The fire burned in front of Karen, the flames licking at the air above and the embers cracking off. Karen loved this time at night, the smell of burning wood filled her nose. That smell reminded her of the best times of her childhood. Her father would take them up to the lake a couple of times every summer. For these few days, on these special weekends, he would control his drinking problem and wouldn’t make Karen feel awful about herself. He never hit her, but when they were at home he would constantly demean her and devalue her, just like he did her mother.
Now Karen was always camping, travelling from place to place, from camp site to camp site. Staying for no more than a fortnight, and moving on to another location. She was arbitrary about the next location and only selected it once on the highway. The only thing that factored in was the change of seasons in the northern states. She tried to always drive at least two states away, sleeping in Walmart parking lots in transit. She did all her transactions in cash and essentially lived off grid. Even her car was registered in her elderly mothers name, to a residence in Michigan. She packed only a few items. A small green duffel bag full of tattered old clothes, a blue cooler with a white lid and a medium sized tent. The tent she could erect in mere minutes at this point. Her sleeping bag was the one expense she tended to splurge on. She replaced her tents at second hand camping stores around the country, always buying the same sized Coleman brand.
Finally setup on her site, she would take a couple of days to relax and read. She would watch the families move in and out of the camp site next to her. The children playing, parents laughing and having a beer and the dogs curled up chewing on bones. She didn’t interact with those families ever, ignored them when she could and gave little more than a cursory smile when they acknowledge her.
She was a tall woman of mostly nondescript features. Her skin was weathered from the years in the sun, her glasses were best suited for the 80s and her hair was starting to grey. If anyone remembered her it would be of only her mullet styled haircut. She ate simple foods, hot dogs, chicken thighs and fruit. She drank the water she kept in her small container. While she sat in her site watching others, she tracked their movements and learned what she could about them. Wondering if the families were always this happy, or like her childhood, this was the only time the father was nice to them. She guessed most of them left the camp site and would return home to a similar hell that her childhood was filled with.
After these few days of sitting by the fire and reading, she would start to move into the nearby towns. Never into affluent towns, she would stick out in these areas. She didn’t want others to notice her. The truth was she didn’t know how to interact in a social environment. She would spend a day in town finding a person to follow and watch. She would find a family and watch the father interact, then follow the father in between his stops. Jotting down the license number and following him to his home. Watching for a glimpse of a normal family. She would head to the family home early for a few days and follow the father around on his day, to work, and back home. Taking notes on how he did things and his routines. When she was confident she had figured out all of his routines, she would spend a full day at the camp site preparing for her next step.
On her last day of camping she would wrap up all of her belongings and pile them into the back of her small grey VW station wagon and head into town. She would go to the spots she expected to find the father and wait for the one weakness in his day she knew of. When he got there, she struck quickly, incapacitating him with a chloroform rag and quickly stuffing him into the back seat of the car. She tucked a blanket over him and took him out to the woods nearby. She tied him up to a tree and dug a shallow hole. As soon as he awoke she yelled at him for all the mental abuse he caused and then slit his throat. She shoved his lifeless body into the grave, careful not to get his blood onto her clothes. She buried him, and drove off. The same routine for years now.
She drove for a couple of days until she found a new state and new campground to stay. Never the same one twice inside of a 5 year period. She would get in and start a fire, burning anything that got blood on it, slowly as not to bring attention to it. She sat there watching the evidence burn, watching the fire lick the air above it and the embers crack off into the sky.