Bewildering Stories

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Chapter 6, The Volcano
Part IV, installment 1

by Tala Bar

Gaia began in issue 88.
Part III appeared in issue 109.

A long, high-pitch, inarticulate scream penetrated Dar’s slumber. Sitting up in confusion, she saw a dark figure rushing about the small area of the narrow shore, flailing its arms as if trying to drive away some unseen menace from its face and body, uttering piercing, incoherent shrieks.

“Zik! Zik!” she sprung to her feet and ran after him, trying to catch him. She could see his eyes in the faint starlight, wide open but unseeing; he slipped away from her arms, the haphazard movements of his hands endangering her safety. She paused for a moment, trying to decipher the words he was uttering. They sounded like gibberish, except the word ‘fire’, which was sounded again and again.

Nim and Nunez came rushing out of the cave. “What is it? What’s happened?”

“Help me catch him before he hurts himself,” Dar gasped; “he may even jump into the lake, and then it would be too difficult to get him out.”

Between the three of them, they managed at last to grasp at the deranged man’s clothes. Nunez held Zik’s arms to stop them hitting at the others, Dar took hold of his body and with Nim’s support they managed to lay him back on the blanket. While Nunez was still holding his arms fast, Dar sat down behind the young man, took his head and put it on her lap; she caressed his brow and talked quietly to him, rocking his shivering body like a baby in her arms until he stopped screaming. He was still quivering and breathing heavily, and he never stopped uttering disconnected words; they were able, however, to understand some of them now.

“Fire! Fire! They are coming on to me! Burning! Burning! Fire! Fire! Fire!” and so on, and so forth... he muttered the words incessantly, heedless of his surroundings. “Shush,” Dar murmured into his ear, “there’s no fire now, you are safe, we won’t let you burn...” She did not know who “they” were, of course, she was just answering what seemed to her his deepest worries. He responded, it seemed, more to the confident, calming tone of her voice than to any words she was using; his utterings had gradually become fewer, with longer gaps between them, until at last he fell silent. Only his breathing remained hard and uneven.

Nim and Nunez stood over the other two, watching in silence. Then Nunez said, crouching beside the young man, “What about that fire, Zik?” Nim nodded at the apt question.

Zik looked at the older man, his eyes getting into focus. “You’re Nunez, aren’t you? I remember you.”

He lifted his eyes toward Dar’s face that hovered above his own. “You won’t let the Fire people get me, will you?” He sounded like a child putting his faith in the hand of some one he was not completely sure of.

“Who are the Fire people? Why are they after you?” asked Nim curiously. He looked at her blankly. “I don’t know you,” he said. Nim gasped, and Dar was sure without being able to see in the darkness that she blushed.

“Shush,” she hushed him again. “You should go to sleep now, you are too tired. We’ll hear all about it in the morning.” She made a sign to Nim and Nunez to go back to their own sleeping quarter. With her own blanket and the backpack she made a support for her back and stayed sitting in place with Zik’s head in her lap to pass the rest of the night. Zik closed his eyes, but the quivering of his body and his heavy breathing showed the disturbance of his sleep.

The morning shone soft and partly cloudy. Zik seemed to be feeling much better, as if he had forgotten the previous night’s events. Dar’s body was stiff and aching from the awkward position she had been sleeping in, but her mood had improved as if hoping the future was going to be better than the past.

When they sat around the freshly made fire, gulping their breakfast, she said to her patient, “Do you think you could tell us about the fire people, Zik?”

Zik’s spoon halted halfway to his mouth. Dar was happy to notice he was eating his portion hungrily, but now his hand trembled and his eyes turned blank. “The fire people?” he asked, looking at her with face empty of all expression.

“Don’t you remember your dream last night?” Said Nim with concern, “you gave us all such a fright.”

The dark skin of Zik’s face became darker with the blood suffusing it. He put his spoon down, as Dar said quietly, “I think we should finish our meal first; then, if he can, I’m sure Zik will want to tell us all about it.”

Zik looked at her questioningly, resuming his eating without paying any more attention to the others.

Nim and Nunez cleared the meal as Dar proceeded to talk to Zik, calming him and reassuring him, until, by the time the other two had completed their task, he seemed ready enough to talk.

“Dar told me why you’re here and how you got to this place,” he said, his voice still sounding husky; Nim had the idea it might be natural, ‘rather pleasant and even attractive,’ she thought fleetingly. “So, I suppose I owe it to you. But I don’t understand it all myself.”

* * *

He had been an orphan, he said; growing up in an orphanage, he had never known anything about his parents. Being a quiet, plain-looking child, he had never attracted the eyes or heart of any potential adoptive parents. The orphanage was not a bad place, having all the physical amenities a child might need. Although he had never known the special kind of love natural parents could have given him, he had also never been abused in the way some parents might treat their children. The Home, at least, was properly supervised, free of any physical mistreatment, allowing him a refuge from the dangers of the streets and a certain amount of freedom.

Zik was a good, hardworking student, first at school and then at college; free of too many distractions a fuller social life could have created for him, he was able to dedicate most of his time to his studies. Geology seemed to be a most suitable subject for a student of his kind, needing more hard work than a particular inspirational brilliance; a byproduct of these studies was the enhancing of his interest in inanimate objects rather than in people.

In his second year as a postgraduate student, Zik met Keri. She was a very different person from himself, full of passion and love for both things and people. Keri had chosen her subject of studies following a deep interest and concern for the earth, regarding the planet in the ancient aspect of the Great Mother of all things, living and inanimate, who had been abused for too long by human beings. In her studies, Keri was looking for means and ways to save the earth from its destruction by the overcrowding of humanity.

Zik could never tell what made Keri so interested in him. Sometimes he thought that perhaps, in her mind, he was no less abused as a person than Earth had been as a planet. Keri was a couple of years older than Zik, her sexual experience much more extensive than his. It was she who had initiated their relationship, approaching Zik in such an attractive way that he was unable to resist. He found very soon that there was no point in resisting, being a good match physically; the contrast in their mental attitude, however, had supplied them with a good basis for lively discussions and exchanges of ideas. Keri had a lively, inventive mind, going sometimes wildly off the mark of reality; Zik, with his steady logic and hard knowledge of facts, helped steady her on the right path, while benefiting from Keri’s imagination.

It was natural for Keri and Zik to look for a way to work together on their postdoctorate research; having looked far and wide, they chose that little-known volcano, so small it was nameless, as a background for their studies. During their search, they were approached by Rok, who was a few years younger than they and still working on his Ph.D. dissertation. Rok was an alpinist, and the couple valued his expertise in rock climbing (the sound of his name was just an accident, and a source of many jokes).

The volcano had been dormant for centuries. The island, being so small with no visible resources, had never been inhabited; it did not even have a name, only a number on the geological maps. The three geologists were dropped on it with their equipment from a helicopter, taking their time before starting on their mission. They then explored the shore around the base of the mountain, discovered the cave and decided to store their possessions there, using it as a protected base. They needed protection only from the weather, as they found no animal larger than insects, or a passing bird, on the island. They certainly had no idea of any danger coming from the volcano itself, as that had been dormant for too many centuries — perhaps millennia — before their coming there.

The explorers had been working for days before it happened; they had climbed, sometimes separately, at other times two or three together, all over the mountain. They took various measures, collected endless specimens; in the evenings they would meet at the base near the cave, update their calculations and make numerous notes, comparing their individual findings. During the day they would eat their food cold, having prepared it the night before. Only with the fall of darkness would they cook the one hot meal of the day. At that time they would relax around the fire, eat, talk, exchange the impressions of the day, joke together and even sing, having a good time of it. Afterward they would separate, Zik and Keri going to sleep together while Rok slept by himself.

After a few nights, however, when relations among the three young persons had strengthened, Keri, having discussed the idea with Zik, invited Rok to join in their lovemaking. They did not want, Zik explained, to give the younger member of their small group the feeling of being discriminated against in any way.

Having grown up in the communal atmosphere of the orphanage, Zik was ready to accept a situation that did not seem to him too abnormal; Keri, having had some sexual experience, thought it could be an interesting sensation. Rok accepted the proposition after a little hesitation, which worked to perfection after some minor initial faux pas at the beginning. From then on they slept together at night, making love at will.

The three young people had much in common, besides being all geologists. They had all liked life out in the open, even the wild living away from civilization and its crowded cities. The loneliness of the place touched their hearts in a positive way; and they had no sense of imminent danger.

“It sounds such a beautiful life!” Nim exclaimed, emotionally; “I wish...”

“They were beautiful days, “Zik agreed, sighing and closing his eyes as if to remember; “I just can’t understand why and how they ended!” He complained.

Proceed to the conclusion of chapter 6.

Copyright © 2004 by Tala Bar

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