Tuesday, September 04, 2012

100TWC - Day 39: Out of Time

[this post is a continuation of the story begun in "Online" earlier in the writing challenge]

The scream of the train whistle was matched by a frantic scream from the woman.

"My God! It's coming! The train's coming!"

Niall continued to saw at the rope but he already knew it was not going to be any use. He never sharpened the blade -- never had any reason to follow the advice his father had given him on numerous occasions.

"Always keep your blade sharp, lad. You never know when you're going to need it most."

If Niall had been a praying man, he would have sent up a plea that he could have heeded his father sooner. Now, it was too late. He didn't have time to spare to whet the small blade, but neither did he have time not to.

"You'll never do it," the woman screamed, squirming and twisting against the rope. Her frantic movements served only to tighten the complex knots still further, the half-formed thought that he would be better employed seeking a solution to their conundrum dying in Niall's mind as she did so.

The whistle sounded again, frighteningly closer now. The train would emerge around the bend any moment. Still less than halfway through the rope, Niall stopped, spat on the track, and flashed the blade back and forth over the wetted steel. The soft metal took a slight edge. He prayed it would be enough. The first stroke sliced through several strands. Sweat trickled down Niall's face as he bent again to his task with grim determination.

"Yes! Yes, that's it," the woman yelled in his ear, encouraged by the sudden progress. "Please hurry! You can do it!"

But the knife had already lost its new keenness, each thin nylon strand deceptively resistant to its increasingly dull passage. The track began to thrum under Niall's knees as the train neared.

"Sharpen it again!" screamed the woman, fractionally later than Niall's identical thought. He spat again, stropped again, cut again. The train came around the corner, lights already burning in readiness for the tunnel on the other side of the station. Only seconds remained. Niall's arm ached with the effort, his hands were beginning to cramp. He pressed harder against the rope, cleaving strand after strand, but even though less than a quarter of the thickness remained the man-made fibres, designed to bear triple or quadruple the weight of a falling climber, held fast.

The woman's shoulders slumped as the train bore rapidly down on them.

"It's too late!" she cried. "Leave me! Save yourself!"

Niall knew absolutely that she was right, yet he could not leave her. Scant seconds remained. Logic bellowed through his mind that even if he managed to sever the rope he still had to unravel it and lift the woman clear. He needed minutes, and had only seconds. A fat blister burst on his finger and the knife, slippery with his serum, slipped from his hand. It was over.

"I'm sorry," Niall murmured, knowing she would never have heard him over the roar of the train. He jumped back, eyes closed, rolling across the gravel bed of the track. With a grinding clatter the train shot past, drowning the woman's screams in a welter of mechanical pandemonium.

Silence. Not even bees disturbed it. Niall lay on his back, winded. He was bruised, shaken, but otherwise unhurt. He definitely did not want to open his eyes.

"Uh. Uh-huh. Uh-huh-huh-huh."

The sound of gentle sobbing surprised him into a glance at the track, where he had expected to see the gory result of the train's passage. The woman lay, unharmed, in exactly the same place as before, her head cradled in her hands as she cried. Niall stared at the second track and rubbed unconsciously at his broken blister.

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