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The Sunday afternoon sun shone bright and hot. Thankfully there was a decent breeze to offset this. Sam used her hand to shield her eyes as she looked up at the sky. “Thank God we’re gonna be walking under trees most of the way, otherwise that sun would be a bitch.”
“No kidding,” Morgan agreed.
Matthias and Diana rolled up in their green minivan. “Ready to go, girls?” Matthias asked.
“You bet, Dad,” Sam replied cheerfully.
Diana and Matthias then looked quizzically at the backpacks the three younger women had at their feet. “Where are your suitcases?” Diana asked.
“Um, Mom? Wouldn’t suitcases be a little problematic for hiking?” Sam asked with raised eyebrows.
Diana looked confused for a moment before laughing. “You mean you thought…? Oh geez. I guess I should've explained better. We have a hidden road. We’re gonna be driving the whole way.”
Sam’s hand promptly went to her forehead. “You coulda said that sooner, Mom.”
“Well, let’s load these in the van, then we can pack some more stuff,” Tia said.
Sam walked over to her mother. “Mom, is it okay if I bring the fuzz butts?” she asked hopefully.
Diana frowned in thought. “Yeah, I suppose we can. But we’ll hafta have a new cage built. We don’t have room in the van for their current one.”
“I gotta call Lynds and tell her she won’t need ta take care of ‘em, then I’m gonna go get ‘em and we’ll get the rest of our stuff. Be right back,” Sam said, giving her mom a quick hug.
Twenty minutes later everyone was seated in the van. Sam had a pet carrier on her lap, with Rachel and Kendra sleeping soundly inside. Matthias turned to his wife. “All set, Love.”
Diana nodded. “Okie dokie,” she said with a smile as she put the van into drive.
As they pulled away from the house Sam’s heart began beating fast. She was nervous and excited at the same time. “How long will it take to get there?”
“About four or five hours, depending on traffic,” Matthias answered.
“Ick,” Sam said. “Thank God I brought my Switch.” She reached into her backpack and brought out the portable gaming device.
Four and a half hours into the trip Diana turned off the highway onto a barely noticeable dirt road. In fact, Sam doubted anyone would find it unless they were looking for it. She watched out the window as the forest closed in around them. The road wasn't very well kept so the drive was a little bumpy, making her already nervous stomach a little nauseous. “Uff. Are we gonna be on this road long? My stomach is not loving it.”
“Not too much longer, kiddo,” Matthias replied. “About another twenty minutes.”
Sam groaned and closed her eyes, hoping the action would quell her nausea. Thankfully for her stomach, it wasn’t long before she felt the van stop. She sat up straight and looked around. The road seemed to have ended and in front of them was a sheer cliff wall that had to be at least eighty feet tall. The only thing that indicated any amount of civilization was what looked like a small ranger station to the left of the road. “Mom? Where’d the road go?”
“You’ll see. Stay here. I’ll be right back,” Diana said with a grin as she got out of the van. She disappeared into the station for a few minutes before coming back with a concerned look on her face. She walked over to the front passenger door and opened it. “Matt, something’s wrong. There’s no one at the station.”
Matthias’ face quickly mirrored his wife’s. “What? Are you sure?”
Diana nodded. “I looked everywhere.”
Matthias got out of the van. “Let’s look around back. They might be patrolling.”
“Should we help?” Tia asked.
Matthias' expression was serious. “You three stay put.”
The three sisters sighed in reluctant obedience and waited for Diana and Matthias to return. They didn’t have to wait long, however, as about six seconds later they saw a huge Kodiak bear lumber into view. It was only twenty feet away from Sam’s parents.
“MOM! DAD!” Sam shrieked as she saw the bear head toward them. She and her sisters quickly got out of the van just as the great beast reared up and let out a deafening, mighty roar.
Matthias noticed the girls get out of the van. “GET BACK INSIDE!” he screamed.
Tia and Morgan obeyed, but Sam just couldn’t leave her parents to face that bear alone. As soon as she reached them she saw her mother’s expression grow confused and then switch to deep annoyance.
Diana sighed heavily. “Matt, it’s the guard.”
Matthias let out a gurgling growl of irritation. “It’s alright, girls. You can come out.”