The road sign read, "Barken", but then in red paint the words, "devil town, 666 miles" had been written over the actual distance.
"That's terrible!", Greg, who was sitting in the passenger seat in the church van, noted to the driver.
The older man smiled amiably. "Somebody doesn't like Barken."
"Reverend Brandemas,", Greg continued still uncomfortable with the sign, "Why do people do such petty things like that? It's just so stupid and hurtful."
"Some people are full of hate, Greg. I wish it were otherwise, but that is God's domain," Brandemas replied, taking the act of vandalism in stride.
Greg stewed for a few more seconds, when a voice from the back of the van called out, "What sign?"
Greg turned to look, and he saw that Allison was looking a bit concerned, "Just some vandals wrote the devil city on the sign back there."
"Now what would make a man go and do something like that?" John asked, listening in on the conversation.
"I don't know," Nathan replied.
"Why doesn't somebody clean it up?Ē Allison asked.
"Yeah, somebody should tell the highway patrol about that," Emily added.
The only voice yet to speak was watching all of this with only the least bit of interest. He had seen the sign, and thought it quite telling, but wasn't sure quite what to make of it. His opinion wouldn't matter that much, as a few of the people in the car annoyed him to no end, though he did a good job of hiding it. He had his Walkman on, listening to Bartok, and was reading a book.
He stopped a few minutes later, when the van suddenly began jolting wildly, and a striated scream came from the van itself. Brandemas pulled the van to a stop, the sign now forgotten in their minds, and he stepped out, along with the rest, to see what was the problem.
He leaned over the front wheel, it being sliced up the side. "Man is that ruined!" John noted quickly.
"Let's get the spare." Greg motioned for them to head to the rear of the van.
The silent one then spoke. "We don't have a spare, remember we removed it when we put the suitcases in the back."
"Didn't we put it back, Jason?" Nathan asked him.
"I don't believe so," Jason replied.
"Well... check anyway, otherwise we'll have to walk into town and get some help," Brandemas told them.
The others went to the back of the van, and opened up the trunk. They saw only luggage, most of which they piled out on the road, but still no spare. Jason shook his head, when something off in the distance caught his eye for a second. It looked like, well like a dog, but then it was gone. A stray he thought, and put it out of his mind.
Just then a scream pierced the silence, and all eyes focused on the front of the van, where Allison was holding her arm tightly, and Emily was trying to comfort her. The four boys ran up to the front of the van, where Brandemas was experimentally touching the hood.
"Hmm..." he thought for a second. Then taking a shirt from his suitcase, he lifted up the hood; smoke billowed out in clouds, and Brandemas tried his best not to cough.
"I can't believe we bust a tire and overheat the van at the same moment!" Jason says in dismay.
"Why not, happened to a friend of mine.. remember Brandon from school?" Nathan noted.
"Oh yeah," John chimed in. "Wasn't he going a 100 miles an hour though when it happened?"
"Something like that," Nathan smiled briefly, then the more pressing reality of the situation began to sink in to each of their minds.
"Is your arm okay there Allison?" Greg asked.
"I'll be fine, just singed it," Allison smiled weakly.
"Well, we better head to Barken, just another mile or so," Brandemas told them unequivocally. " Let's leave our stuff here, and we'll see if we can't get somebody to drive a tow truck and get the van to a auto shop in town. There we'll see if we can't call somebody in Houston and have them pick us up so we can get to the convention."
"Sounds good to me," Jason nodded, and then started walking down the road.
"Wait," Greg stopped them, "isnít Barken the Devil's Town?"
Nathan laughed, and John added, "I'm sure it was just a prank Greg, c'mon. We won't be spending more than a night there anyway."
Greg shrugged and went on with them.
It took the better part of an hour to reach Barken, and once there, Brandemas noticed almost immediately that there were a lot of dogs running around, and they weren't barking at each other. He wondered about that, as did the others, but he had other things more important to worry about at the moment.
Approaching the first man he saw, he asked the middle-aged man who was sweeping his walk, "Where's the nearest auto-shop, our car died just a few miles back up the road."
The stranger looked at them for a moment, as if trying to catalogue them somehow, and then outstretched his hand, "Sure I'll show where it is, names Albert Barclay, you can call me Al."
"Thanks, Al. I'm Timothy Brandemas, Reverend of the Mount Crawford Brethren Church. We're trying to get to Houston for a conference, but you know how things are sometime."
Al laughed at that, putting down his broom, he lead them up down several blocks, and then pointed at a rather nice looking garage. "That there's the auto-shop, Ralph runs it, just tell him I sent you, and he'll do anything for ya. Hope ya can get to the convention fine."
"Thanks, Al," Brandemas smiled. "You have a good day."
With that Al returned to his home, and the seven walked towards Ralph's auto-shop. Ralph was your typical car mechanic, dressed i long overalls, he had grease on his shirt and pants, and it looked like he had been under the hood all day. His hair was greasy, and he was definitely not short on muscle, though he seemed friendly enough. After Brandemas explained their predicament, Ralph gave them the location of the only motel in Barken, and told Brandemas that he would if accompanied go to pick up the van in his tow-truck.
Brandemas gave Greg the money, and told him to get three or four rooms at the motel, and he would be with them shortly. Then he went with Ralph to go pick up their van. The other six followed the instructions and were able to locate a rather nice looking almost homey motel. It wasn't very large, perhaps ten rooms at the most, but it certainly had a nice appeal to it.
The lady running the hotel, the elderly Mrs. Brumfield, was nice, rather grandmotherly, and gave them four rooms for quite a reasonable price. The rooms were nice as well, two beds in each room, a bathroom with shower, but there was no cable television, just the regular VHF stations in the Houston area. They each went two per room, Emily and Allison taking the first, John and Nathan the second, and Jason and Greg had the third, with Brandemas getting the fourth once he got back.
It was a few hours later, and the six had started to get worried, when Brandemas finally showed up at the motel. "I have some bad news," he began. "The spare can be fixed no problem, but he doesn't have the parts he needs to fix the engine."
"So call Houston, I'm sure somebody there has the parts we need.", John pointed out.
"That's the other problem, remember that huge storm that just missed us last night?" Brandemas asked, and seeing that all remembered it, he continued, "Well, it hit this region pretty hard, so all the phone lines are going to be down for at least a week, and so we'll be stuck here at least that long, if not long. So if everything goes right, well only miss the first two days of the convention."
"A week?" Jason grinned, not sure he could believe their turn of fortune.
"At the very worst, we might get out of here in a few days if they can get the phone lines repaired by then," Brandemas added. "Don't worry, we've been through worse before. How's that arm there Allison?"
"It's better, I put some ice on it," Allison smiled. It still stings a bit though."
"Well, we'll ask Jesus for healing tonight during our prayer session," Brandemas told her reassuringly. "And guys, don't forget, your luggage is in the lobby."
The six retrieved their luggage, and after a quick dinner, they held a Bible study, a prayer vigil, in which they asked for healing for Allison's arm, and for speed of repair, amidst the usual litany of prayer for safety and guidance.
Another things great about the motel was that the beds were actually comfortable. All of them slept amazingly well, though Brandemas did remember having a very strange dream that night.
He was preaching at his pulpit like usual, and he could see all the congregational regulars, plus Al, and Ralph, and Mrs. Brumfield. There were also dogs sitting in the pews, and lying in the aisle. He was continuing to preach, about what he couldn't tell, when he noticed that something strange was happening. His congregation, all of them, were turning into dogs. From German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers, to Cairn Terriers and Chihuahas. Looking down at his sermon notes, he saw that his hands had become paws as well. His heart began to beat in fright, what was happening?
His pants fell around his legs, and he could no longer stand at the altar, dropping to all fours, his mouth still moving, now barking wildly, as if he were trying to give his sermon still, but to a congregation of dogs.
Then, his mind slipped into another dream, and Brandemas would all but forget his dog dream, at least for a few days...