's 2017 Horror Write-off:

A Nature Lover's cabin

Submitted by Anonymous (email)

"So, look inviting?"

There were five of them, all around the laptop. Max Carrick, Millie Winters, Rico Montez, Nicole Kwon, and Barry Princeton, who was showing pictures of the cabin he had booked for the week.

He was the most excited about it. "Well? You guys have fur allergies or something?"

His four friends exchanged looks. Barry had found a great deal for one of the strangest places to stay. The owner supposedly loved animals, and each pic on the rental site highlighted that. Besides the obvious Brown bear rug and at least two deer heads over the fireplace, the cabin was decked out with animal décor. There were six wooden animals s on the mantelpiece, two stuffed birds hanging from the ceiling, an owl shaped clock in each bedroom. There were bear claws lined up in place of coat hangars, and generally every wall in the house had a staring portrait of a different animal, whether of earth, water, or air.

Some nature fanatics overcompensated, but this took things a little step far.

Millie piped up, "Interesting style, but ... I'm not sure this is so much "nature lover" as it is, "obsessed hunter."

"Hey," Rico said, "Lots of hunters love nature. It's a give and take relationship, look up any culture."

" Well, "Nicole muttered, "I'm just not sure I can work in a place where everything's staring at you. "

Max chuckled. "Oh, yeah? I didn't hear that when everyone fawned over your art project."

"Hey, it's just natural that good work gets a lot of interest."

"Can we stay on topic here? This is where we're spending the week, so start showing interest!" Barry cried.

Demeter's lake was a two hour drive. No one had very strong feelings about it either way, (except Barry) but with all the activities planned ahead, the weird house was a minor priority.

Cabin 313 was on the west side of the lake front, in a clearing just a short walk from the beach. It was a nice looking place, at least from the outside. Two floors of Green wooded housing areas, with a relaxing porch for a view of the lake. The gang's uneasiness started to fade.

"Look at that lake," went Nicole, "I don't know where to start a canvas. You can see for miles!"

"It's a great park," Millie beamed, "Plus I have a lot of space for when I want to see animals actually breathing."

"You could really live off the land here."

Max observed. "Whaddaya say guys? Anyone know how to wrestle a bear?" "Shut up, man," Rico snickered, "Like you could last a minute camping in the yard!"

Barry smiled. He knew they'd come to their senses.

As they unpacked, he filled in a little about the place.

"People in town have been coming here for pretty infrequently. At least that's what the ranger said. Mr. Stagson called me before we left. He'll be checking in on Friday for our feedback."

Mr. Stagson was very reclusive, and didn't have a very big social presence.

But from that phone-call and what Barry heard of him, he seemed like a cool guy.

After hauling their stuff onto the front-porch, the five stepped inside to get comfortable-and remembered why they weren't at first.

If they thought the place looked weird by the pictures, being there in person was everything shown and more. The welcome mat had a beaver tail.

A stuffed badger growled at them from the top of the TV cabinet.

Four large, gaping fish trophies (swordfish, Bass, Salmon, pike) gaped from around the kitchen.

A snarling raccoon lurched on the coffee table, and the walls were coated with stripe like patterns.

It was like a safari goers'nightmare.

Even Barry was a little unsettled. But he'd never admit it, because he'd been around stuff like this since he was a kid.

He'd never miss a chance to go hunting with his dad or cousin. The way his old man put it, you always have to kill something to make something new. Like Rico said, it's give and take.

Millie crouched to look at the raccoon's eyes. "Geez, this is like Furry Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I don't think I'd like to meet our host, Barry."

"Oh, not that horror movie bullcrap. You guys are sheltered, y'know that? "

Barry had a more upfront attitude to these situations. "You're surrounded by dead things no matter where you go, so just get used to it for four days, okay?"

When you put it that way, there's no sense in complaining. In a short while, everything was stocked and set up for the week. That evening, everyone tried to grasp some sense of relaxation from the weird new environment.

Nicole Kwon soon retired to her bedroom for some reading. Thankfully, the covers weren't made of fur. Each room had two bunk beds, set beside a stocked bookshelf and cabinet for hanging clothes. Unsurprisingly, most of the books were nature and animal textbooks. But to someone like Nicole, this provided lots of time to mull over.

Nicole was a curious and detail-oriented girl.

You'd always feel she was looking at something else, or going over that one thing you missed the first time you saw something.

This came in handy at College, but made her seem a little distant from her fellow students. She didn't care.

In a place like this, she had all the time she needed to put down more about the world.

Nicole carefully went over a textbook about insects. She couldn't help but chuckle as she read the entry on Lucanus

commonly called the stag beetle. These horned beasties spent much of their life in dead wood, while the males locked horns for a female's attention. Not too different from some folks in college life, really.

As she admired the beetle's armor, a noise lifted her attention. Was that scuttling?

Before Nicole could call out to her friends, she noticed the sound was coming from this room. Or rather, around it.

A soft series of thuds reverberated along the walls. She listened as the sound traveled from the wall left of her bed and moved along the back to the right, where there was a window.

Must be rats. Nicole told herself. Places like this are bound to attract little scavengers.

But she knew that no amount of rats could make this much noise. She walked up to the window and knocked lightly on the wall. There was more soft tapping, like something was changing position.

Then, the movement started to sound heavier, like the thing had grown and was climbing up the other side.

What was this, raccoons?

She put her ear to the wall, trying to determine what would make this sound.

That's when she heard the voice, soft and raspy through the wall. "Leave."

It whispered. "Go, before Friday, or- "Nicole pulled back in shock. "What the Fuck?"

The scratching continued, moving all around the room. "Don't go, please." The voice in the walls rose to a hissing, desperate. "I don't want to scare you, but you need to listen."

She breathed heavily, trying to compose herself.

"I'm hearing things. There's something in the air, or shit."

Whatever was in the walls seemed to hear. "Sorry,"

She didn't stay to hear the rest. Nicole burst into the T.V, room, where Rico and Barry were watching a pretty weird 90s movie. "Come on, guys, there's something in my room!"

Barry paused the movie, and they followed her back to the bedroom. Everything was quiet. "Look, there was someone speaking from the walls, -"Barry gave her a dumbfounded look. "Come on, Nicky."

Rico was examining the room. "First day in and we're already hearing things."

"Yes, and that's it. Come on, just watch T.V. with us, and we'll deal with the rooms later."

The three went back to the living room.

But in the seconds before she joined them, Nicole turned to the window, and outside, standing outlined in the moonlight was the figure of a young man.

As Nicole watched, the figure turned, bent, and shrank, running away on all fours. Not a man anymore...a raccoon? The animal stopped for a second to look back, it's eyes shining like stars.

Then it was gone in the shadows.

The next morning, Millie prepared for a hike.

She was pretty quick to get through breakfast. Max called, "Hey, Millie, you need company?"

"Morning jog. I need to take things in more, so stay put. "Soon, Millie was out the door, and running along the boardwalk that separated the cottages from the beach.

It was a beautiful day out, and she would have forgotten her previous doubts about the place, had Nicole not brought up that weird wall story.

There were a few folks walking along the sand, some families watching children play, or one or two couples watching the shoreline.

As she took in the view, some seagulls perched on the board walk for some feed.

She didn't have any, of course, but it was nice to see the beach so lively.

Far cry from that bleak, (literally) dead cottage.

Not that Millie couldn't be macabre herself.

She liked watching horror movies, but she couldn't imagine living one.

Maybe she was all too familiar with the formulas and settings.

In that case, there was some weird charm to the place.

Overhead, the gulls circled and cawed.

Squinting into the sunlight, Millicent saw one cut away from the others, swooping in to meet her.

But something strange was happening. Was it just the sun, or was the bird getting bigger?

She blinked and turned to shake off this weird mirage. But when she turned back, she almost jumped. Where she thought the gull should've been stood a woman about her age with dark shoulder length hair, dressed in dark green baggy pants, and a faded grey tank top, with bare feet.

"Oh! Oh, jeez, how'd you get so close? You don't sneak up like that!"

The girl's expression was rather melancholic. "Sorry. But, could I have a word?" Needless to say, Millie was a little creeped out by this stranger asking for a random conversation.

"Okay, first," she responded, "Let's get off to a better start.

My name is Millicent, Millie for short.

And you?" "I'm...Katelyn.

Can we take this private?"

As they walked farther down the beach, Katelyn asked, "You're in cabin 313, right?" "Uh-Huh," said Millie, trying to be friendly, "Already we're telling crazy stories about the place.

Where are you staying?"

Katelyn glanced to the side and seemed to freeze up with dread.

"Listen," she muttered, and Millie swore her irises flashed bright gold, "Tell your friends to leave. While there's still time. He's coming."

Millie started to get the same chill as the night before when Nicole started hearing voices.

"Wait...what's wrong with this place?"

Katelyn shuddered miserably. "I didn't believe it either. It's hard to explain. But the don't want to

be here when he arrives. Please-I don't have much time!" She had gone from sounding shaken to terrified.

Millie looked into her frightened eyes, and gave a small gasp. Katelyn's eyes were golden yellow. Her pupils were black beads, surrounded by golden irises.

And her hair was starting to gray, joining in clumps, like feathers.

Like a seagull. Kate's face twisted in despair as she realized what Millie saw. "See?" she sobbed, "I can't stay like thiieee!"

Millie backed away in revulsion.

Katelyn's hair had gone completely white, a mass of feathers that seemed to be growing.

Sprouting from her neck, chest, and arms.

Katelynn stared balefully at her hands, and then brought them to her face in anguish.

A sickening crack, and then it was Millie's turn to scream.

Katelyn's jaw and mouth had morphed into a long, yellow beak.

She was a seagull, her arms wings, clothes gone, and feathers everywhere. The huge bird opened its beak in a furious cry, and Millie raised her arms in terror and defense as it advanced. Swinging at the gull's beak as it leaned in to peck; Millie hurled herself down the board walk, onto the sand.

She nearly ran into a sunbathing family. The mother reprimanded her.

"Did- did you see that? That thing." Millie hadn't run very far, but when she turned back, "Katelyn" was nowhere to be seen.

"And they didn't see it. It was like I was high or something." Millie held her hands to her head, while her friends exchanged uncomfortable glances.

"I-I didn't tell you guys this, but last night, I saw something similar." Nicole shuddered. "Outside, I swore there was this man. Or until he crouched and scampered off like a rodent. "

"Shit..." Barry muttered. "Fucking hell, what's wrong with this place?" "Well, we're not going to find out by sitting and swearing," said Rico. "Yeah," Max butted in. "In fact, I think someone's pulling a trick on us. You know, slipping you something that warps your reality."

A bizarre theory, to be sure.

"I'm just saying there's something crazy spreading, and we're gonna find out what."

But no one could tell when the next incident would be.

The next day, Rico and Max decided to learn more about the house, while Barry just wanted to contact the owner.

Nicole and Millie were slightly on edge, but they did want answers to what was going on.

The two drove into town to look up a little about the cottage's history.

"The old hide house. Yeah, they call it that after all the furs," said a street vendor. "I know a few folks who have stayed there, but they don't like to talk about it."

One was a waitress at the café they dropped by for lunch.

"That place is messed up. Just one day was enough to tell me I shouldn't be there. I was hearing things; feeling'd need real mettle to stay there for over two days."

Max and Rico eventually came to the Demeter's lake historical society.

According to the recorded tour, the cottages were purchased in the late 70s by a group of reclusive entrepreneurs, including Stagson. They rarely showed in public, but made it clear that each visitor meant a lot to them. Stranger still, each cottage seemed to have its own story. Some people got hit with good luck, others received tragedy.

But 313 was the least popular.

"You know what, Rico?" Max said as they headed back to their car.

"It's not just the cabin. This whole town is built on creepy."

"You'd never guess just by visiting, though." Rico replied. "You heard of spirits and nature gods, right? Someone definitely takes that stuff seriously.

And they're trying to scare us off-make us believers." "'re catching on."

A strange voice croaked.

A man was standing in the parking lot a few feet away from the two friends.

Looking closer, you could see that he didn't look healthy. Beads of sweat ran down a pale, stubble-ridden face.

His hair was matted and untidy to go with his tattered flannel shirt and pants.

A homeless man?

"You're from Cottage 313." He rasped out.

"Yes," Rico answered, "and we're not having a good time."

"Drugs, cults, stupid pranks..." Max rattled off, "Something's getting to our friends."

The man coughed, and sighed.

"I can show you what's happening, but you're not going to like it."

The two were confused, but the man seemed earnest.

"Brace yourselves," his voice shrank to a growl, "You're in for a shock," He stuck out his open right hand.

Nothing seemed wrong, until they saw his nails.

A split second ago they seemed shorter. Now they were growing more pointed, and dark , like those of a corpse whose finger skin was receding.

And then he brought his fingers together. No, his fingers were fusing into clumps.

Dark patches started to appear on his palm and fingers as brown fur sprouted from the skin.

All the while, he started to grin, revealing his yellowed canines shaped into fangs.

The boys were too sickened to react or run. A horrid, growling laugh began to emit from the man's throat. "26 years. So


Glad to have company. Come on boys, you'll like it. "Rico and Max stepped back, unable to look away from the man's snarling, decreasingly human visage.

"It only hurts a little bit. " He was stretching out his hands, now paws.

"Ya hear that? It's the call of the wild boys." The man was still giggling madly, and growing in shape.

As the laughing beast continued to advance, Rico got a horrible thought.

He was becoming a bear. The same as the Grizzly bear made into a rug back at the cottage. Rico snapped out of his funk and grabbed Max.

The two sprinted through the parking lot. Behind them, the man-bear's laugh became a roar of fury and he charged after them on all fours.

The two split up, hoping to lose the monster in the maze of automobiles.

Max soon dove under a Honda Civic, while Rico vanished between a Mazda and a minivan.

Crouching in the dark, Max could hear the low, angry rumbling of the creature. He held his breath, waiting for an opportunity to run if it found him. The beast continued to bark in low growls.

Then it started to huff and sniff, searching the lot.

Frantically, Max's eyes darted from beneath the car, looking for an escape. The monster was going from car to car now, picking up his prey's scent. Now and then, a few people would walk to their car, never taking notice. Just like Millie had said, only you could see them. Slowly and silently, Max began edging along on his palms to the nearest car. Meanwhile, the creature was getting closer. As he peered under the Honda, he glimpsed Max's feet slipping under the next set of wheels over. His lips curled back in a ravenous, toothy smile.

Max shut his eyes in terror as loud clumping footsteps raced to the other side of the car, waiting for the claws to drag him out and tear him to...

An engine revved and squealed.

There was a huge thump and yelp as the car slammed into the bear, knocking it 5 feet backward.

Rico's voice rang out, "Get in!" and Max found himself scrambling to the open passenger's door.

The bear was rearing himself fairly quickly.

With a roar, the beast lunged, just missing the young man fleeing around the front. Max clambered into the car, as the claw made a frustrated swipe.

"Go! Fucking go!"

The brakes shrieked under Rico's foot, ramming right into the rage filled form of the monster. Both young men screamed as the beast clung to the windshield.

Desperately, Rico swerved towards the road. The man-bear howled with barely human anger as his grip loosened, still determined not to lose his prey. Entering the road home, Rico saw they were cutting to close to the other lane, about to meet a pickup truck loaded with trees.

The two swerved, as the other driver honked angrily.

Thankfully, this was enough to shake the bear claws loose.

They continued down the path as the bear tumbled to the grass, and tried not to look back as the bear's roaring grew fainter. Soon there was only the sound of the engine humming, and the friends'steady breathing. Max leaned against the window, trying to distract himself from the nightmare he had just lived. Rico kept his eyes on the road, desperately working out how he'd break this to the others.

At 6:25, Max and Rico arrived at the cottage and joined the others for dinner. Barry had called Stagson, who'd assured him he'd be there as soon as possible. Max tried hard not to look at the bear rug in front of the TV.

"-it sounds nuts, but I swear, he wasn't human."

Rico tried to sound rational about the whole ordeal.

Everyone was on edge, but nobody knew how to admit it.

"I don't know about you guys," said Nicole, "But I'd like to get out of here. This place is messing up our heads."

Millie agreed. "Took the words right out my mouth. That little story just about cemented it. ""Look, after today, I don't want to see another bear ever again."

"Well, when I hear that from you, Max, I know something's wrong."

Barry was as nervous as the others. But he couldn't admit it.

"Come on. Guys, we'll get to the bottom of this. You're not letting them win that easily?"

"Winning? Barry, we've just been having a shitty vacation.

Besides, you didn't see these things for yourself."

Rico was right, but Barry had to stay true to his principles. He couldn't give up just because something dumb was going around in the air.

It wasn't what he had trained himself to do. He was going to take charge and show them how silly their paranoia was.

"Okay, you guys can sleep outside tonight. But I'm staying here, and if any furry weirdoes show up, I'll be ready for 'em. "Normally a sentence like that would garner a chuckle.

But Barry had no idea what was coming, and the others knew it.

Thursday went by surprisingly smoothly.

Everyone tried to take it in as best they could, while also staying close-at the very least, no one wanted to be alone when they had another monstrous encounter.

The group soon decided to take a trip down to the beach.

Within a few minutes of splashing and sunbathing, they had almost forgotten about the harrowing visitors. There were quite a few other swimmers out today. Then one emerged in front of Nicole, with a dorsal fin sprouting from his back, and large gills on his cheeks.

This time she didn't even have be warned before she bolted to the surface, and the beach trip ended quickly.

Friday came like no one's business.

"Well, you sure you want this place to yourself?"

"Rico, you know you don't want to be here. So you all have fun. I'm gonna have a word with our host."

On a, Barry was alone in the cottage. From the living room window, he could make out his friends below, off for an afternoon hike. Hard to tell if they were having fun.

Barry couldn't think about that now. Besides, he would make fun on his own.

Easing into an armchair, he touched the Glock 17 in his right pocket. His favorite Christmas present.

He wasn't going to fire it; at least he was sure he wouldn't have to.

He just had to relax, and let his natural charm and assertiveness prove his point.

Mr. Stagson would be here around 2:00.

He whipped out a Sherlock Holmes

novel to pass the time, and just when he was really getting comfortable, the doorbell rang.

Quickly, he put down his book, assumed an upward position, and strode to the foyer.

Through the screen door, he could see a fairly large man with an old-fashioned brown suit. Up close, the guy had brown hair with big bushy sideburns, and a warm old grin.

Barry had to admit it felt awkward to meet the man in person, even if he looked friendly.

Stagson smiled down at his guest. "Hey, Barry. Sorry I couldn't make it sooner. I understand your friends aren't satisfied with their stay." Stagson sat down in front of the raccoon on the coffee table, while Barry went to get some drinks.

"For the most part, yes. It's all so weird. They're pretty reasonable, but now they're just babbling about monsters, animal people...It's like they're going lucid." "Hmm, you don't say.

Well, Mr. Princeton, I have to apologize. My friends don't like visitors." Barry nearly spilled his lemonade when he heard this.

"Wait", he said as he set down the glasses, "Friends? You know what's going on?"

The man frowned. "Barry, you look upset."

"Of course I am!" Barry snapped.

"You're sitting on your ass while those "friends" fuck with us? You'd better have a good explanation or this is going to court!"

Stagson gave an ashamed sigh.

He rose to meet the angry youth's gaze. "My friends," he muttered, his tone dropping, "can only show when I have guests.

The rest of the time they fly, swim, or crawl. You know, like a seagull or a raccoon."

Barry recalled the "rodent-man" in Nicole's walls. And the Bird-woman Millie saw on the beach.

"The others told you, didn't they?"

His stare was growing more hard and cold.

Barry could swear his pupils were shrinking. "What the hell do you mean; just tell me what's going on!"

Stagson started to growl, "Not many people stay long. But the ones who do are always welcome."

He crept closer. Was Stagson growing? Barry's eyes darted to all the stuffed animals, like the bear rug, the raccoon, and the ceiling seagull. He felt his fingers touch the gun in his pocket. "And you're another brave one." Stagson droned on, "Time for a proper welcome."

By now, Stagson was hulking over the younger man. Barry jumped back as the man suddenly lurched forward onto his hands. Then, as he watched, Stagson changed. His body expanded, his limbs grew to powerful proportions, and his hands stretched into jagged claws.

The brown suit became a coat of shaggy brown fur.

He smiled horribly, and his face contorted into a grinning fanged maw, with huge yellow eyes.

Deer antlers jutted from his forehead.

Mr. Stagson had become a monstrous, surreal chimera.

On instinct, Barry whipped out his gun. But he never pulled the trigger. The gun fell to the floor as his hand changed.

Barry felt no pain as his fingers curled into paws. Or as his back arched and he felt his snout stretch outward.

But he still wanted to scream.

The gang returned from their hike shortly afterward.

It was probably the highlight of their little vacation.

The cottage was for the most part, as they'd left it. Except for the new trophy. A grey wolf, with a terrible snarl, stood next to the coffee table.

Barry was nowhere to be found. But they all had a horrid feeling where he went.

As they drove away from the cottage, each youth tried to heal the scars of what they had seen at this dreadful place.

But Barry wasn't in danger. No, in the realm beyond 313, he was one of Stagson's collection of friends, waiting for more guests to scare away, like they had done for the others.