He won’t tell me, but he fills my empty water bottle from a big five-litre thing and hands it to me, for which I’m grateful. “I hope you’re not hurt. Owen was a little too enthusiastic when restraining you.”
“I’ve been better,” I say, sitting on my hands so that he can’t see how much they’re trembling. “Are we stopping here?”
“Just briefly. We’re at a service station. Do you need the loo?”
I do, sort of, but I’m in my school uniform and I don’t fancy going in like this. Then again, it might alert people that something is wrong. That they need to rescue me, or call the police. I pick up my bag and say, “Can I get changed in the toilets?”
“Out of my uniform. I’ve got jeans in my bag.”
He looks uncertain and that’s when I notice what he is wearing. The only light comes from inside the van itself so I can’t see his clothes all that clearly, but I can see enough to know they’re pretty unusual. A tunic and trousers. Styles that went out of fashion two hundred years ago, made with fabrics I don’t recognise. Weird primitive patterns all over them. He’s wearing sandals, not shoes, and everything looks completely home made.
“We’ll give you something to wear when we get there,” he says at last.
“Thanks, but I’d rather wear my own for now.”
He doesn’t argue, and extends his hand to help me up. It looks innocent enough – I pull myself to my feet and we walk across the car park. Either he hasn’t noticed that I’m untied or he doesn’t care, but he keeps a hand firmly on my shoulder to stop me running off.
“Don’t try anything,” he warns me. “We won’t be so lenient if you shout or run off or anything.”
I’ve no idea where I am, save that it’s a motorway somewhere, and it seems to be that running would be pretty stupid. Where would I go? I follow him into the twenty four hour station where a clock informs me it’s a quarter to eleven at night. Dad must be worrying his head off. I just hope the hospital have given him a bed and something to eat. He’ll give himself food poisoning otherwise, and he won’t want to leave Mum.
If we’ve been driving for five hours, we could be halfway across the country by now. We’re heading North, perhaps. Durham? No, we wouldn’t have stopped here, we’d have kept going an hour more and then stopped in the city itself. Perhaps they’re taking me to Scotland.
“What’s your name?” I say to my captor, as he leads me to the ladies’ toilets.
“Mike,” he replies. I nod, and go in. He’s still waiting outside when I emerge, dressed much more comfortably with my uniform stuffed in my bag and my watch firmly around my wrist, and as he leads me back past the McDonald’s, my stomach growls. He ignores that and keeps walking rapidly until we reach the van, where he opens the back door and gestures that I should get in.
“Can’t I have something to eat?” I ask.
“When we get there.”
“But where is there?”
He doesn’t say anything, and after a few minutes of stalemate I give up and get into the van. When he shuts the door, the little light fades to black and I’m plunged into darkness. It’s a few minutes before we set off, so I’m guessing that Mike is waiting for the other guy, Owen, to come back from wherever he went.
Then we’re driving again.
I fall asleep at some point, although I’m not quite sure when, because I wake up with my face pressed against the cold metal and my arm in quite an uncomfortable position against my skinny ribcage. We’ve stopped. My watch is crushed beneath me, but when I extract it and press the ‘light’ button it tells me that it’s almost five in the morning. Either we’re in Scotland, or we stopped again while I was sleeping, because we’ve been travelling for eleven hours now.
It’s not Mike who opens the door, it’s Owen, but in the light from the floodlights outside I can see that he’s dressed just as oddly. I shrink back slightly. He seems like the nasty one of the two – he did almost squash me earlier, after all.
“Get out,” he says. There’s nothing kind about his voice and his face is hard, too. I don’t dare to disobey, so I slide inelegantly out onto the gravel outside and grab the door of the van to stop myself from falling over. I’m so dizzy it’s unreal.
In the brighter light of the floodlights, I can see that it’s just an ordinary white van, dirty enough that someone’s written clean me on the side with their finger. It’s not just dust all over it, though. At the front, where the bonnet is dented and slightly broken, there are yellow scrapes.
It hit something yellow. Something bright, buttercup yellow. I’m willing to bet I know what it was. I grip the door even tighter for support.