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The Fire Watches You

A story about a fire lookout and his dog.

By Chelsey LouisePublished 2 years ago 16 min read
1

The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. It was unusual seeing life this deep in the woods, even more so on the expanse land of the reserve, but there was no denying the flickering from the cabin below. Milo watched nervously from the lookout tower. He could handle wildfires, but a burning candle meant something more troublesome: humans.

He raised his binoculars.

The candle drenched the forest in dancing light, melting the shadows into even deeper darkness. He sighed and grabbed the lantern. It was likely the McKinney boy again; his family’s home bordered the reserve, and he was always looking for a place to hit the bottle and pull smoke. Milo glanced at the radio. He had been one of those kids once, latching on to every scrap of rebellion. Those kids didn’t need cops— they needed a push in the right direction.

As Milo descended the tower, every step hissed under his weight. Creak. Creak. Creak. Most nights on the reserve were grand symphonies of sound, but tonight seemed different— dulled to chanting whispers that watched his every move. His dog snoozed on the bottom step, and he knelt down to scratch her ears. “I’ll be right back, girl. Go get inside, you hear?” Silly licked the air in response. She was his trusted companion and had been for many years; it would have been impossible to endure the long hours of solitude without her. He watched her cross the threshold and switched on the lantern.

It was a short walk. The cabin was just far enough to pull him from the light of the tower into lingering darkness, his lantern casting a welcoming glow in the cool night air. Milo wrapped his jacket tighter around him and craned his neck. If he could catch the kids by surprise, they wouldn’t have a chance to run into the depths of the forest like fools. A night this cold could be deadly and the wildlife equally unforgiving.

Milo waited.

The cabin was old, likely rotted just as much on the inside as on the out, and teeming with critters searching for a crumb of warmth. The thought made him shiver. He could handle brown bears or even silver-coated wolves on a good day, but the mice that skittered around the forest floor gave him shivers. Even from where he stood, he could hear their tiny feet scratching at the base of the cabin.

Finally, he said, “Jason, come out. I know you’re in there, boy. You’re not in any trouble; I just want to talk.”

Silence.

He trudged forward and approached the candle. At first, he lifted his lantern to see inside, but it was useless; the old thing didn’t light up like it used to. Milo sighed. “Alright, kids. Hope you don’t mind sitting out here in the dark.” He blew out the candle.

When he reached the tower, Silly waited for him inside. She was stretched out on the couch next to the heater, but her eyes were watchful and alert. He patted her head and dropped into his desk chair, looking at the cabin below. All kids were scared of the dark. Now, it was just a waiting game. Any minute, they run from the shadows and beg for him to take them home.

The candle flickered back to life.

Milo sighed and looked at Silly. “We can’t win tonight, can we?”

He geared for the cabin again, feeling much less patient than before. The candle burned brightly in the window and encased the rest of the world in a blanket of shadow. Milo raised his lamp and circled the cabin. He never realized how massive it was before, likely more of an old deer camp than a summer home. Whatever it was, it belonged to the reserve now. The only reason it wasn’t torn down was because it was too much of a hassle.

Something moved inside the cabin.

“Jason, this is your last warning,” he called. “Come out and talk, or I’m calling your parents.” The young rebel inside of him grimaced, but he couldn’t risk the kids getting hurt on the reserve. If one of them wound up dead, he would never forgive himself. Milo waited a few long, cold minutes and blew out the candle.

They left him no choice.

He climbed back up the tower, and just as his feet crossed the doorway, the candle lit again. Milo raised his binoculars. Light bounced against the cabin walls as he eyed the window closely. It was so dark that all he could see was shadow, but— for the briefest moment— he could swear something moved inside the cabin.

He grabbed the radio. “Gretchen, you there?”

The radio clicked on, and a woman smacked her lips. “What can I do for you?”

“I think we got a kid out here messing around. Mind calling the McKinney’s and seeing where their son is?”

“Jason again?” She laughed dryly. “Sure, I can do that for you.”

“Thanks, Gretch.” Milo would do it himself if there was any reception, but it was just one of the many charms of the job.

A series of pops sounded in the woods.

It reminded him of when he was a kid throwing rocks against trees on long summer days. Silly was wide awake now, standing on the couch facing the window. What the hell were they doing in that cabin? After he didn’t hear from Gretchen for another ten minutes, Milo heaved a tired sigh and grabbed the lantern.

“Let’s go see then, old girl,” he said, and Silly trotted after him. He was getting sick of this back and forth, going up and down those long flights of stairs, and Milo was determined to end this here. He had just descended the tower when his radio switched on. Gretchen’s voice swam through the air, ringing clear through the cold night.

“Milo, I just called the McKinney’s, and Jason’s been home with them all night.” She paused. “Whatever you’re seeing out there, it ain’t him.”

He froze.

The possibility never crossed his mind: someone other than a few kids was out here messing with him. He cursed under his breath and raised the lantern, hands shaking. People who found refuge in places like this usually didn’t have good intentions— but why hide so close to the tower? Had they been watching him? He shook the thought.

Milo approached the cabin slowly. Silly walked stiffly beside him with raised ears, and he felt immensely grateful that she was there. The idea that someone could be watching them made every step feel deafening in the quiet night; her heightened senses offered a small comfort. As he approached the burning candle, he felt strangely drawn to it— like a moth to a flame. He leaned forward to get a better look inside the cabin.

The candle moved.

Milo blinked, unsure of what he was seeing. The flame rose in the air and went forward into the cabin, and before he could react, two eyes glinted in the dark. By instinct, he raised his lantern. The room spilled with light. The creature stood curved along the back wall, with a black, spindly body like a stretched centipede. There was no candle, only a burning tail that came to a point like a scorpion. It watched him, teeth parting slowly to reveal layers of razor-sharp teeth and let out a cry. Pop, pop, pop. Like the sound of a house settling into itself.

It darted from the wall and blasted through the door of the cabin. Silly yelped and fled into the woods. Milo ran for the tower, but the creature was two steps ahead. The air whipped around his face as it bolted in front of him. He backed away slowly, heart thudding in his chest like a cymbal. This was where he died— he knew it. The thought swallowed him, and he struggled to breathe as the creature moved closer.

Silly barked.

The monster looked away.

Milo seized the moment and dashed into the woods. All his usual worries about navigating the forest evaporated and was replaced with something stronger: the trembling need to survive. He ran over the lip of a small cliffside, stepping over loose rocks and swaying unsteadily on the gravel. The creature followed close behind but lingered at the cliff. Milo breathed a sigh of relief— a moment too soon.

The rocks gave way under his feet.

He reached to catch his balance, and his fingers slid away from land. He fell backwards and crashed hard, rolling once, twice, then a third time before hitting the ground. He stared up at the night sky, and the stars twinkling above him and struggled to move. His I HEART NATIONAL PARKS hat laid beside him, unrecognizable in the dust. Milo’s entire body ached, and— for a moment— he felt drawn to the idea of giving up and letting the monster win. It would be painful, but death was part of life; he had seen it plenty of times on the reserve.

What about Silly?

The thought came suddenly. If she was still alive, she was alone, and a monster wasn’t the only thing that could kill a dog on the reserve. A fresh wave of fear ran through him. No, Silly was family. If he couldn’t pull through it for himself, he would do it for her.

Milo rolled over and wobbled to his feet. His ankle felt sprained, and every inch of his body ached as if he had been shaken like a bug in a bottle. At the top of the cliff, his lantern glowed from where it had merged between two rocks. It was too dangerous to climb the way he fell— his only option was to go around. He limped, quietly as he could, to a slight incline that led up the hill. It was dark, and only the distant glow of the lantern guided his way up.

Suddenly, the light flickered out.

He took a few steady breaths, listening to the air around him. In his panicked state, it was hard to tell what was nature or monster. Milo moved forward, depending only on his memory and tiny slits of the moon between trees to guide him. When he reached the cliff, he threw himself to the ground and felt around frantically, trying not to move too far onto the gravel. He shut his eyes tight, scared to open them and see the burning light of a candle.

His hand grazed the lantern.

“Come on, please,” he whispered hoarsely.

Milo shook the lantern, and it jumped back to life, only this time dimmer than before. He laughed under his breath and made his way up the hill. The trip was slow and agonizing, and every noise left his hair standing on edge. When the light came into view, he nearly cried with relief.

A shadow flickered in the tower.

Milo crouched, but the closest hiding spot was inside the cabin. He swore under his breath and climbed through the splintered door. The inside was rotten, and boards squeaked under his feet as he looked out the window. Every light was on in the tower, and there was no sign of the creature. Inside, there were not that many places to hide, and getting on the radio was his only chance of getting help or getting out of here. It was likely the fear and delirium getting to him. Either way, he needed to try.

Milo stepped back, and his foot pierced through the wooden floor. He gasped at the sound. Had the monster heard him? Was it heading this way? He moved his lantern to get a better look at the floor. The cabin seemed to have a large basement, and something was moving below. For the first time in Milo’s life, he desperately hoped it was mice.

He lowered the lantern.

Deep in the basement, scurrying below his stuck leg were not mice— but thousands of tiny creatures, much like the big one that had attacked. They ran across mounds of bone. Most were that of animals, but some looked unsettlingly like that of humans.

Milo’s bravery stopped there.

He jerked his foot up, but it remained stuck in the wood. Some of the creatures took notice and began crawling on his pants leg. He shook them off and wailed quietly in disbelief. No— anything but this. He jerked his foot again, and this time, it slid free. He shook the remaining creatures from his leg and stumbled from the cabin. He bounded up the steps of the fire lookout tower, not caring to look behind him, and ran inside.

He slammed the door behind him.

The room was silent. Milo looked out the window, wondering if Silly was long dead or afraid and hiding. He would be useless to her now, not if he couldn’t get help. He grabbed the radio from his desk.

“Gretchen, I need help! It’s Milo!” He struggled not to sound frantic. “There is something in the woods— something big— we need people out here, now!”

Silence.

Milo backed away, shaking his head. “No, no, no.”

The microphone was cut from the radio. Fear drenched him in sweat, and he knew— even before he heard it breathing behind him— the monster was in the tower. He turned. It hung from the ceiling, its long body wrapped like a snake around the beams.

Pop, pop, pop, as its mouth outstretched.

Milo jumped for his truck keys.

The monster’s teeth snapped in the air above him. He moved to the side— too slow. The monster’s tail, burning with the light of a fire, slammed into his hip, and he dropped to the floor. It slid from the ceiling beams, aiming to pin him down, but he rolled out of the way and ran for the door. Milo grabbed the handle and slammed it behind him. The creature burst through the glass, sending shards shooting through the night air like stars. He made it to the last flight of stairs before the monster jumped at him again; Milo toppled over the railing and fell to the ground.

He landed on his sprained ankle and cried out in pain. The monster clicked its throat again as it crawled over the railing and onto the grass. Milo tried to stand and fell back over. This was it— he knew it. He would die in these damned woods to whatever-the-hell this thing was. Why? What had he done to deserve it? The beast’s shadow passed over him, and he squeezed his eyes shut.

Barking came from the woods.

It was faint at first. Silly must have been running as fast as her legs could take her. She burst through the forest and leaped onto the creature, teeth snapping. Milo watched them in disbelief; a burst of hope pulled him to his feet. She jumped at it again, and the beast backed away hesitantly.

Milo took his chance.

He gripped his keys and ran for the truck. His hand shook as he turned the key and pulled the door open. He looked back— the beast was getting frustrated, no longer seeing the dog as a threat but an obstacle. It moved forward slightly, and Silly stepped back. That was all it needed. The creature vaulted at her, and she fell backwards with a heart-wrenching yelp.

No. No, no, no.

Milo dropped his hand from the truck door. Whatever that damned thing was, he wouldn’t let it kill his dog. A thought came suddenly. He reached into the back of his truck and pulled out a gas can. He quietly prayed to whatever gods were listening to let this work.

Milo darted for the cabin.

The creature hesitated, looking from him to the dog, then decided that he looked much more appetizing. It followed behind him, moving fast. Milo scampered as quickly as he could, ignoring the agonizing pain throughout his entire body. He reached the cabin and poured gasoline over the floor and over the thousands of creatures moving around the basement. They crackled like fire as gas fell upon them.

The monster tore through the door.

At first, it watched him as Milo backed toward the window. It approached slowly, like a lion hunting an injured gazelle. Please, he thought. Please let this work. The creature’s fiery tail swished back and forth in the air like a chandelier. In sheer desperation, Milo raised the gas can and threw it at the creature. It dodged the throw— tail grazing the floor.

Milo sprang through the window.

The cabin went up in flames. High-pitched screams, like the grating of a train against dry rails, charged the air. The fire spread quickly and swallowed the cabin. He tried to catch his breath, coughing at the large plumes of smoke. Milo ran over to Silly and scooped her up in his arms, running them both to the truck. He placed her gently in the passenger seat and turned the key.

The engine stuttered.

He cursed and tried again. It stuttered once more. The fire spread from the cabin and was coming toward them, licking up the dry grass. Movement in the house made him freeze. The creature burst through the wall, its body lit in a blanket of flame. Milo turned the key again with more panic, over and over.

It cranked.

Milo reversed— faster than he ever had— and made a sharp turn away from the lookout tower. He watched the creature in the rear-view. It stumbled forward until it finally fell to the ground. As he turned through the trees, he saw the fire spreading over the monster and burning in thick patches of black smoke.

Silly was sitting up now. She held a paw in the air but other than that, she looked fine. Milo breathed a long sigh as he took the familiar path out of the reserve. He gave her a good scratch on the ears. “We’re safe now,” he cooed, but the words were meant just as much for himself.

He watched his cellphone until a bar of reception popped on the screen. Milo moved his thumbs wildly until the phone rang. A voice came on over the other line.

“Hello?”

The sun peered through the trees. Behind him, smoke lingered in the air in dangerous curls. He had questions, some he could never ask and knew could never be answered. All that mattered now was that he and Silly were safe. He turned towards home— stealing a final look at the reserve.

“Gretch, it’s Milo,” he said. “Looks like we’ve got a wildfire.”

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About the Creator

Chelsey Louise

Twitch Partner turned writer. I like to write across all genres, leaning mostly toward fantasy, horror, and poetry.

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

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  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

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