The War of Immensities Online - Barry Klemm Page 0,1

helicopter hired by the Solomons of Perth and the two young women from Auckland fell out of the sky with melting rotors, ploughed into a snow drift, and began to skid down the slopes of the mountain.

*

Kevin Wagner was another flyer and in even more improbable circumstances since he was three fathoms underwater at the time. At the edge of the plateau between the peaks was a small pond filling an old volcanic vent. Supposedly bottomless, the pool was a strangely intense blue coloration that changed at this time every year to a sort of murky green. No one knew why—certainly geologists and chemists had long since given up trying to explain it.

Wagner, an avid fisherman from San Diego, came up to dive and try to enjoy the good fortune of catching the change from under the water. He had left Sally and the kids at the Chateau and made his way down to the pond. At this time of the year, the surface ice was melted but the water was still freezing and Wagner had insulated every part of his body against the cold.

He went as deep as he could, peering through the special coating on his visor that prevented the condensation caused by his body temperature. The water was clear and the impression of intense blueness diminished unless you looked upward toward the sunlit surface, and Wagner was doing that at the time.

Suddenly, it went completely dark, as if someone had switched off the sun. Then, oddly, he started to sweat inside his wetsuit in the moment before a fierce turbulence gripped him. He knew nothing else, which he later found regrettable.

Boiling water surged up out of the vent and spilled over the edge of the plateau, creating a new waterfall into the Whakapapa River below. It bore the unconscious Kevin Wagner along with it, straight out over the cataract. It was a thrilling ride that he would have loved to have experienced conscious.

There was a group of four trout fishermen working the river in the valley below. They heard the deep roar above them and looked up in time to see the waterfall come cascading over the rim and with it a flying object that seemed to be a man. He hit the water fifty metres away from them and two of the men plunged over to rescue him. They were astonished to find he was still alive—in fact had they not rescued him so promptly he would certainly have drowned—a doubly miraculous survival.

The two men dragged him ashore amid the violent surging of that normally tranquil waterway and they, in turn, had to be rescued by their companions. Although no one complained about the dousing—the men discovered that they were being engulfed by a fine stinging hot ash that was billowing down upon them from the sky. Their eardrums were still ringing from the roar and the earth shook under their feet and then settled. In the forest trees fell, leaves floated in the ashen atmosphere everywhere. The men grabbed their gear and the rescued man, jumped in their Land cruisers and wildly took to the road, adding a storm of gravel to the drifting fog of ash.

“What’s happening?” they asked each other frantically.

One of them had experienced something similar before and was able to guess accurately.

“The friggin’ volcano’s gone up,” he declared.

They raced down the road through the valley, dodging falling trees and flying debris, peering through the sudden premature night, pursued by a massive black cloud of seething superheated ash.

*

Brian Carrick, a truck driver from Melbourne, had a mate down the footy club whose brother had made a packet and bought this Chateau at the base of Mt Ruapehu. A skiing holiday at the lodge was first prize in the footy sweep that year and Brian had won.

He did the right thing and offered to take the wife, but Judy opted to remain at home and look after the kids. Although they were getting along as well as usual, each was probably equally pleased to be free of the other. Brian undoubtedly got the better end of the deal but he worked very hard, Judy knew, and needed a holiday far more than she did. So Brian went alone, to try his hand at skiing.

The result was, as he put it in the one scrawled letter he wrote the family, that he’d never fallen over so many times in his life, not even when pissed to the eyeballs. But Lou and Terri, who owned