Young Pete Simmons wants to go with his older brother, George, to play “Paratroops from Hell” with his friends, but he’s too young and is left behind. Bored and alone, he decides to explore the old rest stop.
Yeah, that’s it, the old, abandoned, boarded-up rest stop (where the Burger King used to be) on the highway at the Mile 81 marker – the perfect place for a “shove it in their faces” adventure. It’s where the really big kids (i.e. teen-agers) with cars and girlfriends go to make out.
He finds an almost-empty bottle of vodka there and tries his hand at throwing darts at an old, defaced Justin Bieber poster. The vodka plies its magic on him, and he falls asleep.
So he doesn’t see the muddy station wagon skid into the parking lot, or the way its door opens all by itself. He doesn’t see Doug Clayton stop to help whoever crashed the station wagon. And he doesn’t see the wagon eat Clayton either.
He doesn’t see former female mud wrestler Julianne Vernon pull up and try to help. Neither does he see Julianne meet a similar fate as the station wagon’s lunch.
Pete is still sleeping when the Lussier family – mother Carla, father Johnny, daughter Rachel and son Blake – pull up so the kids can pet Julianne’s horse, which they met earlier down the road, and was in the trailer being pulled by Julian’s pick-up.
But he does wake up when he hears Rachel and Blake yelling and crying. And he does see State trooper Jimmy Goldring get sucked into the station wagon, yet another morsel for the hungry car, because the trooper is a little too careless after Rachel warns him.
Good thing Pete has his magnifying glass, though. Because now he has a really cool adventure story to tell his brother!
Mile 81 is just what you look for in a Stephen King story. Sure, it’s a novella, not very long, but it’s substantial and extremely satisfying like a big ol’ juicy hamburger sandwich with fries and a Coke.
Ahhhhh … I wonder if that’s how the station wagon felt after its big lunch at Mile 81?
Scribner (Kindle single, $2.99)