THE VACATION IS OVER
When six friends return to the U.S. from a relaxing and fun-filled vacation abroad, they eagerly board the airport shuttle that’s arrived to take them back to their hotel.
But it’s the wrong shuttle.
Tired and grumpy, the group quickly realizes something isn’t right with their ride, or the man driving them. After being locked in as passengers for hours, they are separated and turned into prisoners, quickly finding themselves fighting for their lives, and wondering if they’ll ever see their homes, or each other again.
DO YOU TRUST PUBLIC TRANSIT?
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
My wife and I returned from a trip abroad, and our plane arrived late at night and it was raining. When the hotel shuttle arrived to take us back to the hotel where we’d left our car, I thought, “We have no idea if this guy is really who he seems to be. How do we know he’s taking us to the hotel. He could be taking us anywhere.” The idea grew from there. Fortunately, we arrived safely where we were supposed to. The characters in the book were not so lucky.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I wanted a diverse group of friends that would be able to work off of each other and each bring a different personality and tolerance for the situation to the table. I think I did that.
In this chapter, the characters discover that the shuttle driver isn’t exactly who he’s supposed to be. They start to panic.
“Excuse me, sir!” Jeremy yelled through the metal partition, sitting up fast and nearly bumping his head on the van’s ceiling. “Sir! We’re staying at the Marriott Suites!”
The driver stared straight ahead through the rain-splattered windshield, two hands now gripping the wheel.
“Sir, you passed our exit!”
Not even a flick of the eyes into the rearview. Early-nineties Green Day came on the radio and the driver reached one hand to the dial to increase the volume.
He’s ignoring me. I know he can hear me. The fucker is ignoring me.
The shouting had caused the girls to wake up, and they both stirred with irritated grunts and groans of teenagers who’d just been awakened to go to work on a Saturday morning.
Wendy from the back: “S’wrong with Jeremy?” She uncurled herself from her position and stretched her back.
Mark leaned forward, bleary-eyed and rubbing at the back of his neck. “Jeremy, why so loud man? We’re almost there, right?”
“No! There’s something wrong. This guy just went by our exit and didn’t even slow down.”
“Does he know where we’re going?” It was Josh now, back from his nap against the window. Megan’s eyes were still closed, but she managed to mumble out, “He said it,” before yawning and trying to find a more comfortable spot on Josh’s shoulder.
“What’s that, babe?” Josh said, nudging her with his arm.
Even in their semi-panicked state, the group didn’t fail to notice the babe thrown onto the end of that sentence. Guess that’s proof they’re shacking up, Jeremy thought. Wonderful. Brandon and I are now fifth and sixth wheel to two couples. His mind went briefly to Amy, wondered what she was doing, but Brandon’s voice cut his thought short.
“She said, ‘He said it.’ She’s talking about the driver. When he got out of the van at the airport he asked if we were going to the Marriott Suites.”
The van got quiet. Green Day was finishing up their last go of the chorus and an eighteen-wheeler passed by on the left, a spray of water assaulting the bottom of the vehicle.
“So… what’s that mean?” Wendy asked.
“It means he did it on purpose,” Jeremy said. “He’s not taking us to the hotel.”
“Oh good God, Jeremy,” Mark said, leaning forward over the bench, his head next to Josh’s. “Hey buddy! Is there a reason you didn’t take the exit for the Marriott Suites? Construction or… an accident or something? Hey!”
The driver offered nothing in return, only looked over his shoulder to his blind spot as he flipped on the turn signal to change lanes. Then his eyes were back to the road.
The metal grated partition might as well have been soundproof for all the reaction they were getting from the driver.
Josh was apparently tired of playing games, and Jeremy was glad to see somebody finally waking up to the potential of their situation as Josh pounded on the partition hard two times with a balled-up fist. “Asshole! Are you deaf? Where are we going?”
The metal barrier rattled loudly, but gave very little. It was solid and thick and sturdy. The driver didn’t flinch.
Jeremy stared at the man, thought maybe if he looked long enough and hard enough at the guy then, as a human, he would eventually feel obligated to return his gaze.
It didn’t work. The deejay came on the radio and the driver reached one hand out to the knob and changed the station, country this time.
Oh God, even the music is getting worse. Jeremy pounded this time, banging on the partition with both hands and hollering empty-threats.
The volume got turned up louder.
Both hands aching, Jeremy slumped down in his seat and turned to look at the rest of his group. They all stared back at him, eyes wide and full of—finally—fear.
Jeremy sat back up, scrambling to search his heavy jacket’s pockets. He found his cell and pulled it out. “I’m calling the police, asshole! This is your last chance!”
They changed lanes, smoothly and safely.
“Fine!” Jeremy dialed 911 and pressed send. Put the phone to his ear. He could hear the blood pumping furiously in his head.
He pulled the phone away and looked at the screen. The words CALL FAILED stood out brightly in the dim interior of the van. He looked at his signal strength. “Damn it, no signal! Quick, everybody, pull out your phones, try to call nine-one-one!”
All at once the other five of them dug into their jacket pockets and pulled out their phones, the inside of the van suddenly looking like a modern-day rock concert as they all held up their illuminated screens and started moving them side to side.
“Nothing,” Brandon said.
“Fuck! Me neither!” Mark punched the rear of the bench in front of him.
Wendy whimpered a little as she said, “Nope.” And then added, “Battery’s almost dead, too.”
Jeremy looked at Josh and Megan. They just shook their heads and then looked back to their useless cell phones.
“How’s that even possible?” Mark asked. “We’re in a fuckin’ metropolis area. We’re right outside the nation’s fuckin’ capital!”
Jeremy, good ole worrying Jeremy, felt he knew the answer.
“The van is blocking cell signals,” he said, looking to the roof.
“Fuck you talking about?” Mark asked.
Brandon turned to look at Mark, irritation in his eyes. “He’s saying there’s a device in or on the van that’s blocking cellular signals from penetrating. In layman’s terms, it means our cell phones aren’t good for a damn thing except playing Angry Birds.” Then he added, “And taking all the pictures we can of the asshole up there driving. That way, when we get out of this, we can show the police what his face looks like from every angle.”
There was seriousness in Brandon’s voice that unnerved Jeremy a little. Mark, too, apparently, because he didn’t bite back with his typical sarcastic or mean-spirited remark.
What Jeremy didn’t want to say out loud was this: They were in an unmarked black van, caged in the back while the driver ignored them, doing seventy-miles-per-hour on wet roads toward a destination that was not their own, all while their cell phones were turned into two-hundred-dollar flashlights. There was something very bad going on, and there was no guarantee that they would make it out of this alive.
Jeremy, good ole worrying Jeremy, already had them pegged for dead.
Unless they did something fast.
Unless they could…
Jeremy started banging on the windows of the van, kicking at the door and bouncing up and down in his seat. The springs inside the bench gave out cries of abuse. He started to yell, “Help! Hey! Anybody!”
A single car passed them on the right and then was gone. Jeremy used one hand to motion to the rest of the group to follow his lead, to start trying to make a scene. “Come on guys! Start acting crazy! Somebody will notice!”
There was a hesitation, and he sensed it from all of them. Humans, even in the most dire of circumstances, sometimes still have an aversion to wanting to look like an idiot.
Wendy was the first one to cave. She sat up on her knees and turned around, leaning across the back of the bench and reaching over the pile of luggage in the back to pound on the windows of the rear doors. “Hey!”—thud thud thud thud thud—“Hey, we need help!” She continued to hit the glass, her lower body hopping up and down with each strike.
Mark started to do the same on his side window, first slapping it, open-palmed, and then balling up his powerful fist and hammering away, filling the air with a string of obscenities to go with his pleas for help.
Josh stood up, his top quarter hunched over and pressed against the roof of the van, and started to stomp his feet and throw his body into the side window. The van rocked slightly to the left each time he did it. This did get a reaction from the driver. He did a quick jerk of the steering wheel to the left—just a brief, sudden movement—and Josh toppled over into Megan’s lap, his right elbow banging against the partition.
This caused a rise in Megan who, once Josh was back in his seat, slid down in her seat and raised both legs, kicking at the metal divider with her tiny sneaker-clad feet. The rattling and vibrating of the grating grew louder and more powerful with each kick, but it still showed no signs of being broken down. The bolts and brackets held strong.
Brandon only sat there, his eyes focused on the driver, something in him not quite ready to capitulate and join the antics of his friends. His mind raced for a solution. He knew he was the smart one of the group. Not that they were stupid—well, Wendy wasn’t the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree. But she was hot, so it worked out—but Brandon knew his brain worked a little differently. He lived a different life than them. Dealt with things they didn’t know about. He was street smart. Usually, he thought, and then pushed away thinking about what he was going to have to deal with once he got back home—If he got back home. His eyes looked around the van, back to the driver, then back to his friends. Gotta be something, he thought.
Eventually, the group settled down. Their hands and feet and voices were sore, and the few cars on the road that had passed them hadn’t even given a glance in the van’s direction.
“They’re not even looking at us!” Mark said.
Brandon thought back to the image of the van as it had pulled up to the shuttle stop at the airport. Remembered how black it was. “Windows are tinted,” he said. “They can’t see a damn thing. And let’s face it, they certainly can’t hear us.” He knew the screaming was only for the group’s satisfaction; scratching some internal itch of wanting to be rescued, to do everything they could to be noticed.
The driver coughed and then cleared his throat, and the group poised itself with anticipation.
He said nothing.
They all sat in silence. Minutes ticked by, each one seemingly longer than the last. Wendy had taken up refuge inside Mark’s arms, her face buried in his broad chest and one arm wrapped around his torso. Josh had his arm around Megan, and she clasped his hand with hers, her fingers mindlessly playing with his. All of their eyes seemed blank. They stared ahead at nothing, each of their minds wondering about their fate.
Brandon sat on the back bench and looked over at Wendy acting afraid and trying to hide her tears in Mark’s jacket. He rolled his eyes. Megan and Josh were wrapped in a little love cocoon too, and he couldn’t blame them. With just the two of them left to try and think of what to do next, Brandon leaned forward and tapped Jeremy on the shoulder.
Jeremy turned and saw Brandon, hands stuffed in the pockets of his jacket, and he could smell the mint from his chewing gum his face was so close.
“What do you think, man?” Brandon asked him.
“What do you mean, exactly? What do I think about us being held against our will and driven down the interstate by a silent psycho?”
Brandon stayed calm. Knew that was the best bet for any situation. But he had to ask the question, had to know what Jeremy—the one who always worried, but also always managed to stay pretty levelheaded—would think about something. “What I mean is, do you think he’s going to try to kill us? I’ve been thinking, and, like, there’s six of us, man. If he were really just some psycho killer who’s figured out a clever way into getting victims to just jump into a vehicle with him, wouldn’t he target smaller groups? Or individuals? Why a group so large? Isn’t that more risk? Bigger chance of failure, or chances of somebody escaping? I mean, even if he’s got a gun and… Dude, you okay?”
Brandon’s words had triggered thoughts in Jeremy’s head that he’d been trying to fight off. Images of bullet holes through the foreheads of his friends, six graves dug into the wet earth in the middle of the woods off some back road in a forgotten county. Bloodied limbs being fed through a wood chipper, the evidence getting sprayed out the other end in a pulpy red mess. He’s going to kill us, he’s going to kill us, hesgoingtokillus!
All at once it felt like his chest was collapsing and his lungs filled with lead. He tried to suck in air and only managed quick, rapid intakes of breath. Staccato inhales and expulsions. His heart hammered and stammered, a skipped beat here or there. He was getting dizzy and oh God why was it so hot in the van? He needed to get his jacket off. He clawed at the zipper and fumbled with the buttons.
He needed air.
He needed to escape.
“Jeremy, calm down, man!” Josh was sitting up and reaching out a hand to grip his friend’s shoulder.
“Is he having one of those things he gets?” Megan asked. “Those… panic attack things?”
“Fuck, looks like it,” Mark said from the rear. “I saw him have one once before. Wasn’t like this, though. Wasn’t this bad.”
Wendy could only stare, her heart thudding hard in her chest as she watched her friend suffer.
Brandon shocked them all when his hand shot out and he slapped Jeremy across the face. The smack echoed off the van’s interior, and for a second, they all thought it had worked. Jeremy’s breathing stalled in his chest, and his squirming stopped.
But the reprieve was brief. Because the next second, Jeremy’s chest did one huge heave upward, a great gasp escaping his lips, and then he was at it again. The little mini-breaths causing his chest to jump up and down up and down up and down.
Then his hand grabbed the door handle and started to pull.
“I’ve got to get out! I’ve got to get out! I’ve got to get out!” Jeremy tugged on the handle repeatedly, in constant rhythm with his shouting, the silver plastic flexing in his hand with each tug. But the latch was not responding. The door was locked. His other hand started scraping along the door, down the side and along the top where it met the window, fingers searching desperately for the lock.
There was nothing.
“Let me out, motherfucker!” Jeremy jerked the handle more, harder and with deeper frustration each time he pulled.
The group began to shout together, trying to get Jeremy to calm down before he ended up hurting himself. His breathing was getting more erratic, and Brandon saw his friend get a glazed look in his eyes at one point and nearly topple head first into the window. But somehow, Jeremy managed to keep himself from hyperventilating, and he kept tugging away at the door handle, hurling his curses and pleas at the driver. Megan tried to pull him close to her, get him to sit down in his seat, but he shrugged her off hard and she retreated back into Josh’s embrace, a single tear falling down her cheek.
Right when Brandon thought Jeremy was going to simply snap the door handle off, his friend stopped pulling on it, and instead let out a hoarse scream and began to punch the window with his fist.
“Let!” (punch) “Me!” (punch) “Out!” (punch)
He did this over and over, the screams getting louder, the force behind each blow increasing. The glass was unrelenting.
He’s going to break his fucking hand, Mark thought, about to switch places with Wendy in the back so he could try to restrain Jeremy.
Then, with a single blow, the skin on Jeremy’s knuckles split, and he started to leave smeared dots of crimson on the tinted glass.
Jeremy didn’t notice. Kept pounding.
“Oh, for Christ’s sake!” It was the driver who’d shouted, and the entire group fell still and silent, shocked at his first words of their trip. All but Jeremy, that is, who hadn’t even noticed. He was lost in his panic.
The van had been traveling in the far right lane of the four-lane highway, and he pulled the wheel hard to his left, crossing all three lanes of traffic in one continuous swoop. A single car blared its horn and then shot by on their right. The group was flung against the right wall of the van. The momentum carrying Jeremy face-first into the blood-spotted window.
“What the fuck, man!” Mark shouted from the rear. “You trying to kill us?”
Poor choice of words, Brandon thought, extracting himself from Wendy, but not before taking a deep inhale of her shampooed hair.
The driver never turned to look at them, but shouted over the sound of the rain and the radio. “Okay buddy, you want out so badly? Go ahead!” He reached down with his left hand and hit a button to unlock the door, the group all swinging their heads around at the sound of the lock disengaging to their right.
Then the driver leaned heavier on the gas and the speedometer shot up to eighty.
Author of suspense and horror novels, as well as short stories and collections, Michael’s books have been downloaded over 80,000 times on Amazon.com. His suspense novel Regret* has been in and out of the Top 100 Suspense rankings on Amazon, recently reaching the #1 spot overall in the free books section during a promotion. Rough Draft, a horror novel and newest release, has been in the Top 100 horror rankings. His newest novel, Transit, is available now!
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