“No, I’m sorry, but we don’t have anymore room. As far as we know all the places on this block are full.”
Daley sighed softly. His family had heard that line at the last three places they had stopped. It was hard not to be frustrated, even though he figured that giving that news to someone in this situation couldn’t be fun for the tired-looking raccoon behind the desk either.
“Thank you,” said Daley’s mother. “Let’s go, guys.”
The lions shivered as they stepped outside. Though winter was close, it should not have been this cold today, but the freeze in southern Tempest City was sending waves of cold air to surrounding areas and coaxing heavy coats and scarves out into the open. Daley shoved a paw into his pocket and fingered his car keys anxiously, another paw rubbing through his short, tidy auburn mane.
“Do you think we should split up?” he asked. “We might have a better chance of finding something.”
“No,” said his father quickly. “No. We stay together. Even if we have to drive into the next state to find something, we’re not getting separated.”
Derek, Daley’s younger brother, had his paws folded behind his head. “I agree,” he said. “We still don’t know for sure what’s going on. If one of the Anomalies happens to start messing things up around here, it’d suck to be separated.”
“Get in your car, guys,” said Daley’s father, clearly anxious to find security for his family. The big lion scratched his head, running a paw through his short, well-kept mane in the same manner as his eldest son. “We’ll stop for lunch soon, but it may be awhile before we find anything.”
Daley nodded and prodded his younger brother’s shoulder. Derek was busy tapping away on his phone, as he had been doing since they left the house. At least poking him had gotten his attention. Daley sighed as he unlocked his sports sedan and got in the driver’s seat.
“Are you at least doing something useful on that thing?” he asked his brother as they buckled their seat belts.
“Of course,” said Derek. “All my friends need to know I’m okay, right? They’d be devastated if I was frozen by the Noms.”
“Don’t make me kill you right now,” sighed Daley. Here was the rest of the family anxiously searching for a place to stay, and Derek was just chatting with his buddies? Really?
“Relax,” said the younger lion. “I was kidding. I’m checking for vacancies. There’s no guarantee that the websites update quickly enough to be accurate in this situation though, so we should keep checking. There’s always the chance that someone left a room.”
“Well speak up if you find anything, yeah? The sooner we find a place the sooner we can work on figuring out what to do next.”
The car rumbled to a start, and the radio resumed its coverage of the goings on back in southern Tempest City.
“…NA two-seven is still searching for the cause of the situation. Now, they haven’t begun getting rid of all this ice yet, but that may be for the best until we know for sure what’s going on. Police are patrolling some areas but are staying well out of the way of NA two-seven’s cryopath and speedster, known as Ice and Nico. The last word we received was that Ice was searching around City Hall while Nico was doing a thorough sweep of southern Tempest. At this time, none of the hostile paranthros have been located, although sources did confirm that they caused mild damage on the way to Tempest City. Officials are currently waiting on word from NA two-seven to determine whether or not it is safe for the thousands that evacuated to return to their homes.”
“Don’t you wish you were a paranthro?” asked Derek. “Hostile attack? Eh, no problem. You could just take them down with your cryokinesis like Ice or your super strength like Ram.”
“That’d be cool and all,” said Daley resignedly, “but life would be a lot simpler without these guys freezing the city and causing trouble that we can’t touch. Wait, that same car is really still behind us?”
Derek looked back over his shoulder at the black sedan he had seen earlier . “Hey, yeah, I saw that car right when we left. Think they’re just piggybacking to see if we find a place?”
“Better not. They can go do their own searching. Do we even know them?”
“Beats me,” Derek shrugged, turning to face forward once again.
Daley’s paws tensed on the steering wheel. He knew the cars belonging to his neighbors and all the cars that usually parked along his street, and he had never seen this one before. They had stopped at a few different hotels now; there was no reason for this car to still be behind them unless it was following them intentionally.
“We’re being followed,” Daley said to his brother.
“Very good, Daley!” exclaimed Derek sarcastically. “Did you figure that out all by yourself?”
“Derek, I’m serious. I don’t think they’re just piggybacking.”
The younger lion looked curiously over at Daley. “You think so? Well what do they want?”
“How should I know?” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. “I’m letting dad know.”
“No, wait.” Derek stopped Daley’s arm with a paw. “He doesn’t need anymore stress right now.”
“But he’ll want to know, Derek!”
“Trust me. I know how we can lose them. Just turn right at the next light and then tell Dad we’ve got a tip on a hotel and are going to check it out real quick.”
“Derek, he already said—”
“Bro. Trust me.”
Daley glanced over at his brother. Whenever Derek was so sure of himself, he usually turned out to be pretty reliable. He sighed resignedly, turning on his turn signal. “Fine. But if we can’t lose them pretty quickly here, I’m telling Dad what’s up.”
Daley hoped as he turned that the black sedan would continue straight on. At the same time, he worried that if it did, it would be following their parents instead of them. At that moment, he wished he were a paranthro, just like Derek said. If he were, maybe all of this wouldn’t be happening, and if it were to happen anyway, he could protect his family.
Without even signaling, the black sedan turned right, continuing to follow the two lions. Daley let out a sigh of relief, glad that the car didn’t decide to follow his parents instead.
Within moments, Daley’s cell phone rang. “Hello?” he answered quickly.
“Daley, what’re you doing?” came his father’s anxious voice. “I told you to stay with us!”
“Dad, Dad, it’s okay. Derek might have found a vacancy on his phone. We were about to pass it and didn’t have time to call you first.”
“I told you, I’d rather stay together than—”
“Don’t worry, Dad. We’re just hoping to get there before someone else takes the room. We might get off the streets more quickly this way. Keep going to the next hotel, and we’ll call you as soon as we know for sure what they’ve got.”
He heard his Dad sigh on the other end of the line. He knew he was worried, and anxious for his family’s safety. He felt bad for lying to him, but that safety was exactly why he had to for now. “Be careful. Call as soon as you can, you hear me?”
“You bet, Dad. Talk to ya soon.”
“Left, left, left!” Derek pointed urgently at a street just a hundred feet in front of them. Daley slammed on his brakes and quickly made the turn, causing Derek to hang firmly onto the seat for safety.
“What’s the big idea?!” demanded Daley as he straightened up in his lane. “Just about scared the fur off of me! Why couldn’t you tell me about the turn earlier?!”
“You were on the phone,” responded Derek matter-of-factly. “Just keep driving. They’re still following us.”
“THAT’S your big plan?! A game of Who-Crashes-First?”
“No,” Derek sighed. “No, just trust me, okay? I know what I’m doing.”
“Mind letting me in on it then?”
Daley followed Derek’s directions southeastward toward the downtown area, part of which was frozen. Daley could see the tall skyscrapers shimmering in the morning sun, completely covered with ice. He imagined that it was quiet in that part of town. The freeze occurred early enough that most people weren’t occupying the many businesses downtown, and those who lived in the ritzy high-rise condominiums in the area had not started about their day yet. Then again, with the evacuation in effect, even the unfrozen parts of the downtown area were probably empty.
“Okay. Get on the interstate from here,” instructed Derek, pointing at the ramp that led south along the freeway. Traffic northbound was still very high, but southbound traffic was next to nonexistant.
“Alright, now you’ll have to swerve off the next exit, okay? That’ll surprise them and they should keep going straight and miss their exit.”
“You’re trying to get us killed, aren’t you?”
“Just do it!”
Derek sighed. He wasn’t a stunt driver. How was he supposed to pull this off? It was a good thing his car was rather nimble. The exit was only a half-mile ahead, and his paws were tense, gripping the steering wheel tightly as they came closer and closer to the off-ramp.
“Okay,” said Daley. “Here we go.”
“Wait,” said Derek. “Do it on my signal.”
“You better not get us killed, Derek.”
“What’ll you do to me if I do?”
“Just trust me!”
They were going fast, and the exit was becoming ever closer. The black sedan behind them was right on their tail. If all worked out, then in a few seconds, they would be fine, and free to meet up again with their parents. IF all worked out.
Daley’s arms itched to wrench the steering wheel to the right and turn safely off the exit, but his brother spoke up.
“Wait for it…. Keep your speed up….”
The seconds crawled by, as if everything were in slow motion. Daley would already have to brake pretty hard to make the turn. How much longer was Derek going to make him wait? They’d miss it at this rate.
“Wait for it….”
Finally, at the very last possible second, where suddenly exiting would surely send them crashing into the concrete barricade, Derek shouted.
Daley felt as though his body were not his own. Automatically, and against his own judgement, his paws wrenched the steering wheel to the right, and then the left. The car swerved violently, somehow dodging the beginning of the barricade and onto the exit ramp, its back swinging dangerously back and forth across the lane as Daley fought to regain control. He slammed on the brakes, twisting the steering wheel, and the back of the car swung toward the guard rail that led down the off-ramp. He shut his eyes tightly, waiting for the impact he knew was coming.
But it didn’t come. “You did it!” Derek was cheering. Daley opened one eye. “Are we alive?”
“Yes, yes, now go! They went straight, but we need to get out of here, or they’ll just back up and get back on our trail!”
Still shaking, Daley put the car back into first gear, zooming urgently off the exit ramp, racing through a yellow traffic light and turning left onto normal streets.
“Phew,” said Daley after a few turns and several tense minutes of looking anxiously around for their pursuers. “Lost ‘em. Now what?”
“Keep going for a bit,” he said. “No, wait, turn into that hotel, and park around the side or something. We’ll check it out just so we can say we really went to a hotel. Maybe they’ll meet up with us here.”
“Okay,” said Daley.
Daley looked over at his little brother, who was grinning at him. “Nice moves.”
“Shut up,” said Daley. “My paws are still shaking.”
“Yeah, but we lost ‘em!”
Daley sighed. That was something to be relieved about. “How’d you know to do all that anyway? You watch too much TV.”
“You bet I do,” said the younger lion proudly, unbuckling his seat belt as Daley parked next to the hotel. The parking lot was full. The chances of finding a vacancy here didn’t seem too great. Still, he locked his car and walked with his brother into the building and up to the reception desk.
The hotel wasn’t anything very fancy, but it was definitely very nice: clean and well-kept, with the scent of new carpeting filling the air. The lobby was spacious, with a wide screen TV and comfortable-looking leather couches, and a room on the far side behind panes of glass, full of tables and chairs, where hot breakfasts were prepared every morning.
“Excuse me?” said Daley to the woman behind the desk. Her back was turned to them as she fiddled with the printer. She didn’t seem to hear him.
He cleared his throat. “Excuse me!” he said a little louder. The woman jumped and turned around. She was a silver fox, dressed in the hotel’s uniform with her long purple hair done up in a bun behind her head. She smiled at him.
“Sorry about that, sweetie!” she said. “Darn printer just won’t do it’s job today. What can I do for you boys?”
“That’s okay, um—” he squinted at her name tag “—Marie. We had to evacuate earlier today, and we were wondering if you had a room where our family can stay.”
She looked doubtful. “Well, I can look, but I’m pretty sure we’re all filled up,” she said, putting on a pair of glasses and peering at the computer screen, tapping away at the keyboard.
Daley felt about as doubtful as his brother looked. This was a nice-looking hotel. With everything going on in Tempest City this morning and rooms for evacuees going for free there was no way there would be vacancy here.
He jumped in surprise when she said, “Well look at that, a family just left room 242!”
“Really?!” Daley said in unison with his brother.
“You bet! You boys want me to get you set up?”
“Please!” cried Daley, relief flooding through him. “Oh, you don’t know how great it is to hear those words!”
She giggled, tapping a few more keys as Derek called their parents. Daley was so happy, he didn’t notice the chuckle of the other silver fox that passed by behind her, straightening his hotel vest as though he had just put it on.
They may have escaped the freeze of southern Tempest City, but trouble is not yet done with Daley and his family.
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