Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Once in a Blue Moon (01/06/11)
TITLE: The Lunar Express
By Steve Uppendahl
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“Once in a blue moon they do, sweetie.”
“Really? Why there?”
His booming laughter makes her smile and blush.
“Because it’s a special, magical place.”
Joey Links is dreaming again. He gives a mournful sigh of recognition as shivers begin to rock his thin body. He knows this dream well, but can do nothing to stop it or lessen its effect. His head tosses back and forth on his pillow, as painful grimaces distort his freckled face as she strikes him again and again. Even in his dreams his mother’s thudding blows and shrieking voice seem to pummel him. He’s saved from the brutal climax when the familiar double creak of his sister’s window awakens Joey.
Erin Links squats on her windowsill, looks up at the ceiling and gives a close-mouthed smile. She repositions the straps of her bulging, faded pink, Dora the Explorer backpack, then leaps forward, tumbling across the stiff, yellowed lawn. Popping up to her knees, she turns and waits. Joey appears at his window, nods and drops a well-knotted rope made from their father’s old t-shirts. Being twelve years old and eager, Joey is by his sister’s side in mere seconds.
“I can’t believe we’re doing this.”
Erin gives her patented lopsided grin and hugs her brother.
“This is the night. I’ve checked again and again. It’s happening.”
Joey smiles and rubs his little sister’s head. Even though his hatred for their mother intensifies by the day, his love for Erin grows like bamboo. It doesn’t matter to Joey that his eight-year-old sister lives in a fantasyland of denial and silly dreams. What does matter is Erin believes them all. Besides, it’s a nice summer night; it’s shirtsleeve warm with a subtle breeze.
For the moment, no matter how brief it may last, nor harsh the punishment will be later, nothing can change the fact that at this time, both of them are free. The mere thought of such a state being more permanent than fleeting is worth a dream, silly or not.
It’s over two miles to their former house and time is fading. They both break into a jog, though Joey makes sure Erin keeps up.
“Tell me again why the train won’t come to our house.”
“Joey! There’s no happy thoughts there. We were only happy at our old house. With Daddy.”
“So, the conductor only stops at places with happy memories.”
“Because people who are sad and scared don’t believe in magic.”
Jogging in silence, Joey’s mind returns to their previous home.
“Read it again, Joey.”
He sighs and rolls his eyes. But, Erin giggles, pulls her pink blanket up to her chin and waits.
“You know Christmas was over last month.”
“So, this is a Christmas story.”
“It’s a special story. Because it’s true.”
Joey has long given up trying to convince her The Polar Express is indeed fictional.
“It is. Magic is real, so the story’s real.”
With the dark of the night and a broken streetlight, it’s impossible to tell if their former home is currently occupied or still empty. The house is barely a shadow and Joey is thankful for that. He doesn’t want any more memories; he hates crying in front of Erin.
“So, now what?”
“We wait. You think Daddy’ll be on the train or be waiting on the blue moon?”
“I don’t know,” Joey whispers, “I don’t care. As long as he’s there.”
Erin gives Joey a big hug, grunting with the effort.
“What was that for?”
“I knew you believed. I was worried you’d be too scared…that The Lunar Express wouldn’t come.”
“Shh. Hear that?”
Before she can answer, a soft chugging sound and a beam of light appear at the end of the street…
Search Continues for Missing Siblings
Police continue to look for clues into the strange disappearance of a brother and sister. The search continues for Joey, 12, and Erin, 8, Links, missing since early Sunday morning.
A police spokesman stated there is evidence the children ran away from home. But, the police are surprised they haven’t been found, nor any witnesses have come forward with any sightings or information.
A backpack, indentified as belonging to Erin Link was found in the middle of Park Lane.
While no one seemed to see the children, several residents of Park Lane reported hearing the sounds of a train Sunday night. The reports have been treated with skepticism since the nearest tracks are forty miles away.
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