“That’s not his name, sweetheart. However much distance he’d like to put between who he was and who he thinks he is now, the sort of stain we carry never washes clean. Does it, brother? Sin never dies, just keeps a tally until judgement day.”

Cassandra looked from one to the other, her mouth slack with words she couldn’t form. Casey had no such trouble.

“Well this is about the worst road trip I’ve ever been on. Even more so than the time I threw up all over myself and a goat ate my pants while I was wearing them, and that was pretty damn awful. God, you’re all just such dicks. Especially you, Nathan. We’ve known you since we were seven. You’d set us up to be murdered by some hillbilly wanker?”

“Hey now-” the wanker started to protest, but Nathan cut him off.

“Fuck you, Casey. Do you know how aggravating it is to be around someone who is so clueless and has it so easy? Everyone thinks you’re funny, everyone thinks you’re cool, everyone gives you a pass even though you’re always high. It’s so frustrating to be friends with you.”

Casey exploded.

“SO FUCKING STOP! God, you are so whiny for a wannabe serial killer. Actually, you know what? You’re just whiny, period. You hate being my friend? Stop then! That sounds like a you problem if I ever heard one. I didn’t hear you complaining when you were smoking my weed and getting gooned on the pills I got from dodgy Steve out back of the bowling alley. I’ve been letting you cheat off my tests since the third grade, you ignorant fuckwit!”

Nathan made like he was going to run at Casey, but the brother formerly known as the psycho in the woods put up an arm to stop him.

“How about no more bleeding in the house?”

Cassandra found her voice.

“So, are you Ray? Was your mother killed by Herb’s -or whatever his name is- father?”

“More or less, but not in the way you might think. Do you want to take this one, brother? It seems the lady has a soft spot for you.”

Herb not Herb let out a heavy sigh. He lifted his head and looked at Cassandra, then over her shoulder at Casey, who had fished his cigar box from the backpack and was trying to roll a joint one handed.

“Here, Casey, let me do that while my brother,” he leveled a look at his sibling, “and Nathan carry Kirk outside.” His brother smirked and then gestured to Nathan to help him.

“If I wasn’t so determined to keep reason at arm’s length, I would turn down any sort of help from you.” Casey thrust the box at Herb not Herb and leaned against the counter, glaring intently at everyone except Cassandra. She edged closer to him, while trying to avoid watching Nathan and the stranger struggle with Kirk’s limp body. Nathan looked sick, which gave Cassandra no little satisfaction. She looked up as Herb started talking.

“As you may have guessed, neither of us are Ray. He did exist and did live here and did watch his mother die at the hands of hired goons. Which should have turned him into a raging psycho, but his mom raised him better than that, apparently. Unlike our parents. What I told you about us coming out for the long weekend was true, and even about our friends coming to bad ends. But it was more to do with the fact that we were entitled, useless twits than anything nefarious. A bunch of kids who’d never had to do for themselves with far too much drugs and alcohol on a lake in the middle of nowhere? I’m surprised it didn’t go worse for us. And of course we were convinced it couldn’t possibly be our fault that bad stuff was happening.
So the monster in the woods was born. The more we talked about it, the more real it became. We immersed ourselves in a lie so irrational, we needed to find a way to justify it to people back home. So when we found this place, looking not much different than how it does now, it was easy to lay blame. We concocted the story, knowing it would be easy to convince the authorities that we were the victims of a murderous psycho. But it went too far, and some of the others started to suggest that we should take the law into our own hands, get revenge. Revenge on who? He was innocent. But they dragged him down to the lake and..”
Herb stopped and took a breath, inhaling sharply to keep the tears at bay. He passed the joint to Casey to light and continued.

“That was what broke me, what sent me screaming out of the woods where Alex found me near catatonic and brought me back to the restaurant. I figured it was only a matter of time before everyone else who was left made their way out, but they never did. And then the whispers started, about a monster in the woods, a murderous psycho who was killing anyone who came near the place. I was part of the group who headed up to try and stop him, to catch him. We got up here and we found him. My own dear brother, living here as though he’d been here all along. And somewhere along the way, he’d developed a taste for murder. I suppose it shouldn’t have been a surprise, given that our father was so cut throat himself. I didn’t want to believe it. I tried to distract, divert the search party, convinced that it was all a mistake. But then I watched him step up and slice someone’s throat as though it was nothing. And worse. But what could I do? He’s my brother. Could you hurt Casey if it came to it?”

Casey took a long haul on the joint and leaned forward.
“I can’t speak for Cassie, but I’m not sure it would ever ‘come to it’ as you so eloquently put it because unlike your brother, I’m not a fucking psycho. Jesus! Herb, what the fuck? And you just bring people up here to satisfy his weird urges? Ugh, your family is so fucked.”

Cassandra was still, her eyes brimming with tears. She crossed her arms tight across her body, gently rocking back and forth as though trying to get warm, catch her breath, or both.

“No, what I said earlier is true. I tried to convince you not to come up here. But I didn’t count on Nathan being a goddamn fanboy and killing Tommy, setting all this in motion. I didn’t want any of this to happen. I never want any of this to happen. I thought if I couldn’t keep you from coming here, maybe I could keep you safe if I came along.”

Casey looked pointedly at the bloodstains on the kitchen floor.

“Yeah, that worked out great.”

Cassandra looked up.

“So what happens now? Do we become just another statistic in your family’s sick legacy?”

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash