On the second morning of my first stay in the allegedly haunted cabin, I awoke disappointed. Aside from a few noises throughout the night, there had been no anomalies – no ghostly visions, no strange voices – not a single rattle of a chain was heard. Tamara had some nightmares, and as she told me what she could remember of them, I grew convinced this would be the height of our shuddersome experiences.
By day, there was nothing ominous about the place, a fact I’d reluctantly accepted upon our arrival, and now that I was more familiar with it, the cabin was downright cozy. So cozy in fact, that as we tried to work out an especially pesky scene in our upcoming novel, I found myself sleepy to the point of fighting a nap. Also, I woke up to find the battery of my electronic cigarette dead even though it had a full charge the night before, so I figured I was having some nicotine withdrawal, which certainly didn’t help the drowsiness and irritability. After one more try, we decided to give up on the portable generator; even when it did work in more than fits and starts, its noise covered up the ambient sound in the cabin, which was counterproductive. I went outside to the car to plug my e-cigarette in there.
Tamara: I was ridiculously sleepy, too, but didn’t think much about it because we hadn’t had much sleep since we’d met up — we were too busy talking — and we’d got up in the seven o’clock hour. I’ve never been very awake that early. Still, we were in a haunted cabin in the woods and that, in itself, would normally keep me from even thinking about sleep, no matter how little I’d had.
Alistair: Looking into the woods, I could definitely see why the place had such a spooky reputation. While the cabin was as snug as you’d expect any vacation getaway to be, the woods looked grim and, even in the sunlight, dark. I took a few deep breaths and went back inside where Tamara sat at the old oblong dining table near the fireplace. She’d broken out a jigsaw puzzle she’d brought from home: Van Gogh’s Starry Night, at the opposite end of the table from our books and dishes. I suggested some outdoor exploring once the sun set.
Tamara: I agreed but insisted we explore in the late afternoon and be safely back before it got completely dark! I’m not afraid of ghosts, but getting lost worries me.
Alistair: We worked on the puzzle for a bit, but about twenty minutes into it, Tamara started looking tired. She said she was too drowsy to sit, so we decided to take a more in-depth tour of the little cabin.
The living room was my favorite place. I loved the planked ceiling with cross beams, and the fireplace, which was vast and old-fashioned, set against an entire wall of rock. When the sun came through, the wall glittered, and when we looked closer, we realized that many of the stones were speckled with tiny crystals. The hearth was just the right size to comfortably sit on, even with logs stacked against the stone wall. Two older but comfortable couches sat kitty-cornered to each other with a small triangular end table inserted between them where we set our bottles of water, cameras and phones while we slept. The only other items in the room were the old, rusty fire poker, screen, log tongs, and ash shovels and brushes for the fireplace.
The kitchen was less than cozy with old, curling, linoleum that was probably once a light yellow shade, a skinny stove that didn’t work, an empty space for a fridge, a couple drawers and cabinets on either side of the sink (which did work) and matching wall cabinets, slight and thin, containing a few dishes and cups. There were two small windows and a narrow door leading outside and, whereas the living room was finished in nice wood paneling, the kitchen walls were covered by terrible, old wallpaper with onion and mushroom designs. There was a pale circle where a wall clock must have hung above the sink.
We returned to the living room and opened the door to the short dark hall containing the central bathroom and bedrooms on either side and exchanged glances that confirmed we both felt some creepiness there. The bathroom was unremarkable, a small rectangle containing a sink and toilet on one side of a high window. On the other side was an old clawfoot tub outfitted with rust stains and a hand-held shower that, of course, ran only cold water.
The bedrooms were more interesting. For the first time, we reentered front bedroom, the one where we had goosebumps from all the static electricity when we arrived. It didn’t feel electric that morning, but it seemed absolutely frigid, far colder than anywhere else in the house. It had two windows that provided decent light and held a twin-sized bed without a mattress, and a cheap standalone pine closet and a dresser. The dresser was empty, but in the closet we found a few articles of dusty clothing neatly folded at the back of the deep shelf above the hanger rod, mostly scarves and some slacks.
Tamara: The shelf was high enough that Alistair had to stand on tiptoe to see anything, and the room was so uncomfortable that it made the kitchen seem welcoming. I was uneasy in there and I doubt that on my own I’d have taken the time to drag a chair in to stand on, so I never would have known anything was in there.
Alistair: In the back bedroom, which was also lit by two windows, there was another big clothes cabinet. Passing it, we saw a clunky old dresser, but this one had a cuckoo clock hanging above it, a fancy one, but coated with years of dust; it probably hadn’t been wound up in years. When we peeked in the clothes closet, we saw nothing at first, but I got on my toes and reached around on the top shelf and found an old hard-sided suitcase. The dust made us sneeze when I pulled it down and I asked Tamara if she thought we should open it. Our curiosity won out, and as we dug around, we found several kids’ picture books, a faded Good Housekeeping with highlighted recipes, and an old McCall’s from the mid-sixties. There was a calendar from 1964 with some dates and appointments marked on it.
None of this was spooky other than it was all very old and odd, but beneath these books and magazines, we came across a faded frilly blue dress that couldn’t have been worn by a child over nine or ten years old. We took it out, held it up, and I think it gave both of us the creeps. Also, under the dress was some old costume jewelry that was a bit spooky as well.
Tamara: Yes, it gave me the willies, but I think it was because I remembered things like this from my own childhood. My mother had similar costume jewelry, and I remembered McCall’s – they always had a page with a Betsy McCall paper doll and a set of clothes to cut out. I flipped through the magazine and there was the page. The doll and its clothes were gone though, undoubtedly cut out by the little girl who’d worn the blue dress.
Alistair: We replaced the items in the suitcase, put it back on the shelf, then went back to the living room to heat water over the fire so I could make another cup of coffee. The little tour of the cabin had done nothing to energize me. After the coffee was made we sat on the sofa. Tamara said she didn’t like being in the kitchen. I hadn’t thought of it till she mentioned it, but the room did have a certain claustrophobic and oppressive feel to it.
Tamara: I really didn’t care for that kitchen. It was ugly, begging for a remodel, and cold, since we’d kept the folding door between it and the living room closed all night. But there was a different kind of “cold,” too. I might guess that it was a residual feel I was picking up on, as if a lot of arguments had gone on in there. It wasn’t a happy place.
Alistair: In the living room, we talked about the little girl’s dress, pondered who she was, and generally amused ourselves making up stories about what her family was like.
Tamara: We made up a story about how her parents argued in the kitchen and that was why that room felt unpleasant, but we had no idea if there was a lick of truth in it.
Alistair: I retrieved my e-cigarette from the car and we spent the rest of the morning brainstorming our book, and we were about to lay out some cold deli food for lunch when I noticed cigarette battery was dead again. It should have lasted all day. Really weird. Tamara decided to take a pic of me swearing at it, but discovered her phone AND camera batteries were dead. Mine were run way down. They’d all been charged when we arrived.
I was going to go out to the car to recharge my e-cig, even though it had done nothing to wake me up, and that was also pretty weird. Of all the things I might have anticipated upon staying at an allegedly haunted cabin, the profound and inexplicable drowsiness was a surprise.
Tamara: I was still feeling sluggish and at that point suggested we we drive into town for more ice, something fresh to barbecue that night and to have lunch somewhere where we could charge our phones quickly instead of doing everything in the car. This battery drainage is a typical occurrence in many hauntings, but it was annoying as all get out just then. Also, I wanted to grab salt packets for our pockets. We’d brought boxes of salt for the cabin – it somehow helps neutralize residual badness – which we intended to use before we left, but we didn’t want loose salt in our pockets and I was thinking that the place might be draining our energy. Maybe that’s why we were so sleepy.
Alistair: Because of the batteries draining, I finally became convinced there was definitely something going on in that cabin. I agreed with Tamara about a trip for supplies and REAL coffee. And salt. We needed to wake up!
Tamara: The ride to town was great. We woke up, we sang songs, we felt better, especially when we spied a camping outfitter place that advertised hot showers. We stopped and indulged. After that we were our old selves and we found a little café where they let us plug in our phones and cameras while we ate huge salads and hot cornbread. Alistair wired himself on coffee and I had a big mug of hot Darjeeling. After that, we hit the market and bought enough ground round for a couple of burgers, some pre-cooked bacon, thick slices of sharp cheddar, more chips and a couple bags of ice. We put it all in the cooler and headed back to the cabin, thoroughly refreshed and hungry for ghostly action. We got lost twice, but only slightly, and got back at three.
Alistair: We brainstormed for a while then I nodded off right in the middle of the session. I awoke at four and felt less guilty about this when I realized Tamara had dozed off as well.
Tamara: We’d forgotten to put the salt packets we’d filched at the café in our pockets, but did so now. Alistair still wanted to go for a hike in the woods, so I went out to the car and grabbed my old reliable compass. Nothing electronic about it, it’s decades old and I keep it in the car’s glove box. I’d checked it for accuracy when I’d first left my house to drive north. It was fine. Of course it wasn’t now – outside the cabin it spun and chose directions I knew were wrong. Inside it was even worse. Still, I was more delighted than surprised. This backed up my original notion that the cabin was built in an area that would qualify as one of California’s many “mystery spots.” I was a little recluctant to go out. I’ve been in a couple of naturally “off” places – to me, this is the stuff of elemental lore. It can be dangerous because it can do more than take away your sense of direction – it can cause panic.
Alistair: But I talked her into it, even though the sun was starting to fade. I promised we wouldn’t go far and would keep the cabin in sight. We grabbed jackets, flashlights, and bottles of water and struck out into the woods behind the cabin.
We walked a ways and were really having fun. I think she was being funny at first when Tamara stopped to make little make arrow patterns with small stones that pointed toward the cabin even though it was in view.
Tamara: I was mostly joking when I did it, but it also made me feel better about wandering around there because I hated the spinny feeling I get when I lose my sense of direction. And, boy, was I spinning.
Alistair: The sun and the temperature were both going down quickly but we walked a little further because it was so much fun being out there in the woods where the sounds of people and cars were non-existent. Neither of us was used to that. There was no wind, rather than being spooky, it was serene, and I really wanted to go further out. Tamara tried the compass again, but it still wasn’t working and we knew it was time to head back since the trees were blocking most of the remaining light. But we could still see the cabin – we’d left a kerosene lantern hanging outside the kitchen door, so we went a just a little ways more. There was no sound except our own steps. I had horrible images of somehow finding, and falling into, a haunted well. Even when we were trying to scare ourselves, we were giggling and having way too much fun.
The fun didn’t last though. We turned to head back to the cabin, and it wasn’t there, even though only a couple minutes had passed since we last looked. We walked back and forth, trying to spot the lantern light in the distance, but it was useless. We’d been extra careful not to veer off of a straight line and the cabin really should have come back into sight. But it didn’t. It was just trees and blackness, and I began feeling like I was in Bedrock with the same scenery running on a constant loop. I tried to make jokes about this, but suddenly, it wasn’t so funny. Fortunately, we had the stone arrows to follow but neither of us had built one for a while.
Strangely, I think it was the silence that was causing me the most anxiety. No rustle of leaves, no stirring of branches, not even an occasional bird call. It felt unnatural and as the time stretched, I began to sweat despite the cold, and I could hear my own heartbeat. We were too nervous to talk but we kept checking for the arrows. We stopped from time to time, checked the compass, and found it to be non-functional. We changed our direction slightly, doing a kind of zig-zag in hopes of recovering the cabin. Tamara said she thought the lantern must have gone out, but couldn’t figure out why we couldn’t find any of the stone arrows. We were pretty freaked out.
Tamara stopped and I walked into her, nearly knocking her over. She shone the beam of her flashlight at the base of a tree and said, “Look at that.” At first I saw nothing, but as we drew closer, I made out what looked like carving in the bark. Pieces were missing, making it unclear, but it looked like what might have once been a pentagram. My blood was ice. Before we could start speculating on what this was, I urged Tamara onward, more determined than ever to find the cabin.
We walked briskly now, and I concentrated on banishing thoughts of self-loathing for my fine idea of wandering so close to sunset. Through the trees we saw stars now and I had to stop myself from thinking about pentagrams and evil rituals. I even asked Tamara if she thought greenjacks were real. She didn’t answer.
The beam of my flashlight dulled, flickered, and went out. I silently cursed the Fates for their cruelty and sidled up to Tamara like one of the lost boys trailing Peter Pan.
Tamara: At that point, our light jackets were pretty pathetic. Sidling was good. I was deeply concerned now, realizing we might not find our way back in the dark. We would live – the temp would only flirt with freezing according to the waitress at the café – but we were cold and scared at that point. I was thinking more about bears and wondering if they came out at night than anything else, but I kept that to myself.
Alistair: Several minutes later, Tamara said she thought she recognized where we were. I looked around. It all looked the same to me. I was in a silent panic now, and I wasn’t about to open my mouth and risk hyperventilation.
An instant later we moved past a couple of fallen trees and I saw the light at the back door. “There it is!” I said, feeling terror’s grip releasing me. Tamara is stoic, but I’m pretty sure I heard her whisper something like, “Oh, god. Finally.”
Tamara: Yep, pretty much. We must have made a turn and didn’t realize it. I was amazed the lantern was still lit because we never even saw a flicker again until that moment. And we never found a single stone arrow the rest of the time we were there. While didn’t wander off again, the first set wasn’t far from the back door. We looked for that. Nothing. But that night, when we got back to the cabin, there was nothing scary about it. It was like coming home. And we’d only been wandering “lost” for about 45 minutes, though it felt like hours.
Alistair: I was pretty shaken up, although I think I held up well. My nerves were frayed and now I was beyond tired. In the cabin, we decided not to go back outside to grill burgers, we were sick of being outside! Instead, we talked about our adventure over hot cocoa and a dinner of cheese and crackers, speculating on the half-pentagram on the tree. I changed the subject to our novel as I became drowsier, not wanting to think about the forest waiting outside for fear of restless sleep.
Soon, we were nearly asleep, head to head on our respective couches. The silence was a comfort now, somehow. Just as I was about to slip into unconsciousness, I heard a noise. It was a kind of cooing sound, an eerie sound, and it seemed to come from somewhere close. I shuddered but I didn’t open my eyes.
Tamara: But more about that in the next installment…