Shadows of Disaster Excerpt

A thin beam of moonlight trickled into the room. A woolen jacket hung on the back of a chair. She crept quickly across the planks towards the bed.  A man snored beneath a woolen blanket. A moustache twitched.  “Gramps!” she whispered, shaking the blankets.  “Gramps, it’s Jo.  Wake up!” Grandpa groaned in his sleep. She caught a stiff whiff of whiskey on his breath, then tugged at the blanket, pulling it completely off the bed.  “Come on.  We’ve got to get out of here.” Grandpa moaned again and rolled over.  “Get up!” ordered Jolene, as her grandfather’s body rolled towards the edge of the bed.

Slowly, Grandpa opened his eyes.  “Jo?” he asked.

“It’s four in the morning on April 29th.”

“April 29th?” he asked groggily.

“In 1903!  The slide is going to come down.  We’ve got to get out of here!”

Her voice was panicky now.

Grandpa leaned into the moonbeam and looked at his watch.  “Goodness, Jo, you’re right.” He struggled to his feet and pulled on his shoes. “I meant to come find you last night after I’d had a few drinks with the baseball team. But Karl was there and I…”

“Never mind,” called Jolene, urging him towards the door. Together they raced down the stairs and burst out into the night.

The air whispered and the mountain shrugged.  Jolene stopped and looked in the direction of the cottages.  “Shouldn’t we do something?” she gasped.

Grandpa shook his head.  “No time, Jo, no time.” She ran a few steps and stopped again.  “Come on, Jo.  It won’t make any difference anyway.”

Above them the mountain crackled softly.

Grandpa grabbed Jolene’s arm.  “Run!  Now!  As fast as you can.”

Jolene needed no convincing.  She ran, tears streaming down her face, her heart pulsing in her fingertips.  They lost their way and circled blindly about until she found the railway tracks. “Over here!” Grandpa ran towards Jo’s voice. “Stay on the tracks!” she called.

Their feet pounded down the railway ties. Jolene concentrated on keeping her stride strong and even, so as not to trip. They were almost at the field near the time crease.

Behind her, she heard a heavy thud and a crash. She whirled around. Grandpa lay sprawled across the tracks. She raced back to him, dropping to her knees. “Gramps, are you okay?” Blood trickled from a cut on his forehead. He moaned softly. Jolene put an arm under his shoulders and shifted him until he was half-sitting. “Come on, Gramps, up,” she urged. She had to get him on his feet, had to get him to the time crease. He murmured something incoherent and dabbed at the wound on his forehead. “Up,” she repeated as he struggled to his feet. Above them, the mountain crackled again. It wasn’t far, maybe a hundred metres. She put her arm around his waist and wrapped his around her shoulders. “Lean on me,” she breathed, staggering under his weight. They stumbled forward through the field.

He was breathing hard, drawing breath in great gulps. “Jo,” he whispered, stopping. “You go. Go ahead without me. You’re young. You still have…”

“No!” she said sharply. “Don’t talk. Walk!”

His feet resumed their motion. They were in the crocus field now, his body leaning heavily against Jolene’s.

“I can see the silhouette of the erratic. Straight ahead,” she said, urging him on.

Grandpa’s breathing grew heavier, more rapid.

Behind them, the mountain rumbled.  Jolene looked back over her shoulder. Just a few more steps. Could she get them through the crease this time? She’d never done it before. Above them, there was a loud roar, like an almighty clap of thunder.  An enormous slab of rock broke off and hurtled itself into the valley.