by Lara Ameen
The ghosts of the cabin haunt you. Or, at least, you claim they do. Or are they just phantom ghosts of grief? Phantom shadows without place lingering in the in-between. Waiting to be free. Wanting.
You say the ghosts of grief are ever-present. After your brother died. After your cousin died. They are still there.
They are still there when you go back and visit with your best friend, blonde curls framing her round cheeks. A contrast to your own dusty brown curls, frizzy and untamed.
The rustic cabin you used to frequent with your brother and cousin creaks as the door opens. The floorboards whine under the rubber tips of your lavender crutches, under the worn soles of your Coach sneakers.
You used to tell your brother and cousin you thought this cabin was haunted. A kettle-like screech erupting from the kitchen in the early pre-dawn light. Flurries of sounds crawled up the walls.
But nothing was ever found.
The cabin is just as you left it many months before. All fading wood and groaning fixtures.
Early afternoon light slants through the windows, casting eerie shadows and stirring up memories. The memories of family you no longer have; their memories tied to this place where you used to build campfires in a pit nearby and roast s’mores or go for short hikes along the lake.
You move through the cavernous space now, slow and steady. Cerebral palsy usually makes your gait unsteady, but today each step you take comes with an odd sense of ease. Maybe you are too distracted by the cabin, by your turbulent thoughts.
By your grief.
“Nothing about this feels that spooky to me,” your best friend says. “Are you sure it’s haunted?”
You look around again, breathing in the stale air. “I don’t know anymore. Maybe it never was.”
Your friend goes into the bedroom to put away the duffel bags she’s carried in.
You wander over to the couch by the small fireplace, charred wood remains from your last visit. It’s too early to start a fire. Best to wait until the sun goes down, when fingers of chilly air are seeping into your bones. You shudder.
Your friend joins you on the worn couch. “Want to go to the lake? It’s so beautiful right now.”
Nodding, you follow her outside.
At night, once your friend is asleep, you are alone with your thoughts. Wind whistles through the trees outside, hitting the windows.
Your friend never stirs.
This is when the ghosts of the cabin visit you. But are they really ghosts or a bustle of shadows creeping along the walls? Reflections of the whistling trees outside.
Once, when you were younger and your brother brought you here for the first time, you thought you heard a wolf howl.
Your brother laughed. “There are no wolves here,” he’d said. “Not even coyotes.”
So, you’d brushed off that idea completely. Must have been the wind playing tricks on you.
You finally manage to fall asleep, not waking until the sun’s rays warm your face.
When you dream, your brother and cousin are with you. Watching the sun go down over the lake, smiling.
Maybe the cabin isn’t haunted after all. The ghosts of the cabin aren’t real, but the memories are there, alive and present.
The next morning, when your friend pulls the car away from the cabin, the ghosts do not follow.
Lara Ameen is a screenwriter, novelist, short fiction writer, sensitivity/authenticity reader, and PhD candidate in Education with a Disability Studies emphasis at Chapman University. She received an MFA in Screenwriting from California State University, Northridge, and her scripts have placed in Screencraft's Sci-Fi and Fantasy Screenwriting Competition, Launchpad TV Pilot Competition, Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition, and others. Her YA Contemporary Fantasy novel, SPAER, was awarded a disabled writers’ grant from Suffering the Silence, longlisted in Voyage YA's First Chapters Contest, and their Book Pitch Contest. A Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow, Mentorship Matters TV Writing Program Finalist, and an NBC Launch TV Writing Program Finalist, her short fiction has been published in Prismatica Magazine, Disabled Voices Anthology, Flash Fiction Magazine, Drunk Monkeys, just femme & dandy, and elsewhere. She makes her traditional publishing debut as a contributor to the Young Adult multi-genre anthology Being Ace, forthcoming from Page Street on October 10th 2023.