Friendly Mountain

Friendly Mountain short story by Iris Carden

Emily had lived her whole life in the shadow of the mountain. As a child she’d looked up at and and thought it seemed friendly.

It certainly acted as a friend to her family. The rich volcanic soil it had poured forth in past centuries and meant the family farm could grow almost anything. Her aunt and uncle had a vineyard on one side of the mountain. Her parents had a farm growing seasonal vegetables on the other side. As a teenager she’s worked in both.

As an adult, she’d taken on the farm, while her parents moved into town to enjoy their retirement.

The mountain had been dormant for centuries. Emily herself thought of her friendly mountain as an ex-volcano, as if it, like her parents, had retired.

Then came the day her lettuce crop suddenly died. Lettuce is susceptible to so many things. She took a close look at one of the withered plants. It was brown and dried, crispy, as if it had been baked. She put a hand in the soil. It felt hot. This was so strange.

Emily walked back to the house and called her cousin Jill, who lived at the vineyard. Neither Jill nor her parents had noticed anything unusual.

The other crops Emily had in did not seem affected, there was only this one area of warm ground. It seemed strange, but she could find no apparent reason for it. Everything else seemed normal, except that her chickens seemed more flighty and nervous than usual. They had always been anxious birds, since the day she’d had to chase a dingo from their yard.

As Emily fried eggs to eat with salad for dinner, she felt the ground shake slightly. It wasn’t much, just enough to make the plates rattle in their cabinet.

Emily rang her mother, who said something similar had happened some thirty years ago. Part of the farm ground had become hot for no reason, there were a few small tremors, and then nothing more. The ground had cooled and been replanted, and everything went on as usual.

Looking out of the window at her friendly mountain, Emily imagined it as having a dream, and moving slightly in its sleep.

She went to bed that night, reassured.

As she drank her morning coffee the next day, she received a call from Jill. In the vineyard, a hole had opened up in the ground, steam was pouring out and it smelled like sulphur. The vines nearest it had died almost instantly. As they talked, the earth shook again, this time knocking a favourite vase from its place and smashing it. Emily grabbed the kitchen bench to keep her balance. This tremor lasted much longer than the one the night before.

Outside, she could hear the chickens. They were clucking and flapping frantically. Emily looked through the window to see her friendly mountain pouring smoke in a most unfriendly manner. She told Jill she was leaving straight away, and suggested Jill and her parents did the same.

Emily quickly threw some clothes, her essential papers and some favourite possessions into bags and placed them in her farm truck. Then she caught her chickens. The back of the truck was caged, so as to make it easy to secure loads of produce. She put the chickens in the caged area, and grabbed a bag of feed.

Then she drove to her parent’s house in the nearby town.

From their front verandah, she watched as the mountain’s top exploded in a mass of smoke and debris, and the lava started poured down the vineyard side.

She tried to phone Jill but received no answer. She tried her aunt’s and then her uncle’s mobile phones, but still had no answer.

As ash began to rain down over the town, Emily went inside, and helped her parents lock down doors and windows, and seal any way the ash and gasses could enter. They spent a day and a night, huddled inside, praying for it to be over.

The next morning, the air smelled of sulphur and other less identifiable things. Emily’s chickens, sheltered in her parents’ garden shed were alive but frantic.

Rain came, and black ash was washed from the sky, over the town and all the area. Still neither Jill nor her parents would answer their phones.

Steam poured from the still hot lava on the mountainside as the rain landed on it.

As emergency services from the city arrived in their town, the mountain rumbled again and spat out more ash and smoke, another river of lava poured down the vineyard side. There was talk of evacuating the town, and plans to do so began.

Then, with a couple more earth tremors, and a few minor rumbles, it all stopped. The mountain went back to sleep.

After a week, experts declared it safe.

Emily and her chickens went back to the farm, but that crop was lost, and another could not be planted until more rains came and washed the unwanted chemicals back to the lower levels of the earth where they belonged.

On the other side of the mountain, the vineyard was gone, and neither Jill nor her parents would ever answer their phones again.

Emily never thought of her mountain as quite so friendly again.

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By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.

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