“The steering wheel won’t move?” Tick asked, knowing the answer anyway.

His dad unsnapped his seatbelt, squirming in his chair to turn around.

“What are you doing?” Tick yelled.

Dad reached over and unbuckled Tick’s belt as well. “Someone’s got to us, kid. We’ve gotta get out of here.”

From the backseat, Norbert stared at the two cars in front of him as they gained ground, knowing deep inside that something terrible was happening. He sensed frantic movement in Tick’s car—dark shadows bobbing and jerking around—and saw the calm demeanor of the person sitting in the one following them, barely revealed by the headlights of the car in which Norbert sat. They were almost on the stranger.

“It’s now or never,” Norbert said, then tapped the shoulder of the man driving. “Put the pedal to the metal, pal.”

“Do whatever he says,” the girl said to the driver like she was his mother.

Frazier laughed as he saw the man and the boy squirming inside their car, desperate for a way out of this little predicament. He looked down at his controller, trying to find the dial that would make the car ahead go even faster. He finally found it and turned it up just a little, loving every minute of this game.

When he finally glanced back up to the road, he yelped as a car zoomed past him on the left, then swerved to the right to cut him off. Overreacting, Frazier slammed on his brakes and twisted the steering wheel, shooting off the road with a horrible squeal of brakes before slamming into a massive snowbank.

His airbag exploded open, scorching his forearms and catapulting the Chu device into the backseat.

Tick felt like a sailor going down with a submarine. The front doors wouldn’t open; some kind of permanent locking mechanism kept them sealed.

“What could possibly be doing this?” Dad yelled, struggling to lean his huge girth over the back of the seat to check the rear doors. From the click of the handle being yanked and released, Tick knew they were locked, too. His dad groaned as he dropped back into the driver’s seat.

The car had inexplicably sped up just a few moments earlier, rocketing them faster and faster toward the unknown. The car remained on a straight path for now—the steep piles of snow on the roadside nudging the wheels back onto the road if they began to stray—but it couldn’t last much longer. Tick knew if they hit a turn, they’d be in a whole heap of trouble.

Tick felt a block of ice in the pit of his stomach; they probably had only a minute or two before they’d crash. “We need to break a window!” he yelled.

“Right!” Dad replied. “Plant your back on the seat and kick the windshield with both feet on my signal, okay?”

Desperation swept away Tick’s fear, clearing his mind. “Okay,” he said as he got into position, tucking his journal down the seat of his pants as far as it would go.

When they were both ready, feet stuck up above them, coiled for the kick, Edgar grabbed Tick’s hand. “On three—one . . . two . . . three!”

With synchronized screams, they both kicked the windshield with all their might.

It didn’t budge.

Screaming his frustration into the frigid air, a plume of frozen vapor shooting from his mouth, Frazier Gunn tried to open the buckled back door. When it stubbornly refused, he leaned over to look through the window, searching for the Chu controller. He couldn’t see a thing.

How could this have all fallen apart? How?

He shot a quick glance down the road to see the fading red glow of two cars’ taillights. The device would be out of range in a matter of seconds and once that happened, he’d have no more power over the car’s operations. It would continue to drive like a maniacal machine until it ran out of gas or smashed into something.

Of course, without being able to turn, the latter is exactly what would happen. Crash, boom, bang. The thought made him pause, then smile. Chances were, he’d still complete his task, one way or the other. Mistress Jane didn’t need to know all the details.

Not caring anymore about the controller or his banged up car, Frazier turned and headed back toward town.

He needed to find a cemetery.

On Tick and his dad’s fifth synchronized kick, a huge crack shot across the wide glass with the sound of breaking glaciers. Tick’s heart leapt to his throat and the next kick seemed to have twice the power from his adrenaline rush. Several more cracks splintered through the windshield like an icy spider web. Tick was crouched too far down in the seat to see up ahead, but his mind assured him they were probably shooting toward a bend in the road with brutal speed. One way or another, it would all be over very soon.

“One more ought to do it!” his dad yelled, gasping in breaths. “One . . . two . . . THREE!”

Tick kicked with both legs again, and almost slipped to the floor of the car when his feet kept going, crashing through the windshield with the horrible clinking and crackling sound of shattered glass. Several tiny shards flew back into the car from the onrushing wind, but the bulk of the windshield, held together by a strong film of clear plastic, flew up into the air and tumbled away behind them.

“Come on!” Dad yelled, helping Tick back into a sitting position.

The air ripped at their hair and clothes, so cold that Tick’s skin felt like frozen rubber. Squinting his eyes, he saw a big turn in the road a couple of miles directly ahead. He couldn’t tell what waited there, be it a cliff or a field or a towering barn; he saw only darkness, a wall of black tar.

“We’ve gotta hurry!” his dad screamed over the wind. “Together now, come on!”

Summoning every last trace of courage left in his body, Tick followed his dad over the dashboard and through the gaping, wind-pummeled hole that led to the hood of the car.

“There they are!” Norbert screamed, his voice squeaky with panic. “Pull up there, right to the front! If those guys jump, they’re dead!”

“Hurry!” the girl yelled.

The blond, fancy-dressed driver obeyed without a word, gunning the engine until their vehicle pulled even with the out-of-control car. Just a few feet away, to Norbert’s right, Tick and his dad had climbed halfway onto the hood of the car, the wind trying to rip them to pieces.

“Okay, get as close as you can,” Norbert said, rolling down the window. “I wanna see every scratch on that there paint job!”

Once again, like a soldier following orders, the driver did as he was told.