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The Cabin – 6

by Kevin Cantrell

Chester slid down the embankment. Though he hadn’t for years, he’d taken this trail hundreds of times to find the haunted Cabin. He remembered his first time stepping onto that broken down porch, the fear that strangled him like a corn snake on a mouse. Even beyond his own, Chester could see the fear in Amos’ eyes as apparent as a coon dog baying through a holler, but that’d been before Amos proved to be the bravest boy he’d ever met. And he couldn’t think of Amos without thinking of Fanny, how she’d always been full of bluster, an irritating girl who looked as frightened as the rest of them. It’d changed when they realized the cabin was just that – a cabin. But as he saw the shell of where the cabin had been, the roof collapsing at some point to decimate what had been, Chester knew the Cabin did have ghosts, the kind that stuck to the back of your mind like sap.

He wasn’t certain, but it seemed he followed the same path as that first day. Just like then, his steps broke through the snow. This time though, he was alone, only his reminiscing to keep him company. His foot touched the porch. The wood was softer than he’d remembered and for a moment, it brought his old fear back, not of ghosts and goblins but of the changes time brings to all.

Over the years since they’d explored the cabin, Fanny had fallen in love with Chester, and he had fallen for her. Chester’d not been certain when it happened, but somehow the irritating girl irritated him more and more until he began to realize girls do that when they don’t know what to do with that fluttering in their heart. They’d stayed together as Chester entered high school, but Fanny’s Pa’d wanted her married and Chester wanted to work in the city for a newspaper. What Fanny’s Pa’d wanted and Chester needed didn’t fit, and so when Pa’d sat Chester down to ask his intentions, Chester’d explained his dreams and her Pa’d been none too happy. Chester heard in the fall she’d married a widower who worked in the mines. From all accounts, he was a good man.

Chester put his other foot on the porch. The wood gave more. He questioned the sensibility in returning to the Cabin, especially when he could’ve stayed home while his Aunt Marg sang carols around the tree to Pappy’s harmonica accompaniment. What’d it been since his last trip home? Ten years? What was here?

“I heard you was in town,” a woman said as she stepped out of the shadows and into the moon’s light. It didn’t take Chester long to know who it was.

“Fanny,” he said, a lilt in his voice giving away his excitement. He hadn’t meant to let it out. She was a married woman. He blushed, and then added, “How’s your family?”

“My boys are boys,” she said, her eyes downcast. Chester couldn’t tell, but she seemed to blush as well. “That’s all the family I got nowadays,” she continued and then took a deep breath, “The black got Anton last spring.” She bit her lip, as she’d always done when broaching a topic she preferred to keep buried. After a pause as long as the road to Heaven, she continued, “And I s’pose that’s why I wandered through the woods to this place again.”

“For Anton?” Chester asked.

Fanny paused as if considering her words carefully before she said, “remembering when things were easier,” then added with a whisper, “when Amos was here.”

Try as he might, Chester had to admit he came for the same reason. The world of the cabin was a place of adventure and intrigue, where kids could become adults, or at least play like they were grownups. But it was a place where the play ended with the good

 guys winning just before going home for evening chores. It’d been their special place where the stories of the Cabin’s monsters came alive, at least in Chester’s imagination, and they fought some and saved others.

“That was a long time ago,” Chester said, his mind slipping back into the world of the Cabin, how all of them had saved the snow fairy, not by brute force, but by showing Kain the error of his ways. It’d felt like a defining moment, something to remember as spring overtook the long winter. Chester wished he could remain in that thought and in that world, but his thoughts moved a week later when Chester had fallen into their favorite fishing hole. He could still remember Amos jumping in to help and then pushing Chester up to grab the limb on the creek bank a second before the current pulled Amos into the Little Sandy River. They really shouldn’t have tried fishing after the rains, but it’d been so long, and they’d just known the fish would be hungry. They’d never realized the river was hungrier.

Fanny nodded, muttering to herself.

“I really miss him,” Chester said.

She glanced up at him and with a nod said, “It’s good to see you.”

“Should we go in?” Chester asked.

“To the cabin?”

Chester nodded as he said, “for old time’s sake.”

“You do realize the roof fell in,” she said in that obnoxious voice he’d heard so many times.

Chester nodded. It had fallen in. Hidden in the Cabin were ghosts, but sometimes ghosts were not scary.  Sometimes, ghosts reminded us of who we are.

—————————————- 

Abby closed her eyes, rubbing the sandpaper feeling from them, and then silently read the last line. Did it do what she wanted it to? As had been her habit, she read it aloud, her mind still wrapping around the themes she had presented in the manuscript. It seemed to fit.  Didn’t it?

She got up and started the kettle on the stove before rummaging through her cabinets in an attempt to busy herself, give some space between her and her work. In the cupboard, she saw a coffee mug, its chipped porcelain bringing back a rush of memories. She held it in her hand, and though it was empty, the smell of peppermint overwhelmed her, leaving her unsure if the smell was real or imagined. The cup had been the one her parents had shared, the peppermint the flavor of tea most often shared. With the fragrance enveloping her, she knew she wasn’t worried about her readers. The story had its own ghosts; it’d been the one her father had shared with Abby for longer than she could remember.

Robotically, she pulled the mug out of the cabinet and tilted it in her hand. Not for the first time, she felt each worn edge. Her mother had always said they shared the cup because both hated doing dishes, but Abby had always known that as a half-truth. They shared it to share it.

The tea kettle graciously interrupted her thoughts and she went about making the tea. As always, the peppermint cleared her breathing as she poured it into her parents’ cup. She wished it would do the same for her thoughts, but they continued to nag. She wandered into the living room and looked at the mantle, her eyes studying her last family picture. She took a sip of the tea, sitting the cup next to the picture. Condensation formed on the picture frame’s glass, blurring its details and accentuating the shape of her face. She had her father’s eyes.

And she had his story, the same one he’d shared with her. She reached for the cup, took a sip, and then glanced back at her parents’ images, the edges of her lips turning slightly up. With a nod, she left the cup on the mantle, turned the computer monitor off, and went to bed.

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