The Tiny Cabin in the Woods

cabin

The woods were dark and dank. We’d lost our way, somehow we’d slipped off the main path and now found ourselves stumbling through the woods with no idea of direction. We had to admit it to it, we’d not just lost our way, we were lost. No maps, no compass, no GPS, we were lost. The only thing that would get us out of this predicament was luck. All we could do was keep on walking and hope for the best.

I’d gotten into a bit of a sulk after pointlessly arguing about whose fault it was and I’d dropped behind. Startled to find myself alone I stopped and listened. I heard rustling ahead and hurriedly pressed on. To my relief I quickly caught up with Jean only to find her on the threshold of a tiny cabin. It was like something out of a fairy tale. A small wood cabin, perhaps a quarter of the size one would normally expect. It was quite bizarre. Watching Jean, crouched besides the front door, made me think of Alice in Wonderland and the cake labelled, “Eat Me.” It just seemed so unreal that I couldn’t cope with the disparity in size.

Who would build such a cabin? And what was it for? At least its presence was comforting, we couldn’t be that far from civilisation. The cabin was locked, so we left it behind us as we searched for a way out of the woods. As we continued walking we talked about the cabin and made up elaborate stories explaining its existence. Was it home to some sort of fairy tale creature, a family of elves or similar creatures? Was there someone being kept captive in there? Or perhaps it guarded the entrance to a mine containing something precious, such as gold or diamonds. It could be the hiding place of some fugitive from justice, hiding away in the woods. We continued to speculate for an hour or so before we came across signs of civilisation. Our first sign was the smell of woodsmoke on the air, then, to our relief, we stumbled onto a well worn path. Following the path in the direction the smoke was coming from led us to the outskirts of a small village. Civilization at last!

We repaired to the village inn for refreshments and fortification. Over our meal and a few drinks we asked the innkeeper about the tiny cabin we’d seen in the woods. His explanation was disappointingly mundane. Apparently many of the villagers owned small cabins which they’d use during hunting season. They offered emergency shelter from the weather and a convenient hearth to cook a warming meal.

We left the village with full bellies, secure in the knowledge that we were back on track. It had been an adventure, one that would give us something to reminisce about in evenings to come. I still like to think though of the tiny cabin as having some less prosaic explanation, one involving fairy tales in some way.

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Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink October 11th writing prompt competition

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The Write Stuff

It was a dark and stormy night. Nope, that’s no good, no good at all. At writing school, they always tell you: never open a book with weather. See 10 Rules for Good Writing by Elmore Leonard. Given that I’m sitting in a shack in the middle of a thunderstorm it’s hard to ignore the thunder and the rain. It’s tipping it down and the sound of the rain rattling against the roof is drowning out my typewriter as I pound away at the keys.

Anybody who thinks writers live a romantic existence has no idea of what they’re talking about. It’s hard work. I’ve been stuck here by my agent, in the middle of nowhere, desperately trying to complete three-hundred words before the deadline is up. My publisher has become impatient with my tardiness and no longer smiles when I try to quote Douglas Adams at him: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” I always thought it quite endearing.

My punishment has been to be deprived of human contact and other distractions. So here I am, out in the boondocks, isolated, with nothing other than a typewriter and a few reams of paper for company. My agent has offered me all the wonders of civilisation if only I’d knuckle down and finish the story. I’ve been even promised a bonus if I beat the deadline.

I’m nearly there, if only this thunderstorm would shut up and leave me to concentrate. Uh-oh, my mind’s wandering. I realise that instead of wrapping up the story I’m re-editing it. My job’s to get the story down on paper. I never was any good at writing against the clock and as for making it exactly three-hundred words… There, done it.

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Written in response to the Microcosms 300 word competition number 137 with reference to the prompt: Writer; Thunderstorm; Romance

In Search of Ghosts

Ghostfinders

Ever since we were kids we’ve been obsessed with spooky stuff. Scooby-Doo, Ghostbusters, Ghost Hunters, all that sort of thing. Now as grown-ups, I use the term advisedly, we’re able to act out our fantasies and go looking for our own adventures. It has become our weekly ritual to go and explore somewhere new, somewhere that might be home to the paranormal. We pile into Jake’s car, armed with our cameras and ghost hunting kit, and drive for however long it takes us to get to our destination. We’ve visited stately homes, manor houses, castles, ancient earthworks, churches, anywhere that has a reputation for being haunted or for hosting strange, unexplained activity. So far we’ve not come across anything remotely supernatural, but we live in hope.

This week’s adventure involves a visit to a church, abandoned for about a decade. It’s an unusually recent building for us to investigate, we don’t normally bother with anything so modern. Yet this church has spawned many a tale regarding its haunted nature over the past twenty years. Indeed, it seems that its history of haunting may be the reason that it was abandoned in the first place. We tried, without success, to contact the last member of the church to preach there to gain a better insight into its history. In the absence of any further information we decided to explore it, regardless.

After a long, hard drive we arrived at the abandoned church late in the afternoon. As we entered the church, the shadows were lengthening as night drew near. Whilst our party split up to explore the vast building I stood on the balcony by the rearmost wall and surveyed the interior. The floor was littered with rubbish but the building was otherwise empty. I could see Jake standing in the middle of the church and Paul examining something up by the altar. From here it looked as though there was a shadow to the right of the altar yet I couldn’t see who, or what, was casting it. Paul didn’t seem phased by the shadow so I turned my attention to the arch fronting the altar space.

The arch framing the altar was emblazoned with a slogan, carved out in capital letters. Up the right-hand side ran the words, LE MAITRE EST LA. Down the left-hand side ran the words, ET IL T’APPELLE. Unusual, as a rule one would expect to find Latin used in church decoration. My French was rusty through lack of use but I roughly translated this as, “The master is here and he calls you.” I was unsure whether this should read master or teacher but it was close enough to be understood. I thought it might be from the Gospel of John yet I had no idea what it meant. The ambiguity of the phrase made me wonder whether it might have been adopted by devil worshippers to fit it with their own beliefs. Surely it would resonate with those that we hunted.

As I gazed around the church, I felt afraid for myself and my companions. The deepening shadows gave the place an eerie feel. Looking towards the altar I thought I could see a pair of eyes peering out of the gloom. I shouted out a warning, and it echoed round the empty space. ‘Beware, beware, beware…’ I hurriedly made my way down to join them. ‘I think that there’s something lurking at the rear of the altar space.’ I said as I joined them. We had come prepared for all kind of evil but not knowing what we faced made things difficult. Incorporeal creatures such as ghosts were of no account but any kind of demon was a worry. Cameras and crucifixes at the ready, we advanced on the altar. As we did so the pair of eyes I’d glimpsed earlier flared brighter, changing their hue from white to a demonic red. Yes, there was something there, something unearthly and threatening. There were three of us standing in opposition to some nameless apparition. I could feel my heart beating wildly in my chest. Night was falling fast, all the interior was now becoming dark. I felt for my torch and switched it on, I was quickly joined by my companions and we flooded the altar with light. To our surprise there was nothing to be seen other than the general detritus that littered the rest of the building. If something had been here, it was now gone. I turned and swept the beam of my torch around the inside of the church… nothing.

Cautiously, we climbed up to the altar space and searched the surrounding area. Nothing seemed amiss. If there had been something there, it was now gone. I sensed an absence and thought that I could detect a lingering odour, a sulphurous smell, perhaps indicating there had been a demonic presence. Moving to the rear of the altar, we found an area that felt a good two degrees colder than its surroundings, yet another indicator that something had been present. Whatever had been here must have seen our approach and fled in fear. Interesting, normally, if you can ever use that word in relation to the occult, it was us mortals who were the ones in fear. Was it the crucifixes that scared it off or just the presence of people? Or was there really anything there in the first place?

Yet another unsuccessful excursion. Still, we’d had a bit of excitement, something to reminisce about in the bar later. Would we do it again? You betcha. I think we’d be disappointed if we ever did encounter something truly uncanny. It’s all about the thrill of the chase, the planning, and the anticipation. Speaking of which, next week’s jaunt looks likely to be a night in a haunted castle, spooky.

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Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink October 4th writing prompt competition

Aflame in the Highlands

Ever since she’d inherited the estate in the Scottish Highlands, she’d been nothing but trouble. An Irish-American incomer, she just didn’t understand our ways and, I dare say, didn’t try to. She had a fearsome temper and if you crossed her you’d get more than a mouthful in return. There was one thing that you could say about her though, she really did love her newly acquired countryside. Most mornings, at first light, she’d be up and about and would walk the estate for miles. The sight of her, with her bright red hair streaming free in the wind, was enough to stir the heart. Her hair colour was unusual in how it really was fiery and not just a dull reddish shade. Many were the occasions that summer when it was mistaken for flame. The locals became used to the sight of her and forgot all about the warnings heralded by the old sayings.

Och, you’ll have heard the old adage: red sky at night, shepherd’s delight; red sky at morning, shepherds take warning. Or as they interpret it around these parts, in their more pragmatic way: red sky at dawn, the heather’s on fire. It was a disastrous day when she didn’t go walking and the red glow in the West was taken for her fiery hair and not the moorland fire it was. There were recriminations; was it her fault, or the fault of the crofters, that so much land was affected before the blaze was finally brought under control? It was a sad day when she decided to cover up her hair. From the day following the fire the mistress was seen to walk the estate with her hair bundled up, hidden beneath a headscarf, never again allowed to flow free in all its glory.

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Written in response to the Microcosms 300 word competition number 136 with reference to the prompt: Fiery Redhead; Highland Estate; Tragedy.

Hope Springs Eternal

Eternal Optimist

Sitting on the countertop of the shared flat was a mug. A black mug emblazoned with the words, ‘Eternal optimist’ in gilt lettering. No one knew where it had come from and nobody claimed ownership of it. Whenever someone dropped by for a chat and a cuppa, it inevitably became the mug given to the guest.

Much loved personal mugs came and went as the years passed by. Much loved means much used, and much used means much handled, inevitably there were breakages. Somehow the guest mug avoided all damage. It remained as good as new and even its inside remained free of coffee and tea stains. It out-lasted every new mug brought into the flat. It out-lasted flat sharer after flat sharer. People came to it anew, wondering whose it was, and it remained the guest mug of choice.

Seemingly indestructible, no matter how poorly it was treated, it always bounced back undamaged. In some cases, literally. Dropped onto a tiled floor, the tiling cracked while the mug remained unharmed. Rough handling left it unscathed. Once, when carelessly tossed into the washing-up bowl, it smashed all the plates and bowls but survived the incident intact. It was jokingly said that were some calamitous event to occur, laying waste to the flat itself, the mug would be sure to survive in one piece. Come armageddon, it would outlive mankind.

Over the years the mug survived myriad mishaps. It outlived all the other mugs in day-to-day use and became known as the Eternal mug. Its slogan began to take on a new significance. In some twisted way, an unloved item of kitchenware became revered for its resilience and the optimism referred to in its slogan came to refer to its longtime survival.

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Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink September 27th writing prompt competition

In Search of the Epsom Derby

‘Have you ever heard the words, “Epsom Derby” used as a euphemism?’ asked the lexicographer.

‘I’m sorry,’ replied the renowned expert, ‘it’s not a phrase that I’m familiar with. Off the top of my head, I can only think of the famous horse race that takes place on the Epsom Downs on the first Saturday of June each year.’

‘Perhaps I should explain why I’m interested. I’m a lexicographer, a word detective if you like, and I’m researching a volume on little-known euphemisms, and I recently came across the phrase, “Epsom Derby” used in relation to certain intimate bodily functions. I think I know the etymology of the phrase, I believe it has something to do with Epsom salts, but I was looking for confirmation from an expert in the field of toilet humour before going into print. It would be such a shame to have to omit it from the proposed volume as I think it has a certain lyrical quality.’

‘I think I can guess at a possible meaning. I’ll ask my fellow scatologists whether they have ever heard the phrase but I wouldn’t hold out too much hope if I were you.’

‘Thank you, that’s all that I can ask. In the meantime I’ll mark the entry for, ”Epsom Derby” as being a temporary one that is awaiting verification.’

‘Can you tell me the name of this proposed volume so that I can look out for it when it’s published?’

‘Certainly, it’s called the Oxbridge Dictionary of Lesser-known Euphemisms. I’m sure that you’ll find it of interest, especially given the number of other euphemisms it contains pertaining to bodily functions.’

Epsom Derby (provisional entry): an allusion to the race to the facilities when the purgative effect of a strong dose of Epsom salts takes hold.

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Written in response to the Microcosms 300 word competition number 135 with reference to the prompt: Detective; Epsom Derby; Mystery.

The Dust Bowl Revisited

Dust bowl

A hundred years on and it was like the dust bowl of the thirties all over again. Years of drought had wrought a dramatic effect on the landscape and once fertile land was reduced to arid desertification. Dust storms became the norm and agriculture was no longer an option. Farms were abandoned, then towns, as the population moved wholesale for more pleasant climes. There were those who chose to stay, for reasons both good and bad. There were those optimistic souls who thought, literally, that it would all blow over. There were those who stayed thinking they would make a killing if they took over the land left behind by others. Some stayed with the sole purpose of looting all that had been abandoned in the haste to leave the now useless land; they took what they could find but then gradually they too moved away.

I’d left and started a new life to the West in a land of stable soil and plentiful water. I couldn’t settle though. I was drawn to return home and here I was. The family’s old home was in ruins. Doors and windows had all gone leaving the interior to fill up with dust. Someone had been here though. I could see a well-travelled pathway through the house. Tracks lay upon tracks where the house had become a thoroughfare. I guessed looters had come looking for things of value but had left once they’d seen the extent of the drifting dust filling the rooms to the height of the doors.

I stayed for a while; I suppose I too was a looter of sorts. I searched for anything that might have been missed in our haste to leave. I walked our once fertile land and was shocked by the devastation. Fields which had formerly been filled with grain or cattle were no longer there, all that was left was desert with a scattering of fence posts and dead tree branches to show that the land had once been cultivated. My search extended to trying to remember what the family home had been like in times gone by. I was, in effect, looting for memories.

Dismayed by what I’d seen I was forced to concede that there was no longer anything here for me. In a much subdued frame of mind I turned around and headed back to my new home. As I travelled, I wondered if the land could ever be rescued from its plight. The dust bowl did eventually heal as new agricultural techniques were adopted but with climate change everything was up in the air, it would take more than anti-erosion techniques to repair the land this time.

The future looked bleak without a planet-wide consensus. Only a concerted effort to tackle the root causes of the problem would ever allow the land be restored. Unless, that is, the world eventually healed itself. Perhaps, at sometime in the distant future, when mankind is but a distant memory, the land would be lush and green once again.

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Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink September 20th writing prompt competition