The stories about the cabin in the woods were now verging on legend, but they would, after some eighty years of sightings.
Sightings is how the townsfolk referred to it when people told of their experience with the cabin in the woods. These were somewhat like sightings of UFO’s, the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot. Everyone in Banyan Hollow Township had heard the tales, incredible ones told with relish, by well-respected people, totally sane ones and mostly sober.
They spoke about getting lost in the woods, getting hurt, being chased by a bear or wolves or experiencing some other misfortune which brought some desperation to their circumstances. Just as they were thinking death was coming for them they saw it, like a beacon in the night. The cabin in the woods just showed up in the nick of time to save their lives.
It was a rather nice little cabin in the woods by all accounts. The lights would be on, the fire lit with the prerequisite welcome mat on the doorstep. It was small, yes, but cozy, warm, comfortable and truly miraculous. The desperate people coming upon the cabin in the woods would find within exactly what they needed. There would be food if they were hungry. There would be clean, dry clothing always in their size. A well-supplied first-aid kit would be present to temporarily mend their wounds until expert help could be sought. There would be a fireplace ablaze making it blessedly warm inside when it was close to freezing on the outside. A comfortable bed awaited them if they were bone tired.
Oddly, the cabin in the woods was always empty, empty of people that is. No one lived in the cabin in the woods it seemed. It was completely deserted. Other than the creature comforts it afforded the wayward hiker, the manic hunter, the avid bird-watcher, your average well-intentioned tree-hugger, the weary nature-loving enthusiast or fun-seeking teenagers who instead found trouble, it was empty. As it was always there when you needed it, it was known as the “Life-saving” cabin in the woods.
However, that wasn’t the strangest thing about it. As soon as the people, well-fed, clean, dry, warm and ready to find their way out of the forest the next morning, they could not find it again. The cabin in the woods would simply vanish as if into thin air. Try as they might it would be lost to them forever. Stranger still, everyone insisted it lay in vastly different sections of the forest.
“It was by Grayson’s falls, I’m telling you!” one would insist.
“No, we saw it by Frankford’s Overlook,” another replied heatedly.
“No, it’s down by Freefall Gorge,” interjected yet another.
“You’re all bonkers. It was by Lake Wyalusa,” one said sternly.
No one questioned the existence of the cabin in the woods, no one except for Bryan Kenworth the newly appointed forest ranger stationed in the southern part of the Banyon Hollow Forest. It was now his job to oversee and protect this section of the vast thousand plus acre woods which surrounded the small town of Banyan Hollow. There was another ranger at the northern end though they had never met. To Bryan, therefore, the whole forest he considered his.
Bryan refused to believe in this invisible cabin in his woods. He had traversed all thousand plus acres of the forest several times in all weather, in all seasons, he knew every stone, every tree, every stream and never, not ever did he see this mysterious dwelling. It therefore, didn’t exist and it mattered not that he had been saved by it. Or at least that was what everyone told him. He simply chose not to believe it. He remembered getting lost in the woods at the ripe age of four and had come back with a fanciful tale worthy of retelling. But to this day he still insists he had dreamed it all.
A very vivid dream it was though. He simply couldn’t stop obsessing on it. It haunted his waking moments as he hiked within his precious forest. On his long, lonely vigils he would try to remember exactly where he had been that fateful day. He had received a bow and arrow set from his grandfather and they stood in the backyard shooting at a paper target tacked onto hay bales stacked up against the garage.
“Bryan, you practice and then you and me will go hunting some deer. You just gotta grow up some first,” his grandpa had said jovially.
Bryan had thought himself pretty grown up enough already. He shot the bull’s eye several times after only an hour’s practice. He was certain he was ready and he would show his grandpa. So, he sneaked out of the house when no one was looking. He walked for hours looking for a deer, a fox, a wild turkey or a quail. Even a squirrel would have sufficed, but he found nothing.
He managed, however, to get thoroughly lost and deeper into the woods than he’d ever been. Stiff with cold, bone tired and weak from hunger with night falling and fearsome sounds coming from the shadows, at last he huddled under a patch of scraggly growing Viburnum still with blue-black berries clinging to the bare branches. Behind this he lay freezing clutching his bow and quiver full of plastic arrows and he cried and shivered.
That’s when the angel came and led him to the cabin in the woods. She was the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen and he instantly fell in love...as much in love as four year old can be. The Angel though hardly older then himself took Bryan to her house furnished with a rough-hewn kitchen table and chairs just right for a little boy and his Angel. His favorite meal, a grilled cheese sandwich, a plate of cookies and an apple cut in wedges with a steaming cup of cocoa were waiting for him on the table. A colorful patchwork quilt lay on a comfy sofa by the cheerfully blazing fireplace.
♪ ♫ You’re the lucky one so I’ve been told, as free as the wind blowing down the road, loved by many, hated by none, I’d say you were lucky cuz I know what you done... ♩ ♬
She had sung this song over and over slowly, lovingly, all the while touching his hair, gently rubbing his cheek with feather light fingers. She had kissed him, too, when he could stay awake no longer. He could still feel her lips warm and moist on his. His first kiss. That was the last thing he remembered, all he remembered. The angel and her lovely voice were so real to him.
Now, almost twenty years later that song was his all-time favorite. It was that song that rang in his head as he stared into the trees desperately looking for a cabin he knew with absolute, logical certainty couldn’t possibly exist. It had been a dream, just a fanciful dream. The cabin in the woods simply didn’t exist.
But Bryan wanted it to exist. He wanted it to be real. He wanted to find it, because if he did, maybe, just maybe, he would see the angel again, his angel. He knew it was crazy. He knew it was irrational, but he had to try just one more time to find the cabin in the woods, to find his angel. He had a plan, a dangerous one, yes, but one that would work if in fact this cabin was real.
He was going to put his trust and his life on it being real and on his angel coming back to save him again. He may not believe in mythical cabins in the woods, but he steadfastly believed in angels, his angel. She had been too real for him not to believe. She would come to him, he knew, if he needed her badly enough. And he would make certain he would need her.
On the next moonlit, sub-zero night when the leaves of the Rhododendron bushes bowed down for protection from the bitterest cold of the season, he set out into the woods wearing only a thin t-shirt and jeans, with a bottle of Jack Daniels in one hand and in the other a bottle of over-the-counter pills which cautioned users not to mix with alcohol. His limbs were growing numb from cold as he forced himself to walk deeper into the woods all the while swallowing the pills with the foul-tasting Jack. He thought alcohol the worst of poisons, but it would do the job properly.
He sang to himself as he tread over crackling twigs and brittle leaves.
♪ ♫....Well, you’re blessed, I guess, by never knowing which road you’re choosing...to you the next best thing to playing and winning is playing and losing...give you a song and a one-night stand and you’ll be looking at a happy man.... cuz you’re the lucky one...♩ ♬
He certainly didn’t feel too lucky just yet, but thoughts of his angel appearing before him urged him on. The whiskey lay like a brick in his empty stomach and the pills were starting to make him tired, but on he went deeper and faster now that he could see his plan working. He could feel warmth as the alcohol went down, but he shivered violently anyway. He stumbled as his eyesight grew blurry. He took the last handful of pills into his mouth and willed himself to swallow them all with the last of the whiskey.