Fortunately, I had not been hurt in the earthquake, and I was able to run down the steps of the temple to help the wounded. There seemed to be few serious injuries, mainly a couple of cuts and bruises, most of which were due to the very weapons that I had been so afraid of a couple of minutes before. But before the villagers had regained their bearings, another cry of anguish rang from the central plaza.
A new form of panic seized them. The woman whose arm I was checking started up with a gasp and ran to her house. It was then that I noticed the shimmer of the small canals along the main streets. The water was running, flowing back to the centre of the fountain. It was falling down the rift that the tremor had created. The craze which overtook the villagers when they saw this was terrible to behold. They ran and screamed and stumbled over each other, grabbing any container they could to catch the receding flux. The dread of thirst and deprivation possessed their bodies, and their actions were completely disorganised. In the shadows, their shapes came and went like a parade of frenzied spirits. I made my way among them, dodging now a woman on all fours trying to reach the canal with a flask, now a man frantically digging a hole in the sand to redirect the stream. The main bulk of them were gathering around the hole, the most dangerous place to be. As I groped among them, trying to find the mayor, a shrill voice rose over the hubbub. Ernesto’s plaintive tone echoed around the plaza.
“Please, please everyone. Run away. Please save yourselves!”
I looked back. The moon had risen above the small earthen houses in town, and his features were distinguishable in stark black and white. His body reeled slightly with each step, probably from the beating that Salvacion had given him, but his voice held strong against the cries that still broke out here and there in the streets.
“We are all in danger here. Please evacuate the town.”
Salvacion’s flowing hair and cape appeared behind him. The vibrations of her low voice drowned the whispers that were spreading among the crowd:
“All of you step away from the rift. Go back…”
Suddenly, a new, overpowering rumble reverberated out of the hole. For a second I thought it was another earthquake, but the ground under my feet barely shook as the sound became louder and clearer. Instinctively I drew back, pushing aside another body behind me, my eyes fixed on the edges of the crevice. Then the moonlight disappeared. At the very same place where the water had sprung up, an immense, snake-like silhouette rose sky-high over our heads.