It’s just a cabin in the woods, nothing more. Some hunter or fisherman built it to escape from a dead-end day job and hectic family life. Right?
That’s what I told myself, the first time I saw it, on a snowy late winter day. We’d wandered off the path somehow. It was just a day hike, killing time. Me and Andre and Sven. We were talking about helicopters – could you equip one with missels, or would that throw off the balance?
“If you could,” argued Sven, “Someone would have done it already.”
“How do you know they haven’t?” I said. “Could be a top secret government lab hidden around here and we’d never know it.”
“Drones are the really scary thing,” said Andre.
“Hey, there’s the top secret lab!” Sven bumped my shoulder. “Right there.”
We looked up the hill, and there it was. Broken chimney, crumbling roof, boarded up windows. And an electricity meter. Power lines ran up from the meter to a pole farther up the hill, then trailed off into the woods and out of sight.
Lines also snaked around the corner of the building and inside, held in place by brand new, shiny screws.
“Maybe this hunter likes to play Xbox while he waits for deer to wander by,” joked Sven.
I laughed. We walked around the cabin a few times, tried the door. It was locked, obviously.
And we left.
But a few weeks later, we came back. The weather was starting to warm up. You know that muddy-wet-squishy weather when everything smells rotten. But it was so nice to go out without a jacket. We had to look around for a while to find it, but finally we climbed the right hill and there it was.
“Hey, did the electricity meter go up?” Andre read off the number, “3640,” but none of us could remember what it had been before.
I walked around the building again, then noticed something. For the whole walk, we’d seen these tiny white flowers poking up between the tree trunks. All around the cabin, for at least a hundred yards, there were no flowers. Some grass, and trees and bushes, but no flowers.
“Maybe the Xbox-playing hunter hates flowers and pulls them all out,” said Andre when I told him.
Sven wasn’t around. He’d decided to follow the power lines to see where they went.
Ten minutes later he came back. “Um, guys?” he said. “The lines stop. They go for a while, then they just stop.”
We followed him, and sure enough, after seven poles, the lines just dangled down, dead and definitely disconnected from the grid.
We ran back to the electricity meter. “3641,” I read.
“No. No way!” said Andre. Sven pulled out his phone where he’d noted down the number before, just so we’d be absolutely sure next time.
Then we heard a noise, like Thump – swish.
“Someone’s inside.” I said, and we ran.
But we couldn’t stop talking about it, and a few days later we went back. A bunch of bushes were blooming now, and as we got closer to the cabin, it was clear that the flower thing wasn’t just some strange taste in gardening. The same bushes grew right up against the cabin, but these ones didn’t have a single flower. Not even a bud.
“4003,” said Sven. Then he took out a piece of wire. Picking the lock had sounded like a great idea back home. Now, I wasn’t so sure.
Thump, thump, swish.
“What if it’s a prisoner? Some kind of super dangerous dude who had to be locked away out here?” I said.
“It’s probably just a raccoon that climbed in through the broken chimney,” said Andre. “We’re doing a good deed letting it out.
Sven was working on the lock, now, sliding the wire back and forth.
I watched the meter. Every few minutes it flashed to all zeros, then back to 4003. After maybe eight minutes, it went up. 4004.
At that moment, Sven looked up in triumph and pulled the door open.
Thump, thump, thump.
My muscles twitched and I wanted to run more than anything. But I’d never live it down. If we got out of here alive, that is.
“A horse?” Sven shouted. “It’s a freaking horse?”
Andre and I crowded around the door and looked in. Sure enough, a majestic white beast stood inside, its head almost brushing against the low ceiling.
“It doesn’t smell…horsey,” I said. “There’s no manure. No food.” My aunt and uncle had a farm, so I knew that if you put a horse in a cabin, you should be able to smell it from a mile away.
Then I remembered the flowers. How they didn’t grow around the cabin. This horse didn’t look hungry. It was an absolutely bizarre idea that didn’t make any sense, but somehow I knew that this creature had been eating those flowers, from afar, before they could even bloom. Like, absorbing their energy.
“I don’t think it’s a horse,” said Andre. “Guys, I think we found a unicorn.”