Although it was already late afternoon by the time Tara and Lianne finished packing, the sky remained cloudless and the sun shone bright. An uneventful drive would have them at their destination within two hours and fifteen minutes. They should just make it before dusk. Though the hour was later than Tara had anticipated, she wasn’t too concerned as she stepped behind the wheel. It looked like a perfect evening for a drive.
Rush hour traffic through the downtown area was unusually thick. Bumper to bumper Tara crawled along, anticipating a thinning as she left the city center behind. Yet it seemed the balmy autumn afternoon was an invitation for everyone to be out. The solid stream of cars persisted as she drove toward the perimeter. The perimeter was no better and Tara became just a little disconcerted when they passed two accidents before even reaching the urban limits.
The fifteen minute stretch had taken thirty. When they finally reached the open prairie highway, Tara breathed more easily. She could at last assume normal speeds. Turning to Lianne, she commented, “I hope you don’t mind the extra time we’ll be on the road. I wasn’t expecting so much traffic.”
Lianne smiled and responded, “I’m just glad to get out of the city, and I’m in good company so it doesn’t matter.”
Tara and Lianne relaxed into a companionable conversation as the next hour of miles slipped by. The fields were shorn of their golden grains and the trees were dressed in colorful autumn finery. Then as they drove through the park gates the landscape rapidly changed, a winding road now negotiating the uneven terrain of the Canadian Shield.
Instinctively, Tara swung the wheel and braked as two deer unexpectedly bounded across the road mere inches from the car. Lianne stopped talking mid sentence. Her face registered shock as she absorbed the near disaster. “I didn’t even see them,” she gasped. “How did you . . .? Maybe you should slow down. I’ll be quiet and keep my eyes open.”
Obligingly Tara slowed, but even as she did she experienced a frisson of anxiety. A ragged sheet of dark grey cloud was stretching across the sky and threatening to obscure the sun. That meant an early dusk and the eventuality of encountering more of the graceful and unpredictable four-legged creatures.
The aura of easy camaraderie evaporated. Both women focused their full attention on the tree-lined highway. The early twilight had indeed drawn deer to the road. Anxiety and awe rose in Tara and Lianne as dark shining eyes alerted them to the increasing presence of wild life. There was no way to tell when one of the deer might leap from the safety of the shoulder into the face of the oncoming car. Nightfall quickly deepened into a darkness so heavy there were no shadows beyond the headlights. Tara was now consumed with another worry. Would she find the turnoff?
Abruptly bright lights broke through the dense velvet night. Tara stared in dismay as she read the illuminated words - North Shore Resort. She had missed her turn. She spoke apologetically, “I’m sorry, Lianne. I don’t know how I missed it. There should have been a big rectangular sign . . .” She didn’t finish as Lianne responded, “I think I saw it. I just didn’t know what it was.” Then she added reassuringly, “I’m sure we’ll find it.”
Tara retraced the road along which they had just come. Both she and her companion practically held their breath as they scanned the unrelenting blackness for a sign. “I think that’s it.” Lianne sounded jubilant as she pointed out a large rectangular shadow, deeper than the rest.
Tara turned and the car lights illuminated the elusive road. “About ten more minutes.” Her words were terse, a reminder that they weren’t there yet. Continuing their vigilant watch, they avoided more deer. “We must have seen at least thirty already,” Lianne exclaimed. “I’m losing count.”
Tara turned into the drive ten minutes later. She let the car glide down the gentle incline and stopped at the border of trees screening the cottage. Slumping forward with a deep sense of relief, hands still gripping the steering wheel, she was quiet for a few seconds clinging to one thought, ‘Four hours! . . . finally, we are here- unharmed.’ Then in one spontaneous motion she raised her head and hands heavenward and fervently exclaimed, “Thank you . . . Thank you . . . Thank you!”
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