The Cabin by the Lake

I’m not participating in National Novel Writing Month, but I have decided to try to write 2,000 words of original fiction every day this month, just because. Bits and pieces, fragments, whatever. Surprising no one more than myself, here’s my first installment.


The cabin. Kaylee hated the cabin.

The cabin was on the western shore of the lake, halfway around from New Salem to Ravenscroft. It was one of a couple dozen vacation homes clustered together around a little private inlet, part of a development back in the ‘90s. Other than a convenience store at the turnoff from the highway, there was nothing at the cabins, absolutely nothing.

Kaylee thought it was stupid that they had a whole second house that they only used for a couple weeks in summer or autumn. It was stupid that they left their real house and drove out here to the sticks, where she couldn’t even get a decent cellphone signal half the time, where there wasn’t even cable, just a stupid dish that didn’t work if the wind kicked up, and there was always wind off the lake.

None of her friends were there. Their parents didn’t have cabins out here.

Kaylee hated the cabin.

It was made out of logs, the cabin, big round logs notched together. It was two stories tall, and there was a great room with a fieldstone fireplace. There were antlers mounted above the fireplace. When Kaylee told her friends back in the city about the cabin, she told them there was whole deer’s head mounted above the fireplace — a whole moose’s head! — and when she was really on a tear, she’d tell her friends that her dad shot the deer himself, that he’d drug it back to the cabin and hung it up by its legs and skinned it and hung the head over the fireplace. Really, though, there was just the antlers, and they’d been there when they bought the cabin.

Still, she tried to make the best of it. She read books — real books, with paper and everything — which was supposed to be good for her chances to get into a Good School. Getting into a Good School was important, Kaylee knew, otherwise Mom wouldn’t go on about it all the time.

There was a library in the cabin. Like the deer’s head, it came with the house — Mom said it was part of the place’s “rustic charm.” There were a lot of books in the library — Kaylee tried to count them once, but got bored somewhere after she reached 200.

They were old books, older even than the books in the library at school. Most of them had leather covers, and a lot of them had gold letters that were stamped into the covers, but the gold had mostly flaked away. Some of them had gold painted along the edges of the paper, sometimes all the way around, sometimes just on the top.

The first summer they spent out at the cabin by the lake, Kaylee hadn’t spent a lot of time in the library. Dad used the room as an office, because there was a big, wooden desk and a high-backed leather chair that he used when he hooked up back to his office to work on things. Besides, all the old books sort of creeped Kaylee out. She spent most of the time I her room playing on her computer.

The next summer, Dad didn’t work so much in the library. Dad didn’t spend much time out at the cabin at all. “Big project,” he told her. “Lot’s to do.” She hung out a bit more in the library then. She’d gotten used to the old books; they didn’t creep her out hardly at all anymore. She started taking them down and flipping through them, pretending that there were books of spells or something like in Harry Potter. When that got old, she actually started reading them. It was something to do.

There were a lot of what Mom called “the classics.” She read a book by some guy named Charles Dickens called Great Expectations that was kind of cool, even though it was hard to understand, and a lot of the words were spelled funny — “colour” instead of “color,” that sort of thing. It was something to do.

The third summer out at the cabin, Dad didn’t come out at all. It was just her and Mom, and Mom spent most of her time out in the yard planting flowers and pulling weeds and stuff like that. She tried to get Kaylee interested in helping out, but Kaylee didn’t like getting her hands dirty, so she gave up.

The old books read faster that summer. Kaylee realized that she didn’t have to finish a book just because she started it — if she didn’t like it, she could just put it back and get another one. And she didn’t have to start at the beginning and read through to the end. She could just open up anywhere and start reading. It was sort of confusing — who was this Hawkeye guy, anyway? — but that was part of the fun, as much fun as it was.

It was night in the library at the cabin by the lake when she found the book with the maps.

She hadn’t seen it before because it was shoved in the back on one of the higher shelves — she had to stand on a chair to the books on that shelf, and she saw it sticking up behind them.

It was bigger than the other books, bigger than any book she’d seen. Kaylee cleared out the books in front of it so she could pull the big book out, and it was almost too heavy for her to lift. She nearly dropped it when she pulled it off the shelf. It nearly drug her off the chair. That might have woken up Mom, which wouldn’t have been good. Mom went to bed pretty early that summer, even before the sun went down, so she must have been really tired. She was cranky all the time, like she was tired, and snapped at Kaylee when she made any noise, so Kaylee didn’t want to wake her up.

Kaylee lugged the big, heavy book over to the wooden desk. All the books in the library were old, but this one seemed older. It’s cover was leather, rough and worn. The spine had thick bands along it, and it was all sewn with heavy cord.

Inside the cover and the page opposite were covered in colors, like someone had spattered all sorts of colors (“colours”) on the paper and then smeared them all around with a fork or a comb or something. The colors were old and dark, but the color was still there.

The actual pages of the book were heavy, thick paper, all yellow and crinkled. The edges were dry and brittle. They flaked off a bit when she turned them, so Kaylee tried to be very careful as she did.

This book wasn’t like all the others on the shelves. It hadn’t been printed. Instead, it was all handwritten in a thin, spidery script with all sorts of loops and curls that Kaylee could just barely read in places, and in others, she couldn’t. The ink was so old that had mostly turned brown.

There were pictures in the book, too, drawings. Most of them were just lines in the same color ink as the writing — flowers, trees, a rabbit, a deer. They were pretty good. Some of them were colored, like in water color. The paper was still crinkled from where the paints had dampened it.

Kaylee was about a quarter of the way through when she found the first map. It wasn’t a regular page, but an extra sheet of paper that had been glued to the page so that it folded out, twice as big as normal. It was clearly a map, and pretty soon Kaylee realized that it was a map of the area around the little inlet where the cabins were built. There was the shoreline, there was the creek that ran into the inlet.

There were all sorts of straight lines marked over the map. Some of them were straight up and down or side to side and made a grid. Others were off at weird angles, crossing here and there. There were even a couple of circles. What these lines meant, Kaylee couldn’t figure out.

The little notes on the map didn’t help things much. Several of them were too small and blurred to read at all. The ones she could read didn’t make a lot of sense. “The rabbit runs when the hawk screams — the water folds along the seam — the stone cries at dark.” What the heck?

Kaylee looked through the book some more. There were other maps, some of the same area, some from somewhere else she didn’t recognize. All of them had the weird lines and strange notes.

She was about to give up and go to bed when she saw the drawing of the thing.

That was the only word she could think of to describe it. It looked sort of like an animal, but no animal she’d ever seen. It stood up on its back legs like a person, but the legs were bent backward, like a dog’s. Instead of a person’s head, it had a head sort of like a dog’s, but not.

Its arms were big and heavy and long, with great big hands. The hands were weird. It took Kaylee a bit to figure out that the hands weren’t like people hands, with a thumb and four fingers. There were two thumbs, one on each side, with three fingers between. All of the fingers and thumbs ended in long, hooked claws.

The thing had a big, bushy tail that stuck up over its shoulder, sort of like a squirrel’s tail, but rougher. For a second, she thought it had another tail hanging down between it’s legs, sort of long and loose and —

Oh. That’s not a tail.

It’s ears were big pointed, again like a dog’s. It’s snout was filled with long, sharp teeth. And the eyes — big, round, mean looking. The artist had painted those red.

The eyes were looking at her. She didn’t know why, but Kaylee got the idea that, just as she was looking over the drawing of the thing, the thing was looking her over, too — looking her over and laughing.

She slammed the book shut. It was dark in the library, darker even than it was. The overhead light seemed dim, and even the desk lamp didn’t put out as much light as it should have.

Kaylee moved toward the door. She felt like something was crawling on her back, between her shoulder blades. She turned around.

There was only the book on the desk.

Kaylee backed away from it, moving to the door. She couldn’t say why, but she just didn’t want to turn her back on the book. She slipped out the door and pulled it closed. Normally, the library door stood open.

Kaylee had trouble getting to sleep that night. She thought about the book, about the map. About the thing. About the thing’s red eyes, staring at her. She pulled her covers up around her neck, even though it was pretty warm. The breeze coming in the open window felt like someone breathing on the back of her neck.

When she finally fell asleep, Kaylee dreamed. In the morning, when Mom yelled up the stairs for her to get up, Kaylee found her covers all kicked off and balled up at her feet, and her pillows off on the floor.

She remembered dreaming, but she couldn’t remember what she had dreamed, and she didn’t want to.

After breakfast, Kaylee went out to help her mom in the garden. Mom was surprised. Kaylee didn’t think it was a good surprise.

“Don’t you want to go read in the library?” Mom had been happy when Kaylee started hanging out in the library the summer before. She talked a lot about getting into a Good School. She hadn’t talked about that much at all this summer.

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