Claire watched green flashes blur as Michael drove deeper into the woods.
She turned her head and looked back at little Lexie humming in the back seat. She smiled at her little sister who’d insisted on coming with them. Lexie, only six while Claire was fifteen and Michael seventeen. Michael wanted to enjoy the freedom of having his license and invited them both on a weekend camping trip. Claire accepted the chance to get out of the house, and Lexie begged to join, not wanting to be alone without her sister.
“You excited Lexie?” Michael glanced at her through the rearview mirror.
“I love camping!” She beamed at him when she saw his eyes on her.
“Really? It can get pretty scary, especially with me.” He made a face at her through the mirror.
Claire eyed him, “Don’t start.”
“I’m only kidding. You should be more afraid of the Hacker.”
“The Hacker?” Lexie’s eyes widened.
“You never heard of him? Got a real thing for knives, and this maniacal laugh.” Michael tried to mimic it, and a thunderous cackle erupted from his throat as he watched Lexie tremble in the backseat.
“Knock it off, Michael!” She reached her hand back for Lexie to take.
She grabbed it and squeezed, refusing to look up at him.
“Relax, he doesn’t like to kill in broad daylight.” He grinned at Lexie’s petrified expression as he slowed the truck and parked it beside a picnic table. “Why don’t you and Lexie look for wood while I unpack and set up the tent?”
“Fine, come on Lexie.” Claire led her sister into the woods.
“Claire, did he mean it? Is there a hacker?” Lexie inched closer to her sister.
“No, of course not, he’s just trying to scare you. It’s only a myth. Just focus on finding sticks, okay?”
“Okay.” She wandered around while her sister broke up dead branches on the ground.
Lexie picked up smaller sticks and dog through piles of fallen leaves. Claire kept her eyes on her, making sure she didn’t go too far.
She heard a laugh echo, making her jump and drop the wood she’d been carrying. She turned back toward the campsite. She felt someone grab her arm and she screamed, only to see her sister cower away. Then the laugh echoed again, sounding more like a maniacal cackle. Lexie clutched her sister’s hand and looked around them. She glanced at her sister and Claire knelt down to her level.
“It’s just Michael.” She scooped up her wood and led her sister out of the forest.
Claire dropped the wood in the fire pit and Came up behind him. He dug in his truck, oblivious to her.
“You scared the hell out of her, you know.”
Michael grinned, pulling the cover over the truck bed. “Did I get it right that time?”
“This is a sick joke, and I want you to knock it off.” Claire felt her voice rise in frustration.
“Or what? You’ll leave? I brought you here, remember?”
“I know how to drive. Don’t think I won’t leave you here. Then you can enjoy the trip by yourself.”
“Look, why don’t you just start the fire?” He faced the truck bed, reaching in and digging for a lighter.
“You do it, I’ll finish unpacking.” Claire reached for the bed cover.
Michael grabbed her arm, “I got it, just go start to fire.”
Claire twisted in his grasp. “Let go, I just want to help.” She reached with her other arm.
“I said I got it!” He shoved her away, knocking her to the ground. He pulled the lighter from the back and tossed it at her. “Just go light the fire.”
Claire stared at him for a moment, then picked herself up and grabbed the lighter. Michael saw Lexie out of the corner of his eye and she turned away, going to her sister to help.
“Why did he push you?”
“I don’t know what his problem is, Lex.” Claire flicked the lighter and sparked it on, making sure it worked well, then let it die.
She gathered her sister’s sticks and pushed the logs out of the way so she could start with kindling. Once she had a pile, she arranged the larger pieces in a tepee. Claire flicked the flame on and lit the small twigs, watching as they burned until the larger pieces caught, flames lapping up the sides She slipped the lighter into her pocket and turned to Michael, who’d finished with the tent and brought cookware from his truck to the table.
“Need any help with that?”
“I got it.” He traveled back and forth until he’d set the table and dug in the cooler. “How’s fish?”
Lexie nodded and Claire shrugged. He brought a pan, plates, and three decent sized fish over and sat on the ground with a knife.
“Wait, what are you doing?” Claire raised her eyebrows.
“What’s it look like?” He sliced into the fish, tearing into the flesh and carving the meat from the bone.
Lexie whimpered and gagged, turning away.
“You could’ve at least warned us! Lex, you okay?”
Lexie nodded, keeping her eyes low.
“Would you rather I finish the Hacker story?”
“You’re not gonna listen to me anyway.” She crossed her arms and braced herself.
“Fine, I can tell it while I gut our dinner.” Michael smirked at Claire’s scowl and continued his work. “He likes to mess with his prey awhile. Get in their heads first. Scare em, get their guards down, then hack!” He cut the fish’s head clean off.
Lexie screamed and Claire fought the urge to throw up while Michael tossed the meat on one plate, disposing of the inedible parts in the fire. Then he moved on to the next fish. Oblivious of the blood dripping down his arms, he sliced into that one with a grin.
Claire edged away from the disgusting sight and sat on the other side of the pit with Lexie.
“He won’t use a gun; they’re too noisy. Knives, on the other hand, much quieter.”
Claire felt her sister trembling beside her and wrapped her arm around her. “You’re a jerk, you know that?”
Cutting the second head off, he looked up. “Why? Because Lexie can’t handle a story?”
“You’re gutting a fish and telling the story of a knife-wielding killer! Of course she’s scared!”
“Good, she should be.” He dropped the second finished fish on the plate and disposed of the empty carcass.
“That’s it, we’re out of here.” Claire grabbed Lexie’s hand and stood up.
“Where do you think you’re going? I’m not done.” He sliced into the third one.
They headed for the truck. Michael stood up, blocking them. He dropped the fish and knife on the ground.
“I’m not staying here, not if you’re gonna act like this.”
Michael headed for the bed of his truck and brought out a much larger knife. He brandished it in front of them, watching as Lexie cowered behind Claire.
“It’s a shame really. Usually, they at least make it through dinner. There’s a first time for everything I suppose.”
Claire backed away as he pointed the knife at them. He crept closer, trapping them between him and the fire pit.
“You’re- He’s real?”
“The Hacker is very much real. The name’s new. Had to make it memorable for the little one.” He advanced on them, staring at Lexie. “Though I must say, I prefer a night kill.”
Lexie whimpered, clutching Claire’s hand. Michael stepped toward them, and Claire pushed Lexie sideways, away from him and the fire pit. Michael arched his knife toward Claire’s heart, but she held him back. He knocked her to the ground, coming over her.
Claire held his arm and dug for the lighter in her pocket. She flicked the flame and burned it, causing him to scream and jump away. She shoved him off of her and ran for Lexie, grabbing her and rushing to the truck. She pushed her sister inside and closed the door, bolting for the driver’s side.
Michael sprang to his feet and grabbed her, dragging her back toward the pit. He lifted his knife from the ground and stabbed her in the shoulder, missing a fatal shot as she thrashed. She screamed when the blade sliced through her skin and kicked him away from her, this time knocking his knife into the fire. He howled when his injured arm touched the flame. She rose to her feet and he tackled her, taking a fist full of hair in his burned hand. He dragged her closer to the flame. Claire tried to break free twisting her head away from his blood covered limb, but he forced her head near the fire, enough to feel the immense heat.
“I’d hate to do it this way, but it’s better than dirtying my fish knife.”
She pushed back and clawed at his burned arm, yanking him off her and shoving him forward. He stumbled over the edge of the pit and fell into the fire. Claire held him down forcing her body weight on him, trembling as he screamed. He struggled and howled as the flames charred him. Smoke clouded around his body, reeking of burned fish and scorching flesh. She held him still, keeping her grip as he flailed and writhed in agony.
The screams died off and struggles halted, flames still eating away at him. She lifted herself from him and turned, bolting to the truck. She doubled over and threw up when she reached the driver’s side door. She shook as she climbed in the truck. Her sister unbuckled and threw herself into her sister’s arms. Claire clutched Lexie as she started the truck and drove, fighting the urge the throw up again when she saw Michael still burning in the pit.