An interactive horror short story
Instructions: Read along and click the links to turn to the correct section. Don’t scroll to your next entry or use the back button—you might break the story!
It’s about time to be getting home. The low sun weaves between the trees on the horizon, and the branches hiss in the autumn breeze. The cool shadows of the Abigail Woods call you. On any other day, you’d expect to cross paths with other hikers or joggers, but today is lucky. You’ve had the place to yourself, and you greedily whiled away the hours, lost in a fantasy of traversing a foreign land like a pioneer of old. But it’s only a fantasy, and it’s time to go home.
You’ve got at least another ten minutes of hiking before you get back to your car. You should pick up the pace, but along the way, you pass a decrepit house. A few houses remain out here, though most are long abandoned, the dirt road now nothing but a footpath. The house sits worn and weathered from decades of neglect, a relic consumed and reclaimed by the woods. Why not pause for a look?
Take the left path
You take the left path which should wind closer to the parking lot. The trail soon narrows and skirts a hillside. As you navigate the difficult terrain, part of the trail gives way and sends you tumbling down. Instead of reaching to grab hold of a root or rock, you draw your arms in to shield your face as you roll. After a brief tumble, you crash at the bottom. A cave? You check your limbs and find that nothing is seriously injured. Your hiking gear seems to have done its job and protected you from most of the minor scrapes and bumps.
The darkness obscures any tunnels in the cave, but that’s for the best. This isn’t the time to let curiosity lure you into exploring further. You start back up, careful not to slip back to the bottom. Despite your efforts, you slide back down a couple of feet after a poorly placed foot. You try again but at a brisker pace, scanning the cave behind you. Someone or something is keeping you company, but the cave is empty. Your senses stoke the flames of paranoia as you make slow progress towards the lip of the cave. There’s no one there, but you’d swear you felt someone scrambling up behind you as you crawl back out and onto the forest floor.
You get to your feet and brush yourself off before turning back onto the trail. There was no one there. Your senses were deceiving you, that’s all. There’s no one there.
Check the kitchen and living room
The kitchen is barren, and only a pair of rusted pots hold assembly on the floor where they were last thrown decades ago. The fridge is empty, shelves included. Your exploration has kicked up years of dust that now choke the air, dusty stars dancing in the light. In search of air, you back out into the other room.
All around the living room, trash is piled high, but there seem to be discarded personal belongings intermixed. Rusted children’s toys. The bottom half of a cigar box. There are no family photos; punks may have swiped them long ago if the previous tenants had abandoned any. The TV, a large, heavy CRT from the 80s or 90s, lies on the floor, tipped on its side with the glass shattered. To be expected.
Keep to the trail
You leave the crumbling house behind and go on your way. At a fork in the path, you stop and check your direction. It’s difficult to get lost on these trails, but you’d rather not waste time doubling back to correct a mistaken route. Another hiker approaches, crunching the leaves behind you, and you turn to greet them. “Hello,” you say, but the trail is empty. While your pulse races, your stomach turns hard as stone. As much as you’d like to assume it was an animal crossing the path, you’d rather just get home and speculate later.
Check the downstairs bedroom
There is only one bedroom on the first floor, so it won’t take but a minute to explore. You negotiate around the intruding second floor that has caved in. It’s a risk poking around, but you only need a cursory look.
The bedroom door is half off of its hinges, the wood frame having rotted away. You enter and kick an obstructing box aside. In the silence dominating the room, the scraping noise thunders. Only a sliver of light leaks in from outside, painting a line across the darkness and onto the vacant bed like a lighthouse beacon casting out over the darkened seas. For a moment, your hike-weary legs make the bed a tempting place to rest, but debris-covered sheets are reason enough to pass on it.
Take the right path
You’re certain this takes you back to the parking lot and you continue on at a leisurely pace. Other than that old house and odd moment at the fork, it’s been a pleasant afternoon, lost among the trees. The soft rolling of creek waters joins the distant birdsong, and you stay a moment to enjoy. A light swoosh of water draws your attention; are there fish? You don’t see any, but something must be in the creek.
A pale thing flashes just beneath the waters, and you’d swear a hand reached out. Your muscles jolt as if to dive in after them. But there’s no one to hoist out.
Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash
It appears again. This time, you’re certain. It’s a hand. The face of a young woman, pale and panicked, comes close to the surface before vanishing. You spring into action but land only inches deep in water. The creek isn’t deep enough for a person to swim. The cold water seeps into your shoes and pants, down to the bone. Nothing’s there. You hop back out and shake the water off. For long seconds, maybe minutes, you peer into the creek, waiting for something to emerge. Nothing’s there.
You recall that Abigail Woods is named after a young woman who disappeared here during the Colonial period. Were all those silly tabloid sightings real? Perhaps some of them were. You even humor the thought of sharing your encounter with others, but you’ll only find yourself in a tabloid, your fifteen seconds of fame wasted. What is there to tell, anyway? The hour’s growing late.
Check out the house
The building leans dangerously, and time has reduced the second floor to unexplorable ruins. You nudge the front door open, and the hinges squeal. Before you is a dark room littered with leaves and discarded belongings: plastic bags, a broken table, water bottles, cans, fast food containers, and who knows what else. Teens and college kids most likely seem to have enjoyed lounging in here and leaving behind their trash. The stairs have collapsed, leaving you with only the first floor.
Photo by KM L on Pexels.
Check the closet
Instead of resting, you give a peek into the closet. But this isn’t a closet; you open the door to reveal stairs leading down.
Lured further to take the briefest glimpse, you descend and enter a long basement with a skylight. If you didn’t know any better, you’d say this was a cell rather than a basement. Despite the many questions rolling around in your head, nothing down here offers answers.
A noise startles you, and you whip your head around to see nothing. This basement-cell is empty. And then you hear a voice. You guess what may have been “Hello?” before you run up the stairs and out of the building. You stop just outside and face an empty, still house.
Did you actually hear something? There was nothing down there to even make a noise. Maybe there’s someone outside. You circle the property but find nothing. The house remains quiet. The sun is going down. This is a perfect time to head home.