As consciousness slowly returned, Reese Fisher realized that she was in pain all over. The back of her neck ached and her skull felt as though it would burst from throbbing.
She opened her eyes only to be blinded by glaring sunlight. She squeezed her eyelids tight again.
Where am I? she wondered. How did I get here?
Mingled with the pain was a tingling numbness, especially in her extremities.
She tried to shake her arms and legs to get rid of the tingling, but found that she couldn’t. Her arms, hands, and legs were somehow immobilized.
She wondered …
Was I in some kind of accident?
Maybe she’d been hit by a car.
Or maybe she’d been thrown from her own car and was now lying on hard pavement.
Her mind couldn’t get a hold on anything.
Why couldn’t she remember?
And why couldn’t she move? Was her neck broken or something?
No, she could feel the rest of her body, she just couldn’t move anything.
She could also feel the hot sun on her face, and she didn’t want to open her eyes again.
She tried hard to think—where had she been and what had she been doing just before this … whatever this was?
She remembered—or thought she remembered—getting on the train in Chicago, finding a good seat, and then she’d been on her way home to Millikan.
But had she gotten to Millikan?
Had she gotten off the train?
Yes, she thought she had. It had been a bright, sunny morning at the train station, and she was looking forward to the mile-long walk to her house.
But then …
The rest was all fragmented, even dreamlike.
It was like one of those nightmares of being in terrible danger but unable to run, unable to move at all. She’d wanted to struggle, to free herself from some threat, but she couldn’t.
She also remembered a malignant presence—a man whose face she now couldn’t bring to mind at all.
What did he do to me? she wondered.
And where am I?
She realized she could at least turn her head. She turned away from the glaring sunlight and finally managed to open her eyes and keep them open. At first, she was aware of curving lines stretching away from her. But at the moment they seemed abstract and incomprehensible.
Then she could see why the back of her neck was in such pain.
It was lying against a long curving stretch of reddish steel, hot under the bright sunlight.
She wriggled slightly and felt a sharp roughness against her back. It felt like crushed rock.
Little by little, the abstract lines came into focus and she could see what they were.
In spite of the hot sun, her body felt cold as she understood.
She was on a railroad track.
But how had she gotten here?
And why couldn’t she move?
As she struggled, she realized that she could move, at least somewhat.
She could writhe, twisting her torso, and also her legs, although she couldn’t separate them for some reason.
The tingling numbness she hadn’t been able to shake off was now turning into surges of fear.
She was tied here somehow—tied to railroad tracks, with her neck fastened to the rail.
No, she told herself. This is impossible.
It had to be one of those dreams—a dream of being immobilized and helpless and in terrible danger.
She closed her eyes again, hoping the nightmare would go away.
But then she felt a sharp vibration against her neck, and a rumbling reached her ears.
The rumbling was getting louder. The vibration became piercingly strong, and her eyes snapped back open.
She couldn’t see very far along the curve of the tracks, but she knew what the source of that vibration was, that crescendo of noise.
It was an oncoming train.
Her pulse pounded, and terror erupted through her whole body. Her writhing became frantic, but completely futile.
She couldn’t tear her arms and legs free, and she couldn’t pull her neck away from the rail.
The rumbling was now a deafening roar, and suddenly it came into view …
… the reddish-orange front of a massive diesel engine.
She let out a scream—a scream that sounded supernaturally loud to her own ears.
But then she realized—it wasn’t her own scream she’d heard.
It was the piercing noise of the train whistle.
Now she felt a weird rush of anger.
The engineer had sounded his whistle …
Why the hell doesn’t he just stop?
But of course, he couldn’t—not nearly fast enough, not hurtling along at his current speed.
She could hear a screeching sound as he tried to bring the mountain of metal to a stop.
The engine filled her whole field of vision now—and peering out through the windshield was a pair of eyes …
… eyes that looked as terrified as she felt.
It was like looking in a mirror—and she didn’t want to see what she was seeing.
Reese Fisher closed her eyes, knowing it was for the last time ever.