Tag Archives: Pit Stop

Pit Stop…

30 Jan

Another release from Author of the Week Ben Larken.

Pit-Stop by Ben Larken

The last stop on the road to Hell…

Highway patrolman Scott Alders sits in a roadside diner along a desolate stretch of Arizona highway. He doesn’t remember how he arrived. Neither do the other patrons, although their waitress tells them a bus is coming. It will take them the rest of the way to a destination of unspeakable horrors. The group of strangers unite with a common goal—escape. Each of them feels the weight of their own dark secrets. But personal demons are no match for a crimson-eyed bus driver with a schedule to keep.

Larken’s first novel is still one of his most terrifying. Winner of the Epic Award for Best Horror, Pit-Stop now comes with a mini-sequel that spurs the story in a whole new direction. So sit back, have a cup of joe, and soak in the calming, deadly atmosphere of the Pit-Stop Grill—the last attraction on Route 66 you’ll ever want to visit.

“Pit Stop is a non-stop thrill ride. Right up there with King, Barker and Straub.”
               —John Parker, The Southern Horror Writers Association

“Good novels have a hook in the first few pages, but this premise of cheating the devil’s coachman is a fishing line with hooks all along to the last chapter.”

“I didn’t want to put the book down for fear of what might happen next.”
                                                               —Crystal’s Book Reviews


“Can I refill your coffee?”

The question plucked Officer Scott Alders from his haphazard state of meditation, but only slightly. He had been gazing at the spoon next to his thumb, enjoying the gleam of sunlight off its silver. The glare created a crescent of light on his knuckle. He looked up from the spoon and saw a waitress uniform—a pea green dress with a crisp white apron. He scanned her front, pausing at her gnarled white fingers with fire engine red nail polish. He halted again at the throat of her dress, at the way the top button was undone, giving view of a corded neck that he associated with an elderly person. The face was a mental climax. The bony chin. The white little hairs on her upper lip. The lips themselves, also doused in that fire engine red. Her dully arched eyebrows, plucked around the edges. Gray hair with staggering streaks of white. And then the forced smile, revealing teeth the color of old paper.

In another place and time, he would have glanced at the woman in polite acknowledgment and turned away. But at the moment her face fascinated him. It was a landscape of unexplored and somewhat rugged valleys, ridges, and wrinkles. He smiled, noting the way his mustache bristled. He liked that feeling, too. So he smiled harder.

“Can I ask your name?” Scott said, sounding airy and silly and nothing like the man he knew himself to be. It sounded like a pick-up line—one he had used before, no less. Fifteen years ago that had been, the party after graduating the academy. Where he met Stephanie. Geez.

The waitress glanced down at her chest, her pupils lowering in the most intriguingly annoyed way. He followed her gaze and saw a nametag on her apron strap. HOLLY, the plastic tag proclaimed.

“Would you like a refill or not?” she asked, after he stared at the nametag for too long.

He perked up again and nodded, not comprehending the question. No—to anything—simply wasn’t in his vocabulary. Scott beamed as she lifted a coffee pot and poured black liquid into his cup. The smell, he thought, what a luscious smell. The trickling invigorated him even more than the spoon or Holly’s face. When it was over—all too soon, he felt—he looked up again, like a dog at its master. She smiled curtly and turned away.


She slumped as she heard his voice, as if expecting this. When she glanced back, her eyes almost screamed, What, you idiot? Scott wasn’t offended by it. Offended wasn’t in the vocabulary today either.

“What, hun?”

He tried to remember his question, finding it hard amid the realization she had called him hun. But he sensed her growing impatience, so he struggled to reach his thought.

“How did I get here?”

She turned a little more, looking at him with weary eyes. She smacked her lips loudly.

“You wandered in, hun—just like the rest of them.”

“But I . . . I feel like I just woke from a dream.”

She snorted. “Yeah, that happens sometimes. Not often, but sometimes. Usually they stare at their coffee and never make a peep.” She looked at him pointedly. “I like those customers.”

“But—I . . .”

“Just keep staring at that spoon,” she said, already turning away. “Everything’ll feel better.” With that she continued down the row of booths, stopping three tables away to refill somebody else’s coffee. Scott watched her, his mind swirling with follow-up questions. Wandered in from where? How long have I been here? Why did your parents name you Holly? The questions dissipated as his gaze opened to the rest of the diner. It was a vaguely retro joint with cream-colored chrome-rimmed tabletops, checkered tile floors, and hanging Sputnik lamps. The place emitted a warm Norman Rockwell vibe with its basic streamlined architecture. A line of maroon leather booths adjoined a wall full of panoramic windows, while the center of the diner showcased a grand stainless steel bar flanked by metallic stools. He immersed himself in every detail, remembering a dozen classic movies where good guys sat in diners like this and sipped their cups of joe. The whole scene filled his heart with the best of Americana. How had he spent his whole life in places like this and not taken more notice?

Stephanie, no doubt, would say the same thing.

Scott scanned his table, with the standard formation of ketchup bottle, napkin dispenser, and salt and pepper shakers against the wall. He looked out the window next to him and saw a neon sign next to the highway. “The Pit-Stop Grill” blinked dully in the midday glare, its zigzag font designed to point directly at the diner. Beyond the sign was a brilliant reddish-white landscape. Arizona desert, the Painted Desert. Rugged hills gave way to sudden flatness, making everything look like a huge toasted tortilla. Only the gleaming gray of I-40 and the dark silhouettes of two old-fashioned gas pumps broke up the monotony. And cloud shadows. Scott couldn’t see the clouds, but their shadows slid across the desert floor like sharks beneath the surface of the water. Something about the view sent a chill into him, which he thought odd since it looked hot outside.

He turned and continued analyzing this fascinating-for-no-reason diner. There were other customers. Of course, there were. This was a great place to be. He scanned the faces, all as detailed and unique as his new best friend Holly. He counted eight, and they varied in just about every way. White, black, fat, thin, bald, hairy, male, female, young, and old—they all stared at their tables with the same pleasant dispositions.

According to Holly, they all wandered in. Scott smiled again. He was in the middle of something special. Here were all these strangers pulled into a group for this brief moment. Souls drawn together by the need to eat, the need to refuel, and whether they realized it or not, the need to feel other souls in their midst. How he wished Michael was here. Scott had never felt as wise and at one with himself as he did right now, and it seemed a shame not to pass it on to his son.

You can’t, a tiny voice in the back of his mind whispered. Michael’s not talking to you. And you’re not talking to him either.

Scott’s gaze reverted to the spoon with the magic sparkle. He didn’t like that voice’s tone. It was too critical, and it brought a moment of uncertainty to his serenity. At the same moment tires screeched outside, sounding very close. He turned to the window, but the highway was empty. There weren’t any cars or pickups or big rigs. He didn’t even see his police cruiser, which was unusual and caused him to frown. One thing a highway patrolman never forgot was where he parked his cruiser. You never knew when an emergency call would come in. But Scott had forgotten where he parked it. In fact, he wasn’t sure he remembered driving it here.

Maybe you didn’t, that same voice said, louder than last time. Maybe this isn’t the type of place you can drive to. That means you got here another way.

“I wandered,” he said aloud, though not loud enough for anyone else to hear. “Like Holly said. I wandered in like everyone else.”

Must’ve been a hot walk. As Scott’s gaze dropped from the window he noticed he was wearing his uniform and felt a surge of relief when he saw everything was there. His badge, his belt, his nightstick and his pistol were all where they were supposed to be. But not your radio, the voice pestered. You left it in the car apparently—the car you lost.

Scott grunted and shook his head, getting rid of that prissy little voice, getting rid of the uncertainty that came on the heels of everything it said. He probed the room for something to bring back that magic feeling again. It didn’t take long. Holly dumped another batch of ice into the soda dispenser and the crinkling sound washed over him like a symphony. He smiled, took a deep breath, and told himself he was fine. Everything was fine. Everything was beautiful, as Ray Stevens liked to sing.

Scott’s lazily drifting vision landed on something—eyes staring at him. His spine straightened. The eyes were cold and black and belonged to a young man sitting on a barstool. Or a young body, he thought. The eyes looked older. The man had dark hair, a pointy nose and striking eyes that refused to veer away. How come he doesn’t blink? Scott’s mind chuckled in response. Now that you mention it, Scott, how come you don’t blink? The young man’s eyes narrowed, scrutinizing him harder.

Then he rose from his barstool and started toward Scott.

Fear tickled his gut as the young man approached. Maybe it was an after-effect of that critical inner voice, but something about this twenty-something seemed wrong. It wasn’t his clothes. They entranced Scott as much as everything else. The well-worn Adidas tennis shoes, blue jeans, a black T-shirt with the words Just do it laid out in white, and a red flannel button-up shirt with the arms ripped off. The young man frowned in a way that didn’t match the rest of the Pit-Stoppers’ satisfied smirks. Scott wondered if the young man was holding back a scream. His hands were shoved in the pockets of his blue jeans, and the pockets vibrated as if he had a couple cell phones in each one. Or his hands are shaking. That’s why he’s hiding them in his pockets, Scott reasoned. He can’t keep the tremble out of his hands.

The young man stopped when he reached the table’s edge. They studied each other, Scott looking at the young man in befuddled curiosity and the young man staring into his eyes, searching for something that didn’t seem to be there, which made the young man frown harder.

“You don’t remember, do you?” the young man asked, his voice scratchy and low, like someone coming out of a hangover.

Another tickle of fear ran through him, like fingers over piano keys. Scott swallowed, making his throat click, and knew without a doubt that he was about to have the most important conversation of his life.

“No,” Scott said, and the young man nodded, because that was the answer he had expected