April is National Poetry Month.
A story about a poet with writer’s block.
Sally leaned against the railing and breathed the clean air deep, filling her lungs with its mountain-fresh aroma and crisp, limitless freedom. Taking this tour via the antique rail car was the smartest thing she’d ever done. From the overlook one could see for miles, a panorama of green-topped mountains and valleys with rivulets streaming through like the swirly designs on her grandmother’s quilts. The trip comprised three days and two nights of beautiful Appalachian wonder. Surely the railroad tour would cure her poetic writer’s block. Carrying her notebook and a selection of writer’s pens, she was ready for duty. Now, just two hours into the journey, inspiration was creeping in already.
“Let’s go folks! We have a schedule to keep!” Larry, their tour guide, clapped his hands and shooed everyone back toward the train like a mother hen. Sally boarded last. She was savoring every moment. The air smelled wonderful out here away from the muck and stink of the city. It tickled her nose, spicy and prickly. Perhaps it was from the abundance of pine trees. Settling in her seat, she opened the notebook to write. Painters working “en plein air” felt the same excitement, working outdoors taking in nature and recreating its wonder on canvas first-hand instead of from memory or photos. She’d do it with her words. Yes, the trip was a great idea.
The train coughed and choked, then proceeded to chug past vistas. She spied a tiny one-room church with white-washed sides and trimmed with pastel blue frames and shutters. It sat reverently on a field of rich green grass. Sally grabbed her pen to start a tanka about the softly colored church and its thin, misty steeple reaching to the sky.
Her work was engrossing, so that at first she didn’t hear the commotion at the back of the car. A voice yelling behind Sally jolted from her seat.
She turned to see a wild man at the back of the car. A grizzly beard and crazy blue eyes looked back, glaring in all directions. The fellow was wired, fueled by panic. He brandished a gun, clutching it straight out in front of him with outstretched arms. Holding himself rigid, he was ready to swivel his body in any direction. Those eyes darted around the car. So many people for one man to control even if he had a giant gun.
The conductor hovered in the corner.
The gunman turned on one foot like a machine to point the pistol at him. “You tell the engineer to move this train to the next town, nice and easy, or someone gets shot. If they notify the police and they’re waiting, then I’ll kill everyone before they can get to me.” The conductor scurried to fulfill the wild man’s instructions.
“Everyone throw their wallets, jewelry, everything of value into this sack!” He tugged a cloth bag from his coat and tossed it to the nearest passenger, a neatly dressed man in a pinstriped suit and red tie. The fellow fumbled through his pockets to find his wallet and tossed it in. The crazy guy glared at him, causing the gentleman to throw in his watch as well. It looked like a Rolex.
“Speed it up! Pineville is coming up quick!”
A sea of frightened faces looked back at him, people of all ages…a grandmother in the front wiped tears from her eyes, while a young girl clutched her mother’s arm. Two teenagers glared back with a combination of outrage and fear painted on their faces. Pineville, the next stop, was just a few minutes away. The satchel arrived on Sally’s lap. She had her wallet ready and dropped it in under the watchful eye of the intruder.
“Your watch and rings, too!”
Sally paused, then looked up. “The ring belonged to my mother. She passed years ago. It’s the only jewelry I have that belonged to her.”
“I don’t care. Throw it in the bag!”
“I will not.”
He stepped forward and aimed the gun at her head. “Put the jewelry in the bag or I’ll blow you away.”
The train clunked as the engines started their monotonous crawl up Wald Mountain. It started the endeavor with an unexpected jerk, tossing the gunman into a backwards fall. He stumbled to catch his balance. The man in the suit lunged forward at the opportunity to knock the pistol out of his hand. With a grunt and a thud, he next jumped onto the fellow and rolled him to the floor, while producing his own weapon, a revolver from a holster under his jacket and held it to the guy’s chest.
“You can call the police now to meet us in Pineville,” he said. “I’m with the sheriff’s office.” He brandished a badge before handcuffing the fellow.
Sally sat back in her seat, holding back tears. She’s never come close to death before. It changed her. One moment in time had demonstrated the ephemeral fragility of life as she knew it. Her poetry would have an edge forevermore, of that she was certain. And she’d never want for inspiration again either, having learned that day life has many forms and energies to be expressed, both good and bad. A big world existed out there beyond her reach. Time to discover it.
Copyright 2007 JO Janoski