"Remind me again why we drove this thing."
Katie thumps the steering wheel, hard, as it sticks again. This time, thankfully, unsticking it doesn't swerve the Winnebago into traffic. "Because it's a hell of a lot cheaper than hotels, and I for one don't have the money to take this trip any other way."
Rena remains unconvinced, slouched in the threadbare passenger's seat with her arms crossed. "In that case, remind me why we're taking this trip."
Katie raises an eyebrow and casts a significant glance towards the back of the vehicle. Rena glances over her shoulder. Alex is still back there, curled like a cat on the ‘Bago's thin sofa. He's angelic when he sleeps; she can so easily forget.
She sighs heavily and goes back to staring out the windshield. "Right."
They don't speak again for another ten miles. Even then, the uncomfortable silence only breaks when a deeper-than-usual pothole makes the old vehicle buck under them, actually slamming Rena's head into the ceiling. She yelps loudly, swearing between clenched teeth.
"Quiet!" Katie hisses, throwing another glance over her shoulder. "He's still asleep for Christ's sake!"
Rena, clutching her aching head, growls unintelligibly. "Please tell me there's a stop ahead."
Katie glances at her, back to the boy stirring on the sofa, and pulls into the right lane. "We'll get some gas. I've gotta fill up anyway, if we want to make it to the Badlands by tomorrow."
They exit the highway into an utterly forgettable little town. Barely more than a knot of buildings snagged on the juncture of highway and old prairie road, it nonetheless has what they're looking for: a gas station and a rest stop. Katie pulls the creaking, clanking old RV up to the pump and lets its laboring engine shudder gratefully to a halt.
"The real trick will be getting it started again," Rena mutters, clambering out her door. "I'm going to the john."
"I'll fill it up. Grab a bag of chips on your way back, will you?"
Rena returns in a few minutes, marginally refreshed and bearing chips, to find that Katie has moved the old RV to the edge of the parking lot. Inside, she and Alex are sitting side-by-side on the sofa. The boy leans against her, shivering a little under her arm but smiling at whatever story she’s telling.
"Hey," Rena called, leaning on the doorframe. "How you doing, kid?"
Alex looks up. "Rena! Hey, you brought chips!" He takes the proffered bag and tears it open. Around a mouthful of potato: "Thanks."
Katie tightens her arm gently, squeezing the boy a little closer. "Alex was just telling me about his dream."
Rena feels the corners of her mouth pull down. "Oh?"
"Dinosaurs riding rocket ships." A relieved grin. "Just the usual."
Rena relaxes. "Sounds like fun."
"Yeah, it was okay," Alex interjects, crunching down on another chip. "I'm getting kinda stiff though. Can we get out for a walk?"
"I saw a pond over past the bathrooms," Rena offers.
"Oh, cool! Frogs?" The boy worms out from under Katie's arm and is on his feet in a flash.
Rena can't help her grin. "Yeah, probably. Come on, let's go see."
The three of them stroll across the parking lot, sharing the chips and laughing. Alex's innocent happiness has already washed away much of the wear on Rena's nerves; by the time they pass the bathrooms and round the cinder-block wall, she's fresh and happy again.
As they round the corner, Alex takes in the scene: an old pond, scummed over with duckweed and algae, set like a dull sheet of green plastic between high grassy banks. Katie made sure he's wearing old clothes and his rubber boots, ready for a brief adventure; with her nod of permission, he clambers down the shallowest of the banks to stand by the water's edge.
Mud, greenish-brown, sticky, and studded with the pathetic tiny leaves of washed-ashore duckweed. Reeds. A discarded beer can. The pond is perfectly flat.
Alex frowns, peers narrowly into the water at his feet. "Uh, Mom? There's something in here."
Katie and Rena bend closer. "Like what, hon?" Katie asks.
"It's got really big eyes."
Rena stares into the water. She can't see anything unusual — just a lot of duckweed. The water's opaque, impenetrable.
"Wow," Alex breathes, "look at it! Mom, wow!" His eyes are tracking upwards, following something Rena can't see as it rises out of the pond. "That's the biggest frog I've ever seen!"
Grinning hugely, the boy starts walking forward straight into the mire.
"Alex!" Katie snaps. "Come back!"
"Aw, Mom." The boy glances over his shoulder. His smile is pure childhood: he's seen his prize, and only it will now suffice. "It's just a frog!"
And before they can say anything else, he sets off at a run. Green water and duckweed splash up around him as he disappears completely under the pond.
Rena screams. Katie is already bolting forward, tearing off her jacket. "ALEX!" she howls. "Come back!"
In her horror, she's utterly focused on the ripples left by the vanished boy. All she can think is to bring him back.
Otherwise, she might have seen the water bending.
At the center of the pond, it dents downwards. The edges curve up, raising the water level on the banks an inch — a few inches — a foot. The whole surface of the pond warps into a shallow cone. There's a ringing in the air, a crystalline whine too high to hear. Distant growl of bending metal. Squealing brakes.
A car knocks Katie off her feet.
It had been a middle-aged white sedan. Now it's a half-ton projectile, pulled into the pond like iron filings to an industrial magnet. Katie is gone in an eyeblink.
Another car, and another. They rocket out of the parking lot and slam into the cold green water, bullet-fast but not leaving so much as a ripple. The next one takes Rena with it. The next is their Winnebago.
The ringing fades. Slowly the pond settles back into its banks.
Green water, grassy mounds. Hulks of years-rusted cars, half-submerged. No trace of the three newcomers.
All is quiet again.