On a Train to New York (Saving Deborah Chapter 1)

The following is a rough draft of the first chapter of my upcoming novel, Saving Deborah. It will be the fourth book in the Defense of Reality series. Please excuse typos and spelling errors. This is a rough draft. Additionally, any comments you have will be appreciated.

Miriam was surprised at how quiet the train was. She figured the 4:20 from Baltimore to New York would be empty because who wants to get on a train that early in the morning, but she thought there would be one or two more people with her and Simon. Miriam had traveled to New York three times before, but never by train. She’d always gone by bus in past. She adjusted in her seat for the fifth time in the past ten minutes. Even though the seats were far more spacious than those on an airplane, she still couldn’t get comfortable, or maybe it was that she couldn’t relax.

Simon snored and then giggled to himself. Looking at him made Miriam smile. He was so excited when they got to the train station. He said over and over again that he’d never been on a train before, but five minutes into the ride, he was fast asleep. His legs twitched and Miriam wondered if he was playing basketball in his sleep. The thought of her friend playing basketball again filled her with a warm surge of hope.

Until a week ago, Simon had chronic pain and a terrible limp – the remnant of a six-year-old gunshot wound that hadn’t healed properly. Being on his feet had been a strain. Then, in a moment of desperation, he’d opened the Tinker’s box. Now, not only could he run without pain, he had superhuman reflexes. Simon could dodge a bullet if he needed to.

Miriam reached down to her feet and pickup up the green backpack she’d packed with snacks and a change of clothes. Even though they were only going to be in New York for the day, she wanted to be prepared. Pushing some of the clothes aside, she felt for the alien box that had healed her friend. Touching it, she wondered if she opened it, would the result be as wonderful as they had been for Simon. She’d heard stories about others who had been destroyed by it. Her late father had secretly studied the box for years, using homeless men as test subjects. He learned that the box read the memory of your worst moment, and then changed you so that, if that moment were to happen again, you would overcome it. In the file Miriam had found, there were records of men opening the box and losing their eyes, or the ability to speak, or simply turning into a pile of dust. Simon had been lucky. Miriam sighed as she wondered if she would be as lucky when she opened it. She still wasn’t sure she would.

She ran her fingers over the box’s decorative edges and pondered what the box would decide was her worst moment. There’d been a lot of them. There was the day her mother died, or the numerous times that her father came home drunk, or the day Simon had been hurt.

Miriam looked at him again. He was still smiling in his sleep as his legs twitched. She took his hand and laced her fingers with his. Wrapping her other arm around her backpack, she closed her eyes and tried to go to sleep.

Miriam awoke to the train slowing to a stop. A static-filled voice said, “Now arriving at Newark, Delaware station.” She looked at her watch. Less than an hour had passed. She yawned and squeezed the bag in her lap.

New passenger meandered into the car. They each looked as tired as Miriam felt. The first was a young woman in a blue suit. She chose an aisle seat three row in front of Miriam, placed her bag in the seat next to her, removed from it an assortment of brushes and makeup containers, and proceeded to expertly apply foundation. The next was a young man in a suit and red tie. He wore huge blue headphones, carried a leather briefcase, and read a paperback novel as he walked up the aisle. By his confidence walking up the aisle, Miriam guessed he made this trip often.

The third passenger to enter the train concerned Miriam. The man wore a tight-fitting black shirt that clung to his rippling chest muscles, loose-fitting athletic pants, and a black robe. By the way he had to duck to enter the car, Miriam guessed he was close to seven feet tall. The strange giant of a man’s movements were smooth but controlled. His hands were free from bags and his face was shadowed by his hood.

Miriam’s heart began to race with fear as he approached. Muttering to herself, she began to pray. She wondered if she should wake up Simon and run. She nudged him with her elbow. He issued a snort that resolved in a snore. She prayed faster, whispering a plea for protection.

The giant man continued to move toward her. Miriam wished she could see his eyes. She gripped Simon’s hand tighter and squeezed the bag with her arm. There was no running now. At this distance, the giant could likely reach out with his massive hand and grab her before she could get two steps down the aisle. Deciding there was nothing else she could do, she closed her eyes and pretended to be asleep, hoping he would pass by. She prayed again, asking for protection and help and salvation.

Miriam could sense the big man looming over her. She listened as he raised the armrests in the seats across the aisle from her. She heard him take a seat.

“I know you’re not sleeping,” a deep booming voice said.

Miriam swallowed, kept her eyes closes, and tried to pretend like she hadn’t heard it.

“Open your eyes, Miriam Walker of Baltimore. We have much to discuss,” the giant said.

Miriam opened her eyes and looked across the aisle. The giant had lowered his hood. He wore a thick but trimmed beard. His head looked recently shaved and his skin was the golden-brown of an acorn. His giant frame consumed both seats.

“Who are you?” Miriam asked.

“I am the Rothman,” the man said. He kept his eyes focused on the door to the train as if he were watching for someone to enter.

“How do you know my name?” she asked, holding the bag to her chest.

“The source of my information is not important,” he said.

“What do you want?” she asked.

“I want the box you are currently clutching,” he said. As the train began to move again, his face relaxed. He looked at her. She was struck by his deep brown eyes. They seemed old and weary.

“You can’t have it,” she said.

He smiled.

Miriam held it tighter to her chest. “Try and take it and see what happens.”

“Have you opened it yet?” he said, raising an eyebrow with curiosity.

“I have,” she lied, “and the gift that was given me will destroy you. So you better not mess with me. Or else.”

Rothman chuckled. “While I believe the box is safer with me, I will never take it from you by force. I am sworn to protect the citizens of Reality above all else. I did hope that you might give the box to me of your own volition.”

“No,” she said, tightening her grip on the bag in her lap and looking straight ahead.

“Might I ask why not? Since you have opened it, what further use might you have for it?” he asked. His voice was deep, but not threatening. Miriam almost felt comforted by it.

“That’s none of your business,” she said.

“I am sorry to disagree,” he said. “It is very much my business. There are many who would take the box from you by force and do great harm with it.”

“Let them try,” Miriam said, trying to sound confident.

“Do not fear. Once they confirm that you have it and determine your location, they will try. They will send armies to try,” he said with a mournful tone.

“Whoever they are, they won’t find us. We’re nobody. And we’re about to be in a giant city of nobodies,” Miriam said.

“I found you without much trouble,” Rothman said as he leaned back and closed his eyes. “They will find you as well. They have all the time in the world. They will find you.”

“I won’t need it for long,” Miriam said, looking down at her bag. “Just for a couple of days. Then I’ll destroy it.”

The giant man chuckled again. Folding his arms across his chest, he asked, “And how do you propose you will destroy it?”

“I don’t know,” Miriam said. She honestly hadn’t given it much thought. “Maybe burn it. Maybe bury it. There has to be a way.”

A train traveling the opposite direction rushed by, shaking the window Simon was leaning up against. He replied with another snort-snore.

“There is no way. It is safer with me,” Rothman said.

“I told you, I need it,” Miriam said with determination.

Rothman smiled again and asked, “My offer stands to take it off your hands since you have already opened it.”

“We’re on a mission, and we might need it for that,” Miriam said. She couldn’t ditch the thought of armies coming for the box. She’d struggled to believe Simon’s stories of monsters from another world, but now, sitting next to a robe clothed giant, the tales he’d told seemed more plausible. The idea that monsters would come for her and the box was already eroding her confidence.

“A mission?” Rothman said. “Well then, why didn’t you say so?” Miriam couldn’t tell if he was genuinely surprised or mocking her. “Would you mind sharing with me the details of this mission?”

“I would mind,” she said.

“Since I am dedicated to preventing the box from getting into the wrong hands, which means that in turn I am dedicated to following you until you chose to give it to me, might you at least give me a general sense of what dangers we are walking towards?”

“Dangers?” Miriam said. “I don’t… There aren’t going to be any dangers. We are just going to get my sister and bring her home.”

Rothman laughed again, but this time there was an air of superiority to it. “Bring your sister home?” he said.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Miriam said.

“What is the last you heard of your sister?” Rothman asked.

“You know what,” Miriam said, looking at him again. “I don’t know who you are or where you came from or where you got your information, but you can go back home and leave us alone. I’m not giving you the box. I’ll never give you the box. So if you aren’t going to try and take it, then you can go.”

“I did not intend to upset you,” Rothman said, holding his hands up defensively. “I apologize.”

Miriam sighed. “It’s fine,” she said. “It’s just, I haven’t heard from my sister in a long time. The last time we talked, she was shacking up with this guy that kept her drugged up all the time. Then I got a postcard from her.” Miriam sighed. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this, but, if we can find her, we are going to bring her home. That’s all. No dangers ahead. We just need to find her.” Miriam’s voice was hopeful, but she knew it would be more complicated than that. Her sister, Deborah, had run away from Baltimore with a wealthy guy named Silas Roach. It was unlikely that Deborah would leave without convincing, or that Roach would just let her go, but that’s what the box was for.

Looking at Deborah, Rothman said, “You are in for a great many surprises. Your sister is no longer who you believe her to be.”

“What do you know about my sister?” Miriam demanded, sitting forward.

“I keep watch on those who currently keep watch on her,” Rothman said. “You will understand when you see her again. She is not what you think.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Miriam said, closing her eyes again.

Rothman laughed softly to himself. “I admire your determination. Fearlessness is a hard thing to come by. Sleep free, Miriam of Baltimore,” he said. “I will watch over you as you do. You will need your rest. For when we arrive, I fear great obstacles await you.”

Miriam sighed. She kept her eyes closed, but she couldn’t sleep. The thought of armies of monsters coming for her and her box unrelentingly raced through her mind, bringing new worries to her heart. As she sat in silence, she prayed, “Lord, please help me. Please, Lord.”

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