TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
The brochure made the inn on the large, blue lake look very quaint. However, when they arrived, they were horrified to find a rundown wooden building with a “Vacancy” sign they were sure was never turned off. It was too late in the evening to turn around. They told the unkempt clerk at the desk that they’d be staying only one night. As they turned, keys in hand, he muttered, “Ya both need to know there are paths in these here woods. Whatever ya do, do NOT…”
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
“Okay. Ten bucks there’s a dirty sock under this comforter.”
I shuddered. “No deal. Too obvious. Finding only one sock would be a blessing.”
“What about under the bed? Bet there’s at least four orphaned shoes. Some lost soles,” he joked.
I wouldn’t even put my bag down, doubting that any area had been cleaned since the inn opened. Then there was Andrew, shuffling his feet through the shag carpet…grinning, unfazed. He disco danced to the window and pulled back the paisley curtains. I got a whiff of stale smoke.
“I wonder what’s past the creek.” He tapped the panes.
“Stop wondering,” I told him. “The clerk said don’t cross it, remember? It was literally the only thing she said.”
“Pocahontas went beyond a creek and had a great time,” he said.
“That was a river. In a cartoon.”
“My point stands. And it’s an animated film, darling.”
I ignored the last bit. Touchy visual artists and their proper names for everything. “To recap,” I said, “it’s nighttime at a decrepit inn, and the creepy clerk gave us one warning. Which you want to ignore. That’s not a Disney movie, that’s a slasher film.”
“We could find out.”
“No thank you,” I said. “I didn’t come to get possessed by some spirit. Or eaten by a bear. This is the part where viewers scream at the idiots on their screen.”
“So you’d rather stay here with this?” Andrew turned and dramatically pulled back the comforter.
Miraculously, there were no socks.
There were also no sheets.
I gingerly placed my bag on the dresser.
“Ten bucks we find a Disney adventure?” He held out his hand.
“Twenty for horror,” I countered.
We set off.
There didn’t seem to be any deliberate paths, but certain areas were worn enough that we found the creek quickly, thankful for the moon and clear sky.
“Magic and sacrifices require a full moon. Point for horror story,” I said as we looked for a way across the creek. So far, we had found three flat submerged stones that could do the job, but I hoped to cross without getting wet.
“Counterpoint: the moon lights our surroundings. Plus, a cloudless sky and peaceful water. A princess and her forest friends could sit there in that clearing!”
He was right. The trees started again within a few yards of the other side, but the grass along the creek looked well-maintained.
We decided to use the stones. Andrew had hopped to the second when a crack echoed through the trees ahead. He froze.
“Probably a rabbit,” Andrew said after a beat, trying to reassure us both. “Predatory animals are stealthy hunters. Most try and come from behind, too.” He hopped the final rock and landed in the clearing.
I glanced behind me. The shadows seemed darker and heavier, pressing forward like they were herding me towards the creek and whatever lay beyond. The longer I looked, the more unformed shapes swirled and pulsed at the edges of my vision, throbbing with urgency.
Two more sharp noises snapped my head forward again. Those sounded closer.
I started to panic. We were separated; we were trapped. There was nowhere to run.
We should have listened to the clerk.
“Maybe it’s a graveyard.” My voice rose without permission. “Or a battlefield. Lost souls, vengeful demonsÖ”
Andrew’s response sounded unsure. “It wouldn’t be a ghost, cracking branches like that. It’d be s-something…big,” he stuttered, backing up as a startling crash came from just beyond the treeline.
“Not an animal, not a spirit?” I trembled while Andrew half-jumped, half-swam back to my side. “That leaves something like…”
A giant silhouette appeared from the trees, heading closer.
“–Bigfoot!” I screamed.
“They’re actually average size!” Bigfoot shouted back.
Three beats of silence.
Bigfoot stepped forward and we saw the truth. Not a monster, not a demon; just an average-looking man. I gave him a once-over. Crooked teeth exposed in a lopsided smile, a hairy but defined chest, and even lower…
“Welcome to the Eastern Olympia Nudist Society homestead! Our main cabins are that way.” He gestured behind him.
I looked at Andrew; his mouth hung half open. He was resolutely staring straight into not-Bigfoot’s eyes, in a way that meant he had definitely, absolutely already looked down.
I started laughing. Andrew made a gurgling noise.
“I’m Thomas. I’ll guess from your surprise you’re staying at the inn?” I nodded; Andrew’s head sort of jerked in agreement.
Thomas put his hands on his lower back, stretching his stomach…and other areas…towards us. I had to wipe my eyes from laughing so hard. “Old hag warn you off? Our property borders hers. She spends all her money in court trying to evict us, to no avail. Drives her nuts.”
“Speaking of nuts,” Andrew murmured. Thomas let out a deep bellow, whole body shaking.
“Don’t worry, I’m heading back…just came to relieve myself. But we’re having a campfire if you’re interested.”
I poked Andrew, making him jump.
“You owe me twenty bucks,” I told him.
“You didn’t win.”
“Absolutely I did!”
“This isn’t exactly horror,” he persisted.
“Oh? And what Disney movie is this?”
“We have s’mores,” Thomas interjected helpfully.
Andrew’s eyes lit up. “Do you spontaneously sing uplifting songs?”
“Absolutely,” Thomas nodded.
Andrew clapped his hands together and held them out, as if to say I rest my case.
I looked at my husband, for better or worse. “Double or nothing?” I asked.
He’d already started undressing. The look on his face was wicked. “I’ll take nothing.”