“Tag, you’re it!”
“I’m not playing,” Heath shouts.
“You’re just chicken!”
“And you’re stupid,” he mumbles.
“I’m not stupid! Mom! Dad! Heath called me stupid!”
“I did not!”
“Cut it out or we’ll leave you both at the hotel next time,” Dad shouts from ahead.
“I don’t wanna be stuck at the hotel with slimy Sean,” Heath says.
“I’m not slimy! You started it!” he shoves Heath.
“Did not!” Heath shoves back.
“I don’t wanna stay in a hotel with you, ever!”
“Neither do I!” Heath returns.
“Stop shouting,” Nicole calls from behind. “If you keep pushing, someone’s going to get hurt,” she points out in a bored tone.
“Nuh ah!” Sean whines.
“Not gonna be me,” Heath shoves Sean. Sean falls back with a thump and starts to cry.
“I hate you! I wish I didn’t have a brother!” Sean yells.
Mother stomps over with a frown. “Stop fooling around this instant, and Sean, don’t you ever say that again. It’s not a joke. This is not a playground. This is a volcano. Behave, or I will send you both back with Nicole.”
“What! not fair! Why should I have to go back? I didn’t do anything wrong,” she huffs.
“I can’t send them back alone and your father and I are here for research. You know this Nicole. Don’t give me attitude.”
“It’s not fair though! You’re always out on work. Why should I have to be the babysitter?”
“I didn’t say you had to, but if they keep misbehaving, I just might.”
“Nicole, just do what your mother tells you,” Dad says, rolling his eyes.
“Oh my God,” she stomps away.
Heath leans over the rope, looking at the black gooey-looking rock that forms the lip of the crater which is the opening to the volcano.
The family had come to Iceland for a scientific opportunity. According to some long-term predictions, researchers were thinking this volcano might blow in the near future, some 5-10 years from now. His parents like to study geological formations and how wildlife copes with the change, so they often come out to the sites of future eruptions to observe the environment and make notes before and after an eruption occurs. And every time they do, they pull Nicole, Heath, and Sean out of school and teach them while they do their work.
Heath and Sean trudge along behind the rest of the family. Heath leans over, peering at the smooth rock with interest. He imagines what it would be like if it could still move; it looks like it could still move. He stares at it, picturing the black rock, red-hot and still oozing from the mouth of the volcano. He stares, unblinking and suddenly something glows. A bright orange almost yellow hue comes from the point he was staring at. He blinks and suddenly it’s black again. Just his imagination.
He shakes his head, slightly disappointed.
“Whatchya lookin’ at, chicken?” Suddenly the rock is rushing towards him. Heath throws his hands out and rolls over them with the force of the fall. The rock falls away beneath him. He’s long past the rope blockade set up to prevent people from slipping into the crater of the volcano. As he rolls, he sees Sean above, a frightened look on his face as Heath can’t get a grip on the hard molten ledge and slides further down. The momentum of his fall picks up and he hears someone shout.
“Sean, where’s He- Heath, no! Oh my God! Heath!!” but the black rock blocks his view as he slips below the lip of the crater and falls over the crust of the world.
I bolt upright, dripping with sweat, heaving for breath. My arms shake as they prop me upright. The sheets are drenched, tangled around my waist. Blackness begins to spread out from my hands and the sheets start to smoke, trying to catch fire. I jump off the bed, seeing the scorch marks of my body on the white linen and my handprints.
I untangle myself from the sheets and stumble into the tiny bathroom, twisting the tap till the water gushes into the tub; Ice cold. I hop in and wait for the tub to fill before twisting the tap off. Steam rises off my arms and shoulders as I sit there in the ice cold water. I shiver, but I have to, or I’ll just melt the motel.
I hold my head with my hands and close my eyes, trying to forget the dream. I hate that dream, but it keeps coming back ever so often, like a reminder of why my life sucks so much.
I wait till I can’t feel my legs before I stiffly stumble out of the tub. I don’t bother to pull the plug. I make my way to the bed, dripping wet and shivering. It won’t last long, now that I’m out if the water. My toes are already starting to tingle with pins and needles. I drop onto the bed and cover my eyes with my forearm, trying to get back to sleep before the sun rises. I have a busy day tomorrow, and I’m dreading every second of it.
The street is busy with tiny cars honking as people rush off to work and busy people bustling to and fro. Everyone’s got a job, a family, a purpose. I wish I knew mine.
I turn a corner, heading down a small cobblestone alley that leads to the back of a shop with a little morning cafe. I’ve come here often in the past month that I’ve been living in Montreal. I’m thinking it’s almost time to move on as people are starting to recognize me, waving as I pass by. I don’t like being familiar. It just causes trouble. Besides, my contracts up and I’m out looking for new work, somewhere else.
The bell chimes as I enter the shop and the old cafe owner greets me in French.
“Heath, it’s been a while. You don’t usually come in this early,” he says as he fills a new filter with freshly ground coffee beans.
“No, I don’t. But today I did,” I say rather flatly.
“No work today?” he pours in the boiled water.
“Nope. Ended yesterday. I’m looking for new work.”
“Oh that’s nice,” I watch as he pulls the cup from under the filter and sets it on the bar before me. He knows I don’t add milk or sugar, but he places them next to the cup anyway. “Did you have any place in mind?” he asks.
“Well, I was thinking of heading North, but then I got this,” I hold out my hand with a slip of paper in it. On it is a date and a location to meet in a weeks time, not far from my motel.
“Hmm? What’s that?” the cafe owner asks. I’ve never bothered to ask his name and he never told me in the month that I’ve been here.
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s a job offer,” I say.
“I wouldn’t trust anything without a name on it,” he says.
“Hmm, you have a point,” I pick up the coffee and take a slow sip. The heat is nice.
The door chimes and a man walks in with a briefcase, wearing a light winter coat and a plaid scarf. I frown and turn back to my coffee. The man takes a seat next to me at the bar and sets down his case as the cafe owner greats him in French.
“Do you make espresso?” the man asks.
“Is this a coffee shop?” the cafe owner smiles. “Of course. But isn’t it a bit early for an espresso?” he asks.
“Ahh, I guess it is. I only just got here though, and where I’m from, it’s already noon.”
I eye the man, curiously. That doesn’t make any sense unless he just got off the plane. I try to hold a straight face as he looks at me from the corner of his eye with a smile. He extends his hand to me.
“Hi there. My name’s Steven. What’s yours?” he asks.
I look at his hand, then his expression. He looks genuinely pleased to meet me but I have no such pleasure. I look away, bringing my cup to my lips. “That’s Heath. He’s a regular. Don’t mind him. He’s looking for work,” the cafe owner answers. I shoot him a glare but he doesn’t look.
“Oh really? Well, I work for an interesting place. They’re always looking for new recruits,” he smiles.
“Always? Must not be a good gig then,” I mumble mostly to myself. Seems like he hears me though.
“Oh, it’s not that. We just keep getting bigger. A lot of people like you come and can learn and do all sorts of things there. Many of them stay and some leave. You’re free to come and go as you please really,” he looks at me with glistening in eyes.
I cock an eyebrow. “So, this isn’t a job offer. This is a school. I’m not interested. I already finished school and I need a job.” What could he possibly mean by people like me? He doesn’t even know me.
“Well, sure it’s a place of learning, but it’s not only that. It’s so much more. Tell me, what kind of work do you do?”
“Why would you care?” I’m beginning to lose interest in this pushy stranger’s attention.
“I’m just curious is all. Enlighten me,” he seems to smirk, downing his espresso.
I set my cup down with a soft sigh. I don’t like nosy people. They’re hard to get rid of. “I’m a contract welder.”
Steve nods, pursing his lips. “You know, I know someone you might get on well with.”
“I’m not looking for a woman,” I frown. I wish I hadn’t stopped by the shop now. This guy’s ruined my already bad mood.
“No, no. Not like that. Besides, she’s already got a Boe. No, you two sort of got the same thing going on,” he grins
“Same what now?”
“I’ll make you a deal. You come with me and meet this girl. See what it’s all like and if you don’t like it say… after a week, you’re free to go job hunting. But, I’ll warn you now. While you’re there, you won’t have to worry about earning money. If you decide you don’t like it, you can come back to what you do here,” he shrugs.
The cafe owner sets a plate on the table before him with an oatmeal raisin cookie on it.
I look away at my own half-empty mug. I seriously doubt I’ll like anything about the place this guy seems so keen to show me. I’d rather use my time wisely and find new work. But… if I didn’t have to worry about earning and using cash while I’m there, maybe I could afford to give it a try. I pick up my cup and take another sip of the dark bitter liquid. Maybe I won’t hate it… but I think that’s what I’m afraid of. I down the coffee and place the cup back on the bar.
“Thanks for the coffee. What did you say your name was again?” I ask the cafe owner, though I know he never told me.
“I didn’t,” he says with a smile. “It’s Leroy.”
“It’s been great, Leroy. I’ll miss your coffee. Maybe I’ll see you around,” he nods, taking my cup and setting it in the sink.
I stand up and turn to leave, stopping at the door. “So, Steve, was it?” I ask. He turns in his seat to look and me.
“Yeah, it is.”
“How do I get there?”
I look over my shoulder to see him grinning, grabbing his briefcase. “I’d be happy to show you. Right this way,” he says, stepping past me out the door.
I wave to Leroy and follow Steve onto the street. “So, what’d you really mean by ‘people like me?’” I ask him.
Steve stops, turning to look at me. He’s got a stupid looking smile on his face. He’s definitely older than me, I can see it better now in the sunlight.
“I can tell from that aura you got. It’s not hard to spot when you know what you’re looking for,” he says continuing down the street.
“What aura?” I shake my head, confused. When he doesn’t answer, I ask a different question. “Where are we really going?”
“To the Guild!” he stops at some door on the main street. I look up at a hanging sign that says hair salon in French. I give him a skeptical look, pointing at the sign.
“After you,” he says, pulling the door open and gesturing me to enter first.
I roll my eyes and step through.
What have I gotten myself into?
By Kayla West