Krakatoa by Nancy W. Three Sisters

Summary: A major news event leaves the children of Four Corners frightened and confused.

Thanks: once again to Marnie, for her help and encouragement. :-D


August 30, 1883

For Chris Larabee and Buck Wilmington, trips into town had become anything but routine since the orphan train had brought two small boys into their lives, and this particular trip was more significant than usual. The following Monday would be the first Monday in September, which meant school for the boys.

JD was bursting with excitement - school was a new experience for him. Vin was less enthusiastic. From what little he could get Vin to say on the subject, Chris suspected that Vin had been to school at the orphanage, and had not found it a happy experience. He wished he could promise the little boy that things would be different here, but he hadn't even met Miss Myrtle Withers, the newly-arrived school teacher, or seen the inside of the town's small one-room school. He'd left it up to Buck to take care of that and enroll the boys, mostly because Buck had found it a convenient excuse to meet Miss Withers, whom he had found to be frustratingly immune to the Wilmington charm.

As it turned out, there was no one at the school when they stopped to have a look. Chris and Buck had expected that Miss Withers might be there, making things ready for the children, and they found ample evidence that she had been - desks were arranged in neat rows, the chalkboard was clean and the floor swept, cards with the letters of the alphabet had been tacked to the walls, and the names of the town's children had been written in chalk on the wall above the coat hooks at the back of the room.

"LOOK!" JD said excitedly. "Here's my name!" He pointed to the coat hook with "John Dunne" written above it. "And here's yours, Vin!"

Vin studied the name "Vincent Tanner" with a frown. Chris was pretty sure that the boy had to take JD's word for it that the writing was his name.

A month or so after the boys had come to live with them, Buck and Chris had discovered that JD already knew how to read, even though he was only five. He said his mama had taught him how. Buck had mentioned this to Miss Withers, who in turn had asked to meet JD. She was a somewhat stern and dour woman, but JD seemed to have won her over even if Buck could not. She'd decided to allow JD to start school, even though he was a bit younger than most of the other first-graders.

Written on a chalkboard at the front of the room was a list of things that students were expected to bring: A slate, chalk, a writing tablet, a pencil and a ruler. There was "pen and ink" on the list, but a note said that was only for "students 9 years and older" and that brought a sigh of relief. There was no telling what JD would do if he got his busy little hands on a bottle of ink. There was a list of books, too, and the notation, "Students from the same family may share books."

Buck copied down the list and they headed for Potter's general store. As they passed the Clarion on the opposite side of the street, they noticed a small crowd had gathered out front, many with a copy of the paper's latest issue in their hands. The Clarion usually published on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and since this was Thursday, Mary had apparently done a special edition for some reason..

"Looks like somethin's up," Chris said. Whatever it was seemed to be a matter more of interest than alarm, but Chris and Buck decided to investigate, anyway.

They found Josiah and Nathan among those gathered to listen as Ezra read from the Clarion's front page:

"...the Dutch East India company reports that the city of Ketimbang, with a population of near 6,000 souls, was consumed by ash and then washed away by hellish waves of such enormous height that forests disappeared in their path. The Fourth Point Lighthouse near the town of Anjer, a structure some 100 feet tall, was reported to have been inundated and washed from its pilings as though it were a twig and not a stern structure of steel and concrete. Reports of large rafts comprised of ash and detritus upon which float the mortal remains of men, women and children as well as livestock, have been reported. These terrifying events followed upon a horrific blast, so thunderous in proportion that it was heard hundreds of miles away. The captain of an ocean-going vessel caught in the midst of the cataclysm has recounted the scene saying that it was as he would imagine the end of the world. The Dutch East India company is estimating the toll of Europeans in the area to be over 20,000 lives lost...."

"Sweet, holy Jesus," Josiah gasped.

"Madre de Dios," Inez echoed and crossed herself.

"Vin, what are they talking about?" JD remembered not to talk loud, so he didn't interrupt.

"I don't know," Vin said. He sensed that whatever it was, it was something awful.

Ezra continued,

"...reported that the island, formerly consisting of three mountain peaks, was entirely consumed by the explosion and obliterated from the face of the Earth. Particulate debris from the blast was said to have fallen like rain, and to have been as hot as cinders, covering those unfortunate wretches remaining alive in horrendous burns, with skin falling from their bodies in sheets as if it were tattered rags."

JD took Vin's hand and squeezed it tightly. Vin squeezed his hand back. They both wished they knew what Uncle Ezra was reading about.

Ezra happened to glance over at the two small boys on the sidewalk. Other children were listening, too. He quickly folded his paper. "A tragic tale, indeed," he shook his head.

"Read the rest of it!" someone in the crowd called out.

Ezra glanced towards the children. "Let us retire to the saloon," he suggested.

Vin and JD made a move to follow, but Buck held them back. He bought his own paper to read later and then continued on to the General Store.

They discovered when they walked in that people were gathered around with the same copy of the Clarion. This time it was Mrs. Potter who was reading:

"Volcanoes are known to treacherously spring to life with little warning as was the case in the Sunda Strait. The havoc wrought by them is usually limited to the immediate vicinity. Such was not so in this event, with reports stating that birds fell dead from the sky over 200 miles away, and fish in the sea were also killed over a vast distance. The column of smoke rising from the inferno is estimated to have been fifty miles high..."

"Fifty miles?" Mr. Conklin asked in disbelief.

"That's what it says here." Mrs. Potter pointed at the paper.

Buck cleared his throat to attract her attention. She set the paper down when she saw she had customers. Mr. Conklin picked it up and continued to read, but not out loud.

"What can I do for you boys today," she said, smiling at Vin and JD.

"We need s'plies for school!" JD said happily.

Buck handed her the list.

"Let me see," she said, and began removing things from her shelves. "Two slates... two tablets... two boxes of chalk...." She looked at Buck. "The pencils come in a pack of 12 - that should see them through the school year, unless you just want two."

"The pack will be fine," Buck said.

Mrs. Potter looked back at the list and handed Buck three books, The Child's Book of American Geography, The First Book In Arithmetic, and The New Franklin Primer and First Reader.

"Of course, they will also need lunch pails," she pointed out.

"I hadn't even thought of that," Buck said.

"I have them in four colors and plain," she said.

"I want a red one!" JD said excitedly.

"How about you Vin?" Buck asked.

Vin didn't know Buck was talking to him. He was looking at the picture on the newspaper Mr. Conklin was reading. It was a mountain and fire and smoke were coming out of the top. It looked scary.

"Vin?" Buck repeated.

"Huh?"

"What color lunch pail do you want?"

Vin forced himself to look at the choices. "Jus' a plain one, I guess."

Buck handed Vin his lunch pail and then piled his share of the supplies into his arms.

"Anything else?" Mrs. Potter asked.

"You got any boy's socks?" Buck asked hopefully. Neither he nor Chris was about to take up knitting any time soon, and Vin and JD went through socks like chickens through a nest of ticks.

Mrs. Potter pulled down a cardboard box. "How many pairs?"

Buck counted on his fingers. "I reckon ten ought to do for now."

The boys would probably need more clothes and winter coats, hats and mittens, but those could wait a couple of weeks. He had Mrs. Potter total the bill.

"Comes to five dollars and 32 cents," she announced.

Buck raised an eyebrow, but handed over the cash. Having kids was sure expensive.

Mrs. Potter gave each boy a peppermint stick, and JD immediately jammed his into his mouth as they walked back to their wagon. Vin seemed distracted by something, so Buck asked him if anything was wrong.

"No," Vin said softly. "Buck?"

"Yeah?"

"What's a ball-cano?"

Buck stroked his mustache thoughtfully. To be honest, he didn't really have a clue. He'd heard of volcanoes, but, he really didn't know anything about them. He tried for a simple explanation.

"Well, they are mountains that have a fire inside, like a big furnace, only hotter."

JD joined the conversation.

"Is that what Ezra and Mrs. Potter were reading about?"

"I believe so," Buck said.

"But what happened?" Vin wanted to know.

Buck took the school supplies each boy was holding and set them in the wagon. "I don't rightly know, son. I have my paper here, though, so I'll read about it when we get home."

"Twenty thousand people got kilt," JD said. The little guy didn't miss a thing, even though Buck was pretty sure he didn't actually comprehend that number.

"I'm afraid so, Little Bit," Buck said, knowing the death toll was probably way more than that, since the article only mentioned Europeans and not the native population who would not have survived, either.

"But how did they get killed?" Vin wanted to know. "How can a mountain kill you?" He looked warily at the blue Rockies looming in the distance. Buck was pretty sure none of them were volcanoes, but, he didn't really know what a volcano looked like.

"I tell you what," he began, "let Chris and I read the whole story in the paper, then, we'll talk about it. How does that sound?"

Vin didn't reply. Buck lifted each boy into the wagon, and JD changed the subject by opening their new arithmetic book. He quickly figured out that the picture on the first page, an idyllic scene of children playing in a garden, was a counting exercise, containing specific numbers of certain objects, and he and Vin quickly got the idea and began looking for them. Both boys could count, at least as high as ten, and JD seemed to have no trouble figuring out the words in the book. He hoped they'd do well in school, especially since Vin did not seem too enthusiastic about the idea.

They headed to the jail to meet up with Chris. Josiah was there, too, reading the Clarion article. He set the paper down when the boys ran to give him a hug. JD had brought the new school books in to show him, while Vin headed for the Wanted posters. The older boy loved going through the posters, convinced that he would one day capture an infamous outlaw. After the books had been properly admired, JD sat down on the floor and began to go through them a page at a time.

With both boys busy, the adult conversation turned to the big news event that was the talk of the town.

"Horrible thing," Josiah commented. "Back before the war, I was in Italy and happened upon a city that was being excavated from being buried in volcanic ash."

"A whole city?" Buck asked.

"Well, as far as anyone knows. They had been digging away at it for some twenty or thirty years by that time, and kept finding more and more buildings."

"I reckon it wasn't hot anymore?" Buck said.

"Oh, this city was buried a long time ago, back in the days of ancient Rome from the looks of it," Josiah explained.

"You don't say? And it's been buried all this time?"

"Yup.... folks just plumb forgot it was there, I suppose," Josiah said. "The excavators, they kept finding these holes in the ash - which is almost like chalk, like a soft rock - and most of them had bones in them, so this one guy got the idea to fill these holes up with plaster and then dig out the plaster, and when he did, he found he had statues of people and animals that had been buried and then decomposed, leaving the holes. I tell you, it was one of the most sad and gruesome things I have ever seen."

Vin looked up from his posters but said nothing.

"Them folks were all twisted and contorted like they were experiencing the agonies of hell when they died," Josiah said. "The animals, too."

Buck shuddered. "Covered in hot cinders has to be a bad way to go."

Chris joined the conversation. "They say the noise from the exploding island blew out people's ears it was so loud."

"Dynamite can do that, too, though," Buck said.

"Dynamite can't blow a whole island off the Earth," Chris observed.

"Terrible thing," Josiah repeated.

"Yup," Buck agreed.

"You boys ready for some lunch?" Chris asked Vin and JD.

+ + + + + + +

The boys were always eager to eat at Miss Virginia's boarding house. The food was always excellent and there was plenty of it. Vin ordered his favorite - fried chicken and biscuits with lots of butter and honey - and JD wanted pinto beans and fried potatoes, with ketchup. He poured the ketchup on both the potatoes and the beans, which Vin thought was disgusting, but, it was JD who had to eat it and not him.

"You know," Josiah said, "we have some volcanoes right in our own back yard here."

"The hell you say," Buck looked at him.

Vin stopped eating.

"Bad word, Buck!" JD looked up from his food.

"You know that ridge of black rock out on the mesa northeast of town?" Josiah continued.

Of course Buck knew, Vin thought - every one did. That was where Ridge City was and why it was called Ridge City. Chris had told Vin that.

"Well, if you look close at those rocks," Josiah went on, "they are full of holes, not smooth like normal rocks. That's the kind of rock that comes from a volcano. I saw a lot of them when I was in the East Indies."

"Volcanoes make rocks?" Nathan asked.

"They sure do, Josiah explained. "You see, the inside of a volcano is so hot that rocks melt, then they come pouring out of the volcano and harden again."

"How come they get full of holes?" Chris asked.

Josiah shrugged. "That I don't know."

"So if them Black Ridge rocks came from a volcano, where is the volcano?" Buck asked incredulously.

Vin wanted to know that, too. He was hoping Josiah would say it was far, far, away.

"Those three little mountains all in a row sticking up from the mesa past the ridge," Josiah answered.

"The Tres Hermanas?" Buck said.

Vin knew those were Spanish words. They meant "three sisters" not "three ball-canos."

But Josiah continued, "Well, the Indians call them chey-je-ahn ako-o, which means 'watermelon seeds.'"

"I reckon they do sorta look like that," Nathan said.

"Anyway, they're volcanoes, and all that ridge rock is lava that came from them," Josiah finished.

JD had stopped eating, too. "We have ball-canos here?" he said softly.

"Yup, we sure do!" Josiah grinned.

JD looked at Vin, hoping he would tell him that the adults were just teasing, but Vin just looked scared.

"Who wants pie?" Buck asked.

Vin and JD both liked pie, so they had some, even though both of them were thinking about what Josiah had told everyone.

On the way home, both of them looked out across the mesa at Black Ridge. They could see the three little bumps Josiah had talked about. They didn't look very far away at all.

JD had asked Josiah why they were called ball-canoes, and Josiah had told them the word was 'vol-cano' and that it came from the name of the Roman god of fire whose name was 'Vulcan.' Vin supposed JD would remember all of that, but he didn't understand it and he didn't care. He just wished those volcanoes weren't so close.

When they got home, Buck left the paper on the table, so JD took it to look at it. He could read some of the words, which Vin couldn't do, but he sat with JD and looked at the picture of the burning mountain. He didn't remember ever seeing a picture in the Clarion before and he wondered how it got there. Mrs. Travis had shown him how the words got on the page, but did she have a picture of a volcano at the newspaper? And if she did, why? He was pretty sure the volcano in the picture was not Krakatoa. There was no water around it, like the paper said. Maybe it was a picture of one of the Three Sisters.

"Vin, do you think our volcanoes will explode?" JD asked softly.

"I don't know, JD. I reckon they exploded once, 'cause Josiah says that's where all the black rock came from."

"Will the hot cinders fall on us?"

Vin didn't know the answer to that, either. "I hope not."

When everyone was done with their chores, Buck sat down and read the whole story for everyone. JD kept interrupting with a million questions, but Vin didn't care because the stuff JD was asking was stuff he wanted to know, too, like what 'tidal wave' meant. Chris said it was like a big splash of water, so big that it covered everything and squashed people in their houses. Him and JD felt a little better when Buck said you had to be by an ocean to have a tidal wave, and the oceans were too far away from Four Corners for them to get splashed by one. They could still get covered in hot cinders, though, and have their skin peeling off.

That night, JD woke up crying. He didn't wake Vin up, because Vin wasn't asleep. He was thinking about all of the people in that place with the strange sounding name who just woke up in the morning and then the whole world exploded. He wondered if they had time to be scared. He was sure that some of them did, because someone must have seen what happened or else they couldn't have told the people who made the newspaper.

He got up and went to JD's bed and sat down next to him. "What's'a'matter, JD?" he asked.

"I don't wanna get covered in hot cinders!" JD wailed. "I don't want my skin to fall off! An' I don't want my ears blowed up!" he cried.

Buck came into the room with a lantern, which was good, because Vin was getting kind of scared in the dark with JD saying those things.

"Hey, what's going on, Little Bit?" Buck asked.

JD just cried.

"I think he had a bad dream," Vin explained.

"I dreamed the volcanoes interrupted!" JD cried harder.

"Volcanoes?" Buck blinked, like he didn't know what JD was talking about. Hadn't he listened when Josiah was talking?

"The volcanoes," Vin said irritated. "The ones that made the black ridge. Right JD?"

JD nodded through his tears.

Buck laughed. "Son, ain't no one even remembers when those volcanoes did anything. They've looked just like they are for a long time."

JD stopped crying and sniffled. "How do you know?"

"Well," Buck rubbed his hand over his chin. "All you gotta do is ride out there. You can see the rocks are old."

"All rocks are old," Vin said impatiently. "Josiah said God made the rocks when he made the world and that was about five hundred years ago."

"Just take my word for it," Buck said. "Them volcanoes are not going to do anything but sit there."

"Are you sure?" JD asked.

"Yes, I'm sure," Buck said, tucking him in.

JD believed Buck, but, Vin didn't. All those people in the newspaper probably didn't think that stupid old Krakatoa could hurt them, either, or else they wouldn't have stayed there and got covered in hot cinders or squashed by the ocean.

September 3, 1883

JD was up early, bursting with excitement, ready for his first day of school. Vin was less exuberant, but Chris could see that he, too, was looking forward to seeing what school was like, which was a relief.

"My socks are too big!" JD complained. Buck knelt down to take a look. The socks he'd bought fit Vin okay, but JD had smaller feet. Buck showed him how to carefully fold the toes under before he put on his shoes. Luckily, the shoes were a little big, to allow for growing room, so it all worked out in the end.

Both boys had eaten breakfast in their nightshirts, because no one wanted to take a chance on them dirtying their freshly laundered clothes. JD's shirt was red and white striped, while Vin's was a dark blue with white pin dots. The clothing was not new - it was hand-me-downs from Mrs. Potter's boy - but it was in good repair and new for them. "We look like a flag," JD said as they stood together.

Vin laughed at that, which was a good sign. Buck made sure shirts were tucked in, trousers were buttoned, suspenders were fastened, and shoes were tied while Chris made sure they had all of their school supplies. He tied them together with string so they wouldn't get dropped and gave Vin a small pocket knife to cut the string when they got to school.

Vin looked at the little knife with rapt appreciation. "Do I get to keep it?" he asked hopefully.

Chris ruffled his hair. "I think you're old enough. Just be careful with it. If I hear you've used it for a toy, I'll have to take it back until you're older, okay?"

Vin nodded.

Each lunch box had been packed with an apple, a hearty slab of brown bread with butter, and a boiled egg. Josiah had painted their names on the boxes in bright white letters.

Finally, everyone was ready to pile into the wagon. Later, the boys would walk the mile or so to school, but they had a lot of stuff to carry, and Buck and Chris both wanted to see them to their class the first day.

They arrived in town a half hour early, so Buck picked up the latest issue of the Clarion. Krakatoa was still the top news story, and the talk of the town. The news was grim: decaying corpses were washing ashore on beaches over a hundred miles from the volcano, and the thick cloud of smoke still blotted out the sky. Thousands had been left without food, drinking water, shelter or medical attention for their terrible wounds.

"I have never heard of anything so horrible," said one of the mothers gathered at the school after Buck had read the article aloud. "Those poor, unfortunate people."

"We have volcanoes right here!" JD interjected cheerfully.

The mother had two little girls with her. They appeared to be twins, about Vin's age.

"You're a liar!" one of them said.

"Nuh-huh!" He pointed at the Tres Hermanas in the distance. "That's them, right there!"

"Mama, he's just making that up, isn't he?" one of the girls said apprehensively.

"Gracious, Holly, I don't know..." she looked at Buck accusingly.

Buck shrugged. "That's what my friend Josiah says."

The conversation was interrupted as Miss Withers came out of the school house and began to ring her bell. It was 9:00 am on the dot. Buck gave JD a quick hug, while Chris clasped Vin gently on the shoulder and said, "You boys be good. We'll see you at 3:30."

Vin glanced over his should at the Three Sisters before he walked through the door.

Miss Withers had the children line up around the room, against the wall. Then, she asked them how old they were so she could group them together. She picked out the six and seven-year-olds, then the eight- and nine-year-olds, then the ten- and eleven-year-olds, then the big kids who were twelve and older. JD was still left standing, because he was only five. Each desk was for two children, so, she told JD he could sit with Vin. Holly and Molly Pruitt were in front of them, and some kid named Eli Joe and Billy Travis were behind them. She told them to put their school stuff away while she got the rest of the class seated.

Some of the bigger boys in the class were being silly and talking and shoving each other, so Miss Withers had to smack them with a ruler. Vin flinched when he heard the sound of wood smacking flesh, because he knew that hurt, but, he figured those boys should know how to behave better.

After they were all sitting down, there was only one chair left. Ellen Potter had her own desk all to herself. Miss Withers started to write words on the blackboard and asked the children who knew how to read them. Vin didn't know his letters at all, so he couldn't read any of them, but JD could read some that even the bigger kids didn't know. Vin was happy to find out he wasn't the only kid in the class who couldn't read, though. Miss Withers said not to worry, because she would teach them. She said there were four groups, Owls, Foxes, Bears and Eagles. The Eagles were the kids who couldn't read like, Vin. JD was a Fox, which were the kids who knew most of the small words, and he was the littlest one. Vin was kind of jealous of that, but kind of proud of JD at the same time.

When Miss Withers was done with that, she did the same thing with numbers. Vin did a little better there, because he could add and subtract and count to a hundred. Him and JD were in the same group for arithmetic.

After all of that was done, Miss Withers let them go outside for awhile for fresh air. JD wanted to go to the sheriff's office to say 'hi' to Buck, but Miss Withers said they couldn't go further than the big cottonwood tree which was only a few feet from the school.

Holly and Molly Pruitt came over to where Vin and JD were playing the game they liked to play, making trails in the dirt with their hands and using rocks and twigs and leaves to make a little town. JD put three stones near the town and said they were the volcanoes.

One of the Pruitts - Vin didn't know which, because they looked exactly alike and their dresses were the same - asked him if what JD said about the volcanoes was true. Vin pointed to the ridge of black rock and told her what Josiah had said, that those black rocks came from a volcano.

"Yeah," JD said, pointing to the three rocks he'd set down. "And these volcanoes are going to interrupt and 'splode!" He picked up a big handful of dirt and threw it on the 'town.' "Now everyone is covered with hot cinders and burning up!"

The Pruitt on the left started to cry. Vin had no idea why, unless it was because JD had scared her. JD had kinda scared him, too. "Stop that, JD," he said softly.

The Pruitt on the right put her arm around her sister and looked at them with a mad face. "You're such liars," she said.

Then, Eli Joe came over and kicked the town, but Miss Withers rang the bell so they had to go back inside, anyway.

Vin had his first reading lesson after that. Miss Withers wrote A B and C on the blackboard and explained how each letter made a sound, and how there were two kinds, big and small. When she made the sounds of the letters, she asked each child to think of a word that started with that sound. The sound she gave Vin was "b" and he thought of 'bread." Eli Joe's letter was 'c' and he said 'caca' which was Spanish for poop. Miss Withers must have understood that, because he had to stand in the corner with his face to the wall. Miss Withers had a little hourglass on her desk and she turned it over and he had to stand there until the sand ran out. The Eagles then had to take out their slates and write A, a, B, b and C, c as many times as they could fit. Vin did his small, so he could do a bunch of them.

JD was asked to read from the primer and he did, without even missing a word. Miss Withers said he might need a harder book, and she'd send a note to Buck. She thought JD was really smart, but when they were eating lunch, he dropped his egg in the dirt, and ate it, anyway.

After lunch, Miss Withers read to them out of book called Oliver Twist. It was about an orphan, and Vin and JD both wanted to hear more when she stopped reading, but she said she'd read from it after lunch every day until they finished it.

Then, she took out a newspaper, but it wasn't the Clarion because it was too big and had a lot of pictures. She asked who had heard about the Krakatoa volcano. Some of the kids shouted that they had, including JD, and Miss Withers reminded them that they were supposed to raise their hand to answer a question. She then opened a wooden box and took out a big ball that spun on a stick. She said it was a globe and that it was how the whole world looked. She showed them were Four Corners was and said it was not even the size of a small dot compared to the whole world. She showed them where the Sunda Strait was, and mostly everyone was glad to see it was way on the other side of the globe. Krakatoa wasn't on it, but she showed them where it was, or where it used to be before it blew up.

She took out the paper, which was from San Francisco (and she showed them where that was, too). It had a picture of the tidal wave and Vin was afraid to look at it, but he did. It showed little houses and even smaller people and a big splash of water that looked like a mountain. The people looked like they were running and screaming, but, there was no way they would get away from all that water.

Miss Withers knew a lot about volcanoes, but she didn't know there were some right by the town until JD told her.

"Is that so?" she said.

"Yah-huh... they're those three little bumps over there!" he pointed in the direction of the Three Sisters, even though no one could see them through the wall.

"How interesting!" Miss Withers praised him. "If that's true, perhaps we could ride out there as a class and take a look if it's not too far."

Both of the Pruitts started to cry at that. So did JD.

"Oh dear," Miss Withers said. "I didn't mean to upset you darling children."

"I don't wanna get covered in hot cinders!" JD wailed, which only made the Pruitts cry even harder.

Vin was embarrassed. "Hush, JD. Ain't no hot cinders."

JD wiped his nose on his sleeve.

"Calm down, now, children," Miss Withers said. "I will see if I can learn more about this subject and we'll talk about it later."

The problem was, the older kids, Pud Garber, Del Spivak, and Mrs. Potter's kids, wanted to talk about it right then.

"If they erupted, would we get covered in lava?"

"What's lava?"

"It's melted rocks, that's what my uncle said."

"You can't melt rocks!"

"Yessirree... a volcano can melt rocks like they are wax, because they are so hot!"

That was exactly what Josiah had said, but Vin looked at Miss Withers for confirmation. Maybe she'd say that wasn't so.

A boy named Chanu raised his hand. "Tres Hermanas are seeds from great watermelon," he said. Chanu was an Indian, and his people had lived there a long time, so Vin was thinking maybe he knew something the rest of them didn't. Chanu didn't really seem too sure about that story himself, though, especially when he added, "My sister says this." Still, Vin liked that idea better than hot la-ba.

"Nuh-huh, they're real volcanoes!" JD insisted.

Miss Withers tapped her ruler on her desk. "Children! Children!"

Everyone stopped talking, but the Pruitts kept on sniffling.

JD raised his hand. "My unca 'siah said a whole city got covered in hot ashes and they didn't find it for a million years, in Little-ly."

Miss Withers went to the globe. "The country is called Italy, and it is right here." She pointed to a spot on the globe. "You can remember it because it looks like a boot."

The children laughed. It did look like a big foot.

Abigail Conklin raised her hand. "Did a city really get covered?"

"Sadly, yes," Miss Withers said. "The city was called Pompeii. It was completely covered in ash from a volcano named Vesuvius."

Billy Travis raised his hand. "Did all the people get out?" he asked, and Vin could tell he was hoping Miss Withers would say yes. He remembered what Josiah had said, though.

"No, I am afraid they didn't," Miss Withers said sadly. "Most of them stayed buried in the ash for hundreds of years."

Vin smacked his forehead, because the Pruitts started sniveling again. He gave JD a look that told him he better not join them.

"I think that is enough about volcanoes for today," Miss Withers said.

She then went back to the globe and said it was a sphere. That was another word for "ball." And she told them about cubes and pyramids and circles and squares and triangles. All of that was called geometry, Vin liked that because JD wasn't smarter than him at that. Then, she told them some words that were in Latin and she wrote them on the board for the kids who knew how to read. She said everyone needed to know Latin words, and she taught them how to say dog, cat, bird, wolf, cow, horse, and pig. She told them that Latin was the language spoken a long time ago in Rome, which was in Italy.

JD remembered that was where the volcano was that buried everyone in ashes. JD asked her if those people spoke Latin, which Vin thought was a pretty good question, but one of the Pruitts turned around and yelled, "Stop talking about stupid volcanoes!" and Miss Withers made her go stand in the corner for being rude, which of course made her cry.

Finally, school was over. Chanu's sister was waiting outside on a pony, and he jumped up on it without even using a saddle. Vin was going to ask him how to do that. Mrs. Pruitt was waiting outside for Holly and Molly, and they ran to her chattering away just like they didn't spend half the day crying. Girls were weird sometimes. Vin and JD headed to the jail to find Buck, like they were supposed to, and the Potter kids walked with them a little way.

"Did Josiah really say those were volcanoes?" Ellen Potter asked them.

"Yah-huh, he did!" JD answered.

"Oh, gosh, that's scary," she said.

"They're just chunks of rock," her brother John said. "I been out there."

"I have been out there," Ellen corrected.

"Nobody knows a volcano is a volcano until it interrupts," JD said wisely.

"That's poppycock," John scoffed.

Ellen ignored him and looked at Vin. "Is that true?"

Vin had no idea, but he didn't like it that John was being all bossy, so he said, "Yeah."

Ellen glanced nervously over at the Three Sisters. Vin told her about the Black Ridge.

"There's another ridge like that over there," John said, pointing to the other side of town, in the direction of Eagle Bend. "Only you can't see it because we're on top of it."

Vin looked at JD, but even though he seemed interested, he didn't seem to understand that if what John said was true, then hot la-va - not 'la-ba' - came out of the Three Sisters more than once, and they were living right on top of where it had covered everything.

+ + + + + +

The next day, Vin and JD walked to school. Vin usually didn't mind walking, but he was still kind of sleepy because JD had woken him up with a bad dream about volcanoes again, and when he fell asleep, he dreamed about that big splash of water covering all those houses and the people trying to run away.

That day, Vin learned to write D, E, and F. The older kids who could read got to do penmanship, and JD wanted to do penmanship, too, except Miss Withers said he was too little to have a pen.

Then, she showed everyone a box of crayons and no one had ever seen those before. They made pretty colors on paper when you wrote with them, and she said everyone could use them, but just once, so they had to think real hard on a special picture to draw with them for a special occasion. JD wanted to draw a volcano and said he thought Krakatoa was a special occasion, but, Miss Withers said it was a catastrophe. That was a new word for almost everyone.

At lunch, Vin and JD had mashed beans rolled up in a tortilla, and two carrots each. Chanu had a bag of cherries, and JD tried to trade him a carrot for some, but Chanu wasn't stupid. Cherries were way better than carrots. He gave JD some, anyway, though. JD spat the pits at the Pruitts, so, when Miss Withers rang the bell, he had to go to the corner instead of sitting at his desk while she read Oliver Twist. Vin wondered if he should tell Chris about that, but decided not to.

In geometry, they learned about different kinds of triangles and about cones. Cones were nothing like pine cones, but they did look like volcanoes. Miss Withers said sometimes volcanoes like the Three Sisters were called cinder cones.

"So they really are volcanoes?" Ellen Potter asked.

"Yes, I think they are," Miss Withers replied. "However, they are apparently dormant."

Vin raised his hand. He was nervous about asking a question, but, he had to know, "What does 'dormant' mean?"

"Well.... it means they are asleep." She smiled, but Vin wasn't happy with that answer.

If they were asleep, that meant they could wake up.

+ + + + + + +

Finally, it was Friday afternoon. Vin had learned to write all his letters up to 'O.' JD had to practice them, too, because even though he could read, he couldn't write very well, so they took their slates home with them. They went to find Buck, but he wasn't at the jail. He was at the saloon. People were still talking about Krakatoa, but they were talking about other stuff, too, so maybe pretty soon people would forget about the catastrophe and Vin and JD would stop having bad dreams about it.

They had dinner at Miss Virginia's and then rode home with Buck, because Chris was on patrol that night. Winter was still a long way off, but the desert always got chilly at night, so Buck lit a fire in the stove and Vin and JD played checkers and jackstraws on the floor until it was time for bed. Buck told them that he would have to leave to go back to town early in the morning, but that Chris would be back before lunch. He left some biscuits, jam and boiled eggs for their breakfast, and made them promise they would stay close to the house until Chris got there. He tucked them into bed and blew out the lantern. The moon was only half full, but there weren't any clouds in the sky, so, there was enough light for them to see everything in the room. Vin was glad for that. He didn't really like the dark, although he pretended not to be afraid because JD wasn't. JD was talking, as usual, telling Vin how he was going to have Buck buy him a pen so he could do penmanship no matter what Miss Withers said. Vin knew that if JD had a bottle of ink, he'd just spill it, but, stuff like that didn't really bother Buck. It might bother Miss Withers, though. She always looked nice and clean.

JD fell asleep while he was talking, and pretty soon, Vin did, too. He was startled awake by JD screaming. He thought he was having another nightmare, but, JD was standing on his bed looking out the tiny window of their room, and he wasn't screaming, he was crying.

"What's wrong, JD?" he asked, rubbing his eyes.

"The... vol... can... oes..." JD choked out between sobs.

Vin stood up to see what JD was looking at, and he was momentarily frozen in horror. All of the Three Sisters had fire coming from their tops.

He was going to yell for Buck, but he could see that it was almost morning, and he figured Buck had already left for town, or else he would have come when he heard JD crying.

"They're interrupting!" JD screamed, crying even harder. Vin wanted to tell him everything was all right, but he was really scared, too.

"What is it, Vin? Are they waking up?"

"I don't know," Vin said honestly.

"We have to run away!" JD wailed.

"We can't do that. We have to wait for Chris to come home."

"NO!" JD yelled. He started to put his clothes on, but he was so excited he put his pants on inside-out, and that made him cry even harder.

Vin stood at the window watching the Three Sisters trying to convince himself they weren't on fire. But, they were. Flames and sparks were shooting upwards from the tops of the cones.

He didn't see any hot lava coming out, but, he didn't really know what hot lava looked like.

"Come ON, Vin," JD tugged at his arm.

"JD, we can't leave. We'll get in trouble!"

JD was hysterical. "I don't wanna get covered in hot cinders! I wanna go, Vin, NOW!"

Vin was torn. He was as scared as JD was, even though he wasn't crying, because that wouldn't do any good. He wanted to walk to town and look for Chris and Buck, but the town was even closer to the volcanoes than they were. Besides, he knew Chris and Buck would come for them once they saw what was happening. But what if they didn't get there before the hot lava covered everything?

"Okay, JD. We'll leave Chris and Buck a note."

Vin quickly got dressed and they went into the front room and got their slates. Vin knew how to make a lot of letters now, and JD would know the ones he didn't. JD would have to tell him how write what he wanted to say, though, because he didn't know how to spell any words except his name. When the note was finished, he propped the slate up on the table with a can of lard so Chris and Buck would see it. Then, he put the biscuits and eggs Buck had left for them in their lunch pails along with some carrots and the jar of jam and he filled an empty jar up with water from the drinking bucket, which he gave to JD to carry.

By the time they walked out the door, the sun was up, and great plumes of smoke were rising from the Three Sisters. When Vin saw that, he didn't even care if Chris and Buck got mad at him and JD. He knew he was doing the right thing. He just hoped they could get far enough away before it was too late.

Vin knew if he walked straight towards a mountain that was called "Sierra Cebolla" he would reach the Indian village, but he didn't know how far that was. The mountain's name meant "onion mountain" in Spanish, which Vin thought was stupid, because it didn't look like an onion. Staring at it now, it suddenly occurred to him that what it did look like was a volcano, just like the Three Sisters, only a whole lot bigger. There was no fire coming from it, but what if all of the volcanoes were going to erupt? Where would they go?

He was so scared he could hardly think. He just grabbed JD and made him walk faster.

The ran until they had to stop and walk, because sun was blazing hot and they were getting really tired. They were both very thirsty because JD had dropped the jar with the water and broken it. JD was crying that he wanted to stop. Vin looked behind him and could still see the Three Sisters. Only one was smoking now, so he wondered if maybe they should go back, but then he saw something else in the distance - a huge dark cloud rolling along the ground, swallowing up everything in its path. JD turned around and saw it, too.

He pointed at it, his eyes round with fright. "Is that the hot cinders!?" he cried.

Vin didn't know. He thought maybe it was a tidal wave, even though Josiah said they were too far from the water for that. He grabbed onto JD and yelled, "RUN!"

They ran until their legs were burning, but the dark cloud kept getting closer and closer and then they could feel the stinging on their skin when it hit them.

JD screamed and tried to brush it away while Vin looked frantically for shelter. All he saw was a small rock jutting up out of the mesa, and he got behind it and pulled JD with him. They were both crying now. Vin didn't care. They were going to get covered in hot cinders and no one would find them again for hundreds of years.

They lay there for a long time, long enough for Vin to realize that it was only a dust storm, and they weren't burning. JD had stopped crying, but only because his mouth was getting full of dirt. Finally, the storm passed, and they were both covered from head to toe in sand. JD's black hair looked brown.

The Three Sisters were no longer smoking, but Vin didn't know what to do. They were even more thirsty now than they had been, and he didn't know if he could walk all the way back. He was pretty sure JD couldn't.

Suddenly, there was a rustling behind them, and Vin thought it was a rattlesnake. They had already seen two, but they had both slithered away. Sometimes, rattlesnakes just got mad and bit you, though. He pulled out the knife Chris and given him turned around cautiously, but instead of seeing a snake, he came face to face with Chanu. His big sister was behind him on her pony.

"O si yo... Hello," Chanu said. "What you do here?"

Vin was overjoyed to see a familiar face, but JD was trying to wipe dirt out of his eyes and just started crying again.

Vin pointed to the volcanoes.

Chanu nodded knowingly. "Fire mountain... Krakatoa."

His sister got off her horse and said something in Indian. Then she took JD by the hand and poured some water from a flask onto her skirt and used it to wash his face. She let him have a good long drink before she passed the flask to Vin. The water was warm, but it still tasted so good.

Chanu's sister put JD up on her pony. "You come, stupid boys," she said.

Chanu made a face at her when she turned around. Vin wished he could ride the pony, too, he was so tired. Luckily, the village wasn't very far.

An Indian woman - Vin guessed she was probably Chanu's mama - took one look a them and then began to talk in Indian to Chanu's sister. She gave them more water and then brushed the dirt out of their hair. She was cooking something over a fire and it smelled really good. Chanu went and got bowls - including one for himself - and the three boys sat down while Chanu's mama ladled out a stew made from rabbit, corn, potatoes and chilies. Vin remembered the biscuits and eggs and took those out to share. He offered the jam to Chanu's mother, because she was a nice lady to take care of him and JD.

She opened the jar and dabbed at the jam with her finger and tasted it. The smile on her face let Vin know she appreciated his gift. He gave her the carrots, too, and she added them to her stew pot.

Vin looked towards the Three Sisters. Chanu pointed to them and said something to his mother in Indian. His sister just rolled her eyes and said, "Stupid boys," again. Chanu threw dirt at her, and his mama pulled his ear for that.

"Koje ride, go look," Chanu explained, nodding towards the three little peaks as he rubbed his ear.

"Who is Koje?" JD wanted to know.

"A grandfather," Chanu said. Vin knew that didn't necessarily mean he was Chanu's grandfather, just that he was an old person. Vin thought he must be pretty brave to ride right up to a volcano.

+ + + + + + +

Chris Larabee shook the dirt out of the bandana he'd covered his nose and mouth with and took a long drink from his canteen. The dust storm had wiped out the trail he'd been following, so he only hoped the boys had continued in the same direction.

The town had been in a frenzy earlier that morning after people awoke to see smoke pouring from the tops of the Three Sisters. It didn't matter that most people knew the volcanoes were so ancient that they were now nothing more than just chunks of rock. Everyone had volcanoes on their mind ever since the terrible news about what had happened half a world away had reached them. It didn't help that Josiah's opinion that the Three Sisters were volcanoes had spread through the town like a wildfire, probably thanks to JD. Amidst all of the hullaballoo, Mrs. Potter had come to the jail frantic, reporting that her children were missing.

A couple of children had worked themselves into such a state that their parents had brought them to the clinic to have Nathan dose them with laudanum, and Danny Conklin had broken his arm falling off a roof while trying to get a better look at the Three Sisters. So, Nathan was stuck in town, but Buck, Ezra and Josiah had ridden out to the Three Sisters to see what was really going on, searching for the Potter children along the way. Chris knew he should have gone, too, but he feared Vin and JD would be frightened at home, alone, and he was right. He'd been greeted by an empty house and a note scrawled in childish letters on a slate:

Leevin from the volkanoe an i took JD

He didn't know if they had water, or if they had known how much they would need, so as time went on, he was becoming more desperate to find them. He tucked his canteen away, deciding not to drink any more until he found the boys, just in case they needed the water. It wasn't long after that that he saw the pony tracks, and nearby was a cluster of footprints. Some were made by moccasins, but the others were definitely shoe prints and they were small. He breathed a sigh of relief and followed them to the Indian village.

Chris stopped his horse outside the village and waited for someone to come out and meet him. This particular tribe considered it impolite to just ride in uninvited. He was soon greeted by one of the village elders who stood in front of his horse with his arms across his chest, waiting for Chris to say something. "I'm looking for two little boys," he explained.

The elder nodded and pointed. Chris dismounted and hobbled his horse, then headed off in the indicated direction. He found Vin and JD napping under a wild-growing cherry tree along with an Indian child. From the smudges of red juice on their faces, all three of them had enjoyed the tree's bounty before falling asleep. He shook Vin gently.

"Chris!" the boy grinned, and sat up quickly, but then hung his head.

Chris picked him up and brushed his dirty hair back. "What's goin' on, pard?"

Vin sniffed. "The volcano... it was smokin' and we tried to get away."

"Yeah," Chris told him. "That scared a lot of people in town."

Vin looked surprised. "It did?"

"Yup... Buck and Ezra and Josiah went to check it out."

Vin looked panicked, "NO!!"

"Shhh... it's all right," Chris reassured.

"But the hot lava and the cinders..." Vin sobbed.

"Vin... listen to me..." Chris began, and then he realized he should have told Vin and JD what he was about to say days ago, but he hadn't realized how frightened they really were. "When volcanoes erupts, they don't just start to smoke one day and then explode. There are earthquakes and other things that happen first..." *

"What's an earthquake?" Vin asked.

Chris raked his hand through his hair. They boy was already worried about volcanoes and tidal waves. But, he decided to be honest. "It's when the ground moves under your feet. The trees shake and sometimes buildings fall down." Vin regarded him with fearful eyes, but he pushed on. "The point is, there are warnings, so you know, and you can leave."

Vin looked at him thoughtfully. "How do you know that?"

"Because I read it in a book once. It was written by a boy who was in a town called Pompeii when a big volcano erupted."

"That was Vesuvius. It's in Italy," Vin sniffed.

Chris was surprised Vin knew that, but he nodded. "Yes, Vesuvius. A lot of people got killed, but this boy and his mother, they ran away, and they were safe. And if something like that happens here, we'll run away, too. I promise you. Understand?"

Vin sniffed again, and nodded. "Can I read that book?" he asked.

Chris ruffled his hair - which produced a cloud of dust - and smiled. "You have to learn to read, first."

JD and the Indian boy began to stir. "Who's your friend?" Chris nodded towards Chanu.

"His name is Chanu. He goes to our school."

Chris looked around the village and saw several children. "Do these other children go there, too?"

"No," Vin shrugged. "Just Chanu."

Chanu looked to be about eight, and it didn't escape Chris that the little guy walked a long way to get to the school, so must have really wanted to be there. He nodded at the youngster, who was eyeing him curiously. "I'm Chris," he said.

"I am Chanu. I am friend of Vin and JD."

"Yes, you are, and a good friend, too. Thank you for finding them."

"I find stupid boys," a girl standing nearby spoke.

"She is my sister, Tatzi," Chanu explained.

The girl looked about twelve, and like most girls her age, appeared perpetually annoyed by her little brother.

"Well, thank you," Chris said, and tipped his hat to her. She smiled shyly and looked away.

He put Vin down and pulled JD to his feet. "C'mon, Little Bit, time to go home."

"But the volcano!..." JD protested.

Chris understood that JD was frightened, but it was time for a firm hand. "There's no volcano, JD. Krakatoa is on the other side of the world and it isn't going to hurt you here, ever. Do you understand?"

JD actually looked relieved. "Okay."

Chris thanked Chanu's mother for caring for the boys. He knew it would be impolite to offer her money, so he decided he'd bring her a bag of sugar or coffee next time he rode out that way.

+ + + + + + +

Saturday night was bath night, which was a good thing because they were all filthy. Buck was the one who usually handled that chore with the boys, but he hadn't come back from town yet, so Chris brushed as much dirt as he could off of them as the bath water heated on the stove. When the washtub was ready, he stood them both in it and gave them a good scrubbing, then got them into their nightshirts before cleaning up himself.

He was frying up steak and potatoes for dinner when Buck walked through the door.

JD jumped up and ran to him. "Buck! The volcanoes interrupted! Did you see it?"

Buck swooped the little boy up. "I saw some fires, but it wasn't the volcanoes, Little Bit. It was some kids who dragged a bunch of Joshua trees up there and set them on fire." The wood had been green, and Joshua trees didn't make good fires, anyway, because they produced abundant clouds of smoke. Of course, that was probably exactly what the little hooligans had in mind.

Buck turned to Chris. "It was Pud Garber, Del Spivak and the Potter kids."

Chris raised an eyebrow. He would expect that of Pud and Del, but not John and Ellen Potter.

"Josiah went Old Testament on all four of them. Tossed Pud and Del in jail until their mas can come and get 'em, and they were the lucky ones," he laughed. "I am pretty sure Mrs. Potter tanned a couple of hides with a switch."

"That pretty little gal was in on it?" Chris said.

"From what the boys said, it was her idea," Buck laughed. "They all snuck off and rode out there in the middle of the night. Lucky thing none of them got hurt."

Vin didn't think it was funny. He felt really stupid now for running off and getting scared by a silly prank. Chris seemed to know what he was thinking. "They scared a lot of folks, Vin, some of the grown-ups included."

JD started to laugh.

"Little Bit?" Buck frowned, looking at his son.

"That was a pretty good joke," the little boy said.

Buck laughed, too. "Yeah, I guess it sorta was."

"I was real scared. I'm glad it wasn't a real volcano."

"I'll tell you the truth, I was a little worried myself," Buck confessed. "I'm glad it wasn't, too."

That made Vin feel a little better. He was still mad at those big kids, though.

September 15, 1883

Vin and JD were excited, but a little nervous, too. Uncle Josiah was taking them to see the Three Sisters up close. As they got close to Black Ridge, they were able to make out the details of what it was made of. Josiah said it used to be hot lava, but, now, it only looked like a pile of rocks.

Josiah stopped the wagon so they could get out and take a good look at them. He showed them how some of them were hard and full of bubbles. That was the lava. Sometimes, you could find Apache Tears in the lava, Josiah said. Apache Tears looked like black glass. They looked, but didn't find any. JD did see that some of the rocks had pictures on them. Josiah explained that Indians, and probably other people, too, had made those pictures, and some were really old. Some of them had dates on them, and one said "1643" which was a long, long time ago. JD wanted to make his own picture on the rocks, but Josiah wasn't really sure how it was done, so even though JD tried, he couldn't make a picture.

There were smaller rocks scattered around, also. Some were black and some were red. They were all bubbly, too, but much lighter. Josiah said those were the cinders, even though they didn't look like cinders from the stove. JD was holding a handful when Josiah said that, and he dropped them. He didn't like volcano cinders.

Josiah grabbed the canteen and told them they would have to climb the rocks and walk the rest of the way to the Three Sisters. The rocks were big and sharp, and it was going to be hard to climb them, but then Josiah showed them a trail that he said had probably been made by the Indians. It was like walking up uneven stairs, but not too hard. The Three Sisters looked closer than they were, and it took them almost an hour to get to them. As they walked along, Josiah showed them big holes in the lava that were almost perfectly round and very deep.

"That is where a tree was when the lava flowed around it," he explained.

Some of the holes had skeletons of little animals in them. Josiah said they probably fell in and then couldn't get back out.

Vin spotted a cracked rock that looked different from the others. He picked it up and it broke into two pieces. Outside, it was lava, but inside, there was another rock, pale green with little sparkly flecks. Josiah thought it was really interesting, and said he'd carry it for Vin so he could take it home.

When they got to the Three Sisters, they were kind of disappointed to see that they were just mounds of more rock. There was no gaping hole full of fire, no hot lava. All that was there was the burned Joshua trees from the fires that Pud, Del, John and Ellen had set.

"They aren't very scary," JD sighed.

Josiah laughed. "No, they aren't."

They climbed to the top of the middle Sister, because she was the biggest, and Vin gasped when he looked out over the landscape. From there, he could see three separate lava flows, and they went on for miles. Even Josiah was impressed with the view, but he said, "I have something even better to show you!"

He led them down another path that seemed to disappear into the ground. It turned out to be a big hole, which Vin thought was interesting enough, but when they walked down into it a few feet, it suddenly got very cold. It was hard to see at first, but then JD saw the wall of glowing blue and pointed to it "What's that!?"

Josiah laughed. "Go on, touch it. It won't hurt you."

JD and Vin carefully walked up to the wall and put their hands on it. "It's ice!" Vin exclaimed. It was a hot day outside, but inside the hole, it was cold and there was ice!

"Pretty amazing, isn't it?" Josiah grinned.

"But how did it get here?" JD wanted to know.

Josiah shook his head and laughed. "I have no idea, son. Just one of God's wonders."

JD nodded that he agreed. Vin wondered if Miss Withers would know how the ice got there. He'd have to ask her.

September 19, 1883

Buck was sound asleep when JD came running into his room in the wee hours of the morning. "BUCK! You have to come and see! The moon is GREEN!"

Buck groaned sleepily. "You're just having a dream, JD. Go back to bed."

The little boy would not be dissuaded. "No, really, I'm not dreaming! Come and look!"

Buck reluctantly crawled out of bed and was immediately bewildered by how cold it was in the house. The temperature always did drop at night, but it was still late summer and such cold was unusual. JD didn't seem to notice. He pulled the door open and there was the full moon in all its glory and it was, in fact, green. Buck scratched his head. He'd never seen anything like that before.

Chris and Vin joined them, having been awaked by the commotion. "What the he... heck?" Chris said, looking at the oddly colored disk in the sky.

"You ever seen anything like that?" Buck asked him.

"Can't say as I have," Chris admitted.

"Why did the moon turn green?" Vin wanted to know, but no one knew the answer. Whatever the reason for the odd color, the moon seemed normal enough, so eventually, they all lost interest and went back to bed. Vin and JD, now feeling the cold, crawled in together and Buck covered them with both blankets.

Dawn brought two surprises, the first being that the morning sky was pale yellow, and the second being that it had snowed several inches, which never happened that early in the year, at least not in the desert. It was all just too strange.

Chris and Buck still had not gotten around to buying coats and hats for the boys, because they had thought there was plenty of time left to do that. They ended up riding into town with them bundled in blankets and headed to Mrs. Potter's store before taking them to school.

She was gazing out the window at the yellow sky. "Never in all my born days have I seen the sky that color," she remarked as they walked in.

"I know," Buck agreed. "I ain't never seen it snow this early, neither.... and I'm hopin' you got some coats for the boys."

She turned away from the window. "I sure do - just got them in last Friday, but didn't think I'd have to put them out so early!" She took them to a back storeroom and pried open a crate. Inside were about two dozen small woolen coats. There really wasn't a choice - it was more a case of what coat in the crate fit the best. Vin ended up with a brown one, and JD's was red and black plaid. There were boxes of hats and mittens that Mrs. Potter had taken on consignment from some of the women in town who had knit them to earn a little bit of extra money. JD found a red hat with a black band that matched his coat, while Vin selected a blue one. All of the mittens were black, so Mrs. Potter tied little knots of red yarn on JDs and knots of blue on Vin's.

As they were paying for the coats, Buck noticed a strip of paper tacked to the wall behind the counter. On it were nothing but lines going back and forth. Mrs. Potter saw his puzzled look. "That's from the barograph in my kitchen," she said. He and Chris had seen those - Ezra had one, too. A little pen responded to changes in barometric pressure, which could be used to forecast a cold or hot spell. Mrs. Potter pointed to where the lines spiked outward dramatically several times. "This was from late in the night on August 26th, and early the 27th, which would have been the day of the eruption over in those East Indies. Do you think it has anything to do with that volcano?"

Buck frowned. The spikes were unusual, but, he didn't see how they could possibly be related to Krakatoa. Still, he didn't want to be rude, so he said, "I reckon just about anything is possible. The moon was green last night," he laughed.

The door opened letting in a blast of cold air, along with Chanu and his mother. She had a couple of heavy blankets draped around herself, and Chanu wore a thick sheepskin vest under a warm wool poncho. His mother got Gloria's attention and placed a large bucket of plump cherries on the counter, and then pointed to her son's feet, which were bare inside his moccasins.

Gloria Potter was an astute business woman and immediately knew that she wanted to trade the cherries for socks. After examining the fruit carefully. she smiled and said, "That's enough for six or seven pies. I am sure someone will want them." Chanu's mom pointed to the mittens Vin and JD were holding. Gloria poured the cherries in a clean basin and gave the bucket back, then she handed over three pairs of socks. Chanu eagerly sat on the floor and pulled a pair on while Mrs. Potter marked his mittens with green yarn and handed them over, too. Chanu's mother smiled broadly, obviously satisfied with the trade.

Chris glanced at the clock behind Mrs. Potter's counter. "You boys better get on your way if you're going to make it to school."

Vin, JD and Chanu headed out the door together. Chanu's mother acknowledged Chris and Buck and pointed out the window at the yellow sky that was now streaked with purple. She said something in her own language, and Buck and Chris understood the meaning even if they didn't understand the words. Buck shook his head. "I ain't never seen anything like that, neither. It's plumb eerie is what it is."

Vin, JD and Chanu made snowballs wearing their new mittens while they were waiting for Miss Withers to ring the bell. They hid them behind a log so they could throw them at the other kids when Miss Withers let them go for their morning fresh air. Josiah was in the classroom when they walked in. He had helped Miss Withers build a fire in the stove so it was nice and warm. They finally got to use their coat hooks with their names on them.

Vin and JD were surprised to see Casey Wells at school. She was only five, but Casey had told Miss Nettie that if JD could go to school when he was only five, so could she, so Miss Nettie had asked Miss Withers and now Casey was going to be in school, too. Miss Withers had to move some people to new desks, and Vin got to sit with Chanu. Casey and JD got to sit together, which was fine with JD because he liked Casey. Ellen Potter had to share with Abigail Conklin who was only 10, and she wasn't too happy about losing her own desk, but now, every seat was full.

Several of the children had seen the green moon the night before, but Miss Withers said she didn't know why that happened, or why the sky was yellow and purple instead of blue. Everything seemed okay, so she said it was probably nothing to worry about. Josiah said that some people saw strange things in the sky for many days after a volcano. He said that some people thought the colors were the footprints of the gods who lived in the mountains. Miss Withers quickly said there were not really gods living in volcanoes, but, maybe Josiah was right, and the funny colors were from Krakatoa.

"But, Krakatoa is real far away, right?" JD asked. "Chris told me that."

Miss Withers said it was, but, that it was also a very big volcano. Then, she said they could try a scientific experiment, if one of the town kids would bring some flour from home after lunch.

The Eagles practiced 3-letter words, trying to see how many they could make. Vin thought that wouldn't take very long, but it turned out that you could make a lot of words with just three letters. They were learning about borrowing and carrying in arithmetic and that was kind of hard, but when Miss Withers wrote problems on the chalkboard, Vin and Chanu got them all correct and JD only missed one. Casey didn't know her numbers yet, but JD said that was okay, because he'd show her.

They went outside for fresh air, and were disappointed to see that most of the snow had melted and their snowballs were only about the size of walnuts instead of nice and big like they had been. Chanu and Vin made them all into two big snowballs and threw them at JD and Casey. Chanu missed JD, but Vin's snowball hit the back of Casey's head and her hair got full of snow. Everyone, including Casey, thought that was pretty funny, but when Miss Withers saw Casey's hair all wet after she rang the bell, she made Vin and Chanu both stand in a corner.

Before lunch, Miss Withers told them about fossils, which were plants and animals that had turned to stone. Vin didn't believe that, until Chanu said his father had found rocks that looked like bugs near the top of a mountain, and he would bring them and show everyone. Miss Withers was really excited about that, because she didn't have any fossils to show them, just pictures in a book she had. She didn't know how the bugs had turned into rocks, though, because it happened eons ago. That was a new word that meant a really, really, really long time. Vin added eon to his 3-letter word list.

Vin and JD had a baked potato with a piece of ham inside for lunch, Chanu had Indian bread and deer meat, and Casey had a beef sandwich, so there wasn't anything to trade, but it was still good.

After lunch, Miss Withers asked if anyone had brought flour and Ellen Potter had, so they did their scientific experiment. Miss Withers got the globe and started spinning it, then, she told Ellen to take a handful of flour and blow it at the globe. Ellen thought she was joking, and the other kids laughed, too, but Miss Withers said for them to pretend that the flour was all of the ash from Krakatoa falling back down from the sky. So Ellen blew on the flour and when the globe stopped spinning, there was flour all the way around it.

"So, you see, children, perhaps some of the ashes from Krakatoa are falling on us right now."

JD covered his ears when she said that, and the Pruitts looked like they were going to start to cry, again, so Miss Withers quickly said, "Don't worry, it's not hot any longer, and we are very far away, so if there is any, it's just a little bit." JD didn't hear that, though, because his ears were still covered. Casey pulled them away and told him to stop being a baby.

Instead of reading Oliver Twist, Miss Withers showed them a San Francisco newspaper and asked the class if they wanted to hear a story written by a lady who was right by Krakatoa when it erupted. Surprisingly, even JD and the Pruitts said they did. Vin thought it would be kind of scary, and it was. The lady was named Johanna, and she and her husband and children had tried to run away but they got covered in hot cinders and their ears got blown out. Her littlest kid, who was just a baby, died, and they had to just leave him to get covered in ashes. Miss Withers got tears in her eyes when she read that part. Vin didn't blame her, because that was really sad. The thing Vin remembered most about the story, though, was that the day before the eruption, Johanna said she had told her husband they should leave because there was fire and smoke coming out of Krakatoa, and the ground was shaking, just like Chris had said it would if there really was a volcano. He felt bad for her because her husband didn't listen, and she and her kids almost got drowned in the tidal wave and then they got burned and her baby died.

After she read the story, Miss Withers said that there would now be a moratorium on volcano discussion. Moratorium was a Latin word that meant they weren't going to talk about volcanoes for awhile. That was fine with Vin, even though JD still wanted to draw Krakatoa when it was his turn with the crayons.

For geometry, they learned about parallel and perpendicular and Buck and Chris thought Vin and JD were pretty smart to know such big words. Ezra asked them what the words meant and when they got it right, he gave them each a nickel.

It was cold riding home that night, so Vin and JD were glad for their new coats and hats. The sky was as red as JD's coat, except at the horizon where it glowed a bright orange. Buck said it looked like the sky was on fire.

"Is it?" JD said. "Can the sky catch on fire?" That idea scared Vin, too.

"No," Chris said. "I've seen the sky look like that lots of times."

"Where?" Buck wanted to know.

"Buck...." Chris sighed, "leave it."

Buck looked at Vin and JD. "Come to think of it, I have, too," he said. "It's just one of those things."

"One of what things?" Vin asked. He knew Chris and Buck were telling a fib. Sometimes at sunset, the sky was sort of red, like a watermelon, but this sky looked like blood. And the orange spot did look like fire. Buck hadn't answered him, but as he looked at the sky, he could see that like the moon, the stars were odd colors. They twinkled in green, orange and purple against the red, red sky.

"Well, I think it's pretty," JD said.

And Vin decided not to be afraid of Krakatoa any more, because JD was right. It was.

The End

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Historical Notes:

- The eruption of the Krakatau volcano was the first major global news-media event. Thanks to newly laid trans-oceanic cables for telegraphs and the increasing popularity of the telephone, the news managed to reach almost every newspaper on the globe within three days. These news reports misspelled the island's name as "Krakatoa," the name by which it is commonly known today.

- On the Volcano Explosivity Index (VEI) scale from 1-8, Krakatoa was a 6. Mt. St Helens was a 5 (1/10th the magnitude of Krakatoa). The gentle Kilauea volcano which continuously oozes lava to form the Hawaiian Islands is a Category 1. The last category 7 eruption occured in 1620 BC near the island of Santorini, Italy, and is thought to be the source of the Atlantis legend, but there were no survivors to formally record the details. Category 8 eruptions, while rare, are global extinction events that have historically wiped out 75-95% of all land animals. The last category 8 eruption left a crater 28 miles wide, which is now Yellowstone National Park.

- The Krakatoa eruption is believed to have been the loudest sound ever generated on Earth. The final blast, which occurred at 10:02 am on August 27, 1883, was heard by the inhabitants of the Pacific island of Rodriguez, 2,968 miles away. That's roughly the distance from New York City to San Francisco.

- Krakatoa was the second largest documented volcanic eruption in human history (the Santorini volcano left no witnesses to document it). The largest, the Tambora volcano, occurred in 1815. Unlike Krakatoa, Tambora did not directly cause massive loss of life, however, it resulted in a "nuclear winter" and the ensuing global famine killed thousands.

-36,000 human beings perished as a result of Krakatoa. Had the eruption occurred today, the death toll would have likely topped 4,000,000, which would have ranked it as the most deadly disaster in human history. (That distinction currently belongs to the 1931 Yalu River flood in China, which killed over a million people).

- Within days of the eruption, people around the globe began to see bizarre blood-red sunsets and daytime skies in an array of pastel colors. The moon often appeared green, blue or pink. Global temperature dropped almost 1.2 degrees C. These phenomena were the result of the massive volume of ash ejected into the upper atmosphere, and persisted for five years.

Sky in Edinburgh, Scotland after Eyjafjallajökull.
Sky over Edinburgh, Scotland after the eruption
of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland in 2010.
Eyjafjallajökull was a category 4 eruption
(1/100th the magnitude of Krakatoa).

- Barometric recording devices (barographs) were quite popular at the time of the Krakatoa eruption. They were found in most public buildings and many people had them in their homes. These devices did indeed record the shock wave from the Krakatoa explosion, which circled the Earth 7 times.

Author's Notes:

- Johanna Beijerinck (also spelled Beyerinck or Beyerink) was a Dutch woman who lived with her family in Ketimbang, 25 miles from Krakatoa. Her harrowing account of her family's ordeal following the eruption was translated into several languages and printed in newspapers and magazines around the world. It was also the basis for the 2006 BBC docudrama, Krakatoa: The Last Days (which is available free on line). Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find any references that cited exact dates when it first appeared in print, so I exercised some literary license in referring to it in this story.

- The best-known eye-witness account of the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 AD was written by Pliny the Younger, who was 18 years old at the time. His uncle and adoptive father, Pliny the Elder, a naval commander, died while attemtpting to evacuate the population of  Herculaneum, which was buried along with Pompeii.

- Many of the sprawling mesas of the southwestern United States are old lava flows, and dormant calderas and cinder cones are common geologic features. Many of these lava flows occurred during the last ice age and covered glaciers, trapping the ice in volcanic rock, where it has remained for thousands of years. Occasionally, the lava above the ice will collapse, resulting in a ice cave accessible from the surface. Much of this ice was mined in the late 19th and early 20th century for use in "ice boxes" before the advent of refrigeration, but occasional ice caves can still be found. Access is restricted, with removal of ice no longer permitted on public or tribal lands. Most privately owned ice caves are fortunately being preserved, also.

Footnote:

* The Paricutin volcano in Mexico actually did just suddenly pop up out of a cornfield with no warning, starting as a small jet of ash and rapidly growing to a height of almost 1400 feet, but, that wasn't until 1943. ;-D