Tommy sat up with a jerk as he raised his arms to defend himself from the onslaught of dirt and debris. His heart catapulted in his chest, rebounding like a pinball machine as the feeling of searing heat subsided. The sound of grinding metal and rupturing pressure died away as the sound of insects trilling filled his ears. Seconds passed without incident as the night settled around him.
He was alive.
A strained relief rushed into his chest. Tommy lowered his arms and saw stars through the Californian canopy. Delirious, he sat up, unsure of himself. As reality steadied itself in his mind, his hands flew to his face. He could feel the soft, pubescent face he often saw in the mirror and not the stubble of Officer Perkins. Bewildered, and in shock, Tommy hid his head in his hands.
What had he just witnessed? Had it been real?
It had felt real. More than a memory. Tangible. Tommy didn’t understand it, but felt that he didn’t need to understand. Instead, the weight of his great grandfather’s sacrifice lifted him to his feet.
Tommy swayed. He could still feel the Daylight moving underneath his feet. He could still hear the shriek of the train’s wheels on the tracks. He could still smell the delicious foods.
He could still see Thomas Rice, with white knuckled grip on the brake, and triumph in his eyes.
They’d done it. They’d prevented thousands—millions of deaths. Thomas Rice had ensured that his choices would prevent an epidemic. Sam had risked his own life to help Tommy.
Tommy jerked around. Where was he!? Had he made it back? Tommy’s chest tightened. Was Sam still stuck on The Daylight? Or worse, was he dead?
A tree branch snapped with a crack. Panic hit Tommy as he searched for The Daylight’s head lamp flooding the night with light.
“Yo!” Sam’s familiar voice brought a wave of relief as he melted out of the darkness. “What are you doing over here? Taking a nap?” He teased. He stopped a few feet away from Tommy. Tommy could barely make him out as the moonlight filtered through the canopy. Sam extended his hand, and Tommy took it greedily. With a rush, Sam pulled Tommy to his feet.
For a second, only the woods spoke around them. Tommy tried to read Sam’s face, but couldn’t decipher his appearance. If it had been a dream, then Sam would only think Tommy was crazy if he brought it all up.
“So…,” Tommy began.
“Did you do it?” Sam asked abruptly.
“You know…derail the train?” Tommy let the anxiety rush out of him.
“Yeah! No thanks to you, man. While we were plummeting to our death, you were out cold,” Tommy jabbed.
“You try to stay awake when your arm is hanging halfway off your shoulder. I guess I shouldn’t have helped you catch the bad guy, Officer,” Sam retaliated. A steady, rhythmic silence gathered between them.
“Dude…what just happened?” Tommy asked softly.
“Ask me in the morning because I have no idea,” Sam reflected. “All I know is that it is good to be back in my body,” Sam said as he patted himself down. Tommy grew pensive and quiet. His eyes scanned the moonlit woods around him as he searched. “You alright?” Sam asked through the night.
“It’s gone. All gone. And nobody knows what really happened,” Tommy said in a tone tinged with sorrow and loss.
“I know what really happened,” Sam said. Tommy stared through the softening darkness at Sam as his mind worked on a myriad of emotions. “Come on, man. Let’s go home. It’s almost morning,” Sam said on dawn lit lips.
“So, does this mean you’re not going to be my friend anymore?” Tommy asked.
“You know, since it’s not my birthday anymore?” Sam snorted.
“You’re a dork. You’re not getting rid of me that easy. Besides, what better way to remind you that you owe me one—no two—for saving your life,” Sam countered.
“Saved my life? When did that happen!?” The two of them started walking side by side.
“My karate skills! That guy was going for your head.”
“That’s not what I saw.”
“Well, Old Man Perkins obviously needed his eyes checked.”
“If you say so, youngster,” Tommy volleyed. Sam shoved him playfully. Now, with their words spent, the two of them walked next to each other through the woods as they spoke without voices.
As they moved further and further from the past, Tommy steadily felt a hole fill up in his chest. He finally had answers—even if they weren’t the ones he was looking for. Even if they were ones given by someone’s sacrifice. The gnawing ache to know, to understand, was filled.
What was Tommy supposed to do now? A part of him wanted to stay the same—to keep on being Tommy Rice, the train kid. But, that wasn’t his legacy anymore. No, it was time for Tommy to face his fears. It was time for him to stand on the edge of the cliff. Friendship, sometimes, was scarier than heights.
Tommy looked at Sam and knew their friendship was enough. Enough to solve a murder mystery. Enough to stop a diabolical plot. Enough to save thousands. Enough to derail a train. Enough to restore the Rice Family Legacy.
Their friendship was enough to make it into the daylight.
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