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Pen Your Pride

Jay Versus the Volcano

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Jay blinked at the doctor. He took off his glasses, examined the lenses, and put them back on. He opened his mouth, shut it, took a deep breath, and blinked again. "I forgave you for the brain cloud incident," he said. "Now you're telling me I have colon cancer?" Arnold Schwarzenegger's flat voice echoed in his head: it was not a tumor. Could not be.

Dr. Ellison nodded. "I'm afraid so," he answered in his best Robert Stack impression.

Jay shook his head forward, his blond hair falling in his face, and called himself an idiot again for coming here, blamed it on that "brain cloud" he had been diagnosed with at birth. Ellison was a loud-mouthed quack, at best. Jay should get a second opinion. Only Ellison was his second opinion. He had been sure the doc would pull some hocus-pocus handwavium out of his WWII-era torture devices and tell him he had rainbow fartitus or terminal constipation. He had come here looking for a decent piece of fiction; he certainly hadn't expected Ellison to be qualified enough to actually present him with the truth.

Sixteen tons and what do you get? Cancer.

Dammit.

"You have some life left, Mr. Lake," the doctor went on. "My advice to you is--"

Jay leaned back on the leather sofa; it was the only decent piece of furniture in the office. "Send in the guy."

"Excuse me?"

"The guy. The rich guy. The one you're in cahoots with. The one with the volcano trouble who got me hooked on Hawaiian shirts. The one with the deep pockets and the limitless credit cards. Tell him this time I'm buying what he's selling."

Dr. Ellison continued to feign ignorance. "I'm sure I don't know who you mean."

Jay waited until the quack met his eyes, and then waited a moment more. "Tell him I'm in," he said evenly.

Dr. Ellison excused himself.

Fifteen minutes and seven copies of twenty-year-old Highlights later, a man with a top hat, fur cloak and cane walked in the door. He wasn't as dapper as he had been the first time Jay had encountered him; his skin was sallow, the whites of his eyes were yellowed with age, and he seemed to actually need the cane to stand upright. But since he was standing there, Jay assumed the offer was still good.

The old man took a very long time clearing his throat, and Jay finally held up a hand. "I'll save you the spiel and skip to the end. Volcano. South Pacific. Save the village. I'm in."

"That was almost twenty years ago, son," the old man said. "It's different this time." His cracked voice did not seem improved for all the throat-clearing. But it still had that magical, rhythmic quality of a good storyteller that Jay admired. "Solved that problem. We've got a new one now. Or, rather…a new old one."

"A new old one." It was not a question, but Jay expected the old man would fill in the blanks.

"Mount St. Helens," said the old man.

Jay had not expected that.

"We tried to avert disaster back in 1980," said the old man. "It sort of worked."

"Sort of worked," Jay parroted incredulously.

"It could have been a lot worse than it was," said the old man. "St. Helens was named after a British baron, you know, Lord St. Helens. We had a female sacrifice all lined up--virgin, even! Trouble was…well, we found out later…the ancient indigenous peoples-- the Klickitats--named the volcano after a woman."

"That made a difference?"

The old man shrugged. "Legend has it that two demigod brothers fought over a maiden and destroyed half the world in the process. As a punishment, their father turned them all into mountains."

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