Two days later, I slipped into the City Center Diner to get a hamburger for lunch. The days since Prof. Jenkins had officially identified Little Mac’s pasture as the site of the world’s newest volcanic vent had been insane. Every TV station in Eugene had sent out a media van and reporter to film the front of Little Mac’s house, since he wouldn’t allow them on his property, and interview anyone who would talk to them. Several of the local town fathers were mulling over how best to financially take advantage of the town’s new celebrity. Jason Billings over at the drug store already had a series of volcano tee shirts displayed in the window.
The one person absent from all the hoopla was John “Little Mac” McAllister. The problem was that Little Mac was not a good interview subject and had no interest in becoming one. He’d always been a man of few words. In school, he’d been the jock who never said a word in the back of the class, but always passed. He was a man who preferred to let his actions do the talking and probably his greatest statement was his construction company. In the twenty years since high school, he’d taken the small carpentry shop founded by his dad (Big Mac) and forged it into one of the state’s biggest and most successful heavy construction companies.
But that was history. All I wanted now was a quiet lunch and an hour with no one asking me what I thought about it all. I slid onto a stool at the counter and accepted a cup of coffee from Donna, who had been waiting tables there since the last ice age.
“Gonna have your regular burger?” she asked.
I nodded. “Please.”
“Pretty exciting what’s going on in our little town.”
“I think we’ve had about all the excitement we can stand.”
She laughed and hung my ticket on the cook’s wheel.
“Hey Tommy,” George Sanders slipped onto another stool immediately to my right. “You hear what Little Mac did today?”
I shook my head. George ran the local gas station/garage and was, by all accounts, one of the worst mechanics around. He was pretty good at pumping gas though.
“I heard he kicked all the college types off his land and brought in two trucks of concrete. I think he’s going to try and plug up that crack.”
You’re kidding. I just looked at him. “Where’d you hear that?”
He nodded thanks as Donna handed him a cup of coffee. “From Mary Hanks.”
Mary was the dispatcher at the concrete plant.
I tossed a couple of bucks on the counter and told Donna to cancel my order.
By the time I reached Little Mac’s ranch, the second concrete truck was pulling onto the County Road, heading back to town. I parked my car and ran back to the pasture.
Little Mac and a couple of other men were putting the finishing touches on a swath of fresh concrete where the crack had been. George had been right. He’d plugged it up.
I just stood there, staring, absolutely dumbfounded. He’d actually filled a volcanic vent
Little Mac spotted me, stood and walked over. Smears of cement covered his hands and stained the knees of his jeans and his boots.
“Tommy,” he nodded and tried to crush my hand again. “What do you think?”
I didn’t know what to say. The pasture was now a good foot higher than it had been the first time I’d seen the vent. The kind of pressure it took to push solid ground a foot into the air . . . I didn’t see how some concrete would do much to stop it.
“Do you really think it will work?” I asked.
Little Mac gave a little bit of a shrug. “We put six yards in that hole. That’s about four tons.”
I sighed. Maybe he knew something I didn’t, construction was his business, after all, and maybe he was going to make things worse. For now anyway the crack was sealed and for the first time since I’d first come out I couldn’t smell rotten eggs.
A couple of days later, Melody invited me to dinner and I accepted, less out of friendship and the allure of home cooking than a deep interest in seeing whether Little Mac’s plug would actually continue to work. It was one of the most interesting dinners I’ve ever experienced. We sat around the dining room table, Little Mac, Melody, myself, and the McAllister children, ten‑year‑old Jason and seven-year-old Bethany, and discussed school and movies and current events. Melody had cooked a beef roast, mashed potatoes, and sweet corn and it all tasted wonderful.
About every twenty minutes throughout the meal, the ground would begin to shake. Plates would rattle in the cabinets and everyone would grab their water glasses to keep them from tipping over. But other than that, and a brief pause in the conversation, it was all taken as perfectly normal. There was no panic, no fear.
“Cool!” Jason would say, when it was over. “That was a good one.”
It was like a weird form of dinner theater.
In between the quakes, I could hear a deep, primeval rumbling, similar to what your stomach makes when you eat something that doesn’t agree with you. Geological indigestion. But we continued with dinner as though it was all perfectly normal.
When we were finished, Melody and the children began clearing the dishes, while Little Mac and I retired to the living room with coffee.
“Have you considered‑‑” I was interrupted by a particularly strong quake. For just a few seconds, it felt like sitting on the deck of a ship in rough weather, rather than the living room of a farmhouse. My chair moved several inches to the right across the floor and a framed painting of a seascape fell off the wall.
Out in the kitchen, Jason cheered.
“Has it occurred to you that it might not be safe here?” It certainly had occurred to me.
Little Mac got up, brushed at the stain where coffee had spilled on his pants and rehung the painting on the wall. “This is my home.”
“And your kids?”
He returned to his chair. “It’s their home too.”
That pretty much put an end to that line of conversation.
Five minutes later, the shaking began again. This time, I thought I could actually see the walls swaying. Nick knacks fell off shelves and shattered on the floor. My coffee jumped out of its cup and onto my shirt, but wasn’t hot enough to burn. I doubt I would have noticed if it had. I was listening to the deep rumbling that seemed to grow in intensity as the quake progressed.
In the kitchen, little Bethany was screaming. I tried to get up, but couldn’t keep my balance. Little Mac just sat there.
The night was shattered by a flash of light and a tremendous explosion.
Everybody screamed then and I found myself on the floor. Just as quickly, the quake ended.
“Mac!” Melody called from the kitchen.
Within seconds, we were both in the kitchen, where Melody crouched in the middle of the floor, clutching her children. Fragments of broken dishes were scattered across the floor around them.
“Everyone okay?” I asked. Little Mac rushed over to physically check his family
“We’re okay.” Melody nodded, though she didn’t sound terribly sure of that statement. She nodded to the window. “But I think you pissed it off.”
Out in the pasture, a fountain of orange flames leaped into the sky.
A mile and a half away, on County Road 151, Leroy Jacobsen was heading home from an evening at Fat Man’s when the beer went through him. He toyed with the idea of trying to make it home, but decided against it. His bladder control wasn’t what it used to be. He’d catch enough hell from his old lady as it was without showing up with wet pants.
He pulled his pickup off onto the shoulder, shifted it into park and left it running while he climbed out and staggered over to the scrub to do his business. He was blissfully emptying his bladder when he heard a strange whistling overhead and BANG! behind him.
He turned to see what happened and peed all over his shoes.
“Holy shit,” he whispered.
A huge chunk of concrete had landed smack on the cab of his truck, crushing it like a beer can.
“Martha ain’t never gonna believe this.”