Chapter 4: On the Way
Chaos. Death. Destruction. Confusion. I continue my way through the neighborhoods, turning on different streets until we reach the highway. Each street and house has broken windows, and some cars look abandoned in the driveways. Some people tried to escape from what I can tell; however, based on the broken car windows, they didn’t get away in time.
I hope Lyla and Mark are okay. I should have texted them, but I doubt they’ll answer while having sex. Sighing, I continue to think about my friends’ well-being. However, the surrounding scenery snaps me from my thoughts. I ease my way outside of the neighborhoods, keeping my focus on the road; I no longer want to see the houses and people’s decimation.
To my surprise, the traffic lights are still working, and it’s only a matter of time before I have to decide: take the highway or the backroads?
“What should I do? Highway or backroads,” I mumble to no but myself.
“Take the backroads.” Ryu’s calm voice breaks my thoughts, and I can’t help but question his unfazed nature.
“The backroads?” I repeat, perplexed by his thinking process.
He doesn’t turn to look at me and, instead, continues to look out the window. “If what happened here is happening in other neighborhoods, then there’s no point in taking the highway. The traffic will just slow us down.”
“That’s true. . . however, we should just check traffic and see what’s happening. Do you have your phone?”
“Nope,” he responds to me almost instantly.
Seriously! What kind of person isn’t glued to their phone 24/7 in this day and age? Maybe I can hear the traffic report on the radio, but that’s so 90′s.
After rolling my eyes to his answer, I press the button on my steering wheel to turn on the radio. At that moment, Ryu turns to me as he quirks an eyebrow.
“We may be able to figure out what’s going on. There has to be something about this on the news.”
“Humph, maybe. . .” he trails off nonchalantly and shrugs.
How can he be so laid back about this?! People are getting taken by strange goo creatures for who knows what! With anger fuming inside me, I do my best to hide my emotions by remaining silent. The last thing a tense situation needs is more stress, and in a way, my feelings should be the same as Ryu’s. If one becomes too emotional, they can’t think straight, and being quick to anger isn’t an option. I already have to keep my anxiety in check, and if my fear gets out of control, I won’t be able to keep the unwanted thoughts at bay.
What if Lyla and Mark are already taken? What if the school is on fire? What if we reencounter those monsters? Stop! Calm down, Lena.
“Keep calm and focus your thoughts,” I whisper to no one but myself, hoping Ryu won’t hear me. If he did, he doesn’t say anything. Taking his silence as a good sign, I press the arrow on my steering wheel to turn through the radio channels, but every station is just static.
“This makes no sense. Is the United States under some kind of attack? Maybe those monsters are actually some type of new weapons created by China or Russia!” I blurt out, louder than I intended.
Silence passes between us as I wait for Ryu’s response, but instead of words, a chuckle rises from his thought.
Is he really laughing at me?! Ugh. . . this is so embarrassing.
“Do you really find this funny?! I’m serious!”
He continues to laugh and then says, “To answer your question, no, I don’t find the situation we’re in funny, but your ability to come up with conspiracy theories is amusing. I hope you’re not one of those people who sits on YouTube all day listening to others rant about insane ideas, hmm?” He questions me as if he sees right through me.
Heat rises to my cheeks, and a mix of anger and embarrassment course through me. At least I’m trying! “Well, then, what do you think they are? Do you think those creatures are actually taking people to eat them or something?” I spit out. His ability to remain calm under uncertainty and pressure rattles me, or maybe I’m more frustrated since I don’t have that demeanor.
He clicks his tongue and shrugs his shoulder. “Whatever they are, if you see one, I suggest you go the other direction, but... if you want to find out their purpose, then stick around one and see what happens,” he says nonchalantly.
There goes that attitude again. “You seem pretty confident about that,” I say as calmly as I can.
He averts his gaze from me. “If not wanting to die is confidence, then I guess I am confident,” he says, matter-of-factly, his voice smooth and steady.
The desire to live is not something that I can retort, so instead of replying to him, I place my top teeth over my bottom lip. Arguing isn’t going to help the situation, so we need to focus on getting more information and returning to the school.
“This is getting us nowhere,” I grumble, “maybe I should just grab my phone and do a Google search. If this is widespread, then I’m sure people on Instagram and Twitter are talking about it.”
To my words, Ryu lets out an exasperated sigh. “Do you want me to do it?”
“Uhh... sorry, but I’m not about to let a random guy go through my phone,” I protest.
“Random guy, huh? I didn’t think a guy you just asked out earlier in the day would be random,” he teases with a smirk.
Heat rises to my cheeks, a mixture of embarrassment and anger to his mocking tone. “How long are you going to keep using that against me?” I spit out.
Even though I’m fuming at his teasing nature, I keep my focus on the road and decide whether I should take the highway or backroads.
“Maybe I just like seeing you all flustered,” he says, his tone cocky and yet playful.
What wait! My eyes go wide to his semi-confession for wanting to tease me, and at this moment, I realized there is so much to Ryu I don’t know. We’ve been in the same IT program for years, seeing each other in our classes; however, our interactions were always in passing: saying hello, asking simple questions about our courses, or saying goodbye.
Maybe that’s why he rejected me... I shake my head. I don’t have time to think about my nonexistent love life. I have to make sure Mark and Lyla are okay. I can’t discount Ryu’s theory that the highways may be a traffic stop, so I should take the backroads. Of course, other people may be thinking the same thing, but highways are risky.
With renewed determination, I press my foot down on the gas pedal and increase my speed, staying on the current road.
“Don’t tell me what I said--”
I cut him off as I try to figure out what he’s thinking, but I need to focus on getting back to the school for now. “It doesn’t matter what you said. I need to find my friends, and every minute that I don’t know if they’re okay is going to bother me.”
“Humph, then let’s go.” I hear the amusement in his voice, and for the life of me, I still don’t understand his calm persona, especially at a time like this.
As I keep driving, I take a few glances outside of the window, but there are no other vehicles on the road. I have to hurry!
Picking up speed, I make my way onto the backroads while taking quick glances outside the window. Darkness surrounds us, except for some occasional pole lights and beams from the moon. Silence fills the car, and even though I want to break the icy moment between us, I know I need to stay focused on the road.
Vroom. A loud noise captures my ears.
“What the!” Ryu curses
Then suddenly, another car speeds past us. Anxiety grips me; the pain in my chest aches as if I am getting stabbed from inside my chest, and my mouth goes dry as thoughts swirl in my mind. I scream as I quickly jerk the steering wheel and swerve towards the trees. My body knocks from side to side, slamming into the driver door. Before the car drives into the trench, I press down on the brake pedal. The force of the stop knocks me forward, and I close my eyes, bracing for a head impact to the steering wheel; however, it never comes. Instead, my body stills, not moving. A ringing sound fills my ears, and what-if’s creep into my mind.
Calm down. Calm down. Tears threaten to spill from my eyes. I inhale and exhale. I must be mindful of my surroundings and feelings; I need to settle myself, but I hope this is my last car accident for the night. After taking a few more breaths, I finally realize another’s touch is on my body.
He clicks his tongue. “That asshole could have killed you. Are you all right?”
To his irritated and then calm voice, I slowly open my eyes. His fingers are gripping my arm, holding my body in place right in front of the steering wheel. I wince and then blink as I realize his nails are digging into my skin, but I don’t feel any liquid dripping to my elbow. How was he able to grip my arm so fast?
“Yeah... I’m fine, but I hope this is my last car accident for the night,” I say and then sigh as I look at the darkness in front of us.
“This is your second car accident today?” He quirks an eyebrow at me.
“It’s nothing. We should keep going. If more people are getting attacked, we may see more cars will start driving through here.”
“Then we should hurry, or it will just be harder to get back to the university,” he agrees, and slowly, he releases my arm.
To his touch, my heart thumps in my chest, and my cheeks go aflame. I avert my gaze from him, hoping to hide the embarrassment creeping inside me. Maybe if things were different, I could feel more of Ryu’s touch on my body. Damn it! This is not the time to get horny! Focus, Lena! Of course, when I remember the evening’s earlier events, dampness builds between my legs, causing my patines to become wet.
This is totally the wrong time to be thinking about sex, but maybe Lyla’s words ring true right now: I need a good fuck.
Hoping to ignore the thoughts of desire growing in my mind, I shift the car into reverse and back up. Once I’m on the right side of the road again, I shift gears, changing to drive. Everything is silent again, and instead of thinking about Ryu’s digits caressing my arm, my focus stays on the road.
If it wasn’t for my high beams and the moonlight filtering between the treetops, the road lines would be nonexistent.
“Hey, slow down,” Ryu says, which catches me off guard.
“Hmm... why? There’s nothing up ahead.”
“Do you think I’m lying to you?” He asks while still looking through the windshield, narrowing his eyes.
I don’t respond right away, and instead, I stare out of the glass, but I still don’t see anything. What is he talking about?
“No, I don’t think you’re lying, but...” Before I can finish, a group of cars comes into view, some piled and crashed on top of one another. Some of the doors are open with the lights still on, while others are dark inside. However, one thing stands out amongst all of the disabled vehicles: the windows and doors are broken or open.
Quickly I press down on the brake pedal and shift the car into park.
“What happened here?” I say as I unbuckle my seatbelt. “I’ll do go check it out--”
“No!” Ryu pipes up. “I’ll go, you stay here and lock the car doors.” He unbuckles his seatbelt and quickly opens the car door.
“Hey! No way! If we go, we go--”
Before he slides off the seat, he says, “I’m not asking; I’m telling you--”
Whoa! “Uhh... I can take care of myself, you know? You’re not leaving me here alone while you check things out. Also, what if you need to get back inside the car?” I retort him. I didn’t want to fight him, but I wasn’t going to let him tell me what to do, especially after I drove him this far.
Ryu sighs and runs a hand through his brown tresses. His multi-green irises bore into mine, and he says, “Don’t worry about me, just keep yourself safe until I get back, okay, Lena?”
As he stares into my eyes, my heart can’t take it. I don’t know much about Ryu, but at this moment, there is genuine concern showing on his features. In his own way, he is saying he wants me to be protected, but me sitting around doesn’t help us advance towards the school.
I open my mouth to protest again; however, before I can say anything, he exists the car and shuts the door. As I open the door, I begin to yell at him, but he’s already running into the car pile, leaving me behind.
I mutter curses under my breath and slam my hand on the car. “Ryu! Damn it!” How can he be so confident?! What if those creatures are around here?
Quickly I open the back door and grab my bag and sword. I loop the bag’s strap around my body and grip the handle of my blade. After I turn off the car and lock the doors, I place the car keys inside my bag.
I won’t let Ryu treat me like a damsel in distress, even though he has already helped me twice today. I may not know how to defeat those goo creatures, but I can at least defend myself. I sigh to myself and remember some of my favorite horror movies. This scene is like a horror: many cars are empty, it’s dark out, and now I’m alone, having to fend for myself.
I shake my head, tired of feeling sorry for myself. As I begin my walk into the graveyard of vehicles, anxiety flows through me, causing a new hurricane of what-if thoughts.
“Ryu!” I call out to him, hoping to keep my fears at bay. All around me are disabled cars, either people left of their own accord by the open doors, or they may have been dragged out of the broken windows.
Silence fills the air, and again, I shout Ryu’s name with no response; however, next, I hear something that sends a shock through my body: it’s the same sound from before. Slosh. Slosh. Slosh.