Grant still hadn’t eaten anything. Which meant it was time to fulfill goal number two. After filling his stomach, perhaps everything would start to make sense, at least he hoped it would.
He backed out from his driveway, seeing the full neighborhood for the first time in daylight. He hadn’t even noticed the scratched up homemade speed limit signs that were posted on both sides of the narrow street.
Seeing a glimpse of every yard, it seemed that no children lived there. No swings, slides, or toys were in sight.
Small packs of cats wandered across the streets as Grant waited for them to cross. Weren’t most cats afraid of cars? These definitely were not typical cats.
Grant exercised the idea that it could be possible that any one of those cats had the strength to break through his wall. Even just thinking that, he felt insane.
How could a cat do that in the first place? Getting food into his body was now a major priority. His cognitive abilities would surely come back once he ate.
A few elderly people sat on their decks chatting with one another and looked towards Grant as he passed by. The white mask on the outermost trailer pointed in the direction he drove, watching him leave the premises.
Back onto the bumpy gravel road, he saw how poor these roads were constructed. Dirt dipped and heightened, forming a miniature roller coaster track. Long grass flew by him as he bounced about.
He pulled onto the highway and headed in the direction of the gas station. The ground changed into pavement, smooth and steady. A few cars were parked in Nha-Stop’s parking lot, and he pulled up into an empty parking spot.
Grant walked up to the smudged glass door, and looked down at a newspaper bin that stood showcasing the day’s biggest headlines. The murder incidents were on the front page, from both Tonim and Montria, although there were no signs of any conclusion.
Tethered by a string, a bell rang as Grant pushed his way through the door. The smell of grilled gas station goods drifted through the air, catching his attention. However, a different aisle pulled more of his focus. On the endcap of a greeting aisle, a curio cabinet displayed strange merchandise. At the top of the cabinet a sign read “Lyros.”
Every single thing behind the glass wall was cat related. Why did Lyros even need a display in the first place? Barely anyone lived there. There wasn’t even anywhere for tourists to stop and visit. Every structure was residential.
Cat statues lined the glass shelves of the cabinet, all pointed towards the entrance doors, watching the customers pass by. To Grant, they didn’t seem like anything special. Were they made by someone in the village?
“Ah, checking out the Lyros display, are you?” A gas station clerk sidled up next to him.
“Yeah, was just wondering what this display was about,” Grant said.
“Well, this display is an apology of sorts. It was made as some sort of way to make it up to them for that incident.” The clerk smiled.
“What incident?” Grant had heard something odd about Lyros when he was in line at Ocean’s Ray, but didn’t get the whole story. Even at that time, those guys didn’t seem to take whatever they were talking about seriously.
“Years ago some murders took place, and everyone believed it to be a group from Lyros, but once they proved themselves innocent, people felt bad about putting the blame on them. After seeing all the cats in their village on the news, artists decided to donate some cat pieces they made. I guess they hoped it would compensate for them being harassed.”
Grant’s eyebrows rose. “Seems like a weak way to apologize for putting someone through that.”
“Yeah, I know. But, it’s the thought, plus these statues do resemble the cats that live there real well.”
”Did they ever find out who the murderer was?”
“Nope. Don’t think it will ever be solved at this rate.” The clerk said and walked back towards the counter.
Grant continued staring into the glass. One of the cats even resembled Kale’s gray blob of ferociousness. He stepped closer and noticed a newspaper page laid out at the bottom of the cabinet.
A picture was printed on the page, but he couldn’t make out any of the faces in it until he saw a black patch covering someone’s mouth. Kale was even wearing his mask back then.
Grant’s stomach groaned once more. The scent of grilled hot dogs and brats registered back in through his nose, and he drifted over in its direction.
He planned to look around and find food to take home to eat, but he couldn’t resist fresh hot food. After preparing two hot dogs, he took one bite and walked over to the register to pay.
“Is this everything?” The clerk asked.
“Nah, I’m going to buy some other things after I finish eating these,” Grant said with an awkward expression.
“Feel free to sit inside the dining area if you want.” The worker pointed in the direction of a corridor, laced with stringed white lights along the walls.
After paying, Grant made his way into the other room. At the end of the hall, the space widened with tables and chairs spaced around. The outer layer of the room was elevated a few feet higher than the inner section, but it appeared anyone could eat at either altitude.
A worker stood behind a counter in the middle of the room, dark blue hair, a bit past her shoulders and tan skin. The floor dropped in elevation further in the very center of the room where she stood, creating a unique atmosphere where customers could see the cooks making their food. She smiled at Grant, and he nodded to her and chose a table on the outer edges and started to eat.
Besides him, the dining area had only two customers eating, sitting in the inner area.
Pictures hung upon the walls, all photos of people who had visited the restaurant prior. Grant recognized one of them, the actor Jaron Shac, who had played in quite a few of his favorite movies.
He had seen the movies in a theater, while sitting in solitude. Much like how he sat in restaurants. Loneliness was not the correct term to describe these feelings however.
This feeling kept him from reaching a true level of connection amongst anyone. In groups, he felt more alone than if sitting locked up in his bedroom. He learned to appreciate being alone, and preferred it, although there was a small part of him that longed for meeting people he could be open with, share things with, and laugh with. The chance of that happening for him appeared slim though.
The opportunity to make such close relationships with people had arrived, the bonfire. Ideas of friendship appealed to him, but he still didn’t quite feel like going. He told himself he would sometime this week, however.
The faces of smiles plastered upon these walls, were any of them truly genuine? A picture was just a forced smile. Everyone in these pictures appeared to Grant as he appeared to himself in group situations. Forced to partake in something he didn’t want to, and forced to look happy. No one liked getting their pictures taken.
Finishing up the hot dogs, Grant stood up and took another glance around the room. The girl was writing something down in front of her, deep in concentration.
He headed back towards the main room, and browsed the aisles and freezers. After purchasing frozen pizza, chips, drinks, and a few other small snacks he paid and walked outside.
This gas station was the only building in sight, nothing else existed out here besides nature. Massive fields of green, with patches of yellow and white flowers scattered throughout. The sun reflected off a pond straight across the highway; ducks swam alongside the surface, making small quacks.
Grant looked up to the sky and saw an animal flying through the sky. What kind of bird was that? It appeared to have four wings, although he couldn’t tell the size of it due to the distance. He had never seen anything with four wings before, but he had heard about such an animal from stories written centuries ago. Some believed they had existed long ago, but went extinct. Others believed them to have never existed at all.
They called them vulthos. Protectors of the royal families. They were said to keep watch over their castles and notify them of citizens performing illegal acts. It was said that the Zelks domesticated them sometime after the incident that happened in “The Knight Gardener.”
Grant stared in disbelief, surely he was going insane.