This story is by Jocelyn Kiss and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The cool breeze swirled around her, cooling her too hot skin. It wasn’t even afternoon yet and the sun was already too much to handle. Walking along the cleared path, Katie raised her hand to her forehead, shielding her eyes from the daylight, searching for a shaded spot to sit and rehydrate. Out here there was nothing. It was a flat expanse of land covered in thick brush with not a tree in sight.
That’s what she loved about being out here. Hiking was a great way to let off some steam and get lost in her own thoughts. Away from all the hustle and bustle of the city. Katie stopped to adjust her bag on her back and piled her thick auburn hair higher on her head, securing it tightly so it wouldn’t tumble down.
Something in the distance caught her eye. A gleaming – like sun on metal – dancing across the open field. Curious, Katie marched forward wondering what it could be. As far as she knew, there was nothing out here. In the distance a shape started to form. Squinting against the glare, Katie discovered the shape was transforming into a little log cabin. Weird, she thought, I don’t remember a cabin being out here. Katie trudged along, thick bushes scraping her legs as she went by.
Reaching the log cabin, Katie’s eyes opened wide in amazement. Standing in front of her was a beautifully built cabin made with cedar logs, of which the smell reminded her of freshly sharpened pencils. It had a tiny porch attached at the front and a charming door painted red.
Everything went quiet as Katie walked across the porch to the door, as if someone had flipped a switch and turned off the world. Even time seemed to stop. From the corner of her eye, Katie could see now what had been shining. It was a metal sign hanging from the exposed woodwork of the rafters. Unlike the cabin in pristine condition, the sign was well worn and the writing no longer legible.
Raising her hand to knock on the door, Katie jumped when the door opened with a gentle click. Lowering her fist she took a tentative step towards the open door. Everything around her was still so quiet that she could hear her heart hammering in her chest. Willing herself to take a couple of deep breaths, Katie nudged the door open more and called out, “ Hello? Is anybody there?” No response. Debating with herself about whether she should go in or not, Katie noticed something familiar inside.
Stepping over the threshold was like stepping back in time. From the outside the cabin looked small but the inside was surprisingly huge. Something about the place seemed so familiar that she felt as if she had been there before. But that wasn’t possible, was it? Until a few minutes ago, she wasn’t even aware of its existence.
Walking towards the center of what appeared to be the living room, with a big beige and floral sofa against the main wall under the picture window, there was a double-sided red-brick fireplace that divided the living room from the dining room. Reaching the fireplace, there was a row of pictures on the white granite mantel depicting a life well lived. A cool, gentle breeze grazed her arms causing goosebumps to pop up.
Grabbing the one in front, she realised it was a picture of herself as a small child baking cookies in the kitchen with her mother in this house. Just then the smell of cookies baking came wafting through the kitchen. It smelled just like the cookies they baked that day, chocolate chip and macadamia nut, her favourite. Entranced by the smell, Katie followed it into the kitchen. It was exactly as she remembered. The island in the middle of the room with a dark granite worktop and the little blue stool Katie used as a child to reach the top. When she closed her eyes, it felt as if she was back in that moment. Before her whole world was tossed upside down. It was the last happy memory she had of herself and her mother before her mother was whisked away from her, and sent to the big fancy victorian hospital in the next city, where she continued to reside until she took her life.
The doctors tried different medications, and for a time, they worked. Her mother would come home and things would seem normal again. She would tuck her into bed then sit on the edge of the mattress and read her stories, like she used to when Katie was little. But there was something different with her when she came home. She was not the affectionate, loving mother Katie remembered. She was cold and zombie-like. You had to be careful, as any little thing you said or did, could upset her and send her in a downward spiral.
One time, Katie didn’t respond when her mother called out “I love you!” in front of a group of the popular kids at school during drop off. She slung her pink bookbag over her shoulder as she walked towards the brown entrance doors of the school, pretending not to hear. When she returned home that afternoon, her father was waiting for her on the front stoop. Her mother was sent back. Katie hated herself for thinking it was just easier if her mother was not there.
Katie jumped when a noise broke the silence, waking her from her reverie. Taking a deep breath, Katie walked out the kitchen running her slender fingers along the worktop, stopping when she reached the edge. Staring into the living room, Katie found that it had changed since she was in the kitchen. Gone was the red-brick fireplace and floral sofa. In its place was the ratty navy loveseat, the same one she had purchased from a thrift shop when she moved into her own apartment for the first time. Looking down, the same peel and stick black and white tiles were lifting in the same spots as she remembered.
Katie remembered that day as if it happened yesterday.She was so excited to be on her own, no one to tell her what to do and when to do it. Seeing it again gave her a euphoric feeling. Her head spinning, Katie sat down on the loveseat before she fell. The sofa had the spring coming through the same spot as hers did.
Something was wrong with her. How could she be seeing all of this? Not that it scared her, these were the most happiest times of her life. It was just eerie. She sat on the sofa with her head in her hands, her breath becoming shallower.
She needed air.
Standing up too quickly, the blood rushed from her head making her feel dizzy and light-headed. Placing a hand on the arm of the sofa to steady herself, Katie glanced into the dining room and noticed that it too had changed. Keeping her eyes focused on the floor in front of her, Katie shuffled her feet, clad in her black runners, towards the door. She kept a steadying hand on the wall.
Reaching the door, Katie hesitated as she raised her hand to grab the doorknob. She was curious to look back and see if anything had changed again. Deciding against it, she grabbed the outside doorknob, realising the door was never closed. Katie walked over the threshold onto the porch, pulling the door closed behind her.
Holding onto the railing as she carefully went down the stairs, Katie couldn’t help but feel like she was losing her mind. It wasn’t possible for any of what she had just experienced to have happened. It defied all logic. How did a cabin appear out of thin air and be able to provoke such profound memories?
Landing on the grass below the last step, the switch was flipped and all sound resumed. The sound all at once overwhelmed her. As she turned back to face the cabin, reassuring herself that she wasn’t crazy, the oddest thing happened.
It was gone, the cabin had disappeared.