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Until There Was One

by Call Me Les 2 months ago in fiction · updated 2 months ago
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Are you afraid of the dark? You should be. A campfire ghost story for a new generation.

Image licensed and designed using Shutterstock.

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

One final beacon."

___ _ _

Lane pauses for dramatic effect, and the teenagers around the fire come to their senses and pull back, embarrassed to admit the hook caught their attention.

Gabbi runs a hand through their short, purple hair.

"Ugh. Not another camp ghost story. C'mon Lane; we are waaay past that."

"Just let us have our phones!" Bri whines.

Claire seconds Bri's idea, as usual.

"Pretty sure Hunger Games ruined modern storytelling anyway," mumbles June.

Lane recoils. A complaint that holds water. She isn’t expecting that.

"What?"

June rolls her eyes.

"No one tells stories in past tense anymore. It's not fresh."

Bri seizes the argument.

"And, you can't tell a campfire story in present tense, so, like, what's the point?"

Claire nods and pops her gum.

Lane takes a deep breath, looks around at her crew with a sly smile and raises an eyebrow. She pulls up a split log and lays it lengthwise.

On it, she places ten tealight candles.

Then Lane turns to Gabbi and opens her palm.

Gabbi sighs and turns over their lighter, knowing full well they won't get—this one—back.

Lane lights the candles and continues her story.

__ _

TEN

"Tick. Tick. Tick.

Marla counts her fingers. Ten fingers, ten toes. She's awake. She thinks.

But it's so dark. Too dark.

'How did we get here?' she wonders aloud while looking down at Marie's corpse.

Marla imagines Marie's voice, once so warm and gentle, now choked with fear and blood.

If she still had the ability, she knew Marie would remind her that it doesn't matter how they got there.

What matters is the now and only the now.

What matters is getting out.

Marla clutches the remains of her school uniform around herself against the bitter wind coming through the cabin's broken windows.

From behind her, a scuffling sound raises her pulse.

The light from the last candle is the only light left in the room.

It sputters in the wind.

Marla doesn't want to think about what will happen when the candle goes out."

*

Lane licks her fingers and snuffs out a tealight.

puff

She has their attention again and continues.

*

NINE

"1999 is a good year to be a teen in Canada.

Good music: Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls, young Britney, Mambo No. 5.

Good movies: The Mummy, Fight Club, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, The Matrix.

Good profits: For the average parent, money isn't too tight in '99, which, of course, means more money in the hands of teens through mowing lawns, babysitting—sneaking an unaccounted-for ten.

Pot is good too.

And cheap.

And everywhere.

So, what do you suppose five teens decide to do when Devil's Night falls on a Saturday in 1999?

First, they find someplace creepy. An abandoned cabin with a "Do Not Enter" sign? Bingo.

Second, they pack at least two dozen of those grocery store wine coolers with, like, a fraction of a percent of alcohol.

Third, they play half a game of "Truth or Dare" in the dark by candlelight; no flashlights allowed.

Then they get high, make-out, and repeat."

*

puff

Lane almost doesn't need to snuff that one. The giggling nearly puts all of them out.

"Or, that's the plan. Until the first blood is drawn."

The giggling stops.

The next part requires voices. But Lane has every character honed.

*

EIGHT

" 'Eww, get the bug off the drinks!' squeals Marie.

'It's not a bug. It's got eight legs. It's a spider,' mutters Toby.

Marie rolls her eyes.

'How does that make it any less "eww"?'

'I dunno. It's kinda cool. I think it's a wolf-spider.'

Marla shudders and glances at Marie.

'I repeat, EWWWWW!' shrieks Marie.

Eric laughs and takes another toke.

'Dude, just take it away already,' Josh adds and drapes an arm around Marie. A little fear is useful, but getting her too worked up will spoil the mood.

Marie mock-smacks his hand away when it strays under her shirt. Then turns and leans into his kiss.

Marla tilts her head back and huffs. She is so tired of the Josh-Marie rollercoaster.

Eric slides closer to Marla, wiggles his eyebrows and smirks the stupidest come hither expression ever worn.

Marla glances sharply at Toby, who is still busy with his spider, before reluctantly taking her place near Eric. Toby is supposed to be keeping this from turning into a double date but is failing miserably.

'Fine, fine.'

Toby picks up the spider and takes it to the window.

'Hey! Look what I found!'

Josh, Marie, Eric and Marla glance in Toby's direction."

*

puff

*

SEVEN

"There are seven steps leading into the cellar that opens from the handle in the floor near the window.

At least, it kinda looks like seven. They need more light. But this is '99, and cell phones aren't common yet. The sun is setting, and the cabin is getting dark. Too bad they'd forgone the flashlights.

'Josh, can you fetch the candles from my bag?' Marie asks.

'Fetch? He's not a dog, Marie,' teases Marla.

Josh and Eric crack up a little too hard. The pot is kicking in.

Toby glances shyly at Marie.

'I'll get them.'

Marie flutters her eyelashes and leans into Josh.

'Whatever.'

Marla sighs. She wishes her friend would ditch the jock for the nerd already. Everyone knows that's what always happens in the end.

Marla helps Toby light the prayer candles from the Dollar Store. You know the ones: pillars, in glass, with a poorly done religious design on the front—the kind you use during sleepovers when you want to summon Bloody Mary. Because electronics just don’t fit with Devil’s Night fun.

Josh swoops in and graciously hands one to each of them, then grins.

'What are we waiting for?!'

He charges ahead, and the rest follow. Nothing else to do anyway, Marla figures. Better than getting roped into making out with Eric."

*

puff

*

SIX

" 'I only count five,' mumbles Marie between sips of her third peach-cooler, 'What do you mean there are six hands on the pointer?'

'It's one from each of us PLUS the ghost hand,' Marla clarifies.

Marie shrugs.

Marla misses the days before Josh showed up. The days of M&M. Marla & Marie. Splitting popsicles and swapping Barbies.

The old ouija board they found in the cellar, along with a whack of other dusty toys, is still in pretty good shape, considering it had to be from at least the '70s.

'It's better than "Truth or Dare",' Toby offers.

Marie clearly couldn't care less.

Josh and Eric are only keen to play if it gets the girls into a more clingy mood.

The group starts with the most obvious question and, in unison,

'Is there a spirit here?'

Marla isn't sure which one, but either Eric or Josh slams the pointer to yes.

'Yeah, the spirit of making out!' shouts Josh, who drops the pointer and scoops up Marie.

Marla sighs. Josh, of course.

Marie giggles as the couple heads into the other room for some privacy.

Marla groans. Toby's shoulders slump. Eric takes yet another toke and shakes his head.

Everyone knows it'll be Marla that has to pick up the pieces when Josh dumps Marie tomorrow—yet again.

Marla glances at Eric. Fortunately, he looks too toasted to pester her. She watches as Eric slinks into the corner of the room with his pot and his Discman.

That leaves Toby's hands, Marla's and "the spirit's" on the pointer.

Do spirits even have hands? Marla wonders.

Marla pleads to Toby.

'Promise you won't move it?'

Toby slides his glasses up his nose.

'I promise.'

Those are the last words Toby, as Marla knows him, ever speaks."

*

puff

Bri and Claire appear riveted; even June is hunching forward. Gabbi finally sits down instead of leaning on the pine.

Excellent.

*

FIVE

"Back in the now, Marla's breathing is ragged.

Five steps are all that stand between Marla and freedom, but she'll have to cross the threshold to get out the door.

All five steps are in the dark.

Marla is pretty sure she can no longer move fast enough to take those steps to safety, and knows better than to move the candle.

But what alternative does she have?

The putrid smell of Josh and Colbys' intestines permeates the air, and she gags.

There is no choice.

She kicks Marie's severed arm away from her feet.

Something whooshes in the dark, followed by crunching and chewing sounds.

Marla's gag turns to a retch, and the smell of her vomit joins the stench.

Soon the candle will go out.

She has to do it.

Shakily, Marla rises to her feet and tries to ignore the blood dripping down her spine.

Five steps. Five.

It was only supposed to be a game."

*

puff

*

FOUR

"G...A...M...E

A simple four letter word.

'Game?' echo Marla and Toby.

The pointer moves to yes.

'How do we play?' asks Marla.

D...E...P...E...N...D...S

'On what?'

Toby's head snaps back, and red fire lights his pupils.

A snake's tongue slithers out from between his teeth.

'ON HOW YOU TASTE!' "

*

puff

The campers gasp.

*

THREE

"All three of Marla's friends perish soon after those words are uttered.

Eric is first. He'd been sitting without a candle.

Josh steps into the dark when he hears the screams, only to have his join the cacophony.

Marie bolts to Marla while it is eating, and she looks ready to run again.

'STOP! Don't move!' Marla shouts to Marie.

There is a pattern. And that thing said this is a game.

It's a bit late to ask for the rules, yet she demands them anyway.

'Tell us the rules!'

But, poor Marie can't wait any longer, can't wait for the answer.

And, before Marla can stop her, Marie moves.

She backs away from the candles.

Into the corner.

Into the dark.

The creature squeals with glee as it bites into Marie's flesh.

*

puff

*

TWO

"'The rules!" Marla sobs. "What are the rules??'

As though it is compelled to do so, Toby—what was Toby—hisses and responds with a maniacal laugh,

'There's only two. Stay in the light, and don't move the candles!'

Marla pulls at her hair. There are two candles left:

The one she is standing next to, and the one near the door.

Marla runs for the second candle.

When the creature's claws shred her back she screams in agony.

Marla lands on the floor in the fading candle-glow.

The creature laughs again, and chucks Marie's mangled body in front of her for emphasis.

*

puff

*

ONE

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

One final beacon.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Marla counts her fingers. Ten fingers, ten toes. She's awake. She thinks.

But it's so dark. Too dark.

'How did we get here?' she wonders aloud, while looking down at Marie's corpse.

Marla imagines Marie's voice, once so warm and gentle, now choked with fear and blood.

If she still had the ability, she knew Marie would remind her that it doesn't matter how they got there.

What matters is the now and only the now.

What matters is getting out.

Marla clutches the remains of her school uniform around herself against the bitter wind coming through the cabin's broken windows.

From behind her, a scuffling sound raises her pulse.

The light from the last candle is the only light left in the room.

It sputters in the wind.

Marla doesn't want to think about what will happen when the candle goes out.

She hobbles as fast as she can for the door."

*

Discreetly, Lane chucks the pinecone she's been holding behind her back all this time into the woods behind her as hard as she can.

CLUNK! It echoes in the quiet. And, as if on cue, the wind rustles the trees.

"AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" shrieks the chorus of ninth graders.

Lane pours the water bucket on the fire, turning it into steam that hides her from view and drowns the entire fire-circle in cloudy-skied, no moon, countryside darkness.

Minus the last candle.

Puff, it fizzles as Lane snuffs it, too.

The screams turn to wails, and the teens freeze in place, unsure of which direction to run.

Lane chucks another pinecone in a different direction, so it sounds like 'it' has gotten closer and switched positions.

Then she flips on a flashlight under her chin.

In her most cheerful, airline-stewardess imitation, Lane calls,

"Alright everyone, fire safety is complete. Campfire is out. Pack up your things and let's walk back to the cabin."

There is a collective muttering.

"I hope the story wasn't too blasé for you, June," Lane adds with a wink.

June's eyes open wide and she whispers a quiet, "whoa," as she nods a satisfied, respectful nod in return for the wink. She adds in a slow clap.

Claire and Bri are still clinging to each other for dear life.

But—wait, Gabbi isn't here.

Oh, damn. Gabbi must have bailed.

From behind Lane, a loud THUMP hits the ground.

Lane screams.

Gabbi chuckles.

"I found your pinecone."

Tensions fade, and everyone laughs.

The troop makes their way to the cabin—but a little quicker than necessary, Lane notes.

Perfect.

Lane decides to recommend Gabbi as next year's peer leader.

It's time to pass the tor—er—candle.

*

--end of contest entry--

About the Author:

Les lives a quiet life in Canada with her three rescue cats. You can purchase a copy of her first book, Owl in a Towel, here. Publishing inquiries may be directed to [email protected]

*

This story is entered into the Campfire Ghost Story Contest on Vocal Media. Born in '87, Les took inspiration for this tale from the movie that continues to haunt her steps since first watching it in 2003: Darkness Falls

~For C Xx~

Please feel free to comment & share <3

fiction

About the author

Call Me Les

She/her | Cat enthusiast | "Word-Nerd" | Fueled by buttertarts

  • Co-Founding admin at Vocal Social Society & Great Incantations
  • Co-Founder of the Vocal Creators Chronicle
  • Vocal Spotlight
  • Book: Owl in a Towel

~&~

No words left unspoken.

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  3. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  1. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

  2. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  3. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

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Comments (19)

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  • RM Stocktonabout a month ago

    Great story. I look forward to reading more of your work!

  • Scott Wadeabout a month ago

    Well done, Les. Very creative and an excellent story. Netflix could pick this up as a ready made script. 🥰

  • Irene Mielkeabout a month ago

    Awesome story!!!

  • Jordan Twissabout a month ago

    This absolutely nails the teen slasher/campfire story vibe, and the pacing with the countdown works so well to amp up the tension. Excellent work!

  • Ali Howarthabout a month ago

    Brilliant and scary and squishy. Well done. Eew.

  • Stephanie Downardabout a month ago

    This was amazing! I loved the way you wrote it! The count down with the candles was a great idea! I really loved this!! ❤️❤️

  • Caroline Jane2 months ago

    Love the countdown. You build the tension marvellously. I can really imagine "been there done that teens" losing their cool listening to this. Funny and scary. Great combo.

  • J. D Correa2 months ago

    This is awesome. I'll be submitting my campfire story soon. Just getting back into writing and feeling this Vocal thing out.

  • Mark E. Cutter2 months ago

    Well done!

  • Whoaaa this was super brilliant! You write horror really well

  • Clyde E. Dawkins2 months ago

    This should seriously be a movie!!!

  • Cathy holmes2 months ago

    This is fabulous. Very well imagined.

  • Linda Rivenbark2 months ago

    Very imaginative and powerful ghost story! That should make a good Halloween story to read aloud to a group.

  • Lena Borondia2 months ago

    Well done, Les! Loved the Ticking Clock and Extinguishing Candles!!!

  • Misty Rae2 months ago

    Loved it!

  • You are a great writer and the format of this is brilliant

  • BT2 months ago

    This is the perfect campfire story! Cleverly written and it kept me engaged the whole way through. I enjoyed how you managed to incorporate a little humour into the horror of your story. If you have the time, I'd really appreciate any new eyes on my submission :)

  • Babs Iverson2 months ago

    Fantastic horror story!!!💕

  • Gerald Holmes2 months ago

    Wow!! This really is a great campfire story.

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