September 18

1870 — Old Faithful Geyser named by Henry D. Washburn

 

Julian looked at his watch, then checked the time-interval listed on the information placard.

Based on the duration of the previous eruption, Old Faithful’s next performance should occur within the next five minutes.

Right now, the crater in the ground was silent.  If it weren’t for the guide ropes holding back park visitors, it seemed safe enough to walk right up to the edge, lean over and peer into the dark of the earth with no fear that a geyser of boiling water would shoot from the depths, several thousand gallons in a blistering column, burning the skin off his face and boiling his eyes out of their sockets.

If the eruptions really were as predictable as his tourist brochure claimed, there was no danger of that happening for at least four minutes.

The guards weren’t paying attention.  Julian straddled the rope then clamored to the other side.  He walked quickly to the dormant crater before anybody had a chance to stop him.

A few other tourists shouted out from behind the barrier.  “Get back!” or “Don’t be crazy!” or “My son!”

Julian looked behind.  The park visitors weren’t yelling at him, but at a small child who’d been inspired by his example.  The boy must have crawled under the rope.  He stood upright now, and toddled toward Julian and the crater beyond.

He could grab the kid, take him back to his waiting family on the safe side of the barrier.

But there were still three more minutes to go.  What would be the harm?

Why not play the hero, helping this kid witness a natural wonder up-close?  It was an experience the boy would never forget.

Julian lifted the child and put him on his shoulders, then jogged uphill toward the open crater.

Two minutes.

“Look down there, kiddo.  See anything?”

The crater was completely silent.  The only noise was from the park visitors who screamed for them to get back behind the line, shouted for a guard to do something.

“The time isn’t exact,” a woman yelled through cupped hands.  “It can blow at any second.”

He wished the people would be quiet.  Julian thought back to when he was a kid, when he dreamed about visiting famous sites around the world.  Kids don’t want safety rails holding them back.  They don’t want guards telling them “don’t touch anything.”   He didn’t want that either.

Julian also remembered a fun trick he’d play when his younger brother tried to take a drink from the outside garden hose.  Julian would bend the hose so no water came out.   His puzzled brother would lift the nozzle to his face, stare inside wondering what was wrong.  With perfect timing, Julian would release the bend and a jet of water would shoot into his brother’s unexpecting face.

More shouts from the crowd.  Their voices ran together, almost like a gurgle.  They must have been stamping their feet, too, since he felt the ground tremble.

Beneath the world, some cosmic prankster unbent the garden hose.  Gallons of water and steam shot up from the crater, tearing the child off Julian’s shoulders and carrying him into the air.  The blast shot Julian backwards, and he stumbled down the hill toward the waiting crowd.

That’s when Julian realized he wasn’t actually in Yellowstone Park.  A strange series of earthquakes had created dangerous fissures in the Earth’s crust, creating new and violent waterspouts in unexpected places…including the public park in his hometown.

His face felt warm, his hands wet and already beginning to blister.

Julian wondered what those hands had been holding, before the geyser took it away.