Matt had not believed the nightmare that surrounded the train when he surfaced in the bayou. There were bodies floating in the water. The train and bayou were on fire, with thick smoke rolling off what looked like an engine lying in the water.
He had swum to shore, and an older man helped him up the bank out of the slippery mud.
A woman with bright blonde hair, who looked like she was almost too weak to stand, came up to him. He heard loud voices yelling in the distance.
She told him, “Matt, go find Jackson. You must go find him.” There was power in her voice that did not match her appearance.
A great fear overcame him, as he realized that he almost died in the wreck. What she said finally dawned on him – this woman knew Jackson!
“Jackson. Anna. Have you seen them? Do you know them?” he asked.
“You must go back and find Jackson,” the woman told him. “I’m too weak and there is not much time.”
“I can’t go back. I can’t,” he pleaded for her to believe him, searching her face to see if she would argue. His legs shivered in the cool night air, and refused to move. He could not imagine swimming back to the train, as flames poured out of all the upper-floor windows in the car that they had been in. It was partially submerged in the water, but the portion sticking out was burning brightly.
“You must go back and find Jackson,” the woman told him.
As a portion of the bridge collapsed he heard cheers and yelling in the distance. The noise was so loud that he had to strain to hear what she was saying above the racket.
“I can’t. I can’t go back,” he mumbled again, sounding like he was trying to convince himself more than her.
He could see sadness on the woman’s face as she knelt down and prayed. “Lord, please provide a way. My strength is gone. Strengthen Matthew.”
He sank down to the ground also, tears running down his face. The way she said “Matthew” tugged at his heart, willing him to be stronger.
“Anna, where’s Anna?” he asked the woman, afraid of what she might tell him, but having an overwhelming desire to find out about Jackson’s girlfriend.
“Anna is resting and being cared for. You must go back and find Jackson. Don’t fail now.”
The noise surrounding the train was almost unbearable. At times it sounded like wicked laughter and cheering. Then it would subside into yelling and cursing, before another crescendo of laughter would be heard. What does anyone have to be happy about? he wondered.
The more he listened to the noise and yelling, the more frightened he became. The sound bore into his soul, stealing any glimmer of hope out of his mind.
“Take my hand,” she offered, holding out her hand. “Ignore those voices. Listen only to me. My name is Andri-el. Go find Jackson. Go find him.”
“No, I can’t,” he muttered, sitting in the mud with his chin resting on his knees. Sobs rocked his body, as tears rolled down his face. “I can’t.” He couldn’t bear to look into the woman’s face.
When the loud yelling and cheering abruptly stopped he looked up, but the woman was gone. The eerie silence that followed was only broken by the sound of the flames on the bridge and in the water, and one of the conductors blowing his whistle.
He could feel the intense heat of the flames on his face as he sat and watched the horrendous scene unfold. Suddenly a large explosion sent flames and debris across the small waterway, threatening to ignite the surrounding trees. The force of the explosion pushed him over, knocking the breath out of him momentarily. He heard glass breaking and hitting gravel somewhere along the train cars sitting on the tracks. A moan escaped the crowd gathered outside those train cars.
“See, I would have been out there in the middle of that explosion if I had gone back,” he said out loud, trying to convince himself that there was nothing that he could have done for Jackson. It sounded like a hollow argument even to his own ears. “Jackson, my friend Jackson, I’m so sorry,” he cried. He could not take his eyes off the flames.