“We just crossed into Arizona,” Bob yelled over his shoulder. “At least another four hours.”
“Can we just go around it?” Robbie asked.
“Only if we want to skip the show and drive to California instead,” Mickey commented. “Look at the size of that fucker.”
“Dude,” agreed Fiddles.
I looked at Jacob. “What do we do?”
He didn’t look too happy. He shrugged. “Bob? Have you dealt with this kind of crazy shit before?”
“Yup. Nothing this big though. We should be fine. The green machine should keep out most of the dust. We’ll just pull over, far off the road. We won’t be able to see anything soon.”
“America,” Jacob muttered to no one in particular. “You always have to make everything so big.”
Sage adjusted in his seat and grabbed my hand, giving it a squeeze. I gave him a small smile of thanks.
The storm moved fast. Bob pulled the bus a bit off the road and other cars on the highway began to do the same. Considering how busy Interstate 10 was, this was actually an impressive feat and an incredibly eerie sight.
We waited, holding our breaths, sitting absolutely still, as if the cloud was a voluminous monster hunting and stalking us. The bus began to shake from the winds, windows rattling. Grains of sand hit the glass with a peppery sound. Then the cloud was upon us and daylight was eaten from above, plunging us all into a gritty darkness. The sound was deafening, a mixture of howling winds and scratching sand, like someone was running their nails down the side of the bus. I gripped Sage’s hand, all too certain that demons were outside, circling the bus, figuring out a way to get in.
All of us sat there in wonder and fear for what seemed like forever.
“Is this ever going to end?” Robbie asked. He sounded scared. I could barely see him in the murky dimness, but I could tell he was chewing on his nails.
“It will at some point,” Bob said from the front. He reached down to the console and flicked a switch. The light in the kitchen came on, giving us all enough room to see each other. Understandably we looked scared to death, and ghoulish too, our faces swamped by shadows. Bob turned on the radio, I guess to lighten the mood, and The Allman Brother’s “Midnight Rider” came on. A gorgeous tune reminiscent of sunny skies, not being trapped on a bus in a sandstorm.
“How long has it been?” asked Mickey after a few minutes.
Jacob was in the middle of pulling out his pocket watch when there was a slow knock at the bus door.
We all jumped, my heart trying to beat its way up my throat.
“Who the fuck is out there?” Robbie asked.
We all stood up, trying to get a look.
There was a knock again. You could barely see a white fist as it met with the door.
Bob was worried. “They’re crazy for being out there. Maybe they need help.”
He went to pull on the lever that would open the bus door.
“Don’t!” Sage shouted, his voice booming above the wind and sand. “Don’t open the door, Bob.”
Bob paused and shot us a funny look. “Why not? They could be hurt.”
The knock came again.
“Sage is right, don’t open the door,” Jacob reiterated, trying to convince him.
Bob looked at me. I gave him a look that I hope told him “remember what we talked about.”
It seemed to work. He nodded at me, biting his lip and slowly sitting back down.
“Why can’t he open the door?” Fiddles asked.
“Probably too much dust,” Mickey told him. “It’ll come right in.”
“But what if they’re hurt like Bob said?” Graham got to his feet.
Jacob put his hand out, holding him back. “No one is opening that door, especially you.”
“Why especially him?” Robbie asked.
“Yeah, Jacob,” Graham repeated, a taunting look in his dark, demonic eyes. “Why especially me?”
The knock happened again. Mickey stood up and started looking around him. “This is nuts. Anyone at least know where the flashlight is so we can light up this fucker?”
Meanwhile, Fiddles drummed on his knee and sang along to the song, “But I’m not going to let them catch me, no, not going to let them catch the midnight rider.”
“I’m going for it,” Graham said, trying to push past Jacob. Jacob responded by winding up and clocking Graham right in the face, sending him backward onto the couch.
“Holy fuck!” Robbie shouted, jumping to his feet.
Graham stirred, holding his bleeding face, while Jacob turned around and sneered at the band like a cornered animal. “No one,” he bellowed, “but no one is allowed to open that door. No matter what happens! Is that understood?”
Silence and Greg Allman’s voice filled the room. I looked at everyone. We were all scared as shit. Mickey, Fiddles, and Robbie seemed glued to their spot.
Sage put his arm around me and whispered into the top of my head, “It’s going to be okay.”
Mickey looked at us and at Jacob. “Can someone please explain what the hell is going on?” His eyes were glistening as if he were on the verge of tears.
Jacob shook his head. “You wouldn’t believe us if we tried.”
Robbie opened his mouth to speak when he was cut off by a cacophony of dozens of fists pounding on the bus. We were surrounded, long white limbs pounding on every available window and down the sides of the bus, long pale fingers splayed against the glass like ghosts through the sand. It was deafening. Terrifying. And there was no way we’d be getting out of this alive.
“Drive, Bob,” Sage said, softly at first. Then, when no one moved, everyone’s eyes still drawn to the hands and fists that were pounding on the bus, he yelled, “Drive! Drive! Move it! Drive, Bob, fucking drive!”
Bob snapped out of it and dropped back in the driver’s seat. He turned the key in the ignition. The bus sputtered but wouldn’t turn over.
“Oh, no, no, no,” I cried, panic spreading in my bones like cancer.
“What’s going on?” Robbie yelled. “Sage, why…”
The pounding continued. I tried not to look at the skinny arms as they slid down the glass, fingers itching to come in and grab us and take us to Hell.
“Fuck, it’s the battery,” Bob yelled, trying again and again to start the bus. “It’s dead!”
Mickey reached over and switched off the radio. Without the music, the pounding was more real, more horrific.
“Did you have to listen to the fucking Allman Brothers!” Jacob yelled.
Graham started laughing hysterically from the couch, blood spraying out of his mouth. A tooth flew out and landed in the aisle at Jacob’s feet.
And just as quickly as the thrashing started, it ended.
Our eyes flew to the windows. The people were all gone.
The only sound was the blasting wind and sand.
We were alone.
“Okay.” Robbie breathed out slowly. “Someone explain who those people were and what the fuck they were trying to do.”
We were all still, afraid to move, afraid it would attract them if we did.
Bob was the first to break the spell and he tried the engine again. It started with a loud roar.
I clapped loudly, almost hysterical, and Bob laughed with a sick sense of relief.
“Thank the lord!” he proclaimed.
“You guys?” Robbie asked again, needing answers.
I was about to exchange a look with Sage to see if either one of us was going to say something when Graham’s laughter stopped.
“They’re coming,” he whispered, his eyes closed, blood pouring out of his nose and mouth.
Bob turned in his seat to shoot him a look when there was a horrific crash, the sound of a dying metal beast, of a bus being broken as some speeding object smashed into its side. I was thrown out of Sage’s grasp and chucked across the bus, my head slamming into the cupboards above the couch. Blood filled my eyes. There was the sound of breaking glass, people screaming horrifically like they were being tortured. The bus rolled and tumbled over and over: blackness, sand, wind. I felt hands and legs touch me briefly, and by the time I knew to reach for them they were gone.
When it all came to a stop, the metal groaning from all around, I didn’t know if I was alive or dead. Everything was dark. I groped around for a feeling of something familiar. I found a small, short box and a handle. A cupboard. I moved my hands up, amazed that they weren’t broken, and they met with something stuffed. A mattress. I tried to think where I was. Maybe in the rear bedroom? All I knew was I had been tossed far when the bus tumbled, spinning me around like a rag in the washing machine.
A cry broke my concentration. I turned in the direction of the sound, and when my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could see shadows. There was a light coming from the end, very faint, and with it came sand and wind. I figured that I was at the rear, the bus was lying on its right side, and all the windows at the front were broken.
“Hello!” I called out, choking on the incoming dust. I wiped the blood off my forehead and pulled my shirt up to cover my nose and mouth.
“Dawn?” I heard a weak voice. My heart spasmed at the quiet fear and desperation that gripped it. It sounded like Mickey.
“Mickey? Where are you? Are you hurt?”
Where was everyone else? Why was no one else talking?
He coughed in response. It sounded wet and ragged.
I got to my feet, grabbing onto the side of the bed that was jutting out. I stumbled over a pillow and fell against the wall. Only it wasn’t the wall. It was the side of the bathroom and a huge obstacle I had to climb over in order to get to Mickey and the front. I was dizzy, woozy, and my head was leaking blood from where I had bashed it. It took all the strength I had to try and pull myself up. I collapsed in a heap on top, almost falling through the open door into the bathroom. With shaking arms I reached over and pulled myself across the gap.
“Help,” Mickey cried, closer now.
“I’m coming,” I told him, coughing again, my legs dangling in the bathroom. I slithered across the rest of the wall and immediately met the two bunks. Mickey’s labored breathing was coming from the top one, my bunk.
I leaned over the edge, feeling for him. I touched a leg and he cried out in pain.
“Sorry!” I waited a few seconds, wanting my eyes to adjust but I could only make out blurry shadows. “Are you hurt?”
“My…shoulder,” he broke into a leaky cough. “M-my chest.”
“Do you know what happened?
“I don’t know. Something hit us. Robbie was beside me, I heard him beside me just after it all stopped. Now I don’t hear him anymore.”
I listened. All I could hear was the wind whistling, the grit flying into the bus. I couldn’t hear Robbie. I couldn’t hear anyone else.
Oh God, let Sage be okay, I prayed. It was the only moment of fear I would give myself.
“Mickey, you’re going to be alright. I’m going to find the light, okay? I know there’s one somewhere to the side of your head, where the ceiling would be.”
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