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After the Apocalypse (8)

The Indonesian Archipelago: 1885

By Roy StevensPublished 5 days ago Updated 5 days ago 7 min read
After the Apocalypse (8)
Photo by Aaron Thomas on Unsplash

*** This section of the story contains graphic descriptions of real-world events***

When she awoke from her stupor, Cahya found she was at the base of a rubber tree, bruised but unbroken. Puddles filled with all manner of debris surrounded her. Many of the smaller trees had been smashed to smithereens by the giant wave. There were bodies too, though she didn’t recognize anyone familiar. In any event, smashed faces frequently negated any hope of recognition.

Cahya could tell Wein very little about the next few hours as she stumbled, stunned back through the tangled wreckage of the wasteland that had been her hometown. A few others, a pitifully few survivors, wandered with her. No one would have claimed to know what she or he searched for as no one wished to find smashed loved ones or friends. Hope for survivors in the rubble and wastewater seemed beyond foolish. In her daze she stumbled through the already reeking humidity, moving in a shade cast by her own mind. The sky itself remained black with the effulgence of the angry volcano, raging and fuming far down near the bottom of Lampong Bay, yet nowhere near far enough away from the devastated town.

A fresh layer of grey, glassy ash began to cover everything around Cahya. Fireballs burst skyward from Krakatoa intermittently, flashing through the unnatural daytime darkness. Flaming pumice fell, setting fire to any exposed wood or thatch it found. Great globs of burning rock plummeted from the boiling ash clouds above.

Yet Cahya wandered the town wanting and not wanting to find someone, her mother? Sartono?; a familiar face among the wreckage of her life. As she stumbled along another, even louder explosion shattered its way through the constant din. Thicker red fire and black ash filled the sky where the volcano stood. Something, some guiding instinct, told Cahya to run once more for higher ground as the earth beneath her feet shook and the water in Lampong Bay again seemed to race away from the shore. This time the sea-wave slammed her much further along into the trees. She was dashed against the top of a tall coconut tree and managed to tie herself in among the palm fronds while the sea receded, pulling away the remains of her town which it had only just thrust into the forest.

Too stunned, too undone to do anything else, Cahya remained in her treetop nest nursing the bruises and contusions of her many collisions during the latest tsunami. She found she hadn’t the energy to climb down the long curving trunk of her tree, jutting from a sandy bank out over the Koeripan River. She told Wein about how she’d felt blasted; emotionless after the deluge, only an otherworldly cold settling over her and suffusing the sunless atmosphere.

She stared shivering atop her tree at the distant peak of Krakatoa, once again visible in the light of its own hellfire amid the gloom of its halo of ash. A shocked tree rat joined her, unafraid of Cahya, a kindred spirit watching the apocalypse unveil. She couldn’t tell how long they sat there peering south at the unleashed god, but it felt like hours in which they were the last two souls alive. The rat was gravid with the next generation and Cahya felt a sudden urgency to keep the expectant mother from harm. Just then the air seemed to slap her, and her lungs felt squeezed. The entire horizon to the south appeared to be obliterated by a monumental red flash followed by a vast explosion so much louder than the ones before it. She thought she felt the roar more than heard it. That same roar would eventually travel far enough to be heard on the other side of the Indian Ocean 3,000 miles away on the island of Rodriguez southeast of Madagascar, Africa. In the dense pyroclastic wall of its own substance blasted thirty miles high into the very stratosphere, Krakatoa disappeared. The mountain; the island itself, was literally gone.

Cahya didn’t know this, but she did know what to expect from the sea. She renewed her frond bonds to the tree and without asking permission reached over to clutch the stuporous little rat to her breast. After the blast she was able to hear nothing. The last she could remember of that horrid tumult was the feel of the rampart of air pushed forward by the onrushing mountain of water, the smell of the sea infused into the sky and the briefest sight of the great steam-gunboat Berouw once again in flight high above her head.

Her next memory was of waking still tied into the fronds of the palm tree, afloat in a netherworld of debris from her old life and out of sight of any land. The sky was still black with low ash clouds, as was the surface of the sea. Clumps of rock, the aerated and suddenly water-cooled pumice which had fallen from the sky, floated incongruously among the flotsam of her town; stools and planks, baskets and linen, thatch-work and parts of the people she had lived among. A withered forearm protruded from a pumice raft with which it had been fused. A headless torso floated chest up amid the wreckage of the police station.

Frantically, Cahya looked about her for her rat friend. Pointlessly she squeaked a call from her rasped and burnt throat which she herself couldn’t even hear, still deafened by the volcano’s final signature roar at the world. Finally, she saw the tree rat alive at the other end of the palm trunk, sitting on the carcass of a dog. The dead dog was entangled in the twisted roots which were still encrusted with the dirt of the tree’s riverside perch, now joined by masonry like pieces of the pumice which seemed to be everywhere, the new world made from the old.

In time Cahya gathered in food from the detritus. Carcasses were everywhere but she ignored the dead land animals except for occasionally pulling one alongside for the voracious pregnant rat. Dead fish were abundant, and she ate a few but largely she survived on the grey ash covered fruit which drifted among the pumice fields. An entire crate of durian was within easy reach on her very first morning. The endless pumice provided an unending supply of brittle but sharp tools for defeating the rind of any fruit and a particularly resilient pointy piece allowed her to hollow out holes in her coconuts in order to get at the water within. Her new world was an overcast expanse of grey floating rock punctuated by the smell of corrupting flesh and brimstone. She wondered over the stories she’d heard of the Christians’ version of hell.

On Cahya’s fourth morning on her tree, she was admiring the rat’s newborns in a thatch nest she’d fashioned for them when a distant squeak came to her attention. Her hearing was only just returning to her but the overall lack of sound in the flat wasteland meant that this was the first real noise she’d heard since Krakatoa had proclaimed its decision to wipe itself off of the Earth. She looked up to see, not a hundred yards away as she expected but perhaps a dozen feet away, a tiny grey figure standing on the pumice and waving to her. She was amazed. The pumice had proved unable to support her negligible weight so the person standing on it must have been light indeed! She gestured and the child, for child it was, began to hop precariously from large chunk of buoyant rock to large chunk of buoyant rock. Finally, the little boy; she could now see he was a boy, little more than a toddler, made a stomach-turning leap over open water and caught a trailing frond of Cahya’s tree. She pulled on the frond until she could reach his free hand. The touch of another living human nearly unraveled her will to live as it shattered the rhythm of those mesmeric days at sea, but the little boy climbed close to her, clinging desperately. He curled up and thrust a clean thumb into his mouth, falling immediately into a deep, abiding sleep in her lap, his trust and company tapping a well of love she hadn’t known was within her.


About the Creator

Roy Stevens

Just having some fun playing with words. I spend most of the rest of my time herding cats. Please press the 'like' symbol if you read one of my stories and think it's deserving enough. Either way, thank you so much for reading my work.

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  • Donna Renee3 days ago

    Your descriptions of the scenes here were masterful! On to the finale 😱 And thank you so much for including a content warning! I’m actually writing something currently about how I would love to see more content warnings on Vocal, it can be a bit of a minefield.

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