The Hunting Grounds

The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. I didn’t believe it at first, but it was undeniable; The faint orange that attracted me with flickering, whispering screams. I watched from my study in the main house some couple hundred yards away. Originally Mother’s sewing room, the study now kept my books and collections on various topics, mainly the occult. Mother made all of our clothes in this room before the madness took her. Before we had to keep her in the cabin at the back of the property. 

The woods were our family hunting grounds and legacy, as Father put it. Father was keen to flash our grandeur to the local socialites, inviting them up the hill for dinners and extravagant evenings full of brandy and loose women, all while Mother ensured the food was hot, the glasses full, and the tapestries pressed. The socialites weren’t privy to how we came to own such a vast estate, or what members of our family he supposedly betrayed in order to walk away with the keys to the Hunt Manor. He never admitted deceit, of course. Only the blurred faces of enraged and betrayed loved ones told that tale. They should have been loved ones, but all that remained in my mind’s eye were twisted expressions, dark eyes, and the pointing of fingers that leapt from bodies boiled over in hatred, locked out of one last family relic. 

“They touched us with the devils,” Mother said to me. She told Father too, and claimed she could see them coming for us in her dreams, but he marked her as a hysterical woman and threatened the sanatorium. She attempted to reach him with reason and begged him to reconsider his greed.

“At least give them access to the cabin.” She stated out the window at the frame beyond the well-spaced oaks — enough room to get a horse through. Enough room to hunt. 

One morning on the floor of Mother’s sewing parlor, I sat with my wooden blocks and watched her as she blindly hemmed a dress. Her attention was turned towards the pane-glass window. Her eyes were empty and hollow, and she moved her hands across the fabric in a way that was mechanical and rigid. The pump and whir of her pedal machine carried on without faltering for what seemed to be an endless afternoon, until the red-orange beams of sunset pierced the room and Mother let out a sharp scream. I jumped. She lifted her right hand, sewn into the hem of her dress. 

“Mama?” I looked at her hand in terror as blood and thred wove through her mangled fingers. 

“You see that, dear?” She looked at me a moment longer, unblinking, unfazed by my fear, and returned her gaze to the window and the woods beyond her home, hand still sewn to dress.

That was the first time I heard Father call Mother “crazy.” For months and months he opted for hysterical. Hysterical was something that could be treated. Hysteria was quite common in women, almost expected, and Mother was indeed hysterical in the weeks that led to the night she sewed her hand into her dress. She spent her evenings sleepless and alert, pacing in front of the window of her sewing room. Watching the woods, watching the cabin. When she did sleep, she screamed out from her room for forgiveness, for mercy. One night, Father confronted her for an answer. 

“What is your obsession?! Do you wish to live in the cabin? Away from me and the boy?”

“Not that. Not that.” Mother rocked in jagged, short movements in the kitchen chair at the head of the table, a seat normally reserved for Father at dinner, but necessary as a point of interrogation on that particular night. She twisted her left hand around her bandaged right hand. I stood off to the side in another room and peered around the doorway as Father berated Mother with questions and accusations. Words like devil, heretic, witch

“It is you they want.” She pointed her bandaged fingers in Father’s face, which enraged him. “You. You are the one they want.” 

“I don’t care what my extended, departed family wants,” Father said. He folded his arms. 

“Not your family. The devils beyond the trees, William. The devils are coming for you.”

It happened so quickly, that when I blinked from the sound of the back of Father’s hand hitting Mother across the face, I missed most everything else. I covered my eyes and sank to the floor on the other side of the wall and only listened to Mother’s whimpers and Father’s heaving breaths. I could tell he was thinking, plotting, eliminating Mother from his mind. 

The next morning, as the cold Autumn sun peered over the horizon and illuminated our cursed land, I lay in bed and listened to the shrill and desperate cries of Mother fade to long echoes as Father dragged her from our home and to the cabin at the back of the woods. I heard my name. I heard her call for God. I heard her hit Father across the face; I was glad for that. 

“The devils are coming for you!” She shouted in between the dense thud of her fists against his riding jacket.

“They’ll come for you first.” His affirmation echoed into the trees. 

“You will get what you deserve!’ She continued to yell, and I swore I could hear the metallic click of Father locking her in the cabin. It rang out like a gunshot, but hunting season wasn’t for another week. 

A silence crashed down onto our home, and I felt a crack from the sewing room. I leapt from my bed, afraid Father made it back too soon and was destroying Mother’s things. However I found a crack on the wall beside the window where she sat, from floor to ceiling. Father found me some time later staring at the crack, and then out the window, hoping to see Mother’s face, but I only saw the candle in her window at night and heard her cries. Until one day it all stopped.

There wasn’t a funeral; There wasn’t a body. The door remained locked from the outside, and Father swore to heaven and back that I had something to do with it. He accused me of breaking her out, and letting her loose onto the world, but I was a coward. I was too frightened to see Mother; Father said she turned crazy. And crazy was not like hysterical. On the nights where her yelling turned into howls I was left sleepless, watching the window and her candle in the window.

I learned from a young age that men couldn’t become hysterical, but I witnessed Father slip into something more devastating. It began with nightmares. He never admitted to it, of course, but I could hear him down the hall, night after night, begging for forgiveness. He called out Mother’s name. He asked her to stop. He whimpered like a child. In the mornings, Father lurked across the wide wooden floors to the liquor cabinet. Opting for a bottle over a tumbler, he disappeared to Mother’s sewing room and stared out the window at the cabin, questioning out loud where she went, only to find her at night when he closed his eyes. 

It came as a surprise, and maybe no surprise at all, to be a grown man and see the faintest flicker in the cabin window one evening shortly after burying Father on the grounds. I stood in my long sleep shirt, illuminated by the fireplace of Mother’s old sewing room, open books on the occult and the devils on what used to be her work table. The crack that led from floor to ceiling stood stronger than our foundation, and I paced. Perhaps the devils, or perhaps a squatter. I tried to play a game of logic against myself, but I could hear the flame call out. I could hear Mother. Curiosity won over my hesitations as I readied my lantern and hunting boots, still in my nightshirt and equipped with Father’s old meat cleaver. I entered the biting cold and the lamplight flickered beneath my knuckles, pulling back to the front door of the house. I pressed onward, the cabin’s skeleton key around my neck. The tall oak trees waved and leaned; The naked tops clacked and crashed together like old bones. It seemed to me, as I closed the distance between myself and the cabin, that the wind grew stronger. 

Still I pressed on. I walked for what felt like hours until I felt this burst, as if I stepped through a door to a place that was not of this world. The wind ceased. A crack rang out in the distance. Was it a gunshot? Was it Mother’s sewing room? No matter, I told myself, for the cabin door was at my feet. In the window, the candle glowed with the same strength it did from my view in the house. I watched the flame — it remained still, without so much as a flicker. A chill ran down my spine, but still I leaned Father’s meat cleaver on the ground against the side of the building and placed the skeleton key in the lock and turned until the familiar metal click released what had been in place for two decades. 

The door opened with a fight on rusted hinges until there was enough space for me to step into the single-room cabin. The door swung back towards its latch and it was then that I knew I wasn’t alone. I looked to my hand, holding nothing, and thought of the cleaver just beyond the wall. It was strange to see the candle from within the window, and stranger even to watch its glow dim into nothingness in the absolute still of

The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. I didn’t believe it at first, but it was undeniable; The faint orange that attracted me with flickering, whispering screams. I watched from my study in the main house some couple hundred yards away. Originally Mother’s sewing room, the study now kept my books and collections on various topics, mainly the occult. Mother made all of our clothes in this room before the madness took her. Before we had to keep her in the cabin at the back of the property. 

The woods were our family hunting grounds and legacy, as Father put it. Father was keen to flash our grandeur to the local socialites, inviting them up the hill for dinners and extravagant evenings full of brandy and loose women, all while Mother ensured the food was hot, the glasses full, and the tapestries pressed. The socialites weren’t privy to how we came to own such a vast estate, or what members of our family he supposedly betrayed in order to walk away with the keys to the Hunt Manor. He never admitted deceit, of course. Only the blurred faces of enraged and betrayed loved ones told that tale. They should have been loved ones, but all that remained in my mind’s eye were twisted expressions, dark eyes, and the pointing of fingers that leapt from bodies boiled over in hatred, locked out of one last family relic. 

“They touched us with the devils,” Mother said to me. She told Father too, and claimed she could see them coming for us in her dreams, but he marked her as a hysterical woman and threatened the sanatorium. She attempted to reach him with reason and begged him to reconsider his greed.

“At least give them access to the cabin.” She stated out the window at the frame beyond the well-spaced oaks — enough room to get a horse through. Enough room to hunt. 

One morning on the floor of Mother’s sewing parlor, I sat with my wooden blocks and watched her as she blindly hemmed a dress. Her attention was turned towards the pane-glass window. Her eyes were empty and hollow, and she moved her hands across the fabric in a way that was mechanical and rigid. The pump and whir of her pedal machine carried on without faltering for what seemed to be an endless afternoon, until the red-orange beams of sunset pierced the room and Mother let out a sharp scream. I jumped. She lifted her right hand, sewn into the hem of her dress. 

“Mama?” I looked at her hand in terror as blood and thred wove through her mangled fingers. 

“You see that, dear?” She looked at me a moment longer, unblinking, unfazed by my fear, and returned her gaze to the window and the woods beyond her home, hand still sewn to dress.

That was the first time I heard Father call Mother “crazy.” For months and months he opted for hysterical. Hysterical was something that could be treated. Hysteria was quite common in women, almost expected, and Mother was indeed hysterical in the weeks that led to the night she sewed her hand into her dress. She spent her evenings sleepless and alert, pacing in front of the window of her sewing room. Watching the woods, watching the cabin. When she did sleep, she screamed out from her room for forgiveness, for mercy. One night, Father confronted her for an answer. 

“What is your obsession?! Do you wish to live in the cabin? Away from me and the boy?”

“Not that. Not that.” Mother rocked in jagged, short movements in the kitchen chair at the head of the table, a seat normally reserved for Father at dinner, but necessary as a point of interrogation on that particular night. She twisted her left hand around her bandaged right hand. I stood off to the side in another room and peered around the doorway as Father berated Mother with questions and accusations. Words like devil, heretic, witch

“It is you they want.” She pointed her bandaged fingers in Father’s face, which enraged him. “You. You are the one they want.” 

“I don’t care what my extended, departed family wants,” Father said. He folded his arms. 

“Not your family. The devils beyond the trees, William. The devils are coming for you.”

It happened so quickly, that when I blinked from the sound of the back of Father’s hand hitting Mother across the face, I missed most everything else. I covered my eyes and sank to the floor on the other side of the wall and only listened to Mother’s whimpers and Father’s heaving breaths. I could tell he was thinking, plotting, eliminating Mother from his mind. 

The next morning, as the cold Autumn sun peered over the horizon and illuminated our cursed land, I lay in bed and listened to the shrill and desperate cries of Mother fade to long echoes as Father dragged her from our home and to the cabin at the back of the woods. I heard my name. I heard her call for God. I heard her hit Father across the face; I was glad for that. 

“The devils are coming for you!” She shouted in between the dense thud of her fists against his riding jacket.

“They’ll come for you first.” His affirmation echoed into the trees. 

“You will get what you deserve!’ She continued to yell, and I swore I could hear the metallic click of Father locking her in the cabin. It rang out like a gunshot, but hunting season wasn’t for another week. 

A silence crashed down onto our home, and I felt a crack from the sewing room. I leapt from my bed, afraid Father made it back too soon and was destroying Mother’s things. However I found a crack on the wall beside the window where she sat, from floor to ceiling. Father found me some time later staring at the crack, and then out the window, hoping to see Mother’s face, but I only saw the candle in her window at night and heard her cries. Until one day it all stopped.

There wasn’t a funeral; There wasn’t a body. The door remained locked from the outside, and Father swore to heaven and back that I had something to do with it. He accused me of breaking her out, and letting her loose onto the world, but I was a coward. I was too frightened to see Mother; Father said she turned crazy. And crazy was not like hysterical. On the nights where her yelling turned into howls I was left sleepless, watching the window and her candle in the window.

I learned from a young age that men couldn’t become hysterical, but I witnessed Father slip into something more devastating. It began with nightmares. He never admitted to it, of course, but I could hear him down the hall, night after night, begging for forgiveness. He called out Mother’s name. He asked her to stop. He whimpered like a child. In the mornings, Father lurked across the wide wooden floors to the liquor cabinet. Opting for a bottle over a tumbler, he disappeared to Mother’s sewing room and stared out the window at the cabin, questioning out loud where she went, only to find her at night when he closed his eyes. 

It came as a surprise, and maybe no surprise at all, to be a grown man and see the faintest flicker in the cabin window one evening shortly after burying Father on the grounds. I stood in my long sleep shirt, illuminated by the fireplace of Mother’s old sewing room, open books on the occult and the devils on what used to be her work table. The crack that led from floor to ceiling stood stronger than our foundation, and I paced. Perhaps the devils, or perhaps a squatter. I tried to play a game of logic against myself, but I could hear the flame call out. I could hear Mother. Curiosity won over my hesitations as I readied my lantern and hunting boots, still in my nightshirt and equipped with Father’s old meat cleaver. I entered the biting cold and the lamplight flickered beneath my knuckles, pulling back to the front door of the house. I pressed onward, the cabin’s skeleton key around my neck. The tall oak trees waved and leaned; The naked tops clacked and crashed together like old bones. It seemed to me, as I closed the distance between myself and the cabin, that the wind grew stronger. 

Still I pressed on. I walked for what felt like hours until I felt this burst, as if I stepped through a door to a place that was not of this world. The wind ceased. A crack rang out in the distance. Was it a gunshot? Was it Mother’s sewing room? No matter, I told myself, for the cabin door was at my feet. In the window, the candle glowed with the same strength it did from my view in the house. I watched the flame — it remained still, without so much as a flicker. A chill ran down my spine, but still I leaned Father’s meat cleaver on the ground against the side of the building and placed the skeleton key in the lock and turned until the familiar metal click released what had been in place for two decades. 

The door opened with a fight on rusted hinges until there was enough space for me to step into the single-room cabin. The door swung back towards its latch and it was then that I knew I wasn’t alone. I looked to my hand, holding nothing, and thought of the cleaver just beyond the wall. It was strange to see the candle from within the window, and stranger even to watch its glow dim into nothingness in the absolute still of the cabin. The door behind me clicked shut, the skeleton key still in its place on the outside. My eyes fought to adjust to the dark, and I raised my lantern to see a gnarled silhouette. A pointed, bandaged fingers. The devils. 

“Mother?” I whispered as my lantern light died.

the cabin. The door behind me clicked shut, the skeleton key still in its place on the outside. My eyes fought to adjust to the dark, and I raised my lantern to see a gnarled silhouette. A pointed, bandaged fingers. The devils. 

“Mother?” I whispered as my lantern light died.