Once Cursed, Twice Shy
Dusk had fallen as I pulled the RV into the Raven’s Nest campground.
“It would be nice to know why I’m here,” I said to Mildred as I turned the high beams on and squinted at the gravel road winding ahead.
Tall trees lined the edges, giving it an almost claustrophobic feeling.
The Siamese cat on the passenger seat just arched her back and kneaded the seat cushions with her sharp claws.
“You’re going to ruin the fabric,” I told her as she pulled at it. “At least tell me how long you think we’ll be here.”
“Until you trap the tailless squirrel,” she meowed.
I glanced at her incredulously. “What?”
“You heard me.” She turned her back to me, signaling that our conversation was over.
Squeezing the steering wheel instead of strangling her, I followed the signs to the campground office. A bare yellow bulb illuminated the entry of the old, dilapidated log cabin draped in cobwebs. The “Office” sign, hanging from a chain over the doorway, was crooked and the rotting stairs to the entrance looked like they’d collapse under the slightest pressure.
I got out of the RV slowly. Just to be safe, I tucked my extra taser into the back of my jeans as I closed the door and took in my surroundings. Insects chattered, an animal scrabbled over fallen leaves in the distance, and the cloud coverage made everything appear murky.
“I just love what they’ve done with the place,” Conroy drawled. “It’s a perfect mix of Dark Shadows and The Addams Family chic.”
I considered tucking the owl pendant back into my shirt to limit his observations. Instead, I added, “With a healthy serving of Deliverance thrown in.”
Conroy whistled a few bars of “Dueling Banjos” as I approached the building.
The door creaked, like it hadn’t seen a squirt of WD-40 in centuries. The noise set my teeth on edge and I curled my hands into fists.
The space was dimly lit, but I could make out the outline of a desk in the midst of the shadows.
A figure was crouched over it. The person did not raise their head when I stepped inside, despite the deafening screeching of the door. I cleared my throat. No reaction.
Wondering if I was looking at a ghost, I said carefully, “Excuse me?”
The figure then stirred and snapped on another light. The woman behind the desk lifted her head. Her hair was white and stringy, her eyes were cold, and her skin was wrinkled with lines of hardship.
I swallowed nervously. “I don’t have a reservation, but I’d like a space.”
“How many nights?”
“I’m not sure.” I knew that wasn’t a great answer to give, but it wasn’t like I could tell her I needed to trap a tailless squirrel…whatever the hell that meant.
“Rates are on the board,” she muttered, waving at a whiteboard propped up in the far corner.
I strolled over and peered through the shadows at it. “I’ll take three nights, to start.”
She muttered something under her breath that I could not make out. I didn’t ask her what she’d said. I figured if it were really important, she’d repeat herself.
“You got a credit card?” she demanded gruffly.
Nodding, I pulled one out of my pocket, walked over to her, and extended it. As she took it, I noticed the light bounce off the blue sapphire solitaire ring she wore. The ring’s beauty was out of place.
She snatched my credit card out of my hand, turned away from me, and shuffled to a back corner of the room.
I couldn’t see what she was doing as she used some sort of machinery to make a rumbling and crashing sound.
She returned, holding out three-part carbon paper and a ballpoint pen. “Make sure you press hard when you sign.”
“Old school,” I murmured, taking them from her.
“Internet is spotty and ’lectricity, too,” she replied.
I signed the credit card slip and watched as she finished the paperwork. “That’s a beautiful ring.”
She glanced up at me, and I saw something soft flicker in the depths of her gaze. “You married?”
“No.” I didn’t mention that I’m a widow, or that I was a person of interest in my husband’s murder. There’s too much explaining to do for that. Quite frankly, I don’t have any answers. Not for anyone…including myself.
“Don’t ever fall in love,” she warned bitterly. “It’ll ruin your life.”
I blinked, surprised by her reaction, but then nodded. I can’t actually remember ever loving Orville, but I was pretty sure he’d ruined my life. “I hear you,” I murmured.
She squinted at me. “Ahhh, a broken-hearted soul traveling to outrun her problems. What’s your name?”
Considering she’d just run my credit card through her machine, I assumed she already knew the answer, R.V. Bloodworth.
Again, don’t ask what the RV stands for. I don’t remember and my loser husband refused to say, telling me I’d hated it and had only used my initials for as long as he’d known me.
“People call me RV,” I replied. “What’s your name?”
“Tess.” Reaching into a desk drawer, she pulled out a faded primitive map that looked like it had been run through an old mimeograph machine and drew a circle on it. “You’re here in space D-nine. Take the road down to the fork, bear left, follow the signs. Dumping only in designated areas and no loud or drunken parties.”
She pushed the paper toward me.
“Where’s the nearest grocery store?” I asked.
“It’s on the other side. Walter’s.”
“Thanks.” I took the map and turned to leave.
“Drive carefully,” she warned. “It’s dark out there.”
Nodding, I headed outside, taking care to step gingerly on the steps that groaned beneath my weight.
“Charming place with a delightful hostess,” Conroy said.
“Not my choice,” I reminded the owl necklace.
I got back into the camper and turned on the overhead light to study the map. My assigned campsite was located at the far end of the grounds. “Bear left at the fork,” I muttered to myself, turning the light off and pulling onto the road.
Gravel crunched beneath my tires as I slowly followed the path. There were no streetlights and the cloud coverage was thick, obscuring the moon. I found the fork and turned to the left. Thankfully, the signs for the spaces were well marked with glow-in-the-dark paint that popped when the headlights landed on them. Eventually, I reached D-nine.
I took my time turning around so that I could back into the spot. Not for the first time, I cursed the fact that Princess is not outfitted with a backup camera. I’m not the greatest driver under the best of circumstances, and I’m even worse at parking the pink beast.
It would have been easier if there had been someone around to direct me, but the surrounding campsites were empty and there wasn’t anyone in sight.
I didn’t see anyone.
And I swear I wasn’t being reckless.
Which is why I couldn’t understand how someone ended up underneath my tires.