Continuing this story after reading Cindy’s amazing poem falls into that category..
Did you miss Part One?
Nine o’clock Train continued..
“You should never walk in the forest alone. Especially at night.”
Madeline gasped at the low words. “Who’s there?” Her voice trembled with anxiety.
The speaker stepped from the shadows where he had been shrouded from view moments before.
“Are you okay?” He moved towards her slowly, as if she were a deer ready to bolt. Madeline scooted back until she felt a tree trunk behind her.
“Stay away from me.”
Holding up his hands, he took a step back. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“How long have you been there? Have you been following me?” Her voice rose shrilly.
“Long enough to know that you have no idea where you are. I can lead you back to civilization if you want.”
Madeline bit her lip and appraised the situation. In a way, he reminded her of her goofy older brother Jared. He had a nice face, and his voice revealed no hint of bad intentions. Was there any alternative? She tried to reason, but her thoughts refused to connect coherently. She took a deep breath and channeled more confidence than she felt.
“I can find my way home from the train tracks. Can you take me there?”
Without answering, he turned and began to walk briskly away. Madeline followed him blankly with her eyes before chasing after his retreating form.
“Wait! Hold on!” Her arms hung limply by her side. “What’s you name?”
“Avery.” He paused but didn’t turn. She felt some of her apprehension melt and approached him hesitantly.
“I’m Madeline Welch.”
Avery turned his head toward her. A hint of recognition passed across his face.
“Is your older brother…?”
“Jared Welch? Yeah.”
Madeline bit the inside of her cheek as Avery continued pushing through the low-hanging limbs.
“Do you know my brother?”
“I used to.” He lifted a vine for her to pass under.
“Thanks.” She started to ask him more about how he knew Jared, but stopped. Something about the pinched expression on his face made her want to change the subject.
“How much further?” She winced at the stitch that had formed in her side. She had to job to keep up with his long strides.
“Not too far. What are you doing out here alone, anyway?”
Did he have to ask that? Madeline cut her eyes away.
“I’ve been away for a long time. The path isn’t as clear as it used to be. And I should be asking you the same question.”
Avery shrugged one shoulder, appearing not to notice her suddenly defensive tone. “I’m just passing through.”
Madeline frowned at the back of his head. Who was “just passing through” the forest after dark?
“Doesn’t make much sense to me.” She regretted the sarcastic words as soon as they slipped from her tongue. Stupid girl, she scolded herself. When you’re alone with a stranger, you don’t make him mad at you!
“I’m sorry—I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.” She tried to smooth things over quickly.
Avery woke from an inner reverie. “What did you say?”
Madeline tilted her head, her mouth slightly ajar. “Uh, nothing.” She tripped over a large root, but Avery caught her arm and held her steady.
They continued in silence until Madeline realized he was still gripping her wrist.
“Your hand is freezing cold.”
He pulled away quickly. “Sorry.”
“How late would you say it is?” Madeline broke the awkward silence. Avery looked around.
“It’s almost nine o’clock.”
Madeline shivered. “I thought it was later than that. It feels like we’ve been walking for hours.”
“But we haven’t heard the train go by yet.”