By. Joshua Scully
Fresh splotches of rain struck windows on the Pullman coach. The pattering of this new precipitation kept Emily Childress awake for another moment. Her father stepped toward her seat from the aisle and adjusted the blanket covering his daughter.
Emily repositioned her head and her father leaned over her to look out the window. Few lights were visible outside. The darkness of night seemed only penetrable by rain.
“Not good,” he observed coolly.
Emily affirmed this with a subtle hum.
The periodic rainfall was a recent development. The Tacoma Express had been hemmed into this quiet Cascades town for several days because of record snow accumulations. The railroad had struggled to open the tracks in either direction, and conditions on the string of Pullman coaches were not especially pleasant after so many motionless days.
The massive snow fields clinging to the sides of the mountain above the town were troubling.
A brilliant flash of lightning danced through the night sky, momentarily illuminating the nearby station just beyond Emily’s window. Her father sighed after the ensuing rumble of thunder.
“We haven’t moved in five days,” he said, “but Tacoma just seems farther and farther away.”
He stepped back into the aisle and resumed an earlier conversation with two other passengers. There were plans being made to hike out of the mountains once some semblance of daylight returned, and Emily’s father expressed confidence that he could carry his daughter on such a journey and keep pace with the others.
Emily closed her eyes and recommenced the leisurely drift toward sleep. A distant growl of thunder did not impede her march into a dreamscape far removed from the Cascades.
She collapsed out of her seat and the jolt immediately roused her. An accompanying boom seemed far too resonant to be caused by her small frame. Emily was very confused when her eyes finally focused.
She had somehow landed on the ceiling. The Pullman was upside down.
Other passengers found themselves in the same awkward position, and the majority of those individuals were shouting and screaming. Emily tried to open her mouth, but any sound she made was immediately trumped by the shattering of every window along one side of the Pullman. A white wave smashed into Emily, driving her body toward the wooden wall of the coach. She braced herself for the ensuing impact. District cracks in each of her hands announced the collision.
Another series of windows broke and the front of the wave escaped from the coach into the freezing night. Emily was nearly carried with the wave, but she had landed high enough on the side of the car to find temporary purchase. Glass shards punctured her shoes and cut her feet in the process, but she managed to vocalize a shrill cry.
The Pullman started to slowly slide down the mountainside. A probing hand grasped one of Emily’s arms, lifting her higher in the stream of snow that rushed over the ceiling of the coach. Emily twisted to see a familiar female passenger, and she struggled mightily to move closer to the woman as the coach gained momentum.
A chorus of gasps and shouts lifted from the snowy flood as the car seemed to bounce and joust with other wreckage and rocks along the route of the slide. When the Pullman struck a large conifer, the trunk of the tree ripped into one side of the coach. The ancient evergreen did not immediately succumb to the avalanche, so the car pivoted back and forth on this perch as debris and snow rushed passed.
Emily took advantage of the temporary reprieve and called out for her father. The woman holding onto her diligently attempted to free herself from the layers of snow that held their lower bodies so firmly in place. Emily strained to twist her head as far as possible in each direction. Not seeing her father, she called out again.
A reply came in the way of an unworldly implosion to her right. She lifted her eyes to see one of the beautifully bestial locomotives of the Tacoma Express barrel through the Pullman. A black, steaming mass of gears, pistons, and wheels plied through the wooden walls of the car without hesitation. Within a second, Emily watched half the coach, several passengers, and her female savior disappear in a rush of wooden splinters and scalding splashes of oil and grease.
Ignoring the fresh lacerations and burns on her right side, Emily frantically fluttered her arms and legs to free herself from new waves of snow that swept into the gouged coach. The remnants of the car teetered and slipped around the fir, beginning a much more direct slide down the mountain.
Emily held on for her life, observing another passenger topple out of the coach and become immediately lost in the snowy wake trailing the wreckage.
She found herself preparing for whatever form or shape death would take for her. She imagined the coach striking yet another massive tree and disintegrating. She thought of another hulking locomotive striking the coach and exploding in a rush of boiling water and steam.
There was a tremendous splash. Emily looked down toward the intact end of the Pullman to see the icy waters of a mountain river rushing inside. She held her breath, waiting for the chilly water to find her flesh. Her body was so beaten and bloodied that the very idea of swimming seemed as remote and distant as Tacoma.
There was a new sensation. A strange firmness around each of her shoulders. She opened her eyes and found herself in the bloody embrace of her father. He stood knee-deep in the rushing waters at the bottom of the mountain and sported his own collection of gashes and bruises, but he was very much alive.
And so was his daughter.
“I actually think we are a little closer to Tacoma now,” he said and sighed with relief.
Joshua Scully is an American History teacher from Pennsylvania. He writes whenever possible.
iazabo is a musician from Madrid, Spain.