You can see all of the chapters (in descending order) here.
“How about that station ahead on the right?” Jess pointed ahead to a station that only had a couple cars in line for gas.
“Let’s try it. We don’t have to have gas, we’ve still got the extra reserve, but it certainly can’t hurt to top off.” Steve said.
Jess turned the car into the gas station and pulled alongside the gas pump, just behind a station wagon that was parked with the hose resting in the tank. “Do you want to drive now?” she asked Steve as she shut off the engine.
“Sure, let’s switch for a bit. Why don’t you call your mom while I top off the tank. We should be there in a couple hours. Let them know we’ll call again just before we get to Blairsville.” Jess nodded and opened her door.
Steve opened his door and got out. He went inside to pay for the gas and Jess settled into the passenger’s side and dialed her mom. Thankfully cell service seemed to be still working.
“We should be in Blairsville in a couple hours mom. We’ll call again when we get into town.” Suddenly out of the corner of her eye, Jess noticed Steve coming back out of the station store. He was walking fast and motioning for her to slide into the driver’s seat. He gave her their agreed hand signal for danger.
“Mom, I have to go. Talk to you soon.” Jess disconnected the call as she was sliding across the seat into the driver’s spot. They had agreed upon several signs to use in the event they couldn’t risk speaking out loud in an emergency or in this case, were too far apart to be heard clearly. She started the engine just as Steve got to the passenger’s side door and got in. “What is it?”
“Lock the doors, Jess and go!” Steve said as he slammed the door. Jess hit the button to lock all the doors and put the car in reverse and backed away from the pump, angling so she could pull out onto the highway. “Go, go!” Steve said. He opened the glove box and pulled out his handgun and loaded it as he watched a man run out of the station door.
“What’s wrong, Dad? Why do you have your gun out?” Jeff had been startled by the slamming door and his dad’s tone of voice. Delia was quiet but her eyes were wide and she was hugging her favorite stuffed bunny tightly. Jess pulled out of the gas station and onto the road into traffic.
“He’s armed, that station was out of gas, and he’s low on fuel.” Steve said. “Get your head down, Jeff, just in case.” Steve watched as the man tore the hose from his station wagon and jumped into the driver’s seat of his car.
“Jess, he’s going to follow us. Go!” Steve whispered loudly. He didn’t want to scare the kids but he had no idea what this guy would do if he caught up to them. Jess punched the gas, swerved around a car in front of them and continued down the road as quickly as she could go.
“Mom, what’s happening?” Sammy felt the car swerve and pulled her earbuds from her ears and was now aware something was wrong.
“Someone wants our gas. We have to just get as far from them as we can just in case.” Jess said.
“Kids make sure you’re buckled. Keep your heads down low. We need to drive fast for a bit. Sammy put your shoulder belt where it should be.” Steve warned. Sammy hated the belt across her shoulder and was in the habit of wearing it behind her instead but she did as he asked this time.
Steve kept his eyes trained on the station wagon. The man had pulled out onto the highway and was following them, only the car Jess had just swerved around was between them. Steve grabbed the map to check it in case they needed to alter their route and so he could give Jess direction if needed as they drove.
Traffic was moderately heavy so they couldn’t really outrun the car. It would have to be enough for now to stay ahead of him.
“I’m scared Daddy.” Delia finally spoke from the back seat. Her voice was barely a whisper as if she feared the bad man would hear her.
“We’re okay Delia. We just need to keep driving and stay away from that man is all. Mommy’s a good driver so don’t worry.” Steve smiled at her to try and reassure her.
Jess swerved around another car and the road in front of them was momentarily clear. She glanced at Steve and he nodded. “Go!” Jess floored the Durango in an attempt to put as much distance between them and the station wagon as she could.
Delia screamed and shut her eyes and Sammy began to cry. Jeff kept his head low but reached forward and put his hand on Sammy’s shoulder.
“It’s okay Sammy. Mom and Dad will get us to safety.” He turned to Delia and brushed her cheek with his hand. “It’s okay sissy. We’re all together and that’s what matters. “Here, Delia, hold onto my hand, it will be fine.” Jeff draped his arm over the seat.
Delia opened her eyes and grabbed Jeff’s hand and squeezed it. Steve winked at his oldest son and nodded to let him know his help calming his sisters was appreciated. Jess was driving as quickly as she could, she kept her eyes focused on the road and trusted Steve to both handle the kids, and alert her if the man got any closer.
“He’s slowing up now, I think he’s run out of gas.” Steve said after they had driven roughly five miles. “Yes, he’s pulling off the side. I think we’re clear. Slow down a bit but just keep going, Jess.” Steve suggested. Jess nodded and slowed to the speed limit.
“That was so scary, Dad. Good driving though, Mom!” Sammy was visibly calmer and Delia finally let go of Jeff’s hand.
“You’ve got quite a grip there, little sis.” Jeff made a show of rubbing his hand as if Delia had really hurt him with her grip. Delia giggled.
“Sorry. But I was scared!” Delia said and then giggled again at the thought that she could hurt her big brother.
“Steve, can we switch?” Jess asked after they’d driven several more miles. Steve nodded. Jess pulled the car off the side of the road and stopped. As they passed each other in front of the car, Steve grabbed Jess and hugged her tightly. “I was so terrified, Steve.” Jess whispered into his ear.
“You did good honey.” he whispered back as he stroked her long, silky blond hair. “We’re almost there.” he reassured her. Steve got into the driver’s seat and Jess settled into the passenger’s side. Steve drove until just outside of Athens Georgia without incident.
But as luck would have it, even with all their planning and careful maintenance, Steve began to hear the thwarp thwarp of a flat tire. “Shit, flat tire” Steve said aloud as he pulled the Durango off onto the shoulder of the highway.
“That’s the last thing we need.” Jess said.
“How far are we from the cabin, Dad” Jeff asked from the back seat.
“Just a bit over two hours or so. It’s not far. Don’t worry. There’s still enough daylight left. We’ll get this tire changed and be back on the road in no time.” Steve tried to sound reassuring. He was annoyed by the delay but he knew he had a spare and was confident in his ability to change the tire.
Steve got out of the car and walked to the passenger side. Sure enough, the right front tire was flat. He motioned for Jess to get out of the car. “We’re going to have to change this tire. I don’t think fix a flat will do it and we’ve got just over two hours of driving to do. Let’s get the back opened up and get the spare out.
I really don’t want to put our stuff out on the side of the road and advertise what we’ve got so let’s move what we can to the front seats for now and the 3rd row seat, then we’ll put it back.
“Makes sense. Although we haven’t seen much traffic since we skirted around Athens.” Jess said.
“I know but I don’t want to entice anyone with ill will to stop while we’re changing this tire.” Steve replied. Steve moved to the back of the Durango and removed the extra gas cans. He handed them over to Jess who put them on the front passenger floor. Jess had Jeff turn around and pull his and Sammy’s tubs of their items over the seat and into the seat beside him.
Steve brought Delia her tub to hold on her lap temporarily. One by one, they relocated their supplies from the back of the Durango to the other seats so Steve could open the floor and get to the spare tire. As he opened the flap and removed the spare, he could see right away they had a problem. “Jess?”
“What?” Jess set the tub she was carrying on the front seat and headed to the back of the Durango.
“The jack isn’t in here.” Steve said as she joined him.
“How can it not be there?” Jess said in disbelief.
“I don’t know. When was the last time we had to use it?” Steve asked her. He was racking his brain but he honestly couldn’t remember ever having to use the jack on the Durango. But he knew there had been one.
“Mom?” Jeff chimed in from the 3rd row. “Didn’t you loan it to the Struhar’s that time when that old car they had a while back had a flat tire?” Jess gasped and nodded.
“Oh Steve, he’s right. I did. That was back in like March. Remember, you took that business trip for a week.” Jess put a hand over her mouth as she realized what had happened. “I don’t remember him ever bringing it back. I just never thought of it.”
“Well, guess what needs to be added to our bug out checklist for next time?” Steve said.
“Make sure we have a jack!” Delia piped up from her car seat. She giggled completely unaware of what not having the jack meant for them right now.
“Yes, Delia. Make sure we have the jack.” Steve replied. He glanced at Jess who he could see was visibly upset at her lapse in memory. “We’ll figure something out, Jess.
“Could we somehow move the car so the tire hangs over that ditch and get it off that way?” Jess asked. Steve shook his head.
“Nope, we’re not getting this tire off without a jack. We’ll have to either call your parents and have them come meet us with a jack or use the bikes.” Jess grimaced at his response.
“I don’t like the idea of my parents coming all the way out here but I really don’t think taking the bikes is the best idea.” Jess said.
“I agree. We’re going to have to call your parents.” Steve grumbled a bit. He was angry with himself for not thinking to double check the jack was intact. Jess pulled out her cell to dial her parents and groaned. “What is it?” Steve asked.
“I don’t have any service here!” Steve pulled out his cell to discover he had no service either. “What will we do? It’s getting dark.”
“Okay. It is what it is. Let’s move this stuff from the front seat back for now so you can get in. Lock the doors and stay here with the kids. I’ll go down the road a bit and see if I can’t find a place with service.”
Jess nodded. She grabbed the tub from the seat and carried it to the back of the Durango. Steve took the gas cans from the floor and carried them to the back and slid them inside. He grabbed his tactical flashlight from the side compartment of the Durango and then gave Jess a hug. “I’m sure I’ll get service up the road a bit. Just stay in the car with the kids till I get back” Jess nodded.
“I’m sorry. I honestly never thought about the fact that he didn’t bring the jack back.” Jess said. Steve squeezed her hand.
“I know. No worries. I’ll be back as soon as I can make the call.” Jess got into the car and as soon as he heard the door locks, Steve started up the road, making note of the first mile marker he passed so he could tell her parents exactly where they were.
He held the phone up in the air, turning it different directions and resisted the urge to say “can you hear me now?” like on that old Verizon commercial.
Jess watched as Steve walked up the road, turning the phone from left to right as he tried to find a place with service. She was still kicking herself over the missing jack. Steve was about an eighth of a mile up the road, when suddenly the Durango filled with light from behind.
Jess turned to peer out the back window and she could just make out the shape of a vehicle. It was big, at least equal in size to the Durango. Someone had stopped. Jess felt a flood of relief but it was instantly replaced with fear as she realized she didn’t know if this person intended to help or harm them. She glanced up through the front windshield and saw Steve running full speed back toward them. He’d seen the lights too.
Jess opened the glove box and pulled out the handgun Steve had loaded earlier when they were being followed. She slid to the driver’s seat and told the kids to stay quiet and keep their heads down. In the side mirror she could see someone get out of the truck and walk toward them. “Well look at what we have here” a male voice boomed out through the darkness.
Read Chapter 5 here.