Sunday, June 24, 2007

Chapter Eighteen (continued)

Diana felt the explosion and woke with a start. For a moment she thought she was back in the hotel, and looked around wildly for Auntie and a path of escape. The sunshine and smell of summer grass confused her. Then she remembered where she was, and she remembered the train. Why had everyone left her up here sleeping? Did they think she was weak? She grabbed one of Will's shirts and pulled it on as she started down the hill. Her knees were still shaky, her thoughts scattered, but the water, food and rest had done some good.

When she got to the point where the trail curved and she could see the valley below, she stood for a moment, mesmerized. The two engines lay on their sides like great dying beasts, sending up clouds of smoke and steam. A trail of overturned cars lay in the grass in their wake. The first were coal cars, then what looked to be a passenger car of some kind.

She saw Galileo ride up, toss a grenade through an open window and gallop away ahead of the explosion. Tiffany and Ikea were shooting survivors as they hauled themselves out of another overturned car, and farther down the line, Will struggled to open a burning livestock car so the animals might be saved. Coyote shouted something, then wheeled his horse as a train passenger climbed onto a boxcar and opened fire.

Diana ran toward where the spare bows and quivers were waiting. Her wounded shoulder ached, but there was no time to doubt if she was up to the task. She grabbed the biggest bow, nocked an arrow and lit the tip. She loosed it into a pool of coal diesel spilling from a tanker next to the boxcar. The fuel ignited in a burst. Will and Coyote spurred their horses out of the way. The man on the boxcar saw the danger too, but before he could leap to safety, the tanker caught and exploded in a burst of oily orange flames, scattering sparks to the other cars nearby. The boxcar caught and exploded, consuming the sniper on top. A passenger car behind the tanker caught too, sending panicked soldiers out the doors and windows, where Will and Coyote picked them off with their rifles until Will tossed a grenade through an open window, putting a stop to the escape.

There were a few cars still upright on the tracks, but they appeared to be just freight. Will, Coyote and Galileo, trotted their horses down the line while Diana grabbed a gun and joined Tiffany and Ikea in examining the wreckage for survivors.

Professional and intent on their mission, the sisters treated Diana's presence as entirely expected. They went down the line of derailed cars inspecting each one for signs of life. Diana had already seen enough death for one day, but she suppressed her distaste for the task and shot any man who appeared to still be breathing. One in particular, unconscious and still clutching a trumpet case to his side, looked so young that her breath caught and she hesitated. Just then a bloody bear of a man launched himself at her from behind a row of seats. She wounded him with her first shot and fired again, just to be certain. By then the boy with the trumpet had regained consciousness and was fumbling with a pistol. With an inward sigh of despair, she dispatched him, too. Poor kid. What insanity had led him to invade another country at his age?

When finally there were no more survivors, everyone gathered in a huddle near the livestock car. Coyote was on a destruction high, eyes bright, words tumbling over one another. "Wasn't that the best ever? You guys were great! And the train—" He paused to catch his breath, beaming in pleased wonderment at the smoldering cars. "That was incredible!"

"We're just lucky there weren't very many troops," Galileo said. "Let's not spend too much time congratulating ourselves. We need to be gone before the night train gets here, in case there's more soldiers on it."

"We'll blow up the night train, too."

"I don't think so."

"But we've got more weapons and ammo now— the last two cars are full of it, and there's still a full fuel tanker. The derailment will be no problem this time because in the dark they won't see the other train in time to stop. It'll be a big crash and an explosion. . ." Coyote's eyes blazed with excitement. "The night train is always just freight, anyway."

"Under the circumstances, we can't assume that." Galileo turned to Diana. "Just how big is this threat from México Lindo? What are the chances there will be more soldiers on the way?"

Diana’s burst of energy was fading and it depressed her to think of moving on when she only wanted to eat and rest, but she considered the matter truthfully. "I think we need to leave. We can't take a chance that they won't be moving troops on the next train, and the one after it, too."

Coyote opened his mouth to protest, but seeing that everyone was in agreement, he turned away in disgust. "Fine. Let's at least see what we can salvage, okay?"

"That was always the plan." Galileo looked at the assembled group. "Who wants to go with me to get the carts?"

"I'll go," Diana said. "It sounds easier than crawling around the train."

"Eat something before you come back down," Will told her.

"Don't listen to him," Coyote said. "There's food somewhere on this train, and I bet it's better than the crap we've got in camp."

"Save me something then, okay?" Diana looked around, her gaze falling on Tiffany's horse. "Do you think. . . ?"

"Go on. I don't need her."

While the others scattered to pick useful treasure from the wreck, Diana swung herself into the saddle and followed Galileo up the path.

"Are you up for this?" he asked, once they were away from the others.

"I don't have much choice."

"I don't know what happened back there in San Eusebio, but a person would have to be blind to see that you're not yourself. If you'd rather rest. . ."

"No, Will is right. I just need to eat."

"I don't want you thinking you have to be a hero."

"Hero?" Diana remembered the face of the boy on the train. He had probably spent most of his short life dreaming of the places he would play his trumpet. "I'm beginning to think none of us are heroes."

"It sounds like you're starting to gain a little wisdom."

"Is that why it's not fun?"

"Only fools and children think this is a game." He noticed she was staring vacantly at the landscape. "Come on. We'll get you some food and see if that doesn't help a little. If you don't get to feeling better by the time we're ready to leave, I'll make a pallet for you in one of the carts."

"I can ride."

"No heroes. Remember?"

"What ails me is in my head. A pallet in a donkey cart won't fix that."


Alice Audrey said...

Maybe her head took the worst of it, but she's also been scraped up a bit. Silly girl.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Teenagers think they're immortal and Diana is a poor judge of her own limitations. It's good that she's resilient, but sometimes too much success at overcoming tough odds leads to overconfidence.

Alice Audrey said...

I hope she isn't headed for a serious injury. Somehow, seems like Coyote should warn us if she were.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Coyote doesn't always know things in time to do much good, and sometimes he hears nothing at all. His gift is very inconsistent.

Alice Audrey said...

I like that bit about him being afraid of "them" and not wanting to open up too much. It certainly opens things to potential problems, and makes him more human at the same time.