This particular story comes from 2003. More specifically, from my printed submission in my high school’s literary magazine called “Fragments.” As I read back over this tiny tale I wove for the Creative Writing class I took the same year, a particular year jumped out at me within the legend. It almost seems like I was destined to write the series. I also think that, even as a kid, I’ve always been fascinated with this time period. So much was invented and perfected during the late 1800s that would later benefit humanity. So many stories. So many possibilities. So much mystery. For years my family has been vacationing in Tennessee. We rent cabins and do the things we love while away from home. I’ve always enjoyed catching up on shows, hopping in the hot tub, reading writing in a quiet cabin while the others shop. So was born the idea for this flash fiction. A good 15 years old, but I wanted to share all the same.
“Daddy, Daddy come here!” the little girl jumped with glee as white flakes floated gently from the gray night sky.
He obliged, coming over and sitting in the armchair with his little daughter and together they watched the countryside transform into a winter wonderland.
Soon the little girl fell asleep in her daddy’s arms and he carried her up to bed. As he tucked her in he remembered his own experiences as a child in their old cabin. He would sit on his grandfather’s lap and he would tell him stories of horse-drawn carriages with bells and bright red Christmas bows. As soon as it was light the next day they would bundle up and go sledding on the hills long ago cleared by loggers use used to live in the area. What he enjoyed hearing about the most was a legend about the loggers he asked Grandfather to tell him over and over again:
“The year was 1892. Men came from the eastern seaboards to log the area to support their families. They used lanterns for light then, and on one night when they were expecting rain one stayed behind to finish his work. The logger heard thunder in the distance so, knowing storms and their speed, he tried to hasten his work.
Suddenly, without warning, a bolt of lightning struck a nearby tree, sending sparks and shards of wood flying everywhere. Dry heat and winds quickly spread the fire throughout the forest. The logger grabbed his lantern and tried to follow the paths out but angry flames blocked them all.
He burned to his death in the forest that night. Nothing was ever found of him but his lantern, however, stayed intact, hardly singed or ruined at all. Nobody knows what happened to the lantern after it was found. After the last of the blaze died out. It just, disappeared. But on cloudy nights of the year, when storms approach the wood, people who stay in these cabins say they see a light bobbing up and down, followed by faint wispy smoke as it curls up from somewhere on the horizon where the forest was.”
He finished tucking his daughter in and gently kissed her forehead before returning to the aged armchair. He loved the smell of it; it still, if not faintly, smelled of his Grandfather. He looked over to his wife who’d, earlier in the evening, had fallen asleep on the couch while reading. The fire in their hearth crackled away warmly as he looked back out the window, expecting to see only snowflakes drifting down from the clouded sky. He never really believed the part of the story with the wispy smoke or the mysterious light. Until this night.
Off in the distance, amid the falling flakes, white wisps of smoke floated gently in the breeze and a flickering light bobbed towards the cabin.
His immediate instinct was to see what created these things but he checked on his wife first. She slept on, unaware of anything else as she lay cocooned in her fleece blanket. He stood as he turned back to the window. The light and smoke were still there, but it was close enough for him to see that someone was walking up the path to his door.
A knock sounded.
He moved from the spot to answer it, softly opening the door as to not disturb his sleeping family.
A lantern sat in the snow, next to a pair of foot prints opposite his own socked feet. The smoke was gone and a faint whiff of ash hung in the air.