The rumble of tires over gravel echoed through the night, as a sleek yellow convertible trudged through the otherwise peaceful Hippo Village. Lord Rataxes watched the quaint town passing by from the passenger seat, and yawned, not from fatigue, but from boredom. Not only had that conference with the Turtle King gone on forever, but Shellsburg was practically on the other side of the jungle. Now Rataxes had to suffer through the long trip back, and on the long list of things the rhino king disliked, long car trips was on the upper end of that list.
Basil blinked, looking straight ahead at the road. He hadn’t looked up in the past hour. Come to think of it, Basil had seldom looked up all day. First he was staring at his clipboard going over Lord Rataxes’ itinerary, then at the road during the drive to Shellsburg, then the ground as he gave his customary bow to the Turtle King, then his clipboard again as he took notes of the conference, and now the road again. The shorter rhino shook his head, focusing on the aforementioned road. He didn’t even bother to look at his mirror, because if he did, he would only see his own stressed eyes looking back at himself, reminding him of how tired he was.
It’s not that bad, Basil thought to himself. He had certainly had more strenuous days in his tenure. The good thing about Hippo Village was that the roads were straight, and at this time of night there was hardly any traffic to speak of, meaning all Basil had to do was press down on the gas pedal and look straight ahead. And if I just keep staring at the road, he thought, eventually we’ll be home.
An annoyed grumble from next to him snapped Basil out of his own thoughts. “Basil?”
Basil took a moment to come back to reality, and then turned to face his boss. “Um, yes, Your Rhiness?”
“How much longer until we get to Rhinoland?” Rataxes asked, impatience clear in his voice.
“Uh…” Basil eyed the clock. They were only halfway there. Which meant Basil had at least two more hours to drive. The advisor blocked out his own distress tried to think of a way to phrase this that wouldn’t upset the king. “At the rate we’re going, we should be home in just under two hours, sir.” Rataxes huffed and tapped his foot impatiently. “This quiet night is so dull,” he complained. “Let’s at least turn on some music.” With that, Rataxes leaned forward and turned the dial on the dashboard, and smooth jazz music began to play from the speakers. He sighed contently and leaned back in his seat. “There we go. At least now we have some ambience,” he said, relaxed.
Basil couldn’t relax. But at this point, his body wasn’t giving him much of a choice. Slowly but surely, the soothing music was lulling him to sleep. Well, not really slowly. In just five minutes, he caught himself nodding off, and his driving was beginning to suffer as well. But he quickly sat up straight, hoping Lord Rataxes hadn’t noticed.
Rataxes sighed inwardly. He decided he might as well take the wheel before Basil fell asleep and crashed the car. Besides, the little guy looked like he could use some shuteye. “Hey, Basil…” he said, in a less harsh tone than before. Once again, Basil was slow to answer, although this time it was out of fear that he had been caught.
“Yes, Your Grand Illustriousness?”
“Could we stop really quick?”
“Why, sir?” Basil asked. His eyes darted to the right for a moment. “Do you need to use the restroom?” he whispered.
“No, but you look like you could use a break.” The rhino king smiled, quite possibly for the first time that day. “Pull over. Let me drive for a while.”
Basil practically froze up. Rataxes had caught him dozing off. And now he was testing him, to see if he was strong enough to keep going! Well, he thought, I won’t give in that easily!
“Oh no, Your Rhiness, I couldn’t ask you to drive. You’ve done enough work for today.”
“Wouldn’t you say the same for yourself? Wouldn’t you like a minute to relax?”
Another test. “Don’t worry about me,” Basil chirped, fake chipperness in his voice. “I’m fine…”
“You’re far from fine,” Rataxes replied. “I can see you’re getting sleepy, and if you fall asleep at the wheel, then we’ll both be in trouble.”
“Sleepy? Who’s sleepy? I’m wide awake…” Basil would then stifle a yawn by forcing a wide grin.
Rataxes scratched his chin. He would have to change his tactics. “Come on, Basil,” he coaxed. “Don’t you want to pick up some snacks after a hard day’s work?”
“No, thanks. I’m not hungry.” Basil said dismissively. “Besides, roadside confections are far too lowly and unhealthy for a strong king like yourself!”
“You know what? Um, I actually do have to use the restroom,” Rataxes said, pretending to sound sheepish. “Badly, in fact. Those Shellsburg Sodas go right through you.”
Basil raised an eyebrow. “Nice try, Sir. You didn’t have a drop of soda, ‘cause when the Turtle King tried to offer you one, you said they tasted like swamp water.” Basil smiled proudly. He was passing Rataxes’ test with flying colors, he was sure of it!
Rataxes grimaced and folded his arms. Here he was, trying to be a nice guy, and Basil had to go and be stubborn and prideful about it. He was a true rhino, through and through. Darn it, Basil, what’s it going to take to get you to stop this car?
As if on cue, the car began to sputter. “What’s going on? Basil?” Basil looked to dashboard. He was so busy focusing on the road he had practically ignored the fuel gauge. And the tank was nearly empty. “Um...we seem to be running out of gas, Your Bewilderedness.”
Now it was Rataxes’ turn to start grinning. “Aha! Now we have to pull over!” Basil rolled his eyes and pulled into a nearby gas station, which was practically deserted. Rataxes was probably expecting him to take this opportunity to be lazy and wait in the car, so as soon as he’d parked, he began to undo his seatbelt. “Wait here, sir. I’ll go pay for gas.”
Rataxes put on a cowardly expression as Basil got out of the car. “And you're leaving me out here, unprotected, in parts unknown?” he asked.
“Fine. Then come in with me,” Basil snapped, unintentionally. His tiredness was making him irritable now.
“But we can’t leave the car!” Rataxes pleaded. “Someone could try to rob us! It’s the dead of night, who knows what could happen?”
“Alright, Sir, what do you suggest I do?”
“Wait here and watch the car. I’ll go pay for the gas.” Rataxes unbuckled his seatbelt and hopped out of the car before Basil could object. Basil shrugged as the king entered the gas station, and looked up at the night sky. On the bright side, Lord Rataxes was entrusting him with another important task! First driving to Shellsburg and back, and now guarding the car from potential muggers. The king did have a lot of faith in him, after all. With the car turned off, he could hear the peaceful sounds of the night. The wind blowing, the crickets chirping. Basil yawned. He shook his head, then slapped his face lightly. He couldn’t fall asleep now! But without to rumble of the car’s engine to distract him, Basil couldn’t stop himself from reclining into the driver’s seat and closing his eyes.
When Basil woke up, the car was moving. Only now, he was sitting in the passenger’s seat. Oh no! Basil thought. I fell asleep during my guard duty! And now the car’s been stolen by some filthy criminal! He’ll take me hostage, and demand Lord Rataxes hand over his crown, and-
“Hmph. So you woke up. For a second I thought you were comatose.”
Basil racing thoughts screeched to a halt, as he turned to see Lord Rataxes in the driver’s seat. Looming over them was the familiar trees of the outskirts of Rhinoland, which meant he had been driving for at least an hour now.
Rataxes turned the dial on the dashboard, and the smooth jazz music began to grace Basil’s ears once again.
“Go back to sleep, Basil. You’ve done enough work for today.”
Basil sighed with relief and reclined into the passenger’s seat. Finally, they agreed on something.