In celebration of All Hallows’ Eve, I present to you a short story I wrote about a wandering man who finds himself caught out along a shore in the dead of night, and of the decrepit cabin that appears to be his only respite from the storm. I hope you enjoy it, and Happy Halloween everyone! Originally written on the 2nd October 2014.
“The Cabin on the Shore“
It’s raining as I write this. I’m cold, I’m wet, but luckily, I’ve found the cabin.
I had been walking along the shore in the blackness of night for many a weary mile. No moon lit my path, no stars overhead to keep me company. Only phantasmal clouds and shadows grim. With head down, I walked along the hard sands and slick rocks for countless hours, growing progressively colder and more fatigued the further I travelled through the endless onyx night. Finally, in the midst of a large stretch of shore lined with the skeletal contortions of menacing pines, I spied the wooden shanty.
From some distance ahead it beckoned to me. It lay like a desecrated crypt just off the high water mark, repulsive and malignant. The structure looked like it had been sitting alone in these wilds for a hundred years or more, a crumbling victim of abandonment. As I trudged slowly towards it and pondered its history, more details of its weather and time worn exterior were revealed to me in all their disfigured repugnance. The bleached wood was pale, jagged and crumbling away in parts. Its warped roof sagged with the weight of the ages, and only managed to cling to a meagre scattering of its ancient slates. There were no windows, only a single doorway, misshapen, black and decidedly uninviting. The portal yawned at me from afar, almost daring me to enter.
Increasing my pace considerably, I soon arrived at the threshold of my bleak respite. I had to get out of the treacherous weather, even if it was into this sullen coffin of long forgotten memories and lifetimes before me. After a series of raps on the walls and a wary scout around its exterior, I cautiously crept inside.
Inexplicably, within was blacker than without. This oddity perplexed me greatly, and try as I might, I could barely make out anything within the dim sanctuary of the cabin. There was a grim resonance to the place, an indefinable unease I felt in my cold bones from the very outset. After fidgeting around in the gloom, feeling my way across the walls and over the old boards, my eyes eventually became somewhat accustomed to it.
I found there to be no furniture in the place, save for a small wooden stool, eaten away in parts by generations of woodworm. I tried my luck and sat down upon it, hoping that it would take my weight and relieve my exhausted frame. Thankfully it did, and finally with an opportunity to rest, I closed my stinging eyes and contemplated the foul night.
And then I hear a sound.
It was a strange sound, muffled and faded, and coming from somewhere just outside. I could have sworn it was a voice, though I couldn’t be sure. I sat and waited, hoping to convince myself that it was something innocent. Soon, I heard it again. Nothing of this world came to mind, no animal or natural phenomena I could conjure would answer the mystery. Finally, curiosity got the better of me and I gathered the courage to tread across the creaking boards and step back out into the windswept night.
There was nothing there. Absolutely nothing but the phantom pines lining the coast and the howling dirge of the storm. I quickly scurried back inside like a rat and resumed my vigil upon the old stool.
There it was again.
But what was it, what thing was capable of such a sound? I waited and listened for maybe half an hour this time, hearing it speak, if indeed it was speech at all. I was convinced it was a voice, calling from somewhere on the shore. It tormented me, scratched at my sanity and clawed at my soul. I could take the mystery and taunting no longer, and so, for a second time, I ventured out into the salt-infused tempest.
And once again, I found nothing.
I returned to the cabin. Feeling the insatiable need to know eating away at my sanity, I found myself asking if perhaps I should explore the dense thicket behind the cabin, for maybe the source of my torment was hiding in there. Maybe the malevolent thing was ready to cause me harm. I certainly felt in danger. Regardless, I had to know. I left the worm-eaten stool once more.
After cutting myself on the vicious branches and other invisible assailants of the night, I found the thicket to be empty of all life.
Then I heard the forsaken sound again. Only this time, it was coming from inside the cabin.
I stood alone for some time in that overgrowth, facing the rear of the lonely structure. I dared not move, and so there I remained for what seemed like an eternity, rooted to the spot like the sullen guardians of pine surrounding me. I was bewitched. A prisoner of fear, my mind shackled to a sentence without end, one of ceaseless observation of demented winds whistling past the cabin’s contorted sides. My world was one of only tortuous sounds; the waves thrashing the sand, the screaming of the elements and the intermittent whisperings from the ominous shanty.
Never did I decipher a single word it said. Never could I discern a language, dead or alive. I was without answers, a clueless soul without resolution. In my stupor, I glanced skyward. Still, there were no gleaming stars to comfort me. There was no moon to fill me with light and courage. In a daze, I somehow crept back round to the front of the weathered cabin and stood in front of its open doorway. And somehow, despite myself and as if through someone else entirely, I found myself doing something that I never imagined doing. I felt like a puppet, a dishevelled marionette whose sole existence was to convey the actions of another.
In that dark doorway, I called to it.
What happened next, I have no recollection. I awoke inside the dismal hovel, the rain outside still pounding the roof, but the wind having ceased almost entirely. The first rays of morning were emerging from beyond the horizon, bathing this old shack in pale light. I was on the gritty floor, lying shivering on my back. The little stool was smashed. I doubt I’ll ever know what truly happened here this night in this remote cabin. And in truth, I no longer wish to know. All I wanted was reprieve from the elements, and now that I seem to have it, all I want is to leave.
As I sit upon the sandy floor and write this, I notice that I no longer hear the sound that haunted me. I no longer feel a power over my will. All I hear is the water. All I feel is cold.
In a few hours the weather should be clear enough to continue, but I won’t wait that long. Once I finish this letter, I shall resume my sodden trek once again. I believe the town is only another day’s walk away. Hopefully I’m right about that, and I won’t need to spend another night out here on the shore. And one day, hopefully, I’ll no longer be able to hear the echoes of that nameless sound in the dark and distant recesses of my mind.