User Review( votes)
The Blue Bomber
written by: James Dean Collins
There’s no better way to arrive at a Halloween party than in style. This is especially true during my sophomore year of high school.
I sat patiently in my costume, itchy fabric and all, waiting for my uncle Jeff to arrive. I decided to dress up as Pennywise this year seeing as the second movie just came out and I figured it would be topical enough. The party was being thrown by my friend, Reagan, who is…something else entirely. I was hoping that by the end of the night she and I could be more than friends.
This is why, in lieu of my dad driving me to Reagan’s Halloween party, I asked my uncle, Jeff. Whereas my dad was buttoned-down and uptight, traits that I’m sure caused my mom to ask for a separation from my dad this past year, my uncle Jeff was laid back, go with the flow, and pretty cool in general. Jeff begged my dad to loosen up over the years, which often led my dad to make fun of him. But Jeff liked his life, and he was the life of the party. Uncle Jeff taught me about video games and bands like The Pixies among all the other cool stuff I know. Over the years, he went out of his way to help me find myself and navigate high school. He felt more like my older brother than my uncle.
I was expecting him to pull into my driveway in his Chevy Cruze. Color me surprised when I could hear the wailing of a 3.3-liter V6 as it sputtered and stalled its way into my driveway. I could smell the oil leak from my living room.
“Goddamnit!” he yelled from outside as the engine abruptly shut off. I sighed and made my way to the door where my dad had already beat me to it and had thrown it open. Dad was still wearing his dress shirt and slacks from the workday.
“Jeff!” he shouted. “You drove that damn thing over here?”
And there he was. It was the end of October and my uncle was still wearing cargo shorts, sneakers, and a matching Orioles t-shirt and baseball cap. He always wore this crap. That’s part of the reason I love him so much. Despite being my dad’s brother, uncle Jeff was the complete opposite of Dad.
“I got it Ray, just give me a minute!” he yelled back. Jeff had the hood up on the baby blue, 2003 Caravan and was looking through the compartment. He slid one of the rear doors of The Blue Bomber open and grabbed a gallon of water. He ran back to the hood and opened up a yellow tab then started pouring water in. As he did this he looked back.
“She’ll run fine now, Ray. It’s that damn radiator,” he shouted back. “If I dump water in the reservoir… do you ever take that suit off?”
Dad shook his head and looked at me, the expression on his face was priceless. “Are you sure you want to go to a Halloween party in that thing, with him? Last chance, Ian.”
I looked at The Blue Bomber and then looked back at my dad when uncle Jeff intruded on my train of thought.
“Jesus Christ, you’re going as Pennywise?” he asked me, walking towards the house.
I smiled a little. “Yeah, I put a lot of work into this.”
“There isn’t much worse than a topical Halloween costume,” he replied. “You didn’t even go as the Tim Curry version of Pennywise, bud. I’d take it off.”
“I’m already ready,” I replied, a little whiny. “And I don’t have another costume.”
He shook his head. “I got something,” he said, and he went into the passenger side and pulled out a sailor hat and red and white striped shirt. “It’s Steve’s work costume from Stranger Things season 3. I figured you might mess this up so I took it upon myself to bring you a backup.” With that, he walked towards the house.
“I mean, what’s wrong with this costume?” I shot back with my dad shaking his head now and walking back into the house, throwing up his arms in exasperation.
“Let me ask you a question,” he responded, now on my doorstep. “This party that I’m taking you to, is there going to be someone there that you like?”
After a moment of thought, I nodded.
“Uh-huh,” he responded with a cocky grin. “Now, do you think she’s going to be so willing to make out with a demonic clown from literally the nightmares of children?”
I raised my finger to counter him, but he actually had a great point. It was something I wish I put more thought into.
He nodded and pointed back inside my house, throwing the costume at me. “Yeah, go get changed. I’ll be in The Blue Bomber,” he replied as he turned back and walked to the minivan, shaking his head the whole time.
I let out a sigh and went back into my house. It took another 45 minutes, but I ran down the stairs and got into the van, where my uncle was listening to sports talk radio. He shifted into gear and we backed out of the driveway.
For reasons I never understood, she was my uncle’s pride and joy. A 2003 sky blue Dodge Caravan SXT with a mighty V6 engine, my uncle picked me up from elementary school the day he bought it in 2015. Jeff had wrecked his 2008 Kia and the insurance paid out. I was as freaked out when I was eleven-years-old as I was when he pulled up into the driveway tonight.
“I saved a ton, Ian!” he told me. “Only paid a thousand dollars for it, can you believe it? I can keep driving Uber with it, too!”
That was the thing, unlike my dad Ray, Jeff wasn’t ever really committed to one job. Primarily, he was a daytime courier with a local chemical laboratory. But he always needed extra money for car maintenance and gas on top of the small cost of living he had with my kind-of aunt Lisa, so he supplemented that by driving for Uber and Lyft whenever he would wake up during the day.
“It’s got a couple of hiccups, now,” he told me as the oil light had come on, the first of many times since he bought it. I remember as a kid when he was driving me home I noticed the beads.
Hung off the rearview mirror were these black beads that connected to an odd wooden cross.
“What’s with the cross, uncle Jeff?” I asked him.
He looked at the rearview, and he got uncharacteristically quiet. “Damned if I know,” he responded, simply. “I’ll be honest bud, I bought this off of a gypsy. One of those gypsies that runs the palm readings out of her house in Claymont.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because the price was so cheap,” he replied. “The only thing was when I got in to drive it away, she stopped me and pointed at them. Know what she said?” he asked with a chuckle.
I just looked at him. He started into this terrible Mediterranean accent.
“Some day, Jeff,” he started. “Some day, you’ll have an adventure far from home, and you’ll need these to get back. Never take them from the van.”
And he grabbed the beads and ran them through his hand while we were at a red light.
“Isn’t that the coolest damn thing, Ian?” he asked me. “That’s the problem with your dad. Ray’s always working, always pissed off, and all he sees is money. Where’s the adventure in that, Ian?”
My uncle’s favorite word is, adventure. Everything with him has to be an adventure. It’s how he gets through his shifts with the courier company or each of his Uber trips. He doesn’t see it as work; he sees it as adventure. And maybe he has a point, frankly. He’s been all over the east coast, from Florida to Maine, as well as parts of the northern and southern Midwest.
I didn’t really believe the gypsy story either. My uncle had a tendency to…embellish a bit when he told a story. I mean, he’s a now 36-year-old courier, but it was at this point he gave me a very critical piece of life advice.
“Worse comes to worse, Ian, it’s a souvenir,” he told me. “Always remember that. Wherever you go in life, take a keepsake. Otherwise, how will anyone know where you’ve been? Every souvenir you keep is another story to tell.”
Sitting in The Blue Bomber now I looked around at a few of Jeff’s little souvenirs. Besides all the cobwebs on the windshield and the thumbtacks holding the upholstery to the ceiling, the mighty minivan was littered with parking receipts from Cleveland, toll receipts from New York, and even some busted up wood. The wood was from the legendary big, white church in Centralia, PA. They tore the church down recently.
“Hey, uncle Jeff,” I started to ask him as a thought dawned on me. “You can’t even drive Uber in this thing anymore, can you?”
And uncle Jeff looked over at me and smiled. “No, no I can’t, Ian,” he replied to me. That’s actually part of why I drove it to your house tonight instead of the Cruze. I’ve got a surprise for you.
I perked up. “Oh, what is it?”
“You’re sitting in it, bud!”
Immediately, my heart sank. I stared down at the glove box in front of me, which he had taped shut with Gorilla tape. I remember asking him about it before.
“Oh, that,” he had replied. “I screwed up the latch and now the damn glove box keeps popping open. I taped it shut. I have a second glove box, anyway. It’s under the seat,” he had told me.
The tape gave me even more trepidation as we drove towards Reagan’s house now. What other issues were wrong in this van I didn’t want?
“See, I figure with you turning sixteen next year, I’d just give you The Blue Bomber!” he said, enthusiastically. “She’s all yours, at no cost! I’ve been getting work done on her. I got the brakes done, new tires, etc etc. I just have to figure out the radiator and she’ll be ready to go!”
As if on cue, the van rumbled. Uncle Jeff cursed to himself.
“Oh, and the damn fuel pump,” he replied. “We’ll need to get you a space heater, too. The heating core blew up last year and shot water all out through the defroster. But, it’ll hum!”
“Oh,” I responded. “Well, thanks uncle Jeff. I might look for my own car.”
The smile on my uncle’s face dropped as he looked back to the road. “I mean, I know it’s not the most stylish thing, but The Blue Bomber is a tank! She can get through anything, and she’s not even at 200 thousand miles yet!”
I mean, I felt for my uncle a little bit. For reasons that he never quite made clear, he sure loved that stupid minivan. I hated to offend him but I couldn’t drive that death trap. He once had a leak in the fuel pump that could’ve engulfed him in flames and he drove it that way for six months before taking it to the shop.
He let out a sigh. “Well, I see your point. Your dad can take you to finance something, anyway. You’ll get a warranty out of that.” He said, before driving the rest of the way in silence.
Well, almost the rest of the way.
“So is this going to be a good party or a lame-ass party?” he asked me when we were about three minutes away from Reagan’s house.
“It’s going to be fun,” I replied. “We’re going to do some stuff, play a few games. I think someone has a Ouija board and we’re going to try a séance.”
He smirked. “Got a condom?”
“What?” I shot back.
“I mean, is this girl hot? To you anyway, you know, different strokes and all that. You like her?”
He had to have seen me turning red, because even though I didn’t say anything he shot me this huge grin.
“Here,” he said, and opened the glove box. “The date on this should still be good,” he was rummaging around through the box now and pulled out something small and square.
He handed me a condom.
“I keep them in there for the riders I get that are trying to get down to business,” he said, looking back at the road. “You wouldn’t believe the tips I get afterward.”
Sheepishly, I put the foil in my pocket.
“And no offense, bud, but you were actually kind of a surprise,” he told me. “Ray was not expecting you, and neither was your mother. But your dad did a good job,” he told me.
He was silent for another moment as the GPS announced that we turn on to a street that led into Reagan’s development.
“Now, your mother, on the other hand, is a total pain in the ass,” he said, out of nowhere. “I told Ray not to marry her and now look at him. Let that be my last life lesson to you tonight, Ian. Don’t bother getting married. Your aunt Lisa and I are doing just fine.”
“I mean, that’s my mom, uncle Jeff,” I said back to him in a mild defense. I mean, he was kind of right, and I didn’t get along with her in the least. But I just didn’t really want to hear about her tonight.
The GPS announced that we had arrived and unfortunately uncle Jeff decided to park in the driveway. I imagine that Reagan, Tyler, and a few of my other friends (and some of my not-friends) heard The Blue Bomber stumble up the driveway and ran to the doors and windows to gawk at her.
As I tried to hurry from The Blue Bomber, I noticed uncle Jeff put it in park and opened the door alongside me. I was mortified as Reagan opened her door and was staring at us. Well, as mortified as a 15-year-old could be looking at her. She dressed up as a female vampire, so maybe there was something to what my uncle said about topical Halloween costumes.
“Uncle Jeff, what are you doing?” I nervously asked.
“I need to take a leak,” he replied, then staring up at Reagan’s house. And soon I heard the laughter. I kicked myself internally. I asked Jeff to drive me because he was cooler than my dad, I figured he’d just drop me off and come back when the party ended. Not so much this time, I guessed.
“Hi, you must be Ian’s friend, Reagan!” he shouted like a dope, and I heard the laughter spewing from the house. “I’m Ian’s uncle, Jeff. Can I use your bathroom?”
People inside the house were hollowing, but Reagan, the sweet girl that she is, gave me a look of horrified-sympathy. “Um, okay,” she replied. “It’s nice to meet you, Uncle Jeff.”
And my uncle stormed his way inside, and I followed behind him.
Reagan has a nice house, for all intents and purposes. She lived in a mcmansion in a newer development on the good side of Delaware County. There was a chandelier when we walked in that lit a grand staircase quite well. The music blaring out of the kitchen was some Panic! At the Disco song I’d heard way too much in the past month.
I saw a few people I knew from school, and some I wish I didn’t know. Some kids really went out of their way to dress up for this, namely the girls, and others really didn’t try at all, namely the boys. Somewhat shockingly, people liked my Steve costume, so score one for my uncle.
As I was getting into the swing of things, Kenny, this awful, awful dick from my algebra class, sauntered over to me. He dressed like The Joker but didn’t bother with the makeup, just the purple suit. That was just like Kenny to do.
“Ian!” he yelled, holding up a red solo cup in an exaggerated gesture. “Way to make a dumb costume look dumber, pal!”
And of course, a few of his sycophantic, dick friends laughed along with him.
“Now,” he told me, walking up next to me and putting his arm around me. The kid smelled like two wine coolers, I swear. “I heard you brought a guest to this little soiree. And to think, you haven’t introduced me to your dear, dear uncle yet!”
I shot a look of panic over at Reagan who mouthed the word sorry at me. As if the timing couldn’t get any worse, out from the bathroom came my uncle Jeff.
“Speak of the devil!” cried Kenny and went to introduce himself to my uncle. “Uncle Jeff, is it?”
“Who the hell are you, kid?” he responded to Kenny which caught him off guard a little bit.
Kenny backed off a little but nevertheless tried his best to antagonize my uncle. “My name is Kenny, uncle Jeff,” he replied. “I just wanted to introduce myself and have a chance to meet you! Ian tells us so much about you, I hear you’re the cool uncle!”
I rubbed my temples after I saw Jeff smirk a little.
“I guess you could say that Kenny,” he replied and I internally begged him not to keep overstaying his welcome.
“Well,” and the grin on Kenny’s face was huge, now. “We’re about to tell some stories, uncle Jeff. Say, what do you do for a living, if you don’t mind me asking.”
Jeff shrugged. “I’m a courier, and in my spare time I drive Uber and Lyft.”
There were more chuckles as Kenny purposely put on a big, stupid expression.
“Oh wow, Uber!” he over-exaggerated. “You must have some stories, huh?”
Jeff smirked again,” I guess you could say that too, Kenny.”
“So,” Kenny said, taking a seat on the nearby couch. “Since we’re about to tell stories, how about you tell us what it’s like to drive Uber and Lyft? What was the worst customer you’ve ever had?”
Jeff walked over to the perpendicular love seat and sat down. “I’ll do you one better, Kenny,” he said, the smirk never leaving his lips. “This is a Halloween party, and it’s mischief night, right?”
He looked around at everyone, as they were all staring at him with baited breath now.
“Well, I won’t tell you that,” he finally replied. “But I will tell you the scariest ride I ever took. Who wants to hear it?”
To my surprise, they all crowded around my uncle Jeff.
“Okay, so the year, is 2015,” he started. “As a matter of fact, it was four years ago to date. Mischief Night was on a Friday that year, with Halloween on Saturday, so the Uber market, which had just started in the Philly area, was going off.”
His attempt at slang drew some laughs, but he continued.
“It was party central,” he continued. “So, I was a designated driver all night. I made a mint, too, just The Blue Bomber and I! That’s the van I parked out there. If I’m blocking anyone, let me know and I’ll move it, by the way.”
“Uncle Jeff,” Kenny interrupted. “I noticed that ‘The Blue Bomber’ has a cross hanging from the rearview mirror. Are you religious?”
Jeff laughed. “No, that came with the van. I bought it from a gypsy who told me that I ‘would need it some day soon’. As a matter of fact, I used to take the thing down when I was driving, now I leave it up all the time. I think it actually causes people to tip me, funny enough. But, I’m actually glad you brought that up, Kenny. As a matter of fact, I took it down that very night. Now, may I continue?”
“By all means,” Kenny said, doing a mock apologetic gesture with his arms.
“So, it’s the end of the night, midnight, as a matter of fact,” Jeff started up again. “Now it’s Halloween. I’m about done; I did make about $150 bucks up to that point, but actually, my girlfriend and I need more, a lot more. Her insurance screwed her on her insulin co-pay that month, and we were in a bind. I’m driving through Chadds Ford, okay? I’m trying to find Route One, so I pull over and hop out of the van to stretch my legs and get my bearings.”
Jeff stood up off of the love seat now and took out his phone. He made exaggerated gestures.
“I swear to God,” he continued. I’m looking around and then down at my phone, and from behind, I hear, ‘excuse me, sir! I was wondering if you could take me somewhere.’”
I realized that Jeff was doing accents again. This one sounded like old, broken transatlantic.
“I turn around,” he continued. “And this tall, skinny, weird-looking shit, couldn’t have been older than 25, is standing there, with a grin on his face. He wasn’t smiling, no teeth were sticking out, just a grin. He had to be about six-foot-three but he looked like he only weighed 140 pounds. But, he wasn’t pale, it was weird. His skin gave off this kind of, yellow-greenish hue to it. He had a stupid wide-brim hat on and was wearing a white shirt with suspenders and black trousers. Oh, does anyone have anything to drink? Water or anything?”
“I’ve got beer!” someone said as my uncle shook his head.
“I’m driving,” he responded. “A bottle of water or anything? I hate to ask but my voice goes when I tell a story.”
Someone handed him a bottle of water, of which he twisted the cap off and took a few hearty gulps. When he was done, Jeff put the cap back on and continued.
“So, I look this kid over, and honest to God I thought it was a Halloween costume, like zombie Amish or something. So I asked him, outright, ‘yes, what can I do for you?’ to which he actually took a step towards me.”
My uncle Jeff cleared his throat to do his old transatlantic accent again.
“So the kid says, ‘good evening, traveler!’ in this big, enthusiastic voice. ‘I was wondering if you could do a favor for me.’ And at this time, I noticed his hands.”
Jeff tried to size his own hands into a ball.
“On his right hand,” he continued. “Is this golden ring with this huge sapphire jewel. It looked like a shitty class ring to be honest. That’s what got me into this mess. I figured it was just a kid because I thought he had a damn class ring. So I look back into his eyes, which looked a kind of grey, but I thought they were hazel, I guess. And I asked him, ‘okay, what can I do for you?’”
Jeff sat back on the loveseat. A few people were exchanging glances of are you kidding me? But most of them, even Reagan, gave him their undivided attention.
“So the kid says to me, ‘I’m a bit far from home. I was wondering if you could take me the rest of the way.’ So I gave him this look, thinking he was going to make me drive him to Maryland or something and then skimp on the tab.”
“I asked him, ‘well, I’m the closest one to you, why don’t you bring up the app and call for a ride?’ Pardon me a moment,” and Jeff took another sip of water.
“By the way, to whoever gave me this, thank you a million,” he said as he took another sip and put the cap back on. “Now, he says to me, ‘well, I don’t have the app,’ and he says it very simply, and draws on the word app. I figured he was being sarcastic with me but looking back, I don’t think he knew what the word meant, and tried to draw the word out so he wouldn’t mess it up. Anyway, I asked him, ‘alright, well, where are you going?’ And finally, his lips parted, and he started to smile. But it wasn’t a normal smile. His weird eyes got beady all of a sudden, and his teeth were just, terrible. They were the brownest brown you’d ever see in your life, and they just smelled like shit.”
A few people gasped.
“You ain’t kidding,” Jeff said, acknowledging them. “I took a step back and now I was trying to get out of this mess, but he said through his teeth, ‘Potterfield, New York,’ yeah, he wanted to go to freaking New York. I also realized another thing; there is no Potterfield, New York. I actually told him that. ‘You mean, Pottersfield, with an S.’ He actually got a little angry with that and closed his hideous mouth. ‘No, it’s Potterfield, I know my own town,’ he told me. Again, trying to get out of it, I told him, ‘no, it’s way too late for me to go to New York State tonight.’ But then he grabbed something from his back pocket.”
At this point, my uncle opened one of his cargo pockets and grabbed his wallet from inside. He opened the wallet and took out what looked like a bill. I realized at this point that I’ve never heard this story, or if he ever told it to me, I wasn’t paying attention. So, I got closer to the love seat. Everyone was trying to see what he had in his hand.
“He tells me, ‘I’ll pay you out of my pocket,’ and walks closer to me, almost gets in my face, and hands me these,” and Jeff held up the bill.
It was a U.S. dollar, but it wasn’t. It was actually an American silver note from the late 1800s. It even had James Monroe’s face on it.
“I couldn’t believe it either,” he told us. “I thought this was counterfeit or something. I actually took my phone out and Googled it at that moment, right in front of him. And while he just… stared at me, my browser let me know that these things actually existed. When I saw their value was $1.25 to one, I thought, I desperately need $600 bucks for Lisa’s insulin and I nodded. We needed the damn money and I was in no position to say no. I shoved them in my pocket and I opened the side door for him. He sat down, I got in and shifted gear, and we started to New York State. Luckily I had just filled my tank. I never like to drive The Bomber home without filling her up first.”
“Well, what happened with the rest of the bills?” someone asked. Actually, it was Reagan.
He laughed. “I sold them to the pawnshop on 202,” he responded. “Four of those bills, anyway. I kept this one as a keepsake. Always kids, always keep a memento of where you’ve been. Otherwise, no one will know where you’ve been.”
He took a long look at the bill before putting it in his wallet, “they were real, though,” he said to the silver note. “Damned if they weren’t real.”
“Oh, come on,” Kenny yelled out now, frustrated, no longer with that stupid, cocky look on his face. “You don’t expect me to believe this shit, do you?”
Jeff put his wallet back in his cargo pocket and then took another long sip of water.
“Kenny,” he started. “The only thing I expect out of you is that later in life, you’re going to run the business that your dad, whichever rich asshole in Glen Mills that he is, entrusted to you into the ground, and your wife is going to leave you for the pool boy. Afterwards, while you’re sitting alone in your new studio apartment, wondering where your life went, I hope you’ll remember this story that I’m telling as part of the better years of your life.”
Kenny, mouth open, stumbled back and sat on the couch. I’m not even sure he blinked for a few minutes.
“Damn uncle Jeff, that’s savage,” someone else yelled, as the rest of the room was whisper quiet now.
“If I can continue,” he said, with the smirk back on his face. “I pull out my phone and I type Pottersfield into my GPS. I tell him, ‘Okay, so to get to Pottersfield, it’s about six hours.’ He got mad again and screamed, Potterfield and it sounded awful when he screamed it. So I looked up Potterfield and nothing came up on the GPS. I say, ‘Mister… actually, I never got your name.’ and he responds, ‘It’s Jacob,’ and I replied, ‘okay Mr. Jacob, my map doesn’t have Potterfield, no S, on it. So I don’t know what you want from me.”
Jeff shook his head. “He sighed, which again, didn’t sound quite right but I couldn’t put my finger on it. And he told me as I looked in the rearview, ‘Well, do you know where Kingston is? It’s a little north of Kingston. When we get there I can give you directions for the rest of the way.’ And I caught myself staring at that damn ring of his. But I obliged him. ‘Kingston it is,’ I remember saying to him. I also realized while looking at the GPS that Kingston was only three-and-a-half hours away, which put me at ease.”
Uncle Jeff was sure to catch his breath before he continued with the meat of the story.
“I set a course for Kingston and we continued,” he said. “As I said, it was almost a four-hour drive, and the entire time up there, we never made conversation of any kind. Now, this is a normal thing, believe it or not. I know people in Uber cars like to be left alone and I’m fine with that. I hate forcing a conversation. But usually, those people look at their phones and put ear buds in or something, or go to sleep. But not Jacob, he was something else. I periodically looked in the mirror, and I only ever saw him, facing forward, that default grin he had on his lips, looking at me and watching me drive. I looked in the rearview about once every 20 minutes, and every single time I did, for three hours, he was staring at me. And if I caught him, he didn’t even look away! He just kept on staring.”
Jeff was starting to look uneasy now, and I noticed more and more people were crowding around him now, genuinely interested in this. He took another pull from the bottled water, emptying it out, and he put the empty bottle on a coffee table.
“So eventually,” he continued. “We make it to Kingston, and I look in the mirror, and he still stares at me. I ask him, ‘Okay Jacob, this is Kingston, where to now?’ And he told me to keep driving north, where eventually; we hit a fork in the road. He told me, actually, he simply pointed to the left. Yeah, he just pointed. So I drive down the road to the left and he keeps pointing to these side roads. It’s almost four a.m. when he points to one final road that leads into a forest. I’m not kidding, it was a long, brown dirt road that was nestled in between thickets of trees on either side. But, per his silent instructions, I drove down the dirt path.”
At this point, uncle Jeff actually laughed a little bit.
“It’s funny,” he said. “All I could think at that moment was how bad my shocks and struts were getting wrecked. But, little did I know where we were about to end up.”
Jeff rubbed his face and continued. Everyone was crowded around him now, like it was an actual campfire.
“Well, eventually we hit a giant clearing, maybe after three or so miles down this damn thing,” he said. “And the dirt road we were on connected to a bunch of other dirt roads. And in the center of it all, there it was, an old, brown wooden sign with white letters that read, Potterfield. There was a population count of about one hundred or so scrawled underneath. And I noticed the buildings. They were stone and brick, all of them white, with dark black shutters. They looked like old New England farmhouses, all of them. They had those old cross window panes and everything.”
Jeff thought for a moment.
“But,” he began again. “Come to think of it, the panes of glass were wrong. The windows weren’t cross-paned, not quite. It’s like the crosses were…upside down.”
And he looked at everyone for effect, and then smirked. A couple of them groaned again but he pressed on.
“Well, we kept driving until that little village was far behind us. Eventually he pointed to a big, plantation-style stone mansion on the right side of the road, all by itself,” Jeff said. “At the foot of the dirt path leading up to it, Jacob tells me, ‘this is my home,’ so I pull over and let him out. He gets out of the van as I circle back to the driver’s seat, but before I get in he tells me, staring me dead in the face, ‘enjoy our little town of Potterfield, Jeff.’ And he turned and walked towards the giant stone house.
Jeff stopped here and looked at everyone again.
“But,” he said, simply. “I never told Jacob my name.”
And uncle Jeff simply stopped talking for a moment.
“But,” a voice called out. It was actually Kenny, dead serious. “What happened, Jeff?”
Jeff smiled and got back into the story.
“Well at this point,” he started. “I’m freaked out because I know I never told that kid my name. I start The Bomber up and turn around down the dirt path, then head back the way I came.”
And he looked deeply at all of us again.
“Well, I did pass by the town, there wasn’t a soul on the streets. But as I started down the dirt path we’d originally come down, to get back on the main road, something had changed. I drove down four or five miles, but it just kept going and going. There were no landmarks; I couldn’t even get specific details from any rocks or trees near me. It was just a small forest and darkness, over and over.”
Jeff thought about the story for a moment and continued. Everyone was on the edge of his or her seats now.
“I need gas at this point,” he said. “So I decided to go back to Potterfield to see if I could find a gas station that maybe I had missed. After struggling for a minute, I do have a bad power steering pump, I got her turned around and we drove back. I kid you not, about half a mile later; we were back in the town. I checked the odometer again just to be sure, and I was right, the mileage didn’t make sense. In addition, my dashboard clock was still stuck at 3:55 a.m. It never moved in the entire time I was up there.”
“What did you do then, Jeff?” this time it was Reagan that asked.
He scratched his head. “Once I hit the town again, I parked near the sign and got out,” he said. “I looked around for any sign of life. I then noticed a few things. There weren’t any bugs or any birds or anything. There were no wildlife sounds of any kind. Other than the moonlight there wasn’t any light in the town besides my headlights. Well, I walked around the town for a little, trying to find anything remotely resembling gasoline. I checked inside all of those houses, and that was another thing altogether.”
“What were the houses like?” I now found myself asking. I still didn’t believe uncle Jeff, but I was really getting caught up in his story just like everyone else.
“That’s the thing, bud,” he said, right to me. “The houses were a combination of things. From what I could tell, using my phone flashlight, they were dusty and deserted. There were cobwebs and thick layers of dust everywhere. I even broke into one and confirmed that. But the worst part of the house I broke into? I took a look in the small dining area, and under the dust and cobwebs was food. Four plates were set up and they had turkey on all of them, but it all looked half-eaten, and the chairs were knocked over. It was like they were just there, got up in the middle of dinner, and left.”
A bunch of us gasped, and Jeff chuckled.
“I know, right?” he asked rhetorically. “Anyway, I came back outside and as I made my way back to The Blue Bomber, I saw a young girl nearby. Well, I saw her from the back. She wore this old hoop dress and a bonnet. She looked like she was doing a reenactment of some kind. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m creeped out to hell at this point, and I need to get the hell out of Potterville. I didn’t approach this girl out of stupid curiosity, I did it out of desperation.”
“You went up to the girl?” Kenny asked. Jeff nodded.
“I got within 20 feet of her and said, ‘excuse me, Miss? Can you tell me how to get out of town and back onto the main road? I’m low on gas.’ And she doesn’t say anything. I get a little closer, ask again, and that’s when I noticed the stench. God, she smelled like something foul. As I gagged into my hand, she turned around. She was pale, but also gave off that same hue to her skin that Jacob did.”
There was a collective gasp in the room now. But funny enough, Jeff looked like he was…elsewhere. It was like he forgot he was telling a fun story and now he was recapping events that happened for a police interrogation.
“So I asked her again,” Jeff said, not looking at anyone now, just staring down at the coffee table. “And she turns around, and had the same damn beady eyes and smiled with those same, awful brown teeth. And she said to me, ‘you can’t leave, Jeff. Only Jacob can leave. But we’ll make a home for you in Potterfield.’ And she laughed and laughed. Well, I backed the hell up and turned to run back to The Bomber, and as I did, they all literally came out of the woodwork.”
“They?” Reagan simply asked.
He nodded but didn’t look at her. “There must have been dozens of them. They were all dressed the same, all had those weird skin hues, and they all had those goofy, baked bean teeth. And you know who was leading them to the square? Goddamn Jacob himself. So, I ran to my van as they closed in on me. I got in and tried to start it but she wouldn’t turn over this time.”
He looked up.
“It was the fuel pump,” he said, simply. “What a time for the van to fail, just like in a horror movie.”
And I looked in uncle Jeff’s eyes, and I figured it out, finally. Jeff was upset with me not just because I didn’t want the van in general, but also because over the years, that van was his best friend and his protector. They had been all over the eastern United States together. And the story he was telling now, whether it was embellished or not…
This was the only time since he bought the van that my uncle, the bravest and coolest man I knew, was scared that they weren’t going to make it home that night.
Tears welled up in his eyes and he stood up now.
“I started kicking at the steering wheel, bashing it with my fists,” he continued. “I kept screaming, ‘come on, girl! Come on!’ and just wailing at her.”
And he stopped for a moment and sat down to catch his breath. I looked at everyone, and they all stared at him in anticipation.
They didn’t know if he would make it home that night either.
“Well, they came closer and closer to us,” he continued. “And I’m desperate, just beating on the console. I hit the glove box at a point, and it came down. It turns out I broke the damn thing and had to tape it up later.”
The Gorilla tape.
“And, well, there was something in the glove box,” he continued. Something I used to take down when I took Uber trips because I didn’t want people to laugh at me. It was something that someone once told me I would need when I least expected it.”
Kenny gasped and spoke up now.
“The cross and the beads,” Kenny said out loud.
Jeff looked at him, smiled, and nodded.
“And again, I’m not a praying man,” Jeff continued. “But maybe there is something out there. I had no other choice, so I grabbed the cross and beads, I closed my eyes, and I waited for the end.”
And Jeff stopped his story, one last time, and everyone just stared, mouths agape.
So I was the one to speak up.
“Well uncle Jeff,” I began. “How did you get home?”
“I was waiting there, with my eyes closed,” he continued. “And I waited and waited, and kept on waiting. And nothing was happening. So I opened my eyes.”
He stood up again and made a big circle gesture with his hands.
“They all still surrounded The Bomber,” he said. “But something was wrong. They couldn’t move or something. I looked down at the cross in my hand, and then held it up to them, and they all threw their hands up and looked away from it. So, I got out and walked over to Jacob. The first thing I did was punch him square in the jaw.”
A couple of kids laughed again.
“But when I did,” he continued. “His jaw actually fell off! No kidding! It was lying right there in the grass. He then came back at me and grabbed my hand with his right hand, and there was some smoke and it smelled terrible. He screamed, and I kid you not, he hand broke off of his forearm, right at the wrist.”
A couple of kids moaned out a hearty ewww!
“And I looked at the hand in the grass,” Jeff said. “It was his right hand, the one with the ring on it. And I remembered what that freaky ghoul girl had told me.”
“Only Jacob can leave,” Reagan said.
Jeff nodded and smiled again. “So, I grabbed his hand. I didn’t waste time getting the damn ring off I just took the hand. I got back in The Bomber, I threw the hand on the passenger seat, and before I shut the door, I yelled back to him, ‘you’re welcome for the ride, asshole. Be sure to leave me five-stars!’ and I turned the key, and wouldn’t you know it, the engine fired right up.”
Jeff took one last breath before the epilogue to his story.
“Well, we drove back down the dirt road we came in on,” he said. “And the trees parted, the road opened up, and I swear to this day, as I turned onto the main road, night changed to day. My dash clock started to work again, it read six on the dot, and my phone started to work too.”
Jeff got up now.
“I never actually told anyone that story,” he said. “Not my girlfriend Lisa, not even Ian. You all got to hear it for the first time”
Jeff made his way to the door.
“Enjoy your party,” he told them.
They actually applauded him as he walked out of the front door.
The rest of the night went well. That was the last of the ghost stories, but we had fun. Reagan even kissed me! She actually invited me ghost hunting, of all things, which was something I never knew she was into. I counted that as a win, even though I didn’t use the condom that Jeff gave me, something that kind of freaked me out. I just enjoyed the moment.
And while I was having fun, I made a decision, in honor of my uncle. So when I texted him to pick me up and we headed back, I made up my mind.
“How was the party?” he asked.
“It was fun,” I told him. “In fact, I decided how important it is to have such a reliable car. So I was thinking, uncle Jeff. I’ve got some cash stored away. Why don’t you and I get the fuel pump and the heating core fixed? I’d be honored to drive The Blue Bomber.”
I actually pet the dashboard when I said it.
Jeff laughed. “Thanks buddy,” he replied. “I didn’t want to give her up to someone who didn’t appreciate her.”
We continued down the road.
“Listen, bud,” he started out of nowhere. “I do appreciate you taking The Bomber. I don’t have much, you know? One day, I’m your age and kids are inviting me to all sorts of parties, and I’m making fun of your dad for being un-cool.”
“And then,” he continued. “The next thing I know, I’m 36, and life is passing me by, and your dad is making fun of me for being a loser. But, through it all, I don’t have any regrets. I’ve done the best I could, and I keep going, and that’s what defines me. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“I think you’re the coolest uncle Jeff,” I told him to reassure him. “I’m glad you’re not my dad. I love him and all. But I’m glad you drove me tonight.”
He smiled at me, and we pressed on.
And as we drove, we came up on a Wawa convenience store, where my uncle pulled in.
“Listen, I’m gonna get an Icee,” he said. “Do you want a Choco Taco or anything?”
I shook my head.
“I’ll be out in a jiffy,” he said. And he ran into the store.
As I waited, I looked down at the black duct tape covering the glove box to keep it from opening, and I remembered one little throwaway detail that Jeff told me before.
I have a second glove box, anyway. It’s under the seat.
And then, my eyes went wide.
I reached under the seat, and sure enough, there was a door with a keyhole. It was unlocked, and I opened it.
I reached inside and screamed.
I pulled up a skeletal hand. It had a sapphire ring on the third finger.
“Always take a souvenir, Ian,” my uncle told me from the passenger side. He’d snuck up on me as I was pulling the hand out. “Otherwise, no one will know where you’ve been.”