Madeline Harper didn't see the train coming. Neither did the boy beside her nor the man five rows ahead, either. It doesn't really matter who did or didn't see the hunk of metal hurling down iced coated tracks, a charred bullet in the winter wonderland of Horsefeather, Tennessee, because that wouldn't have changed a thing. Besides, who wants to know they're about to die?
Seven Hours Ago
They trailed along the hallway, gloom and the threat of change penetrating the hall with every 'tat' of their footfall. The white haze outside chilled even the cramped path of classrooms, meaning the students were far from warm. It would have been alright if they were into that type of thing. Maddie Harper wasn't.
"It's never been this cold before, has it? Not so early in the year, anyway." Jamie echoed Maddie's thoughts as he had for the past ten years. Their story had begun the day a preschool aged Jamie McTyre stole a little girl's juice box. Maddie, the little girl, slugged the five year old square in the jaw, reclaiming her sugary goodness and winning the respect and friendship of the former school bully. He hadn't stolen since but she couldn't claim the same for fighting. Some people just seemed to deserve it.
"No, the snow's crazy outside. I'm surprised they didn't shut us down." Maddie slouched down the hall, matching Jamie's pace. First period was one of those rare classes they had together but never saw each other in, meaning the first five to ten minutes were spent avoiding the math building and conjectures taught by Ms. Odin.
The bell rang. Late again.
Jamie halted in his tracks and they found themselves very alone in the corridor of battered lockers. He got that thoughtfulness in his eyes that worried Maddie.
"We could just leave, Mads. We could walk out of this building and never have to come back. No more snow, no more cheap ass lockers, no more Odin." His fingers twitched, yearning to open the door to the outside world. At a look from Maddie the expression vanished. He'd never leave her alone. It was together or not at all.
"There'd be no place to go." Maddie replied, but wondered if that were true.
They were skidding now, floundering on the ice as an elephant would. But how could a bus, so large and crowded, spin so quickly towards doom? Train barriers were swinging down – delayed - but they offered no barrier, no protection.
Mr. Valentino slammed down on the emergency break to no avail. No stopping them now. The students screamed, only thinking they would fall; not that they would crash through the flimsy wooden "warning" barriers, not that a train was coming, and certainly not that they'd burn.
Three Hours Ago
"It's after school." Jamie whispered, shoving a piece of official looking paper into Maddie's open grasp. She jumped a little at the contact.
"Detention from Odin. This morning was our third tardy, she works fast." He looked as if he would say more but Mr. English teacher sub was glaring in their direction, a not so subtle hint to shut up or Else. He was worse than the normal glarer, Mr. Lopez, who was out on paternity leave, inflicting this cranky substitute on his students.
Sometime in this reflection, Jamie had decided to brave the Sub's wrath.
" – and no one pays attention anyway." He finished.
"Huh?" Maddie really wished she had been paying attention.
"I was saying that we should skip detention. Life is too short to be spent in a room for two hours after school."
Maddie took a moment to consider the idea, playing with a loose strand of her obsidian hair absentmindedly.
"We'll get in serious trouble…leaving instead of serving our time…" Maddie smiled to herself. Jamie watched patiently, knowing the answer would be in his favor. She never said "no" to anything new, especially if that included Jamie being with her.
"After school we'll go on my bus. Mr. Valentino won't tell anyone, we'll be okay with him."
At the exact moment the school bus broke past the sign they were hit. The train slammed into the front edge of the bus and children began to scream from more than fear. It splintered seemingly unbreakable glass that twinkled like crystals hanging in midair for a lifetime. The shards sang a song of mourning for the doomed passengers before ripping them to pieces.
Jamie clutched at Maddie providing, as best he could under the impossible circumstances, a human shield. She drank in his warmth gratefully, numb to the explosion of glass, screams, and blood that engulfed them.
Groaning metal, which barely registered over the echoes of the dying, was the first sign that the vehicle was tipping, rolling into a ditch beside the road. It probably happened in a few minutes, maybe seconds, but it was an eternity before Maddie felt the chaos surrounding her. There was blood everywhere, splashing the walls and people, dead and alive. And the pain…Maddie couldn't move her right arm without moaning in agony. A fragment of glass had wormed its way into her skin, like a bug, an unwelcome visitor. Oh god it hurt.
Maddie shifted to find a girl, Charlotte Baxter, staring back at her with empty eyes. Blood welled up and dripped from the corner of her pretty mouth, matching the blood soaking through the stomach of her cheerleading uniform. It was wrong, but the first thing Maddie thought of was "This is the first time she has ever looked at me. And now the last."
Beside the lifeless Charlotte, Meggan Knowles rested peacefully. The only evidence of her death was the streak of crimson that pooled down her temple. She had most likely died on impact and hadn't suffered much pain, unlike her fellow cheerleader and best friend, Charlotte. At least that was Maddie's guess. Together, they were dead best friends…
He didn't stir when Maddie slipped under his protective (limp) arms, and the steady thump of his heart was silent. After a good look she began to shake. Nearest to the window, her best friend had borne the brunt of the damage. Long shards of reddened crystals had lodged themselves into his exposed neck, slicing away at him until he was nothing left. Jamie's head hung at a twisted, defeated angle. He wasn't Jamie now; he was a body, one among the dozen.
And whose fault was it? Five minutes ago life was left to live, but looking at the corpses and carnage in the bus contradicted that future. Forever she would remain in this hell beside a dead body who used to be her best friend; everything changed the second they hit ice the wrong way. And really, it didn't matter whose fault it was, Jamie was dead and she was there, alive but barely. Their story ended like this. Charlotte and Meggan had gotten the better end of the deal, by far.
"You weren't supposed to leave without me." She whispered, breathing in the sordid odor of death. She didn't dare say goodbye, especially knowing it would come too late, but instead maneuvered herself to a hunched standing position. Maddie tried to balance herself over the seats, climbing over them with stubborn determination. Between the pain of her wounds and the pain in her chest, progress was slow going. Glass was everywhere. It stung her legs and hands whenever she made a wrong step, which happened often.
This was living, this was death, and this was something Jamie would never have again. This was for him. One day they'd be together again.
Thirty Minutes Ago
"Ready to go?" Jamie grabbed Maddie's hand, tugging towards the bus and Mr. Valentino. And for the first time in ten years, Maddie hesitated.
"We could go back you know, Jamie. An hour or two won't kill us." Her gaze lingered on the freshly snow coated building. Still holding Maddie's hand, Jamie stared, flabbergasted.
"What do you mean, Mads?" Obviously it was a new concept to him, not breaking the rules.
"Exactly what I said. We'd still be together, isn't that what matters?" It is to me, she added silently. And another first, she had no idea what her other half would say. Ten years would never be enough with him, Jamie knew that…right?
Her best friend pondered for an eternity, but eventually broke into a devious grin.
"I go where you go. Lead on, Madeline Harper." He gallantly held his hands in two different directions. Bus or building, freedom or detention, but always with Jamie.
Escape. That's what he wanted, that's what he would get. It wasn't anything new, as Maddie lived for the adventure that indulging Jamie always provided. Maddie led Jamie through the iced over double doors of the bus. They settled into the only empty seats, in the fifth row, behind the driver.
"Looks like rough weather." Mr. Valentino hollered over the bustle of cold student chatter.
He never knew how right he'd be.