Nadina felt cramped in the small family car… cramped but happy. Once again, she and her seven cousins were speeding along the highway, the wind rushing through the windows and nearly drowning out the scream of the crackly old radio. Luckily, it also drowned out JoJo's voice as he sang along. Daniel, too, could barely be heard, twisting around in the driver's seat to shout at his younger brother. The wind's roar overrode almost every other noise.

Nadina loved that. When she couldn't hear anything, she felt safe. The wind whipped her short brown hair back from her face and swished through her loose clothes. "I'm protecting you," it whispered in her ear. "As long as you're moving, I'm here. I'm keeping you safe."

But safe from what? Nadina looked around at the seven boys in the car. They were big and strong, and they kept her safe from physical harm. The wind was protecting her from something different: knowledge. As long as she was moving, it was rushing by. As long as it rushed by, she couldn't hear. And as long as she couldn't hear, she could forget about the police sirens wailing behind them. She couldn't hear them, so they didn't exist.

What existed - what was real - was her family. The wind protected her from everything else. Besides Daniel and JoJo, there was Lizard, Manny, Dwayne, Arnold, and Rigsby. Lizard lounged in the passenger's seat, soaking up the strong afternoon sun and ignoring the commotion behind him. Manny sat squished between JoJo and Dwayne, his long black hair covering his face and hiding his expression. He was silent, in sharp contrast to Dwayne and Rigsby who argued loudly. Even though Nadina was sandwiched between them, she couldn't understand a word either said. Arnold leaned against the window, peering out at the swiftly passing world through his rectangular glasses.

Nadina neither knew nor cared where they were going, or even where they were. Even Daniel seemed not to have any fixed destination in mind, but that was fine with her; nothing else mattered so long as they were moving.

The ancient car skidded on gravel, swerving to the right before Daniel corrected it, and the sudden change in direction made Nadina lean hard against Rigsby. He shoved her away and yelled inaudibly at Dwayne, probably blaming him for the force of momentum now as well as everything else. Dwayne yelled back; his voice beat against her ears but the wind scrambled his words into meaninglessness. She doubted Rigsby could understand him either, but it hardly mattered; both were so practiced at arguing that they could carry on their side without any prompts from the other. She smiled. This was home.

There was a faint lurch. Bumpy as the road was, Nadina thought nothing of it until the car's brakes screeched and Daniel jerked at the steering wheel, guiding them to the shoulder. Abruptly, the wind died. JoJo ceased his horrid singing and even Rigsby and Dwayne dropped their argument. Only the radio continued to crackle out a warbling song that no one liked, until Daniel killed the engine and stepped out of the car, slamming the door behind him. The silence was shocking.

"Potty break?" suggested Rigsby.

"He would have said," said Arnold nervously.

"Maybe he did," said JoJo. "It sounded like he was trying to say something."

"He was yelling at you to shut the hell up."

"Yeah? Maybe he was yelling at you."

Daniel stuck his head in through the glassless window. "If you keep up this racket I'll gag you all. We've got a flat tire, alright?"

Dwayne swore and crawled over Nadina, Rigsby, and Arnold to the door, almost squishing Nadina. She suffered it in silence, but Rigsby certainly didn't. Dwayne knelt by the left front wheel.

"Yeah, totally blown," he grunted. "Big stupid nail. We'll need to change it. Someone hand me my tools and the spare."

For a moment everyone was silent.

"Well?" he barked.

"That was the spare," drawled Lizard.

Dwayne swore again and Arnold shifted nervously. Only Lizard and Manny seemed immune to the discomfort of the moment. There was silence for several long seconds before Rigsby broke it.

"So what are we gonna do?" he asked, looking at Daniel for help. "We can't just let 'em catch us."

"No one's gonna catch us," Daniel growled. But he didn't seem to have any ideas as to how they would avoid this looming fate. Arnold squirmed again. There was silence as simultaneously, they all looked out over the guard rail to see what lay beyond. All there was was a seemingly endless expanse of tall, dead grass. It stretched from horizon to horizon… the whole world still and brown. For the third time, Arnold twitched.

"Hitch hike?" Dwayne suggested. Rigsby snorted.

"Yeah? Whose gonna take us… all eight?"

"We could split up," JoJo said quietly. Everyone ignored this at first, but, after a couple more long moments of silence, they realized that they didn't have much of a choice.

"We can leave Arnold behind," Rigsby suggested, trying to lighten the mood. Arnold glared at him, but, before he could speak, Dwayne jumped to his defence.

"Totally. And once he's gone, who's gonna work out the escape plans? You?" There was more silence.

"I think JoJo's right," Daniel said quietly. "We're gonna have t' split up." But no one much liked the idea.

"Not necessarily," Nadina retorted. All the boys turned to look at her. She sighed. "You really do need me; don't you. None of you can figure out even the most basic solutions. It always happens this way -"

"Oh just get to your point," Daniel growled as the wail of a siren became distinguishable from the rumble of the normal traffic. Nadina glared at him, but didn't argue.

"Our car's old for sure, but tire sizes haven't changed much in the last twenty years. We just have to find someone with the same type of tires. Then we get 'em to pull over - fake an injury or something - and Dwayne takes a tire." Looking at the boys' questioning expressions, Nadina sighed. "Or," she continued. "We can just take their car."

The boys like this second idea much more than the first.

"Yeah, we can do that," Dwayne smiled, clenching his fist. "I'll beat up Rigsby so he looks good an' injured. Then a car'll pull up and we'll take out the driver and get on our way."

"Hey," Rigsby protested. "I'm not getting' beat up or nothin'. Let's use Arnold!'

Only Arnold objected to this, and his opinion wasn't worth much, so Dwayne dragged him fifty or so feet up the road and started hitting him wildly. The other six slipped over the guard rail and crept along behind it until they reached the same spot.

It didn't take long for a car to pull up, hoping to save the scrawny teenager from being completely demolished by the big tough guy. As soon as it stopped, and the driver's door opened, Dwayne ran and grabbed the man who stepped out. Arnold fell over, whimpering. The other six jumped up from behind the guard rail and raced over to the car. JoJo threw open the side door of the blue minivan.

They all looked inside.

"Oh shit," Rigsby said, eyes wide as he gazed into the car. A terrified woman sat in the passenger's seat, brandishing a book of some sort, and four kids occupied most of the other seats.

"Excuse me, ma'am," said Lizard after a moment's silence. "There seems to be some sort of roadblock ahead. Do you know any other way to Elkville?"

The terror on the woman's face pinched up into puzzlement. "Roadblock?" she asked.

"Uh-huh," Nadina chipped in. "That's why all those cars are turning around and going back." She pointed at the traffic rushing in the opposite direction.

The woman frowned, staring at the speeding cars as if it had never occurred to her that they might be turning back. Seeing as they weren't, Nadina could hardly blame her for this oversight.

"Really sorry about that, sir," said Dwayne, picking up the unfortunate driver and propelling him back into his car. "I must've mistaken you for my brother."

The man muttered something incomprehensible as he slid into his seat.

"But why on earth would they set up a roadblock here?" the woman demanded.

"Oh, no one set it up on purpose or anything," Daniel assured her, taking charge of the situation. "One of those big trucks keeled over and blocked both lanes."

"It spilled asparagus all over the road," added JoJo brightly. Daniel glared to shut him up.

"That's horrible," said the woman earnestly, her eyes round with pity as if she'd known the driver personally.

"Yeah," put in one of the little kids, "asparagus. Ewwwwwwwwww!"

"Jonny!" exclaimed the woman, scandalized, and started in on a five minute lecture about vegetables and sensitivity. Nadina, Daniel, JoJo, Rigsby, and Arnold watched awkwardly through the still-open side door. Lizard leaned against the side of the car, eyes half closed, looking like he was about to fall asleep at any moment. Manny stared off into space, his hair obscuring his eyes. Dwayne had vanished. The woman's husband didn't do much either, just leaned back in his seat and said, "Listen to your mother, kids," at apparently random intervals. Three guesses who had asked him to pull over, Nadina thought dryly.

"And we should all pray for his soul!" concluded the woman, and then proceeded to do so. Her husband and offspring mouthed the words noncommittally along with her. The prayer took a surprisingly long time, due mostly to the woman invoking every saint known to mankind, and then some; Nadina doubted that Igman the Lesser was really the patron saint of asparagus. By the time the woman thanked them for their warning and drove off, Rigsby had his hand stuffed into his mouth to keep from laughing. They all watched as the blue minivan trundled off… then slowed and swerved to the shoulder.

"What does she want now?" Arnold asked worriedly, still wiping blood off his face.

But it was the driver who stepped from the car, then bent and checked the wheels.

"Nice going," said Dwayne, who had reappeared with grease on his shirt and a squat black rubber cylinder in his arms. "That chatterbox gave me plenty of time to switch the tires."

Laughing, the eight cousins piled back into the car and got a move on. They didn't mind that it rocked a little due to the larger size of the new wheel; as long as they were moving, they were happy. As long as they were moving, they were safe. The wind picked up again and the sirens were drowned out by its savage howling.

JoJo pestered Daniel until he turned the radio back on, and Dwayne and Rigsby resumed their unintelligible argument about nothing. Arnold sulked as he attempted to straighten his glasses. Lizard lay back, eyes closed to slits, ignoring every one as usual, and Manny stayed silent, hidden behind his dark hair. Nadina sighed happily. The wind put its lips to her ear a whispered its familiar words…

"As long as you're moving, I'll protect you. As long as you're moving, I'm here and you're safe."