the Black Van
Shades halted at the next fork in the road. To put it mildly, he was lost.
The region back here was a labyrinth of largely unmarked roads, most of them logging roads, but he knew that a few people actually lived up in the mountains. He had hoped to find one of the reclusive houses hidden out here in the deeper woods, and was having no luck at all. Though he had mentally mapped out many of the trails in the area, he had to admit that he had never ventured far down any of the roads themselves.
But at least I ditched the hitchhikers.
Though he understood full well what that had to mean. That none of them had appeared to accost him since they got separated meant that they had gone after John. Even though they spooked the hell out of him, he still wished they had stuck with him. The only thing worse than that was the knowledge that there was nothing he could do about it out here. His friend, unfortunately, was as much on his own as he himself was.
He had originally chosen this way so he wouldn’t have to ditch his bike, but now he was beginning to regret that decision; if John had doubled back, he might have been able to climb over the bank on foot in time to hitch a ride with him, he just wished he had thought of that sooner.
Today had been a rollercoaster ride even without this last touch. School had been the same-old, but even then he was haunted by a strange feeling, an enigmatic anticipation he just couldn’t shake, and had originally attributed to spring restlessness. Or perhaps it was about tomorrow’s hike— but then he talked to Amy. Then he ran into Carlos, and Shades had to admit that something had re-lit his arch-rival’s fuse earlier this week, and it had burned down fast. After such a mundane time at work, he still felt strange, and, sure enough, his day still hadn’t finished springing all of its surprises on him, saving the weirdest twist for last.
How did it come to this?
Ever since he left Kalispell, everything went straight to hell within the hour. First the radio, then the hitchhikers, on an otherwise deserted highway. Despite his anxious imaginings, he was still stunned that someone had actually broken into his house. Worst of all, though, he had endangered the life of a good friend against an as-yet unknown adversary.
“What else can go wrong?”
Shades was about to try to find his way back, having resolved to stash his bike in the bushes until he could retrieve it, and make his way back into Lakeside on foot, when he heard the rumble of an approaching motor behind him. He turned and looked back, at first seeing nothing. Seconds later, a black van came around the last corner. Shielding his eyes against the van’s high-beams, he read the license plate.
There was something about that word that gave Shades a really bad feeling. Though he didn’t have much time to figure it out, as those headlights locked on to him. Engine roaring, an automotive bull pawing the dirt. The tires squealed as the shadowy driver prepared to charge, throwing mud out behind it in thick streams.
“Shit! Shit! Shit!”
Shades put the pedal to the metal just before the van peeled out. The van giving chase, taking every corner with him. Shades’ quick thinking had gained him at least a couple seconds’ head start.
He quickly discovered, though, that he was running at a disadvantage. Ordinarily, his motorcycle would have superior speed and maneuverability, but in these conditions, he couldn’t really utilize more than half of it. The van, on the other hand, had greater stability with four wheels on the ground, and was holding steady on his tail. Compounding his problem was the fact that the van had a very good driver.
Bogey on your six, Shades! he thought as he poured on as much speed as he dared, It’s the Boogeyvan! And tried not to laugh.
He knew this was going to be a close race, with no second place.
This dragged on for a couple endless minutes, the van breathing down Shades’ neck. It was a constant struggle to maintain control while not giving any ground. And the van stuck stubbornly on his trail at every turn.
“Dammit! Who is this guy?…”
Shades wondered who was driving, if it was one of those hitchhikers, or someone else. That the driver was out here didn’t prove anything in and of itself, but that he had singled him out and attacked him was enough to convince him that his pursuer was somehow involved in all of this. This much he was able to conclude even as he focused on his own driving.
Then they came out on a long, straight stretch, and Shades decided to press his speed advantage. A quick glimpse over his shoulder revealed that he was beginning to pull out ahead.
Naturally, that was when his engine started sputtering out.
“No. Not now…”
Thinking back, Shades realized that he had known the possibility he might be venturing into dangerous territory, from the moment he found his line was dead. Now he wished he had thought to fill up at the gas station when he had the chance. It would only be a matter of seconds before he lost all advantage.
So he did the only thing he could think of.
“Shhiiitttt!!…” Shades cried as he bailed at the next turn. Rolling and tumbling through the mud as his bike slid into the ditch. As he skidded to a halt, landing in some underbrush, he heard a squeal of brakes, followed by a thunderous, crunching crash.
Shades caught a fragmentary glimpse of the van slamming into a tree, its driver unable to turn in time as its quarry made its unpredictable move.