I left him sitting in the lawn chair in front of his little yellow tent.
“You sure about this?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he replied. “I’ll switch the data loggers and leave tomorrow morning.”
The ground shivered. I looked back.
“Seriously, it’s okay.”
I climbed out of the crater, a little puff of ash spurting up with every step. Hit the rickety little bar in Endulen that night, watched the dim cone against the stars. A few hours went by, a few more beers went down. My eyelids fluttered, closed; the mountain and I slept soundly through one more night.
I’m back! Life’s been moving fast but I’m gonna slow down a bit and keep up the fiction. Plus, I couldn’t resist writing a story based on a photo I took! Below the picture, I’ll comment on both that picture and the sense of tragedy in the story, because it’s based on a real incident. Anyway…Every Friday, writers from all around the world write 100 word (or thereabouts) flash fiction based on a photo posted that Wednesday on Rochelle Wisoff-Fields’ blog.
I welcome constructive criticism; without it I cannot grow as a writer. The weekly photo that inspired this story is below:
The active crater of Ol Doinyo Lengai in September 2006. Released into the public domain under the Creative Commons with Attribution license by the author (me).
Okay, so, the backstory. I organized an expedition to Ol Doinyo Lengai while studying abroad in Tanzania. I convinced nine other students to go with me to this incredible volcano, the only one of its kind currently active on Earth. The lava’s got the chemistry of laundry detergent, and dissolves in water. Unfortunately no activity was going on when we were there, but about a year later it exploded, burying our old campsite in ash. Anyway, there was some nice floor heating in the tent from the gas vents and occasionally there’d be a deep, almost inaudible sound from the depths – you feel the more in your chest then hear with your ears. I mean, I was convinced before, but I knew now – this is what I want to do with my life.
I’m gonna be a volcanologist someday.
So here’s what the mountain looked like when we visited (our campsite is by the crater rim on the left edge of the picture):
Lengai in September 2006. Photo copyright Jeannie Coffin.
Here it is about a year later after a series of violent explosions:
There are three reasons why I wrote an ominous story. For one, volcanoes are dangerous, of course, and any work on them entails risks. Second, one of the students on my expedition died in Afghanistan a month ago due to a suicide bomber. Third, the prompt reminded me of David Jonston, one of the victims of Mt. St. Helens on May 18, 1980. He agreed to stay in place of a fellow grad student at an observatory about 7 miles from the volcano for the night of the 17th and the 18th.
David Johnston, thirteen hours before his death.
However, instead of erupting straight up, the volcano erupted sideways. I have stood on the ridge where he was camping. It is stripped to bare rock.
Every volcanologist knows Dave’s last words by heart – listen to them here:
I keep the photo below on the background of my computer. It keeps me mindful of how fragile we are in the face of nature.
Mt. St. Helens the day before it exploded. Everything in the foreground was wiped off the face of the Earth.