The summer I turned eighteen, my best friend Sarah and I drove to a small town outside of Aspen, Colorado, eager to escape the Texas heat and longing to revel in mountain life for a while. Our time in Woody Creek began in a rush of ecstasy, with long hikes and homecooked meals, with late night talks and daytime explorations; I found myself falling asleep wishing the summer would never end, that I could take time in my hands and unravel it, turning those weeks in small town Colorado into an eternal oasis. For those first few days, I felt safe. Blissful. Content. Surrounded by the sweet smell of pine and the gentle hum of creek water, the outside world seemed insignificant; my city anxieties melted away and, by all accounts, I felt invincible.
Looking back, there seemed to be some darker sensation lurking beneath this veneer of pleasantry, some wicked force concealed between aspen leaves and the mountain breeze. I recalled Sarah’s cousin telling us stories of a mysterious light source that haunted the property just after midnight, glowing green and menacing. I remember hitting a prairie dog on the road leading into Woody Creek, joking with Sarah on the drive up about Stephen King’s The Shining, and the sensation of being watched as we walked along the creek side. Afforded the luxury of hindsight, these memories now resonate as warning signs, omens foreshadowing grotesque fear and uncanny ruin.
A few nights before my birthday, after a day of laughter and white-water rafting, I awoke to the sound of footsteps reverberating through the ceiling above me. I held my breath and released a deep sigh, convincing myself it was Sarah up scavenging for a late-night snack of tea and toast, her feet falling heavy against the wooden floorboards. I sat up, breaking into a light sweat as I gazed towards the bunkbed across from mine, where Sarah slept soundly beneath a heap of quilts. It was then that I heard her dog Zulu wailing from across the hall, whimpering in intermittent mumbles. After crossing the cold floor of the connecting bathroom, I crouched by Zulu’s side, comforting her as she fell silent, gazing dead behind me where the bedroom door lay open. Without looking, I slammed the door shut and urged Zulu to follow me, breaking into a desperate run and nearly slipping on the bathroom tile before jumping into my bunkbed, where I concealed myself beneath a heavy comforter. I sat there for what felt like an eternity, willing the night to end and daylight to seep through the windows, promising life and salvation. I checked my phone for the time. 3:00 am. The devil’s hour.
As if on cue, the footsteps above me intensified, thumping towards the cabin’s staircase as the bathroom’s showerhead began dripping. Frantic, I flung myself towards Sarah’s bed. I called her name in an urgent whisper and shook her body fanatically, but to no avail. She remained still, peaceful, her mind cocooned in some state of dream-induced paralysis. I returned to my quilted fortress, wrapping myself up like an infant so that my face was just barely exposed to the horrors unfolding around me. Only then did Sarah thrust her body forwards, sitting up halfway, and rotating her head in my direction, eyes rolling back into deep sockets. In an equally abrupt motion, she threw herself back against the pillows, falling asleep just as quickly as she had awoken, and probing me to question my sanity.
Too frightened to close my eyes, I let my vision adjust to the darkness. I surveyed the shadowed outlines of my surroundings, searching for proof of some supernatural force while pleading for protection. After convincing myself that Sarah was once again encased safely in sleep, I walked towards the shower and turned the knob clockwise to stop the dripping. I patted Zulu, turned off the bathroom light, and returned to my bed, grabbing my headphones and blasting music against my eardrums to drown out my fear. Within minutes, the shower, by some will of witchcraft, turned itself back on just as the bathroom lights began to flicker. Zulu whimpered. I stared, dumbfounded, cradling myself while swaying back and forth against the bed and ignoring the footsteps cascading down the staircase behind me. The flow of water intensified, bursting through the showerhead, just as the flickering of the lights escalated into a feverish lightshow.
Somehow, by some power I can only chalk up to divine intervention, I fell asleep. I woke up the next morning in a panic, drunk on only a few hours of sleep and piecing together the night before. The daylight brought with it a newfound confidence; I examined the downstairs rooms and, finding nothing out of the ordinary, returned to my bed, reading while I waited for Sarah to wake up on her own accord. When her eyelids fluttered open, I asked if she had witnessed anything peculiar before she fell asleep, anything uncanny or unusual. She paused for a moment in thought before recounting a flickering lamp in the room across the hall. While odd, she wrote it off as faulty electrical wiring and slept normally. As I recalled my late-night encounters, I watched as her eyes grew wide and weary; with some hesitation, we walked up the same stairs where footsteps haunted me the night before, making our way to the living room. When we rounded the staircase, my heart plummeted. There, above the cabin’s main mantle, the only Cross in the home had been turned upside down in a promise of demonic fury. All I could think about were the three nights that lay ahead in that isolated cabin, before our scheduled return home, and for the first time in a long time, I prayed.