I stumble into my apartment room thoroughly sore and exhausted. I wouldn’t let the other girls see, but the self defense training was as hard as any run or workout I’d done when I wasn’t trying to keep my father and I alive.
I am dead tired, and all I want to do is collapse into my lumpy old twin mattress and curl up in my worn out fleece… before I can finish the thought, the phone starts ringing.
I growl as I grab the receiver, knowing full well that even with my new friends only one person would still call me at this hour.
“What?” I bark into the phone, my face scrunched up in unconcealed irritation.
“I’m so sorry, Audrey,” Lannis says. I’m no empath, but she sounds like she’s half sobbing.
I don’t exactly forgive her, but I soften my tone. Clearly something is wrong.
“Lannis, what’s happened?”
“so much pain… panic… oh! It burns!”
Without another word I hang up the phone and race back out of the house, never having had the time to take off shoes or jacket.
It takes about twenty minutes for me to walk from my complex to Lannis’s house in the suburbs. Tonight I sprint it in ten, and decide to murder Lannis when she recovers her senses as I feel my lungs catch fire, only praying it wasn’t literal. With me, there’s always that question.
I scramble over Lannis’s backyard fence and immediately start shimming up the nearby shrub tree. Before I’m halfway up Lannis’s bedroom window is being thrown open and Lannis, who’s usually more tentative about trusting the upper branches than I am, is practically throwing herself into the tree and scrambling down as fast as she can.
I leap back down and half catch her as she stumbles out of the tree, grunting beneath the near dead weight she turns out to be.
“Lannis, what’s wrong?” I croak, throat parched from the run.
Lannis looks at me, and I almost stumble backwards in shock. Her eyes are bloodshot, and there’s a wild expression in them, her irises darting around like pinballs.
“Lannis! What the blazes…”
“Pain,” she says again, her voice as dry as my own. “Loss, death… something terrible has happened.”
“Yeah, I’m getting that impression,” I retort dryly, already pulling my cell out and searching local police stations. Possibly a bit illegal, that bit of hacking, but I’m cautious and I’m always afraid they’ll find my Dad before I do when he bolts. My disregard for federal law may end up saving lives tonight. It takes only a few seconds to find, as the report is mere minutes old. My eyes widen, and I feel my legs weaken. Then the adraneline kicks in. with a smart snap I put my phone away and turn back to Lannis, who is still on borderline hysterics.
“Train wreck, west end of downtown. Passenger type.”
Without another word I’m off, dragging Lannis by the arm.
It takes a few seconds of stumbling, but Lannis begins to run on her own. It takes about fifteen, maybe twenty, minutes to reach the wreck site. Despite the hour since the crash, things are still a cacophony of chaos. People, gender indeterminable, were screaming murder, and there were huddles or masses of people lining the street. several fire engines and crew were at work on the wreck, but the fires were out of control. the best they can do at this point is keep the flames from reaching the people outside the wreck.
I feel a brush of cold air on my shoulder, and turn to find Starlight standing still at my shoulder, observing the procedures with the same calculating calm as I did.
“How?” she asks.
“Lannis.” I answer, nodding my head to my friend. Lannis still seems out of it, but her eyes are a bit clearer now, and she’s at least steady on her feet. “How long?”
“Just got here,” Starlight answers, and she leads me through the mob of people towards where the rear of the train was. “Wreck happened approximately 63 minutes ago. Cabins caught fire about 8 to 10 minutes later.’
“It took you 68 minutes to get here?” I ask. I don’t mean to sound accusatory, but I do. Starlight looks at me sharply, then turns away and continues walking.
“I may wear a suit, but I can’t show up like lightening to every tragic event. I rely on the same police scanners as you.”
She cuts me off by pointing ahead.
“Look, last three carriages are still intact, and appear to be only minimally on fire. You start at the rear, and I’ll work from third to last.”
“I’m the one who can control fire, remember?” I snap. “Perhaps I should start at the third car.”
“Just because you have fire in you doesn’t make you invincible to its affects,” Starlight returns. “However, if that is what you wish.”
“It is,” I reply sharply. I take a deep steadying breath and turn to Lannis, who’d slowly and silently followed us from the crowd. I grab her shoulders and give a small shake, sorely tempted despite the situation to slap her for once.
“Lannis, go back and do what you can for the injured,” I order her. She looks at me blankly for a second.
“Audrey?” she asks, apparently puzzled, “what…” she notices the burning wreck before us, and screams, starting to reel back and dragging me with her. “No! Audrey, you can’t! You don’t… the whole carriage… Audrey!” I shake Lannis clammy hands off of me , and grab her again by the shoulders.
“Lannis! I’ll be fine! Tell me, is there anyone still in there? Tell me!”
Lannis loses focus again for a moment, then groans, “yes, two… no, three, and a child.. oh Audrey!”
“I’ll be fine, Lan. Now go help the injured who are out,” I shout, and shove her towards the people.
Lannis takes off at a broken run, and I turn back to Starlight. She is staring at me curiously, studiously almost.
“What are you looking at?” I snap, and I stalk towards the burning cars. “Let’s get this done.”
What I expect the car to be like was basically a movie scene. What I got was a metal tube with fires in the corners that brought the temperature to boiling, and a thick cloud of probably toxic smoke. My eyes watered, and my throat felt like acid was eating away at i’s inside. I coughed, and held my hand over my face, though it would little good. The heat was burning my skin, and I knew I only had limited time to locate any passengers still on board.
“Hello!” I shouted into the black smoke. “Is there anyone here?” I listen, and a few second later hear a strangled cough and shout from somewhere up further. Carefully, I feel my way down the dark corridor, careful to avoid any of the fires that were steadily growing along the side, on the upholstered furniture.
“Hello?” I call again after crawling a ways. I don’t hear a reply. Cursing such that Lannis would have washed my mouth out with soup a dozen times over, I continue my way forward, feeling carefully for any unconscious bodies.
My hand hits something soft, and I squint, trying to make out what it is. It’s a body, yes. A man, about middle age and average build. One of the few people I can under no circumstance carry. Right now, I don’t have a choice. Carefully, I crouch down, and begin to roll him over. I’d only done a fireman’s carry a few times in PE, and always with another girl. This was going to be a challenge, if not downright impossible.
I realize I don’t have to worry about it, because as soon as I roll the man over, his eyes snap open and he grabs my shoulder. His nails turn out to be longer then I’d have assumed, and they dig into my skin through the thin PT shirt I am wearing. I shriek in surprised pain and rage.
The mans face is dark with burns, and his hair is singed but he still smiles up at me, a grotesque twisted look.
“So, you are one of the ones my master seeks?” the man says, his voice gravelly and sick. “I fear he will be disappointed, just a child aren’t you?”
“Who are you?” I demand through gritted teeth. I can feel blood welling into my shirt from where his nails cut me.
“It’s not me you need to fear, little one,” the man say, and then coughs as if his very life was connected to it, which it appeared to be. “It’s… Gr…” he passes out before he can finish. I scramble backwards, yanking his hand off my shoulder with a shriek as his nails free my shoulders. Stars are dancing in front of my eyes now, the smoke is getting to me.
I start crawling for the exit but my sight is going. I here an explosion somewhere behind me, and a rush of new heat pours into the cabin. I pass out.