The Great KOA Getaway
by M. C. Tuggle
Sunlight flashed in my eyes. I turned and gazed out the window at an Airstream trailer reflecting the January sun as it shimmied up to the campground gate. Then I saw the vehicle pulling it: a Ford Woody.
I grabbed my clipboard and stumbled out the door, eyes fixed on the antique vision before me. There wasn’t a single dent on the shining trailer, and the luster in the red oak panels on the Woody looked like the driver had just driven the car out of a 1940s showroom.
The driver cranked his window open, and I nearly yelped. The man looked like a moth-eaten Muppet. He kept glancing from me to the rearview mirror.
I figured the poor guy was a burn victim. A nervous one. And here I was gawking at him. Despite the cold, I felt my cheeks glow in shame, and I tried to say something nice. “That’s—this is a beautiful trailer.”
“1936 Airstream Clipper.”
“Yeah. Where’d you get it?”
“How about the Woody?”
I gave the Airstream another admiring glance. “I love vintage trailers.”
He stared at me. “I will remember that.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’m Bunt Jasper, your KOA guide. Guess you’re here for a little getaway.”
His face turned fierce and he gripped the steering wheel. Then he relaxed and smiled. “Yes. That’s correct. A getaway.”
I exhaled. Winter campers are so moody. I took his information, which wasn’t easy. His name was Rai Kettican. When he spoke, his lips didn’t match his words. It was like watching a Kung Fu movie.
I pointed toward the campground. “Okay, there’s only five other campers set up, so you can have any other site you want. There’s standard hookups for your electric, water, and sewer. And if you want wi-fi, we—”
The size of the growl from such a little man made me flinch.
“No,” said Kettican. “They could trace—I mean, no outside contact.” He leaned back in his seat and gave me a wobbly grin. “This is my getaway.”
“Sure. Whatever. You can pay me when you leave.”
“I will pay you when I leave.”
“Yeah. And we always remind guests to lock up their vehicles at night. Just a precaution.”
Kettican pointed toward the car’s ignition switch. “I take all precautions.”
A silver key dangled under the car’s brass ignition key. There were no other keys on the chain. I nodded and said, “Enjoy your stay.”
Kettican drove down the white sandy trail and pulled up beside the utility building that housed the showers and ice maker. Guess he didn’t realize how uneven the land was where he parked, or that he had his pick of more scenic spots. But the way he snapped at me, I figured I’d let this obvious newbie learn that lesson himself.
An hour later, while clearing limbs from a trail, I saw Kettican studying the outside of his trailer. I’m not usually nosy, but I wandered closer and realized his trailer had top-of-the-line hideaway bubble levels built into the outer walls. He glanced right, then left, and tapped the controls of the trailer’s electric jacks. When he walked, it reminded me of the teetering gait of a man on stilts. He turned his head owl-like toward me, and I froze in my tracks. I waved and kept moving.
Minutes later, Kettican tested our electrical hookup with what must’ve been a voltmeter, just like an experienced camper would. Maybe he wasn’t a newbie after all. He seemed to know variations in voltage could fry his wiring, and that his trailer had to be level for the refrigerator to work properly. Twice I saw him jerk his head and stare down empty paths, his body motionless except for an occasional tremor in his knees. I resumed my clean-up before he caught me watching him.
By 6:30 PM, it was dark, with only a sliver of moon casting light on the campground. All my campers were in their trailers. I was heading toward my office when I heard a strange noise behind me, a grinding, rhythmic thumping, like a helicopter powering up. I decided to check it out.
The noise stopped. While scanning the campground, I noticed some dark shapes on the trail. The shapes coiled and snaked around bushes and trees.
I pulled my flashlight out of my belt and clicked it on. Three cables stretched along the ground. I followed the cables and realized they ran from the utility building that housed the park’s main transformer to Kettican’s Airstream. Squinting, I saw what looked like the silhouette of a satellite dish on top of Kettican’s trailer.
And this was the guy who’d barked at the idea of spoiling his escape into the wilderness with an internet connection.
Strange thing, though—instead of pointing south, like all other satellite dishes, this one pointed straight up. I stepped closer and heard another sound, a low, rich hum from inside, like a large laser printer at work.
I switched my flashlight off and decided to pay Rai Kettican a visit.
But before I could take a step toward the door, another sound made me freeze in my tracks.
Footsteps rustled through dead leaves behind me, and I wheeled around. Nothing. Then something brushed past my shoulder, and my stomach tightened up. I peered at the dark outline of oaks and pines against the moonlight, but no movement caught my eye. A few feet to my right came the scuffing of hurried steps through pine needles. To my left, something else whisked by unseen.
I gripped my flashlight and braced myself. When my twitching fingers switched the flashlight back on, the only thing I saw in the beam was my frosted breath rolling before my face. Despite the biting cold, my palms and entire back turned slick with sweat.
The footfalls converged behind me toward the Airstream. I spun around. At that moment, white light flashed over the trailer’s roof, and I covered my face in my arms. A low, triumphant laugh rumbled from inside the trailer. I opened my eyes but stood motionless as the handle on the trailer’s door turned, and the door creaked open. A cold shudder crawled down my spine.
Seconds passed. Footsteps crept away from the trailer, then circled around me as angry, whirring sounds flitted past my ears. The murmurs and footsteps faded into the darkness.
I gulped cold air fast and hard. It took me nearly a minute to get up enough nerve to approach Kettican’s trailer, now dark and silent. I gripped my flashlight at eye level, ready to swing it with all the wound-up strength in my muscles. With one foot planted on the step, I leaned into the open door.
The jumpy beam from my flashlight glinted off bare walls. No gear, no appliances. And no Kettican. I peered down at a faint glimmer of reflected light. There, in the middle of the otherwise empty floor lay one brass key, and one silver key.
Whatever else Rai Kettican was, he was a man of his word.
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M. C. Tuggle
M. C. Tuggle is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina. His fantasy, sci-fi, and literary stories have appeared in several publications, including Aurora Wolf, The Flash Fiction Press, Space Squid, and Kzine. The Novel Fox released the paperback version of his novella Aztec Midnight in March, 2016. He blogs at mctuggle.com.