An illuminated sign that read “Eastern Rail” flickered as Grant’s body jumbled about from the potholes in the road. The neglected area’s paths were ripped with crevices, puny plants trying to survive in the deep dirt between the papery pavement gaps. Grant had to be wary pulling further into the lot. Animals were crying out to one another while scrounging the dirtied ground for food.
The brick apartment complex had dull lights that shone in the front of all the entrance doors. Standing four stories tall, each apartment, minus the first floor had a deck outstretched from the side of the building. Judging from the condition of the building, if Grant was offered to stand on one, he would refuse.
He approached the building after parking, and dogs walked up to him whining. He leaned over and pet one, but as soon as they saw he had no food they all fled. Continuing forward he glanced around all the entrance doors. Under one, a guy with shiny black hair and tan skin leaned against the building; Jack stood waiting.
Grant inched his head forward as Jack waved his hand, casting a shadow behind him.
“Okay, what’s the plan?” Grant asked as he jogged up to him, footsteps crunching in the gravel. Jack motioned for him to follow as he stepped inside.
The brown, hard carpet and musty smell led the way up the stairs to the second floor. Jack opened the first door on the right and entered.
Grant’s mouth stood agape when he entered the small apartment. It felt like a different place than the rest of the building. The foul smell was replaced with one of cleanliness. The space may have been small, but everything Jack owned was top of the line, immaculate and spotless.
Grant took a seat on the recliner and Jack sat on the couch kitty-corner to it.
“So, I called my dad. He said you are free to come down whenever, just to let me give him a heads up.” Jack leaned back into the couch, stretching and resting his legs on the table in front of him.
“Would tomorrow night, well, technically tonight be fine?” Grant asked
“Man, you might want to rest before then, it is an eight hour drive, you know.”
“Yeah, I’ll try to take something of a nap,” Grant smirked.
Grant let his gaze wander to a picture that hung on the wall, a man and two children, one of them resembled a younger Jack. They stood in front of a body of water with fishing rods in their hands.
“So is that guy your dad? The guy I’ll be looking for when I arrive?” Grant pointed towards the picture.
He looked similar enough to Jack, except the gut that leaned forward causing his shirt to curve. The girl seemed to be about the same age, but didn’t resemble either of the other two.
“Yup, that’s him. His name is Lars. Lord of the Leeches.”
“That’s an interesting title...”
“Yeah, it’s a stupid nickname,” Jack laughed. “His old friends used to call him that. He runs a leech farm.”
Grant halted the half-smile on his face. If that was Jack’s father’s job, did that mean he would have to help Lars’s business?
As if he knew what Grant was thinking, Jack said, “Yeah, that’ll be your new job too. But don’t worry Grant, it really isn’t as gross as it sounds. I’ve had my fair share of days helping out. Just sorting the little guys and making sure they are all healthy.”
The snarl Grant’s face had coiled into had Jack wheezing.
“Okay... so which mobile home will be mine?” Grant quickly changed the subject.
Jack leaned forward and dug out a piece of paper from his back pocket, and handed it to Grant.
Grant, Lot 100. Lars, Lot 9.
“I thought you said only a few people live here? Lot 100? And there’s no road number?”
“Yeah, you may have Lot 100, but there can’t be more than sixteen homes there,” Jack said as he made himself comfortable again.
Grant brought his hand to his chin. “Are there at least any shops nearby? Or any cities?”
“Eh, kind of, I suppose. A gas station is directly outside of Lyros, it’s actually within walking distance, it even has a small restaurant inside. It’s a fairly popular stopping point for travelers coming in from Kandorr.” Jack looked to the side, as if in thought. “Oh yeah, there is also a bar and motel somewhat close by, you’d be surprised how many people stop out there.”
Lyros rested on the eastern edge of Nhaja, only twenty miles from the border of Kandorr.
“What about the city though? How long will I have to drive if I want something the gas station can’t provide?” Grant asked.
“Well, sadly the nearest city is the capital. It’s about an hour drive away.”
“Montria, huh? I’ve never actually been there.”
“It’s a pretty interesting place, there’s a lot to do. Be careful of some of the gangs there though. It can get pretty wild.”
Jack laughed, “Yeah, as long as you don’t get involved in their way of life, you have nothing to worry about.”
“Okay, well, I’m gonna get going. Maybe I will run into you sometime in the future.” Grant rose and stuck the paper in his pocket and patted his pants.
“I’m sure you will, I visit my dad every once and a while. While you are there, try not to take too much offense to Ambri, she can be pretty blunt.”
“A family friend, that girl in the photo. We’ve been around each other so long that we’re basically siblings.”
They exchanged their farewells and Grant stepped outside to an orange morning sky. The fog had cleared and he smiled. A perfect day for a long road trip.
He sat in his car and pulled out the paper containing his new address, albeit it was such a short address he had to laugh. Placing it into the empty drink holder, he drove out onto the road.
“Finally….” Grant whispered to himself as he set out onto the highway.
The sides of the highway were filled with tall grass that angled to varying degrees as they grew into the ditch. With the light breeze across the land, the plants waved their goodbyes. Grant was ready to welcome his new life.
One without hurt. One without isolation. One without fear.
One with freedom. One with happiness.
Exhaustion surrounded his body. Despite the sun granting him energy, his eyes grew heavy. If he decided to take a nap now and didn’t oversleep, he would still have plenty of time to arrive in Lyros before the sun went down.
He drove ten miles out of Tonim and pulled into a rest stop. A small building, recently remodeled, with only bathrooms and vending machines inside. He had stopped here a few times before, but never with the intent to sleep.
He reclined his chair and leaned back. Sunlight covered him, closing his eyes only made his vision behind his eyelids a bright red. He reached around and grabbed his bag which was surrounded by the whole collection of Bloodline Beasts piled in his backseat.
Pulling out his shirts and pants, he maneuvered them around his rear view mirror and fold-down mirrors above the dashboard to block the direct sunlight from hitting his face. For extra protection he rolled down the windows slightly on his driver and passenger side and wedged clothing in the crevices.
Grant smiled, thankful the weather wasn’t blistering hot. Closing his eyes, he felt the exhaustion take over.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
Grant’s eyelids lifted within an instant. Looking around, the clothing covered most of the window to his side. Without being able to see a face, he saw someone standing outside his car.
As he began reaching for the clothes to pull them off the windows, a set of three more knocks came, faster and harder than the previous ones.
“Yeah! Hold on!” Grant said as he ripped the clothing back inside his car.
A man stood staring at Grant, his face appeared familiar. His brown bushy hair and beard fluttered in the wind. The ripped clothing ruffled against his skin with shades of red around the tears. Crimson stained his light skin.
“Help me! Please take me with you!” He shouted. He breathed heavy as he swayed his face side to side, occasionally backwards, as if he was watching for someone, or something.
Grant’s breathing became jagged. How fresh was the blood that decorated him?
“Wha… What do you need?” He inserted his keys in the ignition, taking the clothing that blocked his view ahead of him down. He readied himself so at any moment he could bust out of there.
“Someone is chasing me! Please!” He panted as his eyes opened wider. “G-Grant..?”
“Wh-why do you know me? Who are you…?” Grant’s fingers tightened around the keys, shaking.
“It’s me man! Brax! I know you probably don’t want to see me, but I have no one else to turn to! I swear I’m not the same as in high school!”
Grant’s eyes widened. He looked completely different than he did then.
“I know you have probably heard, but, I swear man, I am innocent! How could they think I would ever kill my best friends!?” Rage fueled him. “I don’t know what happened! Someone is after me! PLEASE! LET ME IN!”
Brax placed his grip around the edge of the slightly drawn window, and squeezed.
“Brax… please calm down, I don’t think you did it.” Grant had no idea, but he needed to get out of this situation or de-escalate it. Brax was unstable.
“I DIDN’T DO IT!” The window slightly cracked. “I HAVE NOWHERE TO GO! LET ME GO WHEREVER YOU ARE GOING!”
His eyes blazed with hate. If he truly knew nothing of what happened, anyone would probably act in this way. Especially if you had bloodstains on your own body. Although it did seem odd. Signs of wounds were nonexistent, only blood stains covered his clothing and body. Was it his blood? The stains on his clothing did align with where the rips were located though.
Why wouldn’t he clean off the blood from something that happened three days ago? Was he hiding outside of Tonim in the forests?
Brax was the only one that was part of The Buffalo Boys who seemed like he didn’t get enjoyment from tormenting others. To Grant, it seemed like he was forced to partake in the activities of harming others. Still, that didn’t excuse him from the pain it brought Grant. If anything, maybe he could feel a bit of sympathy for him, knowing what it felt like to want to be accepted. Grant would never stoop to that level for that feeling, however.
Brax’s anger grew more intense, and Grant held a firm grasp on the keys and turned them. His car roared up. Brax ripped off a chunk of the glass from his grip as Grant sped away. Brax chased in the distance, howling.
There was no way he was going to help him. The memories of just being near him caused Grant to grow into a panic.
At least he managed to get a decent nap, perhaps longer than he planned to. If he arrived in Lyros after the sun went down, he could just sleep once again in his car. In the presence of his new home.