I never wanted to go on that stupid hike in the first place. Yet there I was, allegedly enjoying nature and getting healthy exercise while hiking from “cabin to cabin” in the Norwegian mountains with the devil spawn otherwise known as my class. Woohoo, right? For a misanthropic misfit like myself, it was a nightmare.
Within half an hour of walking on the uneven path over the heather, I was at the back of the group.
“Hey man, how’s it going there?” Nils, the teacher, asked in a cheery tone.
“Fucking amazing,” I growled.
In spite of the cool wind, sweat was beading on my forehead, and my breath was growing short. I glared at Peter and Jon, who were bouncing along at the front of the group. Of course the most popular guys in my class would also be the best hikers. Assholes.
“So, Anders, do you go hiking often?”
“Do I go hiking often?” I said. “Look at me, teach, do I look like I fucking go hiking often?”
I gestured to my pudgy body, glaring at him. Clearly flustered, he changed the topic.
“Then what do you like to do?”
“Computer stuff,” I answered curtly. “So is this temporary, or are you gonna try to make awkward small talk the whole time?”
“Uh, I didn’t think it was awkward…”
Blessed silence followed. Peter and Jon were out of sight – damn soccer players and their mutant lungs – and I took the opportunity to take in the scenery. Misshapen, warped birch trees were scattered over the alternating yellowing grass and purple heather, the occasional huckleberry peeking out. Mountains cascaded towards the sky on both sides, towering over us. It was quite breathtaking.
Now that the devil spawn was out of sight and lame ass Nils had shut up, I found myself almost enjoying it. In fact, I realized the whole experience would have been quite pleasant if all those fuckers would just go ahead and die. I kicked at a rock and tripped.
“Hey there, be careful, buddy!” Nils said, grabbing my arm. “Don’t wanna go and get injured on the first day, do we now?”
I sent him a death glare, and we kept walking in silence.
By the end of the third day, I was not just at the rear, but pretty much in a whole other hiking party then the rest of my class. My body ached from the strain, and Nils had long ago abandoned any attempt at small talk.
When the last cabin was finally within eyeshot, the sun had disappeared behind the mountains, and we were hiking by that gloomy, blue half-light that lingers after the Northern sunsets. The cabin loomed in the distance. What we called a cabin was really a set of small, red cabins, an empty campground, and a rather large main house. It could easily house a hundred people, probably way more with the campground open. It looked out of place there, in the middle of the bare mountains.
I was completely exhausted when I finally managed to drag my fat ass to the front door of the main house. As I pulled it open, I was immediately hit in the face with the laughter, shouting, and all the other sounds of general youthful tomfoolery. Damn devil spawn. A sour feeling spread through my guts; I was missing out on all of this. I had no idea how to socialize with these people. God, I wished they’d all just die, maybe then I’d get some peace and quiet.
“So, Anders, it seems the rest already finished dinner, I guess it’s just you and me now!”
I groaned at the prospect. To add insult to injury, the dining room was on the other side of the common room. Not only did I have to endure the shame of being last and of eating with the teacher, but I’d also have to do the walk of shame in front of all of them. I looked down at the linoleum floor, face burning like a brand as I endured the laughter of my peers. They were clever enough to not directly mock me, not directly laugh at me, but I knew what they were thinking.
Nils and I sat down at one of the long tables in the empty dining room, and I stuffed myself full of the cold pasta as he chatted easily. A friend of his ran this place, it was technically closed for the season, but he had gotten us in here as a favor. That’s why there weren’t any staff around; they’d dropped off food earlier that day, and now we had the whole place to ourselves. So there we were: thirty kids, two teachers, and the vast, empty space that stretched between the mountains.
“Eerie when you think about it, right?” He said, winking. It was.
I got up from the table as soon as I could, with every intention of going straight to bed. I took a deep breath to steady my nerves enough to walk through the common room again. Laughter rang through the door, filling the dining room, taunting me with happiness and camaraderie I was sure I’d never experience.
I opened the door and felt their eyes on me as I shuffled through the room. “You can’t even look at us,” they mocked. “You can’t even keep up on a hike.” “Fat loser, go home, we don’t want you here.” Nobody actually said anything out loud, but I knew they were thinking it.
I walked quickly to the room I was sharing with Peter, Jon and another kid. The assholes had left me a bottom bunk, like they were such nice people. Probably too scared to sleep below fatty, I thought bitterly, glaring at the pine bunk. They’d probably laughed about it, too. I wanted to be in bed, asleep, or believably pretending to be, when they got here. They didn’t need to see my pudgy, pale tummy, or smell the sweat that had permeated all my clothes. And anyway, the place was completely outside cell range. Without my trusty internet, I had little to live for, let alone to stay awake for.
I curled up under the duvet, and the exhaustion drowned out my usual self-deprecating internal monologue. I was asleep in minutes.
I woke up in a panic in the middle of the night. The room was pitch black, and I just knew someone was standing over my bed, looking at me. My heart was pounding in my throat, as I lay there for what felt like hours. Nothing happened. Of course nothing happened, I tried to tell myself. I was being silly, I was safe, there was nothing but miles and miles of empty woods around here where anything could be hiding, could have followed us, could have seen us, defenseless, alone, NO! You’re safe, don’t be silly.
How the hell had they made the room this dark? Where was the crack in the curtain, the red lamp on an appliance? I wanted to turn on the light, to see what was there, but I didn’t want to wake up the others. Guess I was more scared of their taunting eyes than I was of the crazy axe murderer that definitely was in the room. As a sort of compromise, I decided to go to the bathroom. I sat up, swung my legs off the side of the bed, and felt around for my shoes. I snuck out the door, and flicked the switch in the hallway, and glanced back into the room. Nothing there, of course. I just had to make sure.
I padded down the hallway, the ugly red wall to wall carpet muffling the sounds of my steps. I shuddered as I opened the bathroom door; it was freezing. Some idiot had left the window open. I did my business and shuffled over to the window to close it while rubbing my arms with my hands. I stretched out an arm to grab the handle and froze.
I had caught a glimpse of the night sky, and I had seen – it couldn’t be, not this far south, right? It could be, of course, but … really? – that light green light spreading across the starry sky. It was the first time I saw them: the northern lights.
Exhilarated, I bounced down the hallway and snuck into the dark room. I grabbed a coat and my phone, and was halfway out the door before I thought to wake up the others. I was sure they’d love to see the lights as much as I would.
Screw them, not like they’d wake me up if the tables were turned.
The grass crunched as I walked across it, the frost that now covered the ground glittering in the strange green light from the sky. A green blob stretched across the darkness, flickering slightly as if there was a strong wind up there. The lights weren’t particularly strong or defined, but undeniable. I don’t know anything else that can turn the night sky green like that. The fear I had felt when I woke up had drained from my body, and I was mesmerized by the pure beauty of the natural show. I stood there for hours, not moving until my whole body started shaking violently and I realized I was in danger of hypothermia.
Reluctant, I shuffled back inside. My eyes had adjusted to the darkness outside, so I snuck down the hallway without turning the lights on. I didn’t want the grim, fluorescent light burn out the beautiful memory of the Aurora. The little light on my phone was enough to identify my room. I paused outside the door, sighing, and quickly slipped inside. I curled up under the warm duvet and quickly fell asleep.
I woke up, stretched my arms over my head and yawned loudly. I groped around on the floor for my phone and closed one eye as the bright screen blinded me.
Immediately I was wide awake. Shit, shit, shit, breakfast at 7:30, hiking by 8:30, why the hell had nobody woken me up? I jumped out of bed, almost hitting my head on the bunk above me in the darkness. The blinds were down, the room dark. I flipped the switch on the wall, but nothing happened. I groped around for my clothes, getting my head stuck in the sleeve of my sweater in the rush. I opened the door. The corridor was dark too, the place dead quiet. A chill ran down my spine.
Had they left me behind? As a prank? No, Nils would never have agreed to that. Would he? I pictured his flustered face as I shut down his every attempt at small talk. Maybe he would. A slow burn of worry started in my gut as I thought of the miles and miles of empty wilderness surrounding me. All that empty space, the long lonely road. The road! Yeah, someone would have to come to get me, I wouldn’t have to hike anymore. Maybe this was all for the best. Or maybe they had just canceled the hike, and all the kids were in the dining room now.
I set off to find people or food, preferably both.
The common room and the dining room were both empty. They looked so much bigger today, when it was only me in them. Breakfast was clearly over, but I was hungry. I crossed my fingers that I’d find some leftovers in the kitchen. I pushed open the door with the “staff only” sign, shuffled across the linoleum floor, and opened the fridge. A big smile spread across my face as I took in the sight in front of me. Is there anything more beautiful than a fully stocked fridge?
I made myself a sandwich and munched on it while trying to decide what to do next. When I went to make the second one, I realized that there really was too much food left over. This was enough food to feed thirty kids and then some. Hadn’t anyone else eaten? The uneasy feeling came back. Why would they have left without food? Had something happened? Again, the image of the vast heather, the lonely road, the cabin that looked like it had been copy-pasted into the wilderness. Anything could be hiding out there, in the mountains, in the rooms – Oh god, the rooms. There were so many empty rooms, empty cabins, closed doors. Closed doors with God-knows-what behind them.
I should have checked the rooms. Why hadn’t that been my first move?
Panic spread again, and I knew I had to do something before I was completely paralyzed by it. I took a deep breath, got to my feet, and left the kitchen. My footsteps rang through the cavernous dining room. My heart was pounding in my throat when I snuck down the long hallway, past door after door, the only light what seeped in from the window at the far end. The gloomy sky outside did little to provide light, and less to assuage my fears. I stopped in front of my room. It felt like a safe place to start.
I pushed the handle, and the door slid open without a sound. The blinds kept the room completely dark. I crossed the room in two long strides and groped around for the string. I tugged at it and jumped slightly as the sound of the curtain rolling up rang through the room.
I turned around, and to my great surprise found Peter sleeping peacefully in his bed. Relief flooded through me. I wasn’t alone.
“Peter!” I croaked. I cleared my throat. “Peter!” I repeated a little louder.
No response. I stared at him, wondering why he was still there. It made no sense. And he looked oddly … still.
I took a step toward him.
“Peter…” I whispered, heart pounding in my throat.
I reached out, grabbed his arm under the covers, and shook.
No response. He seemed totally dead.
The thought hit me like a ton of bricks. Dead? No. No way. Absolutely not. I forced my shaking hand towards his neck for a pulse. My fingertips made contact with his icy skin, and I knew. He must have been dead for hours. My knees buckled under me, and I crashed to the floor. Peter was dead? He was just lying there, he had been lying there for hours. Right next to me, and I had walked in and out of the room, I had eaten breakfast, I had slept there, right next to his corpse. Oh god.
I scrambled to my feet, I needed to get out of the tomb. I steadied myself on the upper bunk and jumped back in shock when I saw Jon, just as still as Peter, in his bunk. I stretched a shaking arm out, I had to make sure. I shuddered as my fingers met his skin; he was as cold and dead as Peter.
Slowly, I turned around. I screamed as I looked right into Jacobs open eyes. His dead, cold, stare burrowed into me, and I backed away. I hit the bunk behind me, and the force made Jon’s arm fall over the edge. It hung there, swinging.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the arm as I backed out into the corridor. I slammed the door shut, and continued my desperate retreat until I slammed against the opposite door. My knees grew weak again, and I slid down the door. My arm connected with the handle and the door swung open behind me. I staggered backward, overbalanced, and fell, hard, on my back.
The fall knocked the air out of me, making me gasp for breath. I spotted an arm out of the corner of my eye, and, still trying to swallow air, I turned my head. Lisa, beautiful, blonde, Lisa, lay there, not moving. I poked her arm. It swung in the air just like Jacobs had, and I stared at it, hypnotized. Slowly, I turned my head. The girl in the other bottom bunk had rolled up against the wall. I steadied myself with my arm and pushed myself up. On my feet, I saw two more bunks. Two more corpses.
I stumbled back into the hallway, looked side to side, and froze.
So many doors.
I only remember bits and pieces from what happened next; my complete panic turned it all into a blur. Running wildly down the hallway, pushing desperately at locked doors, slamming the doors that opened closed after revealing another tomb. I didn’t find anyone alive.
Finally, I collapsed in a heap outside Nils’ room. My throat was aching from the screaming or the vomiting; I couldn’t say which. Tears were rolling down my face, my body shaking convulsively. I curled up in a little ball, face on the rough carpet, sobbing like a baby.
Eventually, the part of my brain that was still running some sort of script managed to take over. Can’t stay here. I peeled myself off the floor, and sat up, leaning against the door.
I should probably get out of here, I thought in a detached manner. I wasn’t afraid anymore, I didn’t feel anything. After all, if I were in danger I’d be dead already.
I should call the police. I pulled my phone out of my pocket. It had 20% battery and no signal. I pushed myself to my feet, leaning my back against the door. I needed to find a high point, but would the battery last?
I scrunched my eyes up, took a deep breath, and walked back into Nils’ room. His phone was right there, next to the bed. I picked it up, pressed the button on the side, and watched it as nothing happened. I held the button for ten seconds before I released it. Still nothing. The phone was as dead as everyone else. I forced myself to go into the next room. Kristian, Thomas, Kristoffer, Lars. Three phones lay on the little table by the window, all plugged into their chargers. First phone? Dead. Second phone? I sent a little prayer to a god I had never believed in as I pressed the button as hard as I could. Dead. Third phone? Nothing. I threw it angrily at the wall, making a satisfyingly loud bang as it hit the wooden panel.
Gotta start hiking and praying, then. When I pushed open the front doors, it felt like I was emerging from a grave. I took a deep breath and started walking towards the hill behind the cabin at a fresh pace. A path revealed itself, and I marched resolutely along it. It twisted up the hill, and would – it had to! – lead me to a signal.
At first, I checked the phone every five meters, but as the battery level fell, I forced myself to wait longer and longer.
The path twisted between small pine trees, back and forth across the hill. My face burned with exhaustion and frustration. Every time I checked the phone, the battery was a little bit lower. At 15%, the phone sent an angry message. Do you want to turn on battery saving? Fuck yes! 11%. 8%. 5% and the screen dimmed the lights. A raindrop fell on the screen – or was it sweat? 4%.
3%. 2%. A single bar blinked, and I shrieked. With shaking hands, I pressed 1-1-2, and waited, praying.
“Police, what’s your–”
“No battery! Need police at the – goddamn, the (redacted) cabin, they’re dead, they’re all dead, I need help, please!”
The line went oddly quiet, and I lowered my hand to see a black screen. I hovered my thumb over the power button for a moment before I pressed it. That stupid opening graphic flashed across the screen, I frantically typed in my pin, pressed the phone icon, and watched in disbelief as the screen turned black again. I stared at it until the cold wind made me shudder. I was soaked with sweat, exhausted, and freezing.
Only then did it occur to me to wonder why they were dead.
You’d think that would be the first thing on my mind, but it wasn’t. But up there, on the narrow path between the dark fir trees, my last avenue of communication gone, did I ask the question. What happened?
Serial killer? No, why would I be alive? Poisoned food? Again, why would I be alive? They looked like they had died peacefully in their sleep. Airborne poison? Carbon monoxide! That made sense. You hear these horror stories: busted heater, family dead. Why not school class? And I had spent hours outside, in the fresh air last night.
I turned around. In front of me, a gap in the pine trees revealed a perfect view of the field and the cabin below, shattering my rational explanation. Because down there, in the heather and fields that surrounded the huts, was a perfect circle of brown dead heather and grass. The main building sat at the edge, the spot where I had been standing last night was right outside it.
The police were there when I got back down. Later, the deaths were ruled accidental carbon monoxide poisoning – I was told to let it go when I asked about the circle.
And the northern lights? They hadn’t been visible anywhere over mainland Norway for weeks.
Check out more of author P. Oxford’s work in The Trees Have Eyes: Horror Stories From The Forest, a collection of 20+ short horror stories, now available on Amazon.com.
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