Wait a minute.
Was the - had the train just moved?
Ry turned his head to look at it straight on, but it sat on the tracks, as still as the lumpy brown hill he was climbing. As still as the grass that baked in gentle swells as far as he could see and the air in the empty blue sky.
He must have imagined it. Nothing had moved. Everything was the same.
But there it was again. Was it because he blinked? Maybe it was the water in his eyes; it had wobbled up his vision.
He picked out a post alongside the tracks, directly below the line where the logo on the train changed from red to blue. As he watched, the red and the blue shifted almost imperceptibly to the right above the post. Then perceptibly. The train was moving.
"Wait," Ry said aloud.
Because it wasn't supposed to move yet. The conductor had said - the conductor had said forty minutes. Ry was supposed to be on the train. After a full second of hesitation, he went scrambling down the steep rubbled face of the hill. He was thinking that there was time, that trains usually moved a little, in fits and starts, before they really got going. Probably he would get back on the train and then sit there waiting for another hour. But he was thinking it would be smarter to run than to watch it leave without him.
He was leaping and skidding, and he had just glanced up to check on the train when his right foot came down at the wrong angle on a surprise outcropping. He went tumbling in an out-of-control (but time-saving) way down to the scrubby thickets on the lower half of the slope.
Abraded and gravel encrusted, he rose in an instant to his feet. His boots had filled with pebbles and dirt. It felt as if beanbags were strapped to the bottoms of his feet as he thrashed through branchy turnstiles of brush in as straight a line as he could manage.
On his way up the hill, he had picked out a winding path through the wider spaces, but there wasn't time for that now. He no longer had to blink to see that the train was moving. It was passing before his eyes. People visible in the windows read their magazines, leaned back, lifted cups or cans to take a drink. His heart seemed to have moved inside of his windpipe. He willed it back down into his chest so he could keep breathing.
A small child saw him and waved. Ry waved, too, and shouted. His shout was lost in the roar of the train, but the boy beamed, delighted, before he turned away and was carried out of sight.
When Ry came to the barbed-wire fence, keeping who-knows-what in or out, he slowed himself to pay attention, to avoid snagging cloth or flesh. Still, he was over it in a flash, and running.
No one stood watching from the back of the caboose as he reached the clearing. There was no caboose. The sound of the train faded, and he could hear his own deep gulps for air. He felt his heart thumping along.
The train melted from a recognizable object to a guessable shape to a black dot identifiable only by its position at the vanishing point of a set of railroad tracks. Ry watched the black dot until he could not see it at all. Though he breathed evenly now, and his heart was beating at its usual rhythm, it wasn't because he was calm. It was just that his body hadn't yet heard from his brain that they were in dire straits. Because his brain was still puzzling it out.
For many, many minutes he looked, unbelieving, at the empty air where the train had been. Then he turned in the other direction. It was a mirror image of emptiness, with an identical lesson in perspective. From either side of the tracks, more emptiness extended. There was the north emptiness, made of the strange eroded hills, and the south emptiness, with the grass and, in the distance, a blue-gray shape that must have been a butte.
The south emptiness had a shallow silty river, fringed sparsely with a few trees and bushes, flowing in rough parallel to the tracks. As his brain began to take in what had just happened, Ry's body walked over to one of the trees and sat down on a small boulder in its spotty shade. He untied his hiking boots, pulled them off, and held them upside down. The gravel and dirt spilled out like sands through the hourglass onto the geological time heap of wherever this was.
Excerpted from As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth by Lynne Rae Perkins. Copyright © 2010 by Lynne Rae Perkins. Excerpted by permission of Greenwillow Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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