A sign below the clock read...
TWENTY MINUTE STOPOVER
'Should we get off here
too?' asked Giovanni.
The two sprang up at once,
flew out the door and made a mad dash for the ticket gate. But all they
found at the gate was a bright purple electric light. There wasn't a
soul around, not even a stationmaster or someone who looked like a
The boys came out onto a
small square enclosed by gingko trees that looked hand-carved of
quartz. A wide road led from the square straight off into the bluish
light of the Milky Way.
The people from the train
had gone somewhere and vanished. Giovanni and Campanella started up the
white road, shoulder to shoulder, casting shadows in all directions
like two pillars in a room with windows on all sides or l
ike the spokes of two wheels. Before they knew it they had reached the
beautiful river bed that they had seen from the train.
Campanella put a handful
of sand into his palm and grated it with his fingers. He spoke as if in
'This sand is all made up
of crystals. There's a tiny fire burning inside each and every grain.'
'That's right!' exclaimed
Giovanni, fairly sure that he had learned that somewhere.
All of the pebbles on the
bed were transparent, no doubt made up of quartz or topaz, some of them
flawed and folded in on themselves, others of corundum giving off a
pale misty light from their facets. Giovanni ran straight for the
water's edge and dipped his hand into the liquid. The mysterious water
of the Milky Way was even clearer than hydrogen and the boys were
convinced that it was flowing, because when their wrists were submerged
in it they appeared to be floating as if in mercury, and the
phosphorescent waves frothed and sparkled as they splashed against
Upstream, below a cliff
that was blanketed in pampas grass, they caught sight of a stretch of
white rock as flat as a sports ground, jutting out to the line of the
river. A number of people nearby seemed to be excavating or burying
something as they stood up and stooped down with some sort of tool
glinting from time to time in their hands.
'Let's go take a look,'
said the two boys nearly in unison as they ran for the cliff.
A shiny smooth ceramic
nameplate stood at the entrance to the area of white rock...
THE PLIOCENE COAST
Slim iron handrails had been
planted in spots on the opposite bank, with lovely wooden benches
sitting in the sand.
'Hey, I found something
weird,' said Campanella puzzled, stopping to pick up what looked like a
long narrow black walnut with a pointy end.
'It's a walnut! Look,
they're all over the place, probably carried along by the river.
They're in the rock too!'
'They're big for walnuts.
This one's twice as big as normal. And this one's in perfect shape.'
'Let's go over where the
people are right now. I bet they're digging up something or other.'
The two boys went ahead
carrying their jaggedy black walnuts. To their left the ripples glowed
softly against the water's edge like graceful lightning, while to their
right the stalks of pampas grass, as if fashioned of silver or
mother-of-pearl, covered the cliff face, swaying and rolling.
Once close enough to get a
good look, they saw a tall scholarly man in boots and terribly thick
glasses writing busily in a notebook. He was quite beside himself
giving instructions to three assistants who were swinging pickaxes or
shovelling with scoops.
'Don't break up that
protuberance, use a scoop, a scoop! Watch out, dig around it first. No,
not that way! No, no, be gentle with it, will ya?'
A massive white-boned
beast protruded from the soft white rock. A good half of it had already
been excavated. It was on its side, broken into fragments. The rock
itself had been carefully carved out into some ten numbered s
quares which bore two cloven hoof prints.
'You fellows here to
inspect?' asked the scholarly man, twinkling his glasses at Giovanni
and Campanella. 'You saw all those walnuts, didn't you? They'd be
somewhere in the neighbourhood of, oh, 1,200,000 years old, I'd say
. Not very old, when you come down to it. This place here was a
coastline some 1,200,000 years back, during the later Tertiary Period.
Plenty of shells under here too. Saltwater ebbed and flowed here where
the river is now. Now, take this beast here. We geologists call it a
"boss"...hey, you, put down that pick! Can't you be more careful and
use a chisel? This boss was the ancestor of today's cow. This place,
I'd say, would've been literally crawling with them.'
'Are you going to display
him in a museum?'
'No, we need him as
evidence. You see, we know this place is a magnificent thick stratum,
and we've got all the proof we need that it was formed 1,200,000 years
ago. But some others don't see it in that light, claiming that it might
be just wind, water or empty sky. Follow? However...hey, you, don't use
your shovel on that! There's bound to be a set of ribs buried under
The professor scurried over
to the dig.
'It's time,' said
Campanella, checking his wristwatch with the map. 'Let's go.'
'Well, I am afraid that we
must take our leave,' said Giovanni, bowing formally to the professor.
'Must you? Well, goodbye.'
And having said this, he
started running helter-skelter about, supervising things right and left.
As for the boys, they ran
for their lives back over the white rock so as not to miss the train.
They found themselves running just like the wind without skipping a
single breath or getting hot sore knees.
If we can run
like this, we can run anywhere in the whole wide world!
That's what Giovanni thought
as they passed the river bed...the light on the ticket gate grew
gradually larger and larger...and, in a flash, they were back in their
old seats looking out the window at the very place they had been not a