Alma stared out at an alien landscape, knobs of black volcanic rock formed into bizarre shapes and covered with moss. Somehow, in places even grass. She heard the roaring engine of her transport in the distance and breathed a sigh of relief, soon spotting the Land Rover driving along the narrow coastal road towards her.
Then there was Gunnar, smiling. “Hop in,” he said in perfect English. As the vehicle powered its way to the unimaginable rendezvous, she thought of Hy and his love for Iceland. Perhaps that was why she was here again, she admitted to herself. Hy and his obsession with geology, his disdain for her and Charles in their ‘boring, suburban world,’ the world that had funded his education of course, but no matter, in his view. Then there’d been Vanessa and the crazy accident.
“Are you OK?” asked Gunnar, squinting against the sinking sun.
“Yes, I’m fine,” Alma said, looking out of the window at a landscape of lava statues to the flat horizon.
The road grew steeper and they began to hit patches of snow. The road turned into a track but Alma didn’t worry, Gunnar was an experienced guide. If only Hy would’ve had a guide. But no, he wasn’t mean, he simply thought he knew it all. So, his jeep had ploughed into a herd of sheep and Hy and his girlfriend Vanessa, a glamorous woman, whom he always laughingly referred to as his ‘painted lady,’ had plunged into a ravine. Vanessa was OK, well, as long as she had her stick, but Hy had been airlifted to hospital in Reykjavik and, well, the rest she’d blotted out. Two years ago, next week. She wiped a tear from her eye.
“There it is!” said Gunnar. Against the darkening sky, Alma could see a red ribbon on the distant mountainside.
Soon they were driving up a rough track in the dusk. All around was an endless empty landscape – rocks formed from solidified lava, and dry brown grass blowing in the cold wind. Gunnar stopped the Land Rover. “We walk now.”
Alma pulled on her jacket and they began to tread the steep path to the summit. Overhead, the sky was thick with cloud and it was now almost pitch black. Gunnar trod the rough path with confidence but Alma took out a torch to see the way.
Then they were looking down on something few people have seen. A river of molten lava poured down a hillside, perhaps a mile away. Even from that distance they could feel the blistering heat in the air, smell the sulphur from the hell underneath them. Perhaps half a mile to their right were flashes of torchlight, a handful of other adventurers tempted out onto this glacier and the crack in the earth beneath it.
Alma stood, awed by the power of nature, the power to melt rock and send it up and out onto the earth’s surface, as if to say, ‘Look what I can do, and nothing can stop me.”
Gunnar touched her arm. “If there’s too much ash it may stop the flights from Reykjavik, even Akureyri.”
Alma put her hand on his arm. “Thank you for bringing me, Gunnar, this is awesome.” She looked at Gunnar’s fair skin, flickering red and black in the light from the lava. Gunnar, a friendly ship passing in the night. Then she felt a tickle on her left hand. She looked down at a butterfly. A butterfly, out here in the ice and snow and lava!
Gunnar laughed. “That’s a Vanessa cardui, a Painted Lady.”
Alma felt sad and happy at the same time. Hy was with her.