Chapter 24 - A Dreaded Drive
The sky turned a light pink as the sun tucked itself below the terrain in the distance. Grant, Rhett, and Ambri sailed along the smooth highway headed back towards Lyros.
“How’re you feeling now Grant? Sorry for making you wait by yourself for so long… I kind of lost track of time.” Ambri weakly laughed.
“Nah, it’s fine. Sitting inside helped me out quite a bit. I’m feeling pretty decent now.”
“I hope that the ice cream cones I bought made up for some of it… At least a little. After all it was all my fault we were there so long. Rhett mentioned we should think about leaving soon quite a few times,” she said, seeming concerned. Her fingers tapped against the steering wheel as she started moving her head side to side.
“Are you looking for something, Ambri?” Rhett asked as he followed her gaze. “You should probably just keep your eyes on the road, who knows if some animal will try running across the street.”
“Like the lions?” She replied.
“Well, uh, no, that wasn’t what I was thinking of. I meant the deer. They cause accidents all the time.” Rhett leaned back in his chair. “You really are obsessed with those lions.”
Even with Rhett’s remarks, Ambri still kept her wits sharp, peering across the highway, like a cat awaiting its prey.
The car jerked to the side, causing everyone to wobble back and forth. Grant and Rhett were shot with a wave of adrenaline as Ambri pulled the car to the side of the highway and parked.
“What are you doing?” Rhett stared at her.
“I saw something in there.” She pointed out towards the field, into that forest.
Grant looked out in the distance, at such a great distance you would have better luck distinguishing a familiar face in a sea of thousands of people. His eyebrows furrowed as he squinted his eyes. Even if the sun was making its midday hover, how could anyone see anything?
“How the hell did you see anything from here?” Rhett asked, also leaning in the direction of the forest.
She didn’t answer him as she opened the door and stepped onto the silent roadway. The door slammed behind her, she didn’t give them a second look. They both stared at her, and then looked at each other in confusion. Rhett threw his door open and stood on the floor of the car looking out over the top of the vehicle.
“What are you doing!? Come back here! There’s no way you saw anything! Even if you did, what about those lions?! It’s about to hit their feeding time!” He snickered and flopped himself back into his seat after he saw she had no intention of acknowledging him.
The highway resembled a border that Grant and Rhett were already resting atop of. A gap waiting to be crossed, welcoming anyone to the lonely forest. Waiting for them to also learn about the truths within.
Grant continued staring out the window, watching her figure become smaller and smaller. “Seriously… What is she doing? She was so afraid of the lions, but now she wants to go in alone? We should probably stop her…”
As if she heard Grant’s words she turned around and headed back for the car. Her expression, emotionless. Dead eyes darted into Grant as he felt sudden fear, or perhaps it was only bewilderment.
Rhett turned his gaze back to Grant with a worrisome expression. “What was that about?”
She opened the door and sat, and the car rumbled back up. Without paying any mind to the other two, she kept her gaze straight forward with no distractive eye dances. Only the sound of gravel beneath tires and wind attacking the car remained. Carefree conversation left the interior and in its place a miasma of dread had infiltrated the car. Her hands gripped the wheel, with the strength of that of a starved mother fending off thieves from taking the last of her family’s food.
The rest of the drive was equally unnerving. Lyros soon would be upon them and Grant longed for the release of tension.
What happened to Ambri out there? She seemed to have seen something in the forest, but what? A lion? If it were a lion it wouldn’t make sense for her to attempt to approach it though, right?
Grant stared out into the darkening scene, the surroundings felt more sinister than a few minutes ago. Rhett, as well, sat, without making much of any response, staring into the endless freedom outside of the stifling car.
After what felt like hours, the road to Lyros laid before them, and with the turn of his head Grant saw someone familiar standing outside of Nha-Stop.
They’re finally back, Saraiya thought to herself. She knew Ambri would have kept them in Montria all day. She smirked as she watched Ambri’s car pull into the gravel road that led to Lyros.
She stepped back inside Nha-Stop and welcomed the cool air as well as the scent of hot dogs being cooked.
“I should probably go back Natch, they are heading back to town. Thanks for keeping me company.”
“Yeah, yeah, you really need to start spending your time off relaxing. The constant stress of always wanting to be productive isn’t good for your mental health.” Natch rested his arms atop the counter behind the register.
“I’m telling you, what I saw was real. Please drop it.” Saraiya looked towards the ground.
“Fine, but you know I’m worried about you. Every week, more and more you seem less of the person you were when you started here. Take this.” He tossed her an ice cream cone from a damaged box. “Was gonna throw it away anyway.”
“Yeah… Thanks… Please think about coming over for the bonfire tomorrow night though. I feel like I’m going insane.”
“I’ll think about it. Stay safe now, get some rest.”
Saraiya blew a huff of air from her nose and left the establishment taking an aggressive bite of ice cream.
She needed to calm herself, and on top of that, figure out a way to explain to Ambri that her cages wouldn’t be able to handle what was about to prance around the village without exposing that she visited the forest herself. Every way she had come up with so far seemed futile. But, she was just going to have to go for it, even if it meant breaking her promise. The safety of the village was much more important than a friendship being broken. In time, Ambri would be sure to understand and forgive her anyway.
Crickets enchanted her walk back to Lyros giving her a feeling, a premonition. The atmosphere of her surroundings turned from eerie to terrifying as the sun lost its way, welcoming night.
The lions would be on their move soon. Saraiya only had a bit longer left until the beaten up trailers that stood at the forefront of the village would come into view. She really was starting to feel insane. The beasts hadn’t come into the village yet at any point so why did she have so much fear for tonight? If anything, with the outcome of her adventure she should have felt protected, relieved.
Why did the large white lion allow her to escape? Why did it look at her as if it was nudging her to leave before it was too late?