When we first moved into my grandpa’s old cabin, I had a few obvious reasons to be afraid. Firstly, I was twelve years old. Secondly, we moved in because our old house had burned down due to a faulty electric socket while we were away on vacation. And finally, my grandpa was a sick old man. Not in the sense that he had some sort of illness—well, I suppose he did, but that illness was what ended up killing him, giving us that forsaken cabin—but in the sense that he was batshit insane.
When I was younger, my grandfather would tell me horrible stories about the cabin he lived in and the woods around it. He would tell me stories of the Indian tribes who lived in the forest, cursed by God for worshiping false deities, being turned into the trees themselves. If you looked closely while not looking at all, my sadistic grandpa would say, you can still see the trees move and dance as the Natives did, and if you listened carefully while not listening at all, you could even hear them chanting their worship for their false gods.
I, of course, assumed he was just crazy and was trying to scare me from wandering off in the woods and to motivate me to go to church. But still, since I was eight freaking years old and all, I would sometimes see a branch twitch in the wind, or hear the faint howl of a distant animal and would worry it was one of the Indians my grandpa was so crazy over.
But of course, the stories didn’t end there.
Not only was this cabin the original home to a clan of witches, but also home to a necromancer, a cannibal, at least two serial killers, and a family of satanists. To make the whole illusion complete, my grandpa made up a story how he won the cabin in a game of Russian Roulette against one of the previous owners.
All of these stories never truly scared me. They spooked me when I thought about one of them too much, but I was never actually fearful of the stories being true.
Well, except for just one story my grandfather told me.
Supposedly, before the cabin was built, the natives used the area for human sacrifices, offering up human flesh and blood not only for their gods, but for creatures they believed inhabited the woods. These creatures, my grandfather would say, were known by many names in all kinds of folk lore. Windigos, the Jersey Devil, demons, White Walkers, the Goatman. But my grandpa would always call them Marcheur de Peau. It’s French for skinwalker. These beings of divine or mystical power were known to feed off anything from human flesh and blood to a human soul or even fear itself.
The Marcheur de Peau would stalk their prey throughout the woods they inhabited if the sacrifice given was not enough to feed their hunger. They always attacked groups of people, never a single person. That’s the reason why my grandfather said he lived alone. The skinwalkers would play with their food, often turning their form to look human to trick and torment anyone they sought to feed off before finally killing them.
My grandfather said once they finished feeding off of anyone unlucky enough, they would peel the skin from bone and wear it like a suit, often visiting the families of the deceased to further torment mankind. The reason this story scared me so much was because I truly believed I saw one.
When I was eight, I was playing in the backyard of the cabin, my grandfather sitting on the back porch, smoking his pipe and humming some old tune. He told me he was going to go inside and fetch some more tobacco, and warned me not to go too close to the woods. I nodded and kept doing whatever I was doing at the time. After a few minutes, I felt the air around me turn cold and the atmosphere seemed to get heavier and I began to smell something like pennies. As the scent and the cold grew stronger, I realized it smelled exactly like blood. I felt a chill run up my spin and I nearly gagged on the metallic taste that lingered in my mouth. I was about to stand and move back inside the cabin when I heard a soft, shrill laugh faintly beyond the treeline.
I realized it sounded just like my own laugh. By now I was already scared, so scared I could hardly move at all. The smell of copper grew so strong I thought I might pass out. But then, just out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move. I swallowed hard and slowly turned to see a little boy standing just in front of the forest. I was almost relieved. Until I saw his eyes.
They were pure white with no pupil and no iris. Just pure white. I felt my knees buckle under me and my lip began to quiver when it smiled at me. It had no teeth. Just a set of black, rotting gums that I could smell from several yards away. It lurked forward, doubling over, seeming to hack and gag and laugh all at the same time. Then it bent backward, placing its hands on the ground and looked at me from between its leg.. I swear I could hear bones break and crack as it began to crawl backwards into the forest, making that gagging, laughing sound.
That’s when I passed out and wet my pants.
I woke up a few minutes later from my grandfather gently shaking me up. The smell had magically disappeared and there was no evidence of the creature I had saw just a few minutes ago. I told my grandfather what I had saw and he grew so pale he almost looked like the little boy’s eyes. He drove me back to my house, not saying a word the whole way. I told my parents what happened and I was assured I must have just feel asleep and dreamed the whole thing. So eventually, that’s what I convinced myself had happened. It still haunted my dreams, but I was convinced it was my imagination and my grandfather’s old stories just getting to me.
But then we moved into my grandfather’s cabin.
Since we had lost all of our belongings in the fire, we had nothing to unpack. Even though I had convinced myself that I dreamed what I saw all those years ago, I was still worried about living there for an extended period of time. My parents let me watch some movies we rented while they went about cleaning the cabin that had been vacant since my grandfather died when I was ten. Eventually, I dozed off.
I woke up on the couch, a bit surprised I had fallen asleep for so long. As I groggily rubbed the sleep from my eyes, I became aware of the tapping that was coming from the front door, almost as if someone was knocking with their fingertips. Even though I had no real idea of what it was, I got up to check on it. Then I smelled it again. That heavy, thick, bloody smell that had lingered in the back of my mind for four years.
It got so cold so fast I could see my breath. I felt my heart thumping in my chest and that same shiver run up my spine. I was so scared in that moment I thought I was going to break down and start crying. Then the tapping stopped; then the smell grew worse. Beyond the front door I heard something gag and cough and laugh at the same time. My knees buckled and my lip quivered just like they did the first time. I became vaguely aware that I was slowly backing away from the door when I tripped and fell back onto the couch. Then I passed out again.
Again, like the first time, I woke up from a hand gently shaking me away. I woke up and realized it was my dad, looking down at me. It looked like he was out of breath, but I was so relieved he was there and that the tapping on the door was all a dream that I didn’t notice. I smiled up at him and he tried to do the same, but only managed to get one side of his lips curl up. I was about to ask what was wrong when he scooped me up in his arms and told me in a hoarse voice that he was carrying me to my bed.
His arms were so cold they felt like metal, but I didn’t care, and I was already falling asleep again. He brought me to my room and laid me down in bed. My eyes were already closed and my mind was about to drift off. He leaned down and I felt his cold breath on my ear. As my mind shut down and he pulled away, and just before I fell back into sweet sleep, I heard my dad begin to cough.
I woke up once more that night. I grew scared when I remembered the tapping on the door, but soon felt better when I remembered that it must have been a dream, and was thankful my dad woke me up to carry me to my room. I sat up in bed, still just a bit spooked. I looked around my room, realizing that this was the first time I’ve actually seen it since I had fallen asleep on the couch before I had a chance to check out my new room. It was almost pitch black, so I could hardly see anything. I gazed over to the wall and saw a mirror. It was hard to see, but I could make out my face and my upper body. I smiled at myself, and saw my reflection smile back at me. Satisfied, I went back to sleep.
In the morning, my dad again gently shook me awake. He said good morning and asked what I wanted for breakfast. I told him what I wanted and then thanked him for carrying me to bed the night before. He looked at me, confused, and told me that he didn't. But I wasn't listening any more. Because when I looked at the wall just as I had looked at it last night, I realized there wasn’t a mirror in my room. Only a window.