getting to the bottom of this
Shades crawled to his feet, amazed that he had sustained no major injuries.
Of course, he had taken it the way he was taught, rolling and tumbling, and came out of it with only a few scrapes and bruises. Lucky not to have hit any trees in the process. Cold and soaked with mud, and already sore from the impact. But otherwise unharmed.
The van, on the other hand, hadn’t fared so well, he could tell that much even in the dark.
Even so, he stumbled down the road, paying no heed to his direction. Keeping near the edge of the road so he could duck into the trees. After a moment, he stopped and looked back down the road to see that the black van wasn’t following him.
He flipped up his visor, wondering how he had even seen where he was going with all the mud covering it. Then he simply took off his helmet, stashing it in the bushes. No choice but to come back for it later, along with his bike.
If he survived this.
Shades shrugged off his backpack, fishing out the flashlight that he always carried. Once he found that he would have to ride home after dark, it was the first piece of equipment he acquired. Now he was pleased to see that it still worked.
That taken care of, he cautiously walked back to the scene.
He was not so pleased when he turned the light on his bike. Just thinking about all the hard work he had gone to…
Shades flashed the light at the van, feeling not a hint of sympathy for the wreck before him. If he’s hurt, it’s his own damn fault. Fists clenched, he turned and strode toward the van.
When the van’s lights spontaneously winked on for a second, Shades literally jumped back from it, nearly slipping in the mud.
And remembered something, finally understood. This almost certainly had to be the van he could have sworn had cut him from the Army Surplus store to work, had to be. Back then he had been too distracted with his thoughts about his date with Amy and Round Two with Carlos, but now that he thought about it, he was fairly sure that same van had followed him all the way to work. That, and he belatedly remembered about the Black Van crimes.
Here was an opportunity to find out who this bastard really was.
He took another step toward the van, then paused again. Was the driver injured? (advantage) Was he armed? (disadvantage) Packing? (major disadvantage) How many people were there? And was this connected to the hitchhikers somehow? Was he one of them?
So many questions. So many risks. And the illegally tinted windows, much like his own specs, betrayed no useful intelligence. Just a shapeless shadow slumped behind the wheel, possibly unconscious, possibly playing possum with a gun clamped in one hand for all he knew.
After weighing the risks, he decided not to go back. Pissed as he was about this whole matter, he decided it wasn’t worth his life. He might not have a face, but he did have something for the authorities to look into. POWRSRJ… How many vanity plates could there be with that name?
That settled, he continued down the road.
Looking back over his shoulder constantly, as if the van were some dangerous animal you don’t dare turn your back on. And listening for any signs of pursuit, as well as keeping an eye out for more hitchhikers. Or some as-yet unseen threat.
He still couldn’t get over how easily he and John had gotten separated. If he had stopped long enough to work out an escape plan, they likely wouldn’t be left on their own in separate predicaments. At least working together, they’d have a better chance.
…A better chance at what? he wondered.
No answer. Just the quiet of the woods.
He got his answer a moment later, in the form of a near-blinding flash, brighter than any lightning. Imprinted on his retina, its reflection across a spiral-shaped ceiling of clouds above. A moment later, the flash was followed by an unearthly roaring sound that washed through the air like an invisible tidal wave, more felt than heard.
This only furthered his belief that whatever was going on tonight was just not right. He had never seen, nor heard of, clouds like that. I really don’t want to know what caused that…
“…Or do I?” Shades was still pretty steamed about his bike, and worried about John. Whatever was going on, it had kept him on the run since Somers. And he was getting very tired of running. “I’m going to get to the bottom of this…”
The center of that giant spiral seemed to be somewhere off to his left, but even its eye was so huge, he feared he might be chasing a rainbow. Then he remembered that not long after the hitchhikers had appeared, his radio reception had gone all to shit on him. And from John and the gas station, he had learned that it was no better out here. It was a stab in the dark, but perhaps the interference would get stronger the closer he got to the source.
At least it was something.
Remembering the creepy surprise he got last time, it took him a moment to screw up the nerve to turn the radio back on. When he did, he again heard the same disturbing sounds as last time. Only more of it, the signal consisting of sounds the like of which he had never heard before.
But no way to determine a direction.
Then he wondered if FM frequencies were effected. Upon switching, he discovered that the transmissions on this band were part FM signal, part distortion. And he only needed to walk a hundred yards or so down the road to notice that the signal was becoming increasingly distorted.
FM was more sensitive to the interference.
Armed with this information, Shades set out to get to the bottom of this. For real this time. Moving in a direction that intensified the disruption, he walked along.
Cold. Wet. Muddy. Tired. But no longer lost.