The smell of burning vegetation wasn’t so bad, but when the flow crossed the road? The stink of melting asphalt was acrid, it made your eyes water, and it was hard to draw a breath without coughing. Fortunately, the trades were blowing, so most of the smoke and stench moved away from the village. For now.
A news helicopter flew overhead, noisy and intrusive, a man seated in the back doorway, camera trained on the front of the flow, which was already past Les.
Where Les stood, the lava’s heat was not so bad, and the shell was dark, almost black, with only the small windows here and there to reveal the glowing red-orange underneath. The reports said it was moving at twelve yards an hour, and he guessed it would be no more than half a day before it reached his house, maybe a bit less.
He became aware that somebody had joined him on the hillock. He turned to look.
A young, very tanned woman stood there, maybe twenty-two or three years old, dressed in cut-off jeans and a red T-shirt, black rubber slippahs. She had long, jet hair, and was obviously a native, not a haole like Les, who was old enough to be her father, at least. Maybe her grandfather …
Not local though, he didn’t know her.
“Aloha,” she said.
He nodded. “Aloha.”
“You live in the village.”
“Yep. That house, over there.”
“The big one?”
“No, behind it, to the left, the little one with the metal roof.”
“Ah. Are you sad?”
He glanced away from her at the lava. Looked like it was inflating a little.
“Sure, a little. But Madame Pele claims her own when she wishes. I knew that when I set up shop.”
The young woman smiled. “Yes, Madame Pele does that. You have been here for some time?”
“Fifteen years. Not so long, though I got used to it. Home.”
“What do you do?”
“I’m a luthier. I build ukuleles.”
“That big house there? That’s Donny Halle’s house. He is a musician, very famous. He plays ukulele.”
“I have heard his music. It is beautiful.”
“It is. He is an artist.”
“If he is rich, he can buy another house,” she said.
“He can probably buy three or four houses.” He smiled.
“You are not rich.”
“Not in money.” He grinned wider.
“In other ways?”
“Halle plays one of my instruments. Every time he goes onto a stage to make his beautiful music, I am there with him, in a small way. I am happy to be able to do that.”
“You build your instruments in your home?”
“What will you do if Madam Pele takes it?”
“I have my tools and wood packed up. When it gets close, I’ll go find another house. My skills will work anywhere I go.”
“Will not Halle’s skills do the same?”
“If you could talk to Madame Pele and ask her a favor, what would you say?”
He shrugged. “That maybe she might consider sparing Halle’s house.”
“His, but not yours?”
He shrugged again. “My house is not much.”
“I see your friend has built a levee to turn the flow.”
Yes. Halle had rented some heavy-duty earth-moving equipment, back-hoe, skip-loaders, whatever, and had men out digging and piling dirt up for a couple weeks, since the topographical maps pretty much showed where the lava was going to go.
There was a wall of semi-packed dirt in front of his house, angled to the northwest, fourteen, fifteen feet high. Halle was hoping it would be enough of a barrier to turn the lava away from his house.
Of course, if it did, it would direct the flow right into Les’s front yard …
“I hope it works,” he said.
“Really? If it does, the lava will take your home, will it not?”
“Be my guess. But Halle brings joy to so many people. He deserves to live well, and he loves that house.”
The young woman smiled. “Without the instrument that you made him, would Halle’s music be as beautiful?”
“He can play a throwaway tourist uke and make it sound good, but I’d like to think it wouldn’t be quite as good as my ukulele.”
She nodded. “I must go. You said you have your things packed?”
“You can unpack them. And tell your rich friend he can stop piling dirt up. The lava is going to stop shortly.”
“You think so?”
She gave him a broad smile. “I do.” Then she flashed him a shaka sign and vanished, like a soap bubble popping in the hot sunshine.
Holy shit! There’s something you didn’t see every day …
Maybe he was having a flashback, or going crazy. People didn’t just disappear like that!
It took him a few minutes to get himself back together.
By the time Les had gotten down the little hill, the lava flow had slowed by half.
By the time he got home, it had stopped.
It would make a great story, but, he decided, maybe it was better if he didn’t tell it.