Nikki had to give Jenna credit. When they arrived at the supercenter, that was their agreed upon meeting place, Jenna had her mom drive them next to the big, yellow school bus. It wasn’t exactly what Nikki had expected but at least it wasn’t a windowless van.
Mrs. Whitmore stayed just long enough to make sure we had enough underwear and to make Jenna fuss at her. I was surprised to see her pull off before we got in the van. However, I was less surprised to see her park in front of the supercenter and go inside even though Jenna said they did some heavy shopping only the day before. If we didn’t get out of here soon Mrs. Whitmore would be back with a pack of socks and deodorant for each of us.
There was a group of five or six other people standing next to suit cases and duffle bags, some already chatting up another traveler whom they would get to know better on this month long trip together. Nikki was surprised that even this many came along. She couldn’t imagine that there were that many people, besides her eccentric friend, that were browsing the internet in hopes for a chance to take a trip with a stranger.
After another pair showed up and brought their bags to the side of the bus with them, a woman, maybe just younger than Mrs. Whitmore, stepped away from a group and did what looked like a head count. Seeming to be satisfied she poked her head in the bus’s open door and came back out, soon followed by a tall, broad shouldered man. He could’ve been someone’s grandpa but Nikki thought a grandpa would smile more often than it looked like he did.
The woman clapped her hands as the man stood by her side. “Alright! This looks like everyone. Thank you guys for coming! I know this is a little unconventional to go on a trip to the woods with a couple of strangers from the internet but we appreciate you adventurous souls. My name Sylvia and this handsome fellow here is my husband Rodney.”
“You can call me Sir.” Rodney didn’t say it rude or mean, just matter-of-factly.
“Oh, Rod.” Sylvia swatted him on the arm and the group laughed awkwardly but Rodney didn’t. “He’ll loosen up on the drive down. Anyways, I’d like to talk more but we’ll have plenty of time for that on the way and when we get there. We have about a four hour drive after all.”
Sylvia ushered everyone behind the bus where Rodney, who had gone back inside, popped open the back emergency door so that they could load all of the luggage. It turned out that this was more of a modified bus. Half of the seats were missing from the back of it leaving a large area open. Rodney was piling luggage on one side and what looked like the equipment that they would be using was tied down on the other.
By the time that Nikki and Jenna had gotten on the bus most of the others were already seated and talking amongst themselves again. While everyone else seemed to be in the front, Nikki gladly went to the furthest seat in the back. Not because she didn’t want to talk to anyone but because she thought that it might be easier for her to check in to work if it wasn’t too loud. This was the first time in years that she missed a day in the labs. The least that she could do was to call in.
She got situated right in front of the luggage and Jenna sat in the seat right in front of her. Before she even had a chance to pull out her phone a guy that Nikki had somehow not notice looked up from the seat across the aisle from her. He nodded and smiled in that way that most people do when starting conversations with strangers, so like a good stranger she nodded back and wondered how she had missed him in the first place. He looked a couple years older and quite a few inches taller than Nikki. He was sitting straight up but his knees still pushed against the back of the chair in front of him like they needed a little more room.
While Nikki was fine letting him stay silent and start a conversation whenever he wanted to Jenna was not the type to leave people alone.
“I’m Jenna.” She leaned toward with an outstretched hand and he took it.
“I’m Ian. It’s nice to meet you.” He smiled and turned to Nikki. She introduced herself as well.
“We must be crazy getting onto a bus full of strangers to go to the middle of nowhere.” He said jokingly.
“I don’t know.” Jenna said. “The bus isn’t full. I think if they all start going crazy we could take them.”
“Should we make a pact then to join forces when that happens or is it too soon to know if one of us is actually crazy?” Nikki asked.
Ian crossed his arms and his eyes squinted as he pretended to think. “I like to put a lot of thought into my crazy serial killer survival team. Let me do some research and get back to you on that.”
They continued on having an easy conversation for so long that it was about an hour into the trip before Nikki even thought about her phone. She reached her hand into her pocket but then brought it back out empty. She supposed that work could be put on the back burner for just a little while longer.