The story that came to me while I was waiting in line at the cable company…
“The Van” is one of five long short stories included in the collection: I Know George Washington and Other Stories: 5 Dark Tales.
The basic setup for the story is this: a divorced father is driving with his 13-year-old daughter through East Tennessee, near Knoxville. Under the custody agreement of the divorce, the girl spends the summers with her dad in Ohio. As the story opens, the summer is coming to a close. Father and daughter are on their way to Florida, where the man’s ex-wife (the girl’s mother) lives.
That route—from Ohio to Florida—takes them through the eastern corner of the Volunteer State, where trouble awaits.
They stop at a barbecue restaurant, not far from Knoxville, to eat dinner. It’s been a long day on the road, and they’re both feeling tired.
The man happens to notice two men standing in line with them. The men look suspicious, and they are ogling his daughter.
“The Van” is the story of what happens next…
The trigger for this story came to me one day at the branch office of my local cable TV company, of all places. I was standing in line to see about an irregularity on my bill. There were about a dozen people in the line with me.
I looked at the faces around me and thought: What if one of these people is a serial killer?
That was the kernel of the story: a wait in line leads to a random encounter with human evil.
Stories often begin (for me, at least), with single images or ideas like that. Something will happen—often something very mundane—and it will get me thinking.
A trigger idea always needs work, of course. So it was in this case. “The Van” is not a story about my trip to the cable TV company. A middle-age man (yours truly) standing in line at the cable company is not very exciting. But what about a father who must take daring actions to save his daughter from two very bad men? Well, that’s something else entirely. That’s something we can work with.
I chose the location of East Tennessee as a setting for several reasons. First of all, I’m familiar with it. I’ve been through that area quite a lot. Secondly, this is a portion of the country that you would pass through if traveling from Ohio to Florida, along the I-75 corridor.
If “The Van” sounds like an intriguing story, you might check out the aforementioned collection. I Know George Washington and Other Stories: 5 Dark Tales is available in both Kindle and paperback at Amazon.