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Mr Guarnieri-Three Minute Fiction

Page history last edited by David Guarnieri 13 years, 11 months ago



     Hiking up a volcano, it’s easy to imagine yourself dying. The molten lava, poisonous gas, pyroclastic surge-all could bring about your end. Or it could be the apocalyptic force of the explosion, the mountain giving way to the immense pressure from within. In my case, it’s the fear of falling into the steaming crater below.


     It’s not that I’m exactly afraid of heights. As long as there’s a wide path and a railing, I’m fine. I anxiously gaze out over the volcanic landscape: the barren cone, the riverine lava fields, a forest of silent pines, and in the distance the jumbled buildings spilling down to the sea. The trail to the summit and around the crater has no safety rail. It’s like walking around the rim of a drinking glass. As I climb, my breath quickens, my heart beats in my ears. The broad trail begins to narrow.


     Each step brings new images of falling, desperately grasping for purchase with flailing limbs. My mind tricks my stomach into its own descent as I visualize and flinch at the awfulness of losing footing. An actual fall would take only a few seconds, but the idea lingers and transforms in my mind, each episode worse than the last.


     A gull soars past and gracefully touches down on a craggy outcropping, waking me from my hallucinations. Staring at the bird, I realize a crucial difference between falling and flying-the landing. I plant each foot carefully as I make my way carefully up the loose, stone strewn path.


     Almost at the summit, the distant track looks impossibly slim. One side is certain death, a sheer 1000 foot drop through scalding thermal vents and lichen covered cliffs. The other side isn’t much better, an almost vertical decline of razor sharp lava to the tree line below. I watch the loose gravel tumble down in mini-landslides after each step.


     The wind is picking up. Clouds race across the lip of the crater, swirling counterclockwise like spun cotton candy. I pause, try to ignore what lies ahead and focus on the ground, a rich assortment of minerals. Most are lackluster metallic pumice, like little meteorites. Other stones sparkle with a hematite green and pyrite shimmer. Amongst the metamorphic litter, I spot an unlikely object: a button, dull and dirty brown, about the size of a quarter. Like me it is an alien on this moonscape, an invasive species.


     Suddenly, a cold sweat consumes me. Once so firmly affixed, this button is cut off, detached. The path feels like a crime scene, with me as the only witness. I have become undone. My head starts to spin, tumble. I begin my own descent.


     I drop to my knees and unzip my jacket. My hands are shaking. My mouth is dry. I try to undo the top button of my shirt. I need two hands, one to lift and the other to pull. The first button is reluctant to give way. The second is unexpectedly firm between my fingers, sturdy. The thread is strong but flexible. The plastic disk twists and yields to the cloth enclosure but remains fixed, secure. I unfasten the second button more easily. The cool air on my damp skin gives me a chill, an electric charge. I scan the narrow horizon. The sun pokes through and warms my face.


     I am back on my feet. The wisps of vapor clear away. The blue-green sea sparkles in the distance. I take a deep breath, place the fallen button in my pocket and step forward. 


Comments (4)

5gluca said

at 12:26 pm on Apr 10, 2010

good story, maybe you're going to win!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

5galessandra said

at 11:07 pm on Apr 10, 2010


5gdavid said

at 9:16 pm on Apr 13, 2010

Glad I read this AFTER my visit to the Vesuvius...

5galex said

at 11:16 am on Jun 5, 2010

i agree with 5gdavid

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