“The Man Who Followed the Light into the Woods” Dark Mystery-Fantasy by Bucket Siler

"The Man Who Followed the Light into the Woods" Dark Mystery-Fantasy by Bucket Siler

The man woke in the night with a strange feeling, like he was floating or dreaming or dead. A bright light was shining through his bedroom window, flickering on the walls and dancing across his wife’s sleeping face. He got out of bed and went to the window and pulled back the curtain. Five hours later, he woke up standing calf-deep in a creek in the Emerald Woods. 

Michael Longmire, he thought, looking down at his wet pajama pants. You’re a damned fool.


The story was simple, almost painfully so with repetition. The man was a farmer. A hunter. A shopkeeper. He was married. He lived alone. He had twelve children. He was missing a leg. He had brown hair or yellow hair or black. The specifics were irrelevant because the ending never changed: The man followed the light into the woods, and the man died.

So why wasn’t Michael dead? He lifted his nose to the cold March air and sniffed. Wood smoke. That was funny. He didn’t think anyone lived this far out. He clambered over a fallen log, following his nose through the woods. 

It doesn’t make sense, he thought, wading through a cold bog. It doesn’t add up, he told himself, mucking across a damp meadow. “I’m nothing like that man,” he said aloud, and then realized no one was listening.


The cottage with the smoking chimney looked perfectly normal. Thatched roof. Brick walls. Sturdy wooden door. He knocked, but no one answered. 

The way his mother told the story, the light grew so hot the man’s skin melted off his bones and he burst into flames. Of course, it was just a cautionary tale. Something to keep children from wandering into the woods alone at night. It wasn’t relevant in his situation. He just needed a drink of water and to rest a while before he found his way back home.

He knocked again. This time he heard footsteps, and a woman’s suspicious green eye appeared in the door crack.

“Can I help you?”


Her name was Florence and he loved her. By mid-morning, he had no recollection of anything else. After half a batch of crumb muffins and three or four glasses of lavender brew, he’d forgotten all about the foolish man from the story, and when Florence suggested he stay at her cottage until he regained his strength he nodded in vigorous agreement. 

The next day, at her request, he fixed her rotten fence post, sealed the gap in her window, removed the birds’ nests from her eaves, hammered down a few loose floorboards, brushed her stove pipe and, while the light drained out of the sky, patched her roof and watered her cabbage and milked her goat. 

Meanwhile, Florence had gone into the woods at dawn with a basket and a hunting knife, and now as the sun disappeared she returned carrying a dead rabbit. She laid his warm carcass on the table, and Michael sliced open his belly and tore out his guts. Then he lifted the rabbit’s ear and whispered, 

“Florence caught you hiding in the woods, you little rascal. And now Florence is going to cook you for supper.”


Michael regained his strength within a week; three months later, he was still living at Florence’s cottage. He built a deer fence around her garden, scraped the moss from her shingles, gutted and cleaned the rabbits, and did anything else she asked. 

Overall, he was content. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was amiss, and eventually he arrived at the only logical explanation.

“A what?”

“A witch,” he said.

“That’s absurd. Why would you say something like that?”

“My mother used to tell me a story as a child. It was called—”

“I know the one.”

“Then you know that some people think the man wasn’t just a fool. That he was tricked by a witch.”

She laid her sewing on the table. “I don’t know anything about a light in the woods, Michael,” she said firmly. “What you saw could’ve been anything. A traveler’s lantern. A porch light. The moon.”

“It wasn’t the moon.”

“Well, you’re still alive. Besides, the man in the story had a wife.” She paused. “Do you have a wife, Michael?”

“A wife?” The question caught him off guard. He didn’t have a wife—did he? Good lord, he did. What was her name? Eleanor? Elodie? Eloise? She’d been lying right beside him that night, and he just ran off and left her alone.

“No,” he said. “Of course not.”

“Well, that settles it,” she said, smiling. “You’re not that particular fool.”


The next morning, the smell of hotcakes and coffee wafted through the cottage, and Michael climbed down from the sleeping loft and into a waiting pair of slippers. The sight of Florence whisking around the kitchen with a sizzling frying pan in her hand and her dark hair sweeping side to side was instantly calming; at once he felt all his worries dissolve. She wasn’t a witch, and he wasn’t a fool. They were just two people in love who’d chosen to make a life together. 

He resolved never to mention the light again, and they slipped back into their usual routine. Every day they worked and every evening they sat by the fire and amused themselves with stories they invented about how they met. In one version, Michael was a traveling minstrel on the brink of starvation when he stumbled across Florence’s cottage. In another, Florence was a princess no bigger than a thumb.

By all accounts they were a happy couple, and years passed with nary a quarrel or harsh word exchanged between them. But eventually Florence began to show signs of unhappiness. Her eyes glazed with boredom whenever Michael spoke, and on several occasions he caught her staring longingly out the window, as if there were somewhere else she wanted to be. 

Her sudden distance was upsetting to Michael. More bothersome, though, was how eerily familiar the whole thing felt. Choosing to forget his past had been crucial to building his new life with Florence. But now he recalled so little of his previous experience he could never be sure when something was happening for the first time, or if unbeknownst to him it was circling around again. 

Then one night he woke with a sudden jolt. The bedsheets were sweaty, and he was shivering from cold. He felt strangely hollow, like one of his appendages was missing, although a quick examination confirmed that all limbs were accounted for. Then he saw the light shining through the window and in a panic reached over to wake Florence. 

She was gone. 

He scrambled down the ladder and flung open the cottage door. Florence was chasing the light into the woods at magnificent speed, yipping and howling like a wild dog with her long hair trailing behind her. Meanwhile, the light dodged artfully between the trees, leading her in circles as she tried to catch it. 

He called her name gently, trying to lure her back home. But the longer he stood and watched things unfold, the more irritated he felt, until he was burning hot with rage. It was playing with her like a toy, didn’t she realize that? She looked like a damned fool.

Bucket Siler’s writing has appeared in Storm CellarThe OffingAtticus ReviewBracken, and elsewhere. She lives in New Mexico, where she organizes Santa Fe Zine Fest.

If you would like to be part of The Chamber Magazine family, follow this link to the submissions guidelines. If you like more mainstream fiction and poetry with a rural setting and addressing rural themes, you may also want to check out Rural Fiction Magazine

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