The March Editor's Pick Writer is Erik Gustafson
Please feel free to contact Erik at: firstname.lastname@example.org
THE WHITE VAN
by Erik Gustafson
Through the skeletal branches and limbs, the sky was a velvety purple sable, dotted with crisp diamonds. A man wearing gym shorts and a t-shirt emerged from his front door with a little white fluff dog. The dog bounded down the front steps, straining his leash as Jason Pierce, the dog’s yawning owner, trailed behind. The dog crunched through the dark leaves, sniffed out a spot, and lifted a leg.
Jason waited. The neighborhood was quiet. All the houses were dark and hidden in the thick blackness of night. There were no streetlights near his home.
A small light caught his attention. The burst of white seemed to be floating in the road directly in front of him. He took a couple of slow steps closer and squinted, hoping to discern what exactly he was seeing.
He was barely able to make out a silhouette of a large, boxy vehicle parked on the street. A van, he guessed. The glow was from its dome light.
That’s weird, he thought and tugged at his dog. “Let’s go back to bed, Marshmallow.”
Inside the back of the van, a large bald man sat on a flat mattress with a laptop over his thighs. On the screen, Roy Scheider was running down a crowded beach waving his arms and shouting. The glow from the action on the movie danced and reflected off his glasses. Sitting next to the stranger were several brightly colored snorkels, pairs of goggles and fin sets.
Several hours later Jason reached over and pushed the button on top of his alarm clock to silence it. He laid there and stared up at the slow moving ceiling fan. Marshmallow sprang to life and started to lick Jason with his tiny tongue. When Jason pushed him away from his face, the dog began stretching his stubby legs. Jason’s first thought went to that van.
He yawned as he rose from the bed and stepped over the laundry basket to sneak a look through the blinds. Spreading them open with two fingers, Jason saw that the van was still there. It was an older white Chevy van with no windows along the sides, except for the windows on the doors.
Jason jumped at the sound of his wife, Pam’s, voice. He let the blinds snap shut and turned to see her under the covers, tangles of long black hair covering all but one eye. He felt like a voyeur who had just been caught. “Oh probably nothing. There’s this van parked out in front of the house. I saw it when I took Marshmallow out last night. They left their inside lights on.”
“Oh,” she said.
Marshmallow was whining to go out again. “Okay, boy.”
Jason headed downstairs. “Don’t take any candy from him!” Pam called.
He went outside again. Brown and red leaves covered the front yard. Withered dead plants sat in pots on each step of the front porch. A woman peddled by on a bike and waved as she passed.
The back door of the van hung open like a coffin lid. A large man was walking toward him. He wore jeans and a dirty white shirt that strained over his hefty belly. Black biker boots clicked on the street in the moments before he stepped in the grass. He was bald but had a thick brown beard. He wore round glasses. The skin on his head was catching the morning rays of sunlight.
He raised an arm out at Jason and smiled, his teeth were large and widely spaced. “Sorry. Hey buddy, just wanted to let you know why I’m sitting out here!”
Jason wrapped the leash around his hand a couple times to force Marshmallow closer to him. The small ten-pound dog continued to growl, bark, and strain the leash.
“Oh ok,” was all Jason could think to say. He felt his heart surge in his chest and shuffled backwards until he felt his ankles hit the wooden porch steps.
“I hit a deer last night and was waiting to call triple A!”
“Ah, well that’s too bad.”
“Yeah, no worries though!” he waved at Jason again and turned. With large steps, the mysterious man walked back to the van and vanished inside the back. Jason watched as the stranger’s fingers curled around the van door and pulled it shut. The clang of the door echoed in the otherwise peaceful neighborhood.
Jason hurried back into the house. He locked the door.
Pam was standing in the living room when Jason returned. Sleep had left her hair wild and matted. A blue satin camisole and matching shorts veiled her thin body. “What’s Marshmallow freaking out about now?”
“That guy in the van came over to talk to me.”
“What? There was somebody still in the van? Like he slept out there all night?”
“Yeah I guess. He hit a deer or something. He’s waiting to call triple A.”
“Triple A? Why is he in front of our house then?” She crossed her arms over her breasts.
“I dunno, hun. He got back in his van though right away.”
Pam stepped over to the living room window and pulled the curtain open an inch to glance out. The white van sat there on the road. “That’s kind of creepy don’t you think?”
“Yeah, it is weird.” Jason pushed a button on his cell and made note of the time. “I gotta jump in the shower or I’ll be late.”
“Jason, don’t you think you should call the police first?”
“Why? Just some weird old guy waiting for a tow truck.” He kissed her warm forehead.
“I think triple A is available twenty four hours, don’t you?”
Jason considered this. “He’s harmless,” he heard himself saying but something did feel wrong. He didn’t want to call the police and cause a commotion in the neighborhood.
“No you should call now.”
“Hun, I’m gonna be late. You go back to bed and if he is still there when I get out of the shower, I will call. Okay?”
Jason stood under the hot shower enjoying the relaxing water warming his body. He kept thinking about that creepy person sitting in front of his house as he scrubbed himself. He knew that old Chevy was still going to be sitting there after the five minutes it would take to finish getting ready. He sighed and turned the shower off. The knobs squealed as he turned off first the hot water, then the cold. The water slowed but continued to drip.
Jason pulled the shower curtain open.
The hulking man from the van was standing there, the smell of old cigarette smoke was drifting from him. His large frame blocked out some of the lights from the vanity and completely prevented any chance of fleeing. Jason recoiled and nearly lost his footing but the bath mat in the shower held his feet. “What the...”
“Hey buddy, I just need to use your phone!” With a half grin that cocked the man’s beard to one side, he looked down at Jason’s manhood.
Jason cupped his hands over his privates. “Get out of my house now!”
Jason didn’t notice the man curl his large hand into a first or even see it coming. Jason’s face suddenly felt like it was on fire; he stumbled back and fell against the slippery wall. He heard the thud from a bottle of shampoo falling into the tub. His vision became blurry and his attacker shifted and twisted like a reflection in one of those funhouse mirrors. The room was shrinking as the blackness crowded in.
The man in the van went by the name Jonah Bassman, but that was not his real name. It was the name of his superhero alter ego. A tall, rugged outdoorsman, he spent his days roaming the east coast in his 1995 Chevy van. The van was the only place he called home. Jonah survived by earning a few bucks working odd jobs whenever he could.
He grew up less than an hour from the Atlantic Ocean. He spent most of his weekends at the beach riding the waves back in on a boogie board and marveling at the dolphins dancing through the water. He spent so much time in the ocean that his dad said he must have been born half fish. His dad ran away with some tramp when Jonah was eight.
The movie “Jaws” came out when Jonah was ten. He saw that movie so many times he knew every line by heart. If anyone ever asked, which they didn’t, Jonah would describe his life as having two periods: BJ and AJ: Before “Jaws” and After “Jaws”. No other movie could ever even hope to compare to that masterpiece.
The movie didn’t make him scared to go in the water, it made him aroused when he got near the water. When he was playing in the ocean, he would pretend he was the giant sea creature, swimming silently between the kids as they laughed, threw Frisbees, and splashed in the waves. He would sometimes bump into them with his forehead or bare his teeth at them as he moved through the water.
He fantasized about attacking nearly everyone he encountered with his huge razor teeth or chasing them through the waves. Tearing into their flesh to see the red spread through the dark water like a velvet blanket blowing on a clothesline, or cherry juice running down the sides of a sundae.
Jonah longed to be a shark.
In truth, he was chubby and could hardly swim, despite the years playing in the sea.
Jason opened his eyes and saw his wife lying next to him. There was silver tape covering her mouth, and she was unconscious. He could hear her breath rustling against the tape. Jason’s head was aching and he tried to speak but could feel tape squeezing his lips together. The silver tape also bound their wrists and ankles. They were on a mattress.
Jason strained his neck to look around. Next to him, he saw cheap swimming equipment: a blue snorkel and a pair of red goggles. A black laptop, folded closed, had jostled halfway off the edge of the mattress and looked like a slide. Despite the pain from holding his neck up, he managed to look behind him: he was looking at the back of tattered seat with a missing headrest. Above the seat, there was the top half of a wrinkly bald head. Blue sky through the windshield. He could hear humming.
Jason released the strain on his neck and turned his attention to his wife. She could be sleeping peacefully in bed, except for the tape covering her mouth. He nudged her with his knees.
She opened her eyes and started thrashing. Her muffled screams were useless. The two lover’s eyes locked in this desperate moment: hers bloodshot and panicked, his wide and scared.
“Oh, lookie who woke up!” The man turned his head so he was facing the back. He smiled as wide as he could and started chomping his yellowed teeth, which made a harsh click each time his teeth came together. When he stopped he added, “Name’s Jonah, by the way!”
The van swerved wildly and the bound couple rolled on the mattress. “Sorry about that!” Jonah yelled into his rearview mirror.
The only way the couple could communicate was through their eyes and Jason wasn’t so good at that. He tried to tell Pam he was sorry he didn’t call the police when she told him to and that he would figure out a way to get out this.
He started wiggling his hands behind his back, trying to move his legs- anything to loosen the tape. The tape was secured tight to his skin and held his limbs together firmly.
Jason grunted and strained in frustration.
Then he felt something poke his wrist. He looked at Pam and tried to tell her there was something sharp sticking out of the mattress and he was going to be free. She nodded back at him as if she could sense something good was happening.
The tape ripped a little and Jason could begin to grind his wrists together like he was trying to start a fire, if only a little. He was pushing and rubbing against the sharp protrusion like an overly affectionate cat.
He paused once to look up at Jonah but what he saw was a huge cue ball focused on driving.
The tape gave and Jason freed his hands. Bloody tape-covered wrists looked like cheap Halloween costume gauntlets. His shoulders were stiff and they ached. He put a finger up to his mouth then took the tape off his wife’s mouth.
She let out a gulp of air.
Jason glanced at Jonah, but he was merrily humming again.
He removed the tape from his mouth. Within seconds, he had peeled away all the tape that was binding them. They were free from the tape but still captive in the van.
Pam went to hug Jason but he pushed her back “Stay in position.” He whispered into her ear. She shriveled up and put her hands behind her back so Jonah wouldn’t notice they were free in case he looked back at them.
Noses nearly touching, they formulated a plan.
The breaks squeaked then the van grunted as the driver shifted into park. The driver’s door opened and a salty scent from the sea danced in Jason’s nose. He felt his heart quicken; knowing he had seconds to act.
Pam reached up, grabbed the laptop, and got in position. She looked like a baseball player waiting for the pitch, except she was on her knees. Jason rolled on his back, slid down to the end of the mattress, and waited to spring out when the door opened, like a jack-in-the-box toy.
“What if he gets back in the van?” Pam whispered her words not much louder than the wind sneaking through the windows of their mobile prison.
A shadow passed the rear windows.
The couple exchanged glances. Jason had a desperate urge to pull his wife close and kiss her. Why didn’t he think to do that before?
It was too late. The door swung open and brilliant sunlight assaulted him. Jason squinted and pulled his forearm in front of his eyes. He hadn’t planned on being blinded. A massive silhouette blocked out the sun and Jason lunged for the blurry shape.
The two men careened over and landed on concrete with Jason riding high on Jonah’s chest. Jonah groaned as his lungs emptied. Jason cocked his arm back and drove his fist down into his face. His hand burned from the impact and made a slapping sound. Jonah grunted and tried to stand but Jason punched him again. Jonah’s face was puffed and pink, blood ran from his nose.
She held the laptop over her head and brought it down hard as she could into his groin. Jonah wailed and bucked his knees and chest up from the searing pain that was radiating from his balls. As he recoiled, Jason lost his balance on Jonah’s barrel chest.
Jonah swung his arm like a windmill blade and connected with Jason’s neck. Jason shot back and smacked onto the parking lot.
Pam screamed and advanced on Jonah ready to swing the laptop again.
Jonah jumped to his feet. One of his eyes was swollen and mostly closed. His glasses were broken and one lens was missing, the other had a crooked cracked down the center. He towered over Pam by over a foot.
Her conviction evaporated. She dropped the laptop and took off across the parking lot yelling for help.
Jason was coughing, struggling to breathe, but knew he had to get on his feet and defend himself. He used the bumper of the van to help him up, the palm of his hand stinging from all the gravel that clung to the skin. Jason made it up on one knee when Jonah’s steel-toed black boot connected with his jaw. The bone cracked and shifted, the tearing sound echoing in his head. The force snapped his head back and drove him into the open door.
As Jason collapsed, the van door swung above him, missing his head by inches.
“You best not be dead, buddy!” Jonah held his hand above his eyes and squinted across the parking lot.
Pam had a good thirty-yard head start on him. Jonah, not making a sound, took off toward the screaming woman. He was a hungry shark pursuing his next meal.
Barefoot or not, Pam pumped her legs as hard as she could. Her thighs were burning and her breath was coming out in chunks from her desperate lungs, making it difficult for her to continue screaming. She heard seagulls somewhere behind her, but didn’t dare look back. She didn’t want to see what was happening back at the van.
The parking lot was deserted. Nothing but concrete splashed with little piles of tan sand probably left behind by sand-covered kids returning from the beach. Where is everybody? She shrieked in her mind.
She could see the entrance to the parking lot and ran toward that. Thick brown railroad ties marked the perimeter. The plan was to keep running down the road until someone stopped to help her.
Pam looked up the road as far as she could, both hoping to spot a car and to figure out where she was. Far to her right, there was a small brick building with a blue soda machine in front of it. That was probably a bathroom.
Her face was stinging from sweat and exhaustion.
Up the road, the sun was reflecting off the steel of an approaching car. With a renewed rush of energy, a smile stretched across her face and she started waving at the vehicle with both arms.
Pam hurdled over the railroad ties at the end of the parking lot. There were two people in the car: a woman with her head back and to one side, her mouth hanging open and the driver, a man, with short hair. His head nodded forward then he jerked awake. The car sped past the parking lot.
Rocks kicked up and a cloud of dust blew through her.
“No!” Pam reached out with her hands as if she could grab the car and pull it back. Tears began streaming down her face. What was a hopeful sprint slowed to a trot.
Pam kicked a rock and screamed.
Her scream turned to a yelp as her long hair went taut and she was jerked back. Her head exploded in pain. The smell of stale cigarettes and body odor overshadowed the sea air. She scrambled to pry his fat fingers out of her hair.
Jonah spanked her with his open palm.
Jason fluttered open his eyes and found himself staring out at the gentle rhythm of the ocean waves. For a moment, he thought it was a lazy Saturday afternoon and he had fallen asleep on the beach. His throbbing jaw and pounding head reminded him otherwise. His head hurt so bad he could barely tolerate the light. He tried to speak but his mouth felt like it had a knife jammed in it. The tangy taste of blood drowned his taste buds.
His eyes adjusted. He was lying on warm wooden planks at the end of a pier.
Jonah was squatting on a five gallon bucket directly behind him, preventing Jason from seeing both the beach and escaping. “Hey buddy,” he leaned forward on his bucket grinning, “I got some apples in my bucket if you’re hungry!”
Jason’s stomach twisted and he stifled the urge to vomit. He couldn’t imagine what the acid from his stomach would feel like coursing through his torn jaw.
Where’s Pam? He thought turning his head as best he could to locate her. Jason tried to mumble those same words through his swollen jaw and blood spat out as he tried to annunciate the P in Pam.
Jason’s eyes rolled back. Jonah jumped up and grabbed the nearly limp man by his biceps and shook him, “No, no, no, stay with me, bud!”
Jason opened his eyes and stared at what he saw first as five fuzzy men, then three and finally Jonah there standing all alone. “That’s the spirit.”
Jason was leaning forward with both hands on the wooden planks, red drool running off his lips like repelling spiders.
“I’m just going to grab your pretty lady from the van. I trust you aren’t gonna go nowhere.”
Jason let his hands slide forward along the pier until the uninjured side of his face was touching the wood; he looked like a Muslim at prayer. He wanted to go to sleep. He closed his eyes and was snuggled up in satin sheets in his warm bed. Marshmallow was on one side, his fuzzy chin on his pillow and Pam was on the other side, smiling in her sleep. Jason could tell he was smiling too.
The sound of the boots stamping across the pier roused his attention. He looked up. Pam was being rushed forward, in front of their assailant, her hair disheveled and covering most of her face. One of the straps from her camisole was gone and she was barefoot.
On a pier at a beach in broad daylight, Jason thought. This is really happening.
Jonah shoved Pam down and she spilled on top of Jason. She stumbled over his torso and fell halfway over the edge, finding herself staring down at the water lapping against the posts below the pier. She scrambled backward and sat down.
Jason sat up and leaned into Pam’s soft warm chest, his breathing was labored. She cradled her husband and tears streamed down her face. “Why are you doing this?”
Jonah smiled, staring into the sky, tracking seagulls gliding through the blue air. “Ya ever saw a great white?”
Jason spat up a blob of blood onto Pam’s nightshirt. “A great white shark. It’s a simple question.”
Pam shrugged. “I’ve seen dolphins right around here.”
“Dolphins is shark food. Everything is great white food,” Jonah began. He hunched forward on his bucket, the bucket came off the deck and leaned with him. “Great whites have been known to be twenty feet long and weigh over two tons! Imagine running into one of them while you’re out there.” He pointed to the sea. “The biggest predator of all the fish in the sea!”
“What do you want?”
He kicked his boot toward Pam in an empty gesture. “I want you to pay ‘tenshun. Great white sharks got over three hundred teeth. Them teeth is all seer-rated and razor sharp. They all lined up in rows, too.” He exposed his own teeth and started chomping. “They can smell a drop of your blood three miles away. Why, if there is a great white anywhere round here, they already know your bleeding,” Jonah scanned the waves as if he were expecting to see a fin.
Nearly unconscious, Jason wasn’t hearing much. He was waiting to die. Pam was sobbing and leaning her face down into Jason’s hair.
“Your blood’s just dripping down through the cracks and getting them all frenzied up.”
Pam had visions of this monster throwing them into the water and left for fish food. She knew Jason wouldn’t last long in his condition. She didn’t know anything about sharks but she knew he would drown before any shark caught him. They had to stay out of the water at all costs. She lifted her head, brushed her tangled hair out of her eyes and looked at Jonah, “So three hundred teeth you say? That’s a lot. How big are they?”
Jonah’s eyes widened as he slid his bucket seat closer. “About as long as your damn finger.”
“My name’s Pam and my husband is Jason,” her voice was cracked and sounded detached as if she were watching characters talk on a TV show. “He needs a doctor right now!”
Jonah didn’t respond to her tactic. “You should know when a great white bites you, them teeth rotate inward,” he flexed his fingers into a fist, “tearing you up even more.”
“Please let us go!”
“I am going to let you go! Might as well do it now, you don’t seem to want to listen to my stories anyhow,” he stood up and licked his lips. He reached into the bucket and pulled out a pair of goggles. “Put these on.” He tossed them at her.
“What? You can’t...”
“Put them things on.” He tossed her another pair. “Best help Jeff or whatever you said his name is.”
“Why? What are you going to do? Jason can’t swim like this.”
“These too,” he tossed four flippers at them. “They’s ‘justable so they should fit.”
Pam was shaking as she stepped into the flippers. Jason tried to pull them over his feet but he could not rally the strength. Pam was sobbing and kept telling Jason she loved him while she assisted.
“Snorkels too!” he held the plastic tubes up then dropped them on the deck.
Pam stared down at the swimming gear and cried. She couldn’t bring herself to even pick them up let alone put them on. She shook her head and put her hands behind her back like a small child refusing to do something.
Jonah kicked the snorkels. “Pick ‘em up!”
Jason didn’t react but Pam reached a trembling hand out and picked the snorkels up. Glaring at Jonah, she tried to gently ease the snorkel in Jason’s torn and swollen mouth. It fell out. “It won’t go!” she pleaded.
“Give me the damn thing,” he grabbed it and forced the tube into Jason’s mouth, causing a fresh gush of blood to run down his chin. Jason moaned and averted his head as if he had smelled something rotten.
Pam and Jason sat on the dock wearing the red and blue goggles, matching fins and snorkels.
Pam felt a spark of hope ignite somewhere deep inside and her eyes betrayed that excitement. “We can leave?”
Pam stood up, staring at Jonah. He smiled and stepped out of the way. She leaned down and grabbed Jason’s wrist, put his hand over her shoulder, and helped him to his flipper-covered feet. Jonah held his position off to the side. The sun was shimmering off his head.
Pam wasn’t sure what to do next, so she took one-step forward and stared down the long pier. It was probably thirty feet to the shore from where she was but it seemed like a million miles.
“Good luck!” His fowl breath filled her nose.
Pam’s heart was pounding, temples throbbing; Jason was leaning on her with most of his weight making it a struggle for her to make progress. Determination to get Jason to the hospital motivated her to keep moving.
The couple inched forward. In one motion, Jonah stretched out his arms, enveloped the couple into a tight bear hug, turned to his side, and jumped off the pier. All three splashed into the cold water.
Jonah released his captives and let himself sink. He loved the sinking feeling and the force of the current against his body. He placed goggles over his eyes and pulled the mask tight as he drifted.
His stomach groaned with desperate hunger.
He reached into the pockets of his jeans pulled out two short knives. The knives became his teeth. He kicked his legs and started to rise.
Jonah pretended to inhale deeply, taking in the scents in the sea and closed his eyes. He smelled blood. He sensed their movement, thrashing in panic. Hearts beating wildly.
A blue flipper caught his eye. He swam toward it and slashed at the ankle. The flipper came off and drifted into the darkness below. A scream trapped in bubbles raced to the surface. Blood flowed out and he swam through the blood cloud. Adrenaline pumping, Jonah surged forward in the water until he was under Pam. She kicked and thrust her feet down at him.
He stabbed at her stomach with both knives at once. Jonah rolled himself through the gush of dark blood. He struck again but wasn’t sure where the knives left their mark. He pulled her close and drove both knives into her ribs, pinning her against his chest. He leaned in and bit her shoulder. He wriggled a chunk of flesh free and spit it into the water. It drifted away. He ripped off her ear with his teeth.
The blood bubbled from the gash like rose petals in the wind. The body floated into the darkness and Jonah surfaced for air. He scanned the choppy waves and took deep breaths. At first, he didn’t see Jason but soon spotted him dog paddling toward the beach.
Jonah slipped under the murky water and swam. He was a horrible swimmer normally, but when he was this aroused, the shark in him took over.
Within moments, his feet started kicking sand and knew he was in the shallows. He lifted his head and saw Jason staggering and splashing through the frothy surf. Like picking a seal off a rock, Jonah thought and pushed off with his boots. In a flash, he launched himself out of the water, coming down Jason’s slick back.
His prey crashed down onto his knees into the water and smacked the sand underneath. The shark straddled his victim and pounded his teeth into his back. Circles of crimson swelled around them. He turned over and over in the delicious bloody water before the waves could steal it all.
Jonah hurled the knives out as far as he could. The silver twinkled as the blade tumbled through the air, then vanished under the water. He grabbed one ankle and dragged the body through the foaming tide.
Minutes later, Jonah sat in the wet sand at the edge of the waves. His eyes were closed and he was smiling.
Erik Gustafson is new to the writing world and this story is his first tale to appear in a publication. He has lived in Iceland, Germany, Saudi Arabia and all over the US during his career in the United States Air Force. After his adventures around the world, he returned to his home state of Iowa with his family (wife, two great daughters, 2 cats and a little white fluff dog) and now enjoys small town life.
Now he advocates for people with intellectual disabilities and helps them develop living skills to lead lives that are more independent. He teaches psychology classes at a local college.
He began writing when his wife encouraged him to try NaNoWriMo 2010 and he has been creating scary stories ever since. Fear is at the core of life and that fear is what he hopes to exploit in his words.
His debut novel is Fall Leaves and the Black Dragon. He also has several short stories including The Fishers, The Blood Knows, and My Lover, My Garden. People are saying good things about his stories: “You won't be disappointed."
Follow Erik on Twitter at @Eriktiger
Visit his blog Apparitions of Terror at http://eriktiger.wordpress.com
Visit his Amazon Author page at http://amazon.com/author/erikgustafson