The Sleeper #Friday Fictioneers

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.

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.

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.



About glossarch

The word "glossarch" doesn't exist. At least, not yet. But let's pretend it does for a second. The first part is "gloss," a word that comes to us from Ancient Greek via Latin and English. It means "language." The second part also comes from Ancient Greek and can mean "having power over." So "glossarch" means simply "language controller." So what am I doing making up words? Well, I made up an entire language once. It's called Angosey. So I'm the Glossarch of Angosey. I'm currently a doctorate student in volcano seismology (a branch of geophysics). I enjoy writing fiction and poetry, launching balloons, programming, and hanging out with my lovely wife! Follow me on Twitter! Writing and language creation: @glossarch Balloons and science: @bovineaerospace
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28 Responses to The Sleeper #Friday Fictioneers

  1. DCTdesigns says:

    Loved the image, your story and the history reminder. I stare at Mt St Helen’s everyday. It is a true reminder of the power of mother nature,of how fragile we are. It think it this essence that struck me the most in your photo. That I tapped into for my story.

    • glossarch says:

      St. Helens really is a sobering reminder of how quickly everything can change. Looking at the photos of Lengai after the explosion a year later did that for me too.

  2. Sandra says:

    Enjoyed the story and the background that went with it. Thank you.

  3. Jan Brown says:

    Great story, and thanks for a great photo, too! Fascinating background information–thank you for sharing.

  4. atrm61 says:

    Loved the short story and the back story was interesting too:-)Nice pics

  5. Great story, all the more significant after reading about the background to the picture.

  6. Dear Danny,

    First off, thank you for the stunning picture. I did research the area but just couldn’t work it into my story. My muse took me out of this world this week. 😉 Your story and all of the background will stay with me. All of it. Well done and welcome back.



  7. Danny, thanks for both the story and the background, fascinating stuff. Yours is a reminder that life is fragile and precious, but not to hold onto it too tightly least we squeeze all the juice from it without enjoying any of it. Glad you’re back.


  8. Taygibay says:

    The like was more for the background than for the story but still very sincere at that, Tay. 😀

  9. Great story. Great pics and backstory.
    I was in Iceland in the sixties when Vestmannaeyjar blew. Serious stuff. I was also privileged to sail close to Surtsey very early on in its life. Fascinating stuff.

  10. Hala J. says:

    Your story was made all the more hard-hitting by your background story…life is indeed fleeting. Thank you for sharing, I really mean that. Makes you think.

  11. Sarah Ann says:

    Thanks, Danny, for the photo and background. I like that the volcano stayed asleep in your story.

  12. Thank you for the story and the even better backdrop story.. volcanoes are amazing.. my father was a profoessor in geology and we spent most summers doing field work, never in volcanic areas though — but I know he did that on other occasions… good luck on your goals, and stay safe…

  13. vbholmes says:

    Good buildup of tension with a (happily) surprise last sentence.
    The video of the volcanic eruption was eye-opening and memorable. And lastly–being able to say “I am a volcanologist” (great word!) is worth all the hard work and danger the job entails.

  14. This is a most awesome post!

  15. Thank you for the great photos, story and video clip. I remember reading about Mt. St. Helens and seeing it on TV at the time. The fact that the camera of the young man who died was still running and took some of the photos make it all the more real.

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