Montana Sky

by Rick Beck

Chapter 6


Kodak noticed the steam rising from between the rocks at the top of the island. He was certain they were related to some thermal activity. The idea he was on an active volcanic island never came to mind as he held Tazerski's hand as they took the steps he'd cleared of obstacles. The monkey followed him everywhere and it wasn't just the easy food he provided.

Tazerski preferred Kodak to his monkey buddies. They rarely came close to camp, probably because of Godzilla, who ignored the monkey. From time to time he did take food from Tazerski, but Kodak wondered how safe it was getting so close to the mouth that always seemed to be in the open position.

The monkey was unconcerned and walked right up to Godzilla and held the food up, until the mouth opened, if it happened to be closed, at which time he dropped in the food. It gave new meaning to not biting the hand that feeds you. Kodak preferred the "stand back and toss it" in method. Godzilla responded equally to both techniques.

Kodak turned back to see if he could capture the escaping steam on film, thinking someone somewhere might know what to make of it. Little did Kodak know that at that moment someone was noticing it from 40,000 feet above the island.

"Start this run now," a voice said over the intercom as a bank of cameras clicked away in the belly of the plane as the survey team documented the islands at the bottom southwest of the Marshall Island chain.

The plane left a contrail as it headed toward New Zealand, where Kodak's flight had originated. It was the contrail that tipped Kodak to the plane being up there in a crystal clear sky. He raced to the signal fire pit. The paper was inside some plastic with a disposable lighter. He'd pinned it down with a suitable rock. Kodak hurried to get it in place to set the fuel pile on fire.

Fanning the flames, and blowing into the glowing embers, he soon had a formidable blaze going. The heat forced Kodak to step back. Tazerski screamed, not liking the fire or the heat. He chattered and waved his arms, moving backward into the lava rocks.

The Red Baron swooped close to Kodak, turning sharply upward to take a perch in a tree well past where the fire burned. After a few more seconds, he flew to the other side of the lava field. He watched from a tree a hundred yards from the soaring flames. Kodak took a few pictures, looking back up for the plane, unable to find it.

"Damn it," he said.

He realizing the plane was gone by the time the fire got going.

Kodak looked off toward the distant horizon, looking for some sign of a ship or sail. He searched the horizon for some time, not wanting to give up the idea the signal fire hadn't been wasted. One thing for sure, he knew it would burn and burn brightly and it furnished enough smoke to be seen for miles. Maybe someone on another island would see it and come to investigate.

He looked again to make sure the plane was gone, or at least the trail it left was gone. It wasn't how he saw lighting the fire would go. He'd pictured a ship or a sailing vessel off in the distance. He'd race to the top of the island, light it, and then wait for rescue. He'd gotten excited. Of course a plane flying that high wasn't looking for some idiot burning trash down below.

Keeping his head wasn't so easy after being stranded for so long. He couldn't pass up a chance to be rescued. Maybe a plane flying that high could see a fire on a tiny island eight miles down, maybe not. The fire smoldered for another day before Kodak began collecting wood again. There wasn't much paper left but palm fiber burned really fast, as did the dried brush.

Kodak was disappointed. Why had he wasted the fire on a million to one shot? He had to do something. It had been weeks, a month, more than a month. He had to do something. Spending the rest of his life on a deserted island wasn't his idea of a good life. He was fine, there was plenty of food, even company, but he missed Taz and the life they had together. He missed Montana. He didn't think he'd be gone long enough to miss Montana.

It smoldered for two days. Kodak began adding fuel again, once he could walk across the fire pit. He spent a lot of time clearing all the dried grass and branches off the steps, carrying the fuel to the fire pit. He would be ready for any plane or boat that passed his way. The false alarm was exciting and left Kodak hopeful of rescue.

Montana was chilly. The weather was unpredictable. There were few creature comforts. Although he'd lived in Vietnam, Montana, and now in the South Pacific, with no creature comfort in any of those places, he preferred Montana because Taz was there.

Tazerski came back later in the day and scolded Kodak before climbing back into the hammock with him. The Red Baron too his nearby perched, and Godzilla sat motionless, waiting for the insects to come a little too close. Then his tongue flicked out, disappearing just as fast, and he went back to waiting for the next victim, or for someone to toss food in his direction.

While Kodak waited and maintained a loosely developed routine, forces were shifting in his favor thousands of miles away. Scientists studied alteration of the earth's surface due to earthquakes and volcanic activity in the Pacific Ocean. Kodak didn't know he'd become part of the geography of change, but his island was under scrutiny.

"What is it?" a man said, leaning into the picture with his jeweler's magnifier in his eye.

"Madalwa is venting? Could be the beginning of something."

"Pending eruption?" another man asked, moving from a map mounted on the wall, where he traced his finger to an island with that name.

"Possible. Nothing else in that group. The entire Pacific has been quiet for some time."

"What's this?" the man with the jewelers glass asked, taking an interest in a tiny spot at the tip of the island.

"Hot spot maybe? Has the signature of irregular heating."


"Not that hot, besides, the entire field would be lit up if lava was that close to the surface. This is a single, isolated source of heat"

"Hey, Anton, bring me up to x100 magnification on the tip of the island, right here. We've got a hot spot on this photograph I can't identify. I want a closer look."

"What do you think?" he asked, leaning over to see what was being revealed by the super magnification.

"It's not volcanic, not hot enough. Too isolated. Lightning strike? Maybe a lightning fire?"

"Max, get me a report on storm activity over Madalwa for the last day. There's no way it is older than that. What do you think we have down there? It's very confined and intensely hot."

"Hard to say. Natives having a barbeque?"

"All those islands are supposed to have been uninhabited for some time. I suppose someone could be down there. It's too small to sustain much human life. Check any other photographs we have on that roll to see if this is the best shot of the heat. Check to see if we can get a direct close up of this island. We don't have another flight scheduled in that quadrant until next month."

"You want to wait that long, chief?"

"No I don't. Get me the photographs on the roll before and after the picture I'm looking at. You know the spot I want. Let's get some magnification on it. I'm curious now. I want to know what's down there. Call the center and see if they want to monitor a possible eruption, regardless. We might want to put some monitors on Madalwa. It's not in a strategic location but I don't like mysteries. We could be looking at the start of an eruption. We can't rule eruption out and there is definitely an unidentified heat signature down there. We may as well earn our keep, gentlemen."

The routine of the day was disrupted, once the mystery was discovered. After considering earthquakes, eruptions, and wave activities, the order of the day was double checking so they weren't caught flat-footed.

Kodak wasn't sure he was on a volcanic island. The thought had crossed his mind but it wasn't a thought he liked. There weren't a lot of wild animals but there were varieties. He hadn't ventured into the jungle portion of the island, not having any way to protect himself if he ran into anything larger than Godzilla.

He couldn't be sure what else might inhabit the island and he wasn't all that curious either. He had plenty of animals to photograph and going in search of trouble only assured one thing: he'd find it if he looked hard enough.

No, he needed to gather fuel for the signal fire, swim, fish, and relax. It wasn't a taxing schedule but one that kept his mind off the idea of spending the rest of his life there.

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