Sunday Snippet, Freight Elevator by Bill Chance

“When the elevator doors open there is only one other person inside it, a homeless man with electric blue sunglasses and six plastic grocery bags filled with rags. “Close the doors, dammit,” he yells as soon as we step inside. “Can’t you see I’m blind?”

…….

From the back, the homeless man shoves between us, his bounty rustling in his arms. “Stop yelling,” he shouts. though we stand in utter silence. “Can’t you tell that I’m deaf?”

― Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper

Dallas, Texas

Freight Elevator

“Well, are you ready to call it a night?”

“Not really.”

“Do you want to go to an after hours bar or something?”

“Not really.”

“I’ve never been to where you live. Can we go to your place?”

“I still live with my parents, you know that. Their apartment is tiny, I sleep on a futon in my mother’s sewing room. I’ve never been to where you live either. You live alone. We have to go there.”

“But my apartment is… really small.”

“Is it clean?”

“Of course. But…”

“It’s big enough then.”


I had always wanted to live in the center of the city… on the island itself. I was tired of feeling like an outsider, a tourist. But rents were so high and I never had and will never have any money. For a year I rode that interminable train ride, rocking elbow to elbow with the other strap-hangers. I would look through the rental listings, hoping, hoping. Finally….

Walking to meet my new prospective landlord past the block after block of tents filling the sidewalk, most a bilious purple-orange color. The government has spent untold millions on buying thousands of tents to “solve” the homeless problem and distributed them – surprised when they were snapped up and the population living on the streets blossomed even more. I looked at the rows of nylon and filth and wondered if I could do that. I have camped a lot over my life but never on a sidewalk beneath the glass canyons of downtown. A lot of valuable parking was taken up by bathroom trailers provided by the city that had necessities and showers, but still….

The address on the listing was a huge hulking brick building. It looked like an ancient factory, divided up into a filing cabinet of tiny living spaces. There were very few windows and only one door. I was repelled at first, but realized that a place at this affordable price was not going to be in a new shiny glass tower with a grid of balconies repeating up into the sky. This was my dream, but it was going to be modified by the real world.

“You are right,” the rental agent said, “this used to be a factory. I have no idea what they made here, but whatever it was, it was huge, as you will see.”

We walked through a maze of sheetrock walls, obviously thrown up to divide some massive assembly room into a warren of rented cubicles. We arrived at a wall that was taken up by a giant steel vertical door with a peeling number “1” stenciled onto it. Of to one side was a single simple round button with an upward facing arrow. The rental agent pushed this. There was a heavy shuddering and a low loud metallic groan. After a minute of this the door slowly raised up, revealing a shallow space delineated off by a translucent plastic divider. In the middle was an ordinary door, with a peephole. It was labeled 1-12 A.

“Well this is it,” the rental agent said. She took out a key and unlocked the door.

“I don’t understand.”

“Like I said, the factory made huge, giant, heavy, something-or-others. They moved them up or down on this gigantic freight elevator. Other than the stairs, it’s the only way to reach the upper floors in this part of the building. Since it was now being used for pedestrians most of the elevator was wasted space. We built this partition and were able to rent out the area behind it. Come on in, take a look.”

“The walls are metal mesh?”

“The back and side walls, yes. But beyond them are only concrete. There is actually a kind of window in back between every two floors. It lets in a nice light as you go past.”

“It moves?”

“Of course it does. All the other residents us it to get up and down. But there is the partition and a locked door.”

“The partition doesn’t look all that opaque.”

“Oh, there’s enough for privacy. And you can make as much noise as you want. You can play music. Folks on an elevator don’t care about that.”

“I see the stove and ‘fridge. But no sink. And no bathroom.”

“On eleven you have access to an old janitor’s closet. A big sink, and we put in a shower and toilet. It’s yours. Your door key fits. Just go up to eleven, get off, down the hall, one left, then a right. I’ll show you.”

“I don’t know if I can live in a place like this. It goes up and down. People at the front all the time. It’s crazy.”

“It’s cheap.”

“It’s the only place I can afford.”

“I’ve heard that before.”


Well, it turns out she loved my apartment. She liked the feeling of going up and down so much that, late at night, when the other people were all home asleep she’d go out the front door and push all the buttons. That would keep my place moving for a while. She loved watching the concrete walls slowly shift up and down.

She crawled out of the hatch on top and put plants on the window sills so she could watch those go by. She bought a watering can with a long spout so she could drip water through the mesh into her plants as we moved past them.

The only problem is that she likes to make a lot of noise in bed when she think people are in the elevator up front. She rearranged the lamps so that we sometimes throw obscene shadows on the translucent wall. It bothers me a little but nobody’s complained yet.

As a matter of fact I think she likes this tiny apartment more than me. If we broke up, I’m afraid she would throw me out.

And I’ll never find another place I can afford.

Sunday Snippet, Morning Routine by Bill Chance

To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;

—-William Shakespeare

Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas

Morning Routine

Gregory had not always been an organized person. He lived most of his life in a haphazard desultory way, never sure of what came next. When his wife told him, “I can’t live like this any more,” left for California with the twins and moved in with the lawyer she had met online, he realized he had to get his shit together.

He went to seminars and read piles of books. He listened to podcasts and hired a personal organizer. He decluttered. He downsized and organized, planned and simplified. Most important of all, he made up routines.

By setting up routines he eliminated personal choice in what he did. It was a way to battle back against his natural tendency to chaos. If he could put reality into a series of carefully thought out and designed checklists he could keep disaster at bay. Gregory decided he wanted life to be smooth and planned – all risk and decision eliminated.

His personal organizer gave him a series of printed forms that fit into a binder which covered every possible aspect of every day. She helped him brainstorm, fill out the checklists, then edit and extend them until every hour of every day was planned out ahead of time and he didn’t have to decide what to do next – it was all in black and white. He discovered that once he had settled on a routine he didn’t have to look at the paper any more. It was seared into his memory and after a few days it ripened into an irreversible habit.

The alarm on Gregory’s phone beeped at six AM and after one and only one tapping of the snooze he hopped out of bed to begin his morning routine. He drank the ice water he had placed in an insulated steel tumbler on his nightstand the night before. He moved to the tatami mat next to his bed and did a short series of stretches with a foam roller. He checked the clothes that he had chosen before he went to bed and laid them out on the bed. Then it was into the bathroom. He pushed the electric shaver around on his face and then flossed. He started the water in the shower to allow it to warm up as he brushed his teeth. Then into the shower.

In the old days, he would luxuriate under the hot water, leaning against the tile as the warmth poured over him, enjoying the feel of the droplets against his skin. Thoughts of the day before, the day coming up, and strange random memories from far in his past would joust in his mind for a few split seconds of attention. His wife would get angry because he would waste so much time in the shower and use up all the hot water. Not any more. He washed himself quickly and efficiently, using a minimum of time and cleaning products.

Stepping out, he dried himself with a clean towel hung on a hook. Then he used a small hand towel kept by the mirror to clear a spot in the fogged glass so he could groom his hair with the comb kept in the holder right at hand. A stick of deodorant came out of a handy drawer – it was the only item in there – and he was done in the bathroom

He stepped naked back into his bedroom and sat in a chair he had placed next to the spot where he had laid out his outfit for the day. He had only one task left before he could get dressed and head out for the day.

Next to the chair was a small, sturdy table with a lacquered wooden box and a kitchen timer. The box had a combination lock built in and he moved the numbers to the proper setting. He twisted the timer to seven minutes and opened the heavy lid of the wooden box. Gregory lifted a Glock 19 9mm pistol out of the box, slid a full magazine into the gun, then pulled back on the slide – charging a shell into the firing chamber. He thumbed the safety so that the gun was ready to fire.

Gregory reversed the gun, stuck his thumb into the trigger guard, and then slid the barrel into his mouth. He closed his eyes and sat there, still, listening to the ticking of the kitchen timer. He felt the steel of the barrel between his teeth and ran his tongue around the opening at the end. He tasted the oily residue on the Glock and smelled the slight smoky odor left over from the last time he took the gun to the range. He breathed in through his nose and out through his wedged-open mouth, feeling his breath pass between his lips and the body of the gun.

His mind went to the decision he had to make, the one he made each day. Hamlet had said it best, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” Two columns appeared in his mind – the endless stream of checklists to navigate or the dark splotch of blood against his bedroom wall. The “strings and arrows,” or “that sleep of death.” Sitting there, clean and naked, with the Glock in his mouth, he could think clearly and dispassionately as he summed up the columns in his mind. Some days the decision was a close one.

But today, the timer gave off its little “ding,” and Gregory removed the Glock from his mouth. He turned the safety, removed the magazine, cleared the round and pushed it back into the cartridge. It wasn’t Saturday, so he didn’t clean the gun but simply wiped the saliva off with a cloth and replaced the gun, magazine, and cloth back in the wooden case, closed the lid, and randomized the numbers. Gregory put on the clothes that he had set out and walked through the door into another day.

Sunday Snippet, Swallowed by Nostalgia by Bill Chance

“being alone never felt right. sometimes it felt good, but it never felt right.”

― Charles Bukowski, Women

Klyde Warren Park, Dallas, Texas

Swallowed by Nostalgia

Craig was never very outgoing, never comfortable around lots of other people. He was surprised when he found himself married with two twin children. Then, all of a sudden, he was alone again, his ex-wife and kids out on the West coast, with a new husband and father.

Still, he had his friends. Not a lot of them, but the ones he had were close. He had his activities, his clubs, his scheduled events. Craig never felt like the center of the crowd, but he was there. He didn’t initiate a lot, but people would contact him, offer up events and activities, and he would go along.

As he grew older, he slowed down a bit, still not outgoing, but not a hermit by any means.

And then the pandemic hit… and it all went to shit.

One day, Craig realized he had not been out of his apartment in almost three weeks. His food was delivered, either cooked or groceries. Every day he’d collect his Amazon boxes – everything he needed and more. It was a reflex to search and click “buy now.” Craig felt like a cave man hunting woolly mammoths with a mouse, keyboard and credit card. After a while he turned the camera off on his work Zoom meetings and would usually nap during the long ones. Nobody seemed to notice.

He ordered blackout curtains for his windows and the highest rated noise-cancelling headphones. Sometimes he’d wear the phones without music, even though his place was quiet – simply to kill off any potential interruptions.

This went on, month after month and Craig began to go mad.

The present became more and more gray and blurred, but the past became crystal and colorful. Events from decades before floated up through his memory and wedged themselves into his consciousness. Especially things he regretted – not stuff that he did, but things that he didn’t do. These errors of omission, vacuums of courage, kept flashing in his mind.

The time a girl at a club gave him her number and he didn’t call… the job offer he turned down… the friends that went to an exotic location and he decided not to go with them…. All these and countless more kept coming back to him. In his mind, though, he went ahead and took the plunge. In his imagination he called the girl, took the job, went along. And reaped the reward.

But then, later, he would realize what had really happened, where he was, and who he had become. Sleep became something he feared, not because of nightmares but because of these triumphant dreams where he corrected the mistakes he had made. And this made the morning even more gray, even more useless.

His health provider kept sending him messages about the vaccine, but he ignored them. Why get the shot? He never left his apartment, was at no risk to himself or anyone else. He didn’t care anyway – if it killed him, it killed him.

Then one morning, after a long vivid dream of driving across the country in a sports car that he had decided not to buy once he woke up and scheduled his shot. It might stop the dreams. He left his place for the first time in months and was surprised at how easy it was to negotiate the paperwork and get the jab in the arm. He actually looked forward to the second, couldn’t wait until the three weeks were up.

It was a beautiful day when he got his second shot – the air with a bit of a chilly breeze but the sun out and hot – cutting through the cold. On a whim, he stopped in a park on the way back.

It was full of people, very few wearing masks. They were in groups, grilling, playing volleyball, kids running around, old folks walking, even a keg of beer next to a boom box (he guessed that the park rules were being bent after such a long time away).

He parked and walked the sidewalk on the circular drive looking at all the people. Live people. Noise. The chatter and music rose up. The smell of charcoal lighter and barbecue sauce. The feel of the cool breeze and hot sun.

It was back. He was back.

Sunday Snippet, Aliens Abduct Cheerleaders by Bill Chance

““You’re the hunter, the warrior. You’re stronger than anyone else here, that’s your tragedy.”

― Anne Rice, The Vampire Lestat

Sunset High School Cheerleaders

Aliens Abduct Cheerleaders

There are a few people in this world that everyone would consider to be a BADASS. Navy jet fighter pilots, gangsters, hitmen, boxers, bullies, Seal Team Six, high voltage repairmen… that sort of thing. Within that world of people that are badass there are a few that are REALLY BADASS. Think of a bell curve representing the amount of badass someone has – that right hand bit of tail and you have the badass people. Spread that out and you get another curve – to the right of it, the second derivative – and these are the most badass of the badass.

If you meet one of these people (and you better hope you never do) you probably would not even recognize their badassness – at least not right away. There is a saying among the super-badass, “They that do the mostest, talk the leastest.” They will never, never, ever talk about how badass they are. No tales of derring-do, no boastful bluster, no bombastic braggadocio. They are comfortable in their skin, confident in their abilities.

This is a small group, but among them are a handful of the most badass of the badass of the badass. These are the people that keep the badass of the badass up at night, send shivers down their spine. I’m not sure I know about all these people but I know six of them and I doubt there are very many more.

Who is more badass than these six? There is only one. He is not only the most badass person on the planet, he is an order of magnitude beyond; he is so badass that the word almost ceases to have meaning; he is made of pure badass.

He is Spencer Bowman.

Bowman carries an old fashioned pager. It only beeps – doesn’t even display the number calling. He may be the only person in a first-world country that still carries a pager like that.

One day, it beeped. Bowman stomped on the pager, shattering its plastic case, then dropped its remains off the first overwater bridge he came to. He drove his perfectly nondescript and average car to a working class suburb outside of DC and parked in front of a Speedometer Repair Shop in a run-down strip mall. He nodded at the middle aged receptionist and pressed a hidden button. A section of wall opened up and a stainless steel elevator appeared. The walls of the car had slits and Bowman nodded at them, knowing that an unseen man with a machine gun was behind each one.

At the bottom, deep underground, Bowman walked down a bare concrete corridor and pushed open a heavy steel blast door. Beyond was an ordinary drab government-issue office, with a bespectacled man at a desk. Not even Bowman knew what government agency ran this operation. It was so secret and dark it didn’t even have an acronym. Bowman suspected that not even the man behind the desk knew for sure who he worked for.

“Bowman, glad to see you again, have a seat,” said the man at the desk.

“What do you need me for?” was all Bowman said.

“You don’t waste much time, do you,” the man replied.

Bowman said nothing, not even a nod. It wasn’t really a question anyway.

“Well,” the man said, “aliens are stealing cheerleaders.”

“Really?”

“Really. Not just here, all over the world, though, of course the United States leads the world in Cheerleaders and most of the kidnappings are here. The total number isn’t huge, but it’s enough to worry… well, worry the people that know you.”

“And you want me to?”

“Find out why.”

“Maybe it is for breeding stock. There was a movie about that.”

“Probably not. They have mostly been taking female cheerleaders. But there have been a few male ones too. Actually, the ratio is pretty much the same as the total cheerleader population.”

“So, find out why. Anything else?”

“Well, it would be nice if you could get some back. If you can.”

The man handed Bowman a tiny, encrypted USB drive. Bowman already knew the password. And that was it.

There was a surprising amount of information on the drive. Enough for Bowman to figure out a couple of starting points. The government had a lot more data on the recent plague of UFO sightings than the public had been allowed to see. After a month of work, a series of educated guesses, and using some of his more exotic contacts, Bowman was able to figure out where the Alien’s base of operations was – an abandoned water pumping station in Dallas, Texas. The Aliens had a complex, subtle, and deep series of security measures protecting their base which Bowman was able to methodically and completely penetrate.

The Aliens resembled human beings in general, and their advance agents had established an odd cult of bizarre plastic surgery that made them able to… if not fit in, at least pass with their origins unguessed. Bowman reached the leader of the Alien mission with a maximum of stealth and a minimum of violence. They faced each other across an odd seven legged table lit by the unsettling greenish light of the Alien’s home planet.

“Spencer Bowman,” said the Alien mission leader.

“You know me,” said Bowman. Again, it was not a question.

“Of course, our knowledge of your society is more extensive than your own.”

“But why cheerleaders?”

“We need warriors.”

“Cheerleaders? Why not trained military? Or ninjas? Or snipers? Or at least gang bangers?”

“We are so very far advanced technologically that your crude killing methods are no longer relevant. Our weapons need a very specific and subtle mix of physical and mental capabilities and proclivities to operate efficiently. The Earth Cheerleading corps possess these qualities in greater accuracy than any other group we have found in any of the major galaxies.”

“But you can’t just kidnap people.”

“Kidnap? Oh you don’t understand. We present our proposal and they come along if they want.”

“But what if they refuse?”

“What if? Nothing. They return to their life.”

“What if they talk?”

“What if? Would any one believe them? Nope, they would end up a joke in the tabloids. And that’s the thing.”

“What?”

“Nobody has refused. No one. The call of destiny is strong. This is their purpose, they are perfect intergalactic warriors and when this is pointed out – the call is irresistible.”

Bowman knew he had the information he needed and it was time to escape. He turned away from the alien leader and fled out the door, taking every element of the situation in and avoiding the obvious traps. He was confident in his ability to get out of the alien headquarters unscathed and deliver his message to the government.

But Bowman was not prepared for what waited for him in the corridor beyond. There was Amber from the San Luis Obispo Wildcats in her red and blue uniform. She carried a Light Antimatter Laser Cannon and a Neutrino Shield. Next to her was Jeff from the Iowa City High School tumbling squad with a Quantum Saber glowing in his palms. Behind them stood their commander Crystal from The University of Virginia with a Superstring Grenade… just in case.

The fight didn’t last long. Withing a few seconds Bowman was reduced to a series of grotesque smears along a few feet of corridor. The Alien cleaning robot immediately emerged from a hidden closet and began scrubbing at the gore.

Spencer Bowman was without peer in the ranks of earth’s BADASS. But he was completely outclassed by Amber, Jeff, and Crystal, Intergalactic Warriors.

Sunday Snippet, Red Line Scofflaw by Bill Chance

“My heart is warm with the friends I make,

And better friends I’ll not be knowing,

Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,

No matter where it’s going.”

― Edna St. Vincent Millay, The Selected Poetry

(click to enlarge)

Red Line Scofflaw

As I was standing at the kiosk

(I had had to walk back to the car to get four quarters from the little holder thing that folds down between the front bucket seats as I only had a single dollar bill plus two tens – and I didn’t want to shove a ten in the machine – who knows what would happen then)

with my dollar bill and four quarters

trying to figure which buttons to push

and where the coins slot was

the train pulled up.

It was Sunday and who knows when the next train will come

So I boarded quickly, without my ticket

I’m a scofflaw

They warn you never to ride the trains without a ticket

one hundred fifty dollar fine.

I clutched my dollar and my four quarters in my hand

So I would have an excuse for the

transit police

if they came down the aisle checking

for tickets

I’ve ridden the train a lot

and never seen the transit police

check for tickets

Though I’ve seen their cars

leaving donut shops

parked in the parking lots

sleeping man in the front

There is a kid

sitting across from me

working on his very short hair

with a big comb

looking at

his reflection in the window

above his head is a poster

bright purple with white letters

it says:

Poetry in Motion

The poem on the poster is:

This is Just to Say

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox

and which

you were probably

saving

for breakfast

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

William Carlos Williams (1963)

Sunday Snippet, Boca Diablo (part 5 – El Tiburón) by Bill Chance

“Sharks have everything a scientist dreams of. They’re beautiful―God, how beautiful they are! They’re like an impossibly perfect piece of machinery. They’re as graceful as any bird. They’re as mysterious as any animal on earth. No one knows for sure how long they live or what impulses―except for hunger―they respond to. There are more than two hundred and fifty species of shark, and everyone is different from every other one.”

― Peter Benchley, Jaws

(click to enlarge)

Boca Diablo (part 5 – El Tiburón)

Read Part 1 Here

Read Part 2 Here

Read Part 3 Here

Read Part 4 Here

Dwayne never imagined how difficult it would be to get to Boca Diablo and see the butterflies again. After all these years the orange swarm he had seen as a child had grown in his mind. Now, after Flynn had brought him information, probably only a myth, that indicated that the insects were used by the ancient indigenous royalty for supernatural powers, the idea of the butterflies had grown in his mind until they had pushed out almost everything else. With Flynn’s support, he assumed that gaining approval from the university would be a cakewalk, and funding would surely follow.

But there was violent political unrest in the Boca Diablo area and the State Department was restricting travel. A shadowy figure, El Tiburón had raised a ragtag peasant army which, somehow, had driven the government forces out of the area. The central command didn’t seem too keen on spilling the necessary blood on getting it back.

“It has always been a backwater,” the embassy official had told him, “It will always be a backwater – bloody and dangerous. And useless. I recommend you abandon concern for that godforsaken place. Forget about it completely. I know I have. At least until you came in and started bothering me about it.”

One night, he received a phone call from someone asking to meet him down at his university office. The person on the other end refused to give his name, but said, “You need to meet me there, you won’t regret it.”

“Are you sure I won’t?” he asked.

“Well, I am absolutely sure you’ll regret not showing up,” was the answer. And it sounded convincing.

After carding into the dark research building and walking down the eerie empty echoing hallways Dwayne was startled to see his office door open, and the lights on. When he entered he saw a tall man wearing an expensive suit, smoking a cigar, sitting at his own desk.

“Have a seat,” the man said in a slight accent. He gestured at a chair in front of the desk.

“Ummm,” Dwayne stammered, “That’s my desk, and my chair, and there is no smoking allowed in the building.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, so true,” the man said in a calm voice. But he made no attempt to move or to extinguish his cigar. He simply made a generous puff and repeated his hand gesture toward the chair. Dwayne sat down.

“How did you get in here?” Dwayne said.

“I’m Mr. Albert, I work for the CIA,” was the answer. Dwayne supposed that answered his question, even if indirectly.

“Why are you here, what does anything have to do with me?” Dwayne said.

“Anything of what?”

“That’s what I need to know.”

“Well, Dwayne, can I call you Dwayne? Here’s the thing. We understand you have been trying to get permission and funding to reach Boca Negro. Is that true?”

“Of course, I want… I need to get back and study a sighting of rare… of unique butterflies I saw when I was there as a….”

Albert interrupted him. “Now Dwayne, we have no interest in the reason you want to reach Boca Diablo. Why is not important to us. What we want to know is if you are able to help us.”

“But how can I help you, I can’t even get there.”

“Those are difficulties that we can make go away… like that,” and Arnold made a simple wave through the air.

Dwayne’s eyes grew large. He hoped that Arnold wouldn’t sense his eagerness, though he was pretty sure that was not possible. As cool as possible he replied, “I suppose with help with a visa and research funding I could make a trip. But what is it that you need… what could I possibly help you with?”

Albert sat silent, staring at Dwayne as if he were sizing up an opponent – or a lion staring at a limping deer.

“You know the area has been overrun by forces of a man that calls himself El Tiburón – that means The Shark, you know.”

Dwayne nodded.

“If you get into the area, you will certainly be brought before El Tiburón and we need information about him. You would be expected to get this information and return it to us, either by returning alive, or other means.”

Dwayne didn’t like the term, “by other means,” but he had been so obsessed with getting back to the butterflies, he was willing to march through hell on the way, which wasn’t far off from what he was being presented.

“How do you know he will want to see me?”

“Oh he will. We guarantee that, at least.”

Albert paused again. Then he opened a folder that had been sitting in front of him and extracted an eight by ten glossy photo.

“We have managed, at great cost, to obtain a photograph of El Tiburón.”

He turned it toward Dwayne. “I think you might know this man.”

Dwayne gasped. The man was older, streaks of grey ran through the thick hair that poked out from beneath the military cap he wore, and the face was furrowed by years of tough living… but there was no doubt about who the man was.

“Chaix,” Dwayne mumbled.

“Yes! Chaix!” Albert replied, with too much enthusiasm… bordering on glee.

Sunday Snippet, Boca Diablo (part 4 – Quan Kaq) by Bill Chance

“Even bad coffee is better than no coffee at all.”

― David Lynch

Have a drink.

Boca Diablo (part 4, Quan Kaq)

Read Part 1 Here

Read Part 2 Here

Read Part 3 Here

Read Part 5 Here

Flynn was Dwayne’s advisor for his Doctoral Dissertation. Dwayne was worried about that, but he didn’t have any choice – Flynn was the only other Lepidopterist in the entire Entomology Department. Dwayne wanted to write his dissertation on the orange butterflies he had seen years before at Boca Diablo – his preoccupation and passion for those memories was total and nothing else was of importance to him.

But Flynn had continued to doubt the existence of the insects.

He said, many times, “Butterflies, as you well know, for all their panoply of hues, solid or variegated, dull or dazzling, are not colored at random. There has to be a reason for their appearance, something that millennia of natural selection had settled upon. Butterflies in that region, in that climate can be bland or camouflaged, or they can be a brilliant blue, yellow, or green – but not orange. It simply isn’t seen and there is no reason for it.”

Dwayne would reply that it was something that he had seen and it was there, reason or not. He was more than pleasantly surprised when he received the official letter that Flynn had approved his dissertation subject, had sent a request for travel funding to the University Board, and requested a meeting, “to discuss this matter further.”

“I’m so happy that you approved my subject,” Dwayne said to Flynn as they sat down across from each other. “But tell me, you have never thought they existed, what has changed your mind?”

“I still don’t think they exist,” Flynn said, “But I think that there is maybe a slight chance, and it’s a mystery that I don’t think we can ignore.”

“What? Why?”

“Read this.” Flynn passed a thick, elaborately bound leather volume across the table. Dwayne took a look at the title, “Myths and Beliefs of the Tutaconta Indians.”

“What does this have to do with my butterflies?”

“Just read it, as soon as you can, and get back to me,” Flynn said, stood up, and simply walked away.

Dwayne started in that evening, reading from front cover to back. He didn’t stop until he was finished at dawn the next day.

The Tutaconta Indians were a large and successful Pre-Columbian civilization that shared a lot of similarities with the more well-known Toltec and Maya. The history was that they built large elaborate cities that had completely and mysteriously disappeared into the jungles where they had been raised.

Dwayne’s interest became intense when he read of the legendary capital of Protamayo, which was supposedly located on the slopes of the dormant volcano which later became the Boca Diablo.

At the height of the Tutaconta civilization Boca Diablo was a tall conical mountain until a series of violent eruptions and subsequent collapses reduced the mountain to the complex of lava flows and craters that exist today. The Tutaconta capital, Protamayo, was destroyed in this cataclysm with an almost unimaginable loss of life. In a few years after this the entire Tutaconta civilization collapsed, leaving no trace except whispery collections of legend and rumors that had spread through other nearby, luckier tribes.

The book Dwayne had been handed, attributed to the author Lazarus Leon, was written in a lurid style, treating these legends as if they were absolute fact, with almost no archeological evidence to back it up. Still, its style was convincing and Dwayne was caught up in the fervent storytelling.

After chapters detailing the rise and fall of the Tutaconta Empire and the destruction of the Protamayo capital came book sections describing daily life in the civilization, with chapters on the peasant population and the royal class.

While the description of the laboring masses was as grim as could be expected from a primitive society, the upper strata lived a life of incredible privilege and luxury. The book hinted that this ever-widening gap between rich and poor, along with the increasing decadence and depravity of the so-called nobles was responsible for the destruction of the society – that the volcanic eruption was simply a terrible outside event that set the extinction in motion.

To emphasize these points followed a series of chapters on the religious practices of this upper class. They were a collection of warrior priests and practices of mass human sacrifices were the hallmark of their legacy. Page after page of stomach-turning descriptions of death and debauchery in such detail that Dwayne wondered about the source of this text – and how much was from a fevered imagination of the author.

But these royal warrior priests were possessed of immense power and lived what seemed to be preternaturally long lives. They were described as being “Several hands taller than ordinary men,” was would live a number of lifetimes without seeming to grow older.

Dwayne began to read faster and faster as the text began to give tantalizing hints about sacred magical potions that were used to acquire great strength, divine knowledge, and extraordinary long life. Finally, near the end of the book he found the passage that explained why Flynn was so suddenly extremely interested.

“The Royal Priests of Protamayo had developed a number of techniques, most involving sacrifice to the gods, to improve their physical and mental powers, and to extend their lives. More important than anything else, however, was the Brebare Magico, or magic potion that they called Quan Kaq Itzac. The exact formula for this elixir is, of course, unknown – but it was said to be prepared from the crushed bodies of sacred insects, along with a special blend of spices and human blood. These insects were also called Quan Kaq and have been described to be giant, bright orange, butterflies. These were specially bred and cared for by the most learned of priests and destined for no other purpose than the preparation of the sacred drugs that gave great powers and long life.”

Sunday Snippet, Boca Diablo (part 3 – Lepidopterist) by Bill Chance

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”

― Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

The crater of Masaya Volcano taken from the rim of the active crater. It is a lot larger than this photo suggests. The molten lava is hidden in the inner crater – if you look closely you can see a bit of red.

Boca Diablo (part 3, Lepidopterist)

Read Part 1 Here

Read Part 2 Here

Read Part 4 Here

After Dwayne returned to the mission group from working at the volcano with Chaix he felt he had come back from an alien planet – a different world… and he felt that he never fully returned. Everything had a surreal aura around it. Colors were sharper, smells were stronger, yet his fellow travelers seemed unsubstantial and blurred – their speech almost unintelligible and completely uninteresting. He began to worry, would the rest of his life be like this?

He felt that he was living a half-life, that something had been revealed to him that he not only didn’t understand – he couldn’t even comprehend what it was.

At night, beside his hammock in their last few days on the mission trip, he tried to explain how he felt to Suzanna.

“But I don’t understand,” she said, “You climbed a volcano, you saw some butterflies. What’s the big deal?”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to explain, I don’t know. Something’s changed and I can’t figure out what it is, or what I should do about it.”

“I think that maybe you breathed a few too many fumes from that volcano,” Suzanna said.

Of course, these feelings faded over time, especially after they returned home. Still, it was always there, the small knot of surrealistic doubt that remained like a stone in the pit of Dwayne’s stomach.

He graduated and went off to school like everyone had always expected him to. He floundered around, changing majors every semester or two, until he ended up in biology. It felt like an accident, someplace random, until he sneaked away from a particularly boring lecture and, following some little-used dim passageway, ended up in a storage area in the bowels of the Natural History Museum, where his class had been held.

He wandered into a large, open room, lined with what looked like miles of identical shallow metal cases with hinged glass lids.. These were filled with specimens of butterflies. Thousands of them, dead, dried, pinned and labeled. Rank upon ran of bright fluorescent tubes burned down overhead. The walls of the room were mirrored, which gave the illusion that the room was endless.

He looked down at the specimens in the cases and their little tags perched on thin steel pins next to the specimens. There was the mysterious latin name in bold lettering – Colias eurytheme, Phyciodes campestris montana, Polygonia satyrus, Vanessa virginiensis… on and one. Under the Latin Name was the common, or English name: Crown Fritillary, Nevada Silverspot, Milbert’s Tortoiseshell, Queen Alexandra’s Sulphur, Boisduval’s Marble.

Beneath the name there was a date, a country of origin (and there were lots of these) and finally a person’s name – next to the word collector. These too were widely varied, but as he moved down the row he noticed that one name kept reappearing with regularity, one person seemed to be primarily responsible for the collection – Haiden Flynn.

He wasn’t sure why, but he felt a kinship with this Flynn.

Dwayne thought he was alone in that vast and strange place, until he was gazing at the mirrored end of the room, trying to figure out exactly where the boundaries were, when he caught a glimpse of motion down at the other end. Turning, he followed his eyes to where the movement must have been and noticed a man in a white lab coat, bending over a case. In total silence, the man’s arms worked at something and then Dwayne saw the case’s lid rise. He immediately moved to where the man was.

It was an old, old man. He was completely bald on the top of his head, the smooth skin reflecting the light from the fluorescents overhead in curved lines. On the side of his head were thick knots of pure white hair, extending out in on each side.

“Excuse me,” Dwayne said, “I didn’t realize anyone was here.”

The old man hesitated for a second, then raised his head and looked at Dwayne. He was wearing some sort of complex compound glasses and had swung a magnifier over each eye, which made his deep blue irises loom large and buglike in the glass. The old man was holding a gigantic iridescent blue butterfly specimen. He moved it slightly in the bright light, and the wings shed a shower of colors. Dwayne noticed the label on the man’s lab coat, it said Prof. Flynn.

Flynn flicked the magnifier lenses off to the side and his eyes shrank down to small beads of blue. He barely seemed to notice Dwayne until he realized that Dwayne was staring at the iridescence of the specimen’s wings.

“Aha!” Flynn cried in a surprising loud and melodic voice, “Morpho didius, commonly named Giant Blue Morpho.”

“You,” Dwayne stammered, “This is your collection?”

“But of course it is,” Flynn said, “Who else would it belong to? Now this magnificent Morpho here… I collected it on a small village farm in the high Andes of Peru. I love all my… little friends here.” Flynn waved across the room in a sweeping gesture, “of course, but I do have my favorites. And this would be one… one of many.”

Dwayne realized at that time that he had no choice but to become a Lepidopterist.

Flynn was such an odd bird that rarely would an undergraduate stoop to work for him, let alone a graduate assistant, that it was easy for Dwayne to transfer, take as many classes under Flynn as he could, and work for research credit in the dark catacombs of Flynn’s collections.

His parents were concerned, especially as he laid out his plans for continuing his studies in graduate school.

“Now, these butterflies are all nice and good,” his mother told him as they sat around the kitchen table, drinking coffee over spring break. “But we’re concerned for your future.”

“We’re not rich, you know,” his father continued. “We want you to be happy, but you’re going to have to earn a living sometime.”

“I can always teach,” Dwayne said.

The only reply from his parents were to compress their lips into a tighter line.

Back at school, he sat down with Suzanna – who had followed Dwayne to the university.

“Don’t worry about it Dwayne,” she said. “I’m about to graduate with an Engineering Degree, I’ll make enough for both of us.”

Dwayne wanted to ask some questions – he didn’t quite understand what she was talking about. Still, if this was a way he could pull it off…

They were married three months after graduation and settled into a nice but spartan apartment a mile off campus. Suzanna, true to her word, found a research position with a petrochemical firm that paid enough for them to live and for Dwayne to continue his work under Professor Flynn.

Dwayne began to settle down, but there was one big problem that continued to bother him, enough to keep him awake at night.

It took almost two years, but finally Dwayne sat down with Flynn and told him the story of the trip to the Boca Diablo volcano and the orange butterflies. Talking about it for the first time in half a decade felt like a giant weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

As the story went on, he became more and more excited, animated, and the memories came flooding back, the details sharp and clear.

Finally he finished, let out a deep breath, and sat back to see what Flynn would say.

“Well, son, that’s quite a tale.”

“And?”

“I’m sorry, but it’s completely impossible.”

“What? Why?”

“You see, son, I know every genus and species of butterfly in the world. Nobody else knows half what I know and while there may be something out there I’ve never seen, there is always more to learn, there couldn’t be something like that.”

“What do you mean ‘Something like that;?”

“Something like a bright orange butterfly living in a volcanic crater. Species of that color are very rare and there are none that size, none close to that size. And, especially, none in that country, or even that part of the world.”

“But… but I saw them, I really did.”

“Maybe what you saw is more related to how long ago it was and the smoke from that crater.”

“That’s what Suzanna said?”

“Who?”

“Suzanna, my wife.”

Dwayne realized that over the years he had worked with Flynn, the old professor had never met his wife, and he had mentioned her so little that Flynn didn’t even remember who she was. And he didn’t seem to care.

“So you are completely sure that there are no bright orange butterflies in that part of the world.”

“Absolutely.”

And Dwayne immediately knew where he had to go and what he had to do.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Boca Diablo (part 2 – Butterflies) by Bill Chance

“Hundreds of butterflies flitted in and out of sight like short-lived punctuation marks in a stream of consciousness without beginning or end.”

― Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

Scrambling around on the top of Masaya volcano in the early 1970s.

Boca Diablo (part 2, Butterflies)

Read Part 1 Here

Read Part 3 Here

They finished placing the instruments sometime around the middle of the afternoon – with everyone circling back around the crater to where they had parked the trucks. One of the workmen pulled two steel buckets filled with ice and beer out from beneath a tarp in the pickup bed and the two of them, along with Chaix, sat down on the bumpers and began to drink.

“Come on, have a cold one,” Chaix said to Dwayne, offering a glass bottle beaded with condensation. “You’ve earned it, we all have worked hard.”

“Thanks… but I don’t think so. Go ahead and sit, I’m just going to walk around, explore a bit.”

That’s what Dwayne wanted to do. While he had been working down along the crater wall he kept glancing upward to a high green wall that surrounded about a third of the caldera. This expanse rose above the gray ash and white smoke, gleaming bright in the afternoon tropical sun. It seemed like a pull to him, he wanted to take a look.

“Sure, I guess,” said Chaix. “Explore to your heart’s content. I’ll send these two back in a while, but I want to stay ‘till sundown. Then we can check the seismographs while they are running on batteries… plus, I want you to see the crater in the dark. It’s quite a show.”

With a not Dwayne started to walk up the steep green slope to the top of the ridge. It was easier than it looked, the layers of volcanic ash and hardened lava were under a thin layer of grass and he was able to get good traction. He would climb for a bit, then pause to catch his breath and look back over the territory he had covered. The two trucks and three beer-drinking me were shrinking fast, until they looked like toys along the curving drop of the crater.

Even the caldera itself seemed to shrink in size, now that he was high and far away enough to see it as a full circle. The evil gray pit spitting its thick column of yellowish smoke was less menacing as it withdrew into the distance – it became a geometric construction with its own strange beauty rather than a gaping void with its own steep path to hell.

Before long, Dwayne had reached the top of the slope. He realized it was a very thin curving ridge, with a faint path, probably worn by some animal, along its bending edge. Looking beyond, Dwayne could see the extensive reach of the black lava fields that, from this height, looked like a giant ink-blot upon the earth. These reached out in irregular shapes in all directions. To the South he realized they flowed down into a crescent-shaped lake, with a city perched on the cliffs on the opposite side. That lake, the low spot, protected the inhabitants in that direction from the deadly lava.

In all other directions he could make out the range of hills that marked the outer edge of the greater caldera – the entire complex of volcanoes and vents that inhabited this weak spot in the earth itself – allowing the molten rock to leak out like a vast unhealed wound.

As he walked along the ridge, he came around the curve and noticed that there was another crater, much smaller that the active one, that sprouted off the outer wall of the mountain. This crater was obviously much older than the main one and had been extinct for a long time. Its walls were eroded and green, covered in vegetation like the slope that he had climbed.

The bottom of the crater came into view. It wasn’t all that deep – it looked like a lot of material had fallen from the walls into the bottom, filling it partially up.

Not only had this process raised the bottom of the crater, but it had obviously formed material that was beneficial to plant life. A thick circular area of tropical forest had grown up in the center of the crater, with the sides of the crater dropping down to meet the walls of greenery. Its emerald color was so bright and lively that, after having spent the day staring at the gray volcanic rock of the crater, it hurt Dwayne’s eyes.

The circular grove was depressed in the center to the point that Dwayne thought that it might be open there, or at least covered with low bushes instead of trees. Something about the thicket attracted him – it seemed such an unlikely occupant in such a place he felt an irresistible urge to climb down and explore the greenery himself.

The walls were eroded to the point they weren’t any steeper than the ridge he had climbed, so after a bit of walking and examining the slope from several different angles he picked a route and began to climb down.

Within twenty minutes he was at the edge of the trees. They were much taller than they looked from up above and very thick. The impenetrable tops meant that no light could reach through to the ground. Very little could grow there and Dwayne was surprised to find that everything was open and once he pushed through a barrier of some tough bushes he was able to walk and explore the area without any trouble.

With the sun blotted out it was still, but shockingly cool. It felt like being on a completely different planet that the hot black and gray world of the rest of the volcano. He instinctively pushed his way toward the center of the crater, wondering about the shallow area he had seen from above.

It didn’t’ take very long until he found what it was. The very center of the crater was filled with water, a stagnant pond rimmed with thick mud. Bleached-white trunks of fallen trees lined that area. Dwayne figured that the water and mud would not give the trees enough purchase for their roots and once they reached a certain height would tumble in a violent storm. Beyond the barrier of the fallen trunks was the silvery expanse of still water interrupted only by clumps of scrubby bushes that rose out from the liquid. There was a flash of unexpected color from these bushes, then another, then more. Something numerous, small, and brilliant was moving around on those bushes. It was too far for Dwayne to make out at first, but he had to find out.

He worked his way slowly and carefully through the obstacles of the fallen trees. He found that the mud was firmer around the upturned root balls and he could scramble on a log that was laying the right way and advance his journey. Finally, covered in muck and breathing hard, he reached the edge of the water. The sunlight came through uninterrupted onto the watery bushes and he was able to make out clearly what was flittering there.

It was a cloud of bright orange butterflies. They were large, and the most brilliant insects he had ever seen. At first, he thought they restricted themselves to the water and the shrubs, but as he watched he would see one fly off into the trees. As soon as the wings reached the shade, the brilliant orange color faded and they seemed, like magic, to blend in and disappear.

Entranced, Dwayne stared at the spectacle of the brilliant insects, until, glancing up and out from the watery clearing, he saw that a shadow was quickly descending along the wall of the crater towards the interior forest. He knew he didn’t want to get caught down there in the dark, and, with terrible strength of willpower, tore himself away from the sight and retraced his steps.

It was harder to get out of the trees than in was to get into them, and it took longer. By the time he reached the eroded slope of the crater, the sun was to the horizon and he was climbing out of a broad, dark, void.

When he reached the ridge above the sun was gone and the sky was darkening rapidly. There was not much twilight in the tropics. He wished he had brought a flashlight, but as he moved around the curve was glad to see that Chaix, far below, had turned the Land Rover to face the ridge and turned on the lights. There was no sign of the pickup, but between those headlights and an evil red glow that came from the main active crater, Dwayne was able to pick his way down the slope, yelling out to Chaix on the way.

“I’m glad you found your way back,” Chaix said, “I saw you disappear over the ridge and was worried that you wouldn’t come back.”

“I climbed down into the crater beyond, the little one.”

“Oh, I know what you’re talking about. They call that Crater Arbol – the crater of the trees. I’ve never been into it. What did you find?”

“Nothing. Only trees and mud.”

“I see that,” Chaix said, gesturing at Dwayne’s filthy clothes. “I’ll catch hell for that.”

Dwayne did not mention the butterflies, though he had no idea why he felt that it was important to keep them a secret.

Chaix picked up a powerful torch that he had placed on the bumper of the Land Rover and switched it on. He waved the beam in the dark sky and Dwayne could see the beam cutting through the clouds of smoke swirling in the dark above like a searchlight below a bombing raid.

“Come on, Chaix said, let me show you what an eruption looks like in the dark. We’re not sure why, but they seem to be more violent when the air cools a bit. It’s spectacular.”

He began to walk toward the crater with the torch making an elliptical pool of light on the ground in front of them.

“Be careful, we don’t want to walk over the edge.”

Suddenly, the light disappeared over the edge and Chaix put a hand out to stop Dwayne, who was now transfixed by the sight of looking down into the crater. Chaix made sure Dwayne was on firm ground then switched off the light.

Without the sun covering it up the crater was filled with an evil red light that came up out of the vent in the center. It seemed to swirl around with the smoke and paint the walls with a hellish, unnatural tint. Dwayne couldn’t see the source of the light, it was too far down the throat of the vent, but the world seemed swallowed out by its glow.

“The seven minutes is about up,” Chaix said.

As if on cue, the vent began to howl like a jet engine on takeoff and suddenly waves of bright glowing rocks came shooting up out of the vent. It was like watching a fireworks displace from up above, except instead of booms and explosions, there were screaming whooshing noises and crackling retorts as the rocks cooled and split.

The two of them stood there until the display waned and the vent returned to its quiet state. Still, the red glow poured out. Chaix turned on his torch and pointed it into the void, which swallowed the tiny light like it was not there. Finally, he tapped Dwayne on the shoulder and they turned and walked in the ellipse of torchlight until they reached the Land Rover.

It was slow and tricky but the truck had extra running lights and they were able to cross the rough lava road and reach the highway by midnight.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Boca Diablo (part 1) by Bill Chance

“Now for a good twelve-hour sleep, I told myself. Twelve solid hours. Let birds sing, let people go to work. Somewhere out there, a volcano might blow, Israeli commandos might decimate a Palestinian village. I couldn’t stop it. I was going to sleep.”

― Haruki Murakami, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Smoke, steam, and sulfur dioxide coming out of the volcano, Masaya, Nicaragua.

Boca Diablo (part 1)

Dwayne was the only young “vacationary” that could sleep in a hammock. He tied it up between two rough wooden support poles on the vast front porch of the mission where he enjoyed the slightly-cooler night breezes while the rest slept in standard bunkbeds inside. The others thought he was nuts.

“You’re only a few feet from the dirt street,” Suzanna said, “Plus all the bugs and crap flying around.”

“I’d rather deal with that than all those snoring kids inside… and that’s after they quit horsing around and go to sleep.”

Suzanna was from his church back home and he knew his mother had asked her to look out for him. He didn’t appreciate that at all – but supposed that it wasn’t her fault.

Though he was comfortable in the hammock, he couldn’t sleep tonight. He rocked gently side to side, thinking about all the work he had done, the weekend carwashes, the letter writing, essentially all the begging, to earn enough money for this trip to Santa Pagua. Up until that evening, it had been a waste – more of a teenager week at camp than the serious expedition into a foreign land that he had hoped for. Most of the male kids spent their days out in front of the mission scrabbling at the rocky entrance road with no real effect. The girls repackaged vitamins from giant bulk containers into little ziplock bags – counting pills to distribute somewhere unknown.

“Be sure and throw away the moisture packet,” the leader would shout out, again and again, “We don’t want anyone eating those.”

“What a waste of time and money all that was,” Dwayne mumbled to himself. The disappointment and bitterness had melted away though, replaced that afternoon by the excitement that was keeping him awake.

He had come in from digging at a particularly stubborn rock with a pointed iron bar, dripping with sweat, and was getting a Coke from the refrigerator when he noticed a man speaking to the Reverend Martin. The man was obviously a local, dressed in the straw hat, loose collared shirt, and light cotton pants adapted to the tropical climate – but his English was impeccable. He had been making a impassioned point, waving his hands in the way typical to Santa Pagua, to the Reverend – who simply stood there, passive, and looking around. Finally the Reverend replied.

“Of course, Mr. Chaix, we understand your needs and appreciate your objective, but you must know that we are here doing God’s work, and his work is never finished.”

Dwayne was instantly interested and boldly walked up to the pair.

“What does he need Reverend Martin?”

“Oh, Dwayne,” the Reverend began, condescension dripping in his voice, “This is Roberto Chaix, a local geologist. He is looking for some free labor in helping place some seismographic equipment around an active volcano.”

Dwayne felt his eyes grow wide. An active volcano! This is the sort of thing he had been hoping for.

“What volcano?” he asked Chaix directly, ignoring the Reverend.

“Well, you look strong enough to be of help to me,” Chaix replied. “It’s called Boca Diablo. It’s a low cluster of collapsed structures about fifteen clicks south of here. You can see the smoke rising on a clear day.”

Dwayne had noticed that column of rising smoke. He had read about Boca Diablo in his research before the trip. It was one of the most active volcanic vents on the planet, alternately spewing lava and collapsing back into itself since recorded history. The early Spanish explorers had called it Boca Diablo, thinking it had to be a portal into hell itself.

“Oh, please, Reverend Martin, please let me go.”

It took some time to get Reverend Martin to relent and agree to loan him to Chaix for a few days. After the Reverend had acquiesced Chaix simply said, “Be ready at six thirty tomorrow morning, out in front of the mission.”

Dwayne wasn’t sure if he had slept at all when the sun began to splash purple and gray phosphorescent figures along the horizon. He slipped out of his hammock, untied the knots, and rolled it up into a tight packet, hiding it behind a planter. Since he knew he was up before anyone else, he slipped off his clothes and dipped himself in the barrel of water that caught the runoff from the mission roof. The other kids would take conventional showers but he had come to enjoy the natural softness of the aqua pura.

He quickly dressed and moved out into the street away from the mission to wait. He didn’t want the Reverend to come out and change his mind about letting him go.

Chaix showed up exactly on time, driving a heavily dented British Land Rover. Following behind was an ancient junky looking pickup truck piled with gear. Dwayne sat in the ‘Rover beside Chaix and the two trucks set off for Boca Diablo.

It was a day of hard work. The first order of business was to get the vehicles across the lava field that stretched between the volcano and the highway. Some semblance of a road had been dozed through the jumble of rugged jet-black slag, but it was not passable. The razor-sharp glassy rock broke and shifted and they had to constantly wrestle the vehicles through tight or loose spots. Dwayne understood why Chaix had come to the mission for help, the two workers from the pickup were strong, but lazy, and would take no initiative themselves, simply standing around until someone told them exactly where to stand and what to do.

The obsidian lava caught all of the heat of the rapidly rising sun and soon the heat became unbearable. The workers in the pickup were sneaking beers from a cooler hidden under their dash and quickly became even more useless. Finally, a little before noon, they reached the volcano itself.

Dwayne had always imagined a volcano as a symmetrical cone of a mountain, something like Mount Fuji in Japan, rising up above all the land around. Boca Diablo, however, wasn’t like that at all.

Chaix explained that most volcanoes went through cycles of eruption and collapse and at Boca Diablo – the collapse won out.

“It’s a down volcano,” he explained. “The actual vent is a long way below the level of the surface.”

There was an oval ridge that surrounded the complex that was a lot smoother than the lava field and the vehicles climbed the last mile easily. Then they parked and walked up to the edge.

The sight was so unexpectedly stunning that Dwight felt dizzy for a second. He was staring into a vast, deep void, a huge cylinder cut out of the very crust of the earth – possibly a half-kilometer wide and just as deep. The bottom was smooth – a jet black sea of recently solidified molten rock. In the center, a smaller crater dropped down even farther, and a constant column of white smoke rose from the vent high into the sky above them. This pillar of smoke would move around in the wind. When it approached the side they stood on it would stagger them with a horrific rotten-egg, sulfurous odor.

“Sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide, mixed with sulfuric acid and steam” Chaix said. “We have to be very careful, that stuff can be deadly. We must stay out of the smoke at all costs.”

As he explained the dangers, a low rumbling sound came up from the vent. They felt it in their feet as much as heard it in their ears. Chaix glanced down at his watch.

“Oh, here it comes. Every seven minutes, like clockwork.”

As they looked down into the vast crater, a sound like a jet engine began to whine out of the vent. Then, without warning, a swarm of bright orange specks began to shoot out of the smoke, arcing across the space in the crater, then splattering against the rock floor.

“Lava, shooting out from a pool down in the vent,” Chaix said. “For years it’s been doing that, surprisingly steady. Sometimes it shoots more, sometimes less – but every seven minutes.”

Then they all started in to work. After some instruction from Chaix, Dwayne was able to understand how the seismographs worked – how to set them in place, how to arrange the solar panel that provided power, how to turn on the radio transmitter. Dwayne took one of the workers and Chaix the other. That way they could each carry two instruments, and then walk off around the crater, placing them. The idea was to put sixteen seismographs spaced more or less evenly around the crater. They would run for a few months; then be picked up.

Read Part 2 Here