The Forest Room: Chapter One

Cody Whitaker disappeared from his family’s vacation property in the  summer of 1988. Sixth months later, he turned up on the doorstep of a  farm in another state. Ten years later he’s returned to take care of the  house in preparation for a family reunion…and maybe find out what  happened ten years previously.

What he finds out is even stranger than he could have imagined.


Cody is strangely disappointed as he drives up the bend of gravel road to the cabin. The trees on either side cast shadows on the road, branches blowing in a strong breeze. It was one of those sunny, blustery days with clouds that might become overcast at any moment, and then break out in sunshine. He had the window on the driver’s side halfway down, the air blowing past his face. The gravel turned to paved drive way, and the clearing where the cabin--more of a house, expanded over the years as the Whitaker family grew--stood. He had anticipated something sinister; an Amityville vibe, maybe, or having a sudden flashback to ten years ago. But the house was just the vacation home where his extended family had vacationed in the summer up until the summer of 1988 when “something happened.” 

(It was never “Cody was kidnapped,” or “Cody disappeared.” It was always “something happened.” No one wanted to talk about it except for gossip, and Cody didn’t remember what happened during the six months of his disappearance. It was better to leave well enough alone, unless the something that happened could be blamed for something that went wrong, which could be anything from failing grades to fights at school.) 

The house was a single story rectangular house, with a front and back yard cut out of the surrounding woods and a large porch. The drive way wrapped around the house along the east side of the house. Closer to the house was a small parking area for cars, and further away, a pad for RVs. To the west of the house was the lake where a majority of the fishing and swimming used to take place in the summer. 

Cody parked the station wagon in the sheltered parking lot. Gigi in her carrier in the back seat woke up and gave a hopeful whine, tail thumping against the side of the carrier, head up and ears perked as the car came to a stop. “I need to check out the house first,” Cody says, and smiling at the little black and white dog. The tail thumped some more, then she seemed to realize she wasn’t going to be let out yet, and settled back down with a sigh. “You say that now, but you’d be sorry if you ran into a skunk or raccoon,” Cody says with a grin. He exits the car and takes out the carrier, leaving it on the front porch. 

The porch is still in one piece, if a little creaky. The swing on the right of the door is still intact, though the chains are rusty. The swing to the left of the door however needed to be fixed. The chains are not only rusted but also, one end of the swing is on the porch floor. Cody looks around the house, looking for what needs to be repaired. The exterior of the house is surprisingly intact, except for the swing. (He’d been warned that no one had been up to the house since he’d been found.) The yard in back has about ten years of grass, weeds and the occasional encroaching sapling needing to be tamed down to reasonable heights. The old swing set, slide and teeter totter are going to have to be replaced. The old teeter totter is off its base and actually broken in half. The swings are rusty and fallen apart, and slide is actually on its side.  

The little area off to the right of the house for RVs is still in one piece, though weeds are coming up through the gravel. The tool shed and the boat shed are still in one piece. He’s able to get the doors unlocked. There are some signs that the roofs have leaks, but they seemed otherwise intact, and the water doesn’t seem to have damaged anything. (Cody makes a note to ensure that the lawnmower still works.)  The rakes and shovels and other yard equipment seemed to be intact and the carpentry tools are still in pretty good condition for having been left in a shed for ten years. The row boats are all intact and so is the little pier on the nameless pond near the house. 

The pond is a rough oblong with cattails along the further edges and a narrow strip of beach on the side closest to the house. Trees surround the pond in a rough semi-circle, mostly oaks and the occasional maple. On the far side of the pond he sees sudden movement in the trees. It’s big and it moves quickly away from the pond as if it has been startled. Cody thinks deer, though he isn’t sure of what he’s just seen. It had just been the movement of an indistinct shape moving further back into the woods.  

He makes a slight detour back to the car to grab a flashlight and checks under the porch next. (Nothing seems to be living under there.) Gigi whines as he passes her carrier, and he bends for a moment to stick his fingers through the grill. “It’s okay, Gigi, just let me check the inside.” Gigi licks his fingers and whines some more.  

He makes another trip back to the car for the fuel for the generator and its back up, and sets them on the porch. For a moment, he just stands in front of the door and pretends he is checking to see if the mesh needs to be replaced on the screen door, or if the wooden door is warped or if there is any other damage. Cody feels nervous somehow, about trying the door, about stepping inside, as if part of him were expecting something to happen. He hasn’t had an Amityville feeling until the moment he stood in front of the front door, a chill running down his spine.

He tries to understand the uneasiness. Shouldn’t he be more uneasy about the woods surrounding the cabin? Whatever had happened when he’d disappeared had happened on the property, not in the house. He had spent ten years being uneasy about open, wild areas after “something happened.” Something about being in the middle of nowhere, away from houses and people made him anxious. As if something terrible was going to happen if he didn’t find a place to hide. No camping trips or hikes for Cody, as much as he’d loved the outdoors when he was a kid. It had taken years before he had been able to go on hikes on his own, years before he wanted to. (His cousin Tom, who was not a fan of the outdoors and Tom’s boyfriend Gary who was had helped him get back into appreciating the outdoors again.) 

It is the house though, that is making him uneasy.  

He’s able to get inside without any problem. The living room is dusty and dim, with dustcovers over the furniture. He doesn’t surprise any rats or mice when he pulled the dustcovers off, though there are some holes and wear on the couch and armchairs. (The couch is completely sunken in on one end.) There is dust on the mantelpiece, along with some dusty old family pictures lined in up a row. (He made a note to check the fireplace later.) 

The floor creaks as he headed down the hall, checking each of the bedrooms and the bathrooms, making note of things that would need to be replaced. The final rooms were the kitchen and the dining room. (His list of things to do later grows as he adds testing the appliances to it.) 

After looking through the house he heads downstairs to the basement with the fuel, to check on the water heater and the generator in the south end of the basement. He sets up the generator and the backup. He turns on the light next and discovers that the lights work, though one of florescent track lights flickers dimly. He checks the water heater and the downstairs game freezer. He turns on the master water valve and listens to the water filling the pipes from the well. He inspects the washer and dryer, which seem to be in good repair. The dustcovers upstairs are going in as a test load first though. 

A long counter for folding clothes runs along the west wall of the basement from the north end of the basement to the stairs in the south, with a sink roughly in the middle. The window above the sink let in dusty, gray colored light. Near the northern end of the counter are the washer and dryer. To the right of the washer and dryer is a sewing machine, which he doesn’t remember being there before. (He doesn’t remember a lot of things. A sewing machine kind of made sense though; his aunts and his grandmother had sewed, and it would probably be a good idea to have a sewing machine on hand if someone’s clothes got torn while out in the woods.) 

To the right of the sewing machine is folding table and to the right of the table are shelves with cookie tins full of buttons, spools of thread, ribbons, needles, pins, lace and various tools for sewing, measuring and cutting cloth. There were knitting needles and crochet hooks. There are large plastic bins full of rolls of fabric and yarn. (Floral and leaf patterns, “camouflage” patterns, plain gray, black, brown and green rolls.) There are a couple smaller bins filled with a selection of patterns.

He tries to remember if his aunts brought their sewing or knitting projects to the house over summer vacation, but can’t really manage it. What he could remember are things like helping to bring Christmas decorations upstairs, and goofing off with his cousins and siblings in the basement when it rained. (He remembers playing floor hockey in the basement, or creating elaborate stories with action figures.) 

Would they have left all their sewing supplies here? He doesn’t think so, but maybe everyone had been in a panic after “something happened.” In a panic enough to leave sewing supplies, but have time to cover up the furniture? Maybe they left in a hurry, but whoever put the dustcovers on the furniture forgot to get the sewing supplies? If that was so, the sewing supplies should be pretty decrepit after ten years in a basement, even if in plastic bins and cookie tins. They weren’t though. The cans and the covers of the bins are a little dusty, but the contents seem to be in pretty good condition. 

“There’s a mysterious squatter breaking in, taking care of the place and storing their sewing projects,” Cody says out loud. “For the past ten years.” He shook his head. It was more likely that someone had been hired to look after the house, even though he’d been told that no one had been up here in ten years. Maybe Dad had meant no one from the family? (Dad had been pretty sure the place would be falling apart though, which it wasn’t.) 

He’d figure it out later; right now he needs to go let Gigi out of her carrier. 

Cody hurries back up the stairs and through the house to the front porch, where Gigi is doing her frantic “out, out now,” whine-barking. “Okay, okay, I’m sorry,” Cody says and quickly opens the door to the carrier. Gigi scrambles out of her carrier in a gangly-legged streak of black and white fur. She makes a quick reconnaissance of the driveway and front yard before doing her business. Then she trots back up the porch and immediately snuggles up against him. Cody settles onto the floor of the porch and pulls Gigi into his lap, petting her and scratching behind her ears. “What a good girl. The very best girl yes,” he tells her. Gigi shows her appreciation for the praise by trying to attack him with her tongue and wiggling all over the place. 

He goes back inside, with Gigi running ahead of him to explore. While Gigi investigates, he starts pulling dustcovers off of the couch and chairs, the table in the little dining area. There are no roaches, or signs of mice or rats. There are cobwebs, which could wait until tomorrow to clean up. He clears a little space in in the living room, carries the dustcovers downstairs, and then does a little cleaning in the kitchen. He runs the water in the kitchen and the bathroom: the water runs clear. (He is definitely going to have to talk to Dad about this.)

After the cursory clean up, he brings in the cooler from the station wagon’s trunk and transfers the contents to the refrigerator. The second trip is for his boombox and CDs, Gigi’s food, her toys, her food and water bowls, and the third is for the bags of trail mix, chips and other snack food. It’s enough food for a couple days, but he needed to go back into town for some grocery shopping, later. 

Cody fills the water and food bowls for Gigi, and makes a quick dinner for himself. After dinner he spends some time playing with Gigi, and then goes back to cleaning the house. In between bouts of cleaning, he makes a list of repairs, things that need to be stocked, things that need to be replaced. (The list grows quickly. He’s going to be making several trips back and forth between Gail and the house.) 

When it starts getting dark, it turns out that the lightbulbs are out in the lamps in the living room, he heads back to the car for a couple camping lanterns, and a sleeping bag. He sets up his sleeping bag, and reads a book until he is tired enough to sleep. Gigi joins him, curling up by his hip as he reads, music playing quietly. He barely notices when he falls asleep; the transition between “awake” and “asleep” is so sudden.