Afterglow of the Supervolcano – a Short Story
Short Story by Tamara Wilhite
“I heard it was eco-terrorists. They hijacked fracking drilling wells and planted an old, military mother-of-all-bombs bomb in the volcano.” The unfamiliar female voice continued, “When the bomb went off, the volcano did.”
“No. Eco-terrorists would have wrecked a drilling rig, not used it to destroy one of our biggest national parks. It was Muslims. They planted a nuclear weapon in the volcano, after sneaking in and drilling down while pretending to be an oil exploration crew.”
Marnee interjected herself into the argument. “It was the geothermal project expansion. They were trying to tap into the natural steam generation to make power and drilled down too far.”
William laughed once, a hard bark. “It’s more likely to have been just one too many dams in the area, too much weight on the caldera, pushing the lava out like a zit.” There was a chorus of hilarious denials.
I wrapped the sleeping bag around me tighter. Although we were inside, and the insulation should have trapped human body heat, it really didn’t. Or the temperature readings that we were told were lower than they admitted. Like a lot of things, there was only the hard facts before us and what you did to survive. Or not. A lot had not.
It really didn’t matter what set off the Yosemite super-volcano. There was a lot of human activity in the area, and no really knew why. Your favorite theory was more like an ink blot test, revealing what you wanted to be true. I heard the ongoing arguments. I wanted to sleep, but the combination of the arguing voices and cold made that hard. I vaguely remembered my ex-boyfriend’s advice of not wrapping up too much or sweat made you get too cold at night from evaporation. That seemed impossible.
“What do you think was the greatest impact?” William asked the group.
“Reversing global warming,” Marnee offered. The rest of the group laughed at her. Global warming had been hyped and over-blown for years until there were finally admissions in 2012 that there hadn’t been warming at all since 1998.
“The year without a summer,” LaRaina offered.
“But the volcano went off during the summer,” William countered.
“Well, it threw us into winter that summer, gave us a hard winter, then a non-summer the next summer with it barely getting warm enough to plant.”
I very quietly put LaRaina on my death list. It was that secret list we all had of who we’d volunteer to be executed when rations got too tight, or eat when it got too desperate or kill if asked by another biker to give someone up. It was easier to have the list in advance than get killed because you couldn’t come up with an answer on short notice.
“Then we got the ice age,” Lin answered. “And that is assuming the Russians were wrong, like Nagovitsyn, who predicted an end to the global warm period anyway.”
My stomach growled. I was glad I was alone then, with everyone else in the common area. Signals of hunger made everyone cross, though it was ever-present. The super-volcano in Yosemite erupted in the middle of North America’s summer. The crops in the ground not killed by ash were wiped out by the reduction in sunlight or the cold. And it was too late to plant again, while the breadbasket of the world was wiped out. Aid couldn’t really get in, because the roads jammed with people fleeing from the aftermath, planes were grounded, and the tracks criss-crossing the country were ruined by the quakes and ash if not debris.
I heard the door open. Logan tip-toed in. “Are you asleep?”
“Yes,” I retorted.
“Can I sleep with you?” I sat up in bed at his question, hitting my head on the bunk above. “Oh, sorry.” He sat down by me. “I didn’t mean sex, I just meant keeping warm.”
“I don’t want sex. I can’t.”
That seemed the easiest thing to call it. The dead guy I hung with because he was big and strong and women’s lib died in the blast, when you needed someone who could carry you to safety when you couldn’t walk. While I’d inhaled a fair bit of the particulates, leaving me with permanent asthma, he’d given me his face-mask like a gentleman. I’d stayed with him after we’d gotten out of the yellow zone, the worst affected area, because of that.
We were left behind by other refugees flooding to the Mexican border, now fully blocked by their army to keep Americans north. They were even weary of letting their own citizens return, because of how many had been in gangs or their American born children who had no useful skills. This group found us near the road, when they were scavenging the dead.
The double face mask, his over mine, had kept me alive while others died. Including him. This group decided they needed more women to offset the horrific demographics and took me in, assuming I was a loyal woman left behind to stay with her man. I’d really thought of scavenging his gear once he died, creating the start of a cache along with what I’d find from the dead. I didn’t think there were others around here, because so many were fleeing by choice or mandate.
But survivalists were holed up everywhere. I wasn’t going to counteract a positive first impression, when my life depended on it. Like most survivalist groups, it was 70%-80% male, and almost all the women were already married to somebody or the daughter of a guy with lots of guns. I was clearly single now, and something of a survivalist to have made it this far when I told them where I’d come from.
“Logan, warmth is OK if that’s all you’re really after.” I thanked God I’d ended up among people who would have fit in just fine on Doomsday Preppers. And unlike a lot of the people on the road, they had their morality beyond just their group. While I used to make fun of Christians a lot, they didn’t demand sex for safety or food like a lot of people I’d run into while driving, then riding and eventually walking south.
He grinned broadly before grimacing at how rude it must look. He got in the bunk, being careful to keep all of his layers and mine together. After laying flat on his back, he decided to roll over onto his side, away from me. Mindful of decency.
They talked about how the super-volcano would wipe away the evil. That didn’t seem to have happened yet. It might not ever, but I was glad that some people did survive.
I thanked whatever gods might be that I found people this good after all the bad ones – evil? – I’d already seen. With them, I might actually survive the world living in the afterglow of the super-volcano.