A writer is gifted with a mysterious card that will inspire them if they toss the card in a fire while sharing a scary story.
“The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window.” I stepped back from the campfire, falling deeper into the shadows and waving my hands for dramatic flair. Plus, I was already hot, no thanks to the Oklahoma heat wave.
I placed a hand on my heart to check if the strange card I was gifted was still in my overalls. Good. I still have it. Let’s do this.
High school students from all over the state will arrive tomorrow at the Quartz Mountain resort for the intensive two-week residential school for professional training in the visual, literary, and performing arts. As an alumnus of the creative writing class, this place meant so much to me. I made new friends during a time in my life when that was a struggle. Being around other writers my age motivated me like nothing else, especially since I was the only one in my English classes who enjoyed writing stories. I’ve heard many others make this statement, but there was something magical about being surrounded by mountains, far from civilization, and high-speed Internet.
Because of my experience, I returned as an adult to work as a counselor as this was something I could do to give back. I would love to eventually become an instructor, lifting others how I was inspired. But first, I would have to be a successful writer, which required me to stop hitting blank pages.
With tonight being the last student-free night, I had no trouble gathering a few people under the pretense of sharing scary stories in the courtyard. I first sought after my friend, Hannah. We attended the summer program together in high school as cabin roommates while she took the film and video course. This year, she was part of the public relations team as a documentary videographer. She got her boss, Wren, to join us. Wren was down for a good scary story. Then a couple of guys, Danny and Nathan, who happened to be hanging out in the lodge lobby when I met up with Hannah and Wren, accepted my invitation to join. I squealed with glee, with an audience eager to hear my story.
The line about the abandoned cabin was fictional as this happened where my kids would be staying. I took some creative liberties with the beginning, fabricating details about finding dead bugs, unfamiliar howling in the distance, and the moonless night, but the rest of the story I was about to tell them wouldn’t veer from the truth of what happened a few hours ago.
I closed my eyes, centering myself as I continued the story. “My gut told me something was amiss, and I knew I had to investigate.”
“Well, you’re still here, so we know it wasn’t a serial killer,” Danny said.
Wren, the public relations manager, threw a marshmallow at her fellow staff member. “Let Burnie finish their story.”
“Yeah, maybe Burnie died and was replaced by a doppelgänger,” Hannah said, teasing me, too.
“Or maybe we are the ones that died,” Nathan added with some spooky hollering at the end.
I cleared my throat. “So, I walk up to the cabin. As I pulled open the door, I was hit with this aroma, like I was about to enter–” I paused to build suspense, “a coffee shop.”
The staff exchanged confused looks and giggles.
I carried on with my story. “With my phone flashlight on, I scanned the room. There was no one there. As I treaded deeper inside, the cabin door slammed shut.” I smashed my hands together to represent the noise. “The candle blew out, and my phone – with a full battery, mind you – died. My heart began to race as I tried to open the door. Then suddenly, I saw this light illuminating behind me. I turned around, and there was this spotlight on a woman beside a golden freestanding door. She wore this purple maxi dress fashioned for a greek goddess, and her luxurious silver hair danced in the windless cabin. I asked this woman who she was, but she only responded with the question, ‘Do you seek inspiration?’ I told her yes. I’ve been at an impasse on a new horror story.”
I whipped out the card like a salesperson who was an expert at handing out business cards. “The mysterious muse gave me this card. She told me that if I shared this tale, and then I tossed this card into a fire, we would experience a real horror story.”
I held up the card, showing the group. The dark purple card depicted a golden skull that shimmered in the fire’s light. The audience humored me with a few “oohs” and “ahhs.” Wren clasped her hands on her face in awe.
“Shall I toss it in the fire?” I asked.
“Do it!” Danny taunted. “Do it! Toss that bad boy in the fire.”
“That card looks too pretty to burn,” Hannah said. “But I don’t want your story to end, so go for it.”
Nathan and Wren gave approving nods. With everyone’s consent, I tossed the card in the fire. The stranger never revealed what would happen other than I would be inspired to write. After I took the card from her, she opened her golden door, which led to a coffee shop. The door disappeared like she was never there, but the card was my proof. When the card hit the fire, the fire turned bright purple like a firework, soliciting wows from the entire group.
The flames collapsed in on themselves and burst to life a five-foot giant scorpion, like the striped bark kind found around the area. The scorpion stung Danny, knocking him out of his chair. Hannah jumped out of her seat, utilizing the chair as a shield. Thankfully, there was no one else around in the courtyard. Nathan and Wren ran together to the hotel guestrooms while I stood frozen in shock.
“What the fuck is going on, Burnie?” Hannah said as she used the chair like a lion tamer in a circus act.
“I-I don’t know,” I cried. “I didn’t expect this to happen!”
The scorpion’s stinger pierced through the chair, missing Hannah and getting the chair stuck on the tail in the process.
Hannah retreated to my side. “Got any ideas on how to kill it?”
A spotlight beamed down on the impossible monster I brought to life. We looked at a firetruck flying like a drone or alien spaceship. The firetruck hovered in the starry sky, silent as a ghost. How long has that ship been there? Is it part of the card or something else? The scorpion smashed the chair against the ground, freeing the creature as two more emerged from the fire pit.
I couldn’t make out the details, but a person with dark skin–definitely human–aimed a white sci-fi-looking rifle at the scorpions. The sniper opened fire, emitting a low-frequency screech. One by one, the monsters collapsed as we took refuge under the artistic metal gazebos designed to mirror the Twin Peaks mountains seen from the courtyard.
A team of three people jumped off the firetruck, landing on the ground like superheroes without getting hurt. They wore bright white and orange uniforms, making them easy to spot. Why are they wearing such bold outfits?
“Get this human healed,” ordered the short black woman. “Then find everyone here and wipe their memories of tonight.”
Their commander answered my question. No need for secrecy when you could erase the unnatural like the event never happened. I cursed under my breath, but Hannah heard.
“You should run and hide,” she told me. “I’ll distract them.”
“Wait,” I whispered, but she gave me no choice as she ran toward them, flaying her arms in the sky. “Hannah…”
With the strangers distracted, I bolted for the nearby cave. I figured they wouldn’t expect anyone to be out on any of the trails, hiding in the cave.
I took the route behind the hotel guestrooms, hoping the building would shield me from the action in the courtyard and the lake to my right would keep me anonymous. As I passed the classroom pavilions, I prayed to the universe that the beams of flashlights scanning the area would miss me. I hoped the trees on the cave trail would cover me as more flying firetrucks flew overhead, landing in the parking lot on the other side. I begged my ankles not to give and my heart not to jump out of my throat.
I arrived in the cave alone and unharmed. Some force of the universe must’ve heard my wishes. Thank you. Then my brain warned me of possible snakes and normal-sized scorpions in the cave. With my phone still dead and no source of light on me, I decided to take my chance. I did my best to steady my breath to listen to any slithering or scurrying of desert creatures. I heard nothing. Perhaps my presence scared them. I did make a bunch of noise getting up the hill. The inside of the cave was about the size of my apartment, leaving little room to hide. Feeling a bit safe, I took a seat.
I woke up as the sunlight stretched into the cave, poking my face with sizzling kisses. I have no idea how, but my body collapsed into a deep slumber. I thought I would stay awake all night, but waiting around while nothing happened and being in darkness must’ve put my body to rest. Strange how the body works.
I didn’t know the time, so I returned to the courtyard. I brushed myself off to not appear as I slept in the woods–not that anyone would judge. To my relief–I think that’s the correct word–I saw some staff and faculty members walking out of their rooms and across the courtyard to the main lodge for breakfast as if today were a regular morning. I did notice one less chair around the fire pit where I tossed the card.
Hannah came jogging up to me. “Where were you last night?” I could tell by her scrunched face she was a bit annoyed.
“What do you mean?” I asked, dumbfounded.
“You told me you wanted to share a ghost story by the fire, but you never came.”
“Hold on. Do you not remember the giant scorpions?” Hannah shook her no. There was nothing on her facial expression to indicate she was messing with me. “Do you remember the flying firetrucks?”
Hannah shook her head. “Was this part of your story?”
“No, this is what happened last night. Wait! Where is Danny? Is he okay?”
“Oh, he’s fine.” Hannah pulled out her phone and showed me a photo of a normal-sized scorpion. “He had a bad reaction to this scorpion in his room. He should be back tomorrow.”
I sighed like a person freed from a boulder. The strangers cleaned up well, but I had so many questions. Who was the woman with the golden door? What was this organization that saved the day? Was someone watching out for me? The truth of what happened would be left for my creative imagination to determine, just as the mysterious muse planned.
A new short story to kick off summer! This was written for a horror story contest to use this line as the first sentence: “The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window.” Since I was at Quartz Mountain for the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute, I got some friends there to pose and slightly base the characters on them. The mysterious muse was the end-timer, Brigit, who was featured in The Winged Letter and A Question for the Writers.
Hope you enjoyed this campfire horror story!