★ HONORABLE MENTION Writer’s Digest 89th Annual Writing Competition
Teenage best friends Aaron and Tim have their own hideout in the woods. It’s an old, reclaimed cabin nicknamed the Fort. And it just grew a new door.
Tim froze in his tracks.
Aaron laughed before he turned and saw it too.
The cabin stood in a small clearing a few feet ahead of them. The Fort, with a capital F. The dilapidated wooden structure was falling apart, shouldering decades of dust, overgrowth, and neglect.
The rotted roof dipped in three different places but hadn’t broken completely through. The windows weren’t as lucky. Nature shattered the first few, strong winds blowing tree branches against and occasionally through them. The boys took care of the rest with rocks and BB guns over the years.
But the door. The door had always been a splintered wooden pallet barely clinging to the face of the cabin. Today, the old wooden door was gone, and a polished white panel stood in its place.
“Did you do that?” Aaron asked.
“Was it here yesterday?”
“No, I told you, that piece-of-shit door is what shredded my hand.”
Tim started moving again. Aaron surveyed the clearing, then followed Tim down the last of the grassy hill leading to the Fort. This was the right place, the right cabin, their cabin. They’d laid claim to it years ago, not that they’d had any competition. The cabin was half a mile deep in the woods behind Aaron’s house and looked long-abandoned when they’d stumbled upon it.
They stepped onto the creaky old porch. There was no trace left of the dry-rotted door Tim tore his hand open on the day before. The new chrome door handle shimmered in the warming sun. There wasn’t a speck of dust on it or any part of the new door.
Tim reached for the door handle.
“Wait,” Aaron said. “We don’t know who did this. What if they’re inside? What if the owner, like, came back?”
“Dude, we’ve been coming out here since third grade. No one else has ever been here.”
“Well, someone put this new door up.”
“Right, okay, and don’t you want to find out who?” Tim’s eyes were wide and pleading. As usual, Aaron relented.
Tim tried the handle, found it unlocked, and opened the new door…
“THE FORT is a poignant portrayal of friends at a crossroads and the desires that divide them when they discover something strange in the woods. By turns lovely and horrifying, this marks an excellent debut from Alan Lastufka.”
– Jeremy Robert Johnson, author of The Loop
“This is a haunting story that deals with social class, friendship, and greed. It cuts in all the best ways.”
– Vivian Hernandez, Goodreads
Alan Lastufka is a Hoffer Award-winning author and the owner of Shortwave, an independent small press. He writes horror, supernatural, and magical realism stories.
His debut novel, Face the Night, received a starred Kirkus review, was a finalist for Best New Horror Novel at the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, and won the 2022 Hoffer Award for Best Commercial Fiction. It was also listed as one of the 100 Best Indie Books of the Year by Kirkus.
When he’s not writing, Alan enjoys walking through Oregon’s beautiful woods with his partner, Kris.