Fire Further Down
In front of me the mist swirled in circular wisps before it appeared to evaporate into the thin air that had cooled considerably. I shivered as I remembered the surreal encounter with a bear somewhere between the heat of a sun-filled day and a grey coolness of the moonlit night. Although in reality it was only a moment ago, it already seemed nothing more than a fantastic dream. My doubts became more inter-twined with this moving, chill atmosphere and as confusion returned I had slowed my pace.
Mist appeared to transform into smoke. The acrid, pungent odour burned my eyes and I closed them involuntarily and my breathing became laboured. Fear returned as the companion of confusion took an iron grip around my throat. I tripped on a rogue tuft of grass and fell to the ground where the crater's rim met my hand. I clung to it. It was hot. Had I been walking any faster I would've fallen headlong into the fire. Through the mixture of smoke and steam the heat from the molten rock hit me and the force of its impact all over my face at the same moment was overwhelming and I felt as though I must surely black out.
With my thoughts spinning around in rapid circles, the sensation of a soft, gentle caress over my back had the twin effect of shock and comfort. An image of a bear flashed into my mind. I was terror struck. The hot volcano rim of pure obsidian was razor sharp and had cut my hand like a knife through butter or a bear's claw through my flesh. My eyes flashed open at the thought of death. The sudden appearance of the caldera mixed with this image threatened my sanity, blistering lava bubbles bursting everywhere over the surface. In the middle of the boiling red lake, an eruption of lava exploded upwards in a fountain of molten rock as a fiery object climbed silently through the disturbed air like a serpent. The General Sherman. Up it rose. Up and up, continuing it seemed forever. Suddenly it stopped and this magnificent tree towered over everything, a shower of golden flames inside the bright-red drape of spewing rock splashing down and drenching the inferno within the lava.
I tried to comprehend the sight in front of me through the swirling steam and dancing flames. I lay prone on the hard rocky surface gripping the hot, razored edge of the rim, blood gently flowing and slowly dripping into the molten rock below, then instantly vaporising. The ground beneath me was not hot, just warm. More confusion hit me as I tried to understand this impossible combination of experiences. I could take no more of this madness and stood up, teetering on the edge of sanity. I stepped forward and plunged towards the molten rock below. Suddenly and without any conscious thought, I reshaped and straightened out my curled form into a perfect dive. The best I’d ever performed and ironically my last. In that final moment of life, a calmness came over me as I foresaw my own imminent death and realised that it's not life that flashes before you, but the appreciation of absolute vulnerability as it wraps itself around you like death's blanket. I plummeted downwards. Resolute. Not caring and completely unafraid as though I was diving into the comfort of the time before my birth.
Automatically I grabbed a breath before hitting the warm water and, slipping into the lake, I went deep, to meet with the sight of tiny bubbles fizzing upwards towards the shards of sunlight filtering down from above. I slowly moved towards the surface, my speed matching the movement of the gas bubbles. It felt as though I was being pulled and pushed at the same time. Finally, I surfaced then looked around. The General Sherman was gone. The molten rock was gone. I swum the short way to a tiny beach covered with black sand and dragged myself out of the water. I turned to look at the scene behind me afraid of what I might see, but it was just trees standing upright like soldiers against a backdrop of grass-covered rocks. A gentle breeze was blowing across my face and raising my hands I felt a cooling relief pass over them. In the distance I thought I saw a solitary predatory bear. It reared upwards as it turned to look in my direction. It roared once and dropped onto all fours. The bear looked away and as its front paws touched the ground it lumbered off up into the woodland and was gone.
© Louis Brothnias (2008)