I thought it might be nice for Halloween to post a short(ish) piece of fiction I came up with earlier this week. I wanted to experiment a little with atmosphere and description, and while it’s not meant to be horrifying or even a little scary, it is meant to be a little eerie. I’m probably not going to expand on the concept; just thought it’d be a fun idea to post a sample of my writing on my website for people to read for free. So here you go:
While traveling home on a lonely road through the woods one evening, a terrible rain fell on young Noah, drenching him in moments, and obscuring the rest of the way home behind a wall of falling water. His simple lantern quickly extinguished by torrents of water, he sought shelter beneath the bough of a tall oak tree, where he saw in the distance an old, run-down cabin, lightless and solitary, but shelter all the same. Noah shouldered his small knapsack and trudged through the deepening mud, across sticks and brambles and all manner of sharp rocks, until he reached what remained of the front door, nothing but rotted timber hanging on hinges after years of neglect. Still, it had a roof of sticks and thatched straw, enough to keep out the rain, so he entered, and pulled the door shut behind him.
The smell hit his nose first, of rotten wood and mildew. There was barely any floor to speak of, just a few planks over dirt where mushrooms grew in thick patches. The walls were mossy and damp from so much water, and thick growth covered what remained of the windows. No glass, and it did a shoddy job of keeping out the night chill. But still, it was dry, so Noah settled in to wait out the storm. He took from his pack a flint and tinder, and after doing his best to dry out his lantern, brought it to life again. A nearby hook provided a handy spot to hang it from, and it lit up his surroundings a little better.
Drip by drip, water leaked in through the roof, pooling into the dirt beneath the baseboards. Noah found an old pot, which he put beneath the leak. A few more drips revealed themselves, and Noah dug out a few more pots and pans to catch them. He examined the old stove, noting it was wood-burning, and likely usable if he could get his hands on some dry firewood. The cabinet in the corner had a small sampling of dishes, enough for two people to eat their meals together, or one person to go two days without doing any washing. The kitchen table and chair seemed sturdy enough for Noah to sit himself down, and while there was a bed, it looked uncomfortable, the old mattress stuffed with hay that promised many itchy nights if used, and the blankets had likely already become home to other living organisms that didn’t want to share.
As the last waning light of evening faded through the root-covered windows, Noah heard a faint scratching sound, as if a wayward cat were sharpening its claws on the side of the cabin. He peeked through the window, but saw only an encroaching darkness approaching through the forest, twisting the tree branches into bent and bony fingers as they sought their missing leaves, and leaving far too many gaps beneath the shrubs for the imagination to fill in with watching eyes and sharp teeth. Noah pulled back, and went to the front door again. It closed, barely, but the lightest tap could knock the thing free. He found a loose plank on the ground, and two hooks secured into the wall, positioned so that he could simply slip the board into place, and keep someone from knocking the door inwards.
The scratching stopped, and Noah breathed a little easier. He’d heard stories about the woods at night. The farmers who spoke of their livestock going missing in th late hours, the noises heard deep within after the sun took away its light. Noah himself had questioned the wisdom of taking this way home, but during the day, the forest was a cheerful place, bright and brimming with birdsong, as dappled sunlight poured its way in through the withered tree branches. But regret could come later. Noah reached into his pack and withdrew a chocolate bar he hadn’t gotten around to eating yet. It wasn’t really an adequate supper, but it took the edge off his hunger. He could wait out the storm, until morning, if he had to.
A short time later, Noah heard another sound, a faint, crackling, like flames burning away dry lumber. But he saw no light outside the window, not even the smallest ember. Conflicted, Noah made sure the plank over the door was in place. It was. He found a dry spot on the floor amidst the water-logged pots and pans, and used his pack as a pillow as he rested his eyes for just a moment.
A shrill screech, like nails dragging across a rock, jolted Noah from his rest. He shot straight up, his heart hammering in his chest. Chills rippled up his skin like thousands of tiny bugs, and he flailed his hands, trying to strike an enemy he could not see. As reason settled in, he realized it was pitch black inside the cabin. The lantern had gone out sometime during the night. He found it still hanging on the hook, and fumbled for his flint and tinder to light it once again. The first three times, he failed to even produce a spark, though it was a wonder he could even find his hands in this inky darkness. A small, fragile light flared into being when he finally succeeded, pale and cold. It washed away the color of everything it touched. Noah couldn’t even see the walls around him, but it was better than fumbling in total darkness.
He listened to the still-falling rain, and the distant rumbling of thunder. The pots and pans were overflowing, flooding the dirt underneath the baseboards as everything churned into a grim, grey mud. It had soaked into Noah’s clothes, and he stripped off his jacket to let it dry out. As he sat there, he began to notice the rain was the only source of sound. There were no crickets, no hooting owls. Just the rain, the wind, and the chattering of his own teeth. As if he were the only thing left alive in this haunted place.
A twig snapped outside. Noah jumped up, and pressed himself up against the wall by the window. He listened carefully for another sound, something to tell him what was out there. After a moment of listening to his own shallow breathing, he leaned towards the window, allowing himself to glimpse through the small gap between tree roots. His breathing faltered when he saw only darkness. A few hints of tree branches reached out towards the cabin, and the falling rain created a sort of static, but he could not see the forest, and he began to understand just how cut off he was from everything else. Of course, that was a silly notion. It was just an old cabin, in a dark forest, late at night. There were no monsters, no ghosts. Just his overactive imagination working in tandem with the darkness to ruin his heart rate, and make a fool of him come morning.
Still, even knowing logically that there was little to fear, Noah couldn’t stop the tightness in his chest. The fear that something out there knew he was residing in the cabin clawed at the inside of his brain, and he found himself unconsciously shielding his lantern with one hand, so whatever was out there couldn’t see the light through the windows. Another twig snap confirmed his fear—something else was out there.
With a sudden bang, the door shuddered. It struck against the plank Noah had set up, but held steady. The rotten wood bent inwards as whatever was on the other side continued to slam into it, again and again. Noah grabbed his light and ran to the far end of the cabin. He set it down on the stove, and heaved himself against the cabinet. It budged, slowly, and he pushed it over towards the door, blocking it as best he could. He could hear the wood of the door splinter, and finally crack. Then silence.
Noah brandished his lantern like a weapon as he waited, but the commotion ceased once the door broke. Apprehensively, he lowered his guard, and stepped closer. Nothing. He glanced out the window, but there was only the rain. Whatever had tried to get in must have given up and moved on. He let out a breath he didn’t even realize he’d been holding, and slumped onto the dirty floor. There was no point in trying to sleep again. He’d have to remain vigilant until dawn.
The rain fell hard and steady, lulling him with its rhythm. Noah’s eyelids grew heavy. He focused on the lantern nearby, its cold, grey light still flickering. Then he looked over towards the bed over in a dark corner of the cabin, where its moth-eaten blanket had pooled on the floor. Something scraped against the wall, and Noah heard breathing that was not his own, along with a faint crackling sound, like dry, burning wood. Something sat on the bed, watching him with shadowed eyes, exhaling clouds of ash as it breathed.
Noah’s fear overwhelmed him, and a terrified cry escaped his lips. He raced to the front door, and hurtled into the cabinet in a vain attempt to unblock the door. Whatever perched on the bed landed on the floor and stalked towards him. The forgotten lantern dimmed as its fragile flame melted away. Noah struck the cabinet again, but the stubborn thing held fast. The lantern winked out, and the entire cabin plunged into darkness. Noah shrieked, and shielded his face with his hands as something cold whipped past him, tearing across his skin like clawed fingers.
The ground beneath him trembled, and something like thunder rumbled. A great roar drowned out even the sound of rain, and the trembling ground tossed Noah across the room like a sack of potatoes. He hit the wall hard enough to hear his bones creak, and collapsed to his knees as everything went quiet. No rain, no thunder, not even his own heartbeat. And then, he heard the sweet trill of a bird, just outside his window.
The faintest beams of sunlight poured in through the roots covering the window. They fell upon Noah’s broken lantern, and the scattered furniture that lay haphazardly about the room, as if something large and angry had gone on a rampage. The cabinet blocking the door had fallen on its face, smashing the dishes inside into shrapnel, but none of that really mattered. He was free to leave this cursed place. Noah grabbed his pack and thew the lone plank out of the way as he stepped out through the shattered door. His feet pressed down onto soft mud, and he saw the forest clearly for the first time. The branches were just branches, attached to trees that rose from the thick mist wafting along the ground. Dappled morning sunlight poured in between the branches, and morning birds welcomed the day.
The cabin was just a cabin, and Noah left it behind as he traveled back towards the lone road. He found the signpost leading into town, and walked for most of the morning, until the trees thinned, and the light brightened, while the mist still remained thick at his feet. Then the forest just ended. And so did the rest of the world. Noah balanced on a precipice far above an empty, grey void. Everything was gone. No town, no road. It was just him, and the forest.
Noah fell to his knees, clutching his chest. He looked back at the trees as the indifferent winter wind rustled his hair. There was nowhere else to go now. He shouldered his pack, stood, and traveled back into the woods. The cabin was the only home left.