Sam landed hard on all fours atop a metal box car. The wind and rain slammed into her face, making it difficult to breathe. Claw-man was two cars ahead, stumbling forward, a dim figure in the scant light.
The train hit a turn and Sam nearly stumbled right off the roof of the car. She caught herself just at the edge, regaining her balance. Trees whipped by on her left, the car beneath her shifted and she compensated, stepping back toward the center, hands out, fingers spread. Cold wind lashed her face; raindrops stung like small pebbles as she carried herself forward to the front of the container. There was a roughly five-foot gap between this car and the next, another box car. She would have to jump into the wind. In the movies, they made this look easy…
Looking ahead, Sam could barely see Claw-man now. He had continued moving forward, meaning that she would have to do the same if she had any hope of catching him; of making him tell her where and how to find Kronin.
And so she put her right foot on the edge, hunched down, and pushed off as hard as she could.
Her left foot barely caught the edge of the next car, and the wind threatened to push her backward, where she would fall and potentially drop onto the tracks only to be crushed or cut in half by the train’s wheels.
But the imbalance only lasted a second, and then she was firmly planted once again on a metal roof. Looking ahead, she saw Claw-man standing a few cars away, favoring his good leg, watching. Waiting.
Pushing against the rain and wind, her face and ears now numb, Sam progressed once again to the front edge of the car. Looking toward the next, however, her heart dropped into her stomach.
It was a tank car. Large and cylindrical, with a dome in the middle, like the fuel tanks that truckers hauled. Landing on that was going to be far trickier. Especially with the rain making its surface slick.
She paused at the edge. There was no turning back now. Taking several quick breaths, Sam flexed her fingers, tensed, and jumped.
Her right foot slipped upon contact with the tanker’s curved metal top. She fell onto her ass, arms wheeling to keep her from falling back into the space between the cars. Crunching her stomach muscles, fighting the wind, she strained; gritting her teeth she pushed her core strength to its limit but finally leaned forward enough to plant her hands in front of her. A throbbing, persistent pain in her injured right hand was beating in time with her heart as she scooted away from the gap.
Not far away, the shadow of Claw-man turned and limped on. Sam proceeded cautiously but quickly on all fours to the end of the tanker car. She then stood and paused only a second before jumping to the next box car; then she ran and jumped to the next. She was gaining on Claw-man, but there was a mountain approaching quickly, and at its base a looming black void.
The next car was open-topped, filled with granite, slightly higher than the car she was on. Sam leaped just as the freight train hurtled itself into the throat of the mountain. She dropped to all fours, the sharp edges of the small gravel stones cutting into her left palm and knees. Unable to put too much weight onto her right hand, Sam rested her brace on the rocks and hobbled forward in the darkness. Every exertion produced more pain.
The train emerged from the tunnel and rain once again pelted Sam’s face as she looked ahead to see…
Claw-man was gone.
But where? He must have slipped down between cars. There were only a handful left before the engine. Sam reached the front of the gravel car, got down on all fours and looked down. The rails and ground sped beneath her in a blur but there was no one there. She faced forward again, stood and leaped onto another open-topped car, this one filled with a thick, powdery black material… asphalt?
Her feet sank in the soot-like stuff. It was like walking through sand as she progressed step by step, making her way at last to the leading edge, where she got down again, leaned over and looked below. But again, Claw-man was not in between the cars.
She stood once more and it was then she felt the powder shift slightly beneath her; heard a sound directly at her back.
She spun even as Claw-man fully stood, covered in the black powder, reaching out, trying to push her off the car. Sam grabbed hold of his arms, stepped backward onto the metal rim and shoved herself back. She twisted in mid-air, grasping for the edge of the box car on the other side with her left hand. Even as she caught it one-handed she felt the vagrant land against her, hugging her body, trying to arrest his fall. He dropped and pulled her with him.
Sam let go and slid down the back of the box car, her right foot landing on a metal ledge no more than six inches deep. Her left foot was on a thick metal bar that was part of the coupler. The vibration alone threatened to rattle her loose, but she grabbed onto a small metal ladder to her left and pivoted counter-clockwise, switching the positions of her feet.
Claw-man was there, standing on the coupler, his breath smelling like something dead and rotten. His eyes were wide with murderous intent. Sam had to let go of the ladder with her left hand to face him, but she gripped its metal rail now with her right even as she reached behind to pull out her Desert Eagle.
Claw-man lashed out with his left fist, striking her across the jaw, but the hit was awkward and didn’t have much force behind it as the vagrant struggled to keep his balance. Sam had moved with the punch, and as she returned to an upright position she raised the pistol. The other man’s right hand, the lobster-claw, shot up and latched onto Sam’s left hand, squeezing, clamping with incredible force. Sam cried out as she felt bones about to break. She let go of the gun…
And whipped her right hand underneath to catch it. She maneuvered it in her grip, put the barrel directly under Claw-man’s chin, and prayed that her finger would have enough strength to pull the trigger.
The top of Claw-man’s head erupted, his eyes went blank and the body crumpled, falling to one side, striking the ground and disappearing instantly.
Without that body to push against, and with one hand incapacitated and the other holding a gun, Sam had no way to hold on. She fell forward and stuck her right hand, still holding the pistol, out; both hand and pistol met the metal of the asphalt car. Pain seared all the way to her shoulder. Fighting through the agony, Sam stepped forward onto the coupling, enough to regain her balance. She removed her hand from the next car, replaced the Desert Eagle behind her back, then rotated back around, reaching across her body to grab onto the ladder rail with her weak right hand.
Slowly, painfully, Sam maneuvered herself to the metal ladder and began to climb.