The Sequels to Syrrah's Game SGSequels

chapter 9

Tuesday, August 8th, 7:28 AM

Sauk Centre, MN

 

Evan turned the Ram onto Neraeh’s driveway and drove up to near the garage.

Once parked, he lifted his iPhone from the drink holder and texted her, notifying they were here.

“You sure you gave it some thought last night,” Freddy asked, “like we discussed?”

“Yeah, I did. You made some very good points. Complicated grief, depression, dissociation, derealization…quite the conglomeration of disorders. Heck, I don’t think Neraeh is suffering from any of them too, but who knows for sure? And all of this could be an exaggerated guilt trip, since she feels responsible for Syrrah’s death.” He looked at Freddy. “Then again, like father like son with me, so I’m no one to talk. But what I was shown, in that lab, those side-by-side structures. And how things seem to be coming together, too easily, like there is--”

“Divine intervention?”

“Yes. Possibly.” Evan drew in a deep breath. “I got to do this, Fred. Even if it turns out to be wrong. I just have to.”

“Dude, it’s all right. I get it. At least you can then rule it out, if doesn’t prove true. Anything to get some closure. And, it will be an awesome trip.”

“Ha, yeah. Exactly.”

“What did your dad say when you called?”

“He is not happy about it, like I thought. But damn, Fred. I feel so horrible about Matti. He is totally bummed.”

“Oh, shoot, yeah. The poor little dude. You promised him you’d be back soon, and now this.”

Evan let out an exasperated sigh. “Exactly. Just feel like a terrible brother right now.”

“Dude, you’re not, you know that. Did you talk to him on the phone?”

“No, he didn’t even want to talk to me. I’ll probably be getting a call from my dad later, besides all the texts. I’ll try talking to him then.”  

“Did you tell your dad why we’re doing this?”

“Not really. Just that we became friends with Syrrah’s sister, and now we’re going on a short road trip, to Casper, Wyoming.”

“Well, that is the truth. But…isn’t Casper near Riverton?”

Evan could only stare at Freddy, unable to give a response.

His peripheral view caught motion. He turned from Freddy. Neraeh was walking over, carrying a black and grey backpack and that same leather purse, a smile on her face as she examined the Ram. She was wearing denim shorts again, and a white T-shirt, with light green and purple flower designs in its center and tied up at the waist. “Beautiful truck you have here.” She walked over to Evan’s opened window.  “Love the black color.”

“Thank you, Neraeh. Yeah, I like black vehicles too.”

“Do you want me to sit in the back?” Her hair was down like yesterday, resting softly around her shoulders, and she was wearing a slight amount of eye makeup.

“Could she sit up front by me?” Evan asked Freddy.

“Oh, sure, sure.” Freddy opened the door and slid out. “I’ll sit in the back. No problemo.”

She laughed a little. “Well, thank you, Freddy.” She headed for the front passenger seat.

Evan stepped out of the Ram and walked around to help her. He made sure she was comfortable, seat belt on securely, and he and Freddy arranged her backpack along with their other belongings, and the Taylor acoustic, on the backseat area, making sure Freddy still had ample seating room.

“Sorry about the dash,” Evan told her, once in the driver’s seat. “I plan on fixing it soon.”

“Oh, that’s okay.”

Relief. Thankfully she didn’t want to know how it happened.

Once they all seemed ready to go, Evan backed the Ram out of the driveway and headed them toward the road out of town, I-94, which would eventually take them to the MN-27 highway according to his phone’s map. He adjusted the Ram’s AC so it was on low cool and yet allowed them to open the windows some, if they needed fresh air too.

Evan glanced at Neraeh. He made sure to hold the wheel tight at the same time, keeping his Ram Girl driving straight. “So. What did you tell your dad?”

“Like I explained. He leaves around six-thirty in the morning, when I’m usually still asleep. I didn’t see him this morning. But I left a note on the kitchen table, telling him I met you guys and we became friends, and now we’re going on a short trip, shouldn’t be long. It’s something we like to do in our house, leave paper notes.”

“Sure. That’s fine. I understand. Are you going to call or text him later?”

“Oh, yes. I will, when he comes home and sees the note. I just didn’t want to tell him yet, because he would be calling or texting me non-stop, trying to stop me. But, I just have to do this, I just have to try and see if Dana might be my sister.”

“I understand, Neraeh. I only hope we aren’t causing a problem.”

“No, not at all. This is totally my decision. You certainly didn’t force me to do this.”

Freddy leaned forward from the backseat. “What about your mom, Neraeh?”

“She should be fine,” Neraeh said, turning back to see Freddy better. “She has round-the-clock care from the other nurses.”

“Oh, that’s good,” Freddy said, and Evan confirmed with similar words.

Traffic was getting heavier. Just got to concentrate on driving safe, alert, Evan reminded himself. Nothing, absolutely nothing unforeseen was going to happen to Neraeh. And as the Savior was his witness, he meant that, with conviction. 

“Evan. You know, you really should talk to Tate,” Neraeh said. “Hear his side of the story. He did eventually conclude Syrrah received some bad drugs, or laced alcohol, but he could give some insight from what he observed, from her strange behavior.”

Really? This guy again. “Uh, yeah, sure. But isn’t he in Minneapolis?”

“Yes. True, like I told you. And we’re heading in the opposite direction, of course.” She leaned closer to Evan. “But we could call Tate. I could call him first, explain the situation, and then you two could talk.”

The thought of speaking to Tate, ever, sent agitating heat coursing through Evan’s body. He tightened his grip on the steering wheel. “Sure. Maybe later. I mostly want to concentrate on driving us right now.”

“Oh, of course. We could do it later, when we stop.”

Calm, stay calm. Maybe, somehow, Neraeh sensed they believe her to be mentally ill? And she had to mention Tate, to show she wasn’t the only one sensing something very wrong with Syrrah?

“You guys have enough money for gas?” she asked. “I certainly wouldn’t mind helping out, if you need me to.” 

“Thank you,” Evan answered. “But we should be fine.”

A period of quiet then overtook the Ram’s interior. Evan simply concentrated on his determination to drive well, to keep them safe. He noticed Neraeh settled back into her seat after putting on some earphones. Freddy did the same in the backseat, probably listening to some of their band’s latest performances.

Time passed by.

Evan kept on I-94. Upon reaching Alexandria, the low fuel warning alerted him, and he drove off on an exit posting food, gas and lodging available.

After he filled the Ram, they all entered the convenience store. He looked around for something to eat, as did Freddy and Neraeh. In his searching, however, he always held a watchful eye on Neraeh. But he noticed more than he wanted to. Though she tried to hide it, he often caught her glancing at him. Her glances were more than plain curiosity, or acknowledgement. He could sense it; she was attracted to him. And of course, Freddy’s words came haunting back. But this didn’t feel right, and never would. He would take care of her, and protect her, fiercely, but only because she was Syrrah’s sister, a member of Syrrah’s family. 

They used the bathroom, paid for the food, and then got back in the Ram. They spent some time eating, but not that long.

Evan drove away from the convenience store and soon headed them on to MN-27.

“So. Evan. If you don’t mind me asking,” Neraeh said. “Do you have a girlfriend?”

Evan smiled. “Well, I do, sort of.” He glanced at her. “But, you see, part of my problem, with getting along with her, well…I keep thinking of Syrrah, and can’t, well, move on, so that we get along better.”

“Really? Your fondness for Syrrah, has affected you that much?”

He stared mostly straight ahead, but checked the front and side mirrors, and all around, making certain like earlier they were safe, though traffic wasn’t too heavy. “It’s those dreams, of seeing her waving at me after the accident. But, I’d rather not talk about this now. Sorry.” He glanced at her again. "How about you? Do you have a boyfriend?”

She sighed and relaxed back into her seat. “Did. Some months ago. But no one now.”

Freddy leaned forward and rested his arms on the middle storage compartment between the driver and passenger seats. “Just to let you know, Neraeh, I’m single, and available…that is, if you’re interested.”

“Damn, Freddy,” Evan said. “You don’t mess around. You get straight to the point.”

“Dude. Can’t lie about that.” Freddy held out his fist near Evan’s right side.

Evan couldn’t resist and gave him a light fist tap. “Yup, now sit back, you crazy fool.”

Laughing, Freddy flopped back into his seat.

“I apologize, Neraeh,” Evan said, “for his forwardness.”

“Oh, no problem.” From a quick glimpse, he caught her smiling and turning back. “And thank you, Freddy.” She even appeared to be blushing a bit. “I will keep that in mind.”

“Of course.” Freddy’s tone was polite, kind. “Just let me know.”

Evan focused more on the road again.

“You know, Evan,” she said. “I’ve been thinking more about what you said. Those clandestine military operations, secretive and unknown to most people. What exactly did you see?”

“A lot of things.” She sure knew how to bring things up unannounced. “A lot, happened to me, and to my dad.”

“Your dad too?”

“It was my dad, and me. And then those five other people.”

“Five other people. Seven of you altogether. Wow. What on earth was going on?”

“It involved other dimensions, I suppose you could say.”

“Seriously? Other dimensions?”

“Uh, yeah. That’s right.” He turned and smiled at her, then brought his gaze back on the road. “You sure you want to hear this now?”

“Well, do you think it will distract from your driving?”

“It might.”

“Hmm…” She was quiet for some seconds. “Why don’t you describe more what you mean by dimensions, so I have a better idea? But only if you feel up to it now.”

“Okay. I’ll tell you some of it, but keep in mind this is a lot more stranger than what you told us about Syrrah. By other dimensions, I mean we were isolated, inside this spacesuit-like structure, so that we could see and experience everything around us in the real-world dimension, yet we weren’t in the real world anymore. And as time went by, we started changing in size and having our time speed faster into the future. And eventually, we could move through walls, and even, by my connection with…with whoever was responsible, have us travel to other places on earth and even other planets.”

He glanced at Neraeh and she was staring right at him. He looked back at the road.

“Wow,” she said. “That was definitely a lot to take in all at once. I have some questions, but mainly, umm, what do you mean by changing in size?”

“Every now and then, there would be this bright light flash, and then afterwards we would decrease in size as compared to everyone around us.”

“Who was all around you?”

“Doctors and paramedics, at first. And then later, we were shipped off to an underground Air Force base, where military doctors and other military people tried to help us. But…they ultimately couldn’t.” Memories from the terrifying parts of the entire time in the hull began filling his mind. And it didn’t help they were heading near Riverton.

“Why? You are all right now, aren’t you?”

Evan smiled and glanced at her again. “Yes, true. I am fine now.” He concentrated on the traffic. “But, uh, maybe I should tell you more later. Sort of disturbing me now, and distracting.”

“Oh, sure, yeah. I’m sorry, Evan. We can discuss it later.”

“No, it’s all right. Don’t feel sorry. You have done zero wrong, Neraeh. But I’ll eventually tell you everything.”

“Oh, well that’s good. I do want to hear it all. So, what else can you tell me about yourself, like things going on right now in your life?”

“I worked at Bob’s Auto Service, in Park River, along with Freddy, who originally got me the job, until I started attending Bison football practice. We both really like it there. I especially liked doing the advanced diagnostics mechanics, you know, accessing a car’s computer system to fix problems. I wanted to attend college for auto mechanics, but my dad convinced me to go for computer engineering instead, at NDSU.”

“Oh wow. Congrats on all of that. Like I said, you’re quite impressive. You both are. Sing, play the guitar, have a band, play football.”

“And of course Evan failed to mention that we get paid, not a whole lot, mind you,” Freddy said, “for playing local gigs with our band.”

“Oh, really,” she said. “I guess that helps too with both your incomes. Do you have any videos, so I can see you guys perform?”

“We sure do.” Freddy leaned forward and presented his phone to Neraeh.

With Freddy’s help, he and Neraeh both watched a few videos of Ten Dissent’s recent performances, at Park River’s Bar and Grill, and at the Detroit Lakes Event Center, when doing that free concert for the local cancer research fund. Neraeh asked how they could play, at a bar, because they’re underage. She mentioned this regarding her own age, twenty-one, as suspected, having just turned this age on July 12th. But he and Freddy explained as long as they didn’t drink, which they didn’t, and stayed away from the bar area it was fine. She said they sounded great, making Evan quite proud, especially with her glowing, enthusiastic reaction.

Yet hearing their performances did little to distract his thoughts from memories of the hull. He switched his thinking to the goal of their trip. About Syrrah, as Dana Zypher. If only.  Would honestly be astonishing, a stunning miracle, if true.

Nah. It all seemed ridiculously farfetched.

But those alien side-by-side bed things. And what the Savior told Syrrah. Can’t forget those.

He sighed quietly. The answer would arrive eventually.

Freddy and Neraeh finished watching the videos. She handed the phone back to him. Evan expected Freddy to keep leaning forward, but he didn’t, dropping himself into the backseat once more. Maybe he wasn’t feeling so well, experiencing some of his mild MS symptoms.

“Evan, I don’t get something,” Neraeh said. “You sing really well, your band is doing great. You guys are very talented. Why aren’t you going to college for music?”

“Ha-ha. Good point. And I have an easy answer. Don’t want to make it work. College and football are work enough. I always want to have music, our band, something I do for fun, for enjoyment, you know?”

“Oh, sure. I get that.”

“Dude.” Freddy leaned forward, holding his fist near Evan, like earlier. “It’s our play time.”

Evan held the steering wheel steady and slammed his left fist into Freddy’s knuckles. “Dude. You know it.”

And just like earlier too, Freddy laughed and fell back into his seat.

“So, Evan,” Neraeh said, laughing also, “tell me more about Master Ren.”

It was inevitable this subject would come up. But Neraeh was going to find out eventually, regardless. Best to inform her now. “Yes. Of course. Mark, or as he’s usually known, Master Ren. I developed an interest in martial arts, around twelve years old. My dad set me up with Master Ren’s Academy of Martial Arts, where we teach Taekwondo, Jeet Kune Do, Eskrima and mixed martial arts, like kickboxing and wrestling combinations. I received my first-degree black belt last year, and I’m working on my second-degree black belt now. And since getting the first one, my bro Master Ren has me teach some classes several times a week, depending on what he needs.” Evan laughed briefly. “And yes, I even get paid for it too.” 

“Wow,” she said. “Impressing me again.” 

“Thanks.” Evan glanced at her, giving her a smile. She didn’t seem afraid, only in awe.

Freddy leaned forward, resting on the middle compartment again. “I’m almost at a black belt myself.”

“Yes, that’s true,” Evan said. “I told him it would be a great idea, to join with me. He waited about a week, before joining, but he’s been killing it ever since.”

“Yeah, see, I have multiple sclerosis,” Freddy told her. “What they term relapsing-remitting MS. Since I’ve been eating healthier and exercising more, like with the martial arts we do, and football, running, I’ve mostly been in remission for years now.”

“That’s great, Freddy, glad you’re doing better,” she said. “At what age were you first diagnosed?”

“When I was ten. Wasn’t feeling so well, and then came down with Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis, or ADEM. Man, was that not fun. The worst part was I couldn’t see right, plus the vomiting, weakness, fever, a few light seizures. I was a mess. Several months later, I was diagnosed with MS.”

“Oh wow,” she said. “That had to be rough. MS is usually diagnosed in adults.”

“Oh yeah, I know that. Been researching it for many years now. But hey, I’m doing great now, so, no worries, ya know?”

“Sure, that is awesome,” she said kindly. “I’m really happy for you.”

They all then had more in-depth discussions on treatments for MS, like pharmaceutical, or natural, like diet and exercise. Freddy explained Evan had been helping him by any means he could, all the years of their friendship, and Evan made sure to confirm this was true. He sort of bragged, but he wanted Neraeh to feel more comfortable around them.

The MS discussion eventually ended, and things got rather quiet in the Ram, like earlier. Evan kept his concentration on driving, but Freddy and Neraeh started up a few conversations here and there, mainly about the scenery and a few interesting news articles they found on their phones. Or they snacked on some of the food they bought at the convenience store. Later Freddy noticed Oz and Randal had texted him, and Evan’s phone got a few messages from them too, though he had Freddy read them. Freddy explained to Neraeh that Oz and Randal both did vocals, but Oz, his real name Oswaldo, played the guitar and keyboard, and Randal was their drummer. He explained too they all started the band when Evan and the other guys were around fifteen, and the music they wrote and played aimed for good lyrics, nothing nasty, since all of them in the band are basically Christians, though the band itself is not actually a Christian band.

Before long, they finally crossed over into South Dakota and were nearing I-29.

Neraeh’s phone started ringing, a pretty, melodic ringtone. Evan soon recognized the tune as Open Heart, by Morgan Page. “It’s my dad,” she said. “How could he have seen that note already? We left at seven-thirty, and now it’s ten, not even close to noon. Did he go home early?”

“Answer it, Neraeh,” Evan said. “Whatever the reason.”

She did, ending the nice ringtone. “Hello, Dad?”

‘Neraeh. Where are you? I called SC Intermediate and they said you took some days off. You didn’t even tell me!’ Her phone’s volume was on the louder side and she didn’t seem to notice. Evan could hear rather well, even with the Ram’s tires humming, vibrating along the road. Not proud of it, but he felt compelled to listen. ‘And now I found out two shady-looking guys were asking about you yesterday, and you even talked to them and then walked with them back to the house. What is going on here?’

“Dad. It’s okay. One of the guys witnessed Syrrah’s accident, when his dad was driving his mom to the Mayo clinic. He was eleven at the time, and it really affected him, and he recalls seeing Syrrah, she looked right at him, and--”

‘What are their names, and where do they live? Tell me RIGHT NOW and spell out their last names!’ His tone was very demanding.

She looked at Evan, he could tell from his side view, and he turned directly at her. “Tell him. Of course. I can hear your call.” He looked back at the road. “My last name is spelled T-u-r-r-o-n-e and Freddy’s is J-e-r-g-e-n-s-e-n.”

She spelled out their names for her dad. “Why?” she said, “why do you have to be so overprotective of me all the time?”

‘I’ll call or text you very soon. You make sure to answer promptly. Do you hear me, Neraeh?’

“Yes, Dad, I do.”

‘All right. Love you. Goodbye.’

“Love you too, Dad. Bye.” She ended the call.

“Why does he want to know the spellings of our last names?” Evan asked.

Neraeh sighed. “Because he has police officer friends in town. They’ll probably do a background check on you guys.”

“Then they can go right ahead,” Evan said. “Neither of us have anything to hide, Neraeh. Not at all.”

“Evan’s right.” Freddy leaned closer. “We’re two clean-cut dudes. We stay out of trouble. You don’t have anything to worry about.”

Yet Neraeh didn’t seem the same. As they continued driving along, she was quieter yet didn’t put in her earphones to listen to music. She was mostly just looking on her phone, typing away several times, either texting or something else. Evan tried to keep the conversation going, as did Freddy, talking about the local scenery, what kind of vehicle she drives, and what she would like to do in Casper once there, but it seemed hard to get the conversation back on level.

But the police. And Heidi. Could Heidi have reported what happened, sometime between yesterday morning and today? They hadn’t come to his family's door, so far, or for sure Dad would be calling and texting nonstop. Probably nothing to be worried about but it wasn’t the best idea to say neither he nor Freddy have anything to hide. Damnit.

He inhaled deeply, though trying to keep it hidden. Relax. Stay calm.

Neraeh’s phone buzzed again, like of an incoming text message.

Evan could see from his eye’s corner that she was staring at the message, sort of consumed by it. “Is everything ok?”

“Could we stop somewhere?” she asked.

“Well, yes, sure. Why, what’s wrong?”

She pointed straight ahead. “I see that we’re coming up to a rest area. Please stop there.”

“Of course,” Evan said. “Do you need to use the bathroom?”

“Umm, yes. I do actually.”

Freddy leaned forward. “Is it about your dad? Did he find something out he doesn’t like about us or something?”

“I just really need to use the bathroom right now,” she said. “That’s all.”

But she didn’t answer Freddy’s question. Yup. Something wasn’t right.

Evan stared ahead and could see several signs for the rest area, off the next exit. 

Once nearing the exit, he veered the Ram to the right and followed the signs to the Wilmot Information Center rest area, taking them down a few turns left and right, until he finally parked the Ram by the rest area’s main building.

Neraeh immediately opened the door and stepped out. She didn’t wait for them. She walked directly toward the building’s entrance doors.

Evan clicked open the door with such force it swung wide open. Fortunately, no one was parked on the driver’s side. He jumped out and followed right after her, though he didn’t run. No need to alarm her.

But Neraeh was now practically running ahead.

Freddy caught up to Evan. “Uh-oh,” he said quietly. “Something’s wrong.”

“I thought this was going way too good. Didn’t seem possible. You think Heidi told the cops recently?”

“Oh, shit, Evan. I hope not.”

“Yeah. Exactly. Me too.”

They kept speed walking. They entered the main building, the information center, with its ceiling-high windows and side windows flooding sunshine brightness everywhere around the brick walls. Evan glanced about. The door to the women’s bathroom had just closed. But otherwise, except for a few other people, Neraeh wasn’t anywhere to be seen. “She has to be in the bathroom.”

“I agree,” Freddy said.

A powerful surge of protective energy flooded Evan’s body. He was not going to let her be this way. He walked over to the women’s bathroom door, opened it, and stepped inside.

“I’ll stand guard,” Freddy said, holding onto the door, leaving it open.

Evan didn’t respond to Freddy’s words; he directed his eyes on the stalls and bathroom sinks. He leaned down until he could see underneath, recalling her maroon-colored sneakers with short, no-show white socks. And he saw them, in the third stall down from his position. He also noticed another woman’s feet, two stalls down from Neraeh’s stall. He stood up and looked around. The only windows were sky-light windows on the ceiling and none on the walls. And no other doors. She would have to come out of the bathroom the way she came in. “Neraeh.” He spoke loud enough so she could hear him. “I’ll be right outside, in the main area. I hope everything is okay.” He waited for a response. She didn’t say a word. But the other woman began rustling about, her movements sounding hectic. Not good. He needed to leave.

He stepped out and Freddy closed the door behind them. He walked with Freddy to the nearby brick wall. They both leaned against it.

“So, she didn’t say anything back to you?” Freddy asked.

“No. She didn’t. I’m getting rather concerned.”

“Me too.”

After several minutes, Neraeh walked out. She took a few steps from the bathroom door and then just stood there, staring at Evan. She was about five yards away. 

Evan slowly walked closer to her. “Neraeh. What is wrong? Please tell me.”

“You didn’t tell me you were part of a cult.” She spoke rather loudly, and Evan instantly sensed all eyes in the room gawking at them.

The other lady in the bathroom walked out. She was an older lady, maybe in her forties. She gave Evan a stern look and then walked toward the building’s entrance.

“What? No,” Evan told Neraeh, once the older lady was out the door. “It was not a cult. And it was some years ago. It has been dismantled.” He stepped closer until right near her. “But our group was never anything like what you must be thinking.”

She tightly folded her arms, under her breasts, and stared up at Evan. “My dad told me I should stay here, in this building, and wait for him to pick me up. Just…just bring me my backpack, now, and then you two can leave.”

Evan couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Neraeh. No. I cannot just leave you here. You will be all alone. If anything, I will drive you back home. You don’t have to come with us to Casper.” 

“I’ve said all I’m going to say.” She looked at Freddy. “Freddy, can you please bring me my backpack?”

“Uhh, well, I can--”

“No, wait,” Evan told him. “Let’s just talk about this more first.”

Neraeh turned away and walked over to some wooden benches along a far wall. She sat down upon one nearest to the bathroom.

With Freddy following, Evan walked over and stood near her. “Neraeh. Please. Don’t do this,” Evan said gently. “You know I care about you so much, you and your entire family. I would be so worried leaving you here alone.”

She shot a glaring look up at him. “Oh yeah? Why do you care so much about me, Evan?” Her voice filled the room more than it should. “Why do you care so much about my sister? Because of some dreams? From what I’ve heard, far more was going on than what you’ve told me. What is this, this M-O-T-C group?”

Evan glanced to his left. An older male attendant behind the counter where they distributed travel information was staring at him. He looked back at Neraeh. “MOTC was a group we formed, all seven of us, including me, although they tried to keep me less involved. But it was not a cult, only a group of people trying to tell what we know, about God, about everything.” 

“Oh, yeah, well what does MOTC stand for anyway?”

“Messengers of the Collector,” he answered softly. “But, our group dismantled, because too many…too many people stated we were not on the right side, like we were--”

“Devil worshippers? Yeah. I know.”

“But, no, not that. A false religion! They just didn’t understand what we knew, and they weren’t even willing to listen to the details!”

She crossed her arms and legs and stared up at him. “You should go now.” She looked at Freddy. “Please. My backpack?”

“Uh, sure,” Freddy said, and he searched Evan’s face for a response.

“Yes, go ahead.”

Freddy walked toward the main entrance doors.

“Please.” Evan directed a pleading gaze into her pretty blue eyes. “Let’s go outside to discuss this more. Not here.”

She crossed her arms tighter. “No. I told you. I don’t want to discuss this any longer. My father will be here soon.”

He let out a sigh. “All right. We will leave. But if I find out anything, about Dana Zypher, and Syrrah, I will make sure to text you. I…I just wish…” He couldn’t think of anything else to say. She was staring hard and appeared angry, betrayed.

He looked to see if Freddy was returning yet with her backpack. Through the building’s glass doors, he could see Freddy easily open the Ram’s passenger side back door and remove her backpack. Damn. In all the disarray from Neraeh’s actions, he hadn’t even locked the Ram, though he did take the keys. But he realized Freddy would lock the doors now.

Freddy ran back toward the main entrance, swung one of the doors open, and entered. He walked a fast pace up to Neraeh. Puffing away, he handed her the backpack.

“Thank you, Freddy,” she said quietly.

Evan thought about the time. “Neraeh. You do realize you’ll be here for about two hours, before your dad shows up?”

“I don’t care. I’ll be fine. You can go now.”

That sickening, aching feeling, like when Heidi ordered him to leave her house, invaded Evan’s core. “All right. If that’s what you want. Come on, Fred.” He turned and headed toward the doors.

Freddy followed.

But he had to do something. Evan walked over to that man behind the counter. “Sir, if you don’t mind.” The older man, 50-ish, with white and grey hair, stepped closer and stared at Evan with intense eyes. “You see that young woman over there?” He pointed at Neraeh, and quickly noticed she was holding her hand over her mouth, appearing ready to cry. He looked back at the man. “Can you please make sure she is safe, and that no one bothers her?”

“Why? What’s the problem?”

“She was traveling with us, but her father called her and wants her to wait here, until he comes by and picks her up. But that could be about two hours from now.”

“How old is she?”

“Twenty-one.”

“I’ll keep an eye on her. But she is an adult and can do whatever she wishes. But I’m here if she needs me. She should be fine.”

“I understand. Thank you.” Evan looked at her again. Now she was truly crying. She was wiping her eyes, but had her head turned, hiding most of her face. “Bye, Neraeh,” he called out loud enough, and waved to her. “Call me for any reason.” He glanced at Freddy. “Come on. Let’s go.”

They walked out the door and headed toward the Ram, with Freddy explaining he made sure to lock the doors, just like Evan figured. People standing near parked vehicles next to the Ram stared and spoke quietly amongst themselves. Good. Let them. Who cares?

“I don’t like this, dude, not one bit,” Freddy said. “You’re right to be concerned.”

“Yes. But like the attendant guy said, she’s fully an adult. It is her decision. But God, Freddy! I am so damn worried for her, gosh damnit!”

“I know, dude, I know.”

That horrible feeling still ached within Evan, while they walked, but thankfully the warm, sunny eighty-degree weather, the light chirping of nearby birds in the trees, gave some comfort, soothed the pain, but not by much.

Sudden pounding steps could be heard and felt from behind them.

Evan stopped walking and turned back. So did Freddy.

Neraeh was rushing toward them.

“Neraeh,” Evan said. “What’s wrong?”

She gradually slowed her steps and walked until about four feet from them. She stood there, breathing hard, staring at Evan. She wiped her eyes with a tissue. “Okay. So, I’m out of the building now.”

“You mean, you want to talk?”

“Yes,” she answered.

Evan looked to the right and noticed two cabin-like canopy-covered picnic table areas down along the sidewalk that bordered the parking lot. No one was near the last one. He pointed in that direction. “Could we go there?”

“Yes, that will work.”

Allowing Neraeh to lead the way, Evan soon walked next to her, to her left side. “Are you okay?”

“I’ll be fine,” she said, only staring ahead. “Just let me hear what you have to say.”

They arrived under the wooden canopy roof. Neraeh sat nearest to the entrance upon the picnic table’s adjacent bench. Evan sat across from her, and Freddy sat at the end of the same bench.

She stared directly into Evan’s eyes. Instantly he had a sense of her turmoil; she was someone torn between her father’s demands and her own great desire to find out the truth about Syrrah. “I want to know exactly what happened. And I want to know what else you know about Syrrah.”

“Like I said earlier, we were trapped in another dimension.”

“Yes, I remember. And time was changing, and you could walk through walls and go to other planets. But what else happened, and how does Syrrah figure into this?”

“This might be hard for you to believe. The rest of them, my dad and the five others, had little control over anything. But not with me. Not only could I, and the others, pass through walls, but I was the one who changed our location, our experiences, with only my mind. I was even able to survive massive semi-automatic machine gun fire, and being struck, hard, with a club. Both did absolutely nothing to me, Neraeh. Not a thing. Superhuman powers. And at first, we didn’t know, who could be behind this, for me. But then, eventually, we found out…it was your sister, Syrrah, who was responsible.”

Neraeh covered her mouth and stood up. She was crying again. “You’re right. I don’t believe you. You are crazy.”

Evan stood up too. He moved around the table until near her. He thrust his hands out and gently took hold of her shoulders. “Neraeh.” He kept his gaze locked with her pretty blue eyes. “I thought it was your sister, at the time. I have now learned differently, if what we believe turns out to be true. But what you need to understand…the reason I came to see you, and the reason I would do anything for you, and your family, is because I fell deeply, no, excruciatingly, in love, with Syrrah.”

She shot her forearms up and slammed them into Evan’s arms, forcing his hands off her shoulders. “Leave me alone. Just leave me alone.” She turned and rushed out of the canopy-covered enclosure, heading toward the information center.  

“Neraeh. Please. Come with us,” Evan called out to her as she walked away. “Just tell your dad that you are safe with us, and that I would protect you with my life. Neraeh. Please. Don’t leave.”

But she didn’t listen and continued walking away.

Evan stepped from under the enclosure onto the sidewalk. He watched her walk along until she entered the information center.

Freddy grabbed Evan by his shoulders, hugging him. “Dude. Let her go. She should be okay.”

“All right.” He let out an exaggerated sigh. “Let’s get out of here.”

They walked fast, up the same sidewalk, until arriving at the Ram. Those other people near their vehicles from earlier were gone. He and Freddy got in the Ram, with Freddy sitting up front now.

His arms and body trembling slightly, Evan began driving them out of the rest area’s parking lot. “God. I just don’t want to leave her here alone!”

“Dude. Evan. Like the guy said. She’s twenty-one. She’ll be all right. You have to figure it this way. She made it all these years without us, and she’s still alive. She’ll be okay.”

“Yeah, true. But I blew it, didn’t I.”

“Yeah, you sort of did. Didn’t comprehend that she’s attracted to you.” 

“Please. Don’t say that.”

“I know. But I think it’s a fact. Her reaction, after you told her you’re in love with Syrrah.”

“No. I don’t know. Maybe. Damnit. I just told her the truth.”

“And I’ve seen the way you look at her at times.”

“No, Freddy, come on, man. Only because she reminds me of Syrrah at times. And I care about her deeply, especially the terrible tragedy that happened to her family.” Evan felt his eyes tearing up. “Shit, man. I’m so emotional lately. Been acting like a total wuss.”

Freddy patted him on the shoulder. “It will be all right, dude. It’s because of everything that happened to you with the hull, and you’re remembering it lately, and you know, Syrrah too. You just need to get a grip on it, dude.  Besides, we can do this ourselves. Probably for the best anyway.”

“Yeah, maybe you’re right,” Evan said, wiping his eyes in a rough, quick manner.

He drove the Ram until they got on I-29, in a southerly direction.

It wasn’t long before they were on Route 12 and nearing the town of Waubay.

Trying to forget everything that went down with Neraeh at the rest area, and his intense need for Syrrah to actually be alive within Dana Zypher, a crazy impossibility, Evan glanced around at the scenery while they drove on. Wasn’t a whole lot to see really. This part of South Dakota was mostly flat plains going on for miles in any direction. And it was hotter outside. Freddy had checked his phone and announced the temp was now 86.

Evan’s phone buzzed. “Fred. Is that my dad?”

Freddy lifted the phone from the Ram’s drink holder. “Oh, crap, dude! It’s Neraeh. You want to answer it?”

“Oh damn. Yes! Definitely!” Freddy swiped to answer and gave the phone to him. Evan immediately put the phone to his ear, holding the steering wheel steady with his left hand. “Hello, Neraeh?”

“Evan. Please. Don’t hang up.”

“Of course not! Is everything okay?”

“I know, I’m so confused, but…but can you please come back? I’ve changed my mind. I still want to go with you guys. I need to find out what happened to Syrrah.” She started crying. “Please.”

“Yes, of course I will. But I need to know. Are you really sure about this?”

“Yes. I am. Please, Evan.” Her crying, sniffling interfered, but he could nonetheless decipher her words.  “Please come back.”

“Are you still at the rest area?”

“Yes. I am, and I’m scared, too. You were right. I don’t want to be here alone. That guy, here, who you talked to. He is creepy.”

Evan looked up ahead. On the right, a large lake was coming into view, with a gravel road leading to the lake. He clicked on his right turn signal and did a sharp turn down this road. “I’m turning around now. Just keep to yourself. Stay away from that man. Call me for any reason. I’ll talk you through it. We’re coming right back.”

He talked to her for some seconds more and then handed Freddy his phone to end the call.

“Women,” Evan said. “Can’t make up their freaking minds.”

“Tell me about it. Checked my phone and it’s only been about twenty to thirty minutes since we left there. I sure hope she means this.”

“Me too. Believe me.”

Freddy kept in touch with Neraeh by texting, while Evan drove. She was trying to avoid that man by standing outside. But the heat, and questionable rest area strangers, made her go back inside.

After about twenty-five minutes, they arrived at the Wilmot rest area again. Surprisingly, Evan was able to park in the same exact spot as before. They both jumped out, and Evan made certain to lock the Ram this time.

They walked up to the building and headed inside.

Evan could see Neraeh was sitting in the same spot on the bench seat as she did when they left. But unfortunately, that attendant man was standing next to her, one foot on the bench, his other foot on the floor, a broom handle clenched in his hands. He was peering down at Neraeh and talking to her, in a rather loud manner. She would give sideway glances, and say a few words to him, but she definitely appeared uncomfortable. And it didn’t help no one else was in the same general area with them.

Soon Neraeh caught glimpse of Evan. Her expression went from withdrawn and on-guard to elated. She stood up and even smiled slightly. “Evan!” She waved at him. “Thank you!” She began walking and then practically ran toward him, leaving the confused old man in the dust.

Evan knew right away, like when she cried in Syrrah’s room. He was not going to be like Dad.

When she arrived before him, he eased his hands around her back, and she, in turn, eagerly slid her arms around him and sealed herself against his chest. He was not going to ignore her need. He wrapped her in his arms and held her very close, though making sure at the same time to be gentle.

She started crying.

Evan released his right arm, though keeping his other arm wrapped around her closely, and gently stroked his hand along her back. “Neraeh. I’m sorry this has been so hard on you.”

She laughed a little, between wiping her eyes and sniffling. “You probably think I’m crazy now. First I yell at you to leave, and then I practically beg you to come back, and now I’m…now I’m hugging you.”

“Yeah, this is a little confusing, but I understand the pain you’re going through.”

She slowly released him, leaned back a bit and looked up at him. “I was so stupid, so stupid. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s all right, Neraeh.”

“For the first time, someone actually believes me, and even wants to do something about it, and here I go, chasing him away.”

“Because of what your dad told you. But you just have to keep in mind, it’s not true. We were never a cult. We only wanted to tell people what we knew.”

She released Evan and took hold of both his hands. She gazed up into his eyes. “Evan. I’ll go with you. But, if you don’t mind, I really don’t want to talk about what happened to you, or what your group did. I just want to go find if she is my sister, once and for all, and settle this.”

What a relief. He removed his hands from her grip and grasped both his hands on her one hand. He shook her one hand gently. “Deal. I don’t want to talk about it too.” 

She smiled at him. “Thank you.” She glanced back at the attendant guy, slowly making his way closer, but then focused on Evan. “Can we get out of here?”

“Yes. Absolutely.”

They turned to leave, Freddy walking with them. As they neared the doors, the attendant man suddenly arrived on Evan’s right, and walked next to him. Evan stopped in his steps. The man did too. Freddy looked back, but knew what to do, so Evan tossed him the Ram keys and he continued to guide Neraeh out the doors. She eagerly went with Freddy, only glancing back once.

“Hey,” the man said, “I thought you wanted me to look after her.”

The man stood several inches shorter than Evan. But as Master Ren instructed, never underestimate anyone, regardless of size or age. “Yeah. I asked you to look after her, not stalk her.”

“Hey, you getting disrespectful with me?”

He had to do it. Evan gave the man his intense, formidable stare, for some moments. Most people couldn’t tolerate it well, and this guy was no exception, his eyes beginning to flutter slightly from side to side and blinking several times. “No,” Evan said, “just saying it like it is.”

“I thought her and I were having a pretty good conversation.” 

“No. You were not. You were frightening her. But, doesn’t matter now. We’re leaving. See ya.” He turned to head for the doors. 

“Hey!” Like he expected, Evan felt the man seize his upper right arm, attempting to hold him back. “I thought she didn’t want to be with you!”

With lightning speed, Evan whipped his right arm forward, completely releasing the man’s grip, and then stepped back several feet, his hands ready. He stared into the stunned expression on the man’s face. “Don’t touch me. And for the record, she changed her mind. And why do you care anyway? You’re old enough to be her father.”

“Yeah. You are a disrespectful punk, like I thought.”

“And you’re about to be reported to your manager for grabbing me. You want to bring this? I’m ready.”

The man was breathing hard, chin tilted down, eyes glaring up at Evan. “You’re nothing but a Rez punk. I’ve seen plenty of your kind before.” He stood up straighter. “Get out of here.”

This guy was obviously not right in the head. “Yeah. You got it.” Evan quickly scanned around for the broom, but it wasn’t nearby. He held his eyes on the man, keeping the front of his body mostly facing the cold-staring dude and proceeded to walk away, the space between them growing with each step. 

Once at the doors, the distance between them sufficient for an unlikely charge from the old man, Evan pushed the door open and walked away from the building. He looked back again, but the man held his ground, not moving, only yet gawking angrily.

Evan headed toward the Ram. No one was walking toward the building, people mostly standing near their vehicles or by the canopy-covered picnic tables. He arrived at the Ram, opened the driver-side door and got in. That guy needed to be reported, at some point, or he was just going to end up doing this again.

But for now, it would have to wait.