My truck rattled along the gravel road, taking me further and further from civilization. The old logging trail ran alongside a creek bed, long since dry thanks to the lack of rain this summer. Even with our drought the trees still held their vivid green canopies. The forest ceiling blocked out the sun with only the occasional beam of light piercing through the thick growth.
The cabin was the last place I wanted to go in this heat. No air conditioning would be killer this time of year. The humidity alone was nearly unbearable, but the gentle breeze blowing through my truck window kept me cool. It was almost pleasant, but I knew it wouldn’t last.
I approached the final stretch and began to ascend. The hill the cabin was situated on would have offered a great view had the forest not been so thick. The cabin was old. It had been in my family longer than I knew. It was like a relative that you were “encouraged” to visit every so often. My dad had requested I go out and check on the place since he hadn’t been able to get out here this year. Ever since the surgery, he hadn’t been moving as well. I know he loves the place, so I couldn’t say no. Hopefully he could make it out for deer season, but it wasn’t looking likely.
The road broke through the trees into the small clearing at the front of the cabin. The old structure looked more worn down than I remembered. The paint weathered, the wood beaten and rough. It was clinging to life, the only sign of humanity within miles of nature’s domain.
I stopped the truck and hopped out, instantly feeling the sweat beading down my face. I grabbed my bag from the bed of the truck and went to the small outhouse that was nestled beside the old building. Hidden inside was the key ring that opened the front door. It was tucked away exactly where it was supposed to be, a faint layer of dust covering the shiny keys.
Opening the door, I could feel the oppressive heat blast like a wave across the threshold of the cabin. The air was stale and choked with dust. I entered and dropped my bag on the old pull-out sofa that would be my bed for the night. Bugs pinged off the torn screens as I opened the windows.
What looked like movement caught my eye as I glanced out into the forest. I squinted, not making anything out in the brush. Probably a deer or a coyote. They practically infested these parts.
Grabbing the axe from the utility closet, I went out to chop some wood. It would take a fair amount to get me through the night if I wanted to be spared from total darkness. My hands began to callous over as I worked on a fallen tree, chopping up decent size logs before I could split them. It took me three trips, but I was able to get all of the wood back to the porch.
On my final trip, I returned to find the door swinging lazily in the breeze. I could have sworn that it was closed the last trip I made. I cautiously opened the door, hoping not to find a coyote or some other wild animal had somehow made its way inside.
No one was there.
I stepped inside and froze.
All of my belongings were neatly laid out on the sofa. It was like someone had gone through my bag, inventorying everything I was carrying.
My eyes took in all of my things. Everything was there, except my truck keys.
I grabbed the axe from the porch and hurriedly put the wood inside the building. Closing all the windows, I locked the front door and frantically pulled my cell phone from my pocket, dropping it to the wooden floor in the process.
I dialed my dad’s number and he answered on the third ring. I choked out what happened as I paced along the inside of the cabin.
Expecting him to try and calm me down, I was surprised by what he told me. After I finished telling him my story, he was quiet for a moment.
“Stay inside, lock the door, and don’t leave for anything. I’ll pick up the extra set of your keys from your house and meet you at the cabin in the morning. No matter what you hear or see, don’t leave that building until I get there in the morning.”
I thought he would tell me that it was probably just a hiker playing a trick or something like that, but upon hearing his warning I knew that he was deathly serious.
Nightfall approached slowly and I spent my time nervously looking from window to window. Even before the sun dipped below the horizon, I built a fire in the fireplace. The heat was overwhelming, but the thought of waiting until dark to build the fire was out of the question.
I huddled next to the sofa, axe in hand as I awaited the sun. I must have dozed off around 1am because when the banging on the door woke me up the fire was dying.
Grasping the axe tightly, I made my way to the door. With each step I took the banging became louder. It was still pitch black outside the windows as I tried in vain to see what might be waiting beyond the doorway.
“Who is it?” I asked timidly.
The banging stopped.
I choked up on the axe and steeled myself. “Who is it, damnit?”
The sound of fingernails tracing over the wood door was the only reply.
I backed away from the door, nearly tripping over the sofa in the process. Realizing how dark it was getting, I hurriedly threw wood on the fire, not taking my eyes off the front door and windows the entire time. The fire flared to life and I felt exposed. Anyone outside would be easily able to see me.
Huddling next to the sofa, I waited until the first rays of sun burst through the windows. I burned through all of my supply of wood, but I never let the fire die.
I was greeted by the sound of tires on gravel, and I looked out the window to see my dad pulling up to the front of the cabin, parking next to my truck. He slowly got out of the car while favoring his injured leg. He had a shotgun in hand as he waved at me.
Opening the door, I rushed out and nearly tackled him, I was so excited to see him.
“Come on boy, let’s get out of here,” he said anxiously, eyes scanning the tree line. I jogged back inside and grabbed my bag, carrying the axe with me the entire time. As I locked the cabin door, I saw something that made my skin crawl. All around the cabin, near the windows, the grass had been disturbed. I slowly walked around the cabin and confirmed it. Something had been watching me all night, slowly circling the cabin.
With my replacement keys in hand, I followed my dad’s SUV out of the small clearing and back towards the city. It wasn’t until we got back to his place that we were able to speak.
I told him what happened during the night, and he listened intently. After I finished, he said that we wouldn’t be going back there anymore.
“When I was a child, I went up to the cabin with your granddad. In the middle of the night, someone knocked on the door. When I went to open it, my father grabbed my arm and hushed me when I tried to speak. We waited until the knocking stopped, and he kept watch with his hunting rifle. The next day I asked him what was out there, and he wouldn’t say. His eyes got very distant and he said it was something that didn’t like us being on its land. He never talked about it again.”
Ever since that night, I’ve stayed out of the woods. I don’t think it has done any good. The other day I was tidying up my yard after a large storm came through when I found them.