More Than Meets the Eye(5)By: Karen Witemeyer
The man’s hand fisted.
Evie lunged for her brother and wrapped her arms around his middle. “Stop, Ham-ton. Stop!”
“He’s a child, John.” The lady in gray had stepped in front of her husband as well and stared up into his face as she placed a staying hand on his arm.
“I’ll not tolerate anyone speaking about you that way, Georgia. No matter his age.” He set his wife aside and jabbed his finger into Hamilton’s face. “If you ever speak ill of my wife again, I’ll—”
Hamilton lurched forward and bit down on the man’s pointed finger.
The farmer howled, then cuffed Hamilton across the head with his other hand. Hamilton toppled. Evie fell with him. Women screeched. Men yelled. And all Evie could do was hang on to her brother and pray that everything else would go away.
“Well, that was a disaster.” Lizard Lady’s pronouncement bounced around the interior of the railcar as it rattled down the tracks, taking them back the way they had come. There’d be no more stops. No more chances at finding families.
“That weren’t no disaster,” Zach said with a grin as he punched Hamilton lightly in the shoulder. “That was brilliant! Well done, Ham-bone. I’m impressed.”
Hamilton grinned as if he’d just been named king of the mountain. The boys had all chosen to sit together in the back of the railcar, Zach actually making room for Seth on the seat next to him as Hamilton and Evie sat in the rear-facing seat in front of them.
Evie thought them all crazy to be so proud of themselves for such awful behavior, but she and Hamilton were still together, so she wouldn’t scold them. Lizard Lady had done that enough already.
The boys recounted the event over and over until Evie grew bored. And sleepy. Being scared wore a girl out, and she’d been more scared today than any day she could remember. The rocking of the train made her eyelids heavy, and her head started to loll toward her chest.
“Here, Evie.” Hamilton set his back against the window like Zach had done earlier and made room for her to nestle up against his chest.
She curled up against her big brother and slept until a harsh jolt tossed her onto the floor. Her head bumped against someone’s bony knee, and she cried out as the terrifying sound of braking train wheels screeching against the rails pierced the air.
Luggage fell from the overhead racks. The sponsors screamed. Hamilton called Evie’s name before he dropped down over her and wrapped his body around hers.
“Crawl under the seat, Evie, and hold on to the chair legs.”
She did what he said, hugging the ornate iron leg that connected the bench to the floor with all her might. Then the train slammed into something. Hard. So hard, the force tore Hamilton away from her.
A loud groan rumbled, and the railcar started to tip. Evie wailed her brother’s name.
“Hold on, Evie! Don’t let go!”
She did. Until the railcar tipped on its side, throwing her against one of the windowpanes. Metal ripped. Glass shattered. The train tore itself apart as it slid sideways down an embankment. Evie cried, trying to find something to hold on to. The train slid over a rock, the jagged surface knocking out the glass of the window next to Evie’s and bouncing her into the air. Something hard stabbed against her side. She whimpered but grabbed for the hat hook, her little fingers clinging desperately to the metal hanger.
It seemed to take days for the train to stop its slide. When it did, Evie called for her brother and waited for him to come for her.
He didn’t come.
“Ham-ton!” Where was he? Was he hurt? Evie started to cry. He couldn’t be hurt. She needed him. “Ham-ton!”
Letting go of the hat hook, she got to her hands and knees, then slowly pushed to her feet. “Ham-ton!” She took one step. Then another. Broken glass crunched beneath her shoes. Her legs shook. Her head ached where she’d banged it against the luggage rack. Her eyes searched through tears that wouldn’t stop flowing.
Suddenly a pair of arms wrapped around her.
She turned, ready to hug her brother tight. Only it wasn’t Hamilton. It was Seth. His chest made a funny noise as he breathed, almost like it was squeaking.
“You’re hurt.” Evie touched his head where blood matted his hair.
“It’s all right,” Seth said, holding her close. “Stay here . . . with me . . . Evangeline.” His chest heaved as he gasped between words.
“I have to find Ham-ton.” She tried to pull away. His skinny arms were surprisingly strong, though, and he held her fast.
“Not yet. You . . . need to wait.”
He was scaring her. The way his eyes looked at her. Sad. Sorry. The way people had looked at her after Mama and Papa had gone to heaven.