The back seat is loaded with candy wrappers and electronics instead of sleeping bags and a pop-up tent.
"Gear?" Andrew's brow creases.
"Oh! No, we're just passing through on our way to Jackson. They have this new experience." Andrew waves his hands in emphasis. "Virtual reality camping. It's the complete package. All the features without the bug bites."
My teeth clench and my hand twitches. "You sure I can't persuade you to check out the campsite? The falls are beautiful this time of year."
"We're good. But, hey, if you're ever headed toward Jackson you should check this place out." He digs out a glossy business card and hands it over. It reads: Wild Willy's Virtual Camping Experience. Mother Nature's gone digital.
"Just make sure you make a reservation. The place fills up fast. I predict it's the wave of the future."
The Prius drives off, the engine barely making a sound. I watch it kick up gravel and I clench the map tighter in my hand. Another opportunity lost. The boss won't be pleased.
I trudge up the drive to an inn that sits on the overlook of Harlow County. A vacancy sign swings in the evening breeze.
"Is that you, Frank?"
The innkeeper stands on the wraparound porch sipping a tall glass of iced tea.
"Evening, Betty," I mumble, barely making eye contact.
"Come inside for dinner. I have some exciting news." She wipes her hands on a frilly white apron, then slips through the screen door.
Her son, Teddy, is already at the dinner table. He nods when I enter. The dining room is full of animals, frozen in time. A stuffed squirrel sits on the mantle next to a wild-eyed chipmunk.
"Look what my Teddy made for me." Betty waltzes into the room carrying a crow, its body is rigid, and its beady eyes look glassy in the lamplight. "What a talented boy. Would you be a dear and place this on the table. He'll be our centerpiece."
I hold the crow at arm's length and drop him next to a serving tray. Its eyes seem to follow me, and I imagine I can read its thoughts. You're gonna end up like me if you don't find some more campers.
Betty puts the final touches on dinner and pours herself a glass of whiskey. She offers me one and I toss it back, reveling in the fiery burn.
"Rumor is another family of tourists came and went from your station, but the campsite is still empty. Everything alright down there?" She asks.
"It's just a slow season. Things will turn around." I don't mention the business card tucked in my pocket or the fact that they were more interested in taking a photo of the rundown station than they were taking my map.
Betty clucks her tongue. "That's not the way I see it. Times have changed, Frank. The days of isolated campers ripe for the pickings are gone. We need to think bigger. Expand! Think outside the bun."
"That's Taco Bell, ma. You mean box. Think outside the box." Teddy shakes his head and spoons gravy over a plate of pork and mashed potatoes.
"Whatever." Betty waves him away and refocuses her attention on me. "I've made a decision. We're going to do things differently from now on. If campers won't go to the site, we'll bring the campers to us. We're getting some of that Wi-Fi. I'm turning the inn into a hotspot. They'll be so buried in their devices, they'll never see it coming."
My stomach rolls at the implication. "So, I should send them here, then? I can make another map."
Betty cocks her head and blinks. "Ah, Frank. You don't understand. I'm gonna build a website. Something mobile responsive. We won't be needing you anymore. Creepy gas station attendant isn't in our marketing plan."
She lifts a carving knife from the tablecloth and wipes the pork juices on her apron. The blade glints in the light, razor sharp as if she'd spent all afternoon perfecting its edge, and maybe she has. My muscles seize and an odd sensation floods my veins.
"That'll be the drug I put in your whiskey. Makes it so you can't run."
I force my limbs to move, but nothing happens. Teddy watches gleefully from the table.
I choke out a denial as fear coils in my stomach. "But, we're partners."
"We're still partners, Frank. It's just now you'll be a silent one."
I stumble, and my weak knee crumples under my weight. I look down, noticing for the first time the length of plastic sheeting under my feet. She lunges with the knife, slicing in a fierce arch. I hear the blood dripping onto the plastic long before I feel the pain. The room tilts, and I roll to the side. My blood creates tiny swimming pools in the plastic creases. Vision fuzzy, the last thing I see before it all goes dark is the crow's beady eyes peering at me from the dining room table.
I hear its thoughts again.
I told you so.
YOU ARE READING
Dark Tales - Short Story CollectionHorror
A collection of short stories, dark fairytales, and murderous oneshots. ~Table of Contents~ The Girl in the Tower Killer Ambition More stories to come! Add this book to your library for notifications :)