"Damn it, John, do you really have to be a walking, talking, driving cliché? The road isn't even paved anymore ... where the hell are we?"
John had known the silence was drawing to an end. Historically, his sister could only hold her tongue for so long and, once she'd crossed her arms over her ample chest, he'd known the quiet would soon be interrupted.
He clasped the steering wheel tighter. "We're not lost--just a little turned around. We'll hit a town soon."
"Yeah, well, you'd better ask for directions the first chance you get so I can stop staring at acres and acres of identical trees."
He knew he shouldn't take the bait, yet he did. "Or what? What are you going to do, Greta? You know what was the best look for you? When you had the red spikes in your hair--like horns. It allowed people to get a head start."
"What I'm going to do is call Dad and tell him you screwed up ... again." Greta reached for her purse.
"We can't even get any radio stations to play ... good luck getting a signal."
"We'll see," she said, pulling out her phone. After several seconds, she tossed the cell over her shoulder and into the backseat in disgust. John fought back a smirk.
"Gah! I still don't know what this stupid field trip is going to accomplish," she said. "Want to sing 'Over the river and through the woods' ... goth style?"
He explained once again--even though they both knew the answer. "Dad thinks that seeing the grandchildren she disinherited will move our grandmother. Maybe he's right--since you washed the blue streaks out of your hair, you come across as pretty innocent ... until you speak."
He began to chuckle. His sister really did look innocent, wearing a sedate summer dress and with her hair back to its natural blonde, but she still had the vocabulary of a sailor.
Greta seemed to be fighting back her own laughter, but then her expression became sober. "John--you know dad isn't looking out for us anymore, right? It's all about Lily ... he's worried she'll leave him if he can't support her. If he still cared about us, he'd have shown some interest in the last couple years."
Their step-mother was a real alpha bitch--no doubt about it. Marriage to her had altered their once-loving father. For a few years John found himself hating all women just a little, thinking them all capable of using their bodies to manipulate a man. Recently, he'd come to the conclusion that a guy who'd let his dick do his thinking deserved what he got.
"I know," he answered. "I figure we still owe the old man a few things from before Lily got her hooks into him. If it works, you'll have money for your band and I'll have money for the restaurant. It's worth a day or two of kissing up to some old woman."
"Sure, if we actually get there in one piece," Greta said, but with no real animosity in her tone this time. He understood--she was not alone in feeling better about saying what they both had been thinking.
He'd never let his sister know it, but he trusted her instincts. She had a way of knowing things. When their mother had become ill, Greta had seemed to know from the beginning that she wouldn't rebound. Or the first time they saw Lily: Greta had just seemed to know that she was no good, even though she'd looked like sugar wouldn't melt in her mouth. Greta underplayed her knack though, pointing out that most of the time she was just as in the dark as everyone else.
Suddenly, a deer appeared in the middle of the road. John swerved to avoid it, and the next thing he knew he felt a jolt as they went off the side of the road and down a sharp incline. They narrowly missed a row of trees as the car came to a halt, pitching both of them forward. Only then did he have time to feel fear.
"Jesus, Greta, are you okay?" he asked, looking at his sister.
She inhaled and slowly blew it out before answering. "Yeah, you?"
He gave a ragged sigh. "You mean, with the exception of knowing that deer is somewhere laughing its ass off and telling all her friends that she bagged a big one?"
"I bet Lily's car has airbags."
"I'll take that bet," he said, looking behind them. "I'd also bet that there's no chance of getting out of this ditch on our own." He felt frustration boiling up. "You might as well bitch me out right now."
"I'll save it for later. How 'bout that? I'll call you at 3am a month from now, and really let you have it." Greta unbuckled her seatbelt and climbed into the back seat, apparently to give her phone one last try. John felt tender toward his sister at that moment: a strange brew of thrilled that she was okay and glad that she wasn't in the process of ripping him a new asshole--even if it was, in part, due to bitching out her useless cell phone instead. "Yeah, right! 'Can you hear me now?' my ass! No, I can't hear you now, you nerdy freak!"
"Hey, Greta, wanna go for a walk?" he asked, sounding resigned.
They changed into more comfortable shoes and got out of the car. Greta started up the incline, but John stopped, noticing a trail.
Greta protested. "That will lead us into the woods. I want out of the woods."
"Hear me out. We haven't seen a house for miles, and there's no sign of anything but more road and more trees on the horizon. A trail has to lead somewhere, right? A trail is bound to be shorter than a road--it's a path for people to get from point A to point B on foot."
Greta stared at him for several seconds, considering his words, and then her own. "If we do stay on the road a car might come by."
"When was the last time there was a car? Though I suppose there's a chance." Greta could be right and he'd already gotten them lost once. If they went with her plan and it went to hell, at least they'd be even. There was also Greta's occasional party trick of knowing things she wasn't supposed to know. "Okay, road it is," he finally offered.
Greta sighed. A wrinkle appeared in the center of her forehead. "Know what? Just grab the flashlight in case it gets dark and let's do the damned path."
It figures, he thought, grabbing the flashlight and taking huge strides to catch up with his sister. Maybe later they could have a debate over whether the sky was blue or plaid--whichever one he chose, Greta would choose the other one.
They were silent for several minutes as they walked along the path--no sounds but their feet scuffing against the natural debris. Light filtered through the trees, dappling everything it touched, and John could hear small animals scurrying through the brush. Despite their predicament, John felt his stress ebb away at the beauty around them and, as near as he could tell, Greta felt the same.
Soon they began to talk, joking and speaking in phrases that only they would understand: the language of siblings. Neither of them noticed they had strayed off the path until they were boxed in on three sides.
After a brief argument over whose idea it was to take the path, and whose fault it was that they veered off the path, Greta said, "Whatever! What now?"
"Track back--what else?"
After a few minutes it became clear they were lost twice over. John turned to his sister in an attempt to come up with a new plan of action, only to find that she was crying. As he wrapped his arms around her he couldn't help but be amazed at how she could piss him off one minute and a moment later bring out every protective instinct he possessed.
"C'mon, it's going to be okay. We'll figure this out," he said, stroking her hair, and trying to comfort her.
She pulled back and looked at him with huge blues eyes which matched his own. "You can't know that. We could just go in circles forever, and it's going to get dark soon. Remember when we'd go on family trips to Grandma and for a joke Dad would turn out the headlights, and we'd all scream? It's going to be dark like that!" She brushed away a tear with the back of her hand and, in that moment, looked much younger than her age.
"There are still a few hours. We'll probably find a way out by then and, even if we have to spend a night in the woods, I'd never let anything happen to you." He hoped he sounded convincing.
They walked on, trying to make note of landmarks and stopping only to dine on berries. As the day went on, the same scenes which had before been peaceful and relaxing felt ominous, the scurrying of animals seemed sinister, and bugs were showing up in droves. He could see Greta's nerves fraying as she swatted mosquito after mosquito. He tried to keep his stride confident while figuring out what the safest plan was for sleeping in the woods--other than "don't."
Greta touched his arm, looking to her right. "That way," she said, sounding sure as she pointed and headed off without waiting. Again, he found himself following his sister. He assumed she'd heard something or had an intuition, but he couldn't help noticing she'd looked none too happy. It was as if she were about to begin a much needed, but unpleasant, task and wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. It was the same way she'd walked up to their mother's casket.
He stopped short for a moment as they came to a clearing with a little house; goats and sheep grazed on deep green grass. The sight was jarring in contrast to where they had been and instantly made John feel ridiculous for his earlier concern. He began concocting a version of the story where he'd not been the least bit worried and knew everything would turn out fine--and that he'd known Greta was worrying for nothing.
.... There is more of this story ...