The trees were green, the sky was blue and the water of the lake sparkled like so many diamonds. Karis stopped the car in the clearing and stared at the vista before her, she smiled.
"I think we found a good spot" she said. Jeannie smiled back at her friend and climbed from the car, taking a deep breath of the crisp air. She was grateful to Karis for bringing her out here, they both needed a break but Jeannie was the one running away. Her boyfriend had dumped her in a very unceremonious fashion and taken up with her sister. Jeanie had needed to get away for a bit and clear her head so Karis had suggested a few nights under the stars.
"Right. Shall we get the tents up and then a brew I think?" asked Karis. She rubbed her hands together and opened the boot of the car. Jeannie lifted her tent out and they had them up in a few minutes. Karis set up two foldaway chairs and started boiling water for tea while Jeannie began digging through the bags for the biscuits.
An hour later, they were sitting before the lake with tea and biscuits watching the sun go down.
"I could get used to this" Karis sighed. Jeannie agreed and settled back further into her chair. A few moments later, they both jumped as a figure almost fell out of the bushes and lay panting on the packed dirt. Karis placed her cup beside the chair and dashed across the clearing to the exhausted girl.
"Let me help you" said Jeannie. They each took an arm and guided the girl over to the chairs and made her sit before passing her a mug of tea.
"Are you okay? Did you get lost in the woods?" asked Jeannie. Karis raised an eyebrow at her and Jeannie blushed. The woods they were in had a main road running in a big circle around the edge, you couldn't get lost in it and it would only take a few hours to cross from one side to the other. They stared down at the girl but she didn't answer, just continued to sip her tea. The yellow dress she wore was torn and dirty and there were twigs in her blonde hair. Jeannie knelt down in front of her and smiled.
"What's your name, hon?" she asked. The girl raised her eyes; her brow was furrowed as if she was deep in concentration.
"368 miles is a long way." Jeannie and Karis stared at each other, eyebrows raised.
"Yes, it is a long way. What's your name?" repeated Jeannie.
"Melinda. It's such a long way, I don't want to be dragged that far." Tears began to roll down her cheeks; she sniffed and swiped them away.
"Who's going to drag you away? Is someone chasing you?" Karis asked. She placed a hand on Melinda's shoulder but was careful to keep an eye the surrounding shrubbery.
"The monster cam for us, it took John last night and came back for me this morning but I didn't wait. It marks you as a victim, look" Melinda said. She raised her arm to show three vertical lines down her forearm, they were very thing and shallow like kitten scratches.
"You probably caught your arm on some brambles" Karis began but Melinda was already shaking her head.
"No. The monster marked me and I'm next. It likes to tenderise its meals and it drags you one mile for every person it's killed and eaten. It was just supposed to be a story but it's true. It spoke to me! It scratched me and then said 368. That's how far it's going to drag me. I don't want to die!" Melinda suddenly collapsed into a sobbing heap on the ground.
Jeannie gave Melinda her tent for the night and they offered to drive her back to town in the morning.
"What do you think?" Jeannie whispered as they slipped into their sleeping bags.
"She's out of her fucking gourd is what I think" hissed Karis. Jeannie stifled a laugh and propped herself up on an elbow.
"She seems to believe it. I don't know what to think. It's not a campfire tale I've ever heard before." Karis agreed. There was nothing they could do this evening anyway so they lay down their heads and tried to get some sleep.
The next morning, Jeannie shivered in her sleeping bag as a breeze blew across her bare shoulders. She opened her eyes and frowned, there was a hole in the tent just above her head. Jeanie pulled on a grey hoodie and crawled out of the tent.
"Tell me what's wrong with this picture?" Jeannie stood up and moved next to Karis, following her gaze but all she could see was a big empty space behind the tents. An empty space? Jeanie's eyes grew wide as it suddenly clicked into place.
"Where's the car?" she cried. Karis just stood with her hands on her hips for a moment before kicking one of the canvas chairs as hard as she could.
"Melinda's gone too. She must have taken the car to get away from her bloody monster!" The last few words came out in a growl and she kicked the other chair.
"Calm down, Karis. We'll pack up our gear and head back to the road and then call the police." Jeannie stopped as the sound of sirens floated through the trees. They looked at each other before running back along the path they had driven the day before until they reached their main road. Three police cars and an ambulance were parked near the end of the dirt road.
"That's my car!" cried Karis. She ran forward but a policeman held her back and began asking her questions. Jeannie chimed in where appropriate but neither mentioned the monster and its dragging fetish. Jeannie looked over the policeman's shoulder at the car. The driver's side door was open and there was blood splashed on the inside and over the seats. On the road were bloody drag marks leading down the road and away from the car. Jeanie swallowed and linked her arm through Karis'.
It was almost dark again when the police finally let them go but Karis was told she couldn't have her car back yet. They found a little place where they could rent a car and then drove back to their camp site in silence.
"I hate these little Ka's. You can't get anything in them. We better be able to get all our gear in here" said Karis. They turned into the woods and stopped at their clearing. Both had decided that enough was enough and they just wanted to go home. They packed up their gear in silence until Jeannie started to take the second tent down; she voiced a small shriek and backed away from it.
"Holy shit" she muttered. Karis looked at her before bending to examine the tent and giving a small cry of her own. The hole that Jeannie had spotted that morning was in fact, three long slits in the material.
"Like Melinda's arm" whispered Jeannie. Karis Shook her head and just ripped the tent in two.
"She was talking crap. We haven't been marked. Come one" spat Karis. They left the tent on the grass and climbed into the car, skidding away from the clearing.
It took a while to get home but once they pulled up to their street they saw why. The street was cordoned off with police tape and they were swarming everywhere.
"Move along there, madam" came a voice. Karis raised an eyebrow and stared at the young officer.
"We live up there."
"87" called Karis. The officer hurried off before returning and allowing them through but they had to drive in a complete straight line to their house and park in the driveway. A stretcher was being carried past them and a body lay on it, covered by a blanket. It shifted a little, as the paramedics stepped off the curb, to reveal a few bloodied strands of blonde hair and a yellow dress. Karis and Jeannie stared at each other, trembling before Jeannie nodded at the dashboard. Karis turned her head and looked down at the milometer. It had been on zero when they left the campsite and it now read 368.
"It was real. It dragged her here to let us know it hadn't forgotten us. 369 miles. Holy Jesus Christ" said Jeannie. They sat in the car and watched the bushes around them sway as if from an unknown hand.