Geyser in the Creek
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A comic novel about the sudden appearance of a geyser in a Bay of Plenty village, the tsunami of tourists and bureaucratic and private entrepreneurs out to exploit the attraction. The retired postmaster, stationmaster and storekeeper lead the local fight to preserve a quiet life disrupted a generation ago in the prequel 'Gold in the Creek', which the Listener magazine thought 'a bit of a dag'. This time government grandstanding and pushy media get a satirical serve.
From: Geyser in the Creek, by David McGill
Rangi Rangihau lurched awake, a dagger of back pain flinging him to the floor. On the way he instinctively grabbed the venerable public service issue swivel chair, his hand slipping off the round, polished rimu surface. The chair spun and creaked and tumbled over as another bolt of pain lanced through him. He groaned, slumping against the wall of the ticket office as the most hideous stench engulfed him.
Whew! Somebody cut the cheese big time. Too many pipi patties last night. No way. He’d eaten chops, the proof was there in the congealed fat in the pan on the one-ring burner. The smell wasn’t coming from old mutton. It certainly wasn’t from him. The rotten egg smell was coming from outside.
He pressed one hand against the edge of the wall, using it as a prop to brace his leg and ease up on to his knee, gasping at another back jolt. Jeez, he was too old for this. Falling asleep at the desk. Idiot.
It had to be the good old kero heater, that’s what did it. Hot as Hades in here. No, not so, the heater was dead, no smell of kero fumes, the heat was something else. It required investigating, that’s what a station master did, even if his station had not been active in decades.
The wall was vital in his slow, spasmodic pushing to an upright position. From there he tottered past the dead heater. Another slow step and a stumble to the ticket counter, his hands bracing its sides as he peered into the pongy dawn.
He rubbed at his eyes. There was nothing much to see through the forest of tall fennel, gorse and stunted manuka. Beyond was the Kotuku creek, a trickle now between the huge boulders and chunks of concrete left behind after the dam burst and took out the retirement village. Behind him the ocean was uncannily quiet. It was too quiet.
The hairs rose on his neck, a moment before a sudden almighty shake almost had him back on the wooden floor. He clutched the sides of the ticket booth in time to steady himself, at a cost of another back spasm.
Silence of the grave.
Smell of it too. A truly appalling stink. Not the smell of dead fish, the thousands of them recently washed up along the beach had already rotted out, those not consumed by the Bay’s entire seagull population. No, this was not the sickly sweet scent of corpses. He knew that smell from the war. This was rotten as in Roto-rotten-rua.
A hissing like the mighty Ka steam engines of yore. Not the sea. It was coming from the creek. The hissing intensified, the building shaken again, but less violent quakes. The sound was a roar.
That was what he had been waiting for. Except it was not Whakaari exploding. All the signs had pointed to that.
That was why he was here, on duty, not sleeping on his stretcher in the old refreshment room. He knew it was time.
He had to bear witness. He took a deep breath and too much of the stink with it, braced himself and wrenched open the stiff door on to the veranda.
Still nothing to see, but plenty to smell and hear. The hissing had risen to the shrieking level of a giant whistling kettle coming to the boil.
He stepped sideways down the two steps on to the seal, across and down the track to the creek, drawn inexorably like some arsonist towards the flames. The ground began to shake and heave, he had to brace his legs apart to keep upright. The sound was like a demented factory whistle blasting in his ears. It was difficult to keep his feet, but he was compelled to move towards this dread manifestation of nature.
As he emerged into the open, boulders as big as cars and even buses were shifting and rolling about, like some invisible giant was playfully pushing them. It was dangerous. If he was pinned under one of them, that would be it. Kaput. For you, my friend, the war is over.
He blinked. Gawd pickle me nut! How long ago was that? Here he was, replaying that blimmin Nazi with the Luger on him, back on Crete.
Wiping at his eyes, he peered through the strange mist. Or was it light rain? No, it was steam, clouds of it billowing over the creek. The boulders were getting more agitated, the taniwha was restless. He had to get to higher ground or he was a goneburger, as Hemi would have said, that good-for-nothing loser grandson. His only mokopuna and he has to be a dazed druggie. A taste of the old army would sort him out. It wasn’t fair. He should be basking in his kaumatua status, not worrying himself sick about what trouble Hemi was in. Hey! He had his own problems right now, this creek was on the move, or rather, the ground under it was. Come on, get with it.
He veered into the straggly bush, making for higher ground. It was hard going, trying to keep on his feet as more quakes aimed to tumble him down into the boulder creek. Several times he clutched a manuka branch just in time, his feet skidding in the loose clay bank. Finally he reached the goat track that ran above the creek, pausing with his hands on his knees, gasping and sweating, the warm steam enveloping him.
It cleared and he was looking at the geyser, shooting a column of white vapour high into the sky.
O for awesome!
He was at least 30 metres above the creek and the geyser spout was spreading its white cloak over him. He gazed in wonder.
Then a sequence of shakes became increasingly violent, loosening the ground above and around him. He gripped a branch and it came away, tipping him over. The ground underneath him was cracking apart.
He looked up fearfully at the wild thrashing branches and the rumble and rattle of tonnes of loose rock gathering momentum like the sound of a lorry tipping up a full tray of gravel, with him directly underneath. The avalanche of clay and rock and trees and shrubs fell upon him like the walls of Jericho collapsing under a devil trumpet blast from below. Nature’s dynamite, way more powerful than those piddly sticks of gelignite the quarry jokers once used, way more powerful than the three days and three nights of rain that breached the dam and blew away the retirement chalets. This was apocalyptic, End of the World stuff.
End of his world.