Read Shadow Train Online

Authors: J. Gabriel Gates

Tags: #Fiction, #fantasy, #magic, #teen martial artists, #government agents, #Chinese kung fu masters, #fallen angels, #maintain peace, #continue their quest

Shadow Train (30 page)

BOOK: Shadow Train
7.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

At that moment a pair of headlights pierced the tinted windows of Rick's car and his head snapped up. Their caresses were just getting steamy, and he was starting to change into that otherworldly thing that got her really turned on. Now his wild red eyes stared out at the intruders with the look of a hungry wolf whose meal had been interrupted. She recognized Oscar in the driver's seat. He parked his tricked-out Escalade and left the motor running as he got out. Four car doors slammed as three other men got out with him.

“Clarisse, come out,” he called. “You better have my money, you crazy bitch, or you're going to be real sorry I drove all the way out here!”

Clarisse felt a twin shock of fear and anticipation. So far, her plan was working perfectly. Right on time, here he was: Oscar Salazar, her sadistic, drug-dealing boyfriend from South Central. But Oscar was smart and she knew how his mind worked. He was hanging back, close to his car, until he could make out who was with her.

She looked up at Rick, thrilled to see that he was still transforming into her beastie boy, and he was clearly taking the bait. With a snarl, he opened the door of the SUV, but she grabbed his arm.

“Wait,” she said. “Let me go first. I'll get him to come closer. Can you handle them all?”

Rick laughed. “What do you think?”

She gave him a quick kiss and reached over and turned on the Audi's headlights before she got out on the passenger side. “Calm down, Oscar,” she said. “Don't worry—I'm gonna take care of it. Come on over.”

“Who you got with you?” he asked.

“Just my new boyfriend,” she said. “Better be careful. He's a football player, and he's pretty big and pretty mean.”

“You think I'm worried about some punk-ass high school
? Where's my money?”

“Oh, come on, papi,” she cajoled. “Be nice. Come and say hello to Rick. He's rich. He's going to take care of it for me.” She turned and signaled to Rick, and he got out of the car. The look on Oscar's face when he moved into the headlights was everything Clarisse had expected—and more.

Oscar's three thugs were all sporting gang tats, baggy jeans, and side-cocked baseball hats, and they were holding Louisville sluggers and trying to look tough. But the moment they saw the crouching monstrosity Rick had become their eyes grew huge with childlike terror.

“Ay dios mio,”
one of them said. He looked like he wanted to run, but he seemed frozen to the spot where he was standing. “Oscar—what the hell is that, man?” he asked, backing away.

Only Oscar stood his ground, raising his baseball bat as Rick approached. “Stay cool, Manny,” he said “Don't be stupid. It's just some kind of leftover Halloween costume—”

At that instant, the Rick thing sprang at Manny. He didn't even get a chance to swing his bat before Rick had ripped out his throat with gnashing, razor-like teeth. Oscar's other two soldiers squealed like little girls and tried to run, but Rick pounced on them with the grace and power of a lion after prey, tackling them both at once. In a matter of seconds, he'd torn them apart.

Filled with bloodlust he raised his head, sniffing the air, and the ring of glistening gore that surrounded his mouth looked like the red of a clown's makeup. He took a few quick steps in Oscar's direction, and Oscar reared back with his bat and swung it at him as hard as he could. Rick blocked it with his iron arm, and it splintered at the impact. Rick then picked him up by the throat and beat him against a tree until he was as limp as a rag doll.

Trembling, Clarisse stared at Rick in horror, not quite believing what had just happened. A crazy adrenaline rush shot through her veins, and she moved toward Rick slowly, cautiously, as if she were approaching a dangerous animal in the wild. When he saw her, the feral look in his eyes softened. “You like that?” he asked.

“Oh . . . yes. Thank you, baby,” she said. “You helped me more than you know tonight,
. No one has ever done something like that for me.”

But it shook her to the core. The first time she'd seen him morph into a monster, she'd had a weird thought that they would become some kind of power couple, like that
Beauty and the Beast
fairy tale, but now she knew that could never happen. She was terrified of him, but she knew better than to let him see that.

“Okay,” she said. “We gotta clean this up—somehow. Maybe we could push them—what's left of them—into the lake.”

Rick nodded and with a low growl, he grabbed Manny and one of the other guys and started dragging them toward the water. While he was busy with that, Clarisse ran to Oscar's body and searched through his pockets until she found the wad of cash she knew he always carried. She grabbed it, jumped into his car, and took off.

As soon as she got to the main highway, she pulled over for a minute and typed
Greyhound Bus Station, Topeka, KS,
into her phone's navigator, and then she drove away as fast as she could. She didn't stop until she got to Topeka. A few blocks from Greyhound, she ditched the car, after wiping her fingerprints off the steering wheel, gear shift, and door handles.

She was aware of the strange looks people gave her as she bought her ticket—one way—to L.A. But she paid no attention. All she cared about was getting as far away from Middleburg—and Rick—as she could. What she'd seen that night would haunt her for the rest of her life, and it would affect her deeply—body, mind, and soul. It wouldn't be until several hours later, however, when she went into the bathroom in Denver where she had to change buses, that she glanced in the mirror over the sink and saw that her hair had turned completely white.

* * *

While Lily Rose made a big pot of spaghetti and a sauce with the tomatoes from her garden, Kate called Zhai and gave him the good news about Master Chin.

Lily Rose asked Aimee and Maggie to go and set the table. The two girls worked silently, a little shy with each other, and Aimee realized that this was their first moment alone together since she'd come back to Middleburg from boarding school, when Maggie had been so cruel to her.

“Aimee . . .” Maggie began, and then hesitated for so long Aimee thought she wasn't going to speak at all, before she plunged ahead. “I'm sorry. I wasn't a very good friend to you when you got back from Montana. The truth is, I was afraid. Everyone said you went crazy, and I felt like I was on the edge of going crazy myself, taking care of my mom and trying to live up to some stupid image. I felt like I was hanging on by a thread and I was afraid that thread would snap. I was afraid of you. But we were friends once, weren't we?”

“Best friends,” Aimee agreed. “I thought we always would be.”

“I haven't been a very good friend, though,” Maggie said. “Even when I saw you falling for Orias I didn't say anything, and that was wrong because he's dangerous.”

“He isn't dangerous,” Aimee told her. “You just don't know him like I do. But yeah—it really sucked when I came back from boarding school and it seemed like you hated me.”

“I don't hate you.”

“I don't hate you either,” Aimee said and smiled. Her smile turned into a soft chuckle, and her chuckle turned into a loud laugh.

“What?” Maggie said.

“I just remembered the way you looked with that homecoming crown on your head—after you yelled and the wall came tumbling down,” Aimee said. “It was priceless!”

Maggie started laughing, too, and soon they were hugging. They were friends again.

As they ate, Lily Rose advised Aimee to wait until morning to start on her journey.

“I can't,” Aimee said. “I've already lost too much time, and I have this feeling inside me that I have to go now.”

“Then that's just what you ought to do,” the old woman agreed. “Now tell me—what do you need from us?”

Aimee explained that she didn't want to venture back into the past without a couple of modern conveniences—like a flashlight, bottled water, some matches, and her cell phone. Maybe some bread and cheese, in case it took a while for her to get to her mom. Aside from that, she needed all the shards of the ring that she could get her hands on.

“And then I'm going into the tunnel,” she finished. “If I can get to the Wheel of Illusion with a few pieces of the ring, it might generate just enough power, combined with my ability, to get me back to the right year—1877.”

“It might,” said Lily Rose. She looked pointedly at Dalton, and then at Maggie and added, “But I don't like to think of you going alone.”

“She's not going alone,” Maggie said. “I'm going with her.” She looked at Dalton. “You in?”

“I'm in,” said Dalton. She looked at her grandmother. “Is that okay, Grandma?”

“It's more than okay,” said Lily Rose. “It was meant to be.”

Zhai arrived as they were finishing dessert—Lily Rose's homemade apple pie—and he was overjoyed to see Master Chin sitting on Lily Rose's old couch, one of her handmade quilts around his shoulders. When he embraced his kung fu teacher, he seemed moved almost to tears. Aimee had never seen him get so emotional about anything and somehow it gave her a feeling of hope.

“I should go with them,” Chin said.

“Over my dead body,” Lily Rose told him. “You need rest—and these girls are more than capable. And this is a task best left to women.” She turned to their history teacher. “What about you, Miss Pembrook?”

Miss Pembrook grinned. “I wouldn't miss it,” she said. “But . . . you really think you can get us back to 1877, Aimee? I mean—yeah, I've seen some weird things since I've been here—but time travel?”

“Oh, aye—'tis possible,” said Kate, who had been uncharacteristically quiet. She dabbed at her mouth with the paper towel Lily Rose had provided as a napkin and looked seriously at Zhai. “Lily Rose said the time's come when we should talk openly about everything,” she told him. “It's time for me, too. There's somethin' I've been holdin' back—from all of you. I'm not from around these parts, you see.”

“We know,” Zhai said. “You're from Ireland.”

“But I never told you how I came to be here. Maybe it's better to say I'm not from this
.” She glanced at Miss Pembrook. “I don't have any special gifts either. And I didn't come by any information that brought me here, lookin' for answers. But I've traveled through time. And I don't even know how I got from there to here. All I can tell you is that I was on a train on my way to Dublin to talk my little brother out of signing himself into the army—he's determined to go and fight Germans. I was there, in Ireland, on that train. And it was nineteen fifteen. There was a bright flash of light—and then I was here, in Middleburg. I was in the old locomotive graveyard, in that little car I've made my home, with no idea how to get back to my own time.”

“Well, that explains a lot!” exclaimed Dalton. “And you never said a word about it.”

“How could I?” said Kate. “You'd have all thought me daft. For a while I thought it myself.” She turned to Lily Rose. “Do you think there's any chance, if Aimee can get that Wheel thing goin', I'll be able to get back home?”

Zhai grabbed her hand. “No,” he said. “Why do you want to go back? Stay with me.”

She looked at him tenderly. “There's nothin' I'd like better,” she said. “But I've got to make sure my little brother doesn't do anything so foolish as to put himself in a war. I've been readin' about that war in Miss Pembrooks' books, and on the Internet. World War One, they call it, and it's horrible. I never imagined how horrible it would be! And my little brother . . . you see, our ma's not well and he's the baby of the family. She would never survive if anything happened to him.”

“Nothing is certain, Kate,” Lily Rose said gently. “There may be only enough power in those crystal pieces to make one slip. But I suppose you want to go along, just in case?”

* * *

Zhai sat in the comfortable old swing on Lily Rose's front porch, holding Kate's hand. Usually her beauty, her fresh, lively attitude and view of the world—and yes, her hand in his—made him feel renewed, but not tonight. He glanced at his watch, a Movado that his father had given him for Christmas, and it told him it was time to get moving.

“I have to go . . .” he said quietly.

Kate's bright-green eyes glistened softly in the moonlight as she looked up at him. “To fight Rick,” she said. He nodded. “You know, one of my favorite books was always
,” she continued. “And like the fine ladies who gave the knights a token of their favor before they went into battle, I want to give you one. Here's my token.”

And before Zhai knew what was happening, she gently pulled his face down to hers and gave him a long, sensuous kiss. For a second he froze, and he couldn't yield to the infinite pleasure of it. His lips felt wooden against hers. But after a moment, he relaxed, pulled her close, and kissed her more deeply. When the kiss ended, they were both trembling.

“Wow,” Zhai said softly. “I definitely feel braver now.”

“You know this is the silliest thing I've ever heard of,” Kate declared. “You're going to bash each other's brains in, for what? It makes no sense a'tall!”

He brushed her cheek with his fingertips. “I can understand why you think so,” he said. “Believe me, I don't want to go. But I have to.” She nodded, and he kissed her once more. If he survived the fight with Rick, he thought, he would kiss her every chance he got. “You've got to promise me something, Kate,” he said.

“I will if I can.”

“If Aimee can get you back home—if it works—promise me that once you make sure your brother is safe, you'll come back. You have to come back. Now that you're in my life, Kate, I can't get along without you. I love you.” There. He'd said it, and it felt good.

BOOK: Shadow Train
7.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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