The Haunted Cabin
All right, here’s what’s going on.
I wanted to post the second part of Come as You Are, but right now it’s 3000 words long (the first part was a shade over a thousand). Obviously it’s going to need some editing and revising, and I’m not going to be able to do that today. I hope to post it at least part of it tomorrow.
So here’s something completely different: a ghost story I wrote for an anthology of kids’ horror stories I’m working on. Because traumatizing children is fun.
Camp Salmon was enormous. About a hundred acres at least, with all kinds of fields and hiking trails, and a creek and a pond, and two dozen cabins. All of it was surrounded by dense woods. It was in the middle of nowhere.
Three times a year my wilderness troop got to camp out there, over the weekend. Most of the time it was fun. We’d have bonfires and sing songs and play games. But sometimes it was awful. We’d have to do arts and crafts, which is stupid and pointless, and my birdhouse or finger painting or wooden race car was always the worst. I was bad at most of the sports, too- I’ve always been clumsy.
When I was sitting on my butt in a mud puddle I wondered why we couldn’t just play capture the flag or hide and seek.
But when the other kids wanted to play hide and seek, they got carried away. They wanted to play it in the woods at night with people jumping out at each other.
How is that anyone’s idea of a good time?
And the older kids liked to pick on us.
“You’d better be careful, Matt, or the boogyman’s gonna get you,” said Kevin, who was twelve.
“He doesn’t have a face, Matt. He’s gonna steal yours!” said Daryl, who was Kevin’s best friend.
Even worse than any of that was the terrible secret I had that I tried to keep covered up at all costs. If the other kids found out about it, my life would be over.
Just about every night, I wet the bed.
This wasn’t just a camp thing either, this was all the time. I never went to sleepovers except at camp. I wouldn’t have gone to camp either, except my parents were worried about what they called “my social development”. I didn’t have any friends except Amy.
She was the only girl in my wilderness troop. It was supposed to be a boys-only thing, except her parents said that was unfair, and threatened to sue.
So Amy got to join, but slept separate from the boys, in a bunk with Trish, the only female troop leader. The boys didn’t like Amy because she was better than them at sports. The girls at school ignored her because she was more interested in sports than dolls. Amy and I were friends because neither of us fit in really. We’d both show up to camp and not fit in together, and get through the weekend somehow. It went like that for about a year or so until one weekend when it all went wrong.
I woke up the first morning and my legs were damp and cold. I’d wet the bed again. Luckily the leaders had assigned me- as usual- to a bunk in the hallway outside the bunkroom. So nobody would see. The deal was, I’d wake up one of the leaders, and they’d take my sheets to the laundry room and no-one would know about it.
This morning I rolled over and groaned quietly.
“Not again,” I muttered.
I sat up with a bolt. Amy was sitting across the hall from me, on the ground.
“What are you doing there?” I asked. She shrugged.
“I couldn’t sleep. Trish snores. What’s wrong with you? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“It’s nothing,” I said.
“Some nothing,” said Amy. “I can smell it from here, you wet the bed. I don’t care. You think I care? I got other things to worry about. I think Kevin did something to my toothbrush last night.”
“Oh. Yeah. I saw him do it, but couldn’t stop him,” I said. “Just throw it in the garbage. Trust me.”
“You want me to wake up Trish?” she asked. I nodded.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “Really.”
She stood up, opened the door next to her, and woke up Trish, who gathered the soiled sheets and took them to the laundry room. I went to the bathroom and changed, and then joined Amy in the dining hall. We sat by the window together.
“It looks like it’s gonna rain,” said Amy.
“I hope it does. Then we won’t have to play soccer today.”
“Only a lightning storm would stop them from letting us play outside.”
A hand grabbed my shoulder from behind. I cried out and spun around.
It was just Kevin.
“Calm down, Door Matt,” said Kevin. “We wouldn’t want you to have an accident.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
He shrugged, and sat down next to me. “I hear things sometimes, that’s all. I heard something from the leaders last night that was really interesting.”
“Oh, do tell,” said Amy, arching an eyebrow.
“You see through the woods there?” asked Kevin. “There’s a light. Do you see it?”
I squinted. “No,” I said.
“Well, it’s kinda faint in the daytime. But beside that light is an old cabin. Number 13.”
“Why would they put a cabin right in the middle of the woods?” asked Amy.
“There used to be a clearing around it, and a path leading right to the front door. That’s what Harold and Paul were saying.”
Harold and Paul were two of our troop leaders.
“Back in the ‘60s, cabin number 13 was used all the time,” said Kevin. “But one night, when a troop was staying there, a tree next to it was struck by lightning. It caught on fire and fell on the cabin. Nobody could escape.”
“That’s stupid, Kevin. You expect us to believe that?” said Amy.
“Hey, I’m just telling you what Harold said. He’s in the kitchen right now making breakfast. You want to ask him if it’s true or not, you go right ahead.”
Amy and I exchanged a glance.
“Or better yet, you two could go out to the cabin tonight and see for yourself. I’ll bet it’s haunted. There’s only way to find out for sure.”
“I’m not going out there,” I said. “Not because it’s scary, but because it’s made-up.”
“Yeah, you’re just trying to freak us out,” said Amy. “It won’t work.”
“Fair enough,” said Kevin. “If you don’t, I guess I’ll just have to tell everyone about the other thing I overheard. You’re a bedwetter, Door Matt.”
“He’s not!” said Amy.
“And I’ll tell everyone that you’re in love with a bedwetter,” said Kevin. Kids started filing into the dining hall, lured by the smell of pancakes.
“Tonight at midnight,” said Kevin. “Or else.”
That night I lay awake in bed for ages. Finally Amy crept out of her room.
“It’s time,” she said.
Kevin stepped out of the bunkroom.
“You guys awake?” he asked.
I crawled out of bed.
“You didn’t wet yourself again, did you?” Kevin sneered.
“Shut up,” said Amy.
The three of us walked slowly down the hall, past Harold and Paul’s bunk room, past the dining hall, to the front door. Kevin held it open.
“I’ll be watching from here,” he said. “You have to go inside the cabin. For one whole minute.”
I nodded weakly. Amy and I stepped outside. The wind rattled the treetops. The moon was half-covered by clouds. It was chilly.
We reached the edge of the trees.
“I forgot to put on shoes,” I said.
“Wear one of my Crocs,” said Amy. She slid one off her foot and handed it to me.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“You can’t go barefoot.”
I put it on, and we walked into the woods unevenly, following the light of the lantern hanging off the cabin. It was quite clear in the darkness, as Kevin had promised.
We reached a clearing which surrounded the cabin, and a thin dirt path led to the front door. The building appeared undamaged.
“This can’t be right,” I said.
“Kevin was probably making stuff up,” said Amy. “I bet it’s not haunted either. Let’s just go inside. If the cabin’s even unlocked.”
I stepped onto the cabin’s porch, and the lights flicked on inside.
“Somebody’s in there!” I said.
The front door swung open. A fat, bald man with a bushy mustache stood in the doorway. He wore a wilderness troops uniform.
“Well, c’mon in,” the man said. “Dinner’s about to be served.”
“We’re not-” I said.
“I know, you’re a little late. But at least you didn’t miss dinner.”
We followed him into the cabin, down a wood-panelled hall lit by a single bare bulb. He walked into a crowded dining hall, full of kids our age, laughing and chatting. Platters of roast beef and mashed potatoes were on the tables, and jugs of juice and water.
“Find a seat,” said the leader. He strolled off through a set of swinging doors.
Amy and I glanced at each other.
“This doesn’t make sense,” I whispered. “That guy didn’t realize we weren’t in his troop.”
“Well, who else is going to be wandering around at midnight? My question is, why are they eating dinner at this time?”
A tall, thin boy at the nearest table glanced over and smiled. He stood up.
“C’mon and sit with us,” he said. “Pull up a couple of chairs.”
We found some folding chairs at the side of the room and sat next to the boy.
“Are you guys new?” he asked. “My name’s Alex.”
“Yeah, I’m- we’re both new,” said Amy. “I’m Amy, he’s Matt.”
A pudgy boy next to Alex leaned over.
“Since when do they let girls in?” he asked. His tone was curious, not mean.
“They, uh, made an exception. It’s just, I love sports. And outdoors stuff. The girls in my class are boring.”
A freckled boy across the table from us smiled.
“Yeah, I have five sisters,” he said. “All they ever do is play board games or pretend they’re baking or something. Who thinks that’s fun?”
“What kind of sports do you like?” asked Alex.
“Soccer’s my favourite,” said Amy.
“What about you?” the freckled boy said to me.
“I don’t, uh, really like that kind of stuff. I like reading. Science fiction and fantasy mostly.”
A boy at the next table turned around.
“You like that stuff, too?” he said. “Have you read any Heinlein?” he asked. I shook my head. “You have to read him, he’s the best.”
“Here, have something to eat before it goes cold,” said Alex, passing along a platter of food.
We ate, and talked, and it was easy. Nobody seemed to care that they’d never seen Amy or I before. But they were interested in us, and friendly. We lost track of time. Maybe hours went by. After our plates were empty, a troop leader with thick glasses brought out an enormous carrot cake, enough for everyone. Even after that, people just stayed at their tables and talked. People came over to introduce themselves and asked where we were from. I was confused- this cabin was supposed to be destroyed, wasn’t it? I worried that we might get in trouble for staying so long with another troop in the middle of the night.
But there were troop leaders around, hanging out at the side of the room talking to each other, keeping an eye on things. I figured Harold, Paul and Trish wouldn’t be too mad.
“… so then my brother ran down the stairs with this burning roll of toilet paper, and dropped it right in the middle of the new carpet!” said Alex. “And my dad’s face went red, and he-”
The lights overhead flickered on and off. Nobody seemed to notice.
“… so my brother was grounded for a month,” said Alex, “and my dad said he was lucky he didn’t-”
The lights flickered off, and the room fell silent.
“Matt?” said Amy. “Are you there?”
“Yeah.” I said. “Alex? Guys? What’s going on?”
They didn’t reply.
The moon shone through a gaping hole in the roof overhead, and I saw that Amy and I were alone, standing in an empty room. Black scorch marks lined the walls.
“Let’s get outta here!” said Amy.
She and I ran through a hole in the wall, through the trees, back to the cabin. Kevin was standing by the front door.
“You’re still here?” I asked.
“Yeah!” said Kevin. “You were only over at the cabin for, like, thirty seconds.” He showed me his watch: 12:01.
Amy glanced at hers, and it said the same thing.
“That’s not possible,” I said.
Kevin wagged his eyebrows. “I guess time moves slower in the dark,” he said. “See you tomorrow, bedwetter.”
He walked down the hall, leaving Amy and I by the door.
“What was that?” she said. “All those kids? The cabin? Were they-”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Let’s just get to bed before we’re caught.”
By the time I woke up in the morning, everyone knew I was a bedwetter. Kevin had told them, because according to him I hadn’t completed the dare.
Breakfast was a nightmare.
“You’re not sitting with us, bedwetter! We don’t want you to pee all over the table!”
“Get out of here, Door Matt! You smell!”
They wouldn’t let Amy sit down either.
“Why don’t you go outside with your boyfriend?”
Amy and I walked to the kitchen, where Harold was eating breakfast at a small table by the stove.
“Can we sit with you?” asked Amy.
“Sure thing,” said Harold. “Pull up a chair.”
We found two folding chairs by the doorway and brought them to the table. The three of us sat eating in silence for awhile.
“Can I ask you a question?” Amy asked Harold.
“Certainly,” said Harold.
“You were in wilderness troops when you were a kid, right?”
Harold nodded. “Yeah, for awhile. But one night…” His voice drifted off. “Camping gave me the creeps, so I quit.”
We continued eating in silence.
“When you were a kid, did you know a boy named Alex?” asked Amy.
Harold put down his plate with a clatter. He stared at Amy, mouth open.
“You… you were over there last night, weren’t you?” asked Harold.
Amy and I exchanged a glance. Then I nodded, slowly.
“They were eating roast beef and mashed potatoes. They had carrot cake for dessert. Alex told a story about his brother,” said Harold.
“How do you know all this?” I asked.
“You’re not the first kids to discover the haunted cabin,” said Harold. “When I was your age, I found it too.”
He stood up, and pushed in his chair.
“Please don’t tell anyone else about this,” he said. “Ever since that night, I’ve tried to forget what I saw. You should, too. Let the past stay in the past.”
He walked out of the kitchen, leaving Amy and I together alone.
She took my hand and squeezed it.
“I can’t just forget,” said Amy. “That seems wrong. We should make a promise for those kids, that we’ll remember them.”
I nodded. “I promise I won’t forget,” I said.
“Roast beef,” said Amy.
“Mashed potatoes,” I said.
“The boy with freckles.”
“And the boy who loved science fiction.”
“The leader with the mustache.”
“The fire in the night.”
We shook hands, and knew that the memory of cabin 13 would live on.