Case No. 241
Location: Pamplona, Spain
Time: August, 1974
GT Team: Peter, X, Espi, Charlotte & Charlie
The first thing we heard upon landing on the cobblestoned street was, “¡Cuidado! ¡Los torros vienen!” Turning to Espi, we listened, terrified, as she translated for us.
“Run! Bulls are coming!”
Scrambling to our feet, we ran for a nearby fence and clambered over the top into a sea of spectators. As we huddled safely on the other side of the wooden barrier, I (Peter) slipped the Time Bender into my sweatshirt pocket and zipped it shut. From a previous experience, we had learned the importance of making certain that our ticket home was secure, and while I don’t particularly like to have this responsibility, somebody has to keep the Time Bender safe.
Once we had caught our breath, we paused a moment to take in our surroundings.
Charlotte climbed onto Charlie’s shoulders to get a better look over the crowd. “What can you see?” stuttered, X, still recovering from our sudden arrival. “Where are we?” Before Charlotte could answer, Espi piped up.
“It’s the running of the bulls! Mama mía, we must be in España and if what my Tío Alfredo says is true, we’re in for some excitement.” Charlotte jumped down her twin brother’s shoulders and we squeezed into a circle around Espi to hear what she had to say. She had to shout to be heard over the boisterous crowd that pressed against us on every side. “Back in the 1970’s, uh, 1974, I think, my uncle took a trip to Pamplona, España to run with the bulls. He was sweet on my Tía Noemi and he thought that by doing something so macho, he would win her heart. I guess it worked, because they got married the next year. My tío loves to tell the story over and over about how he ran down the street in front of the stampede of torros shouting, ‘¡Noemi! ¡Noemi! ¡Noemi!’ It makes my tía blush every time he says it. In fact, one time...”
“Uh, Espi,” X interrupted. “As much as I love to hear your stories about your family,” he shrugged and indicated the crowd, “we kind of need to figure out why we’re here.”
Espi looked at each of us and laughed, “Lo siento. Sorry, guys, you know me, always yakking! Okay, according to Tío Alfredo the bulls are released on one side of town at eight o’clock in the morning. This is signaled with a rocket being fired. Then the runners, wearing red scarves and white shirts,” indicating a few men waiting on the cobblestoned street, “race in front of the bulls all the way to the bullring. They will fire more rockets once all the bulls have been corralled, right through there.” Looking to our left, we could see the bull’s destination: the bullring.
“How many of these lunatics will be running in front of the bulls?” I asked.
“I think hundreds, but you would know better, Number Boy,” she teased.
“Right.” I scanned the crowd, allowing my ticker tape brain to count what I saw.
412 children sitting on shoulders and peering over the wall.
1 boy and 1 girl sitting on the wall.
Just then, the crowd broke out in song. We turned to Espi, waiting for an explanation. She grinned, “Before the beginning of the encierro, the bull run, they sing a benediction. A prayer to St. Fermín for safety.”
“If they wanted to be safe...” Charlotte mumbled.
“...they’d stay on this side of the fence,” Charlie finished.
“What about you, Peter? Do you see anything interesting,” X asked me.
“Not really. Just lots of people waving flags and scarves. Do you remember reading anything about this? Maybe in a newspaper or magazine?”
X closed his eyes and I knew that he was scanning anything he’d ever read in search of an article or story about Pamplona and the running of the bulls. We waited, watching X’s eyes twitch, his eye balls moving behind his eyelids as if reading. If he had ever read something, he would find it somewhere in his photographic brain.
The singing around us rose to a deafening crescendo and then we all jumped as the air was filled with crash of the first rocket. At the same moment, X’s eyes popped open. “I got it!”
“Bien, because here come the bulls!” Espi exclaimed. “Quick! What happened?”
“There was an accident years ago when a young child ran out into the corridor, just as the bulls crashed past.”
“Was it a boy or a girl?” I asked.
X closed his eyes again and then shouted, “A boy! Octavio Gorriz. He was six years old.”
I looked back toward the young boy sitting on the wall. He waved a red scarf and cheered along with the crowd. He was about the same size as my cousin, Nick and Nick had just turned seven. I made an executive decision, “Come on. I think I see our target.” Unfortunately, we were crushed together and it was almost impossible to move through the throng.
As we shuffled along, stepping on toes and trying to squeeze through the spectators, I turned to Espi. “How long is the run? How much time do we have, do you think?”
“Tío Alfredo said it was fast. Four minutes maybe? The run is only about 900 yards long.”
The numbers clicked and flashed in my mind: 900 yards in 4 minutes...that’s about 15 miles per hour. The average bull weighed 2,403 pounds, versus the average man weighing in at 185 pounds...that means the beast is almost 13 times heavier. The odds of little Octavio surviving a collision with a bull...a million to one.
We were still several yards away and I wasn’t sure we would make it. We could already feel the rumble of the hooves of the bulls as they approached. If we were going to reach the boy in time, we would have to get creative. Turning to the twins, I gave them a nod and they smiled before springing into action; Charlie tossed Charlotte up into the air. She landed lightly on the shoulders of a burly man standing nearby, but before he could protest, she had bounced back into the air, springing from spectator to spectator. While his sister traveled over the mass of people, Charlie wriggled, rolled and spun between the men and women in the crowd. Within moments, they had arrived at the wall, just inches from the boy.
But they were too late.
As the runners came within view, yelling and waving newspapers to attract the six bulls who thundered behind them, Espi, X and I watched in horror as the young Octavio waved and yelled, “¡Papi!” before jumping off the wall. From where we pushed against the crowd, we could hear his mother screaming, but we were still to far away to do anything.
Suddenly there was a flash of green as Charlotte launched herself off the fence, did a backflip and landed on the cobblestones below, her hands stretched out to the boy. Charlie was right behind her. They each seized one of Octavio’s arms and swung him up in the air, back to the safety of his mother. Then Charlie, with no time to lose, grabbed Charlotte and tossed her up and over the fence. As Charlie stepped toward the barrier, he slipped on the wet cobblestone and twisted his ankle, causing him to fall to one knee. As he tried to stand up, it was obvious that he couldn’t put any weight on his injured leg, which made running impossible. He began limping toward safety, dragging his bad foot behind him and I could hear Charlotte yelling for him to hurry. The thundering throng was just a few feet away when I finally reached the barrier. I threw myself over the wood, reaching out to Charlie while X grabbed my leg. Charlie managed grab my hand just as the Time Bender began to vibrate and I could only hope that Espi and Charlotte where hanging onto X. As the runners and bulls rumble past, the street began to spin, and we were headed back to school. The last thing we heard over the roar of the crowd was a man yelling, “¡Noemi! ¡Noemi! ¡Noemi!”
Recorded by Peter.
Mr Wiseman looked up from the report and shook his head. Looking around at the five students sitting in Room A-1, he sighed before saying, “I think I speak for us all when I say that was cutting it a little close.”
So, I succumbed.
While I spent most of the week trying to talk myself out of participating in NaNoWriMo this year, my story continued to thunder around in my head like a herd of bulls. I guess I'm in for another month of living vicariously through my students from Great Heights Middle School.