“I can’t believe this. This is seriously the stupidest…” Cassandra muttered to herself, sitting at the back of the van. Casey leaned his head on her shoulder, partly to offer comfort, and partly to brace himself as Kirk took a corner a little too fast.
“Don’t be mad, sis. We’re just dudes who are trying to make a difference in the world while mired in delusions about our ability to circumvent expectations and come out of this as sane and breathing people.” Cassandra gave him a look that suggested he should shut up.
“I can’t believe Herb told us that story about leaving well enough alone and like, 12 seconds later was endorsing this futile mission.” She leaned forward and yelled toward the front of the van. “We’re all going to die up there, you know!”
Nathan, sitting in the middle chair, turned slightly.
“You could have stayed behind.”
Cassandra speared him with a venomous look.
“Nathan, I’m not really into hearing anything you have to say right now. I can’t help but feel that all of this is your fault. If it wasn’t for you dragging us out here, Tommy would still be…” her voice cracked as she fought to keep the tears from falling,. Casey sat up and put his arm around her, letting her tuck her head onto his shoulder this time.
“How right she is.” Tommy sat on the floor and leaned against the door of the van, or appeared to. “But then, Cassie has always had a certain gift of sight. Too bad she’s too gentle hearted to believe you capable of such cowardly bullshit. However, I wouldn’t be so sure that Herb doesn’t see exactly what you are. I think he knows, Nate. What do you think prompted his sudden change of heart about coming up here? What was that he was saying earlier about consequences? About you needing some? How ironic that your plan to hand us over as sacrificial lambs might end up with you on the spit? I do wish Cassie had stayed behind, I don’t want to see her hurt. But you deserve everything that’s coming to you.”
All Nathan could do was scowl at her when he saw that Herb had turned in his seat and was watching him. He said nothing, just gave him a look like he was well aware of the torment Nathan was feeling, then turned back to the road and gave Kirk directions to turn left at the end of a wire fence.
“This is the road to the resort. It’s been a while since I’ve been up here, so I’m not sure how good the road is anymore. We might have to go on foot for the last bit. But I brought flashlights and bourbon, and the moon is pretty full tonight.” He was sure they could hear the quaver in his voice, likely the result of the pounding of his heart in his throat. He was grateful for the darkness of the van, as his face felt clammy and hot. They reached a fork and Kirk slowed while Herb got his bearings.
“Go right this time. The road dips down toward the lake and skirts it on your side. From where I think we can get to, it’s not far to where I remember the house being. If we’d gone left it would take us more or less directly to the house. I’m not sure we’re ready to announce ourselves so directly.”
Kirk nodded, his fingers white on the steering wheel. They came out of the trees suddenly, the moon shining bright on the surface of the lake, the placid beauty of it stunning them all into silence for a moment. And then they were back into the forest, the darkness swallowing them up, the headlight beams narrow and focused on the track ahead. Within a few minutes, they reached a spot where the road ended in a cul-de-sac. Kirk brought the van around so the headlights were pointing toward the way they came. He hesitated, keeping his foot on the brake and staring into the dark road ahead. They collectively held their breath.
Cassandra closed her eyes tight, willing Kirk to step on the gas, to change their fate, knowing that the cold sensation which crept into her heart indicated a further descent into darkness for them all. Just as she thought it, Kirk slammed the gearshift into park and turned off the van. He shut off the headlights, and the blackness was so absolute she almost screamed, but her voice was frozen inside her. A light sparked in her periphery, the red-orange flaring against her eyelids. She opened them and realized Casey was lighting another joint. Herb turned around, his eyes taking them all in.
“Anyone who wants to, can stay here. No shame, I know that you’re angry but this isn’t your fight. I should have settled this a long time ago because it’s just going to keep happening as long as things stay as they are. No matter who goes or who stays, we leave the keys at the van, but try and stick it out until dawn. If I’m not back by then, I’m not coming back. My fate lies in these woods. I’ve postponed it long enough. It’s time I saw this to it’s inevitable end.”
“I’ll see Tommy’s killer in hell, we can share out our sentence there.”
Herb met his eyes, and gave a quick glance toward the darkness in the back of the van but said nothing. He opened the bag he’d grabbed on the way out of the restaurant. A bottle of bourbon, three flashlights, some flares, and a gun he never thought he’d load, much less fire. He took two of the flashlights out and set them on the dashboard, then climbed out of the van.
Kirk grabbed one and jumped out the driver’s side. He had dug out a camping knife and attached it to his belt, along with a machete strapped across his back. He had considered bringing his hatchet as well, but wanted at least one hand free for the hike. Casey stepped forward and grabbed the other flashlight, then shone it into the backpack at his feet. He cast a glance around the van, scooped up the cigar box and tossed it in, the opened the side door. He turned and looked at Cassandra, squinting from the smoke which curled into his eye as a result of the reefer hanging from his mouth. He shrugged and stepped out of sight. Nathan climbed out and pushed past him, sullen and uncomfortable, his mood soured by the near constant harassment of a sexy naked woman who just happened to be a ghost.
Cassandra knew there was nothing she could say to dissuade them, and was intelligent enough to save her breath for the hike. She had made the decision to come on the trip knowing that something terrible was going to happen, it seemed pointless to stay behind now.
The group was silent, well aware of what they were heading toward. Death demands a certain gravitas, after all. And what was left to say?
“What the fuck is that?” Casey screamed as a beam lit up eyes in the darkness, a green flash in the trees to indicate they were being watched. All three flashlights turned and shone on the same spot. A small dog sat under a nearby tree.
“So much for stealth.”
“Is that a…corgi?” Casey asked. Kirk shook his head.
“No, you idiot. I think it’s a shih-tzu.”
Cassandra rolled her eyes at Casey and then squatted on her heels as she called softly to the dog.
“You’re both idiots, it’s obviously a terrier of some kind. Hey boy. Where did you come from?”
Lips curled back to reveal intensely sharp teeth and she stood up quickly. Casey reached out to steady her.
“A terrier from hell, maybe.”
The dog eyed them warily, as though considering if it should attack or retreat.
“It must belong to him, we’re not far from the cabin.”
“What do we do now? If it starts barking, we’re done.”
Photo by Tomáš Malík on Unsplash
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