Tommy had his mask perched on the top of his head so he could see properly. The blanket of shadows felt cool on his sweaty skin. His gun hung limp against his side as he stared down at an open notepad. His eyes scanned the scribbled words he’d written down over the last couple weeks. Each word was a new lead, a new direction, a new clue. Tommy stared into the words, searching for the answer and did not hear Sam trudging towards him from the underbrush.
“Yo!” Sam yelled as he approached. Tommy ignored him as he scribbled another note hastily on his pad. Sam rolled his eyes and punched Tommy on the arm.
“Ooooouch,” Tommy said with annoyance as he rubbed the spot. Sam winced apologetically. He’d forgotten that he’d packed on muscle and weight over the summer, which meant a casual punch on the arm was a big deal. “What did you do that for?”
“Because you’re an awful friend.”
“Uh huh,” Tommy said absentmindedly as his eyes roamed across the landscape.
“Because you aren’t wearing any pants.”
“Sure,” Tommy responded. Sam’s face flushed with frustration.
“Tommy, you need to give it up. You aren’t going to find it. It’s just not possible.”
Tommy finally looked up. There was indignation in his eyes.
“Figured you would. Tell me, why on earth would a train be this far away from a railroad?”
Indignation was replaced with knowledge.
“It was finished in 1945 and created Shasta Lake Reservoir.”
Sam truly wanted his friend to give it up and move on, but he knew how passionate Tommy was about his great grandfather and about finding the remains of The Daylight. Despite having already heard—and endured—endless theories which all ended up threadbare, Sam nodded his head and pretended to listen.
“And I assume it’s the key,” Sam goaded.
“Yes! Before they completed the dam, they built Pit River Bridge which is where The Daylight derailed. In my past research, I assumed the train derailed and hit one of the banks on either side of the river before igniting in a ball of flame,” he said as he looked at Sam, expecting him to remember.
“Yeah. Makes sense,” Sam offered.
“Exactly. If the train was hurtling down the hill, it would make sense that it would derail on the far bank. However, I have a theory,” Tommy said as he glanced down at his notes.
“Of course, you do,” Sam said mostly to himself.
“My theory is that the train mostly splashed into the Pit River directly beneath where it derailed. Now, most of the train was recovered in a tangled, fiery mess along the river, but not the front two cars and the engine. I think it washed down stream and made its way through the construction of the dam before they put the spillway in, which means any missing piece could have slipped past the dam without anyone knowing, which means it may have eventually landed where the Sacramento River used to flow, but thinned out once the dam was erected,” he said in one breath. Sam could tell Tommy’s head was spinning with the lack of oxygen and abundance of information. He approached the stick figure boy and put his hand on his shoulder.
“Dude, you’re a spaz. It’s 1997. Even if you did find it, it would be a rust bucket,” Sam said logically. Dismay accumulated behind Tommy’s eyes as his lips formed a hard line. “Besides, this isn’t one of our Hardly Boys books.”
“Hardy Boys,” Tommy corrected as he shot Sam a glare. “You know I’m right, Sam,” Tommy said in a serious tone.
“I also know you’re crazy. So, why don’t you climb up that rock over there,” Sam suggested as he pointed to a massive boulder that stood over ten feet off the ground, “and tell me how we can get back to the campground.”
Tommy didn’t even look at the boulder. White lines of worry creased across his cheeks.
“You know I don’t do heights, Samantha,” Tommy retorted. An awkward silence gathered between them. Sam felt a little guilty. Tommy was still acting like they were best friends. Sam just felt exhausted and ready to move on.
“Yeah, yeah. Just figured you’d grow out of it now that you’re fourteen. Come on, dude. Let’s go celebrate your birthday. The others want to hang out with you,” Sam lied.
“Yeah, right. They’re just here for free paintball,” Tommy said over his notes. Sam’s face started to grow red.
“That’s not true, Tommy.”
“Sam, I haven’t made a new friend since sixth grade. And none of them were in my sixth-grade class,” he said bluntly.
“Well, maybe if you tried to make new friends.” Now it was Tommy’s face that deepened in color. For the two of them, this wasn’t the first time they’d had this conversation. Sam could see it starting to dissolve into another argument.
“I don’t want to talk about this,” Tommy said softly.
“Fine. But, I’m heading back.”
“Fine with me,” Tommy said smugly as he stared down at his notepad. Sam fought the sudden urge to shoot the kid in the chest.
“Whatever,” Sam said as he turned. “You just don’t get it,” he mumbled.
“Get what, exactly?” Sam’s face ran with color. He thought Tommy hadn’t heard him. He knew he should just keep walking, but found his body turning around.
“Nothing, Tommy. Go back to your train hunt and keep pretending,” he said sarcastically.
“Keep pretending what?” Sam could feel his blood boiling.
“That tomorrow we’ll be best buds again.” Tommy glared at him as a pregnant tension settled between the two of them. Sam could see the hurt in Tommy’s eyes.
“The campground is that way,” Tommy said as he pointed over Sam’s left shoulder. Sam clenched his jaw firmly as Tommy went back to staring at his notes. He had a thousand mean things to say, but decided it wasn’t worth his time as he turned to leave.
“Ow!” Sam shouted as shards of pain scattered across his foot. His gun dropped off his shoulder as he hopped around. His hands flew to his right foot as the pain continued to echo.
“Why are you being a cry baby?” Tommy asked. Sam held back a swear word as he rested his weight against a tree. The agony was subsiding as he massaged the tip of his shoe.
“I’m not a cry baby. I hit something!”
“Yeah. There’s lots of things to hit around here.”
“No, I mean I hit something that hit back. Was it a rock or something?” Sam asked. He hoped he hadn’t broken the toe.
“I don’t know. I assume you want me to check?”
Tommy shook his head in disbelief as he stooped down and started digging in the leaves. Sam closed his eyes and concentrated on the pain as his hands continued to move it out of his foot.
“I can’t believe it,” Tommy said almost to himself.
“Can’t believe what?” Sam put his foot down to test his weight. It throbbed, but didn’t send electricity up his leg.
“I found it,” Tommy whispered. Suddenly, he began frantically digging as leaves and debris showered the air.
“Woah! Watch it!” Sam shouted. Tommy didn’t seem to hear as his hands clawed at the earth. Within a minute, he’d managed to dig out a sizeable area. Tommy settled down onto the back of his legs in silence. Sam pushed off from the tree to see what he was looking at.
At first, Sam didn’t recognize the object. It was round and metallic with a wide glass center.
“What is it?” Tommy gripped the edge of the metal and pulled. The ground cracked and fell away as decades lifted off the object. He lifted it up and shook the rest of the debris from the glass. The object was cradled in both of his arms like a baby.
“It’s a headlamp.”
“A headlamp? To what?”
Tommy paused as he looked up at Sam. Excitement shown feverishly in his eyes.
“To The Daylight.”