Killer Ambition

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*Note: This story is also included in the Laughing Crow anthology posted on TheCryptic profile.

A Horror Short Story  (Contains mild violence)

*****

A blue Prius pulls alongside pump number three and parks. In the backseat two teens, heads buried in their smartphones, don't bother to look up. 

I peek through the dusty blinds and smile. Looks like another family heading into the woods alone, yet all the technological trappings in the world won't prepare them for what's out there. 

Tourist season has been unusually slow this year, but thankfully, it looks like it's about to pick up. What they don't know is that people tend to disappear in Harlowe County, though, it never makes the front page in the paper. Buck Davies, the editor of the Harlowe Courier, always tucks those stories in the back near the yard sales and swap meets. Unless tourists are looking for sunbaked wicker furniture or rusted car parts, they'll never run across those articles, which works out for my little side business just fine. 

The blinds snap into place as I push off my stool and limp toward the door, trying to keep the weight off my arthritic knee. Flies buzz around the entrance landing on the grimy glass. Near the counter, a Slurpee machine churns red, sticky syrup that resembles a vat of oxygen-rich blood. A thin line of the sugary mixture dribbles from the spout and spreads across the floor causing my boots to suck like gasping fish across the linoleum. 

The driver of the Prius surveys the station, shielding his eyes from the noonday sun. His gaze takes the usual path over invasive weeds jutting through cracked cement and chipped paint that peels off the station in strips. Oil and gasoline fumes hang in the air so thick you could light a match and watch it burn. 

"Need a fill-up? This is the last station before the wilderness pass." I shout over the screech of the front door. 

"Nah, she's electric. We just stopped for air and because my daughter wanted to capture this place for her Instagram followers. Kids and their social media, am I right?" He holds out his hand. "Name's Andrew. You don't mind if she snaps a photo, do you? She's in some horror club, and apparently, this place has a vibe." He makes air quotes with his fingers. 

One of the teens exits the car and points the camera end of her phone at the rusted gas pump. "Can you get in the photo too, mister? Horror tropes are all the rage and this is just too perfect. It's Wrong Turn meets Deliverance. My followers are gonna eat it up." She grins and snaps the photo, then turns and takes a selfie. 

"Be nice, Tara. This is this man's business."

I bite back a nasty remark, thinking instead of what they'll face in the woods. She wants horror tropes? She's going to become one. I just need to send them to the right spot.

I paste a smile on my face. "It's alright, welcome to Harlowe. Actually, if you're into movies, they filmed one of those horror franchises down the way a bit and if you don't have a campsite picked out, I know the perfect place." I pull a worn, laminated map from the pocket of my overalls. The sharpied X marks our hallowed ground. They never see it coming. I call it the waterfall effect because the sound of the falls masks their screams and serves as a good water source to wash away the blood. 

Andrew shakes his head. "Thanks, but we're good." 

The map gets sweaty in my palm. This is the second time this week I've been turned down. I have to convince them. It's been too long between deliveries and my boss is getting antsy.

I peer inside their Prius. The other teen glances up from his phone and gives me a faint, disinterested look.

"Where's your gear?" I ask.

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