This week’s Flash Fiction Challenge once again builds on last week’s Challenge. Then, we all wrote one sentence. That’s it. One. Sentence. It was hoped that they would be really fantastic sentences. This week, we’re all supposed to take someone else’s sentence and write a story around it. Don’t start with it, don’t end with it, just include it.
I used a sentence by Leigh Schulman, which was, “I have never wished the death of another living being like I did the rooster who lived next door to us in Bocas del Toro.” For whatever reason, that sentence tickled my Muse’s fancy, so she gave me a scene, which fit into a story, which came out relatively easily. Even the punch line. (It’s great when it works like that, it really is.)
BOCAS DEL TORO
What freakin’ pinhead, cloistered in the hallowed, ivy-covered halls of academia, thought it would be a good idea to put a multi-billion dollar telescope complex on the top of a freakin’ active volcano?
Now it’s all finger-pointing, blaming, and shaming because nobody knew anything and everyone wants to know when they didn’t know it, but really, how hard could it have been to just google the place? Hell, even the Wikipedia page says it’s active with warning tremors going on for years.
Ask any astronomer where they want to put a really big telescope, and they’ll tell you they want it in orbit at the L4 point. Smack ‘em once and tell them you’re talking for reals, not about some sort of “maybe they’ll give us 10% of the GDP” fantasy, and they’ll tell you to find a tall, solitary mountain near a western coast.
It all has to do with the air and turbulence, which affect how well you can see with your big, expensive toy. If the prevailing winds come off of thousands of miles of flat water in a nice, laminar, non-turbulent way, the stars are prettier and steadier. Not as pretty or steady as they would be at L4, but you can give a second smack to the smartass who points that out.
Thus the huge complex built on Volcán Barú. There were many discussions about the potential instabilities in the Central American political regimes, but apparently none about the potential instabilities of the region’s geology. Really, no one figured out what “Volcán” meant?
That’s how I found myself in Panama. No astronomy for me, I don’t know my black holes from my Uranus. But give me a huge construction project that’s going into the toilet and I’m your guy. Civil engineer, trouble shooter, and trouble maker — have massive earth-moving machinery, will travel.
We were doing week-on, week-off shifts on the mountain. The constant earthquakes and potential for toxic gases were making us earn our hazard pay. Having half the team off on the beach made it bearable to only be getting obscene salaries instead of ludicrously obscene salaries.
It also meant we had half the team to start over with if the whole thing blew and we lost everyone up there.
After six months of this BS I was getting to the point where I preferred to be at the summit. At least there it wasn’t boiling every day and simmering every night, with 99% humidity on every day that ended in “Y.” The beach was okay, the women liked to spend my money, and the local beer was good. Still, the benefits didn’t make up for the mosquitos the size of hummingbirds, the snakes and critters, and the need to chew your air before swallowing.
Worst of all was the noise in the morning, when decent beings are asleep and/or hungover. I have never wished the death of another living being like I did the rooster who lived next door to us in Bocas del Toro. An hour before sunrise, every freakin’ day, he would start sounding off. That in turn would set off every other rooster within a mile. In minutes, only the dead could still be unconscious.
I was down in Bocas when the pencil pushers started figuring out they had bitten off more than they could chew. The volcano was getting feistier, all of that high-priced glass was getting closer and closer to being useless, and someone finally noticed the clause in our contract that said we only got paid in full if we succeeded in full.
I knew they were desperate when they brought in the local shaman. He had gotten a lot of press when the project was first proposed, selling his story about how the site was sacred to his people. It hadn’t take long for a substantial amount of funds to be allocated for “public relations,” and for the shaman to end up with a big house on the beach a long way from any sacred ground.
How did this yokel end up on the payroll now? It wasn’t hard to find out the decision had been made way above my pay grade. I have no idea how someone who buys into the whole “mystical, angry, and offended ancient gods” theory gets to be a Senior VP at an international engineering megacorp, but no one asked for my opinion.
All I got was the call to pick up supplies and bust my butt hauling it all back up to the summit. Candles, incense, alcohol, fruits, vegetables, an iguana, miscellaneous crap – and “the biggest, baddest chicken you can find.”
I do love a mystical, angry, ancient god with a sense of humor.
When I get a chance to kill two birds with one stone, I take it, especially if one of the birds is Cucuy, my feathered arch nemesis. The idiot bird cost me more than its owner makes in a year, but it wasn’t my money.
The wrinkled dude who sold him also insisted I know the chicken’s name and use it when addressing him. Is that weird, or what? Who names their chickens, anyway? I mean, other than “McNugget” or “Foghorn Leghorn.”
Cucuy was making quite a ruckus all the way up the dirt road toward the observatory. It must have had some effect, because I saw more wildlife along the road than I had ever seen before. Deer popped up in the road in front of me, parrots filled the trees overhead, and there were snakes all over the road.
Maybe the jungle critters on the mountain hadn’t ever heard a rooster before. Or maybe they actually had heard this rooster, even from fifty miles away, and were coming out to pay their last respects. I didn’t think the shaman wanted Cucuy for a new biological alarm clock.
I was right about that, but wrong about the shaman.
There weren’t a lot of us who got off of the volcano alive. In retrospect, they should have been clear about what the shaman meant when he said the he could solve the problem. The hoodoo VP thought he was paying to quiet down the mountain god, while the shaman was, of course, working to set him free.
Say what you want about superstition, gods, rituals, and all of that mumbo jumbo. When that rooster’s throat got slit and the ground started hopping, the last thing I saw as I high-tailed it out of there was a half-mile high fountain of magma that looked exactly like Cucuy.
As for the fate of the multi-billion dollar observatory? Last time anyone saw it, it was headed toward L4, tossed there in pieces by a mystical, angry, ancient god with a sense of humor.