By ANDREW FLYNN, Storyteller
The following is the second of three consecutive parts that conclude tomorrow, right here and only on The Daily Damn.
“I just want to get home,” Stephanie said.
The siblings’ Impala continued to speed at an impressive clip, and this was aided by the low amount of traffic on the highway. The medium-quality tires of the rental car were being put to good use as Levi gunned it at about 80 miles per hour on the southbound I-57, with Kankakee Township now a mere afterthought in their rear-view mirror.
“Oh, my darn, I didn’t even think about where we should go,” stated Levi, his hands now firmly at ten-and-two.
He glanced over at his sister, who was in the reclined position with her right hand to her forehead. She appeared to be really uncomfortable, but was short enough in height that she could cross her right leg over her left and still have enough space to breathe. Eyes back to the road, that was where to focus. Levi still made it a habit to glance at the rear-view mirror though.
“We could logistically get there in seven or eight hours, I guess.”
Stephanie kept her position, and gazed around at the two rear-view mirrors that she could accurately see out of. Levi caught her doing this every few minutes since they got out of the Windy City too.
“You should really try to catch a few winks, Steph. You look really drained.”
She perked up, “We’re both drained right now, but I’m not about to zonk if you can’t.”
“That’s sweet of you, Sis, but I want you to try to close your eyes and think about none of this. Anything else for that matter. Have some silent time and reach out to Heavenly Father for guidance,” Levi suggested.
Stephanie smiled for the first time since at the hotel restaurant that morning. The grin was ear-to-ear, and she brought her half-open left hand to meet her brother’s right hand, waiting for a clasp into prayer. Their hands folded together, and Levi led.
“Dear Heavenly Father, we are so grateful for your bounty and your protection over us today. It is not lost on us that too many people were killed today, so while you are tending to the cries and pleadings of the angst-ridden tonight, Stephanie and I ask for your guidance and strength as we journey back home in this uncertain time. And it is in the name of your son, Jesus Christ, that we pray…Amen.”
“Thank you, Brother. That was really beautiful,” Stephanie said.
Levi opened his eyes to the empty highway ahead, but did not choose to let go of his sister’s hand. His left hand steered, and his vision kept steady. He inhaled for a long moment, and then exhaled through his nose. The first chance to grasp any semblance of reality all day long.
“So you think we can get there?” asked Levi.
Stephanie extended her grin and appeared to be bursting at the seams. “I don’t know where else to go. Getting to where home is just seems like the right thing right now.”
“Then I’ll start going westbound in a minute, right when we pass the outskirts of Champaign.
The Impala just then whizzed by another Illinois roadsign:
I-72 WEST: SPRINGFIELD
Levi was more than groggy. While he’d been plugging away at narrowing the distance between where they were and the siblings’ hometown, his eyelids betrayed him. The heavier they became, Levi corrected his posture more than a few times, all in the endeavor to reach the day’s goal line.
After a quick second analyzing the traffic around them, or lack thereof, he whacked his sister’s shoulder gently. Just enough so as not to startle her, though.
“So you want to take a turn or what?” Levi said with a smile of accomplishment on his face
Stephanie’s eyes shot open.
“Meggle—you did wha?” she questioned incoherently.
“I can’t believe you snore like that,” he declared.
Reality shot back to Stephanie’s face, as she stared defiantly at the car’s digital clock.
“Shut up. Did you change the time on this?” she said with her right forefinger extended in a prosecutorial fashion.
“No, I haven’t touched the thing,” Levi said. “Oh, and you also pedal your arms sideways when you’re dreaming, you goofball.”
“Leave me alone!” Stephanie whined comically. “Everyone snores when they sleep, you know.”
“Someone like you, I mean, gosh. I’ve known you all your 26 years, and I ain’t never heard my sister, much less anyone in our family, snore like you’ve been doing the last seven hours.”
“I can’t believe you let me sleep that long.”
“Eh, what are big brothers for?”
Stephanie smiled and looked at her older brother adoringly.
“That,” she said.
Levi beamed back at her, just as his right eye peered into the rear-view mirror. A large, white SUV jerk-pulled into the lane behind them. The 21” tires of the giant Ford screeched just enough to beg the attention of the siblings. This car was getting very close to the Impala.
CRUNCH. The Impala sped up without acceleration as the white SUV smashed into the back of their rented sedan.
“Holy shit, Levi!” Stephanie blasted.
Levi kept his center of attention on controlling the car.
“Yeah, I know, I know, Sis. Hang on, let me pull off onto the side of the road here.”
Levi decelerated the Impala while his knuckles continued to lose semblance of color while gripping the steering wheel. He guided the Impala down to about 30 miles per hour, and the Ford SUV behind them plowed into them with terrific force.
Control of the Impala was lost, and Levi smashed his feet into the brake pedal as hard as possible, spinning the car around and filling the secluded highway with appalling noise. His arms stretched out in straight parallel lines of stress, the car spun to a halt.
“Are you okay?” he asked his sister.
Just a few seconds of silence before Stephanie got her bearings together, she responded softly yet confidently.
“I, I, I think so. Man, that guy is a freakin’ lunatic.”
The rear-view mirror on Stephanie’s side then proceeded to blow up, causing her to shield her face.
“What in the mother–,” Levi began, but was sudden shut up by another sudden pop. One that was more familiar. It was, after all, not the first time that they’d been shot at today.
“Someone’s shooting at us, Levi! Oh, sweet Jesus, get us out of here! Stephanie begged.
More pops, they were getting louder. Bullets struck the Impala. Glass shattered and showered down on the upholstery and into the siblings’ hair.
“Amen to that!” concurred Levi.
Levi ripped the gearshift down and made some noise of his own. The stressed rubber on the rental car tires put in some overtime as the car rocketed to the next off-ramp. The sign was a welcome relief to the both of them.
BLUE SPRINGS & STATE ROUTE 7
The omnipresent White SUV still beckoned them and appeared again right behind the Impala. It chased them through the streets of Blue Springs. Levi’s brow dripped sweat into his eyes as he plowed through the traffic lights.
“What do you think they want with us?!” Stephanie wondered.
“Whatever it is, I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts it has to do with that guy in the restaurant this morning unloading his Glock!”
More twists and turns aside, more squealing and pursuit. Levi’s stellar driving just couldn’t shake them. No more shooting, however. The pops had ceased. It wasn’t a thought that entered into his head, as he was just trying to keep the vehicle steady and not kill himself or his sister.
Roanoke Drive. Now all Levi had to do was turn the corner and he’d be at his sister’s house on Palmer Avenue. This was the day’s destination for sure, but it sure wasn’t the method in which either of them wanted to get there. The white SUV persevered and stayed with the Impala.
“OK, here’s what we’re going to do, Stephanie. We’re going to break hard in your front lawn and we’re going to race inside your house and lock the door behind us, then get to the cellar!” Levi stated.
“OK, OK, yeah, good! And then we’ll get the shotgun I have down there!”
The Impala barreled down Palmer, with the white SUV immediately veering sharply around the corner behind them. About a five-second lead. “It should be enough time to get into the house,” Levi mentally justified to himself.
The final screech, and it was frighteningly loud. Front-door house key in hand, she was the first to escape the Impala. The tires of the white SUV grabbed the asphalt as two men in dark-colored clothes stood out of their respective sides. Both had guns in their hands. And these were big guns.
Shots rang out. Levi had gotten ahead of his sister by just a half-step as they raced to the entrance of her house. A noticeable crack pierced the air, distinguishing itself from the other gunshots.
Stephanie’s expression went blank as her legs failed her. The bullet tore through into her and out of her with tremendous ferocity. After it left her torso, it pinged off the side of the front door just as Levi looked back.
More tires screeched and more shots rang out. A blue Honda coupe now entered into the picture. It broke hard between the white SUV and the Impala on the front lawn. A man rose like a Phoenix from the ashes out of the driver’s side window, fearless, and with two .44 Magnums. Using the car’s open window like a non-ergonomic office chair, he didn’t miss after spending not more than a quarter-second aiming at his targets.
The two men in the white SUV didn’t stand a chance. Holes were now torn into them. They attempted to gain balance after each blast into their flesh to no avail. They fell, and the gunshots soon ceased to ring out in the darkness.
Stillness filled the air. Levi held his sister tight. She had been shot in the back in the worst way. The steps to the front door now had come to know the blood of their homeowner. Life faded away from Stephanie’s eyes too quickly. No tears yet, just horror.
The man from the blue Honda stood over the two siblings. Levi struggled to look up, non-plussed by the events surrounding the last fifteen-or-so minutes. He brought a few of the muscles in his face to fathom a word from the back of his throat. There was recognition.