadow of the hanging form from across the room to its side. Joshua couldn’t take his eyes from the hanging corpse.

Tap, tap, tap.

After setting the lantern down on the table next to the candle, Timothy turned and faced the skeleton hanging from the rafter. Joshua looked quickly at Timothy smiling up at the corpse, noticing the pale scars on both sides of his mouth that stretched almost all the way to his ears. How could he have not noticed those scars before? Maybe because of the lighting in the cabin?

Joshua’s eyes wide and his heart racing, he looked back at the corpse. Suddenly the rope snapped from the spike in the window sill, and the bones crumpled to the floor.

Joshua backed up until he felt his back slam into the closed wooden door of the cabin. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t speak. He was so afraid that he thought he might wet his trousers. Joshua looked at Timothy. He was unchanged. He was staring at the crumpled heap of a dead person in the center of the room with that same eerie smile sprawled over his face.

Tap, tap, tap was getting closer and closer on the outside of the cabin.

Then Joshua heard a pop from the pile on the floor. His eyes followed the sound.

The pile of bones continued popping and scratching as they writhed to life underneath what was left of the tattered robe. Insect-like legs sprung forth from newly animated sinews stretched between vertebrae on the corpse’s back, and the popping and crunching grew more intense as the human remains sprung yet more legs and began organizing itself from a human form into something else. Something utilizing the couple hundred bones of the human skeleton from arranged in a human-shape to a more elongated-shape.

It looked like a bone centipede, with a human skull for a face. Bones became its claws at the end of every sinewy leg.

Fully organized with rotten, stinking sinew and strange new bony appendages, it stood up and looked at Joshua. Joshua tried to literally melt into the wooden door behind him. It didn’t work. He didn’t know what to do, so he did nothing. He couldn’t even scream.

The disorganized monstrosity opened its bony mouth inhumanly wide and hissed at Joshua causing him to lose his bladder, and then it skittered quickly around the room. It climbed up the wall to the left, its human eye sockets never leaving Joshua’s gaze as it click-ran across the walls and settled above the fireplace on the opposite side of the room from the door.

Timothy raised his arms above his head slowly, then ascended onto his tip-toes, and closed his eyes. Joshua watched him like a kitten watching someone sharpen a knife before slaughtering its mother and coming for him next. He still hadn’t moved. He felt helpless. He had nowhere to go.

The human-bone-centipede-monster arched its back at a fierce angle and howled an otherworldly screech. The hearth below it roared to life; the flames casting terrible shadows all around.

Out of the fire, something crawled. Long legs and a bulbous glowing body, like molten rock, slowly entered the room. As if cooling, the limbs and body of a spider, nearly the size of himself, darkened to match the brown facade of the cabin. Timothy dropped his arms and stood motionless. The centipede beast stared at Joshua, its facial bones smiling at him, impossibly. Joshua looked to the newly emerged spider-thing that just crawled from the hearth. Before Joshua could react, the spider rushed at him, screeching some awful high pitched sound.

Joshua stood up straight. He opened his mouth to yell, but he was not near fast enough to even cry out before the creature was on him. The spider reared up inserting its two front claws into Joshua’s mouth, stretching it wide. It then slid another to claws in, down his throat. Within just a moment, the spider had forced itself into Joshua’s body, tearing his mouth wide open with its bulbous girth, and Joshua fell down, crumpling to the ground.

Timothy watched with a smile on his face as Joshua began writhing on the floor of the cabin.

+++

The following morning, the Commander awoke to find himself zip tied on top of his sleeping bag in a scene from a war zone. Blood and gore was everywhere inside of the tent. None of the boys were anywhere in sight. No whole boys, anyhow. Chunks of boy lay here or there scattered haphazard nearby. The Commander screamed.

Timothy’s head popped into the tent, smiling at him. Timothy strutted in with Joshua close behind. They were both slick with blood, from their faces underneath their eyes, all the way down to their hiking boots. Both of them smiled eerily at him. The Commander didn’t have words. He had no idea whatsoever how to react.

He began pleading with the boys. He asked about the others. He begged for his life. Timothy and Joshua didn’t even exchange glances, and began stalking towards him.

His screams couldn’t even be heard in town not twenty miles away with the insulation of the trees.

+++

Timothy and Joshua arrived back at Timber Den the following day to concerned parents and neighbors. Folks that saw the blood and stupor that had overtaken the boys and immediately (and rightly so) panicked. Their eyes weren’t even facing the right directions anymore. Deaf, dumb, and seemingly blind they arrived – covered in blood.

The troupe was found in pieces. As rare as it was, the townsfolk of Timber Den chalked it up to a bear attack. The probability of such an attack was very low, but never zero. Seeing how traumatized the boys were, many believed that to be the case. The rumors of the old curse were all but forgotten in modern times.

+++

Timothy and Joshua lived with their families another couple of years. They never recovered from the events out in the woods. Neither from the cabin, or from the camp.

They both died seemingly at random of their ailments only a week or so apart, roughly two years after the incident with the cabin took place. They were buried on the outskirts of town at the edge of the wood where the old Timber Den cemetery lay.

The families mourned and the townsfolk had retreated back to their homes after the burials had taken place. No one paid much of a mind to the cemetery after dark, with its odd and intricate wooden gravestones scattered about. Some of them clearly marking a grave; some of them sort of just, there. Eerie insect-like watchdogs carved out of wood to watch the dead

From each boy’s grave, a spidery claw broke the recently disturbed soil, and from each boy, a large spindly arachnid arose from within the bodies of the two dead boys.

Creeping back into the forest from which they came, they headed back to join their mother deep in the woods. A mother that summons them to do her bidding whenever they hear the call.

They skittered back to the cabin in the woods that had been abandoned for years with only a single lonely candle burning in the window. A candle that marked the passing of yet more young souls that fell victim to a curse in the small town of Timber Den.

Tap, tap, tap.

fiction

About the author

Jet Garner

Enjoying my journey getting into fiction while occasionally dabbling in stories from my war times. Aspiring novelist and daydreamer. World nomad. Currently in Hawaii.

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