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One hot summer, an unnaturally hot summer for my province actually, my friend Heather invited a few of her girlfriends out to her family’s cabin a few hours away from the city.
Going to the cabin in the summer is one of the most favored things for people who live on this rock in the middle of the Atlantic. Newfoundland is Canada’s most eastern province, and the most easterly point in all of North America. Heathers family owned a cabin on a little island about 5 hours away from the capital of St. John’s. A ferry ran twice a day across the bay to bring you over and take you back to the small community of less than 150 people. She brought three of us along that summer, her girlfriend Sarah, Jackie, and me.
The island where her cabin is located is small, and the community smaller. There aren’t a whole lot of people around and I was told it would be hard to get lost in the woods because of the size of the place, so it was perfect for the exploring Heather was excited to do. She knew there were tons of old houses out in the woods, but at that point hadn’t been able to go check them out. We were planning on staying there for a week. We left on a Sunday and on the following Saturday Heathers parents were coming to stay at the cabin for another week. We had a lot of time to relax, swim, sunbathe, smoke too much weed and eat way too much food.
On Wednesday we were taking a walk through the “downtown” of the community (downtown is a serious exaggeration, it was just where most of the houses are and where the ferry docks) when a family friend waved us over to his lawn to ask us how things were going. Heather knew him well and they were chatting about family, how the summer was going, if her father had got a moose yet, you know, the basic stuff, when Heather mentioned to him that she was interested in exploring the woods a bit. Her friend furrowed his brow and warned her that even though the island was small, the woods were surprisingly easy to get lost in.
“You watch it now, Heather. You knows these woods are teeming with the good people,” he said, giving the rest of us a little side wink. Heather laughed and patted his shoulder.
“Dad warned me all about them coming out here when I was a kid, I know all about the fairies and I also know not a damn one of us have had any trouble with them, so I think we’ll be ok,” she replied, “but I’ll put a piece of bread in my pocket just in case.”
Now, fairies. They are a weird Newfoundland thing brought over from our English and Irish ancestors. At the time I was in university majoring in folklore so (I thought) I knew all about them. I was beyond excited to hear them mentioned; it’s a dying belief here and isn’t really taken seriously anymore. It’s hard to find anyone who even knows about them these days, let alone anyone who would actually warn us about them, and call them by their old name, “the good people.” I know what you’re thinking… who the hell would be afraid of fairies of all things? But these aren’t the cute tinkerbell fairies with wings and magic dust and cute shit. The ones around here are a different kind of fairy all together. This is something that I would learn the hard way.
After Heather said her goodbyes, Jackie asked her what the piece of bread was all about. “They say a piece of bread in your pocket keeps you safe from them,” she replied with a grin.
Jackie gave me the side eye, “are you serious?” she asked, “safe from what?”
“You’ve really never heard of the fairies before?” I asked her, not being able to stop my smart ass from being superior in my wealth of folklore knowledge. “They lead you off into the woods and shit and make you lost, steal your babies and generally fuck you up. Little gnarly old guys who dance around rocks and think it’s a fun time to kill your animals and create mischief where ever they can. ”
Jackie rolled her eyes at me. “Ok miss paranormal expert, go get your degree in ghosts already,” she gave me a playful shove.
We reached the top of a hill that overlooked the “downtown” area and the beach. Heather pointed in the opposite direction, “and that’s where we’re going after lunch, ladies. Right into the woods!”
“Will our phones work out there? You know your way around out there, right babe?” Sarah asked her, frowning at her iphone, “I only have 1 bar right now.”
“Nah it probably won’t but we’ll be fine, we won’t go so far in we might get lost. I’ll just climb a fuckin tree and look for a house, not like this place is big,” she replied. Heather was the most adventurous and bravest of us all, I could see the excitement buzzing in her. We wouldn’t be able to say no to this idea, all of us knew that. So we put on our hiking gear and off we went.
The first hour or so was uneventful. We weren’t just wandering aimlessly, there ended up being a labyrinth of old trails and ATV tracks we could follow. I loved hiking so I was soaking up the sounds and smells of the woods, when Heather yelled out to us from further up the path. “You guys! Oh man, come here! Come look!”
We rounded the turn and came right up to a house. It was like the trail led right to it. It was old, obviously abandoned, just seemingly sitting right in the middle of the woods with a small, over grown front lawn that was lined with a falling down white picket fence. It was a salt box style house that is extremely common in Newfoundland, at one point in time basically all the houses looked like this one. The paint was peeling, one of the windows on the top floor was boarded up, and the old wooden front door was hanging off its hinges.
“Look at this beauty! Holy fuck we hit the motherload with this one, there’s still stuff inside!” Heather could barely contain her excitement as she peered in through the windows.
We entered through the open front door and began looking around. The house wasn’t big. It had a small sitting room, a dining room and kitchen on the bottom floor. Old, dusty furniture and random knick knacks were still scattered throughout, and wallpaper peeled from the walls. Jackie and I were looking at some faded and worn out pictures on the wall while Sarah was standing awkwardly in the middle of the dining room, biting her lip. I could tell she was feeling uncomfortable.
“Relax babe, no one is here and it’s only 2 o’clock, there’s tons of sunlight left. Look at all this stuff, this is wild!” Heather exclaimed as she inspected a very large old record player against the wall.
“I dunno I just feel… weird in this place,” Sarah replied as her eyes wandered around the room uncomfortably.
“That’s cause its old as fuck and probably about to fall at any moment,” Jackie teased. Heather shot her a disapproving look but I laughed. Sarah was the most anxious of us all, I wasn’t much better but I was feeling surprisingly ok, I was too interested and preoccupied in all the cool old stuff to worry about anything just yet. At once Heather decided she wanted to check out the top floor.
“Well I’m not going up there. Why is it so dark?” Sarah asked as she wrapped her arms around herself and glared up the stairs.
“That must be from the boarded up window,” I guessed, but I was feeling pretty uncomfortable going up there myself. Fuck that, I can admit to being a wimp just fine. Old houses are creepy, and it was really dark up there. I wasn’t interested in seeing any ghosts or falling through the floor. Heather however, was all about it, and the rest of us reluctantly agreed to follow her up.
“I don’t understand why it’s so dark up here, I thought only one window was boarded up,” I said as arrived at the top of the stairs. There was a room to our left but the door was jammed, so we went down the short hallway that led to the front of the house. The boarded up window was at the end of the hallway, but I noticed there was no window at all in a child’s room we had entered. Heather and Jackie were looking excitedly through a box of toys, talking about the weird old shit, while I glanced around the room. It was small, only big enough to have a small toddler sized bed, a toy box, and a bookshelf.
“This is too creepy you guys, I wanna leave,” Sarah said, her brows furrowed.
“Nooo babe c’mon this is so cool!” Heather pleaded, “What are you so afraid of? There’s no one here but us.” Sarah shifted uncomfortably, admitting defeat. Jackie stopped what she was doing and looked around slowly, “Did you guys hear that?”
My heart jumped in my chest. “What?” I asked, “Don’t say shit like that in here please, stop freaking us out.”
“No seriously,” she said and stood up. “I thought for sure I heard someone call my name.” I bit my lip, wondering if I should believe her or assume she was trying to scare us. “I don’t know…”
Then I heard it, very very softly, someone call my name. It was so soft and so far away sounding though, that I wasn’t sure I had heard it at all. I blinked and looked at the others. They were standing still as could be, and I could see fear in Sarahs eyes. “It was my name that time,” she almost whispered.
“But-” I started to reply, when Heather cut me off.
“Nah you guys, you’re just freaking yourselves out. Maybe we should leave before you start convincing yourselves of other shit,” Heather said, obviously annoyed. But I could tell the tone in the room had changed dramatically. We agreed to leave.
When we got outside I felt almost instantly better. “I think the air in there was fucking with us, the place is moldy and smelly, old places will do tha-“ Jackie stopped abruptly, “what the fuck? Where is the trail?”
I looked ahead. The trail we came in from was no longer there. It was just thick trees and bushes. I gaped, my eyes wide. How is that possible? We were just out here and the trail was right in front of us.
Heather laughed nervously. “See you guys are all freaked out now and you know that just makes things worse. The trail is there, just hold on.” She went over to where the trail was supposed to be and tried to push through the bushes. “It’s here, we’re just… it’s just… “ She trailed off as she frantically pushed through tree limbs and thick brush. My heart sank. I was confused. The trail was RIGHT THERE. It brought us right to the house. But as we looked forward from the picket fence, it was like the house was smack dab in the middle of the woods with nothing leading to it at all.
Heather came out of the brush, “There’s… it’s just woods… ok no one panic yet, let’s look over here.”
We followed her around the house and to the backyard. “Look! See, there’s a trail! Ha!” Heather exclaimed as she pointed to a gate at the end of the backyard. Sure enough, there was a trail there. We breathed a sigh of relief. I still didn’t know what the hell happened out front, but I decided I shouldn’t think about it too much. I didn’t want to scare myself more than I already had. Before long, I could feel the tension ease a bit and we were joking and laughing just as we had before.
I took out my iphone, wondering what the time was, but to my dismay it was dead. “Aw fuck, my stupid phone died, what time is it?” I asked, stuffing my useless phone back into my pocket.
Like a cliché horror movie, Jackie and Heathers phones where somehow dead as well. We chalked it up bad reception and wonky battery percentages. But I could Sarah had tensed up.
“I didn’t even bring mine… are you guys serious? All your phones are dead?”
I looked up at the sky, “It’s okay Sarah, the sun is still up fairly high, it can’t be past 3 o’clock so we have lots of time to get back.” They all agreed, but I could tell everyone was feeling uneasy. Being out here with no way to call anyone in an emergency, well we’re the generation that just isn’t used to that kind of digital isolation. Not having a phone was making us all very uncomfortable.
Discussions turned to other things. What we were going to eat for supper that night, how we should have rolled a few joints for the hike, what we would do tomorrow, when Jackie exclaimed “oh look, I think I see a fence up there, another abandoned house maybe?” We hurried up the path to check it out.
Falling down white picket fence, peeling white paint on a saltbox house with a window boarded up on the top floor, a front door falling the hinges. “Oh you have to be fucking kidding me,” I said, confused yet again. It was the same damn house. We had walked in a circle for what must have been an hour.
“But, but… how? We walked in a circle? We couldn’t have, I…” Sarah was stammering but Heather just wrapped an arm around her and kissed her cheek softly.
“This sucks but it happens sometimes,” she said, “these trails are a maze, we must have somehow got turned around.”
“But we walked straight, we didn’t go down any other trails, Heather how-“ Sarah and Heather continued to bicker, but I was too busy staring at the house to pay attention to what they were saying. I squinted and shielded my eyes from the lowering sun. The windows were reflective, but I thought for sure I had seen movement in the upper window. My heart was beating faster than I was comfortable with and I convinced myself it was a trick of my eyes, but I noticed Jackie staring at the same window. I walked over to her.
“What are you looking at?” I asked her, worried what the reply was going to be.
“I’m losing it dude, I thought I saw something in the window up there. Something white, like a kid maybe, I don’t know I don’t see anything anymore, forget it,” Jackie turned around and walked back towards Heather and Sarah. I followed her.
“I don’t like this Heather,” I said, starting to feel really uneasy.
“Don’t sweat it. Look, the trail was here the whole time. We must have just not noticed it when we left the first time. The trail in the backyard leads back to the house, which makes sense, so this time we just go down the trail we came from and we’ll be back to the cabin smoking a big bat in no time,” she smiled at me. She was still pretty calm, still being silly old Heather. I felt better. She was right. The path behind the house would most likely lead back to the property if we weren’t paying attention. The woods were playing tricks on us.
The mood was getting more somber though, Heather tried to pick up our spirits but at that point we wanted nothing more than to just get back to Heathers cabin. Heather and Sarah took the lead, paying far more attention to where we were going this time and making sure we weren’t getting turned around again. The sun was getting lower in the sky, and the further we went the more my stomach knotted.
Suddenly, Heather stopped in her tracks and put a finger in the air to signal us to do the same. We stopped. “What?” Sarah asked, frowning.
“I thought I heard someone call my name,” she said, straining to listen. We did the same.
“I don’t hear-“I started to say, but then, I heard it. Someone shout out my name. Not too far off like before, but much closer. My heart leapt into my throat.
“Who is that? Who out here even knows my name?” Jackie said looking around, “Hello!” she called out.
The rest of us looked confused. “But… I heard my name,” Sarah said, “No one called your name Jackie, I heard someone call out Sarah.”
This was not good. I couldn’t hide the fear on my face, and neither could the others. No one said anything; we understood each of us had heard our own name being called. It felt like we stood there for a long time, just waiting. Then I heard it again, like it was someone in the distance but still close by, call my name again. I couldn’t tell what direction it was coming from and it sounded… wrong. I couldn’t tell if it was a man or woman, child or adult. It made my hair stand up and my chest flutter. I saw the color drain from mt friends faces.
“Let’s go,” Heather said, and started to walk briskly down the path again. We tried to catch up to her but Heather was taller and faster than the rest of us, and soon she was out of sight.
“Wait up!” Sarah called out, but a few seconds later we saw that she was stopped on the path again just ahead of us. “It… that can’t be,” she stammered.
I didn’t see it at first. But looking up higher, at the tree line, I could see that damn house again. At this point I didn’t think my heart could beat any faster, but it did. How could this be happening? How did we go in a circle again when we were being so careful this time?
“What the fuck Heather, what the fuck?” Jackie was yelling, “How the hell did we walk in a circle again?”
Heather was shaking her head. I’ve never seen her look scared before. Heather was always the level headed one of all us, boasting about going on random adventures and never losing her cool even when she ran into trouble. I felt at that moment we were fucked. We were dead lost and we would be out here for god only knows how long with no food and not enough water. At that moment the fairies came back into my mind and I believed in that moment that they were very fucking real, and they were screwing with us.
I could see Sarah was on the verge of tears, and Heather wrapped her arm around her again and told her it was ok, and that they would find their way home, and not to worry. Jackie and I just stood awkwardly in the path, not knowing what to say or what to do. We didn’t want to go near the house again. So we just stood there while Heather calmed Sarah down until it was starting to get dark.
“We need to move,” Jackie finally said. I agreed. We weren’t going to get out of here just standing around.
“Okay, this time we follow the sun. It’s setting, we know if we follow it we’ll be going in one direction and we can’t get turned around again,” Heather said. Off we went again. This time, none of us said a word. We were scared, we were hungry, and we were just getting pissed off.
It was getting dangerously close to being dark by the time Sarah spotted the house again. This time she just burst into tears, unable to control herself any longer. I felt the tears stinging my eyes and a hard lump in my throat myself. I wrinkled my nose as I tried to fight it back. Jackie swore and began yelling at Heather.
“What the fuck Heather? How is this possible? You said we wouldn’t get lost, you said it was impossible. You said you would climb a fucking tree if you had, to so climb a tree Heather! Climb a tree and find a way out, you got us into this. Holy shit this is so fucked up.” Heather just took Jackie’s strong words and said nothing while she bit her lip.
“Okay,” she replied when Jackie was done, and started to look for a high and stable tree to find. Almost all the trees in Newfoundland forests are conifers; pine, spruce, and fir trees. Not exactly that easy to climb. But at that point Heather was desperate, and she struggled to climb through the dense branches that cracked easily under her weight. Somehow she managed to get near the top and she looked around.
“There!” she shouted out pointing in the opposite direction of the house, “There’s a light over that way, I can see it!” She slid down excitedly. We started to jog in the direction, fighting our way through thick trees and ignoring the cuts the brush was giving us. I didn’t care anymore. I just needed to get away from that house and out of these woods.
We stumbled into a clearing and I heard Sarah moan loudly. I looked up. We were at the back of the house this time.
“That is fucking impossible, impossible! It was just behind us!” Heather had her hands to her head in disbelief. I just gaped. I couldn’t think straight. My breathing started to become rapid and uneven, my eyes began to cloud over. “How? How? How?” Repeated in my head. How was this happening? At this point we were all crying, none of us able to fight it back any longer. Even Heather had tears streaming down her face as she tried to calm Sarah down who was downright sobbing. We sat down in the grass behind the backyard fence, feeling defeated. It was more or less completely dark now, we had been in the woods for more than 8 hours by this time and I was tired. My stomach was in knots, my chest felt tight and painful. None of us knew what to do.
Suddenly, Sarah gasped and pointed in front of her.
“What is, wha- wha- wha-“ she stammered. My heart flew into my throat. I turned around.
At the edge of the clearing, near the side of the house maybe 20 feet from us, I could barely make out a shape. It was all white, or maybe it was grey, in the shape and size of a small child. It looked like a human and it was completely naked, but it had no characteristics. Its face was blank and between its legs was smooth like a doll. Nothing, it was like a completely blank person. It was standing casually with its arm out leaning against a tree when it turned its head to look at us. I heard the others gasp behind me, and then we ran. We got up and tore ass out of there.
But it felt like we ran for only a few seconds when I bumped into Heather in front of me. She had stopped dead in her tracks, her mouth hanging open and her eyes wide. “What-“ I started to say, until I realized the house was right in front of us again. My mind buzzed, I felt like I was going to fall over.
We weren’t alone this time. Making a circle around the house, were a large group of these blank people. They were… well, I hesitate to say dancing, because it wasn’t really dancing. It was more like twitching and shaking. Their limbs looked like they were filled with liquid as their arms wiggled around their sides. Their legs stomped back and forth as they moved their white blank bodies, heads shaking and their whole body twitching in a way that made my blood run cold. They looked human but these were not human movements. Human limbs don’t bend or move that way, and they can’t jerk around that quickly either. None of us said anything, none of us screamed. We just stood there, transfixed on these creatures completely unable to process what we were seeing. My whole body felt frozen, my legs were jelly and a scream was trying to escape from my throat but it just couldn’t make it out.
Then, the creatures all stopped. They stopped and stood perfectly still, and in complete unison they turned and looked directly at us. That was when we ran. I ran as fast and as hard as I ever have. We ran with tears streaming down our faces until I couldn’t feel my legs anymore and my lungs were on fire. I didn’t know it was possible that I could even run like that. My mind was blank. The only thing I could focus on was Jackie who was directly in front of me, I couldn’t hear anything, I couldn’t feel anything. I just ran.
It felt like we ran for hours when we reached a clearing and I saw a street light. I burst into sobbing tears, I couldn’t control it any longer. My whole body was shaking and I fell to the ground. Jackie held me, we all cried together sat in the grass on the side of the road with a streetlight glaring down at us. We were out.
After we had composed ourselves, we began slowly making our way back to Heathers cabin. We were exhausted, everything hurt. We walked back without saying a word to each other. As we reached the driveway, we noticed the lights were on in the cabin and there was another car in the driveway. It was Heathers parents. They were casually sitting on the back deck, listening to music and drinking beers. Her mom jumped up as soon as we came into sight.
“Where were you? My lord Heather what mess were you in now?” She gasped, looking at all us cut and bruised with puffy eyes.
“What are you guys doing here?” was all she managed to say in reply.
“You knew we were coming today. Where in the world were you?”
“But… mom it’s only Wednesday.”
“It’s Saturday Heather, were you guys out on a bender in the woods? Are you ok? You’re all a mess!”
None of us said a word. We couldn’t. If we talked about it then that meant it was all real. I don’t know what happened to those 3 lost days we had in those woods. What I do know, is that I was completely wrong about fairies. They are nothing like the old folktales say. They are not little old guys with pointy hats that prance merrily around rocks, or cute little girls with wings. They are so much worse than that.
It has been many years and I still haven’t come to terms with what happened. Writing this has been a struggle. But maybe now, after writing it all down and admitting that it happened, maybe I’ll be able to hike through the woods again. Maybe I’ll stop hearing my name being called out in the distance. Maybe I’ll stop seeing those blank faces staring into my bedroom window at night. Maybe.