His parents would be outraged if they knew what he was up to. He was forbidden to be outside after dinner while the Wanderer was still on the loose.
For the past eight weeks, the citizens of Marionville had been terrorized by the possible presence of the escaped serial killer who was suspected of hiding out in the wooded hills and living off the land.
There were daily search parties by the National Guard, civil air patrol, and local law enforcement. The area was under surveillance by the F.B.I. and the U.S. Marshalls. And summer vacation was pretty much ruined.
Stevie and his friends weren’t having any fun. There was no fishing, swimming, biking, or hiking. No football or baseball games or any of the million other fun things that they usually did outside. The break between fifth and sixth grade was going to be the worse vacation in history.
That was how the dare came about. Stevie was spending the night at Carl Mather’s house. The parents of the boys attending the sleepover felt that they would be in the safest house in the neighborhood. Carl’s dad was the Sheriff of Marionville.
The boys camped out in the Mather’s finished basement. There was a rousing game of caps. The winner (or, as Stevie now saw it, the loser) had to accept the dare of catching a fish at Draper’s pond.
Stevie looked at his watch as he cast his line in the water. It was eight-fifteen. He couldn’t remember if it got dark at nine or nine-thirty. He would’ve known if he hadn’t been spending every stinking night indoors.
“It’s a real fucker,” Carl had said. “I hope my old man shoots him right in the head.”
“Your old man couldn’t shoot the side of a barn,” Willie Pearl said.
“Screw you,” Carl said. “I could shoot him. My dad taught me how. And I know where he keeps his guns.”
“Our whole friggin summer is shot,” said Pat McGreevy.
“Yeah,” Shy Matt Werner agreed. Shy Matt was fat and didn’t say much to anyone.
“I ain’t afraid of the Wanderer,” Stevie said.
He heard the echo of a snap, like someone stepping on a branch. His eyes went wide and his nostrils flared and the hair stood up on the back of his neck. This sucked.
Come on, Stevie told himself. You’ve been here a million times and heard noises like that. It was just a squirrel or a woodchuck.
Another snap made him jump, but it was followed by the flap of wings. A huge crow flew out of the trees.
There was a tug on Stevie’s line. It was a fish. He started to reel it in, but another snap stopped him. It wasn’t the crow that made the snapping sound; the snapping sound scared the crow away.
Stevie was so scared that he wanted to drop the rod and run, but it was Sheriff Mather’s pole and he didn’t want to have to explain its disappearance.
He reeled the line in so fast that the fish he had got away. Stevie clamored up the bank of the pond and ran away from the direction the snapping sound came from.
Fortunately the sound came from the opposite direction of the road, which would make sense if the Wanderer was hiding out in the deep woods.
When he reached the trees, the orange hued sun slipped behind a gray cloud and dimmed the sky. Stevie’s heart was beating hard in his chest.
He reached the path through the trees and ran into the denim clad man.
“Oof!” The man nearly fell over when Stevie collided with his stomach.
Stevie stumbled backwards with a gasp. He landed on his butt and dropped the fishing pole.
“Well, you’re in a big hurry,” the man said. “Catch any fish?”
“N-no. But my dad caught a couple. He…he’s taking a leak in the bushes and he’ll be here in a minute.”
The man grinned, but it wasn’t a nice or even a funny grin. It was like he knew a dirty secret.
“That right?” He said. “Cause…I been watching you since you got here.” He took a step towards Stevie. A step that made twigs snap under his huge feet. “And it looks to me like you’re all alone.”
Stevie shook with fear. He felt the shadow of death. Why did he have to act like the big shot when he took the dare. Nobody could have made him go through with it. His friends might have called him a wuss, but he would have been alive.
The man took out a folding knife and flicked the blade open. It looked as big as Stevie’s arm. He stroked his whisker stubble with the backside of the blade and never stopped grinning.
“Maybe you didn’t catch any fish because you didn’t use the right bait. Some fish like a nice, bloody slab of meat.” A fleck of spit flew off the man’s lip as he spoke and hit Stevie’s face. He crab-crawled back away from the man, but he was too scared to stand.
There was another twig-snap noise from behind the man, and another, and another. It was followed by a metallic click.
Stevie watched his four friends emerge from the trees that surrounded the path. Carl had one of his dad’s guns pointed at the man.
Stevie was scared about what they were about to do, but he wanted his summer back.
“We didn’t use the wrong bait at all Mr. Wanderer,” Carl said, and then he pulled the trigger.
Dana C. Kabel’s stories have appeared in The Flash Fiction Offensive, Muzzleflash, Mysterical-E, Out of the Gutter, Powder Flash Burn, and Yellow Mama.