It happened on the last leg of the journey as Lance started descending the mountainous road, easily an eight percent grade according to Chris, who no one ever argued with when it came to anything mathematical. The speedometer increased quickly to sixty and Lance tapped on the brake pedal to slow down. The curves were not super sharp, but he had never driven anywhere like this before and felt cautious. He heard a kind of pop sound, and the SUV increased its speed instead of slowing.
He pressed harder on the brake. Nothing happened.
A cold chill enveloped him. Fighting back a surge of panic, he glanced in the rearview mirror at the kids in back, mouthing a silent prayer that this wasn’t what he suspected. He pressed the brake
pedal to the floor. There was no resistance. Their speed continued increasing. Sixty-two. Sixty-three. Sixty-four…
Oh, hell, he thought, eyeing Excalibur resting up against the console on the passenger side. He swung the wheel a hard right to catch the curve of the road, and the tires screeched a little.
“Lance, what’s wrong?” Chris asked from in back, craning his head over the middle seat for a better view.
Lance swung the Highlander left to take the approaching turn, his knuckles white, his grip rock solid. He was strong. His arms and shoulders had developed solid muscle over the years from swinging broadswords, but his driving skills weren’t nearly as honed. Pure muscle wouldn’t save them this time.
He forced himself to remain calm, even though he was terrified. On a skateboard, he’d be right at home, but not driving this enormous vehicle, and not with the lives of four children at stake. Trees whipped past his field of vision, faster by the second. His mind raced for a solution. They had their bows and arrows, they had camping gear, they had…climbing rope!
“Chris, reach over the seat behind you and pull out all the climbing rope. Grab your bow and arrows, too. And those little climbing grapples.”
“Just do it, Chris!” Lance snapped, his arms straining to keep the car as steady as possible.
Chris unbuckled his seatbelt and reached back to grab the requested items.
“What’s going on, Lance?” Enya asked nervously.
“Yeah,” Billy said. “We’re going, like, really fast.” His voice cracked on “really,” but no one laughed.
Lance could see Itz staring at him in the rearview. “Brakes are out, aren’t they?”
Lance nodded. “Yeah.” Fool! He cursed silently at himself. Let your guard down!
“Oh, crap,” Enya muttered.
The three kids twisted around to take the rope and other items Chris passed to them.
Lance eyed the navigation screen on the dash. There was an overpass maybe twenty miles ahead. According to his information screen, it was seventeen feet above the highway. That could work!
Chris clambered over into the middle bench seat and stuck his head between the two front seats. His blue eyes were wide and fearful. “Whadda we do?”
“Okay, guys, “ Lance said, griping the wheel so tautly every vein in his forearms bulged. “Here’s the plan. Chris is gonna climb onto the top of the car through the sunroof and help you all get out.”
“Lance!” Chris said with a gasp.
“It’ll be okay, Little Man,” Lance said reassuringly as he whipped the rapidly moving SUV around another curve. He eyed the speedometer. Sixty-eight now. “Remember jumping off the train?” Chris nodded. “You got this, Chris. You’re my badass brother and you got this!”
Chris nodded, but still looked scared.
“Itz, tie each coil of rope to one of Chris’s arrows.”
Itz didn’t hesitate. He went to work, deftly wrapping each of the four rope coils to the rear of an arrow shaft, near to the feathers.
“Enya, use your hair bands to attach one of the climbing grapples to the front of each arrow, right on the tip. Make it tight.”
She instantly pulled plastic hair bands from sections of her hair and grabbed each arrow Itz passed to her.
Lance held the wheel tightly. Speed was increasing. “Billy, open the sunroof.”
Billy jumped up and unlatched the lock. He pushed a button, and the panel slid open. Hot air whooshed in and blew his moppy brown hair into his face. “What next?”
The voice was scared. Lance heard the fear. But there was also a confidence that Lance would know what to do, that he would save them. He prayed that he could.
“Okay, listen up, you guys.” He explained his plan to them. Hearing it with his own ears, it sounded crazy and impossible. The kids would probably all be killed. But they would die anyway when he lost control of this car.
When he finished explaining, Chris’s face was right there beside him. The blue eyes welled with tears. “No, Lance, I won’t leave you!”
Lance wanted to look his brother in the eye to comfort him, but didn’t dare turn away from the road. Only ten, Chris had already endured more trauma than most people do in a lifetime.
“I love you, Chris,” he said, his heart in his throat. “I’ll always love you no matter what.”
“You have to do this, Chris, you have to save them. And yourself.”
Chris was crying openly now. “Lance, I can’t lose you, too.
Lance cleared his throat. “I got this, Little Man. No worries.
Chris leaned in and kissed Lance on the cheek and then pulled back. Lance wanted so badly to hug the boy in case he never got another chance, but that wasn’t possible.
He watched in the rearview as Billy and Itz lifted Chris up and out the open sunroof. Chris’s dangling legs pulled up out of sight and Lance focused on the road ahead.