It was inevitable. John knew that.
He just thought they would have a little more time. Katie was only fifteen!
And he never thought it would come to a head in autumn, always the whole family’s favorite time of the year.
But his oldest daughter had started complaining before they even got in the car, and she kept it up the whole ride out to Stoker’s Pumpkin Farm.
“This is boring!” Katie grumbled as the Walters piled out of the Chevy.
“John,” Fred Stoker said with a nod when he saw his old friend.
John waved a timid hand, embarrassed by the scene Katie was causing.
“Sounds like it might be time for Katie to tackle the big kids’ hayride,” Fred said.
John shot a serious look at his pal. “I think you might be right.”
“I don’t want to go on any hayride,” Katie protested.
“I think you’ll enjoy this,” Fred said, clapping a hand on her shoulder and leading her toward the woods. A line of other teens stood waiting. They all looked bored.
“I don’t see what’s so great about this,” Katie said to the boy seated on the hay bale next to her in the back of the wagon. She watched the opening of the woods disappear behind them.
“Yeah, seems like every other lame hayride I’ve been on,” the kid said, eyes half closed.
Dusk was almost gone, and the trees closed in around them, branches scraping against Katie’s face as the wagon jostled back and forth.
“Hey, take it easy up there!” she yelled and turned to face the front of the wagon.
There was no driver. There were no horses.
Katie reached for her new friend but grabbed only a handful of hay.
The wagon was empty.
The black forest swallowed Katie’s scream.