The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. The candle had appeared suddenly, out of thin air, and burned an eerie neon blue as it sat atop the windowsill. Though it spread no warmth, it cast many long and streaming shadows throughout the cabin. Within their dark midst, something began to move. A pool of liquid shade, it had no true form; not yet. At the heart of the black puddle, a small blue flame shone brilliantly. The murky gloom around it began to burn, flames as black as night that sucked the warmth from the air around them. The shadow left the cabin and moved into the woods, sensing warmth nearby. The failing light of the setting sun offered many places for it to cling to, to step through.
Nora browsed her phone idly, using it as a distraction from her thoughts. How could she have talked herself into this? Parties weren’t her thing. There was a reason she didn’t go to them.
Perhaps it had more to do with her not being invited to many parties in the first place, but she had convinced herself she preferred to study alone in her dorm. Parties were nothing but mistakes and accidents waiting to happen. Nothing good ever came from college parties. After a while, she had found it harder to lie to herself and she had grown lonely. So, she joined a club. A role-playing club where they played games together.
That was where she had met Brad. Handsome, funny, and gregarious, he was always eager to play the game and get into character. It seemed to come to him naturally. Every opportunity to really express himself, he gave everything he had to give. It made the games so much more fun, and they all got to play the part of adventurous heroes instead of drudging their ways through their normal, everyday, boring lives. So, when Brad had invited the entire group to the party, Nora had agreed to go, thinking it would be just as much fun as a normal club meeting.
Of course, when she arrived and learned that it was not a gaming event like she had hoped, she had gone out to the balcony in defeat. And that was where she was spending the party. Everyone inside was drinking, but Nora couldn’t stand the taste of alcohol or the consequences it usually wrought. She wanted no part in the games they were playing tonight. Worse still, they were constantly uploading to social media, buffaloing her feed with their antics. She was the only member of the club who didn’t drink. Maybe the only person in the entire university…
She ignored the colorful lights and the thudding of the music coming from inside. The sliding glass door did little to mute the noise and nothing to quell the light. Coming here had been a mistake. It was a stupid party, and she was stupid for going to it. Nora huffed and leaned over the weathered railing, keeping the screen and feed displayed upon its surface faced firmly away from her.
The balcony extended out over the sandy lakeshore, offering a perfect view of the landscape. The lake stretched out, filling her view. The opposite shore was distant, but still within sight. The group inside the house cheered loudly, startling her. Nora thought about her character in the games they played, Elena Everkeen, a graceful and lithe elven rogue who could tightrope across danger over a pit of peril. Maybe there was some of that courage and ability inside of her as well? It wasn’t like anyone would notice her out here, if she chose to be weird. Even if they did, they probably wouldn’t care much. They were too drunk to be good friends and stop her from doing something stupid.
Nora set her phone on the corner post where the railing and staircase met, then hoisted herself up onto the rail itself. She held her arms out to the side and stood up slowly, wobbling for balance. Her shadow stretched across the length of the balcony, reaching toward the glass door. Carefully, she placed one foot steadily in front of another. It always seemed so much easier, rolling the dice to accomplish a task such as this.
The other lakeside cabins lay in a line before her, looking like organized dollhouses with their bright colors and perfect similarities. It was a beautiful scene, in a way. She could almost imagine it, full of boisterous adventurers getting ready to fight some monster of the deep lurking in the lake.
The wooden railing beneath her feet was old and weathered, faded paint peeling, and it creaked and groaned under her weight. She wasn’t very high at all, but it was higher than Nora wanted to fall. She made her way cautiously across the thin wooden beam. Perhaps, there was some adventure inside her, after all.
Nora turned around at the corner and made her way confidently back across the rail, towards the stairs and the forest beyond them. When she reached the corner, she leaned down, grabbed her phone, and stood up slowly. Her arm flailed out to the side to keep her balance, but she stayed perfectly upright. Her shadow looked a little ridiculous. She smiled, a silent laugh, as she considered trying to walk down the staircase railing.
As Nora raised the phone up to take a selfie, she saw something in the forest. It was a shadow, hiding in the dark of the trees. There was a faint blue glow coming from it. Whatever it was, it moved silently and suddenly. It darted along the tree line, jumping from shadow to shadow, and it moved impossibly fast. Nora turned to watch it, lost her balance, and fell backwards off the rail.
She thudded into the sand, the breath leaving her lungs violently, and found herself staring up at the clouds painted in rich warm tones. It was a beautiful sight. Nora focused the viewfinder on her phone and snapped a photo. It didn’t really capture the magic. She sighed and put it away, trying to enjoy the moment while it lasted. She lay there for a time, until another round of screaming came from inside the cabin full of partying college kids. That ruined her moment.
The sand was damp and now, so was she. Nora did her best to brush herself off. She climbed the stairs wearily; grateful no one inside had seen her tumble. It had seemed a much better idea in her head. Nora stretched as she walked across the balcony. She opened the sliding glass door, letting the music blast out into the darkening sky, and stepped inside.
She stopped dead. The lakeside cabin was empty. Not a single sign of anyone. The music was still blaring, and the cheap disco light filled the cabin with flashing and moving colors. Half-finished drinks sat on the coffee table, one spilled on the carpet. There was a touch of frost on the glasses, but she hardly even noticed any of these details. Something else demanded her complete attention.
A horrible, massive, grisly stain covered much of the wall; perfectly straight driplines making their way toward the floor. There was a sanguine pool of viscera soaking into the couch. It looked as though someone had died there, except there was no body. There wasn’t even a trail of blood leading anywhere else in the house, just frost.
The smell of alcohol burned her nostrils, pulling her attention away. She was grateful for the distraction and turned her gaze from the gruesome sight. Nora followed the smell to the kitchen area, the only place with consistent lighting, and stopped again. Her heart pounding like a drum.
There was more blood, bright scarlet on the white linoleum. She bit her lip and moved closer carefully. Once she could see past the counter, Nora sighed with relief to see that there was no body. She cautiously entered the room.
In the kitchen lay a broken bottle of vodka, contents spilled out across the floor, mixing with the alarming amount of blood spattered about. An obvious blood trail led out through the kitchen, into the hall, and continued out over the splintered remains of the front door. Nora swallowed a lump in her throat before following the trail. She gasped as she stepped into a cold spot, as though she had just walked into the freezer at work.
The hallway was littered with chunks of wood, spattered with drops of crimson, and lightly iced. Splinters and scraps crunched underfoot as she moved softly along. The macabre trail on the floor chilled her deeper than the cold in the air which threatened to freeze her damp clothes.
Nora grabbed her denim jacket from where it hung in the entryway, appreciative it was lacking in bloodstains, and donned it quickly. It wouldn’t do much for the wet, but it should help with the cold. It did nothing to stop the shiver that ran through her.
She followed the trail of blood to where it led into the woods, shaking her phone to activate the flashlight, and sighed in relief when she stepped out of the strange chill. The sky was growing darker with every moment that passed, the shadows around her stretching, reaching, and growing. The only clue she could follow, the blood on the ground, made a disturbingly easy path to follow. It stood out so clearly in her light, glistening wetly where it gathered. It was on the leaves of bushes, the trunks of trees, or dripped onto the undergrowth. She followed it through the woods, hoping that whoever had left it could still be okay after losing so much blood. They were quite far from the nearest hospital.
The trail ended abruptly in a horrifyingly dark puddle. Nora stopped in shock and gasped. A noise coming from the side caught her attention, she turned toward it, and shone her light into the trees. It was Brad. Brad was sprinting through the woods, coming right toward her. She sighed in relief and got ready to ask him what was going on once he stopped. He did not, however, stop running. He instead shoved her to the ground and continued his mad sprint.
Nora tumbled to the side, her phone bouncing out of her grip and the light going out as it landed somewhere in the darkness. Quick footsteps followed Brad. A blur of bright blue streaking through the trees ran past where she lay. Nora picked herself up and brushed herself off. A voice she knew cried out in agony, ripping through the night. Nora felt the growing chill of dread fill her. It was nothing compared to the cold of the air she was standing in.
Her breath came out in a steaming cloud before her. This patch of icy air was so much colder than it had been in the cabin. She shivered and pulled her jacket tight, to little avail. Nora realized something hard lay underfoot as she took a step, and bent to pick it up; coming out of the eerie chill as she did so.
It was her phone. The screen had cracked, and it was dirty, but it still worked just fine. That was a relief.
She shook the flashlight back on and jumped back in fright, letting out a small yelp. There was a wall of white fog, or mist, creeping toward her. It crawled along like a silent avalanche and enveloped her in seconds. It was icy cold, as though the fog was desperate to drain the warmth from her body. Nora took a deep breath to steady herself and tried not to panic. She pressed her back to the nearest tree trunk and shone her light at the fog, shivering against the cold.
It was blinding white, shining like snow. She couldn’t see anything besides the thick cloud of her own breath that joined the enveloping white around her. Where had the mist even come from?
Nora heard footsteps. Footsteps moving boldly through the trees. They were coming near her, but maybe not directly toward her. Nora shook the life from her phone again, sending her into a near-complete darkness. She held her breath, hoping to disappear from whatever monsters lurked nearby.
The footsteps stopped. And then, they started again, coming right to her now. Softer, this time. Quiet and deliberate, they made their way slowly toward the tree she was hiding behind. Nora did the only thing she could think to do and stepped out from behind the tree, shaking her phone as she did so.
Bright white light flared to life in the fog, and a shadowy figure reeled back and away clumsily. An unearthly screech pierced the night, hurting Nora’s ears. Ice clawed at her, nipping her nose sharply.
The footsteps darted off, away from the light, and Nora ran in the opposite direction. The phone pulsed with light as she ran, confusing her motions for an activation trigger. Dark tree trunks jumped out of the mist at her unexpectedly, and Nora crashed off them as best she could, trying to maintain her momentum as she bungled her way through the woods. Unseen vines and roots grabbed at her feet and ankles, threatening to trip her as she crashed along. The ever-present frost in the air burned in her lungs as she gulped for breath.
Nora arrived suddenly in a grassy meadow and stopped after a few paces. She knew it was a meadow because there were no trees that jumped out at her from the mist, but the grass she was walking through seemed to be at least knee-high. Nora stumbled along, hands searching desperately for any landmark they could find.
She splashed suddenly into shin-deep water, the cold soaking her shoe instantly, and stumbled back. There was another splash in the water, directly ahead of her. It was terrifyingly close to her. A second splash sounded, and a third, coming ever closer. Nora shook her phone and shone it at the sound, seeing the silhouette of a person stumble away from the light. Ice shattered musically as the shadow stumbled backwards through the water it had walked through. She took a step back, ready to run. Nora felt an unnatural frost clawing at her from behind, an icy shiver running through her spine. She turned around and fought the urge to scream.
A shadow loomed over her. As Nora looked at it, she recognized the shape of her friend Brad. He seemed featureless and pure jet black, as though he were made of some burning darkness. His shape flickered like flame. Where his eyes should have been, however, twin blue flames burned instead. Her breath blew white between them. Nora raised her phone, only to have her hand caught in the chilling grasp of the shadow Brad. It wrenched the phone from her, and threw it into the grass behind it, shutting off the light function. Nora stumbled back, grasping at her hand as though it had been frozen solid. As she fought with the pain, more blue pinpoints appeared in the meadow around her. Nora darted away, not caring where she was headed. She splashed through the water, running in a pure panic.
Before she knew it, she was back in the trees and scraping her arms against their bark yet again. With her head cradled in her arms protectively, gritting her teeth against the pain in her hand, Nora ran like her life depended on it. She ran until she was out of breath, and her legs burned in agony. She ran, ignoring the horrible stitch in her side. She pushed herself to go farther and broke out of the fog unexpectedly.
The icy mists were held back in a giant circle. A circle centered on an unassuming cabin, with a bright blue candle burning in the window. The entire cabin was covered in a shroud of fluffy white. She heard the rustle of footsteps in the woods behind her. They were still following her, and she saw no other choice. The grass grew stiffer with each step she took, a pristine dusting of white clinging to every blade.
Nora opened the door cautiously and was hit with an icy gust that stole the breath from her lungs. She glanced over her shoulder and saw an army of blue lights approaching through the fog. Stifling a scream, she slammed the door shut behind her. She was so cold. Nora gritted her teeth and strode quickly over to the candle with the blue flame. The windowsill was covered in a thick and fluffy frost that looked like fallen snow. Nora reached out to the candle with her good hand, her fingers going numb as they clasped around it. It burned, it was so cold, and she moaned softly with the pain.
The door creaked open behind her, and Nora turned to face her pursuers. They were here. For the first time, she could see them properly. They were moving steadily toward her. Bright blue flame eyes burning in their faces, their bodies ill-defined as they flickered and danced like jet black flames. Nora faced them defiantly and blew out the blue flame.
Some days later, the police found her phone in the meadow. It was broken, but they were able to pull information from it. They were rewarded with several pictures of featureless black night, a few showcasing blurry blue streaks, and one uninspired photo of the sunset. They found her, unconscious, lying on a heavily water-stained section of floor in the cabin in the woods. She was suffering from severe frostbite, despite it being the middle of summer. She was rushed to the hospital, where she gave a fevered account of her experience. The police wrote it off as shock. They could not accepter her story to justify the blood they discovered at the lakeside cabin, nor the missing college kids. The only other clue they found in all their searching was the burnt-out stub of a candle.