A lone female must fight for her life against an obsessed stalker.
| The garish lights of the city rippled across the gleaming finish of Barbie’s pink Corvette, as it took the corner sideways in an ear-splitting screech of rubber, and shot away down the narrow street. The buildings to either side were shut tight; there was no help to be had there. The high-heeled pump on her right foot pressed the accelerator pedal to the floor.
She glanced into the rear-view mirror, looking anxiously for signs of her pursuer. Her long, blonde hair whipped wildly in the wind; her kerchief had been torn from her head in the attack she had narrowly escaped. There was no sign of pursuit, but she knew that meant nothing. He wouldn’t stop until he had her. She had seen what he did.
An involuntary sob burst from her rosebud lips, and tears filled her blue eyes. They rolled back across her face, pushed by the wind, leaving dark streaks of mascara in their wakes. The shock of the attack was still fresh in her mind. It played out again and again as she drove maniacally, fleeing for her life. Poor Ken... his head had been torn completely off...
Up ahead, she saw the big, black Hummer careen into the street on smoking tires and turn toward her. He had cut her off! Reacting with lightning speed born of her terror, she hit the brakes and clutch, downshifted while she wrenched the wheel to the left, and went into another fishtail turn. At the right instant, her high-heel jumped from brake to accelerator, while she released the clutch, and floored the gas again. The ‘Vette shot into the street that abutted Knapford Station. She saw a flash of blue and heard the whistle of one of the steam engines, its pitch bent by the Doppler effect as she rocketed past. The Hummer barreled around the corner, hot on her tail. She shifted into high gear, her eyes drawn to the rear-view again and again as she began to pull away.
Then she screamed and slammed on the brakes. The train she had heard was crossing the street in front of her! She fought for control as the anti-lock braking system engaged with a shudder. The car swept sideways and nearly rolled over on her, but stopped only inches away from the rumbling blue locomotive. She gripped the wheel, gasping for breath, and looked up, past the lowered black-and-white striped crossing signal, and saw the big, blue engine roll past, a large, yellow numeral 4 painted on the side of its coal tender. She knew that train!
“Gordo-o-o-o-on! Gordon, help me,” she screamed, as loudly as she could, but the train kept building speed. He and his fireman were probably in a hurry to join the poker game at Tidmouth Sheds.
She looked around, desperate for an escape route. The train station was on the left side of the street, behind where the ‘Vette had come to rest. In front of her was a big, dark warehouse. To her right, back along the street she had just traversed, the Hummer was approaching fast. She was trapped. Unless...
She released the buckle of her seat belt, and fumbled frantically with the door handle. She finally got it open, and leaped out of the car. She slipped off her stilettos and let them clatter to the blacktop. A person could hardly walk in the things, much less run. Her tiny feet clad only in her nylons, Barbie ran for her life.
The gravel bed that supported the train tracks quickly tore her stockings to shreds. Her feet shrieked with pain at every step, but she forced herself to run as fast as she could. Her skirt hiked up her thighs nearly to her hips as her long legs propelled her alongside the train. Tank cars rumbled past her, one after another, then a string of open-topped hoppers filled with coal, and three boxcars. Then she poured on an extra burst of speed and reached out her hands as the caboose came past. She thrust her arms into the railing as the car flashed past, and was instantly yanked from her feet. She struggled to hold on, though she thought that her arms would pop free of their sockets. Slowly, agonizingly, she drew herself onto the caboose platform.
She lay on the metal grate decking and cried in pain, terror, and relief, all at once, while she gasped for breath. She looked back through the iron balusters of the railing, in time to see the steel-caged front end of the Hummer slam into the side of her ‘Vette. A thousand shards of pink fiberglass fountained high into the air, as the big, black monster machine shoved her shattered car completely across the tracks. Then, it stopped. A hatch opened out of the rear of the vehicle, and a black motorcycle leaped out. A moment later, it was tearing along the gravel after the train, gaining. Its rider was clad in black leather, and wore a black helmet with an opaque black visor. She couldn’t see his face, but she knew who he was.
She also knew that he would never give up. That wasn’t Joe’s style.
She braced herself, and climbed to her feet. Her arms ached, and the metal grate was agony on the torn skin of her soles, but she clamped her jaw tight and ignored the pain. She slid the caboose door open and slipped inside.
The car was empty. There were a few benches, a desk for a conductor’s station, though there wouldn’t be a conductor on a freight train, and a big tool box for the brakeman, who was probably up front shooting the breeze with the driver and the fireman. They were the only hope of assistance she had. She needed to get to the front of the train.
She moved to the front end of the caboose, leaving bloody footprints behind her. When she slid the front door open, she heard the whine of the motorcycle’s engine over the rumble of the train’s wheels on the steel rails. He would catch the train any moment, and then he’d be after her. She had to hurry.
The boxcar in front of the caboose had a steel ladder running down the middle of its back end, maybe four feet away from the front rail of the caboose. Barbie grasped the rail, and brought her left leg over it, and down on the outside, to straddle the rail, as if she were riding Tawny, her pony. Her toes searched for purchase on the narrow ledge there, then she brought her right leg over to join it. She let her weight down, while gripping the rail with both hands. Below, gravel and railroad ties flashed past in a blur beneath the coupling. The train shimmied and shook as it thundered along. The whine of the motorcycle grew louder. The ladder was directly across from her. All she had to do was reach out... But it was too far away for her to reach without letting go of the railing and trusting herself to catch hold of it.
She felt like crying. How could she have ever been attracted to that maniac? She remembered the night she had met him, at the nightclub near the military base. He was in town on assignment, he had told her. They danced, and he told her story after story of his exploits fighting some gang of terrorists. It had seemed so exciting, and Ken had been away...
She blinked away tears, and leaped for the ladder. Her bloody foot slipped off of the rung, and in catching herself, she wrenched her left arm again. But she managed to get her feet onto the rungs, and started to climb. As she reached the top, the black motorcycle appeared below. She watched, frozen in terror, as Joe leaped from the bike and onto the caboose platform. He made it look easy.
Barbie turned and ran across the roof of the boxcar. She hadn’t even crossed three-quarters of it, when she glanced back to see Joe’s helmet-clad head rise from beyond the far end. He climbed onto the roof and started toward her. He was armed to the teeth, as if he was chasing one of his terrorist playmates. A pistol was holstered at his right hip, and one of those big knives was strapped to his left thigh. He even had a couple of grenades on a strap across his big, muscular chest! Okay, so he was pretty hot. He was also crazy; a jealous, stalker lunatic. She turned and ran.
When she reached the end of the car, she didn’t even slow. She leaped headlong over the gap between the cars, and landed hard on the roof of the next one in line. She scrambled to her feet and sprinted for the far end. The painted steel was slippery; she nearly fell twice, but she reached the other end and leaped for the third and last of the boxcars. Barbie’s leap was short. She landed on the edge, and her feet slipped. She dropped toward the tracks beneath the fast-moving train.
Desperately, she grabbed for the ladder. She caught it with her fingertips, not enough to hold on, but as she lost her grip, she was deflected toward the coupling. She landed, her bottom striking the steel joint hard. Pain shot up her spine, but she scrambled for the ladder, and caught hold.
Not even taking the time to breathe, Barbie began to climb back up. Where was Joe? He could be right behind her. He could be...
Right in front of her.
Hands clad in black leather gloves took hold of her blouse and yanked her up onto the roof of the boxcar. She gave him no time to regain his balance. She drove her knee into his crotch as hard as she could.
She almost fell backward again when he doubled over. But she windmilled her arms and got her feet under her. She leaped over his curled up, prostrate form, and ran. She heard him cursing her as she put distance between them. She reached the front end of the boxcar. Before her, a long line of coal hoppers stretched away, with tank cars beyond them. At the far end was Gordon’s coal tender, and the engine, where she would find help.
She leaped off of the boxcar, and landed on the first jagged heap of anthracite.
“Owwww!” Her feet were killing her, but she scrambled to the top of the heap, making for the front of the hopper. There, she jumped again, and landed on the next pile of coal. Behind her, Joe was coming again. With a touch of satisfaction to leaven her fear, she saw that he was walking a little bowlegged, and not moving quite as fast as he had been. She smiled and scrambled forward.
He caught her again on the fourth hopper. She was just getting up after her leap, when he landed on top of her, crushing her belly-down into the sharp, black nuggets. She struggled and twisted, trying to get out from beneath him, but he held her tight in a kung-fu grip.
She looked desperately for some way to get free, but found nothing but black coal below and black night sky above, while the man in black leather pressed her down and put his helmet next to her ear.
“It doesn’t have to be like this. We can still have a good thing, if you play nice.”
“Play nice?!” Barbie couldn’t believe her ears. This murdering lunatic still wanted to be her boyfriend! “What do you--” The scathing refusal she was about to shout into his bowling-ball face was cut short by the shout of the man in blue-tick overalls who was climbing over the heap of coal.
“Hey! What in the Sam Hill is-” In a flash, Joe was up in a crouch. His pistol barked once, and the brakeman’s forehead exploded in a puff of red. He fell back out of her sight. Barbie had twisted around onto her back, and was scrambling up, in another attempt to escape, but Joe was on her again in an instant. He put the hot muzzle of the gun he’d just used to murder the brakeman against her temple.
“So,” said Joe, his visor right in front of her face. “You were saying?”
She could see her reflection in the shiny black plastic. She was an absolute mess! Her hair was a wild tangle. Her makeup was smeared, what she could see of it beneath the smudges of coal dust. Her clothes were ruined. Her nails were probably ragged and torn. Oh, well... they said love was blind. It was worth a try.
Barbie watched her reflection smile sweetly. “Why, Joey... I never knew you cared so much about little me. I’m sorry we had a fight,” she pouted. She batted her eyes, and wriggled a little - in a much nicer way - beneath his hard body. “Maybe we could, you know... make up?”
“Now you’re talking my language, baby.” With his left hand, he undid the chin strap on his helmet, and used his right, the pistol still gripped in it, to help lift it off. His rugged, chiseled features grinned at her, and he lowered his face until it was so close to hers, she could feel the breath he expelled and heard it hissing, snake-like, with every syllable of his next words. “I don’t know what you saw in that wussy Ken, anyway.” He planted his lips on hers, and his wriggling body ground her into the coal.
Then his eyes jumped open wide with shock.
“Ken was more of a man than you ever were, soldier-boy.”
She gave the big knife she’d buried in his guts a savage twist, then pushed him off of her. He looked at her in surprise as he slid away down the pile of coal. The black, rubberized handle of his combat dagger protruded from the base of his rib cage.
Barbie blew him a kiss, as the light faded from his eyes.
Suddenly the world was shattered by the thunderous shout of some stentorian voice. A huge hand grabbed Joe, and Gordon was suddenly derailed. Barbie tumbled from the coal pile as the hoppers overturned. The ground came up to meet her--
* * *
“Susie! What are you doing with my toys? You’re gonna wreck ‘em!”
“I am not! Besides, you weren’t playing with them. You were playing video games.”
“So? They’re still mine, and Gordon’s way too small to carry Joe, or, yuck, Barbie! That’s why he derailed! I’m telling!”
Susie’s brother got up from where he crouched by the toppled train set that circled the Christmas tree, and ran off to the kitchen, yelling for their Mom. Susie just smiled and picked up her doll.
“Come on, Barbie,” she said. “Let’s go play with Johnny’s new superhero dolls.”
“I heard that, Susie,” yelled Johnny from the kitchen. “They’re not dolls! They’re action figures!”
“Yeah, right. Action figures,” said Susie to her doll. “Like they see more action than you do, Barbie. Boys!”