On April 22nd, a bellowing bang arose from the Earth’s throat. A crushing explosion tremored the ground. Farmers dropped their rakes and hoes, and even rich city businessmen were forced to deflect sight from their routine charts. All eyes went searching high heaven. Among them were Javier and Matias; two energetic, nevertheless attentive boys.

The bang sounded like a hundred shotguns laid at an ear all going at once. It was so loud that Javier dimly fainted amid a football game. Matias managed to keep him straight. As he listened, his fellow’s heart was beating upright in his mouth.

The music is swelling up. A mystery is rumbling.

They watched the Earth’s throat, frozen with fear. Time reached a standstill as if the days of sunlight had ended. The quiet monster had snored for the first time since the seventies. The feared old giant had spoken. Thickets of ash began ascending to the skies, infusing it with menace.

In that inexplicable moment of fear, a muffled voice arose from the depth of Matias’ soul. Perhaps cold-blooded instinct itself, which holds quiet until the very hour of need.

It grunted from within like a volcano, Matias…

Quickly it spun out of control, as if he had never held power over it. It shouted too close for comfort, Matias!

The jump-scared boy staggered.

“It’s awoken – the volcano’s alive!” he sobered up. He grabbed Javier by the arm, “We must go! Unfreeze!”

Javier listened. His brother’s sudden command prudently interrupted his petrified stare. In the heat of the moment, he dropped a ragged football and followed his brother.

They rushed home as fast as their little legs could carry them. Matias was leading the year younger Javier at his heels. They ran through a freshly planted lawn, stomping flowers and not feeling a slightest remorse about it.

“Grandfather! Grandfather!” they yelled from afar.

They burst through the doors. “Grandfather!”

Their eyes went searching across a dimly lit room. To a disbelief, their abuelo, old Pablo, was swinging in his rocking chair. What an ape.

“Blinking heck,” gasped Matias, “are you deaf as a doorknob? Stop smoking from the pipe, you devil, when the sky is aflame – the mountain has spoken!”

“Look! Look!” both are screaming together, dragging their grandfather to the doorstep. Immediately: The three of them glance at the skies. Their fingers start swelling. A drought hits each one’s mouth. A truth appears, terribly hard to swallow. A hair-raising, pyroclastic eruption took place. Lava flows are observed from the main vent. The mountain vigorously spews ash. Flaming red tendrils are devouring the once cloudless sky. Outnumbered and debilitated, the sunrays are retreating. The ash cloud is rising at least fifteen kilometers above the volcano.

Matias’ heart was thumping like a hammer when the mysterious voice appeared again. It bared molten hot claws. They were crawling over his shoulders. He felt the burning pain they caused. Upon a touch they sizzled, Matias…

“Ouch!” the boy squealed, rubbing his arm. It wasn’t his instinct. Oh no. The boy knew. With furrowed brows he was maintaining an eye contact with the mountain. The ghostly peak was repaying it with interest. They cross-stared at each other as if the world had gone dark but them. Matias clenched his fists.

Come to me, growled the mountain, or they suffer in ash!

“No!” exclaimed the boy.

Come to my foot now! commanded the volcano.

The boy recoiled. Indeed, it was fear that sealed his fate. Fear not about himself but those he loved the most.

“Matias!” screamed Javier.

“What the devil – my son!” cried out his grandfather.

His arm snapped at Matias, but before it whizzed through the air, he had been long gone. Against all reason, the weak boy set to face the feared old giant… Against all odds to bend the course of fate. He took off to meet the volcano. To stand up for his conviction.

Matias pelted like a wind, ramming into people. Crowds churned around him clogging the streets. When he looked around, he saw strangers that had examined a broken blade of glass until an avalanche came falling from on high.

With gritted teeth Matias ploughed forward.

Yes, Matias, the burned tone was gaining on sharpness.

The farther behind he was leaving the town’s outskirts, the more broken came the vain shrieks of its escaping inhabitants. The voice whispered over on repeat like a cancer stuck in one’s ear. Persistent. Dry. Unbearable.

Matias… carried the wind.

“Stop it!” begged the tormented. He held fingers over his ears in an attempt to block the escalating volume.

But the volcano still pierced through, Matias…

Through that hell, he leapt bushes. Ducked low-hanging branches. Waded through mud. Until he sunk to his knees.

Matias finally wrecked at the giant’s foot.

“I did what you asked for,” he steamed. “Let them be!”

The voice, however, seemed to have abandoned its possession of the boy’s mind.

“Where are you hiding?” coughed out the boy. Plumes of unbreathable ash were polluting his lungs. He scanned:

Those blessed with limbs nature had discharged from the volcanic plateaus. Birds, alpacas, foxes, guanacos, and even bugs were leaving in a hurry… While rooted plants valiantly held their ground in an effort to bring the escapees enough time. Trees were always self-sacrificing mothers.

Meanwhile, Matias was panting heavily on all fours. The dusty poisonous atmosphere was strangling him like a squid’s tentacle. He struggled to fight it, though the surrounding rocks echoed, “Show yourself, coward. I’m not afraid!”

But this false bravado quickly dissipated. The ash muffled his mouth. He crumbled to ground, relinquishing his last breath. The volcano had won.

Very well… spoke a pleasured voice.

A huge boulder split off from a crag.

Matias lifted his eyes. His blurred vision flipped into an eagle’s sight. He saw a rock come alive – its gargantuan arms and legs tore off from the rocky outcrop, causing a landslide. He blocked his head with hands to protect himself from debris… He could hear the giant guffaw and utter his name.

“Matias… Matias!” a voice came crashing.

The boy’s heart raced up each time the giant had laid down his foot, for an eerie thud sounded, and the ground quivered. He could hear a groaning breath present just above his cowered body.

The giant grabbed hold of him.

“No!” screamed Matias in the most terrific, constricting manner a child of his age was capable of. His vocal cords were vomiting. But do not get discouraged. You are having a wonderful trip. ★

“You dare to call me a coward?” scowled the giant. He demanded to know, as his nostrils flared, “Or an evil devourer of the innocent?”

Matias steadily uncovered his head. He found himself thirty meters above the ground where he had once lain.

“No. You’re a murderer!” he answered. His stomach clutched. After the initial accuse, the influx of thoughts was easier to frame. Matias continued, “You’re a liar, and you’ve never intended to spare them. I pinned my faith on a volcano. I came here to save them… But little did I know you repay debts with death. I’m not talking to a hollow-hearted rock anymore.”

“There is nothing wrong with speaking to rocks,” knitted his brows the giant. As he examined the tiny manikin poising in his palm, he gave tongue to words, “Besides, this one has a name. Even a heart.”

Matias puffed, “I hardly believe the latter.”

“You may discover,” proclaimed the rock, “the ones tempered by the planet’s heat and pressure are deep reservoirs of wisdom. And so am I, the Great Calbuco, forged in Mother Earth’s fury, in service of Her royal guard.”

“Look at what you’ve done,” Matias crossed arms.

Together, a tiny human being, whom you could compare to an ant, and an elderly guardian of a hill’s size looked at the wreaking havoc in the valley. Ashes were annihilating trails of life. They took no prisoners. This form of wisdom seemed deeply melancholic to Matias, and certainly beyond the boundaries of what he would call ‘a merciful promise.’

The sight was, in his eyes, so horrific that he was at lament’s door. Horrid thoughts corrupted his mind. He depicted a future where reigns ash, where cars have lost their colors, and where living rooms are half-buried in bitter dust. All of this led Matias to conclude this volcano had no idea about wisdom. It only ever took away.

But see, there was a catch in such a conclusion. Great Calbuco was present. He knew the little human well. He identified with his ignorance. He even felt compassion for his brittle heart. A hopeful kindle abounded in Calbuco’s eyes, for he was aware of resting in your imagination, where tales meet only good endings.

The music unfolds. Let it guide you. You are loved.

“They will survive,” Calbuco assured Matias.

“How would you know?” the boy sniffed.

“I am certainly wiser than a boneless child.”

Calbuco strode to a nearby slope. On the edge he bowed his infirm knees. With most tender care he sat down. He queried the minuscule human sitting in his palm, “What do you see in front?”

Matias glared at the valley. He described, “I see wildlife leaving in a lurch… Trees making a sacrifice. I see nothing but your heartless destruction. And somewhere far, I hear despairing men and women and children digging up from ash, which is taking their breath away, and my heart puffs–“

“All that erupts does not destruct,” spoke Great Calbuco with tremendous maturity. “From the very ash, new life will sprout.”

Matias did not respond this time.

“Is it not true, Matias,” Calbuco gently asked, “that volcanic soil is amongst the most fertile?”

“Yes,” murmured Matias.

“And is it not true,” spoke Calbuco, “that my ash contains rich nutrients, such as iron, calcium, sodium, magnesium, sulfur, and many other trace elements?”

Matias’ actions were quiet and his stares empty. The giant was not deceived by his interlocutor’s silence:

“True indeed,” he grunted. “Germination is bound to take a while. But time is merely a construct anyway.”

“What if life doesn’t sprout this time?” snapped Matias.

“It will,” promised Calbuco. “You see, the human lifespan is too short to comprehend many wonderful things. You may not be around. But just as smoke reveals the wind that carries it, the passing of time reveals the gift of my soil.”

“And birds will return?” wondered Matias.

“Birds will find their way home.”

Matias faintly smiled upon that vision.

“And trees will grow?”

“Their roots have always grown safely underground.”

And then they vigorously talked; and Calbuco waxed lyrical about his age-old friends, and especially about the volcano Erta Ale in Ethiopia whom he had not seen in a long time; and how this volcano had brought a cocktail of organic compounds to the surface of Earth, and how it had meant the origins of what we conventionally call life; and they smiled and laughed together like a human and a rock should.

Matias felt like a sponge that had soaked far too much excitement for a single human life. He sincerely looked Calbuco in the slow and solemn, but penetrating eye.

“I think I’m falling asleep,” he yawned.

“Oh, but you have just awoken,” lulled him the alive giant. “You are undeniably perfect as the selfless giving miracle of life has made you to be. Acknowledge your true nature, and you will enter a blissful state. There is nothing outside your boundaries. I am you and you are me. We are one singular story experiencing itself. Earth has not abandoned you for a single moment. You are loved.”