The Excruciating Beauty of Ephemera

Written by Keyan Bowes

Illustration by Gutti Barrios

Length 939 Words

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Death from natural disasters.

The slopes of the sentient volcano were covered with dying purple frogs. Vultures and other scavengers perched on the trees and picked at the little corpses. The volcano shuddered in agonies of guilt. Were the gases it emitted responsible?

The leaves on the trees near its crater fell like amethysts along its rim. The skies looked like strange sunsets. Someone once called frogs the canaries of the coal mine of the world. And the frogs - the frogs were purple.

The volcano feared it was ravaging the earth, spewing a creeping purple death rippling in concentric rings from the epicenter, itself. It belched another cloud of gas. A vulture fell, flapping and collapsing in a horrid graceful dance.

The volcano wept hot lava streams that bubbled over its rim and poured down the folds and gullies in its sides. They glowed molten orange, an excruciating beauty exterminating everything it touched. They sizzled into a lake and more frogs died. They flowed around rocks, over trees that flashed into fire, over the burrows of little animals the volcano would have protected.

- Sky, it said, stop me, stop me before all dies.

- You are who you are, said the forgiving sky. Worlds come and worlds go. Earth bursts and skyrocks fall, life changes, gases change. Once there were dinosaurs. Now there are birds. And frogs.

- The beautiful frogs, mourned the volcano. Must everything pass? Why am I belching this purple death?

The sky didn't answer. Time moves differently for atmospheres, and it may have been pondering the question.

A flash of lightning split the cloudless wordless sky.

* * *

A truck bumped and rumbled over the rocky road skirting the volcano. People got out and climbed up the volcano's side, talking. It listened, hoping for an answer.

"Take that, Harvard!" said one jubilantly. "We got here first. I'm going in closer for some more readings."

"It's pretty active," said the another. "We could get killed, you know."

"And how can man die better than facing fearful odds? We're volcanologists!"