(16) Night Driving

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Oreo is gone for a good ten minutes before headlights appear on the road. We all shield our eyes as a vehicle significantly larger than ours pulls into the motel parking lot. The Anport Rescues command a sleek, fifteen-seater cargo can, black all over and almost new. I'm astonished they managed to find something this nice. Wakewater is the only municipality within walking or even biking distance of this area, and it's not exactly big.

The Anport Rescues pile into their vehicle, whose tail lights bathe us in blood-red as it pulls away. Ditzy pulls in quietly behind them. It's after eleven o'clock now, and we're all on edge. Ditzy's knuckles are skeletal from her grip on the steering wheel, and I can hear Calico J fiddling with the edge of his jacket. I'm doing the same with my lucky shark keychain. When I even try to stop my hands, they return the moment I stop paying attention. We're still an hour south of Wakewater, but Oreo seems prepared to drive all the way back tonight.

There's a certain peace to night driving, even in the tension of the situation. The faint halo of visibility around us shows forest, broken only occasionally by the lurking form of a house or the ominous gap of a hidden driveway. Smaller roads cross ours from time to time. Most are unsigned, but a cheerfully decorated sign announces our arrival in Plyster-Anport county less than ten minutes later. I don't know enough of Cape Morgan's geography to know how big it is.

Other than that, it's just us, the quiet whoosh of the car's ventilation, and the muted candy colours of its dashboard drawing my eyes into something more akin to hypnosis than wakefulness. Calico J stops fiddling. I glance back to find him still awake, just looking out the window. Patrick is definitely asleep. Or adept at faking it. He's fooled me before.

I fall into enough of a trance that it takes the sound of distant, rushing water to rouse me. I straighten. My hand slips automatically to my pocket, where the fins of my lucky shark keychain slip between my fingers once more, as reassuring as they are familiar.

Behind me, Calico J shifts in his seat. "What is it?" he murmurs, leaning forward.

"The river, I think."

The Baycord river runs down from roughly this direction. Brake lights flare ahead of us. My heart skips an unpleasant beat, already beating faster than it needs to. I hope the road isn't flooded. I hope this isn't some trick the Redding is pulling on us. I've never seen it manipulate water, but before yesterday, I'd never seen it in our food, either.

Then the road curves sharply, and the trees draw back like they don't want to get any closer to the river than I do. There's a bridge. It's not flooded, but Oreo still drives cautiously. All too soon, we're over the river. I grip my keychain tighter. Just three feet away, the guardrail guards a fifteen-foot drop. Below that is the water.

The Baycord river of Chesnet is unrecognizable here. Between steep banks, the water leaps and froths like a living thing, churning over hidden obstacles. There are rocks in there. The same kind that capsized me on a river trip two years ago, sending me under where the current held me for so long, I was certain I was going to drown. It's a miracle I didn't breathe water, and another that the rocks didn't wreck me. My life jacket won in the end. The man I'd been rafting with wasn't so lucky.

My backpack washed up three miles downstream, still wearing the shark keychain my sister got me in the Bahamas the year before. I've never let it leave my pocket, belt, or backpack since.

The other side of the bridge can't come fast enough. The tension that's locked up my body subsides as the sound of the water does. I slump back in my seat. I was able to return to swimming within months of the accident, but my comfort with river rapids has never recovered. It's one of the first things Calico J and I connected on. He can't swim, but it's thanks to a beach accident he had as a kid. Got caught in a riptide. Barring the odd cousin shoving him in a lake or pool, he's never ventured more than knee-deep since.

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