The ancient Tortoiselander said, “I know what you’re thinking. I can read it right off the top of your mind. You’re thinking ‘contact high’, aren’t you? Yes, you are! Well, let me tell you, young man, that there is an ancient Tortoiseland proverb concerning contact highs. It goes: TANSTAACH!”
Fascinated (for I had been thinking just that!) I said, “What does that mean?”
“There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Contact High!”
“Oh, wow!” I exclaimed.
“Don’t you agree?” he queried.
Dazed and a bit dizzy, I nodded, and he continued.
* * * * * * * * *
While Ertson, the Patrobe, evoked the volcano spirit, I was stomping cans flat.
“All hail Kah-Pey the all-powerful!”
“All hail Kah-Pey the all-wise!”
“All hail Kah-Pey the all-merciful!”
“All hail - ”
I picked up another can and set it down.
Then I noticed that something was wrong. I hollered, “Hey, what’s happened to the set?”
Brother Tom called back, “It’s busted!”
I walked back to the TV chapel. Snow filled the screen. The speakers went HSSSSSSS…
Bother Tom said, “Oh fnord. I’ll fix it.” He went to the set, twiddled knobs, and pushed buttons. No effect. He banged the set on its side. That didn’t work either. He changed channels. “That funny, all the other channels are OK.”
That was when we all realized…
And just at that moment, we heard;
“All hail Kaboom!” Sam crowed. “The Pimple has popped!”
Sister Jenny Shark stood up. It was her turn now.
“Exterior camera,” she ordered. “Quick!”
And we obeyed. Fast. We scampered to our stations.
Exterior camera showed that, yes indeed, the entire mountain had exploded. Smoke and fire churned skywards. The noise was thunderous. Then the ground shook.
“Hurry up, hurry up!” Jenny Shark ordered. “Shut the dome!”
Despite the confusion, we somehow got the machinery working, and with a loud WHIRRRR, the huge steel hemispherical dome started to close shut. We could see it on the cameras from inside; the dome was big enough to cover our entire commune.
“Dome sealed!” Brother Tom announced.
“Switch to secondary camera!” said Jenny Shark.
“Switching!” I said from my post. The screens switched from dome-interior to another view of the eruption.
Uncle Ted hollered “Incoming!”
Pebbles, rocks and (judging by the dents) several large boulders caromed off the dome. Our secondary exterior camera was flattened instantly.
“Brace yourself!” Sister Jenny Shark announced from the seismographs. “It ain’t done blowin’!”
And the ground shook hard…
* * * * * * * * *
“Well…” said the ancient Toroiselander. “To make a long story short… somehow we survived.”
He and I were walking uphill in hot air, puffing hard.
“It wasn’t easy. When the eruptions ended, we had to dig ourselves out of rock and ashfall; and for weeks afterward, we had to endure dust, gloom, darkness, and unseasonable cold.”
The air was heavy with a stench like smoke and rotten eggs.
“But all that eventually cleared up, and the harvests were good for decades afterwards; for volcanic ash makes fertile soil.”
The ancient Tortoiselander and I topped a ridge. “Behold Kah-Pey!” he announced, and I look down.
And I looked across.
And I looked afar.
And after a long while I said, “That’s a damn big caldera.”
My guide nodded. “The eruptions left behind nothing but this; a huge smoking lava pit.”
We stared a long time down at the inferno.
There was a sign posted on the ridge with us. It boasted:
volcano on the continent!
The sign was signed: Hareland Chamber of Commerce.
* * * * * * * * *
Much later, Sam said, “Old Jack Flash wasn’t a big a fool as he looked, for he put his mansion far, far away from the Pimple! But for all that, I’ll give him this; he never missed a ceremony. Too bad it never blew up on the bastard!”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Uncle Ted said quietly.
Sam said, “What’s that supposed to mean? You think I liked seeing crooks and fools being blasted to smithereens?”
Ted asked, “Well, didn’t you?”
Sam raged, “You bet I did!”
Ted said, “Absolute pacifist passive non-violence creed.”
“Not me!” Jenny Shark chimed in.
My uncle’s uncle’s uncle said, “It was their own damn fault! Capping a volcano; what a hare-brained scheme!”
Jenny Shark said, “It ain’t nice to fool Mother Nature!”
Uncle-cubed said, “That’s right! It was the biggest time-bomb on the continent, and every greedy fool rushed towards it! But that’s O.K., they all died, thus improving the human race. All hail Kah-Pey!”
But Uncle Ted smiled and said, “No, uncle-squared. It wasn’t like that, at all.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Let me show you,” said Uncle Ted, peeking over his mirror shades. “I have the tape right here.”
He played a video recording for us. It was the party they were televising from the tip of Mount Kah-Pey when it exploded. “Now, do you see something funny here?” Uncle Ted asked me.
“Funny, how?” I asked back.
“I’ll play this part in slow motion,” he said, pushing buttons. I watched the image slow down; so did uncle-cubed, and so did Jenny Shark. “Do you see anything… odd? Out of place? You better look hard, ’cause you didn’t see it last time.”
I looked hard. Then I giggled and said, “Oh, I get it!”
Sam grumbled, “What is it, what is it?”
I said, “Look at the dance floor! Look who’s dancing!”
Sam squinted. “That’s Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers??”
Uncle Ted said, “And look who’s conducting the orchestra.”
Jenny Shark yowled, “Bugs Bunny?!”
“And look at all those little blue guys waiting tables.”
Sam roared, “They’re SMURFS!”
I said, “Look, Uncle Ted, there you are! How can you be in two places at once?”
“When you’re not anywhere at all,” he replied. “You see, I was the last one there. The others were already gone before I finished hacking these glitches into the transmission program.”
Sam reached up and spun his propeller beanie to a blur.
“You mean that broadcast was all a fake? A computerized counterfeit?” Jenny Shark wanted to know.
Uncle Ted nodded. “A cybernetic simulation.” He gestured at the party on the video screen. “None of this really happened. In fact the mountain was deserted. There wasn’t a living soul for miles around.” He grimaced. “Except me.” He shook his head in disgust at his own stupidity.
Jenny Shark pursued, “So the big ruling-class Hareland macho trip was a sham? They didn’t want to risk being blown away, they just wanted us to think they risked being blown away?”
“Of course,” said Uncle Ted. “They aren’t fools.”
“No, not fools, just liars!” Jenny Shark complained. “So all that damn volcano blew up was a bunch of video ghosts!”
Sam gripped his cane. He rose to his feet. Quivering with rage, he swore, “Purity!”
But Uncle Ted just laughed.
“Politics,” he explained.