The drive would be a long one, but Likax seemed to be awake and alert as I watched him pull into the highway. Even as I began to drift off, I felt relaxed. His driving seemed to be smooth, and though he had his eyes on the road, I could see him turn a little to occasionally give me a glance. However, the drive was smooth, and I drifted off easily.
Even with the occasional bumps and jumps that were unavoidable, Likax did his best to not bump against me. I occasionally drifted back close to waking again; however, each time, I only saw the streetlights lined up in front of me, and Likax's shoulders against my head.
The long drive was over in what felt like minutes to me. The car had pulled to a complete stop, and Likax gently shook me a little. I yawned as I tried to get my eyes open, looking around in the limited starlight. My words were a little slurred and drowsy as I spoke, shifting around in my seat. “Mmmmph... Whatime is it...”
“Little past four AM, I think... The roads were fairly empty, so I drove fast. How are you feeling?”
I yawned again and rubbed my eyes before I managed to get them open completely. “Not too bad. It's not a full night, but I'm doing okay. How about you?”
“Still awake and doing alright. A little drowsy, but I can manage until we find somewhere.” He gave me a small smile as he shifted about, struggling a little to get a good grip on the door handle and push the door open.
It was a good thing we had arrived a little early. He was now struggling to fit in the car, and had to sit with his head hunched forward and his knees bent up in his lap. He had to turn and just fall sideways to try and move out of the car. It was clear that he had to take extraordinary care not to break anything as he got out.
“I... I think you'd better drive, though. If you're up to it, I mean. I think I'd need to lay down in the back if I want to fit anymore.” He shifted slowly, turning to me. “But all we have to do is look around a little, right? I mean...” He sighed and shook his head. “Mujexa's probably going to be looking around here... I think he said his shelter's just camouflaged on one of the dirt off-roads nearby, so we'd better get looking around...”
“In the dark? You'll have to do all of the searching, you know.”
“Your eyes can't really notice? I guess my eyesight's improved a little, too...”
“Actually, it's more like, 'You're a cat and I'm not.' I can drive around okay, but you'd have to be the ones keeping your eyes open.” I shook my head softly, seeing a momentary blush in his face as he moved into the back.
“Ah... Right. How long do you think you can go for?”
“We have a few hours, tops. While I could look around in the daylight, you'd be exposed. We wouldn't be able to afford that. But if we don't manage it tonight, I think it's safe to say we'll be going on foot tomorrow.”
“Yeah... Let's try to find it.” I started the engine back up as I heard Likax struggling not to slam the door shut too hard. I took off to the roads, just trying to keep it steady. I could hear Likax jumping a little, his head brushing against the roof of the car and shifting each time we hit a stone.
However, even after a couple of hours of searching, we hadn't turned up anything. Although Likax still fit in the back of the car, it was difficult to ignore the sounds he was making as he shook around in the car. It was impossible for me to really get a good view out of the rear-view mirror, and he had trouble trying to turn whenever he needed to look out another window.
“Nothing?” I kept the car moving. Although I was still able to drive, the fatigue of an incomplete night's sleep was hitting me fairly hard.
“Nothing. I'm fairly certain I would be able to see it if we find it. We need to keep searching. We've covered a lot of space, but the information we have is pretty vague...”
“I'm not sure I'll be able to...” I tried to suppress it, but I gave a rather obvious yawn as I shifted in the seat. I noticed Likax's head turn to look at me, both of his eyes gazing at me through the mirror.
“Tired, huh... We'd better stop, then. I don't think you're in any condition to be driving.”
“No, I'll be alright. It's only going to be a little while before dawn, so I can manage for-”
“Carson, you're already pushing yourself a lot. I may not be tired, but you still are. We need to stop now and figure out what we're going to do now.” He signed a little as he gave my shoulder a firm pat, his arm shifting a little to push over the seat. “There's a good chance we won't find anything tonight, so we need to figure out something.”
I nodded softly, just pulling the car over and trying to find a good spot to stop. “Right, then... I've got a couple of ideas on what we could do...”
The slight shaking of the car kept me awake enough as the two of us spoke. “Okay,” I finally said, “if we’re gonna stop for a while, we might as well try and find the safest place possible.” I opened the glove compartment and pulled from it a stack of maps. When I had first gotten the car as a high school graduation present, my mom insisted that I always keep no less than six different maps at any time, "just in case". I had never bothered to really look through any of them, as the extent of my traveling was just from Louisville to Danville and back again, but I was sure glad to have them now.
“Let’s see what we have here,” I said as I flipped through them. “Louisville city map, Kentucky state map, Indiana...” I shook my head. “Nothing specifically for Atlanta or Georgia. I guess we’ll have to make do with Southeastern United States.”
I unfolded the map and held it up so that both Likax and I could get a good look at it. Scanning it, I found Georgia and were relieved to see there was an insert for the Atlanta metro area on the edge of the map. "How ’bout this place?” I asked, pointing my finger. “Chatahoochee River National Recreation Area. It looks big enough and sparse enough that we should be able to find a place there.”
Likax rubbed his chin and slowly started to nod. “And it shouldn't be too far away, either. The last sign I saw said we were six miles from the Route 19 exit, and it looks like the park's only a few more miles north on that highway. Here, give me the map. I'll navigate from back here.”
Agreed, I started the car up again and headed in what I hoped was the right direction. About five minutes had passed when Likax said, “Get off at this exit.” I did as he directed, and a few more minutes later, I saw the signs for the Recreation Area.
As I entered, my heart sank when I saw several cars lined up in a parking lot, fearing that this park was more popular than I had guessed, but as I drove along, I didn't see signs of anyone at all, and there seemed to be enough forested area to provide cover for the bobcat. Maybe this would work as a hiding spot, at least for today.
“There!” Likax’s arm shot out as he yelled, causing me to jump in my seat slightly. He was pointing to a well-hidden dirt path into the woods off the left side of the road that on my own I would almost certainly have missed. I quickly turned, skidding the tires slightly, and jostling both the huge bobcat and me as the car hit the dirt at much too fast of a speed. I heard a loud THUNK, and I looked in the rear view mirror to see that Likax was wincing, having whacked his head against the roof of the car.
“I’m sorry!” I exclaimed, quickly bringing the car to a stop and turning around to make sure he was okay. “I didn't even notice it until you said something!”
“No, it’s my fault,” Likax shook his head, embarrassed, as he rubbed his head with his paw. “I should have pointed it out sooner. And, um, I’m sorry for, uh, that.” He gestured towards the roof, which had a slight but noticeable dent in it now.
“Don’t sweat it,” I said, grinning, as I reached my hand up to help soothe the small bump forming. “Though I’m not sure if ’dented by bobcat skull’ is covered in my insurance.”
After making sure all was well, I continued driving, slower and much more careful this time. I kept my eyes as open as possible, making sure I didn't see anything that would indicate the presence of another human being: a car, a bike, footsteps in the dirt -- anything. As far as I could tell, it seemed like no one had used this path in years. Once we had gotten far enough in that we were satisfied, we stopped, put the car in park, and shut the engine off.
“Let’s stay here for a few hours,” I said, opening the door and getting out of the car, turning to watch Likax struggle to get himself in a position to put his hand on the door handle, without much luck. I quickly opened the door for him, and his legs, which had been bent up in order to fit in the back seat, sprung out of the car, his feet thumping as they hit the ground. I heard a loud ripping sound, and I realized that the shorts Likax had been wearing were now completely gone, and, for better or for worse, he was left naked.
“Um, how do i--” The two of us soon realized that Likax wasn't going to be able to just stand up, at least not without causing some major damage to the car. After a few moments of trying to figure out what to do, he began to slide himself out, slowly, but surely. Eventually, he got far enough out where he could get his balance and lean up and out of the car without hitting his head on the door frame.
As he rose to his full height, I became aware of just how much the bobcat had grown during the drive. I was now eye level with his hips, meaning he had to be over ten feet tall. He truly was an amazing sight to see, but I knew that meant he was now a much bigger target for those pursuing him.
For his part, though, Likax seemed to be not at all fazed. “Let’s hike a little ways into the woods,” he said, "so in case someone comes by they won't see us right away.”
I nodded, and began to walk at his side, but the combination of the bobcat’s much longer legs and my extreme fatigue meant that it soon became a losing proposition to keep up with him. Noticing this, Likax bent over, wrapped his arms around me, and gently picked me up. My first instinct was to protest this, but I didn't have the energy, and it did feel good to be pressed against his warm chest and hear the loud, healthy beating of his heart inside. Within a few minutes, I drifted off to sleep, just as Likax found a large tree to sit down and lean against, and just as the sun was beginning to rise.