I wake in a start. There were echoes of a strange dream involving volcanoes. I shook my head, and shook them away. A low rumble, and my little sister’s picture walked across the desk. My little sister? But…
A moment of confusion, quickly cast aside. The cause of the rumble caught my attention. I jump out of bed, concerned by the dream, I quickly get dressed. Pulling on a clean pair of boxers out of respect to my dead mother, I dress for cold weather. My roommate teases me about wanting to hide my buff body. I don’t tell him about my dream.
I reach for the door, my roommate stops me. “Did you forget? We’re on lockdown. Something about the island over there. I heard it was a nuclear bomb. If they catch you out of your room… “, he eyes me over, “Or in the girl’s dorm, you’re in deep shit.”
“It wasn’t a bomb. The volcano on that island blew up. Like Krakatoa. And the hell with what trouble I get into. I’m done here. You can go with me or stay.”
My roommate pulls back. “The volcano isn’t even active. There’s nothing under it. The report was released yesterday. But, if you want the shit, go ahead.”
I put on a brave front, but I’m afraid. The fear is oddly tingling my balls. Wait… I’m male? A quick check confirms that I am indeed, male. Not quite lucid, I just accept that I am, and continue in the dream.
I sneak down the hall, past the administration offices that connect the boy’s dorm and the girl’s dorm. Sneaking past the Headmaster’s office, I hear him on the phone. Only snatches of conversation, I overhear enough to know that when the island starts to be evacuated, we orphans are not going to be guaranteed space. The Headmaster plans to lock us into our rooms, while he and the staff make a run for it.
Hearing enough, I make my way into the girl’s dorm, to my sister’s room. Picking the lock, I enter her room and her two roommates scream in surprise. I shush them quickly. They should be used to me by now, I always sneak into my sister’s room to kiss her goodnight and tuck her in her bed. Sometimes, I would tell them bedtime stories and make up happy endings for their families.
They are afraid. The earthquakes have been stronger and stronger and now no one is allowed to leave their room. I tell all three girls to get dressed. We are going to leave, now, I explain. Things are going to be messy and dirty and scary for a while, but if we four stick together, all will be okay in the end. We may even be a family of four. With me as big brother, and I will have not one, but three little sisters.
Another rumble shakes the orphanage. The three girls grab on to me in fright. My sister quickly gets dressed, but the other two girls choose to stay behind. They are deathly afraid of the Headmaster and can’t even consider running away. I am pained. I know they will die if they stay. But I can’t force them to leave with me.
They wish me luck, and give us goodbye hugs. They braid ribbons in my sister’s hair, with their names written on them. “Don’t forget us.” More hugs. A large earthquake shakes us apart. We need to leave now.
We sneak out of the building, and off the campus via a hole in the fence. My sister is afraid, and clings tightly to me. I look off in the direction of the destroyed island. Even in the early morning darkness, the glow of the volcano creates a false sunrise. We make our way west. As we go, I break into vending machines for food.
We keep on the move. Making our way to the harbor. I know that there are boats still on our island. There is still a way for us to get off the island. I eye the mountain on the north end of the island warily. Remembering the dream from the night before, once the smoke started to vent, the volcano deteriorated rapidly.
No one stops us. A few store clerks sneaks food and drink to us. I scavenge trashcans along the way. By the time we make it to the harbor, I have camping gear, rope, blanket, durable food, and knives.
The rumbling is nonstop now. But the newsanchors on television tell us that everything is ok. These are only aftershocks from the island destroying volcano. We are safe. Our mountain is only a mountain. It will never erupt.
At the harbor, all the large boats have already left. I realize then, why no one attempted to stop us. There are no evacuation plans. There will be no help arriving. We have been abandoned by our government. The island is doomed and there is no escape.
“Chris! CHRIS!” A friend comes up to me. He grabs my arm. “Oh my God! Chris! Perfect! We have to go, NOW!” He starts pulling me and my sister towards the north end of the harbor.
“Go where?” I pull my arm away. “THERE ARE NO BOATS! There is no airport! How are we going to get away?” I begin to cry as I realize I can’t save my little sister.
He grins, a tricker’s grin. “True, there are no boats. But, how about a canoe? If we leave now, we might have enough time to get away.”
“She goes with us, or I’m not going.” I hold on to my little sister.
“Chris, I expected that. That’s why you are going to hold her, and I’ll man the motor.” We run to where he has hidden the motorized canoe. A few people see us get underway and start yelling for us to wait. Just then, a strong jolt shakes the island, lifting the harbor. We find ourselves on the crest of a large, ocean-going wave. I tell her to hold on to the straps as I hold on to her and the straps. Behind us, there are amber flashes of light, and whiffs of sulfur. I don’t need to turn around to know, that our island home is disinigrating into the volcano which just became active.
My friend is silent for the trip. I offer to takeover the motor, he refuses. “Your purpose is to keep her alive. My purpose is to keep you alive. I owe you that much.” I forget why he thinks he owes me, but I don’t argue. We keep on during the night.
The quake-induced wave has given us one helluva push. We are clear of the volcano’s wrath. Because only a few people were at the harbor, there were only a scattering of screams. The silence is now as painful as if we heard all the people screaming at once.
My sister has stopped crying. She keeps fingering the ribbons her roommates had braided into her hair. She mumbles something about sisters, then resumes her silence. The three girls were close. I miss them as well.
Isaiah smacks the sputtering motor. To no avail as the motor quits anyway. “Ah well, that’s why I brought these.” He hands me an oar as he lifts one for himself. “We’re not far. Don’t let the fog fool you. Just keep paddleing, I’ll keep us in the right direction.”
We start paddling into the eerie fog. After some time, the fog parts, and I see the third island up ahead. To my relief, the mountain that dominates it is still and silent. I try not to say anything, but my sister speaks for me. “Look. This volcano is still sleeping. Let’s not wake it, okay?” Isaiah snorts behind me.
We paddle to the beach, and the three of us tumble out onto the sand. Isaiah and I lie down, to give our arms a break. My sister just sits down beside me.
“Where are all the people?” She quietly asks. “There is no one here, not like on our old island.” Isaiah and I sit up, and look around.
“Oh no.” He jumps up and starts running towards the phonebooth. “Did they leave early?” I pull myself together, and with my sister, we jog after him.
We catch up with him as he hangs up the phone. “Most everyone has already left. But there is a helicopter waiting on the west side of the island. But we have to hurry.” He scribbles out a map on a phonebook page. He rips it out and stuffs it in my hand. Looking me dead in the eye, he says firmly, “Go. Take her, and go. Do not wait for me. I’ll catch up.” I start to protest, but Isaiah is unrelenting. Knowing that I am going to say goodbye to my friend for the last time, I embrace him. Then break away, before I start crying.
The three of us run together for several blocks, until we come across some scooters parked along the sidewalk. Isaiah and I hotwire 2 of them. I have my sister sit on the front of the seat, while I perch precariously behind her. Isaiah takes the other scooter. We zoom down city streets until the mountain is directly to our north. Isaiah suddenly stops. “Keep going. I’ll catch up. I have to check something first.” Choking back tears, we keep going.
My sister and I continue the trek across the island in complete silence. Occasionally, a low rumble would echo around us, answered only by abandoned dogs. Finally, we reach the only airport found on the three islands. There is a helicopter, connected to a large underground fuel tank by a quick release umbilical. The helicopter is powered up, the blades are spinning at nearly full speed.
Sis keeps looking behind me. She is looking for Isaiah. She asks if Isaiah will be catching up to us. I ignore the question. I speed towards the helicopter. The earthquakes are now constant. They only vary in intensity. When we reach the helicopter, I come to a stop, and pull my sister with me. I see two men inside, but the door doesn’t open.
I bang hard on the helicopter door, and plead with the men to at least take my sister. But neither man opens the door. The familiar chorus of rumbling begins in earnest. I know the island has perhaps ten minutes left before the destruction begins. Pulling out the rope from my bag of salvaged items, I start to tie my sister to the support bar of the helicopter skid.
When she realizes what I’m doing, she starts screaming at me. “No! Don’t! I don’t want to leave without you! We’re supposed to be a family! Mom and Dad said so! I don’t wanna go without you!” Her words melt into tears that mingle with my own as they fall upon the tarmac.
The quakes now quite serious, the helicopter bounces around. I am caught off guard, and thrown clear of the skids. Praying the knots are tight enough, I motion to the pilot to take off.
The pilot is talking, I see him clearly. Not to this companion, but to someone on the radio. He suddenly looks at me, as if seeing me for the first time, and then looks down at the skid. He motions to his companion and points to my sister.
His companion opens the helicopter door and jumps out with a knife. Fearing the worst, I try to tackle him, hoping I can keep him from killing my sister. He spins me around instead, holding me in a tight grip.
“You’re Chris, right? And this is your sister, right?” I can barely choke out a ‘yes’. “Get inside, now!” He throws me into the copter. Bending down, he cuts my sister free of the skids, and pulls her into the copter as well. He buckles us in, as the pilot lifts off the tarmac. He closes the door, and the copter suddenly bucks as the fuel umbilical snaps off. The backflow valves engages and the copter pulls away with a full fuel tank.
The man roughly shoves a headset on my ear, stabbing me in the mouth with a mic. “You’ll have to yell to be heard.” He screams at me.
“Hello? Hello? Chris? Is that you?” Isaiah’s voice is somewhat scratchy, but clear. “Isaiah! Which helicopter are you on?”
A sigh. “I’m not. I’m staying behind. You are on the last helicopter to leave the island. I had to choose between me and you. They can only take a total of 4 people. Your sister was guaranteed a seat, but between you and me, one of us was staying behind.”
“Their priority was to take me. You would be left behind. So I had to make sure you got there first. And I had to make sure I got to a working radio, so I could tell them to take you.”
“Where are you?” I was crying now. My best friend was sacrificing himself for me. “You can grab the skid and …”
“NO.” He cut me off firmly. “I’m at the research center, you can’t reach me anyway. Look, it’s a long story, and I don’t have much time. Just listen.” I could hear strong quake noises in the background. Things were falling and breaking. “I owe you, more than you know. You saved my life. Because of you, a lot of other people are out of danger. I wish we could have saved the people on the other islands, but that was beyond my reach. I wish …”
Looking out the window, I watch the quake radiating outward from the mountain. I listen closely to the radio, to try and guess where he might be by the sound of the quake passing over him. But when the quake goes over him, the ground wave is not near any buildings.
“No, not enough time for wishes. Remember me, Chris. When this nightmare is over, remember me. Take care of your sister, she is the precious part of you. Take care of yourself, you are stronger than you think.” More breaking noises in the background.
For some reason, the pilot is flying precariously close to the mountain. I look down, and notice a series of buildings and a road hidden from view. At the town, looking up, you would never see the compound. You would also never see the caldera of the waking volcano. I realize this is where Isaiah is transmitting from. He is inside the caldera. I watch the latest quake bring down the only road leading out of the caldera. Isaiah’s fate is sealed. His signal is silenced.
The pilot suddenly veers away from the volcano. But not before I watch the caldera floor collapse into the rising pool of magma. I want to look away. I mutter a silent prayer for my friend, as the building is quickly consumed and sinks.
As a column of smoke and ash rises behind us, the pilot points the helicopter south, and takes me and my little sister to safety. I lean back into my seat, and unwillingly fall into a deep sleep.
It is at this point, that I become lucid. I remember that I am actually female. I have no little sister in real life. My name is not Chris. I do not know anyone named Isaiah. I have never been forced to flee from any disaster, natural or manmade.
I am given a choice. Either return to deep sleep, with the possibility of dreaming something else, or wake up with the memory of Isaiah still strong in my mind.
It is my strong belief, that dreams are more than just dreams. Even crazy, nonsensical, what-the-fuck dreams have something of worth to them. Isaiah’s sacrifice brings tears to my eyes still. I can’t allow that to fade.
I willed myself awake. Checked outside the window, to make sure I didn’t have a magma vent or waking volcano in the back yard. Here’s to you, Isaiah.