The Confluence Part 9

July 29th, 2011 by Wordsman

“A charging rhino may be felled by even the smallest pebble.”

Were these the words of Aristotle?  Confucius?  Locke?  Or was it just one of those perplexing fortune cookie messages, the kind where you stare blankly at it for a few seconds while you try to figure out if it’s a good fortune or a bad one.  And then you throw it away because it’s not funny when you add “in bed” to the end.

Whatever their origin, these words were not running through Peter Hamlin’s mind in the slightest.  He was focused on one thing only: forward motion.  He was not thinking about tiny pebbles.  He was not even thinking about larger, more boulder-like obstacles, of which there were more than a few between him and his destination.

The first was the stairs.  Despite living on the seventh floor, he decided to skip the elevator, because he was in no mood to stand around doing nothing.  Peter’s apartment complex had been constructed in the early 1970’s and was designed to withstand riots, tornadoes, alien invasions and the like.  The staircase, however, appeared to have been put together in the Dark Ages by a man (or possibly an even less efficient team of men) who had never seen stairs but had heard of them from a foreign guy he talked to in a bar once.  Because everybody took the elevator, management saw no need to update them with modern innovations, such as the ninety-degree angle.

But Peter flew down those stairs.  This description is especially apt because his feet actually spent more time in the air than they did in contact with the steps themselves.  In fact, considering the staircase’s less-than-admirable sturdiness, this may have been the safest method of descent.

The danger, however, did not stop there.  After exiting his building, he still had to cross the street.  He lived in an area that was outside the boundaries of true downtown, but all that meant was that cars could actually move instead of just sitting there waiting for the sun to die.  Rather than go out of his way to make use of the crosswalk, he simply dashed across directly from the building lobby—like all good citizens of Crescenton, he knew the golden rule of pedestrian street safety: “When you jaywalk, at least cars can only come at you from two directions.”  Of course, most people would still recommend that you look both ways first, but he did not have those milliseconds to spare.

Upon entering the station, he had another set of stairs to deal with.  The subway stairs were made of concrete and would probably still be there even if the city was bombed down to the ground, but that did not mean they were safe.  The lighting was poor, and things that were dropped or spilled had a tendency to stay there for weeks or even months.  One wrong step and you could lose a shoe, and then that would be the least of your problems.  The stalwart impenetrability of a concrete staircase is significantly less comforting when you are falling down it.

But he got past that too, again by relying primarily on the always dependable acceleration due to gravity.  Despite having been captain of the golf team—that’s right, the golf team—in high school, Peter was actually a fairly natural athlete; he simply didn’t have the right body type to really excel in a sport like basketball or football.  In a situation like this, however, he could cruise, turning corners with ease, racing past the coffee stands, and soaring over the turnstile as he leapt past (even though the subway was free, all stations still had turnstiles, after the Ohio State Supreme Court had ruled that depriving citizens of the chance to jump over them was “cruel and unusual punishment” in the case Oates v. Laragheny County Transit Authority).

As he got closer to the platform and could see that there was no train there at the moment, he began to relax.  He had done all he could.  Slowing down, he decided that he could finally risk losing a second or two to look at his watch.

Except he couldn’t.  Something was holding on to his arm.

See, if I was the rhino, I wouldn’t be looking out for pebbles.  I would keep my eyes peeled for the crafty, desperate lioness.

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