The Murder Cabin

“Babe, how far is it again?” Peter asked, looking out the window as they turned onto another Missouri county road. Their two-car caravan would carve its way through rural Missouri from Oak Grove to Jeff City, then on to Salem.

“About five hours,” Samara said.

“Okay, well wake me up when we get to Jeff. I’ll drive from there if you want.”

“I can also drive at some point if you need a break,” Jackie said. She was stretched out in the back seat and flipped through a magazine with her head propped on a pillow.

“You guys just relax and sleep. I’d hate to put you out.” Samara said and laughed.

“Aw you’re so sweet,” Peter said, digging in a duffel bag at his feet. “Hey, I made a playlist for the occasion.” He shoved the CD into the slot and smiled as “Holiday Road” started playing.

#

The last turn took them from a gravel road to dirt, and Peter sat up with wide eyes. “Where in the hell are we going?”

“Probably to get murdered,” Samara said and laughed. She flipped her blinker on again and took the left turn when GPS instructed her to. A journey that should have taken five hours morphed to six after two wrong turns and a few unscheduled stops. Finally, though, after nine miles on unpaved roads, they pulled into Avery’s Ferry Canoe and Cabin Rental in Salem, Missouri. Population: 509.

Samara pulled the car into an empty spot and waited for the truck with the rest of her friends to pull up beside her. They stretched and made small talk and kicked up small clouds of dust, making their way toward the general store that doubled as the office.

The door was propped open and a litter of kittens rolled around on the floor. A stout woman with white hair paced behind the desk in the back of the room. “Howdy. What can I do ya for?” Her gap-tooth smile and black beady eyes glared at them in the dim, dirty light. It wasn’t that the place was a total pigsty, but it was close.

Jackie stepped forward. “We have a reservation for six. In the Marcus Cabin.”

“Oh yes. You stayin’ two nights, am I right?”

“Yes ma’am,” Jackie said.

Everyone else wandered around, poking at trinkets hung on the wall and laughing at the “Yes, that is a banjo you hear!” t-shirts for sale.

John walked over to Jackie getting the paperwork squared away, and picked up a fire engine red lighter from a pile. “How much for the lighter?” He asked.

“Buck and a half,” the woman said, then slapped a sheet of paper in front of him. “Fill this out. Liability forms. All of yous.”

The rest of the group shuffled over and scrawled their information and listened as the woman delivered her shtick about what you can and cannot do on the river, in the cabin, and on the camp grounds.

A man walked in from a dark room in the back and picked a set of tarnished keys off of the wall.

“Alrighty then. You’re all set. Chet here’ll get ya set up with keys and directions to yer home away from home.” The woman disappeared into the back room.

“Alrighty, ya’ll. I got a set of keys here for ya. And I suppose you’ll need some directions.” He twirled the key ring on his middle finger. “Where ya’ll from, anyways?”

Jackie put out her hand, “Kansas City.”

Chet dropped the keys in her palm. “Oh, boy! You city folk! Oh man, you’ll never make it.” He grabbed a yellowed sheet of paper and drew a crude map, explaining the directions as he did. “Careful for the other roads. Those be driveways for the townies. They aren’t all real friendly, mmk?”

“Beware the townies. Got it. Anything else?”

He laughed and shook his head. “Nah. Have a nice time, ya’ll.”

Samara turned the sheet of paper around in her hands, trying to decipher exactly where they needed to go. “Anyone get that?”

“I think I did,” Jackie said, slipping into the front seat. “We’ll lead, I’ll navigate. John! Follow us,” she hollered, and then they were off.

The gravel roads were treacherous, washed out with the previous week’s heavy rainfall.

“Turn here,” Jackie said, pointing to the left. “I think.”

“Turn you think?” Samara said.

“Yeah, just turn. I’m sure it will be fine.”

It wasn’t fine. Craters caused by rushing rain had carved through the gravel and silt. After a half mile, Samara worried they wouldn’t be able to get her car out if they didn’t turn around.

“Look, I think the road ends down there. I see a car or a shack or something,” Peter said, pointing.

“Doesn’t do me much good if we can’t get back up that nightmare hill!” Samara screamed. “Plus, you heard what Chet said about townies.”

“They’re harmless.”

After a quarter mile, the house came into view. It was a patchwork, leaning cabin with mismatched shudders. Several snarling dogs were chained to a tree off to one side, and cars littered the land around the place.

“What was that you said about getting murdered,” Peter asked under his breath.

“Jesus. We’re going to get shot by a townie,” Samara shrieked.

“Holy shit, look Jackie!” Peter reached up into the front seat and pointed.

“Oh God!”

“What is it?” Samara asked.

“Keep your eyes on the road and just get us the fuck out of here!” Peter said.

“What did you see?”

“A guy came out on the porch with a freaking machete!”

“No he did not,” Samara looked over at Jackie with wide eyes. “Please tell me you’re kidding?”

“Not a chance,” Peter said. “I saw it, too!”

They drove in silence for a few minutes until Jackie signaled their next turn.

“Are you fucking sure this time?” Samara asked.

Jackie didn’t say anything and Samara made the turn onto another gravel road. This one wasn’t as bad but after a mile they wondered if it was wrong again.

“He said to take the turn just after the speed limit sign. This has to be it.”

They passed a rusted gate with a hand painted “NO TRESPASSING” sign and a truck on oversized tired going the opposite direction. Then, just beyond the gate, the cabin sat on a small hill.

“Good. My poor car can’t take much more. I swear, I’m not driving out of here again until we’re leaving,” Samara said.

“Heck of a foreshadow, babe,” he said, then laughed nervously.

#

The cabin was a single story prefab home with a slab of concrete in front that acted as a porch. An ancient and rusted metal drum sat in a giant brown spot in the front yard, a grill grate sitting on top.

“Ooh, a grill,” Anton said, poking a finger on a rusted patch. “We can have tetanus for dinner.”

They walked up the small hill to the cabin. Daddy long legs crawled all over the front windows.

“Let’s get inside and see what we’re dealing with,” John said, pushing his way forward. “Keys?”

Jackie unlocked the door and they stepped into the dim living room.

It smelled of mold and wet towels, and everyone took a step backward as the state of the place hit them.

“Well, it’s no Hilton,” Samara said and walked down the hallway. “Looks like bedrooms down this way.”

“I don’t think they’ve cleaned this place,” John said. He swiped a finger across the glass in the front window. “Maybe ever.”

“This is the sticks, and we didn’t come to have a five star sleeping experience. We’re here to float and hike,” Kerrie said.

They did their rounds of the place, pointing out the dark stains on the carpets and in the old furniture that looked like it could have come out of a 1970s hotel room. Each couple claimed a bedroom, and started moving their things in from the cars.

Peter poked his head into one room and nodded, claiming it. When he and Samara wheeled their suitcases into the small middle bedroom, they were met by a large finger painting on the wall above the headboard.

“Cute or weird?” Samara asked.

He shot her a look and tossed his duffel bag into a chair in the corner. A large, dark stain oozed from the center of the chair down the leg and onto the floor. “Gee, I wonder what large mammal died on this chair?”

Samara adjusted the AC attached to the window, then tapped at the glass. Dust and grime had frosted the glass and something dark filled the bottom of the window sill. “What is this?” She scraped with one nail to clear some of the dirt, then yelped and stood back.

“What is it?”

“Dead bees!”

Just then Anton stepped into the room. “Hey, guys! John went downstairs. Wanna come check out the dungeon?”

The stairs were rickety wooden planks nailed into the staircase frame, with one shaky handle to hold onto. The basement itself was nothing more than a concrete foundation with one small room off the back, leading into the backyard.

John was swearing and inspecting the pool table in the far corner. “Well, there’s at least two balls missing. Only one queue, the other’s broken.”

“And in there?” Jackie pointed to the small room in the back.

“Old beat up hot tub. Not filled or anything, just kinda thrown back there. Guys,” he turned toward the group, his hands on his hips. “I don’t think we should stay here. It’s a dump. We need to demand our money back.”

They erupted into an argument. Some saw the merit in leaving. Others thought it was worth what they spent, which wasn’t a lot. Still, some thought they could go to the next town over and find a cabin or hotel. Their float trip plans could stay intact. It was clear, though, that they weren’t going to settle it unanimously.

“Do you smell that? I mean, who actually wants to stay here?” John said.

Samara stepped forward and started up the stairs. “We’re here. Let’s make the best of it. Peter brought some games. We have lots of food. We have each other. Let’s not ruin the weekend.” Then she turned and left the rest of them stunned in the dim basement.

“She’s right. I mean, it’s not the worst thing. What else could possibly go wrong?” Kerrie went up, too, and slowly the others followed.

#

“Has anyone noticed all the window coverings are gone? There aren’t any blinds or curtains anywhere,” Kerrie said.

Samara looked out of the kitchen window. “Well, our bedroom window has two inches of dead bees in it and so much dirt that no one could possibly see in.”

“Nice! Like, natural curtains,” Kerrie said.

“Hey, has anyone gone out onto the deck yet?” Samara asked.

The deck was obviously old and covered in a layer of slippery green muck. Cobwebs and dead, dried leaves fluttered in the evening breeze, but the view was incredible. The roads driving into Salem were surrounded by large trees. It was hard to visualize the change in elevation, but from the deck you could see they were actually perched on top of an Ozark mountain. They overlooked a sloping range of hills, the river cutting through them, snaking through the lush forest. Smoky fog wound through the valleys and inched towards them and the low cloud shelf made the entire thing look like an oil painting.

“At least we have a view,” Samara said.

“Hey guys, did you notice all the blinds and curtains are thrown down there?” Anton said. He had just come back in from the balcony. “I wonder what else is back there?”

John scoffed. “Probably bodies. This place is a deathtrap.”

“Let’s just try to make the best of things. Who wants to play some games?” Kerrie said. She had her arms full of board game boxes and shuffled over to the large wooden table that sat adjacent to the kitchen.

They played games until the sun fell behind the smoky hills and the fog crept in until the atmosphere seemed to glow with the hazy golden light of sunset. Then, when the darkness took over, it was black like an inkwell. Not even the specks of stars shone through the clouds and fog.

The only light came from far off flashes of lightning. The only sound the clink of dice on the table and their laughter.

“You guys, anyone could see right in,” Kerrie said when they were winding down and beginning to yawn.

“Well the blinds are out back if you wanna go fetch them,” John said.

“No, see I’ll just turn the lights off. Then we can see out.” Kerrie walked over to the light switch and flipped it off. She leaned toward the glass, peering out into the darkness. An overgrown field of wildflowers stood just on the other side of the dirt road. Their cars were parked off the side of the house. All she could see, though, was blackness.

“Hey Kerrie, you know what I think you should not do? Turn all the freaking lights off! It’s creepy!” Samara said.

“Fine.” Kerrie reached for the light switch, but the lights didn’t turn back on. “What the…”

“Turn them back on, Kerrie.”

“I CAN’T!”

As the girls came face-to-face, a blinding light flooded the room. Everyone shielded their eyes with a hand or their arm, still trying to peek and see what was going on.

Chaos broke out. The house seemed to shake with the storm coming to life outside. Knocks rang out through the noise of the rain and the thunder. All around them, fists or sticks or something else pounded against the siding.

Screaming pierced the air and the thudding got louder. Shrieks and crazed shouts came from outside the cabin. Samara heard her own voice screaming and felt her heart pumping with the potential of fight or flight. In that moment of clarity, instinct kicked in.

Flight.

“Come on!” She grabbed Kerrie’s hand. “Come on! RUN!” She turned toward the basement door and ripped it open. The others had sort of melted into the floor in the living room in a puddle of panic.

Peter came up behind them, and she caught a glimpse of the others standing and making sense of the chaos. They saw her leading the group downstairs. Maybe it was a bad idea, maybe it was death. Maybe it was enough.

The front door opened, then.

She ran down the stairs and jumped the last few, then ran across the empty basement and into the small room with the hot tub. “Here! Get in here,” she whispered, then tipped the cover and slid it halfway off.

They were nearly knocked backwards by the smell, but she put one leg in and shimmied toward the back. Peter and Kerrie crawled in beside her.

“Anton! Anton isn’t here! What is happening? What is going on?”

Samara grabbed her friend’s hand and squeezed, a silent plea to be quiet. She pulled the lid closed, then let go of Kerrie’s hand and flattened herself against the floor of the hot tub. Her hand came down on cool, smooth rocks littered the hot tub.

She picked up one of them. It was elongated and smooth. Not a rock? Could she use it as a weapon if it came down to it? She tried to conjure a mental image of what it could be. Long, bulging at one end… She dropped it and gasped.

Footsteps pounded on the stairs, then.

“Anton?” Kerrie whispered. Samara shushed her and put her hands over her own mouth to try to keep from crying out.

Bones. They were surrounded by bones. And the person walking down the stairs moved too slowly to be their friends.

“Shit. We’re fucking dead,” Peter said. He was falling apart, shaking and making too much noise.

Samara tried to find his hand, tried to make him stop speaking or moving, but it was too late. The steps had reached the concrete. “Come on! We have to run! We have to get out!” She exploded out of the top of the hot tub and grabbed whatever hand she could reach and pulled them with her, towards the door that led into the backyard and the brush pile.

If they could reach the cars, the keys were still there in the cup holder. If they could just reach the cars…

Bare feet and nearly bare legs dug into the brush and ripped through the jagged sticks and vines that covered most of the back yard. She lost Peter and Kerrie but someone was still behind her, moving in the sticks. She looked, tried to see if it was Peter or Kerrie, maybe one of the others. The light at the front of the house cast an eerie glow around the four walls and cast everything in shadow.

A noise came from above and then something crashed in front of her, sending sticks flying in all directions and snapping. She kept moving, she couldn’t stop, but her hand came down on cool, clammy skin.

John. His mangled body lay across the sticks. The wrong turn, the leaning cabin, and the guy with a machete flashed in her mind.

Blood covered most of his face and chest. She screamed flailed, still moving through the sticks.

Another large mass crashed behind her and she screamed, calling out for anyone to help her. No one called back, but a man’s voice came from above her. Then, the overwhelmingly sweet, head-spinning smell of turpentine wafted through the air.

She was close to the edge. She pushed on. She tried to get away from the accelerant-soaked bodies of her friends.

She kept moving. Her legs were itching from scrapes and cuts and blood dripping down her legs, drying in the night air.

Something moved close behind her. Someone was coming. If it was Peter or Kerrie, they were silent, and she didn’t trust herself to look.

Another crash in the brush behind her made her jump and then the whoosh of ignition and the heat of spreading fire hit her, scorching her face and arms almost instantly. Kerrie screamed behind her. Samara looked only long enough to see Kerrie’s face swallowed by fire.

A shadow on the balcony tossed flaming bedsheets and blankets into the brush pile. The bodies burst into flames and the brush started to catch. The fire would spread slowly because of the rain. She had time.

She pushed forward, still trying to find the edge of the brush and the cool stones that would lead her back up to the cars.

The rain had started to fall again and she wiped the droplets from her brow. The drops were heavy and greasy, though.

Turpentine. It rained down from the balcony above her.

Cackling came from the house and she turned back to look. The shadow flicked a lighter and lit a couch cushion on fire, then threw it at her. She tried to dodge it and fell into the brush. She fought the tree branches and vines, tried to swim through the crackling, burning wood. The flames were moving towards her, and then she felt her leg catch.

The couch cushion’s flames licked at her feet and legs, and then her entire body was enveloped in flames.

Through the whooshing and screaming, she heard him call out to her. “You should have gone home.”


Sarah Bredeman calls Kansas City home and enjoys reaping the benefits of that by eating a lot of BBQ and watching Royals baseball as often as possible. She is a recovering wanna-be cool kid, likes loud music and french fries, and can be found most Friday nights in her local comic book store. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and likes to explore psychological issues and the human condition in her work.

When she’s not writing original fiction, she writes about TV shows at HiddenRemote.com and rants and raves at agirlwhowrites.wordpress.com.

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