Some People Are Worth Changing For

Submitted into Contest #143 in response to: Set your story in the woods or on a campground. ... view prompt


Thriller Suspense

This story contains sensitive content

**TW/CW** Contains sensitive content related to mental health, physical violence, and gore.

“Kevin, are you sure we’re not lost?” 

“I’ve been here before with my dad. I know where I’m going.” 

Nearly a decade had passed since he had been to the campground. A lot of things can happen in a decade. A lot of things can happen in a few hours. Memories and recollections can often become ambiguous to time and place and reason. 

“Kaci, just relax and find something good to listen to.”

Kaci looked down at her phone. 

“I don’t have any signal and we’ve already cycled through all the songs I have downloaded on my phone.” She gazed out at the rain gently descending into the dense thicket of trees and bushes and vegetation of Southeast Ohio, the edge of Appalachia. There was no sunshine throughout the woods, only streams of hazy gray merely bright enough to suggest some remnants of daytime still existed. “And I’m enjoying the sound of the rain anyways.” 

They had taken Kaci’s 4Runner, a fortuitous decision over Kevin’s Camaro as they found themselves down a mud-spattered path deep in the ravines of the Tar Hollow State Forest. Kevin meandered the SUV slowly through the mud in silence, secretly nervous that they were lost, and he’d have to find a way out without being too conspicuous. He wanted to impress Kaci. This girl was nearly perfect; he couldn’t find any flaws in their four weeks of dating. She was a mental health counselor, had a master’s degree from the University of Cincinnati, owned her own home already at 26, and had a good family, although he hadn’t met them in person yet. And this being their first overnight trip together, and camping nonetheless, he felt he had to prove himself a worthy partner.

Better to own up to your mistake than to draw it out, Kevin thought as he relented and stopped the 4Runner and grabbed the state park map from the center storage console. He opened the map on the steering wheel and scanned the page with his finger to locate their location. 

“So, we are lost, huh?” Kaci laughed.

“No! I mean,” Kevin trailed off. “I’m just making sure we’re on the right track.” 

Ominous storm clouds moved in eclipsing the upper overcast layers of the sky and what little light existed begin to disappear from the woods as the rain increased to a downpour. 

“I just hope this rain stops soon,” Kaci wished aloud.

Kevin snickered, “I thought you were enjoying it?"

“I mean, I don’t want to sleep in it.”

    “Well, we’ll just fold down the seats and sleep in the 4Runner if it’s too wet to set up the tent,” Kevin said as he continued examining the map.

Anxiety came over Kaci and the hair on the back of her neck stood up. She gazed out the window through the trees into the impenetrable woodlands beyond, so dark and damp, the foliage so thick and veiled by the storm and showers. The sensation unmistakable as she had felt hundreds of times before.

“Can we go please?” 

Kevin looked up from the map over to Kaci’s side. She was staring out into the murky, soaked woodland. 

“Yeah… that’s… what I’m trying to do,” Kevin stammered. 

“No, I mean like now,” Kaci said with a certain dread in her voice that Kevin hadn’t heard before, her gaze still focused intently on the unknown. “I don’t like it here.”

Kevin sighed and folded the map and shifted the 4Runner into drive. The SUV launched over a rut and Kaci squeezed her eyes shut, hoping to drive out the dismay that had overtaken her.

“You okay babe?” Kevin asked as the car endured down the muddy trail. 

“Yeah, just drive.” 

Kaci slowly reopened her eyes and scrutinized the dense brush beyond the vehicle. It seemed darker than it was just a few moments before when she shut her eyes. She glanced down at the clock on the dashboard. 4:47pm. Still far too early to be this dark. 

“If we can’t find the campground soon, maybe we should just turn back,” Kaci suggested to Kevin. “Maybe a comfortable bed-and-breakfast in Amish country would be nice for the weekend.” 

“I know we’re close. Just a few more minutes.” Kevin leaned forward to look up towards the clouds. The rain had slowed a bit but was still coming down at a steady pace, the thick gray clouds an even blanket stretched across the sky, a canopy traversing the towering trees on either side of the muddy trail. “But we’ll be sleeping in the car for sure. That campground is going to be soaked.” 

“If we ever find it,” Kaci scoffed as she glanced back out into the forest. “This place creeps me out.” 

Her feeling of despair was still present. She couldn’t displace the uncomfortable anxiety. She knew exactly what it was, but she would battle everything within her to bury it for now. Not this guy. She had assumed her professional training would be enough to self-treat her illness, so she stopped taking her medications. The side effect headaches and insomnia caused by the medications had been exhausting. How long has it been? Four months now maybe. She decided to call her psychiatrist as soon as they returned to Cincinnati. Some people are worth changing for. A normal life could still exist ahead.

Kevin sighed, “Would it make you feel better if we just headed back?” 

“Yeah, babe. I’m sorry. I just feel really uncomfortable here right now. It’s probably the rainstorm. I don’t know. We can come back when the weather is better, maybe later this summer.”

The atmosphere in the car was palpable and Kevin knew it wouldn’t be worth it to continue. He didn’t say a word as he noticed the road widened a bit ahead, just enough to maneuver the vehicle into a three-point turn. He honestly didn’t know if they were close to the campground or not. He was lost but wasn’t ready to admit it. There was no indication of what might lay ahead.

Kevin turned the 4Runner hard to the left and threw the gear selector into reverse. The backup camera illuminated on the LCD on the dash, not that it was much help in the rain and mud. He could vaguely make out where the trees were and began reversing as he rotated the wheel the opposite direction. The trail was too narrow to complete the turn in one rotation, and Kevin put the vehicle back in drive to move forward a bit, hoping to make enough room to complete the 180-degree rotation in the next reverse sequence.

Kaci’s anxiety intensified. She looked down at her fingers, all shaking as if intoxicated on a massive dose of caffeine. She could feel her heart rate rising. It was too late.  

“Can we hurry please?” Kaci asked nervously.

“Kaci, I’m literally turning around.”

Kevin put the car back into reverse and the backup camera appeared again. Kaci looked down at the LCD and immediately saw the menace she had been dreading. Standing in the shadows of the pouring rain at the tree line maybe two car lengths behind the 4Runner was the silhouette of a woman. 

“Oh my God! There’s someone behind us!” Kaci shrieked.

Kevin looked at the camera image. “I don’t see anyone, Kaci.” 

 “Just on the tree line, behind the car.” 

“Well, let’s see if they need help,” Kevin said as he straightened out the wheel and reversed. 

Kaci’s heart was beating out of her chest and her mind was racing. No, it’s just a hallucination. She clasped her eyes shut and wrapped both her hands around her head, massaging her temple and cupping her eyes with her palms. She knew stopping her medication would cause these nightmarish illusions to return. 

“There’s no one there, Kevin, I’m just seeing things!” Kaci gasped. “The rain is playing tricks on me! Let’s get out of here, please!”

“Kaci, if someone is out there, maybe they need help. We have to check.”

“Kevin, no just drive please. Don’t get out of the car. I can’t stop her!” Kaci began crying, her head shaking side to side and her hands covering her still-closed eyes. The anxiety had descended into full-fledged terror. 

“Stop who? Kaci, everything’s okay.” Kevin sighed and shut off the car and grabbed the umbrella and opened the driver’s door. 

“Kevin, no!” Kaci shrieked as the idle door chime began ringing consistently. She opened her eyes immediately. 

He was already gone. 

She looked behind her, through the back passenger window and the rear window, but there was no sign of him. It was pitch black and the rain was barely a drizzle now. The bright headlights were the only source of light all around her. She looked at the dashboard clock. 7:27pm. 

Oh my God. There’s no way. It was literally just nearly 5. 

A serene peace came over her in contrast to the chaos that had assuredly filled the lost time. Her anxiety had subsided, and her heart had slowed down to a normal pace. Kaci opened the car door and slowly descended out. 

“Kevin? Are you there?” She questioned, holding out hope that the preordained had not ensued. Answered with silence, Kaci gently turned around, allowing her vision to adjust to the dark of the night. Light from a halfmoon glistened a dull silver hue across the freshly showered forest. As she turned around to face the back of the car, her eyes fixated on a mass on the forest floor. Kaci squinted to try to see better. In the opaque nocturnal darkness, she could barely make out the white North Face logo against the blue jacket.

“Kevin!” Kaci screamed as she ran towards him. 

She dropped to her knees as she approached the motionless body. Up close, she could see his eyes were wide open and his face and jacket bloodied. She pulled out her phone from her pocket and hit the flashlight button to illuminate the landscape. Kevin was lying in a copious pool of blood, his jacket covered in his own scarlet gore and besieged with dozens of stab wounds. A switchblade laid open beside him, equally soiled. Kaci slowly stood up and showed the flashlight on her body. Blood was splattered across her sweatshirt and jeans and hands and arms. She looked down at Kevin’s body and felt his neck. Cold. 

“Not again,” Kaci whispered to herself. 

Rain began again as Kaci dug the car keys out of Kevin’s jacket pocket. She dragged his body into the undergrowth away from the muddy path, the showers assisting in erasing the indication of his previous presence. She covered his body with branches and leaves that had already accumulated on the ground. Although only 20 feet or so from the path, his body was hidden well out of view from any traces of human contact, as things in this part of the country often are. Kaci washed off her hands and forearms in the downfall and glanced at where Kevin’s body had been. The puddle of blood had mostly runoff with the rain by now. She grabbed the knife from the ground and cleaned it off in a rapidly accumulating rain puddle, closed it and put it in her jeans pocket and went to the driver’s side of the 4Runner. She got in and adjusted the seat forward to allow her petite frame to see better and then started the ignition. As she adjusted the rearview mirror, she looked at her reflection. The girl in the mirror was smiling mischievously back at her. 

“We can’t keep doing this,” Kaci said.

“We can’t not keep doing this,” the reflection replied to her, “It’s too much fun.” 

Kaci put the car in drive and sped down the muddy tunnel of towering trees back to the highway. As she turned onto Ohio State Route 327, she switched on the radio and scanned for a channel. The only station on the rural stretch of road slowly came through the radio static.

“You’re listening to WOUB Ohio Public Radio. It’s 8:30pm, the bottom of the hour, time for the top of the news. Another body has been found in a string of unsolved murders in Southern Ohio spanning the last four months. Police have now identified four bodies in connection with the investigation, having linked all of the victims through similar stab wounds that forensic examiners at Ohio University are saying were created by the same switchblade.”

Kaci began sobbing and looked up at the grinning girl in the review mirror as she continued driving. 

“Make that five bodies,” the reflection laughed to her. 

Kaci smashed her fist against the steering wheel and let out a harrowing scream buried for far too long. She grabbed the rearview mirror and snapped it off the plastic base on the windshield and rolled down her window and pitched the rearview mirror out, landing it squarely in the middle of the desolate rural highway, shattering the reflection of the girl into dozens of pieces of broken glass and metal and plastic. 

Kaci pulled out her phone. 


*bing, bing* “Yes.” 

“Send a text to Dr. Walters ‘Sorry to bother you so late. I need to see you tomorrow morning ASAP to refill my Risperdal and Zyprexa prescriptions. Having relapses.’”

She sniffled and wiped away a dollop of snot from the end of her nose with her sweatshirt sleeve and breathed out a heavy sigh of relief. Some people are worth changing for. 

April 30, 2022 03:33

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