TUBE, DRAFT 1, CHAPTER 32 (EXCERPT)
Mitya rocked Olesya to the rhythm of the rumbling wheels. He sat in the conductor’s seat and held her in his lap, cradling her like a child. Strands of hair stuck to her clammy forehead, and he smoothed them away one by one, tenderly, as if afraid to hurt her with his touch.
“You’re okay, you’re okay,” he repeated under his breath, like a lullaby. “We’ll be okay, we’ll get through this...”
Outside clumps of snow flocked at the window and caulked it up with splotches of white. The train whipped past the woods, birches no longer. Pines, spruces, and firs spread out their dark needled arms. The wind whistled in the gaps like a hungry predator. The light quickly diminished. Shadows swallowed them, and the afternoon changed into a dull aluminum dredge.
Olesya’s breathing slowed. Her eyes were closed; beads of tears were hanging on her lashes. Mitya caught one on the tip of his finger, looked at it, then touched it to his lips. It was salty.
“You’re okay,” he repeated softly, waiting for any kind of reaction, watching her smoothed face, so young and peaceful and relaxed. “I’m here. I’m with you...” he trailed off.
Olesya was sleeping.
He sighed, closed his eyes, and let himself be lulled by the droning gale, the clattering wheels, the churning engine into an uneasy slumber. Every few minutes he’d jerk up his head as if hearing something, squint, listen, hear nothing, and doze off again.
Absorbed in the lofty fettle of dreams, neither of them heard the noises at first. Having gotten no sleep the night before, they conked out for a good half hour, mowed down by fatigue like grass by a scythe. The noises increased in force and volume. They were muffled clonks, purposeful blows that came from behind, from the engine room passage that ran the length of the locomotive and ended with a door to the sleeping car. Someone was banging on the door window, and soon the clanging sound morphed into repeated squeaks, the kind that reinforced glass makes.
Then came a resounding crash, and the tinkling of the broken glass.
Olesya jolted awake.
“What was that?” She gazed around sleepily, her heart pounding in her ears.
“What?” Mitya rubbed his eyes and looked at her, groggy, unfocused, half-asleep.
“Listen.” Olesya slid off his lap, her mouth taut with tension. “Did you hear that?”