Chapter 2 – Michael Hamman
Michael had awoken to the screeching tires and immediately looked out the window to his left. About fifty yards of familiar dirt stretched out from the road. That familiar dirt abruptly ended where it met the even more familiar fog. The dream had been one of the scariest ones he’d ever had. To see that fog laying outside of his window after waking up sent more than a chill up his spine, but there was probably an explanation for it. He had probably just caught a glimpse of it before he fell asleep, causing him to dream about it. But that didn’t matter right now. What mattered is why they had stopped.
“We have a problem.”
His first vacation in five years, and there was a problem before he even got there. He should have known something would happen.
“So, what’s the problem, son,” asked the man sitting across the aisle. Michael had noticed him as they boarded the bus in St. Louis. His black walnut skin was offset by his short, grey hair. He had sat down as stiffly as a man could and gave Michael a quick survey before he pulled out a miniature from his pocket and started pouring it into his coffee.
Michael looked at the bus driver. His eyes were set hard on the floor as he searched for the right way to tell everyone. Michael folded his arms and waited for the bad news.
“We’re stuck here.” The other passengers erupted with a barrage of “what-s” and “where are we-s,” the commotion too much for the bus driver to answer any one person. Michael put his knees on his seat and rested his arms on its back to get a better view of the passengers. He was about to tell them to be quiet when the stiff man stood up and held his hands out to his sides.
“Alright, people, calm down. Calm down. We’re not going to get any answers if we’re all talking out of order.” His voice was firm and commanding. The entire bus quieted as Michael felt a twinge of hatred. The man turned his attention back to the bus driver. “Now, son, what do you mean ‘we’re stuck here?’ The bus was just moving.”
The driver, a youngish Latino man, took his eyes away from the man and directed them at the floor again. “Do you all see that rest stop outside? The Midhaven Motel?” The other passengers nodded their heads, only glancing at the motel before turning back to the driver. “And, do you see that fog on the other side and in front of us?” Everyone tensed up at the mention of the fog. No one nodded their heads this time. They all sat there, waiting. “Well, every time I drive into that fog—” He paused and his shoulders dropped. “I come out of it about ten seconds later and I see that same motel again.”
The passengers erupted again.
“Is this some kind of joke?”
“What? Are you high or something?”
“I’m calling your supervisor right now!”
Michael looked around at the other passengers, some of them shouting at the driver and others sitting with looks of utter disbelief. His eyes stopped on one woman near the back of the bus. She had long, brown hair tied up in a tight ponytail. She wore a blue skirt suit that hugged her body nicely. The red on her forehead was the only thing wrong with the picture. That, and the scowl she had on her face. She was probably gorgeous when she smiled.
Michael threw his head down. Five years of working his ass off without vacation and, apparently, he still hadn’t learned his lesson. He turned back to the front of the bus.
The driver put up his hands and yelled, “Fine! You don’t believe me? I’ll show you!” He spun around, sat behind the wheel, and shifted the gear. The bus lurched forward and everyone fell back into their seats. Michael watched as a few passengers frantically buckled their seatbelts, probably thinking the driver had gone insane. “Everyone say, ‘Goodbye’ to the Midhaven Motel,” the driver cackled over his shoulder. That didn’t help.
Michael watched as the rest stop disappeared behind the trees and the bus entered the fog, picking up speed a little too quickly. On either side, the thick fog enveloped them, obscuring everything. And, the bus sped up.
Michael grabbed the seats around him and moved himself to the aisle. This guy needed to calm down. They emerged from the fog. He took a step toward the driver when a neon glow on the right called his attention. It came from a sign on a 50’s-style diner that simply read, ‘Diner.’ The rest of the stop came into view, and in the center was an office building with a sign that read, ‘The Midhaven Motel.’
It had to be a coincidence. Small towns in America weren’t known for their clever names, so maybe there were two. As the thought occurred, the bus approached the fog again, still accelerating. Before Michael could process everything, they were enveloped once more. He flung himself into the empty seats in front of the stiff man and waited, ready to take in whatever was on the other side.
They emerged, and the neon glow of a sign that read, ‘Diner’ assaulted him. The hair on his arms rose as a few beads of sweat formed on his head.
It couldn’t be happening. His eyes were just playing tricks on him. He had to focus, find something different. An L-shaped motel. An office building in front. To the right: a 50’s-style diner with a neon sign. To the left: a gas station with a few rows of old cars and trucks along the tree line. Trees.
They entered the fog again. Ten seconds later, the Midhaven Motel greeted everyone. The driver slammed on the breaks, throwing a few people forward. He stood up and faced the passengers.
“You believe me now?”