The Shack

The Shack

After a day of traveling, a girl comes across a shack. What lies inside is beyond what she expects.


Crime / Suspense / Mystery / Thriller


Laura Mauter (United States)

He said he would only be a minute.
It had been hours since we had left for home, and after taking an endless amount of short-cuts, U-turns, and dead-ends, only to circle back to the area where we had originally left from, we had settled with the undoubtable fact that we were lost.
My father jerked the car into an upcoming parking lot paved at the bottom of a steep hill. We sat in silence for a moment as we collected our thoughts, wondering just what caused us to venture off so far from home in the first place. I glanced out the window as my parents started to murmur disoriented comments, noticing a weary shack at the very top of the hill where patches of dried dirt and dying grass surrounded the lonesome structure.
My father suddenly stumbled out of the car, ignoring the subtle jump of relief it showed as he pounced from his seat.
“I’m going to go ask for directions. I’ll be back in a minute. Stay put!” he called over his shoulder.
So, that’s what my mother and I did. We stayed put.
Five minutes passed.
Then ten.
Then fifteen.
We never got to twenty; I was on my feet before we would let it.
There was a rest stop a little way from where we parked. I marched to it first, prepared to jerk open the loose, screen-covered doors, bolt past the WELCOME brochures, and demand how long it took to ask for directions. But as my hand hovered near the curve of the rusted doorknob, without even having to enter, I knew he wasn’t in there.
Somehow, I knew.
I looked to my left only to see the small old wooden shack placed at the top of the hill. A dirt path led up to it from the porch placed in front of the rest-stop, and without another thought, I started to walk.
As I trudged up the hill, my eyes never parted from the shack. My father was in there. For what reason, I wasn’t sure, but I knew.
It was considerably small for a shack; it looked to be only slightly larger than an outhouse, with four stained wooden walls, a single door in the front, and a collection of slim boards hanging from above, sheltering me from the dulled sun that was blocked by the collection of faded gray clouds drifting in the sky.
I opened the door to the shack with little to no hesitation, my lack of patience overcasting my fear. I stepped inside, suddenly overtaken by the vastness of complete darkness as the door behind me slammed shut.
I turned back, my hand wandering the nothingness as I searched for the rough, splintery wood from the door.
“Do you want your dad back?”
It was a voice unlike any other. It belonged to a woman, apparent from the soft, melodic tone of her words. But it was linked with desperation, laced with joy, and sprinkled with a hint of madness.
It was terrifying.
“Do you want your dad back?” she repeated.
I pressed my palm against the flat surface of the door, relief washing over me as I was embraced by the familiarity. At that moment, I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted my father back; I just wanted to leave.
As selfish as I felt, I continued to search for the door handle, trailing my fingers along the door before finally wrapping them around the handle. I pushed and pulled, but it was worthless. I was stuck.
“Do you want your dad back?”
The voice was growing impatient, but the gleeful tone of its tongue never left.
My eyes had finally adjusted to the darkness: a blessing, yet a curse.
Darkness masked what people didn’t want to see; without it, blurbs of figures could be eyed and noticed, yet unidentified. So, I kept my eyes locked onto the outline of the door handle, my hands continuing to push it forwards, knowing it wouldn’t make a difference.
“Do you—?”
“Yes. Yes I want my dad back.”
To my surprise, my voice was eerily calm. Panic surged within me, engrossed with the overwhelming urge to bolt; but I knew that ignoring the voice would only enrage the undistinguishable being more than it already appeared to be.
The room went silent. I waited for a response; minutes seemed to pass by, but patience wasn’t my strong suit. With a sudden deep breath of courage, I turned around.
Fortunately, the blackness continued to surround me.
“Give me back my dad, please,” I murmured.
“Are you sure you want him?” the voice cooed.
“Yes, just give him back. I want to leave!”
Just then, a slightly darker blob in the blackness stood out amongst the murk. My eyes widened; my blood ran cold; chills sprinted up and down my spine as I sensed the presence of the voice, hovering only inches in front of me.
“But why?!” she pouted. “Why?!”
In an instant, bursts of vibrant colors exploded before my eyes. The darkness faded faster than I could blink, and suddenly, I was standing at the edge of a daisy covered precipice, awe-struck as I gawked at a blanket of foreign red flowers covering the earth below where only a strip of clear-blue water cut through the crowds of crimson. I glanced around once more. An abundance of emerald green hills stretched on for as far as my eyes could strain themselves to see; a dainty, opal-winged butterfly fluttered past me, drawing my gaze toward an infinitely blue sky above me.
That’s when I started to fall.
The beautiful world around me became indistinguishable as it suddenly whipped by me. My stomach twisted and my body tightened as I was slammed with the fact that I had been pushed off of the cliff.
I waited for the impact, the inevitability of darkness to come once again as I prepared to smash against the once breath-taking landscape.
But that feeling never came.
In an instance, my back hit the bottom of the cliff as gently as a mother would place her child in a cradle.
The blood-red pedals of the flowers draped over me while I stared up at the enchanting blue sky, eyeing the edge of the moss-coated cliff I was standing on top of only seconds before.
“Are you sure you want to leave?”
There had been a black smudge in the corner of my eye ever since I had landed, and somehow, I knew it was the woman, just out of sight. But as I continued to stare straight ahead, I noticed an incongruously black figure glance over the edge of the hill as well, watching me. She was above and below, all at the same time.
Her words echoed in my head.
“See, you can do anything here.”
I sighed as I settled into the soft dirt next to the stream. The smell of earth washed over me, but right at that moment, I knew it wasn’t true. None of it was real; the woman had created it all.
“I still want to leave,” I finally whispered.
A sense of complacency took over me. I knew the woman couldn’t keep me here. I wasn’t sure how I sensed it, but I could feel the enthralled bursts of her energy deflate until only bits of sorrow-filled disappointment floated within.
“… Okay…” she agreed, miserable.
Darkness then enveloped me, leaving the wondrous world behind.
Somehow, I knew I was standing in front of the door I had passed through what seemed like hours before. I grasped the door handle and pushed on. Light began to flood inside of the shack as I opened the door with ease; but as the sun’s blinding rays erupted into the darkness, I was suddenly standing in front of the rest stop’s doors, gently pulling the rusted doorknob forward.
My father smiled as he saw me through the screen door, walking back from inside the depths of the building. “Hey, kiddo. Sorry that took so long.” He gestured towards his can of Monster. “Line was ridiculous.”
We ambled back to the car to my mother. She rolled her eyes as she noticed us from across the parking lot. “Took you both long enough…”
The car groaned in discomfort as my father positioned himself back into the driver’s seat. I slinked into the back and slowly snapped my seatbelt into place, glancing toward the shack as my father geared the engine and started to pull away. I stared at that shack as we departed, sitting there all by itself, watching it as it grew smaller and smaller as we hauled out of the parking lot and headed back down toward the highway.

Competition: June 2015 Pen Factor, Round 1


Read Reviews

Review 1:

Compelling hook?


Strong characters?


Attention to mechanics
  • The grammar, typography, sentence structure and punctuation would benefit from a further round of editing to avoid distracting from the quality of the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Main character
  • Connect us to your main protagonist with a deeper characterization. Could your protagonist have a few more distinguishing character traits?
Character conflict
  • The reader’s experience of the story is heightened when the characters’ goals, conflicts and purpose are clear. Perhaps giving this aspect of the story further attention could be worthwhile.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a challenging balancing act. The story had a clear and coherent progression with a structured plot. A truly absorbing story!
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. Think about the conflict and tension in your story. How effectively has it been introduced?
Technique and tight writing
  • The writing was tight and economical and each word had purpose. This enabled the plot to unravel clearly. Your writing exhibits technical proficiency.
Point of view
  • The story successfully solicited the reader’s empathy through the clever use of the narrator's point of view. You show great deftness in handling point of view.
Style and originality
  • I loved your fresh approach. Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose requires both skill and practice. Impressive.
Atmosphere and description
  • A writer’s ability to create mood and atmosphere through evocative description is vital to the reader’s experience. It’s a real skill to craft out how the characters react to the setting and atmosphere and perhaps your story could go further in its description. The reader wants to experience the same sensory and poignant journey as the characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
Opening line, paragraph and hook
  • Your great opening was a promise of wonderful things to come. I was hooked!