Six Hours, Part 7

Our home

We dropped off the guide at the Hop and Brew. I only gave him a twenty, but he was much obliged.

Alyx and I met Karen for pizza at Martolli’s, and then we went home. It had been a full six hours.

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Six Hours, Part 6

The skylights

After we passed the fumarole skylights, we went a quarter mile in the dark; the only sound was dripping condensation. The guide lagged until the cavern roof sloped down low; then he brushed past and held up a warding hand into Alyx’s flashlight beam. He got down and crawled ahead, dragging the toad bag.

We waited a good ten minutes.

When he came back, the bag was empty. “Go on. He won’t bite.”

I’d like to tell you how the meeting went. Alyx is still buzzing.

But that would be against the rules.

The meeting

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Six Hours, Part 5

The fumarole

We headed back west, into forest on the lee of Three-Fingered Jack. The road was tough for the Civic. I kept stealing looks at the bagged toad in the guide’s lap. Finally, he signaled a stop at no place in particular. “Do you have any flashlights?”

I told him I did. There was one on my phone, and I took one from the glove box and gave it to Alyx.

As we got out, I noticed a four-inch pit in the dust. Alyx had never heard of antlions. I caught an ant and tried to demonstrate. I kept dropping the ant in the pit, but the antlion wasn’t hungry, so I dug him up to show her. Alyx was impressed and a little repulsed as it humped across my palm.

The guide started off without us, toad bag swinging in his grip, and we had to catch up. We passed from pine-needle duff to bracken and into a fir grove that was incongruous among the old pines. The air became cool, and strangely thick. I got light-headed. It was very odd.

“Lots of oxygen here,” said the guide. “They need it to grow so big. Usually, they mindfog people wandering in, to redirect them, but they know me.”

We paused after a climb, and Alyx sat on a rock. She noticed it had a deep cleft.

The guide said, “It’s the top of an old fumarole. Watch this.” He set down the toad and brought out a box of matches. He lit one and tossed it in, standing back. The match wood erupted into a ball of flame. He waved us forward, and we watched the ball flare brighter as it dropped down, down into the deep dark, throwing sparks before it died.

“This is where the oxygen comes from,” he said. He retrieved his toad. A little further on, we approached a larger hole in the ground. “I set a ladder here,” he said.

Fumarole closeup

Cave entrance

Cave descent

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Six Hours, Part 4

Lake and Mountains

Back at the car, I remarked about the heat.

“Let’s go to the lake,” said the guide. “There’s more there, if we’re lucky.”

The lake was shallow and warm as bath water, but clear and clean. Alyx and I had bathing suits with us, and we took a swim. As I was looking at the mountains, something plopped in the water between us. Alyx laughed. “A fish just jumped. It made an upside-down U, like in a cartoon.”

“What kind of fish? A trout?”

“I don’t know. It was silver, about this long.” She held her hands six inches apart.

I’d thought the water would be too shallow and warm for fish.

Back at shore, the guide said, “Did you see it?”

“The fish?” asked Alyx.

“That was no fish,” said the guide.

On the way to the car, we found a large toad in the dust, still wet, head smashed by some vehicle. The guide picked it up by one flipper and took a plastic bag from his pocket. He stuffed the toad inside.

I wanted to ask, but I didn’t.

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Six Hours, Part 3

Lava Field Window

Our guide grew impatient with my picture-taking of the Sisters mountains. “You’re not going to get a decent shot — no impression of scale. Maybe if you frame them in a window?”

“A window?”

He led us up over the tumble. After a few hundred yards of hardscrabble, we dropped down into a smooth-floored labyrinth open to the sky. After several turns, we ducked into a shallow cave and found our window.

“This is amazing. I’ve never heard of this,” I said.

“No one has. They made it last week,” he said.

“Who?”

“Just get your picture.”

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Six Hours, Part 2

Lava Fields 1

At the edge of the Lava Sea, I tried to take his picture. “No,” said the guide, “point that thing away.”

I took a picture of Alyx instead.

“They’ve started coming out of the plain at night and spark the flanks of Mt. Washington.”

“What do?” I asked.

He considered a while. “Never mind,” he said.

IMG_0771

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Six Hours, Part 1

Petrified Dragon

My online friend Abraxas claims to be an artificial intelligence, but not from the present or the future: from the distant past. Sunday, I questioned Abe about the local effects of the Singularity. He asked if I wanted to go on an adventure. “I’ll hook you up with a guide,” he said. “Take your kid,” he said.

The old man wore a cowboy hat. We found him seated at the Hop and Brew drinking Old Rasputin. “Shall we translate through spacetime or drive?” he asked, then got up a little unsteady. “Drive,” he resolved aloud. “You drive.”

Alyx looked uncomfortable.

A few miles up the road, he had us stop at this outcrop, rising like a wall from flat, half-burnt forest. He said it was a dragon. They petrify over time, radioactive fires dying over millennia. Hot spots still mix and react. “Look at the burn. This wasn’t lightning.”

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