What happens when Science becomes a god…….
Miss Feuer’s Hike
Miss Feuer thumped along the wooden-planked trail across the flat gray cinder field. The sky was a clear blue bowl above her with only a few puffy white clouds drifting by, making shadows dance across the ground. Behind her, rising in perfect majesty, was the snowcapped volcano, and in the other direction she could see wisps of steam rising from the caldera a few hundred yards down the trail. That is where she was headed. The kids in her seventh grade science class at Perkins Middle school in Cleveland would be amazed at her pictures of an active volcanic crater.
She continued down the trail. She was completely alone for quite a while, until she met an elderly woman slowly walking from the opposite direction. The woman was dressed in white pedal-pushers and oversized white shirt. She had on a straw hat that shaded her golden face. Miss Feuer smiled at her as they passed each other, but the old woman simply eyed her with a stern glare. Miss Feuer shrugged it off and continued down the trail.
When she got to the lookout over the caldera she slowly drank in the barren devastation before her. Everything she had been taught about the evolution of the planet — from its formation out of cohering dust particles spun off from a middle-class star to that first random strike of lightning in the bowl of a primordial soup — was all played out here on the sloping shield of this island volcano. She could not wait to tell her students all about this.
Miss Feuer looked down at her feet. Thousands of tiny black and dark brown stones glittered along the edge of the trail. She picked one up to examine it. It smooth to the touch and very shiny. Volcanic glass. Her breath caught in total delight as she gazed at the stone. Her kids would love to see this. Still holding the rock, she turned and saw the sign that had been prominently propped near the exit from the look-oup area.
This is a Sacred Site. Please Preserve the Past for the Sake of the Future. Do Not Remove Rocks from this Area
She looked down at the rock in her hand. Sacred site? It’s just one small stone, for goodness sake. No one is going to miss it. And educating children for the future sometimes requires that such superstitious foolishness be put aside for the sake of Science. She stuck out her chin and shoved the rock in her pants’ pocket.
As she turned away from the sign and started strolling along the edge of the lookout, she noticed something bright red on the edge of the trail. Coming closer she could see that someone had placed several stems of spiky petaled flowers there along with a red candle. No doubt an offering of some sort to the volcano deity, she surmised. She shook her head and continued on. Then she saw something shiny in the sunlight. It was a bottle. She approached it and picked it up. Gin? So much for a sacred site, she thought. Someone came up here and tied one on and then left their trash. She stomped to a nearby trash bin and with a smug look on her face tossed the gin bottle into it.
As she started to exit the lookout area, her eye caught something else. A few feet down the slope of the crater and saw a bundle of golden fibers glistening in the sun. Her heart leaped. She knew immediately that she had come across some of “Pele’s hair,” a term used by volcanologists to describe volcanic glass that had been spun into a shape resembling human hair. She HAD to have some of that for the kids. As she stepped off the trail, her foot crunched into the gravel-like soil of the caldera’s sloping wall. She stretched out her arm and tried to reach for a small bundle of the fibrous stone.
Suddenly, the slope gave way and in what seemed to Miss Feuer as slow-motion, she began to slide down the side of the caldera. And then her world went dark.
When she woke up, it took her several minutes to realize that she was in a hospital bed. A man was standing over her. “Good morning, Miss Feuer. I am Dr. Adams. You took quite a tumble. How are you feeling?”
Miss Feuer tried to speak but her mouth felt like cotton and her tongue was stuck in place. Dr. Adams reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small light. “Let’s just take a look, shall we?” He flashed the light in each of her eyes. “Well, everything looks okay. You took quite a crack on the head. You’ll be a little sore for a few days.
Miss Feuer replied in a raspy voice, “What happened to me?”
“We’re not sure. It appears you stepped off the trail and fell down the slope. You’re lucky some other tourists came along the trail and found you.”
“Yes, I guess so.”
“Well, we’re going to keep you overnight just to make sure you’re okay.”
“Thank you, Doctor.”
Dr. Adam smiled and started towards the door. “The nurse will take care of anything else you need. All you need to do is ask.”
As he exited, Miss Feuer could see a woman dressed in loose white scrubs who had been standing the corner of the room behind the doctor. She was shaking out Miss Feuer’s pants and then began to fold them. She looked up at Miss Feuer and gave her a slight smile.
It was the woman on the trail.
Story: Ljg © 2013
Image: “Fire Girl”, constructed from found imagery.