The Runway

by Roberto Sanhueza


Randu, Moaner and Woolver crouched by the runway, watching the beasts roll by.

The beasts were in all sizes and shapes; all different, but all equally deadly in their speed.

“We won’t make it,” cried out Moaner, giving his name some justice.

“We must,” hissed Randu, but he was afraid, too.

Woolver paid them no attention. He was staring fixedly at the never-ending flood of roaring beasts, trying to discern a pattern.

His mother’s mate — there was no word for “father” in their tongue — had spoken to him this morning as the sun rose and the young Mogger was getting ready to face his Coming of Age Day.

“Do not let fear take your wits away from you, Woolver. The beasts are dangerous but they are just that: beasts. They follow a pattern and they do not change it. Find that pattern and cross the runway to the Other Country. Plant your seed and return home a Man. It can be done; it has been done, I’ve done it!”

Then he did something he had never done. He held Woolver in his arms and said, “Be gone, my son.” Although they both knew he was not.

Now Woolver was starting to see a pattern in the seemingly random run of the beasts.

“We won’t-” started Moaner again.

“Hush!” whispered Woolver savagely.

They spoke and crouched low because nobody really knew how aware the beasts were of them.

“Listen to me and listen good!”

Randu and Moaner listened expectantly, not daring to hope.

“Every forty heartbeats the beasts stop at the intersection to let the beasts rolling in the right angled way go through. They stop for ten heartbeats then they start rolling again. That is our leeway, our only chance.”

Both youngsters opened their mouths in awe and started counting.

“You’re right!”

Woolver went on. “We have ten heartbeats to cross the runway. The beasts don’t roll all at the same speed and we don’t know how long it will take them to reach us. We can only run, and keep on running.”

“They are going to try it! They’re going to cross the runway!”

“Of course! They have no choice. Now be quiet and watch.”

“Now!” Cried Woolver as he sprang ahead. He didn’t look back to see if Moaner and Randu had followed.

He was still fifteen feet from the other end when he heard the deafening roar of the beasts approaching.

Woolver felt his heart almost bursting but he moved forward even faster and dove the last few feet as he felt the hot wake of the beast’s breath on his back.

Then a high and piercing screech could be heard over the beasts’ roar. It died in two heartbeats.

“That must have been Moaner” thought Woolver as he lay on his back on the other side, but he was too exhausted to care.

After a while he got up and contemplated the Other Country. It looked very much like his own.

Some feet away he saw Randu, also starting to stand up.

Woolver approached his friend. He was grinning wildly.

“We made it, Woolver! we are in the Other Country!”

Then, as if remembering something he asked, “Where’s Moaner?”

His grin slowly faded as Woolver shook his head sadly. “We must continue, Randu.”

Randu turned his head away to hide a tear and nodded.

“And we must separate here. May we meet back home again, if we can cross the runway again.”

Woolver shivered. “We will, Randu. We will.”

Randu took the north way and Woolver the south one. Just before a hill took Randu from his sight; Woolver saw his friend wave. After that he was on his own.

“Now they have to find a female.”

“I know, be quiet. This is getting good.”

The Other Country was made up of hills and creeks, much like Woolver’s own. He figured the best place to find a Girl was along one of the water flows, and he started to follow one.

The sun rose steadily over Woolver’s head as he followed the creek’s path upstream. He saw no one, and the only sound he heard was the humming of forest life.

He was beginning to fear he might have to come closer to the Homestead and try to snatch a Girl from there, when he heard laughter and giggling from around the creek’s bend.

There they were, four of them. Woolver’s heart skipped a beat eyeing their youthful grace.

A dry twig cracked under Woolver’s foot and the four Girls looked up, startled.

He cursed his clumsiness and charged before they could run away.

For a moment it looked as though they might escape, but Woolver hadn’t faced the beasts on the runway to fail here.

Letting out his people’s war cry he grabbed the slower one as the others disappeared shrieking into the woods.

Holding his prey tight against him; he looked up and thanked Father Sun, oblivious to her kicks and bites.

Suddenly, he realized the shadows were beginning to grow long and he still had to face the beasts again to go back Home.

Cutting his prayers to the most acceptable minimum; Woolver set the Girl down and started on the seeding business. She wasn’t kicking so hard anymore.

“That’s not much of a rape.”

Younger looked at Elder with all the contempt young ones hold for their progenitors.

“Of course not! It’s more of a mating ritual. She knows, she expects it to happen.”

“How come?”

“I designed them that way. Should they mate within their own tribes; they would engender only females and become extinct within two generations. To produce males they have to risk the runway. Both tribes do.”

“What happens to the young male if he makes it home in one piece?”

“He will be considered and adult in his community and allowed to mate one of the females who have been already seeded in one of the other tribe’s raid. He will raise her son as his own and have, no doubt, many daughters.”

Elder laughed, pleased by his offspring’s ingenuity.

“And how long do you plan to continue with this?”

Younger remained thoughtful for a while.

“Well... my term project is almost finished; my hypothesis is well documented and my points are, I think, solidly made. I should end it any time now but...”

“But?”

Younger waved a hand in the air and the forest scene rippled and faded. He sat up and faced Elder, and his face seemed to lose all earnestness and reveal the child he was.

“But you know, Dad. It’s fun!”

Woolver stood by the runway again. The roaring hadn’t diminished and the beasts were rolling as deadly fast as ever.

But Woolver wasn’t afraid anymore. He hardly cared. The Girl’s face and soft body were in his mind and he replayed the seeding time and time again.

Life was good today. He would cross the runway again and get home and start a new life as a Man.

Life stretched before him.

He had all the time in the world.


Copyright © 2006 by Roberto Sanhueza

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