We huddled together in the semi darkness. All of us were staring up at the older boy, our hearts in his hands. Mal grinned, the heater painting his face in shadows. He’s voice had dropped to an intoxicating whisper.
“The beast reared its huge head. Teeth dripping with poison that turns your bones to stone. The warrior raised her sword. And thought of home.” Beside me, little Alice gasped and muttered “home…” Barely able to contain herself, the six-year-old shifted and fidgeted; and as our host’s voice rose, she started jumping slightly on her knees.
“Thinking of home keeping her mind un-hypnotized, she thrust her sword forward. It hit the thing’s chest and stabbed right through its shriveled heart.” Mal was saying with relish. There was a breathless silence, which was stupid, we’d all heard this story before, heck we’d heard it told better by elder Graham. But as the darkness wrapped us tightly in its arms; and the grumbling shudder of the trains ceaseless engine drowned out the sounds of our parents snores; we clung to his every word.
“The warrior turned back to her group. They had successfully laid another three sections of track… in fact, it was this exact track we’re on right now.” Mal’s smile grew even larger as several of us gasped. Even at the time, I remembered thinking there was no way he could have known that. None of us had really known where we were for days. But he had us wrapped up in his twelve years old grasp.
As Mal’s story climbed, the sounds of the train seemed to drop away. It was just us nine in the warm darkness hurtling through space. Sleepiness was tugging at me now. I could feel my head getting heavy. But the story, the hope, they fought valiantly against the tiredness.
Mal’s voice drifted back into my attention. “More and more of the track was laid. A… a way to cross the land safely.” but I blinked sleepily, struggling now to stay awake.
“The party was in sight of it now; they had walked right over the horizon that stretched for a thousand years.” Mal’s voice faltered here as he struggled with the borrowed sentence. And for a moment the dark world streaming by outside was closer again.
“But just before they could reach this new land…” there was a shift now. We were no longer wrapped in the throes of a familiar story. Now with one sentence, he had as all in unfamiliar, terrifying territory. “A new beast appeared, it was as huge as a cart with ugly teeth and big mean eyes” I could feel the tiredness mixing with angry fear in my gut. There was no new beast; this wasn’t how the story went! Alice gripped my arm tightly.
His grin now mean Mal continued despite the frowning face among his audience. “It bit right throw the warrior’s sword then turned on the builders. Biting each head off in turn.”
Here Alice screamed. Her young blue eyes filled with tears and defense. “Stop it!” She yelled, “Tell it right!” I pulled her close, my angry gaze meeting Mal, three years my senior. “That’s not the story.”
Mal was giggling with evil glee. His face loomed in the half-baked light. But when no one else joined in his mirth he hesitated. We never knew what he would have done next. A bright light lanced through the room. With the grind of metal on metal. A door at the far end of the carriage was dragged open. A figure was eclipsed in gold for a moment before they moved into the room.
“What’s going on in here?” The soft tones of Miss Mahogany was a calming blanket thrown over all of us. “You should all be asleep.”
With her soft words, we all began to settle back into rattling beds. The thought strong in my mind to tell on Mal tomorrow.
My body exhausted, sleep was quick to come. But just before I drifted into a hazy dreamland Mal’s words stood stout in my mind again. I was thrown off course into a horrid nightmare land instead. What if there was no safe place beyond the horizon?