Chapter 3 – Aubree Burnett
Ok, seriously, what the hell was going on? How could they drive past the same dirty motel over and over again? This was like something out of the Twilight Zone. First, there was that creepy dream, and now this? Aubree didn’t know how much more she could take.
“Well, what if it’s only that way when it happens,” said a man midway up the bus, pointing a shaking finger forward. “What if we drive backwards? It could be worth a shot.”
The driver stared at the man for a few seconds, thinking. He made his way back to the wheel and shifted in reverse. Aubree put her hands together and begged whoever to please, please let it work. The bus jerked. Seconds later, her window was covered in the dark mass. The driver was at least going slower this time, probably feeling as anxious as everyone else. Aubree wished he would just hurry up already. Moments later, the view cleared, revealing some trees, old cars, a gas station, and the Midhaven Motel. Ugh, really?!
The driver put the bus in park and stood up.
“So, what do you suggest we do,” asked a woman near the front of the bus.
The driver gave her a funny look. “Listen, lady, I’m just a bus driver,” he said. “This isn’t really my area of expertise.”
“Now, wait a minute—”
The old guy from earlier stood up again. “Alright, everyone, let’s just calm down. What we need to do is figure out what this place is. So, why don’t we all just go outside and see if we can find anyone who knows what’s going on?”
“Hold on,” said the guy in front of him. “Are we sure we want to go outside to the place that won’t let us leave? I mean, look, every window is boarded up. What do you think we’re going to find?”
“We can’t just sit here on the bus forever, son.” He waited for a response, which the other guy obviously didn’t have, thank God. The arguing was getting on Aubree’s nerves. “Alright, everyone, let’s get going.”
The passengers stood up and formed a line in the aisle with the old guy in front. The driver opened the door, and the line started moving. Aubree was in the back, so she watched through the windows as each person stepped outside. Everybody made a nasty face, and a few people started coughing. When it was finally Aubree’s turn to step onto the ground, she realized why.
The air smelled rustic, like there was a worn line of barb-wire under her nose, and it tasted like she was sucking on an old, metal spoon. She brought her hand up to her mouth and noticed that she couldn’t see her breath. In fact, the air was warm, much warmer than it should have been for January. She looked around. Nothing but dirt, trees, and skeevy buildings. The one guy had been right: the windows and doors to all of the buildings had been boarded up, but there was some light coming from the diner and its sign, so there had to be someone around.
The passengers had spread out in the parking lot, little groups forming. Aubree just pulled her phone out of her purse and crossed her arms. Of course there wasn’t a signal–that was the first thing she had checked when she woke up. Still, she could at least look at her photos. Maybe she could take a selfie with a frowny face that she could post later. But then everyone would see her in this dump. Never mind.
The chitchats and arguing around her were annoying. Couldn’t she just look at her memories of good times, and at how good she looked in all of them? One argument, though, was too loud to ignore. She looked up from her phone and saw a woman in a blue skirt suit and a tight ponytail flailing her arms around and shouting at the bus driver. Aubree hated women like that. They always had a huge chip on their shoulder.
“Any reception?” A man in a suit next to her broke her from her thoughts. She gave him a once over–black suit and nice, Italian shoes, hair slicked back, very white teeth. He wasn’t her type, but at least the suit was nice.
“No.” She turned her eyes back to her phone. Hopefully, he would get the hint.
“Me, neither,” he said and paused. “So, what was in Denver for you?” Obviously, he didn’t get it.
Ugh, was this really happening? It was bad enough that she had to tolerate the gross air, but now this? Yeah, she was hot. But, why couldn’t most guys just get that she was out of their league? “I had a modeling gig for a beer commercial,” she said without looking up. The conversation needed to end soon. She definitely wasn’t looking to make any friends here.
“Oh, a model, huh? I have some friends in Denver in the business.” Of course, maybe a friend wouldn’t be so bad. She turned to face the man and saw the business card he was holding out to her. “Let me know if you’re wanting some more work.”
Aubree grabbed the card and read it. Seth Pursley – Business Man. That didn’t mean much. She was about to ask what kind of business man he was when someone yelled out.
“Excuse me! You do not want to be out here!” The yelling came from an old man standing at the doorway of the diner.
“Sorry, sir,” said one of the passengers, “but we were just—”
The old man clapped his hands and called out again. “Everyone, please come inside. I will tell you everything. Seriously, you do not want to be out here. The air is poisonous!”
Poisonous?! That was enough for Aubree. Obviously, it was enough for everyone else, too. After a few brief looks at each other, all of the passengers sprinted toward the diner. The labored breathing only made the air taste worse. The old man held the door open as everyone shoved their way into the diner. The second the last person made it in, the old man slammed the door and looked at their tired faces.
“Everyone, please find a seat. You’re not going like what I have to tell you.”