“What kind of accident?” She focused on the dead girl, and noticed the doll clutched to her breast. Faded, battered, torn, grayed and frazzled stuffing hung from rips in seams, the plastic head stained like the girl’s clothes and face.
“A car accident. I died. So did Mommy and Daddy.”
“Why are you here?”
“To tell you.”
She stole a glance at the frantic crowd. Another group congealed around the far end of the car and worked with similar futility at the slider on the opposite end.
“Tell me … what?”
“That you’re going to die too. All of these people are.”
She raised her eyes to look over the crowded car, but the hurtling train rose in a stomach-flopping swell of track. Her backside raised off the deck before she slammed down again with a tooth-jarring, tongue-biting jolt. The noise of the train drowned out the screams, the banging of the doors, the panic …
… And her eyes shot open with a gasp that spiked her heart. She flailed, and her hands struck the window and seat beside her as the lurching school bus bounced and rattled, wheezed and chugged up the hill. The narrow blacktop snaked around a sharp bend ahead of them. Her bulged eyes stared through the windshield spanning the width of the bus beyond the driver, six rows ahead of her.
“Are you okay?”
The voice tore her eyes from the wooded mountainside next to her, beyond the thin glass of the ancient window. The stiff seat tossed her and she struggled for balance.
It took a moment to place the voice. Beth. Beth sat beside her on the bus. School trip. To the park atop the snow-crusted mountain. Her mother made a special lunch. Beth, her best friend, always sat next to her. In a moment of tear-swelling relief the surroundings rushed back to her and the sounds churned into the roar and cough of the noisy diesel engine as it strained up the mountain.
“Are you okay?” The repeated question was more urgent. She felt Beth’s hand on her shoulder. “You look all … gray and sweaty.”
She turned, tried to smile but couldn’t. “Y-yeah,” she managed. “Did I fall asleep?”
Beth’s brow furrowed. “Uh — no, I don’t think so. We were just talking, like, two seconds ago. You sure you’re all right? Want me to get Ms. Madison?”
“No,” she said, more urgent than she meant, “no … it’s cool. I’m … okay. I … you sure I didn’t fall asleep?”