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VOLCANO

Dogster sat silently by the dying embers of the fire in Sulphur Bay, ignored, alone, invisible. After a while a head popped out of the hut. The eyes were hostile, an arm waved him away.

With a gesture of apology and a sigh of weary resignation he took the hint and his leave, shuffled away out of sight and walked onto the beach. In the midst of this mild tropical night there was still the smell of sulphur, he felt warm gusts of chemical air. He headed for the smell, nearly tumbled into a dimly lit hole in rocks and sand. A thick plume of vapor was rising out of the gap, he saw the glint of reflected moon on steaming water and gingerly edged closer, squatted down beside his own personal heater from the abyss.

He fell in and out of mild hallucinations, kava dreams of rolling waves and the line between the sea and the sky, nearly tumbled forward into the little well in front of him in sleep, rolled his eyes in amazement as he stared dizzily upward at that thick cloud of tropical stars, quoted Melville from memory and cried a little tear.

The sound of the waves was soothing and his breathing fell in step – gradually he fell silent.

Chris sat with his shoulders to the moon, looking out to sea.

*

Trembling somewhere between indulgence and inspiration, Dogster sat through the tail-end of the night in numb contemplation. He was almost sorry when it came to an end and first light crept over the volcano behind him. Then, like a Spielberg movie, through the first gentle, golden shaft of dawn sneaking over the smoke, came a hat, a head, some shoulders and a voice, all silhouetted black against bright chrome yellow.

‘You silly dick, what are you doing sitting here?’

It was Michael, from the resort.

‘There’s a whole visitor’s hut back there, you fool, didn’t they tell you?’

‘But… but…’ Dogster was confused, hung-over, had just spent the night with the gods, been kidnapped, nearly boiled or sold to slavery, he didn’t know what had happened to him. But something definitely had.

‘How did you get here?’ he asked.

‘Jeep. What’d you expect?’ Michael’s eyes twinkled.

‘But… how’d you know to come here?’

‘Well,’ Michael continued, ‘I went up to the custom village and they were very pissed off, said you had run off with John Frum. He was being irresistibly jolly and completely unafraid.

‘But why am I here?’ Dogster gasped as thoughts came to tongue at last.

‘I thought you just hitched a lift.’

‘Not exactly…’

‘Well, did they force you to come with them?’

‘Not exactly…’

‘Well, what’s your problem?’

‘There’s something very strange going on.’

‘Do you know what you look like?’

All of a sudden Dogster did.

‘Did you get stuck into the kava last night?’

Dogster nodded.

‘No wonder things got strange. Tanna kava is the strongest in Vanuatu. How many did you have?’

‘Six, or seven. Maybe more. Ten. I can’t remember.’

 ‘How much did you smoke?’

‘A bit…’

‘A big bit – or a little bit?’

‘Mm-m-m… a big bit…’

‘Anything else?’

‘Well, there was this powdered frog…’

‘Shit-faced.’

‘Yup, shit-faced.’

We were silent for a moment then began to laugh. Michael calmed himself with an effort and tried to explain.

‘Remember. It’s February 15th – John Frum’s birthday.. It’s a big deal around here. They think that some year on this day John Frum will return bringing gifts and incredible wealth…’

He slowed right down.

‘Maybe they think you’re John Frum.’

‘No, there’s more than that. I saw things. I saw. ..’

‘Weird stuff? Men turning into animals, stuff like that?’ Dogster nodded.

‘Daniel was going on about this, last night. I just thought he’d gone guria – earthquake crazy. Things get strange, out here. Wild magic. We might beat a hasty retreat just the same…’

The village was still asleep. It was early and the previous evening’s war had tired them right out. They took a circular detour, along the beach and around the village, froze as the rocks moved noisily under their feet, caught their collective breath as a rooster crowed terror into the silence, breathed mute relief as they slid into the jeep, parked just out of sight round a bend. There was a lurch in the pit of two stomachs as, of course, the ignition failed to fire, then a yelp of excitement as the motor sprang into life. It sounded impossibly loud in the mist. Dogster could feel the village waking up, hearing their breakfast escape. They fled up the hillside leaving a big, angry cloud of dust in their wake, a Twentieth Century finger to the past.

*

Part of him was sorry to be leaving. The narcotic spell of his night by the thermal spring hadn’t dispersed; he still saw that glowing, writhing green magic mist in the night sky. The secret dreams were still dragging his spirits away as they bumped round the base of the volcano, powered up an impossible eroded track and emerged triumphant only to dip again. Dogster hadn’t seen this road in daylight before. Just as well. He nodded of f, there in the front seat, head fell forward and took up where he had left off. He didn’t see Michael swing the jeep off to the right and drive up that dusty road to the summit, was blind to the tug of Yasur.

*

Dogster woke up again as the motors cut out. He knew instantly where he was, thought for an instant that this was a dream within his dream, new instantly that it was not. The smell of sulphur flared his nostrils, the ground beneath him shook.

‘Come on!’ Michael shouted, ‘Coming up?’

‘Why are we here, Michael?’ he asked, barely masking the irritation in his voice.

Dogster hadn’t had enough sleep, by a mile, was feeling terrible and tetchy and not much in the mood to disguise it. Michael didn’t care. He got out of the driver’s seat and slammed the door.

‘We’re looking for Daniel. You’re not the only lost dog out there tonight, you know.’

Michael hadn’t had much sleep either.

‘You can stay here if you like. I’m going up to the top,’ and he stamped away, leaving Dogster alone in the jeep.

Despite his fatigue and an even greater burden of pride he opened the door and followed.

‘I’m sorry. Very inconsiderate of me,’ he panted as he caught up to Michael.

‘S’alright,’ he grunted in reply, ‘it’s early,’ and looked up to the rim.

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