Chapter 1: Best Friends Forever
A train whistle mourned in the distance. Their ride was calling.
Emily ran, flew, soared. Her friends flickered around her, bright and beautiful. And ahead, long black braids streaming, Sam led them on.
The sound of the rushing river. The pounding of their feet on the wooden bridge. Ahead, the train tracks shone in the bright light of the full moon. Sam's piercings flashed as she spun to a halt, teetering close to the cliff and the ravine below.
Tara panted beside Emily. The tip of her joint glowed in the darkness. She passed it to Sam. Her face blurred behind the cloud of smoke making her look like an angel. If angels were Goth and wingless with a taste for whisky and weed.
Liquid sloshed against glass. Emily accepted the bottle from Madison's tiny hands. The familiar fire filled her mouth, burning a path to her stomach.
Sam belched a work of art, echoing back from the trees.
The train sobbed in answer.
The joint had made it to her. The drag burned as much as the whiskey. She struggled not to cough, held in the requisite four count, letting it out in a rush of air.
And instantly felt lighter.
Sam stared at her over the rim of the newly acquired bottle. Emily could almost see her thought process. The weed made everything.
Sam spun in a circle of anticipation, her short tartan skirt swaying, fishnets torn at the knees above her army boots. Emily smiled in wonder. She was gorgeous! Moonlight flashed on chrome buckles, black nail polish, silver piercings.
"I love you." Sam's voice echoed, repeating in Emily's head over and over. Her favorite thing when they were drinking. Emily understood. Sam needed love. It was okay with her.
"Love you too." Her own voice fascinated. Did she sound like that? She giggled.
"You are my sisters. The only ones that will ever matter to me." Sam took the time to meet their eyes, gesturing with the bottle. Emily felt a few droplets hit her face. "Always and forever."
"Always and forever." She could feel their energy connecting. Binding. Pulling each other close. She wanted another hit on the joint, sure she would be able to complete the connection if she just had a little bit more. But it was clutched in Tara's hand like she'd never let it go.
Sam dropped the bottle, the precious stolen liquor draining out onto the ground. Emily couldn't stop staring at it as it gulg-glug-glugged its life into the grass.
The train whistle echoed closer, making Emily's head ring.
"Hear that?" Sam laughed. "Our destiny." She took a step closer to the edge of the grass, leaning over the tracks a short drop below. "I love you guys. I'd do anything for you."
"Us too." They all said it. Emily was sure she spoke. Her lips felt funny.
"Together, then." The skull ring on Sam's finger caught the light as the train whistle blew.
Jake Hind was late, damn it. The wife already called twice to b***h and he still had the sweet young girlfriend to see before he went home. He felt tired, strung out. The caffeine wasn't doing the job anymore. Neither were the uppers. He slammed the engine down another gear. The tires hummed beneath him, late-night country music bleeding sorrow and heartache all over him from the radio. The road was his favorite place, but he'd been on it two weeks and it was time to stop.
Just a few more miles.
Up ahead, warning lights began to flash.
The train was getting closer. Emily heard the wheels on steel, felt the vibration of it through the soles of her bare feet. Sam perched on the lip of the hill overlooking the track.
"Rite of passage!" She waved them forward. Laughed at her own pun. Sam loved making them prove they loved her. Emily knew why. And that was okay, too. But the train was coming and everything seemed so wavy around the edges...
Cold fingers wrapped around her wrist. Madison huddled next to her, pulling her back.
"I'm scared." Her whisper carried. Sam was there before Emily could answer.
"I'll take care of you." Sam hugged the tiny girl and winked at Emily over Madison's head. She was so tall, she loomed in the darkness. Queen of the Black. The whistle sounded so close Emily put her hands over her ears. It bounced around in her head anyway.
Tara hopped up and down on the balls of her feet, her short blonde bob sticking to her lip-gloss. Her eyes were huge, glistening.
"Let's do it!"
The train pulled around the bend.
There was no way on God's green earth Jake was waiting the ten stupid minutes for the damned train to go by. He had lots of time. He gunned the engine, gearing down, giving the truck full fuel. It roared toward the tracks. He grinned to himself. The gate wasn't even down.
Plenty of time.
He hit the tracks doing 60 miles an hour and felt the lurch as the right front tire gave way. The weak front axel had rolled its last mile. The metal sheared away with an ear-piercing scream. One half embedded itself under the lip of the rail and dug in.
"Some b***h!" The truck jerked to a halt, the tractor spinning sideways, trailer jackknifing, sliding into the divot of the rails. The whole world tipped and slid and for one crazy moment he wondered what the hell just happened.
The truck came down with a metallic screech, sparks flying outward as it ground its way twenty feet on its side, colliding with the barrier posts, taking out one of the red flashing lights before coming to a stuttering halt.
It laid there, a downed behemoth, its carcass blocking the track.
Jake unclipped himself, landing with a thud against the far window. He scrambled for the driver's door, using the last of his strength to get to the smashed window. He crawled out, leaving behind parts of himself on the shattered glass, landing heavily between the two rails.
His head rang. This wasn't happening. He had plenty of time.
The train always slowed for the river bend. Just enough so they could jump on board. Lots of kids did it. Made a dare out of it. Bragged about it at school. But this was the first time Sam mentioned it. Until there they were, the locomotive coming around the turn. Passing them. A flat bed car empty and perfect, begging to be made their landing place.
Sam's smile was everything. Emily was so caught up in it she missed Tara's leap.
Before Emily could act, Madison was gone, too. Sam spun on her, taking her hand.
Emily's heart constricted. Fear cleared her mind for a heartbeat.
When Sam jumped, she went alone.
Emily watched her friends riding away. They picked up speed again, the train safely around the turn. Emily ran after them, stumbling in the dark. Three voices screamed at her to run. They laughed and called for her and she did run, as fast as she could. But the moment was gone, lost, her ability to fly burned away.
Her last view of her friends as they disappeared into the night was the three girls hugging each other and reaching for her.
Jake shook, but not of his own doing. He looked up. Bright light blinded him. The whistle pierced his mind like the keen edge of a knife blade. He made it to his knees. Felt the bite of gravel in his palms. Got to his feet. Staggered a step. Tripped. Fell face-first. Stone ground some skin from his cheek. He sobbed panicked breaths, heart overwhelmed. Bile rose. Terror emptied his bladder.
His knees brushed the rail, hands grasping at the other side. Safety at his fingertips. The grass was cold and wet with dew. A breeze rose. Jake smelled lilacs. His eyes were full of light, head ringing with screeching steel and the high-pitched whistle announcing his death.
He threw himself at the grass. His toes topped the rail, cleared it.
Jake rolled over and over in the darkness as the giant engine rammed into the fallen truck and jumped the track.
Emily heard the whistle. The squealing metal. The impact. Their screams.
She knew what it meant.