/ Short Story Contest

'Staycation Trepidation', by Bilal Mustafa

Runner up - Mensa North West Short Story Contest 2018.

My heart fell silent. The glamping trip that had, no more than an hour ago, kindled a cheery countenance, was spiralling into nothing less than pandemonium. The severity of the situation had dawned upon me, being succeeded by a sharp pain in my stomach and the trembling of my extremities. The crunching of leaves beneath my feet, the snapping of twigs, the hooting of an owl, the howling of wolves, and the wrath of the thunder storm looming above me struck a haunting terror to my core. It was this overwhelming fear that demanded me to reach some sort of shelter, be it a caliginous cave or a hollowed tree carcass. Blackened clouds pelted my skin red with rain as mud leapt from the ground, drenching my tattered overalls. Clutching my broken flashlight, I dive into another artery of the forest, dreading what lies ahead. I continue my arduous journey with no clear direction, fiercely darting side to side in the wake of an endless onslaught of towering trees, lashing my face with whips of ivy. A blazing bolt of lightning, followed by a deafening crack of thunder, strikes the face of the earth with inimitable ferocity, temporarily illuminating the previously tenebrous forest. During this brief period of visibility, I miraculously identified the silhouette of what could be perceived as a cabin, some way off in the distance, before the veil of darkness fell once more and concealed the fortuitous find. With my hopeful spirit reanimated, I charged in the direction that I had last set eyes upon it, maintaining the belief that it was my only hope of salvation. I pursued this elusive cabin as a starving fox may pursue a hare, failing to slow down until I reached it. However, this excessive immersion in the task made me blind to my surroundings, failing to spot a small rock a few paces in front of me. Entranced by a promise of safety, my foot became ensnared by it, resulting in an abrupt fall and a macabre blow to the head.

I woke, what I could only assume to be, no less than a day later. I raised my head, dazed by the events that had transpired. I gingerly rose to my feet, clutching my throbbing leg as I did so. I was greeted by the light of the sun. What had seemed like a promising sight at first was no more use than my broken flashlight, for surrounding me was a thick and hazy blanket of fog. My optimism was triturated once more. To see through the fog was as challenging as seeing through the darkness of the night prior. Further crushing my hopes of survival, I had noticed that I had lost track of the direction in which the cabin could be located. I collapsed to the ground, lying there defeated for several minutes, before a surge of hunger overcame me. This was persuading me, as the storm had yesterday, to continue my blind dash in search of something to liberate me from my suffering. I rose to my feet once more and began limping into another winding passage of the almighty forest, my tyrant and captor.

Several hours later, with the sands of time flowing, the sun begins to set, unleashing a heavenly blue twilight across the land as the wall of fog begins to crumble. The streams reflect the calm aura as newly formed snowflakes begin to fall atop the land, forming a pristine white carpet. My commingled feelings of hunger and disappointment suddenly evaporate as the enchanting colours of the sky, in addition to the surrendering fog, highlight the cabin which I had valued so dearly. Being situated much more closely than when I had laid eyes upon it last, I bound towards the haven in a much more careful, steady manner in order to eradicate the possibility of repeating yesterday’s events. After traversing an extensive distance of the forest, I came to a collection of tall, thin pine trees that had been caked in a fine layer of snow. An opening was clearly visible. I faltered, took a deep breath, and followed the path. I was envisioning every possibility regarding the contents of the cabin and, before I knew it, had found myself looking directly at it after reaching the top of a small hill. It was constructed from stout logs and bore small windows overlooking the entirety of the forest from its central perch. There were no signs of life. There weren’t any vehicles, no smoke bellowing from the chimney, or footsteps in the thick layer of snow that had accumulated over the past few hours. I had not given up hope. I approached the large, wooden door and firmly knocked. I paused. No reply. Again, I knocked, increasing the force with which I did so. I paused. No reply. One final time I knocked with a power exponentially larger than the last two times. My heart was racing. I questioned whether the promise of salvation would ever come to fruition. Seconds of waiting became minutes, with my contentment beginning to decline drastically. The chilling silence was succeeded by a loud crash from the back of the home. I immediately called out and, after receiving no response, bolted around the side of the cabin. Perhaps somebody was in trouble. After reaching the left side, I swiftly dashed to the back, where I spotted a door swinging frantically in the harsh winter wind. I crept towards it, apprehensively peeking within. The cabin was empty. Seeking shelter from the emerging blizzard, I dove inside and bolted the door shut.

I called out once more, considering the possibility that my previous cry had been carried away with the wind. They replied. From a series of muffled shrieks, I managed to decipher my name, followed by something that I failed to interpret. Sedulously scanning the interior of the cabin, I inched forward into another desolate room, calling out once more in confusion. Despite the reply being much clearer this time, I still couldn’t manage to decrypt several obscure muffles. Whilst edging further forward, I was constantly contemplating how they knew my name for I had not yet introduced myself. Amidst a wave of thoughts, my eyes settled upon a large, ominous chest lying dead in the centre of the room. Hesitantly creeping towards it, I called out once more. My blood ran cold. Three raucous knocks bellowed from within the chest. A brief moment of eerie silence followed, before it began to violently shake, followed by the cabin itself. Wooden beams came crashing down around me. Before I could convey any external reaction, the ground began to quake violently beneath me. The tremors reverberated as I was tossed aside like a ragdoll, landing flat on my back. Whilst sprawling restlessly on the hard, cold floor a dark, shadowy figure exploded from within the chest. I was paralysed by a feeling of pure terror. The sinister spectre floated towards me, before stopping dead where I lay. “Daniel!” it exclaimed, “Wake up!”

I opened my eyes. In a bewildered state, I raised my head to notice my mother encouraging me to get out of the car, knocking on the window as she did so. I let out a sigh of relief. I had finally escaped the tyranny of the forest. I promptly opened the car door and sauntered towards my father in a cheery state. “Wait a minute,” I exclaimed, “Where are we?” I faltered before examining the scenery around me, spotting a prodigious collection of trees. I stood baffled at the sight. “We’re going glamping!” replied my dad, “the cabin’s just ahead.”

James H. Oldfield

James H. Oldfield

James is a husband and a father. When time permits, he's some other things too. Junior Members and Families Officer, for Mensa North West. Also occasional poet, writer and all-round mangler of words.

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