“Get over here,” Rhi says. She’s on a boulder overlooking the side of the mountain. “It’s not that hard to climb.”
I look at my Hawaiian sandals and tenderly take a step into the dry weeds. “But there are snakes out here.” I say in a high pitch. We had just driven up the mountain via backroads for the sake of a spontaneous adventure. I regret not wearing my tennis shoes.
Megan rushes past me. “You’ll be fine, Em. C’mon!”
I groan and wince as I tiptoe from rock to rock. I imagine all the disgusting insects and spiders crawling underneath the weeds. I’d rather be inside painting instead of being out here in the wilderness where I could allegedly die from a snakebite.
“I’m not really an outdoor kind of person.” I say as casually as I can manage. I hear Rhi snort.
“I practically grew up in the wilderness. I love it.” Rhi says. She is wearing sandals too, but it doesn’t seem to bother her.
I reach the boulder. The next few moments are painful as I try to pull myself up onto the six-foot rock, but Megan finds an indent on the other side that I can climb on as a step ladder.
I drag myself onto the boulder, scooting on my stomach until I find enough support to lift myself. Rhi finally forces herself to help me.
Once settled, I look at the breathtaking view of the valley below us. The setting sun envelops everything in a golden hue and the fields of wild grass ripple in the wind. The mountains behind us glow with the orange sunbeams, and I can’t help but admire the beauty, despite feeling the jagged edges of the boulder press through my thin shoes.
“Okay, totally worth it.” I manage to say.
For a moment we all stand on the boulder, simply looking at the western nature around us, but eventually, I pull out my phone. It’s picture time.
We just came from a friend’s graduation party. Even though the three of us have a whole year left, college sure seems close. Maybe saying goodbye to my senior friends is making me sentimental, but either way, I want to document this adventure with my homies.
Click. We pose. Click. We smile. Click. Megan screams.
She’s looking at the mountain. Squinting into the screen on my phone, I see the three of us standing on the boulder… and behind us, there is something flying. Something as big as a horse.
“I… I think that’s a griffin.” Rhi hesitates. “Like, a legitimate… mythical griffin.”
I whip my head around and I see it. The body of a lion, and the head of a bird. Its wings reflect the dying light of the sun into my eyes. It screeches and dives towards us.
“Car. Now.” Megan commands.
Rhi leaps off the 6-foot rock, while I carefully slide down and Megan follows. I glimpse the huge animal, and I forget about my thin sandals or hidden snakes. Instead, I barrel through the weeds and over rocks, the sensation of pain barely reaches through the adrenaline surging through my veins.
I am afraid.
The flap of the griffin’s powerful wings overhead makes the hair on my neck rise. I focus on Megan’s white Trailblazer on the road. Rhi is fast and already reaches the passenger door, and Megan struggles to get her keys out of her purse. I run a little harder, willing myself to reach safety.
Sharp talons grip my arms from behind. I am lifted, my feet dangle helplessly and the searing pain of the claws create dots in my vision.
“EM!” Megan and Rhi scream at me as I fly forward.
I try to focus and wiggle my body. I’m at least fifteen feet in the air and I know that I will only get higher with each passing second. I kick. I scream.
The griffin roars and drops me. Somehow, I land on top of the Trailblazer, and I slide off the hot metal. I land with a thump, open the back seat door, and dive into the car. The two girls get in, too. Rhi asks me if I’m okay while Megen starts the ignition.
“Go!” I yell, stroking the forming bruises on my arms.
We all scream when the griffin rams into the roof of the car, making the vehicle tip. The left side of the car hangs dangerously in the air and we tilt, but it soon falls heavily to the ground and Megan floors the gas pedal. We lurch forward, and the wheels spin onto the dirt road.
I look out the back window. The griffin is on the ground, chasing us on its lion legs while its feathery wings ruffle in the wind. “Go faster!” I scream. “It’s catching up.”
The griffin lifts off of the ground and flies toward the Trailblazer, but by now, Megan swerves onto the main road and we are zooming down the mountain at high speed. The speedometer keeps rising and the griffin slows down. It growls and stops the chase, and flies back to the mountain.
We reach the bottom of the mountain where the line of the suburbs begins, and we drive until the monster becomes only a speck in the distance.
“What. Just. Happened.” Rhi says, peering out the back window.
She looks so shocked and confused that I begin to laugh. I can’t stop. Megen laughs too, and Rhi cracks a smile.
I snort. “I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure this was much scarier than seeing a snake.” I stroke my arms. “More painful, too.”
Megan pulls off to the side and turns to look at us. “What now?”
“Ice cream?” I say. They agree.