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The Strangers

by Robyn Clifford 5 days ago in supernatural · updated a day ago
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You need to put out the candle

The Strangers
Photo by Eyasu Etsub on Unsplash

The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window.

It was a sign that the Strangers were about to arrive.

You look at me now, sød, and I can see your furrowed brows, but trust me, Nanna O has to tell it this way. Snuggle close, prepare one more s’more, and don’t look behind you if you hear something whispering.

The Strangers might not like the way I tell you this.

Afterall, it was fifty years ago that the old place burnt down. On the edge of the woods, it was re-built, with new walls, floors and windows, but even you have to admit, there’s still sometimes moments that you catch yourself looking twice in a mirror, confused for a second as though two people may have been looking back.

What’s that? No, your brother doesn’t know, he’s too young, he’s not as brave as you are.

Excuse me, the cough comes back sometimes.

Plus, you asked for a scary story and you’re not the sort who’d be scared in the night, feeling that there’s someone sitting on the end of your bed, are you?

Anyway, we’re already in too deep now.

I digress.

There had been a question hanging in the air, the morning I'd seen the candle. It asked who I was, what I was doing there, when I was to leave, and there was a part of me that wondered the same. The house had been a dark, unwanted present, bestowed upon me at the extinguishing of my parents, whose lives had been snuffed out in silence, officially; 'gas leak’, unofficially; paranoia.

I should have seen them. I should have visited.

But I’d always hated visiting that old place, even as a kid. The heat of Bad Axe was inescapable, and the humidity would hang heavily on your skin, until it’d break suddenly in a thunderstorm. In the dawn when the sunlight splintered through the windows, you'd wonder if the storm had been some distant imagining.

You see the dark tree line to the left, kære? The place where the forest ends, and our world begins? Well, the layout of the old house had been different then, and the kitchen was where your bedroom is now. In between shuffling papers and tidying, I’d sit with a dark coffee and look at the woods from that very spot. Yes sød, in the window nook. In the daytime, the sun shining through the redwood leaves was magical, whimsical, a place to explore, but come the night? The forest seemed to gaze right back at me.

My Galileo came too, of course, the way Newton always shadows you.

In hindsight, I think I was more afraid that I wasn’t alone, than perhaps, that I was. You see, kære, being afraid of the dark is not being afraid that you’re alone, it’s being afraid that you aren’t.

But Galileo wasn't at my feet that evening.

Calling around the house was fruitless, but from that spot of peace in the kitchen, I saw his caramel tail disappear like smoke into the woods, a single joyful plume then darkness. My legs were fire, pulling me behind him much faster than your Nanna O could run now, let me assure you. In that moment I was nothing but adrenaline and youth.

"Leo? Leo!"

Nothing. I recalled the 'most obedient' ribbon he'd won from puppy school, and categorically decided that it was going in the bin.

But then, suddenly, there he was, in a clearing I hadn't seen before- sentinel, in front of an old cabin. Sitting, waiting. The clearing was tilted and there was a deep feeling of unease, and I had the strangest vision of carrion, detrivores, and the feeling of being pulled deep into the soil beneath my feet.

My sneakers shifted in the soil as I reached for Galileo's collar, fearful that the ground may be pulled out beneath me, as a dark voice in the back of my mind, pleaded with me to leave, leave, leave this place.

Don’t look at the candle.

Sulfur and warnings hung heavy in the air now, and cold droplets hung around my brow, which I wiped away with a heavy hand.

But there was something about that lone candle in the window. It knows me, it knows what I've done, it's seen the way I've looked at my friend's boyfriend. It's seen the way I've pulled at my shirt just slightly, just so, when I've caught his eye.

This candle knows me. It will cleanse me.

Had there been anything before this candle?

I snapped to the present, but the crimson flame had burnt a dark shadow into my irises, and kære, I still see the edges sometimes when I look too closely into the night.

Welcoming the feeling of Galileo’s head heavy on my lap, I tried to push the candle and the strange cabin from my mind that night, but every thought returned to that place in the woods. I pulled the retriever a little closer, and snuggled into the duvet.

But some part of me knew the candle was still watching me.

Sometime after midnight, I heard the first knock on the door.

The storm had tripped the power, and as much as I welcomed the break in the heat, the thought of only relying on the yellow beam of a small torch filled me with a dread I couldn’t quite place.

I moved closer towards the terrible knocking.

Through the door's frosted glass, I saw the outline of a Stranger, far taller than anyone I’d seen before, standing before the door, knocking, and waiting to come in.

A growl sounded in Galileo’s throat, and his hackles stood up on end.

Don’t let it in. The dark voice in my head sounded. Whatever you do, don’t let it in.

“Who is it?” I called out, and the stranger cocked his head to one side, listening, aware.

“Who is it?” I tried again, and this time, terribly, the Stranger pushed his face against the glass of the door. It was morphed by the refraction of the glass.

“Who is it?!” I called for a third time, my stomach dropping, my voice hovering somewhere between a cry and a scream, before the Stranger responded, in a voice stolen from a child.

“I want to come in.”

I felt the hairs on my neck stood up as my lungs forced themselves to breathe. With its face still pushed up against the glass, it smiled, a horrible grimace, nothing human remaining, considering.

This thing knows.

“You saw my candle. I want to come in.” The not-child said, but then there was a thunderclap and a bolt of lightning, and the Stranger vanished in the blinding light. I moved as close to the door as my feet allowed but breathed a sigh of relief. The outline of the Stranger was gone, and Galileo and I were left alone in the night.

What’s that? No, Nanna O isn’t anywhere near finished my kære.

You don’t want to hear any more? But barn, I must. You need to know the ancestry of this home, the lands, and the ones who watch from the woods. I must remind you, that you asked for the scariest story I had.

You just didn't realise that this happens to be true.

I had a few errands to run in town in the morning, but I took Galileo with me this time, your Nanna O was still feeling shaken. He was a support dog, in more ways than one if anyone asked.

After finding the groceries I wanted for lunch, a blonde, bored cashier bagged them and turned to me, drawling “four dollars ninety eight, you need to put out that candle.”

“What?” I asked, startling the girl.

“Four dollars ninety-eight, please.”

But I knew what I'd heard, and when day turned to darkness, I watched the clock on the wall tick towards midnight.

There was another knock at the door.

I prayed that it was simply the wind.

But the Stranger stood before the door once more, its face pressed against the glass, waiting.

“What do you want?” I called out, Galileo growling beside me once more. The Stranger knocked again, smiling. Its eyes were cat-like, illuminating bright yellow, and watching.

“I want to come in.” It said in a high voice, “let me in.”

“No.” I said, everything inside me screaming to keep that thing away, adrenaline coursing a dark fire through my veins.

The Stranger pulled away from the glass at this, then, terribly, leapt at the door as if hoping to smash the glass.

“I want to come in” it repeated, in a voice more suited to school yard games, part of a rhyme to be skipped to. “You have candles to light.”

Rhymes about plagues, about falling and breaking skulls, its voice was a taunt, a warning and a promise.

I picked up the dark wooden cane of my father, that was still sitting in the coat rack, and brandished it above my shoulders like a club.

“Stay back. Stay back!” I called, but the Stranger smiled, simply, before walking away from the door.

Had I really been that threatening?

I waited for what felt like hours, frozen, ready to strike, but the stranger didn’t return. I dragged Galileo by the collar back to bed.

Eyes heavy, I felt Galileo’s familiar weight on my lap as my eyes adjusted to the light, dragging myself to consciousness after a long sleep. What time was it?

I looked to my nightstand, and noticed that the tea-light that had long been abandoned, now flickered with an ardent flame, casting shadows around the room, battered by a gentle breeze.

When had I lit this? Judging the light, it had to be nearly dawn. I must have forgotten to close the window above the bed.

Galileo trotted into the room and my heart fell from my chest.

I lit the candle for you” The Stranger said from my lap, its long dark hair streaming across the bedspread, before it turned its face towards me, and fixed me with a terrible smile.

I wanted to scream but there was nothing in me. Frozen in its dark smile, I fell into the candlelight from the cabin, reflected in its dark eyes and thought for a minute that perhaps death was better than a life with this memory.

With all the bravery a dog could muster, Galileo leapt at the Stranger, knocking the tall figure to the ground, growling and snapping, giving me the moment I needed to run from the room.

Was this Hell?

Candles of all shapes and sizes lit the hallway, each more crooked and wax dripped than the last, and I thought for a horrible instant that I must have perished in the night. From the gas that had taken my parents, this Stranger was a tentacle of consciousness, straining against a chemical barrage.

I sprinted down the corridor, slipping on wax, tripping on large pillars, trying to avoid the flames. Pulling the front door open, my heart threatened to leap through my chest, as I took in the sight of hundreds of Strangers, surrounding the house.

They smiled at me, before taking a small step, then another, but the voice of the cashier rang in my head.

You need to put out that candle.”

I cried out, a single note of anguish, but sprinted into the dark tree line, feeling the watching redwoods close off the sky to me.

Close off the sky, let me melt into the soil, and end this, end this, end this.

The Strangers didn’t follow me, but neither did Galileo, my house gleaming with the fire of candlelight in the distance as I ran and ran and ran. I’d never seen anything more horrible, and tried to prevent my imagination wandering into scenes of what had happened to him. The height of the Stranger, the courage of the dog.

Those terrible, long fingers.

As the woods swallowed me, I doubled over for a moment, willing breath into my lungs, and movement into my legs, praying that I could remember where the cabin had been.

Squinting into the trees, I focussed my mind on finding the strange place. I had to move, I had to ignore the feeling of my cut-up feet on the bare Earth.

I hadn’t grabbed shoes, and I shivered in my pyjamas. Some from the cold, mostly from the adrenaline.

It could have been sheer force of will, or absolute luck, but in the distance, I thought I could see a light through the trees. It watched, waited, beckoned, and shone with a dark light that said I should forget Galileo. Forget the house, forget the life outside Michigan.

Forget all, but the candle.

Breathe, run, breathe, run, I focussed everything I had on two singularities, and almost laughed with relief as the abandoned cabin came into view, the dark candle flickering as it had been, in the window.

The storm was starting up again now, and I heard the first crack of thunder in the distance, so I counted the beats before the flash.

“One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand” FLASH. The sky lit up with a fork of lightning, and a Stranger appeared in the window behind the candle, looking at me.

My heart scrambled in my chest, and I tried to look away from its eyes, but the dark rods gazed back at me; twisted and terrible, completely inhuman.

Come in” the high pitched voice said, and I felt the weight of the Stranger’s head in my lap, the heat of the wax pillars in the hallway, the smiles of the Strangers outside my house.

But I held onto the one shining thought in my mind, burning as brightly as the fire in the window.

Put. Out. That. Candle.

But how?

I looked around for something, anything, and saw a small stack of granite rocks nearby.

There was another FLASH, and the Stranger was now beside me, reaching out with its long dark fingers.

“Come in. Stay a while.” It smiled, and I bolted towards the window.

I was dead anyway, and the Stranger's proximity no longer threatened me, so I forced my arm back, and threw the rock into the glass pane of the window, splintering the glass, toppling the candle. The Stranger screamed.

It screamed, and screamed, and screamed at me, an unspooling note that I thought may never end. Its face was now a hollow shell, a hanging cave, a huge, horrible chasm that would consume me whole. I’d never heard a more awful noise, and it grappled towards me, long fingers threatening to rip me in two, a hanging mouth that would swallow me, swallow the light.

The candle had toppled to the floor, setting alight abandoned papers, a tiny spark that sparked into a roaring inferno, howling through the Strangers mouth.

The scene was grotesque, and I could only hope that you my barn, would never experience the horror of that moment.

Even now, fifty years later, I sometimes fear that the Stranger is there in the corner of a mirror screaming out at me. I think sometimes I see it out of the corner of my eyes.

It is why, I cannot stand to look too closely at these flames tonight, fearing that those eyes will gaze back from it, asking me to stay in its abandoned home, or to rest upon my legs.

The Stranger had disappeared in the final crash of lightning, and the cabin continued burning until morning. The smoke cloud was immense, coating the forest, filling my lungs, leaving me with this cough.

Officially, the authorities view was that our house had burnt down from a wayward candle, accidental; but the press settled on another gas leak, the same one that had killed my parents weeks before. More sordid.

The newspapers never mentioned the cabin in the woods, and I dared not return past the tree line to check if it was truly gone.

No, I still can't check, even today. I wonder if the Strangers visited my parents.

Galileo perished as the bravest dog I ever knew, and I still bear the scars on my feet from running in the woods that night, you see here, barn?

What’s that? Last night? Can you be sure? Midnight?

No. Don’t answer. Don’t give it a second thought.

Don’t let them in. Don't light a candle.

supernatural

About the author

Robyn Clifford

I'm a mother, a scientist and a writer, trying my hand at balancing the three.

A big believer in the power of fairytales, a strong cup of coffee, and Eurovision.

Currently writing my first novel.

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

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    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

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Comments (7)

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  • Carol Townendabout 8 hours ago

    Fantastic, I love how you have used the candle in this. The storyline is excellent!

  • Garry Morrisa day ago

    I've been scanning these Cabin stories looking for a standard like this. But it's a strange beast you've put together. Haven't come across this sort of originality within a story's orientations on Vocal before. The almost sardonic voice, the Danish here and there, the dog's name in concert with abstraction (i.e. Galileo > Newton), the elongated sentences that just... flow. The story itself is good. The language is better though. Kind of how it is for more literary works in general, I guess. Solid effort. Cheers

  • Nicole Marksa day ago

    Oh this was excellent, with clear creepy imagery, and you did such a great job creating a general UNEASE throughout, well done! (And you’re a scientist, me too!)

  • Ryan Greendyka day ago

    A wonderful, multi-layered story, Robyn! I read it right after finishing my own Campfire entry; it resonates with my own way of courting dark and uncanny things, and yet I was thrilled by your utterly unique approach. I look forward to reading more of your work!

  • Ali Howarth3 days ago

    Loved this, thank you. Creepy as. And poor Galileo!

  • Holly Moeller3 days ago

    Really enjoyed your story - it was full of suspense and kept me wanting to find out what happened next 😊

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