"Hey," said Jenny, "you guys want to hear a scary story?"
It was midnight, and they were on a remote road somewhere in the remote Staffordshire countryside. Mark was driving, squinting with increasing annoyance at the sat nav on the windscreen. Jenny sat in the passenger seat with a big stuffed Panda on her lap. In the back sat Christopher, who was trying to find a signal on his phone, and Winter, who was asleep on Christopher's shoulder.
"Go on, then," said Christopher, stuffing his phone back in his pocket. "Try me. Whatever it is I bet I've heard it before."
"Oh yeah?" Jenny grinned. She loved telling stories, and tonight was the perfect night for something spooky. The four of them had just spent the day at Alton Towers, enjoying a day spent riding on roller coasters and eating ridiculously unhealthy food. Jenny was pleasantly exhausted, but--unlike Winter--too wide awake to sleep. It was a long way back to Bristol, so she figured she might as well keep herself entertained.
"So," she said, "there's this couple driving along the road late at night, when their car breaks down. They're in the middle of nowhere, and the guy tells the woman to stay there and lock the doors while he goes for help--"
Grinning, Christopher chimed in, "Escaped lunatic, right? Beheads her boyfriend and ends up on top of the car with his severed head."
Jenny laughed. "All right, then, I'll admit it: you're pretty good, for a nerd. So this couple are going out to dinner and they hire a babysitter to look after their little boy while they're gone--"
"Clown statue, right?" said Christopher. "They get a call in the middle of the meal from the babysitter asking if she can move the scary clown statue out of the kid's room. But there is no clown statue in his room at all, it's actually some weird psycho all dressed up pretending to be a statue."
"No, actually," said Jenny, doing her best to put in an offended tone. "As if I'd go for something so simplistic. How little you know me." She fluttered her eyelashes at him in the mirror. "As a matter of fact the babysitter did call them in the middle of the meal, to tell them that she'd put the turkey in the oven."
"Ah," said Christopher. "But there was no turkey, right?"
"Right," said Jenny. "The babysitter got stoned and thought that the baby was a turkey, and ended up cooking it." She pouted. "This is no fun. You know all my stories."
"What can I say? It's hard being smart." Christopher gave a smug little smile. At that moment Winter stirred a little and turned against his shoulder. He froze, afraid of waking her, and Jenny couldn't help but laugh.
"Apparently you're not just smart but you make a pretty good pillow too."
"Hate to interrupt guys," said Mark, "but I think we might be lost."
"Lost?" said Christopher, clearly dismayed. "But you've got the sat nav."
Mark chuckled. "You and technology, man. It can't find the satellite."
"So where exactly are we then?" said Jenny. "Roughly speaking."
"If I knew that we wouldn't be lost." He slowed down a little. "Here, have a look at that sign."
Jenny peered out of the window, cupping her face against the glass the better to see. The sign that Mark was talking about was a flimsy wooden post with a number of arms pointing in different directions. Squinting at the one that pointed along the road on which they travelled Jenny was able to make out the inscription "2 miles", but not a whole lot else.
"There's something a couple of miles ahead," she reported. "Not sure what though. But hopefully we can find that out when we get there."
They drove on for a tense few minutes, winding their way down the narrow road with the headlight beams picking out the spindly bushes and rotting fences on either side.
Eventually Christopher said, "I've never liked that clown story. It creeps me out. Clowns are so freaky anyway. They shouldn't be allowed."
Jenny laughed. "You want to talk about realism? You ever notice how often people break down in scary stories. It's like nobody bothers to put in some petrol before they drive down the long deserted road of the dead."
"Yeah," said Christopher, laughing slightly. "Stupid isn't it." At which point, with a couple of surprisingly quiet pops, the front tyres both exploded and the car went screaming wildly off the road.