Francis was out; they were all safe. Innis is responsible, they’d assured Francis as she strained weakly against them, still thinking Naomi was the enemy, not realizing how the situation had changed, how everything had been turned on its head.
Over the crackle and roar of the growing flames, Griff could hear a rising chorus of sirens converging on them, coming from multiple directions. The fire department would be on its way, assuming any of the neighbours had noticed the inferno across the street. And maybe they were finally getting the police backup Francis had called for, hours ago it seemed, though it must’ve been less than 10 minutes since they’d arrived here.
Ten minutes. A lot can change in ten minutes, Griff reflected.
The air was hazy with smoke and rippling with heat. Griff’s temples were pounding with the rush of his blood. He was aware of voices and faces; some of them seemed familiar. Sinking down onto the lawn, he coughed, then coughed again. His lungs were burning.
A sudden, searing image cut into his grogginess: there, in the sky, flapping erratically, trailing thin puffs of smoke, was a solitary black crow.
It was getting away. But to where?
Griff leapt to his feet, stumbled down onto his knees, and puked on the grass. He felt reassuring hands on his back, attempting to comfort him, but he forced himself to stand, pushing away the unknown people—some neighbours?—and frantically scanned the growing crowd on the sidewalk for Francis’s face.
There, sitting down with an icepack held to the side of her head.
“Where are your keys?” Griff croaked.
For a moment, Francis looked very confused.
“Car keys,” Griff tried again, fighting against the pain in his throat. He must have swallowed a lot of smoke…
Recognition blinked into Francis’s eyes. “Here.” She produced the keys from a pocket in her pants and offered them to Griff. “What is it?” She tried to stand.
Griff pointed up at the crow, which was now passing over the houses on the opposite side of the street.
Making the connection, Francis reached up with one hand, and Griff helped her stand. Concerned strangers urged them to sit, to rest, but Francis glared them down—She and her sister have always been good at that, thought Griff—and together they stumbled to the car, Griff helping Francis into the passenger seat first, and then getting behind the steering wheel himself.
As the car started, he heard the doors to the back seat open and shut, and looked over his shoulder to see Naomi and Emily buckling their seatbelts.
Griff frowned. “What are—”
“We’re coming,” declared Naomi.
“Don’t make me make you take us,” threatened Emily.
“…Fine.” Griff pulled the car away from the sidewalk and had to dodge around an incoming fire engine as it screeched to a halt next to a fire hydrant. A cop car came blaring in behind it and an officer got out, raising his hand as a signal to Griff to stop.
“Where’s my…?” said Francis, fumbling for her wallet.
“I’ve got this,” said Emily, leaning forward in her seat and making eye contact with the cop.
A goofy grin spread across his face and he lowered his hand, letting them pass. Griff steered around the cop car and turned onto the next street, following the direction of the crow’s flight.
“Probably should’ve let me handle that,” said Francis reproachfully, holding up the ID card she’d just managed to pull out. “They’re going to come after us when he comes to his senses.”
“Too slow,” said Emily. “We can’t let this bird get away.”
“I’m on it,” Griff reported, trying to split his attention between the road ahead of him and his sense of the crow’s location. “It’s not exactly making this easy for me.” He sensed the bird bank to the right and take a new line, diagonal to the grid of streets the car was travelling through. “Ah, crap,” muttered Griff under his breath. At the next intersection he turned right, then took the next left, then a right, zigzagging to follow the crow’s path, but with every turn he made the gap was widening. The crow was nearly at the edge of Griff’s two-kilometre range now. One more delay and it would be…
A traffic light just ahead turned yellow. Gritting his teeth, Griff held his hand over the horn and prepared to bull his way through.
Then a semi truck coming from the opposite direction pulled into the intersection, blocking Griff’s path as it made the left turn it had been waiting for.
Griff squealed the brakes and watched in frustration as the light blinked red, the opposing signal turned green, and cross-traffic flooded the intersection. He felt the crow wing its way to the edge of his senses and then beyond.
He’d lost it.