My parents owned a cabin once. It was a massive, sprawling place tucked away in a pocket of tall, swaying pines. If you stood outside, all you’d be able to hear was the rush of wind through the branches, the occasional creak of tree trunks bending in the breeze. It was remote, it was beautiful, and after the sun set, the darkness that surrounded the cabin was a darkness so whole, so all-encompassing, that it was almost heavy with the secrets it could hold. The silence was loud enough to make your ears ring. And in the winter, that cutting wind was cold enough to make your bones ache no matter how many layers you put on.
That cabin was a reprieve from regular life. The quiet solitude was jarring and beautiful all at once. It was a place you wanted to visit, but never alone. My parents loved it because it was a place where they could relax and sip coffee on the deck. I loved it because there was a danger in its magic. You could disappear into those woods and nobody would know you were gone, really gone… at least not for a few hours, not until you failed to return.
One winter break, my husband (then fiance) and I invited a group of our friends to join us there. It would be a fun-filled weekend of screwing around, movie-watching, and general jackassery. And so we headed out to, quite literally, the middle of nowhere. Perfect horror movie setup, except this was real life. There was snow on the ground when we got there–enough that we couldn’t make it up the steep driveway that was so long it tired you out by the time you reached the top. We parked our cars at the bottom of the hill and began our trek, bags in tow, and then it began to snow. I remember thinking to myself, “what would happen if we couldn’t get out of here? What if we really got stuck, snowed in so badly that there was no possible way to drive home?” These thoughts tumbled through my worst-case-scenario brain while my friends buzzed around me; laughing, drinking beer, playing pool, having a great time, not a care in the world.
That was years ago–so long ago that I can’t begin to remember the year or how old I was. But that visit to the cabin never left me, and neither did the question that I kept to myself. If we had been snowed in, how long would we have been able to survive? How long would it take for us to turn against one another? And what if there was something out there in the darkness, something that we couldn’t quite see? What if, on top of not being able to go home, something was stalking us so that we wouldn’t go home?
In some ways, The Shuddering was born inside my head during that long weekend years ago. The cabin no longer exists. It burned to the ground in a massive forest fire on my little brother’s birthday. When we visited the site months later, there was nothing but foundation and a deer feeder my father had built less than a dozen yards from a giant bay window that overlooked the hills. My parents bought a tiny replacement cabin ten or so miles away from the original site, but the magic is gone. The mystery that clung to the branches of those tall, swaying pines had burned away.
The Shuddering is my ode to a place I once loved and lost. It’s a nod to the delicious, dangerous darkness that ate the forest and the sky in that specific spot of the world. It’s the reliving of the apprehension and the thrill of the unknown that I loved as much as I feared. It’s my own personal cabin-in-the-woods horror flick put to the page.
I would love to go back to that cabin if I could; if given the opportunity, I’d go in the dead of winter and I’d go under the cover of night. Those were the times most laden with danger, with the possibility of everything going wrong. That’s the setting I chose for you, the cabin’s next visitor, my steadfast reader, my guest of honor on this, our next adventure together.