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The Lonely Cabin

by John Moore 3 months ago in fiction · updated 3 months ago
Runner-Up in Campfire Ghost Story ChallengeRunner-Up in Campfire Ghost Story Challenge
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Will of the Wisp

"Log Cabin in the Forest at Night" from www.alphacoders.com

The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. Jack had hiked for so long that all thoughts of danger were pushed from his mind. Three months on the Appalachian Trail was hard enough on the body, but no one ever talked about the toll it took on the spirit. The human soul wasn’t meant to be alone for so long. As darkness descended and the creatures began their nightly songs, the candle beckoned him in like an old friend with the promises of hearth and home. Both were much needed after a week of cold rain and three months spent sleeping on the hard ground. Not to mention the thought of some company.

He was so very tired. The Trail had been particularly difficult today. It was one of the more mountainous stretches and Jack had spent the better part of the day ascending and descending the rocky terrain still slick from the recent rains. Nothing tempted him more than a roof over his head and the thought of that warm meal in his stomach.

Jack made his way up the narrow lane to the cabin. The fence had fallen away around the perimeter of the yard with only the posts remaining to mark where the clearing ended. The trees came up right to the fence line, but no further, almost as though the forest was afraid to encroach on the homestead. He entered the yard through the opening where the gate would have been. The dirt path gave way to stones as Jack slowly approached the door as the last color faded from the sky. The candle lifted from its perch in the window and disappeared behind the wall. Someone must have seen him coming.

The cabin seemed to be in disrepair, but the candle spoke to the presence of someone inside. Any company would be pleasant tonight. Jack stepped onto the porch which wrapped around the cabin and heard the floorboards creak underneath him. It reminded him of his grandfather’s farm, an old place but one that yearned for love and laughter that had long since moved on with time.

Jack extended his hand to knock on the door, but before he rapped, the door swung open before him. The candle hovered in the darkness of the empty doorway. Then he heard an old voice from behind the small flame.

“I wasn’t expecting no company tonight,” a kindly old voice said from the shadows. “Might I have your name, traveler?”

“My friends call me Jack,” the hiker said. “I’ve been on the trail for a few months by myself. I saw your candle and thought there might be a chance at some company for the evening.”

His eyes adjusted to the candlelight and Jack saw an old man in the doorway. His back hunched with age; the man wore a white button-down shirt with brown trousers held up by suspenders. A pair of small rimmed glasses sat before wide eyes that reflected the candlelight like mirrors. His hair was disheveled, as though he’d just woken up from a long nap and hadn’t had time to tend to it.

“Some company?” the old man said in a surprised tone. “Aye, I could do for some of that I s’pose. It’s been so long since someone came a-knocking.” He opened the door wide and beckoned for Jack to come in. The weary hiker stepped through the threshold and into the darkened cabin. In the candlelight, he could only make out the silhouettes of furnishings.

“We be needin’ a fire I think,” the old man said to no one in particular. The flame floated away to the far side of the room. A torch, or so it seemed to Jack, ignited from the small candle and plunged into what Jack quickly recognized as a fireplace. Wood was already stacked in preparation, and the hearth erupted in a beautiful fire whose warmth and light soon filled the room.

Despite its outward appearance, the inside of the cabin was well furnished and immaculately kept. Jack couldn’t believe it was the same structure that appeared dilapidated from the outside. The old man eased back into a sitting chair in front of the fireplace, a matching chair sat opposite it as though waiting for a companion to join him in front of the fire. The old man gestured for Jack to sit.

Exhausted from the long day of traveling, Jack dropped his pack next to the hearth and collapsed into the chair to bask in the warmth of the fire. It was a pleasant reprieve from the chill autumn air outside. The old man stoked the fire, sending sparks shooting up the chimney in a hypnotic dance of yellow and orange embers. It really did remind Jack of his family’s farmhouse, back before…the accident.

“There’s a pitcher of ale there by your elbow,” the old man offered. Jack glanced to his left and sure enough, there was a pitcher full of golden liquid next to an empty glass. He did not remember seeing it when he sat down, but Jack poured himself a pint from the pitcher and gave it a taste. Cool and crisp, the beer ran down his throat. He hadn’t realized how much he’d been longing for the simple comforts of civilization.

“This is wonderful,” he said, mostly out of reflex although entirely honest.

“My own creation,” the old man said with a smile. “I keep some on hand in case anyone wanders through my door.”

“Do many from the Trail make it up this way?”

“The Trail?” he asked, sounding a bit confused.

“Yeah, the Appalachian Trail,” Jack replied. “I realize this is a bit remote but there has to be some traffic through here.”

“Ah…that Trail,” the old man replied. “No, no. Most just pass me by. I keep a low profile though.” He leaned back in his chair and lifted his own pint glass to his lips. Strange, Jack hadn’t noticed that a moment before. He must be more exhausted than he realized.

“Well, I thank you for the hospitality,” Jack replied. “It’s been far too long since I saw a friendly face.”

“HA!” the old man barked, “That makes two of us.” He took a long drink from his beer as Jack relaxed himself in the chair. What a simple comfort a cushioned chair could provide. He could go to sleep right there and sleep for weeks.

“How long have you been out this way?” Jack asked after another long sip. “It’s so peaceful out here.”

“Oh, for a time and a time again,” the old man said with a smile. “Those who knew me then have all gone their own way, it’s only the travelers I meet anymore.”

“I’m sorry,” Jack said. “That must be quite lonely.”

The old man shrugged, “Oh I manage. But yes, it is quite lonely, as you say. I enjoy hearing the stories of the passersby though. They all seem to have a story. So tell me, Jack, what is your story?”

Jack took a long drink from his cup, feeling the golden ale fill his belly and spread out into his tired body.

“Well, I imagine it’s the same as everyone else’s,” he replied. “I wanted to clear my head and see the beauty of nature.”

“Ah, so many start their tales that way,” the old man said. He leaned over toward Jack in a knowing way and prodded at him with a bony finger, “But we all know there’s more to it than just the Trail. Why are you on the Trail, son?”

That really was the question, wasn’t it? Jack said he wanted a challenge, but why was he tackling the Trail instead of…anything else? But the kindly face in front of him seemed to beg for a story…his story. Before he really knew it, the tale poured out of him. He drank his ale and told the old man of the accident that had taken his parents so suddenly. How their deaths had led to schism among the siblings. How his little brother, his best friend, had tried to steal his inheritance out from under him.

“Just because he was still living at home. The kid was twenty-three, he just couldn’t find a job. The ingrate…” Feelings Jack thought had been expunged came welling up to the surface as he told the old man everything. Even the bits he thought he had forgotten.

Night came to full darkness outside the cabin, but the two of them drank their beer in front of the roaring fire. Jack told the old man how his business had gone belly up a year ago. How his partner had stabbed him in the back and taken his wife and livelihood in one fell swoop. The ale flowed deep into the night as the old man soaked up his story. It wasn’t the first time Jack had opened up about his travails, but it was the first time the audience seemed…hungry…for the tale. The old man hung on his every word, asking questions when appropriate and listening when silence was warranted. All the while soaking up the story of Jack's life.

Jack finished the story when he set foot on the Trail, right after he’d been forced to sell his home after the divorce.

“I guess I saw this as a fresh start, a chance to find myself again,” Jack said before draining the last of his ale. His head felt fuzzy from the drink, and he wanted another. As he tipped the pitcher up, Jack found it had gone empty along with his story.

“Aye, lad, that’s quite a story,” the old man said somberly. “And a familiar one at that I’m sorry to say.”

Jack nodded and looked longingly at the empty pitcher. He felt drained, emptied out like the pitcher. It was the first time he’d ever told the entirety of his story. The loss and the betrayal were raw wounds on his soul, and he’d kept them well guarded until now.

The old man nodded at the empty pitcher, “If you be wantin’ some more, there’s a fresh pitcher on the table.”

Jack smiled and thanked the man, who eased back in his chair as the fire crackled away. Jack stood and was overcome with a wave of vertigo, forcing him to steady himself with the back of the chair.

“Ye alright, lad?” the old man laughed, “I know I make it strong.”

Jack forced out a laugh and made a half-hearted excuse, although a growing concern settled over him. He should not be this drunk. If anything, he knew his tolerance. But something urged him to refill his glass and join the old man at the fire.

With slow and deliberate steps, Jack staggered to the table with his empty mug. Sure enough, a fresh pitcher sat in the center of the table. Condensation beaded on the pewter as Jack lifted the pitcher and refilled his cup. Turning around, he looked at the interior of the single room cabin for the first time in the full illumination. In the light of the fire, the glass of dozens of picture frames reflected off the walls. Instead of returning to his seat, Jack walked around the wall taking in the many images.

There was a young couple, from the ‘50s maybe, standing in front of a cliff on what appeared to be a nearby portion of the Trail.

“I think I was here three or four days ago,” Jack said, pointing at the picture. He looked back at the fire and the old man in his chair.

“Ah yes, Terri and Frank,” he replied without turning. “They came through here on their honeymoon. Lovely couple. He’d just gotten back from Korea. Oh the stories he told.”

Jack kept walking the perimeter of the room, taking in more pictures. There was a young man wearing a Nirvana t-shirt, smiling in front of a garage band. In another, a trio of women about his age, early thirties, toasting themselves with mimosas at a brunch. They appeared to be in hiking clothes as well, although the picture looked nearly twenty years old.

“The Millers,” the old man said, his back wholly towards Jack now. “Such lovely sisters. What stories they had to tell.”

Through the fuzz of the alcohol, a disquiet descended over Jack. The old man hadn’t moved, yet somehow knew just where he was looking. He came to the end of his circuit and found an empty picture frame. The bright surface of the glass reflected his face back at him perfectly. He took a startled step back and looked at the wall in its entirety. Dozens of pictures covered its surface, the photographs spanned decades based on the dress of their subjects. As he looked at the wall, Jack noticed faded black and white photographs of people and things from well over a century before. One particular image of a couple in a horse drawn wagon.

“Ah yes,” the old man said from behind him. “The Wilkins were some of the first to come through here. Poor folk trying to find better times. I remember their stories well.”

Jack spun around, his mug slipping from his fingers, falling to the floor with a crash. The old man stood, silhouetted by the fire he took slow, deliberate paces towards the wall where Jack stood.

“How…Who?” Jack stammered, retreating back towards the wall as the old man approached.

“It’s been a long time,” the old man mused. “So many travelers, so many stories come through here.”

Jack pressed himself against the wall, the empty picture frame digging into his back. He wanted to run, to flee the cabin, but his body wouldn’t answer his commands.

“Who are you?” he stammered.

The old man came to a stop an arm’s length away.

“Just a lonely fella looking for some company,” he replied. Then, reaching out an arm he pushed Jack up against the wall. Into the wall.

It didn’t hurt, it didn’t feel like anything at all. The fire still burned in the hearth, but the old man was gone.

Thank you for your story,” rumbled the walls of the house.

Jack tried to walk forward but was stopped by an invisible barrier. By glass. He felt around as panic welled up inside of him and took hold. He pounded on the glass between him and the room. He screamed, but no one answered. No one was there to answer. He pressed his face against the glass and looked around the now empty room. The fire lit the picture frames on the walls and the images moved with the flickering of the flames.

Dozens of people, trapped behind the glass, pounded away at the bars of their prison, trying desperately to escape.

I will never forget it.”


About the author

John Moore

Engineer who wants to go pro at writing. Lover of all things sci-fi and fantasy.

Catholic trying to balance faith and reason in my work and build something beautiful along the way.

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