The Van (Chapter 1)

by Kristen Dempsey


Hello! This is my first submission, and though I am still working on my story as a whole, I'd like to submit a first chapter so I can receive helpful advice and such. This story is inspired by true events occurring in my hometown at this time. Thanks for reading, I'd love to hear feedback from you all!

Door-to-Door salesmen were a large part of the growing fad that is American Consumerism. What is easier than buying products that are introduced to you right at your own doorstep? However, as most techniques do, it fizzled out even before the introduction of online shopping. The oddity of seeing door-to-door salesmen within the past twenty years is rare, which makes my story ever the more strange.

   Let me start off by introducing myself. My name is Alex, I'm 19 years old, and this story takes place in my hometown of Zanesville, Ohio in 2015. Zanesville is an extremely rural town of roughly 1,000 people, most of who know each other, usually through school or church. New families are welcomed into the community, and excitement spread like wildfire when a house is sold to a family from out of town. Unfamiliar faces are quickly familiarized with the townspeople. I cannot recall a time during my 18 years of living in Zanesville where I did not recognize a face at least a little. However, that was all about to change.

   It was finally summer. Even more exciting, it was the summer before my senior year at Zanesville High School. My days were filled with the typical activities of an 18 year-old girl who lived in the country. I, along with the friends that I had known my entire life, spent our days by the river. We would fish, swim, float on tubes, and drink ourselves silly beside a bonfire until dark. Zanesville had a virtually non-existent crime rate, which is probably why our parents allowed us to act in such a hedonistic manner. I was the smallest in stature in my group of friends that included a muscular football player named Dan, a pretty but strange girl named Kristen, and my best friend Jeremy. We were a strange group mainly because the differences between us. Dan was the star linebacker that led our team to three consecutive state tournaments, Kristen was the bookworm with a wicked sense of humor, Jeremy was the shy musician with a heart and brain of gold, and I was just boring old Alex who liked science and dreamed about escaping Zanesville. I didn't understand why we were friends (nor did anyone else), but our individual differences balanced out the group.

It was noon on Saturday, June 12th: A day I will never forget. I awoke to a text from Jeremy, as I usually did. It read, "Al, please help me spend my paycheck today. Text me when you wake up". My heart fluttered just a beat as I realized my quest for young love was well on its way, and with my best friend no less. I was just about to drift into a lucid daydream about Jeremy when I heard a knock at the door. It opened slightly to reveal the outline of my dad. "Hey Al, I got your mom Hall & Oates tickets for their show tonight in Cleveland. She doesn't know yet, so don't ruin the surprise", he said as he giggled in the childlike manner that I had come to expect from him, "Will you please watch your brother tonight? Your friends can hang off on the partying for one night."

"Sure Dad, can I have Jeremy come hang out for awhile tonight though?" I asked, trying to play it cool. I could feel the blood rushing to my face.

"Jeremy, as in the boy you like?" My dad said, raising his eyebrow and smirking.

"Jeremy, as in my best friend, yeah." I said, knowing I was caught.

"Sure, just be careful. You know how to lock up the house." He said.

As soon as those words left his mouth, my mom appeared in the doorway. "Why does she have to be careful? Why does she have to lock the house up? It has nothing to do with the Hall & Oates concert in Cleveland tonight does it?" She said, trying not to laugh. She caught my eye and we both giggled, knowing my dad was unable to keep any secret hidden for more than an hour.

We went out into the living room where my little brother Jack was sitting on the couch watching ESPN. Jack was 10, which meant his babysitting for the night would basically only consist of me ordering us a pizza. My parents packed their bags, kissed us goodbye, and drove off to spend a romantic night away from Jack and I. I shivered at that thought. Soon after they left, I texted Jeremy and told him I had to stick around the house for the day, and the plan for that night. As always, he was understanding, and agreed to come over around sunset to eat pizza and hang out. I smiled as I pictured us finally confessing our feelings for each other. Babysitting wouldn't be that bad, I decided.

   The daytime passed with little incidence, save for Jack spilling a cup of Mountain Dew in the kitchen. As I was mopping the floor as best I could, I heard my phone buzz. It was Kristen. Her text read, "Hey girl! I heard you have to babysit tonight. Shit, I was excited to hang out! But I heard Jeremy is coming over, so I'm happy for you I guess ;). Anyway, I was just texting you because my mom's friend at work told her something kinda weird. I don't mean to scare you, I just want you to be safe. So I guess there has been a guy and a girl driving around town in a burgundy van selling cleaning supplies. The van has a Nevada plate. They have been going door-to-door, and I guess if you don't buy any, they get really angry. They've been creeping around people's houses looking in garages and windows and stuff. I just want you to be careful in case you see them. But hey, you'll have Jeremy there to protect you;). I think you guys would make a perfect couple. Just be yourself like always. Love ya!" I laughed while reading her text. Kristen was definitely strange and not exactly popular at our high school, but she was a true, loyal friend who has known about my Jeremy crush even before I knew.

   I put my phone down and walked into the living room. I glanced at the clock, and it read 8:15. The sun was going to set around 8:30 that night. I had 15 minutes to get ready before Jeremy got there. I felt silly as I walked into my room, fully intending to dress nicer than usual. For some reason as I got dressed, I felt a pit begin to form in my stomach. Something felt off. I am an overly anxious and paranoid person as it is, but Kristen's text really creeped me out. I felt a little better in knowing that I was going to have Jeremy there to protect me in case anything weird went down.

   Jeremy arrived right at sunset, as he said he would. As Jack played PlayStation in the basement, Jeremy and I ordered a pizza and went into the living room to talk. "Did you hear about the weird people in the van going around town? Kristen texted me about it." I told him.

"Yeah actually. It's funny you mention a text from Kristen about that, cause Dan texted me earlier about the same thing. He said those people came to his house yesterday and were snooping around his garage in broad daylight. I guess they stood in the driveway for about 20 minutes. Dan's dad was gonna call the cops, but they left after they saw him looking out the window." He said, his eyes widening. If anyone was more of a chicken than I, it was Jeremy. He couldn't even watch scary movies without covering his eyes.

  "What do you think they want?" I asked.

"Maybe they are druggies looking for drug money or something to steal." He posed.

"You could be right. Either way, I'm praying they don't come out at night." I said.

All of a sudden the doorbell rang. We both nearly jumped out of our skin. We started laughing, as we remembered we had ordered pizza. Jeremy paid the pizza delivery boy, as Jack bounded up the stairs. We ate our food and Jack returned to his video games, leaving us alone upstairs again. "Hey you look really nice tonight." Jeremy whispered, grinning shyly at me.

"Thank you!" I exclaimed. "I guess I wasn't sure how fancy this evening was going to be."

"Well you always look pretty" he said, looking into my eyes.

I grinned, and decided that it was now or never. I scooted closer to Jeremy on the couch, planting a soft kiss on his lips. He smiled the widest smile I had ever seen grace his face as he pulled me closer. Soon we were making out, completely unaware of what was happening around us. My heart was beating out of my chest as years of pent up feelings erupted like a volcano.

We were roused from our kissing not by Jack, but by the doorbell ringing. This time we froze, looking at each other with confused looks. Dan and Kristen both knew that we were hanging out in a romantic sort of way, so there was no way that either of them would intervene in the date night. My parents wouldn't use the doorbell. I looked out the window and couldn't see much, as the night had faded to complete darkness. I was brought back from my thoughts as the doorbell rang a second time. It seemed louder this time, as if the ringer were impatiently waiting. I was too afraid to look out the peephole, so instead Jeremy and I peered out the window again. We couldn't see anything still. "It's probably just one of our friends or a neighbor or something." Jeremy said.

"It's just really dark and really late." I said, seeing that the clock read 10:00. "Our friends know we are here together."

"Do you want me to go check?" He asked.

"I'll come with you." I said.

We crept up to the door, Jeremy in front. I could tell he was as scared as I was. He didn't look through the peephole, instead choosing to open the door. There, on the doorstep, stood a man. The man was African-American, with black dreadlocks that extended to his waist. He was wearing dark pants and a dark shirt with an army green, oversized jacket. His eyes were as black as the night around us. In his hand, he held a milk jug with some sort of yellow liquid filled halfway to the top. Behind him, a woman stood looking at the ground. She was white, though her arms were stained with some sort of black soot. Her hair was a tangled mess of bleach blonde strands that appeared to have not been washed in some time. She wore a purple thermal shirt with a white overcoat, even though it was summer and the humidity was sweltering. The woman looked up from the ground. I audibly gasped as I noticed her eyes. Her eyes were the color of snow. Even more unnerving was her lack of pupils. I could feel my hands begin to shake. Jeremy was frozen in place. These were the people with the burgundy van.

"Well hello sir and ma'am. It's been such a hot month, and I know ya'll must be sweating like dogs in heat. I just wanna know if you'd like to buy some leather furniture cleaner to clean off all of that sweat" said the man, speaking slowly with an accent I couldn't identify. The woman just stared at us silently.

"I'm sorry sir, but we don't have any leather furniture. Thank you though." I said, my voice trembling, knowing full well that there was an old leather sofa in the garage. Jeremy couldn't say a word.

"Well now everyone I've ever met has leather furniture somewhere in his or her house or garage," said the man, his face transforming from a fake smile into a visible scowl. "I bet if I looked around your garage, you'd have at least one piece of leather furniture in there."

"They have been snooping in our garage. Looking into our windows. How long have they been creeping around the house?" I wondered to myself.

I snapped out of my thoughts when the woman began to speak. She looked into my eyes, and though I was scared out of my mind, I couldn't look away. I felt like I was in a trance. "Children of God, we must all help our neighbors in their time of need and in their time of great sin" she rambled, without taking a breath. Her voice grew louder with every word. "We shalt not judge those who do not see as we see. We shall accept darkness into our world and into our minds so that we can breathe the fires of hell into the world around us." Her voiced trailed off as she lowered her head and once again stared at the ground, this time whispering, as if summoning someone or something from underneath the ground.

Jeremy spoke up for the first time. "Sir, I'm sorry but we are just kids. My name is Jeremy, and this is Alex. We don't have any money to buy any supplies today. Thank you for offering. I hope you have a good night." I could tell Jeremy was afraid, but his protective nature was arousing a fire within him. I noted that he smartly told them our names, which would make us seem more like friends and not so much like strangers to rob.

The man looked first at me and then at Jeremy, not blinking his black eyes. In a monotone voice, he said "You don't want to buy leather cleaner. I'll remember that. I won't come here again." And with that, he turned around, grabbing the arm of his female partner roughly. As they walked back to the burgundy van parked across the street in the darkest of shadows, the woman turned around. Her head swiveling like an owl, she watched Jeremy and I with her eyes of pure ice until she got into the van. They drove away, their run-down van barely making a sound as they turned the corner out of sight.

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