Sometimes the most fun writing these things is the dialogue. Here’s a little snippet from the forthcoming The Lone Star Express:
Apparently anything can go wrong.
The train was slowing. Not majorly slowing, but the vibration and the rocking seemed less, and the lights passing in the night seemed to go by more slowly. I had swept most of the broken glass—all that wasn’t beneath Frank—into the corner where I had gotten the blankets, and Frank was trying to get to his feet.
“You want to help me up?” he asked. He had his left arm braced on a bar, trying to lever himself to his feet.
“I want you to lay there,” I said.
He faltered for a moment and lay back down. “I’m gonna try again in a minute. By the way, you make a terrible nurse.”
“Bill? Over!” The voice over the radio JoJo’s.
I picked up the radio and keyed the mic. “Yeah? Over.”
“Get up here. I need an extra hand. Only came with two of them. Charlie’s coming back there to spell you because he can’t…”
I waited. “Can’t what? Over.”
“Never mind that. Can you come on over?” Then, uncertainly, “Over.”
“Come over where? Over.”
“Come forward until you find me. Over.”
“Can we stop saying ‘over’? It’s getting old. Over.”
“Okay. I’m coming…uh, over.”
There was a beat of a pause, then, “So when are you going to stop saying ‘over?’ Over.”
“Right now,” I said, and released the mic. I waited, then keyed the mic again. “I’m also leaving off the ‘out’.”
With that done, I looked back down at Frank. “You gonna be okay there for a few minutes? Charlie’s coming back here.”
I turned to go, but then heard him whisper, “Amateurs.”
“What was that?” I asked.
“Nothing. Just go.”
I opened the door onto the narrow brim beneath my feet, and for a moment began to doubt where I was going anywhere. The problem was the blackness of the night outside the caboose. The dim lighting from inside cast my shadow onto the rear of the refrigeration car in front of me. When I stepped a little to the side, I could see the brim of the car three feet in front of me and the faintly illuminated rungs of the later, but the problem was that when I stepped back in order to prepare myself to lunge forward, the ladder vanished into the darkness.
JoJo saved me with a squawk over the radio: “Bill, there’s a light switch by the door.”
I flipped it, but at that instant it decided to burn out. The flare was brief, and I knew if from all the times I had turned on my closet light or my back porch light and the tiny filaments in the bulb of glass decided to take the opportunity to check out.
I keyed the mic. “Just burned out. Here goes nothing.”
“It’s a piece of cake,” she said, and silence ensued.
“I now officially miss ‘over’,” I said.
“Will you two can the chatter?” Corky’s voice came over the radio. “We’re losing pressure fast.”
“I know. I know,” JoJo said. “Give us a minute.”
“Or five,” I said.
“You’ve got about four, and then this thing is coming to a stop and we’ll have to bank the fire.”
“What’s that mean?” I asked.
“Starve it of oxygen,” Leo’s voice stated.
“Just aim and jump,” JoJo said.
“Okay,” I said. “Everybody shut up. Here I come.”
I turned the radio off, put it in my pocket, stepped to the side to let the dim light through.
Behind me, Frank shouted, “Just jump!”
“All right, already. Everybody’s a critic.”
I studied the rung I was going to grasp, and where I would have to put my feet. I counted from ten to one, then decided to start all over.
It came unbidden into my mind at that moment. One time Jessica and I were playing one-on-one basketball in the driveway and she was standing her ground from well past the free-throw line, and I couldn’t get past her. I dribbled, held the ball, dribbled and stepped, held it again, and then a feeling came over me. It was a sense of rightness. Why was I trying to get closer to the basket when all I needed was that feeling? I had height on Jessica, and I knew there was really nothing she could do. I dribbled once more, made as if I were going to step again, but instead leapt straight up and threw. The ball sailed up in a beautiful slow motion arc, as if what I had done was the laziest thing in the world, then went through the net without touching the hoop. It was game point. Jessica’s shoulders slumped and she said, “How am I supposed to defend against that?” to which I replied, “You don’t. There’s no defense against that.” “What do you call that?” “It’s a thing wonderful and rare. It’s called a sense of rightness.” The next morning I was awakened by the sound of a basketball banging off of the backboard. I looked out the window, and there was Jessica, practicing from past the freethrow line. She would jump straight up and throw, miss, try again and miss. Finally, as I watched, she got it. Then she stood there and I watched as the implication sunk in. And that was my gift that day to her.
I stood there in the night and waited. When it came, I recognized it and didn’t hesitate. I jump forward and my overly large shadow in front of me shrank. The rung of the ladder came into my hands at the same moment that my feet came down exactly where they were supposed to land. I started up without a second thought. There’s something to be said for rightness.