“Warning Issued” – A Story

Below is a story I thought you might enjoy. It’s one I wrote earlier this year for a contest, and there is no connection to the short series I’ve been doing about grumbling. 😀

By the way, please don’t forget to vote for the August CSFF Top Tour Blogger.

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Gustavo shielded his mouth with the flimsy sleeve of his sleep shirt as he skittered around another pile of ash. The worn soles of his canvas shoes would be no match for any live chunks of lava hiding in the drifts.

Run to the village and tell them to sound the alarm, Papa had said. And so Gustavo pulled on his pants and shoes and ran into the smoky gray of early dawn. The sputtering fire from Tematíl had urged him to go his fastest.

If only he could maintain that pace. How many houses scattered throughout the countryside would the lava pouring down the mountain bury? The people sound asleep in their own beds — his friends and neighbors — needed to be warned.

Again he swerved around a heap of ash blocking the trail. A gust of wind swirled the hot chunks and powder-fine particles into a miniature cyclone, and he ducked his head behind his arm to keep his eyes, nose, and mouth clear.

Through the trees on the left a pinprick of light pierced the darkness. A distant whistle sounded — the long, low moaning of a train steaming through the village on its way to Tematíl and the coast beyond.

Gustavo hesitated. He had been on that train more than once with Grandfather. Most of the passengers were workers traveling from their homes in the city during the dark hours of the fading night to arrive at their jobs at the start of the day. How many people were hurtling toward the growing lava field — two hundred, maybe three? Men like Pietro who lived with his wife and baby daughter and four growing sons, all a little younger than Gustavo, in a small house next to Grandfather’s.

Would Pietro, or any of the other fathers and husbands, survive when the train met the lava flow? Were children and wives on board, traveling to the seaside town for a special holiday or for a visit to the open-air market?

If Gustavo left the path to his village, he could reach the trestle bridging the river and flag the train.

But who then would tell the alderman to sound the alarm for the countryside? His father had entrusted him with the job, and his neighbors’ lives depended on him completing the task. He couldn’t let down Signora Bonelli, his friend Sandro, the egg lady living near the copse of birch trees, or the carpenter and his family in the pasture on the far side.

No, he needed to reach the village as fast as possible, or all his neighbors would die . . . As would the passengers on the train if he didn’t warn them to stop. How could he let hundreds race to their deaths? But how could he fail his neighbors?

The train whistle moaned again, louder than before, nearer. What if . . . No time to question. He had to act now.

Leaving the trail, Gustavo plunged through the woods toward the river. When he reached the bluff overlooking the water, he stripped off his sleep shirt and climbed onto the trestle. Now he could hear the clackety, clackety of the train wheels on the tracks.

A ray of sunlight squeezed through the haze, beaming onto the far end of the bridge. He sprinted to it. With light bathing him, he faced the oncoming train. At last it chugged into sight. He splayed his legs to make himself as big as possible, raised his shirt, and waved it up and down. Up and down. The brakes screeched, but the train continued to hurtle toward him. The high-pitched squeal persisted as the engine reached the edge of the trestle. And slowed. Up and down he waved his shirt. Still the train crawled toward him. He held his ground. The brakes squealed louder, and at last the train churned to a stop.

The conductor leaned his head out the door behind the engine. “What is it, boy?”

Gustavo lowered his arms. “Tematíl is erupting.”

“Thank God you stopped us!”

“But now I need your help.”

“What can we do?”

“I was supposed to go to the village and tell them to sound the alarm.”

“You want us to take you back?”

“I don’t think there’s time.”

“Then what?”

“Your train whistle.”

The conductor ducked his head inside. “Hear that, Emilio?”

The engineer waved through the cab window and reached for a long cord dangling by his head. As he pulled down, a whistle blast echoed over the river canyon. He pulled again and again, sending one urgent, bleating sound after another into the gray morning — a warning signal none of Gustavo’s neighbors could sleep through and none could ignore.

Published in: on September 2, 2011 at 6:16 pm  Comments (5)  
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