House in the Woods

A sinister use of a string of lights lures the fool-hearty into the woods.

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The House in the Woods

By Nathaniel Miller

 

 

It is on an autumn evening that Steven Johnson stands on their porch in the back of their house. It sits on three acres that he had purchased not long ago in rural Tennessee. It was their home for his wife Shirley, and his three spectacular kids: Bobby, age thirteen, Peter, age ten, and their sister Fanny, age seven.

 

 

      The property that the house sits on, a modest four bedrooms, three baths contemporary home, is mostly wooded. There is a clear area where the house sits, with an eerie barn on the far corner, a wind mill next to it and a shack that sits across from it. Across from their property, on the narrow road that snakes through the forest like a python, are the only neighbors near to them in this community. Any other neighbors they had otherwise are over two miles away through the eerie forest that surrounds them.

 

 

      They had been working for the last three days to get moved in after the moving truck had dropped their stuff at the house. They had stopped for a break, watching as the sunset began to turn the sky red over the woods that surrounded their home. As he moved to the inner electric switch, his hand shook as he flipped it to the on position.

 

 

      When he stepped back onto the patio, the flood lights brightening the area around him and his family, and it is here that he noticed the strange line of Christmas lights. They ran to the barn nearby, then to the shed and disappeared into the thick thicket of branches that made up the woods. Hanging from the line, he saw glass jars, every so many feet, attached to the line, making it bow slightly from the weight. It had been the first thing he noticed about this property. It is the first thing Shirley, his wife, noticed too, when stepping out the first time on the back porch four days ago.  Together they did not understand why there were lights to each building and then leading into the woods.

 

 

      "I wonder what those are used for?" He asked himself, spotting the jars, some partially filled with condensation of water from the heat of summer, and the rain from the wet weather found in Tennessee. The lights glowed brightly, some flashing as they ran toward the barn from the house, to the storage shack near the barn and then disappeared into the eerie leafless thicket of the woods. Squinting, his eyes, he tried to follow the line and found that he could not.

 

 

     "I am going to follow them and see where they lead." Steve muttered with determination and stepped off the porch. It was early yet, and the red sky seemed to make the woods glow. It was getting dusk, and the temperature was beginning to drop rapidly, a stiff, cold, wind whipping through the branches of the woods.

 

 

      "Where are you going honey?" Shirley, his wife asked and he glanced at her, as he hefted his rifle onto his shoulder.

 

 

      "I am curious why there are lights running to the barn, the shed, and then into the forest." He told her, "I was going to follow them into the woods and see what they lead to."

 

 

      "It is kind of creepy, come into the house and we'll figure it out in the morning dear." Shirley told her husband, and he shook his head, smiling as he walked down the path toward the woods.  Turning his head, Steve stared across the expanse of the clearing that contained the barn, shed and the other buildings. Here he waved to his neighbor who stood at the paved road next to the family's mailbox. The neighbor waved back. He had begun to come over with his wife, carrying a basket to welcome the family into the neighborhood, but had paused, turning away when they saw the string of lights on.

 

 

      The neighbor across the way had said hi a few times in the few days the family moved in. As always they stood strangely near the mailbox and watched in silence as we all worked to help unload the moving van. They did not like this home. There was scuttlebutt about something sinister that lived in the woods, and once inhabiting the home they were moving into. They claimed it was haunted. Steve laughed the first time the real estate agent told him the stories and only shook his head in silence.

 

 

      "Are you and your family moving in?" A voice asked, and Steve turned his head to stare at an older gentleman, about sixty years of age. He had a white goatee, and white hair. He wore a long sleeved, plaid shirt, jeans, wicked looking hiking boots, and a hat that matched his shirt.

 

 

      "Did the agent tell you that the house you have is haunted." He asked and Steve managed a laugh.

 

 

  "Oh come now, it's just a neat old house." He chided, "What happened here that is so darn sinister?"

 

 

      "Strange things have happened here in the last two years. This house has been empty after having more than six families move in, and then move out. Some have even disappeared." His voice said with a crackle. Steve Johnson's mirth stopped and he stared at him.

 

 

      "If I were you, I would not turn on those lights on the rope." He said, "Not a good idea at all."

 

 

      "I was just about to ask you if you know where they lead to." Steve asked and the young man saw him grimace, shaking his head.

 

 

      "They are a marker that will lead you to the pit of hell, if you are not careful." The neighbor warned, "I suggest you cut the line and don't venture into the woods."

 

 

      "Has anyone gone out into the woods?" Steve pressed and he nodded mysteriously.

 

 

    

 

"And they disappeared." The old man replied, "The police and search parties went out there looking for them and they did not find their bodies. Anyone who ventures in these woods after dark never comes back."

 

 

      The young man managed a laugh, holding up his beer to pop it, and his mirth suddenly ceased like a switch as he eyed his neighbor in confused silence.  The young man had sensed the seriousness in his voice and with that the neighbor nodded his head mysteriously three times. He said nothing more as he grabbed his mail, shut his mailbox and retreated quickly into his home. Steve could see him peek out through the window before closing his curtain.

 

 

     "Oh bull." The young man spat, downing his beer quickly and retrieved his 30-06 rifle and holstered his .357 revolver on his hip, "There's some crapola happening here, and someone needs to take a look." He paused, checking his rifle and noted it is loaded and ready. "I bet its all scam to keep new people from moving into this place, maybe even find out what the hell is going on."

 

 

      Steven walked along the path, holding his gun steady, and glancing up at the jars that swayed in the winter breeze on the rope. He tried to peer ahead as my feet crunched through the leaves on the ground and he shivered as a wind made the canopy of branches above him, sway in the breeze. Determined, he walked on, and the path forked. A darker path led to the left and another to the right. Squinting down the path to the right, the young man could see the ripple of water and the wooden dock to a rather good sized pond.

 

 

      "So ends one mystery," He thought with a smile, "A nice pond, probably for fishing, or just a natural one for the animals out there."

 

 

      Confidently, he turned to his left as the line continued and the lights flickered, the jars swaying mysteriously in the breeze.  Steve followed the line that went down the left fork, holding on a tree to steady himself as a breeze whipped through the trees, nearly knocking him off his feet. Here, he leveled his gun, leading with it as his footsteps crackled in the fallen leaves. The young man could smell the smoke of the neighbor's fireplace and theirs, the hickory wood they burned on this cold night.

 

 

      Inching a bit further, Steve came to a rickety looking bridge that crossed a shallow ravine, with water in it. Here the lights seemed to flicker more as a few more bulbs were burned out and on the other side the path seemed to continue. It curved slightly, leading deeper into the wood. He realized something was drawing him further and further out here into the woods. Steven's mind was rolling with strange images and a feeling of dread washed over him when realizing that fact.

 

 

     A deer sprinted across the path, starling him and he managed a loud yelp, his finger on the trigger. Listening intently, Steve thought he could hear voices nearby and then footsteps. He heard what sounded like more footsteps that seemed to be all around him. Steve charged down the path a few feet, leading with his 30-06 rifle and carrying his .357 pistol at his side. He was not afraid, certainly ready for them, whoever it was that was messing with his head. The lights burned clear and cold in the darkness. Suddenly, he heard what could be constituted as voices, footsteps then the thump of something falling in the leaves in the middle of the woods somewhere.

 

 

      "You are going to have to do better than that!" Steve shouted hoarsely, "If you come any closer I will blow your head off."

 

 

      More wind whipped under the line and the jars sway in the night breeze making the cold white lights flicker. The voices seemed to be closer as did the footsteps. Steve turned in place, leading with his gun and peered into the darkness around him. He saw a flash, and here, he fired, his gunshots echoing in the thick woods. There was no response, just more footsteps and more chatter of the wind that sounded like voices.

 

 

 

Suddenly, a sinister sounding scream made the young man's skin crawl as it echoed through the woods. He turned multiple times, and shot off several more rounds into the darkness. The sound of his shots seemed to be muffled by the branches and the undergrowth.

 

 

      Back at the house his wife heard the muffled shots and ran to the door, peering out into the woods through the window. A look of fear crossed her face.

 

 

      "STEVEN!" She shouted, but the woods seem to muffle and over echo her words making it hard to hear. Shirley ran toward the path leading to the woods but she never made it as a thud sounded a moment later. Her blood covered body landed on the leaf covered path. The three children ran toward their mother, and there was silence. Their footsteps had ceased and the path was silent. There was no sign of the three children anywhere in the clearing or in the woods. No signs of a struggle, no footsteps or footprints leading away from the body, only silence.

 

 

    Steve moved forward down the path like a Tennessee Titan Quarterback toward the sound of the footsteps. The path seemed to turn again and a battle cry erupted from his lips as he moved bravely a few feet more down the path.  He quickly got a glimpse of a horned figure in the woods ahead of him, shadowed by the flickering lights in a dark portion of the path. A sinister red glow appeared through the branches and trunks of the trees.  Here, he turned multiple times in fear as he took aim carefully until suddenly a moment later, the lights went out. Gunshots echoed from his gun in the woods and then there was a flash. No-one heard the sound of a body falling in the darkness, leaving only silence and the low whisper of the wind though the trees.

 

 

Word count 2000

 

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