An entitled-looking white woman with a Karen-haircut and a handbag that cost more than my house stared at me as I worked on the engine of a helicopter with Paradise Tours and a huge hibiscus flower painted on the side of it. “When’s my tour?” She demanded.
“Sorry, Ma’am.” I wiped the sweat from my tan skin. “There’s no tours today.”
Her eyes flared with anger. “Yes, there is.” She ripped a colorful schedule with Paradise Hotel and Resort—the business I work for as their only helicopter mechanic and pilot for all volcano viewing tours—written on top. “I scheduled a tour with my husband today before the authentic Hawaiian lu’au tonight.”
Ugh, tourists. “Look, the only helicopter is in no condition to fly today. The engine needs repair and it’s going to take at leas—”
“Do you know who my husband is?” She snapped. “He's the brother of the hotel’s owner. If you don’t stop slacking off and give me my tour, I’ll have you fired.”
“It’s just not safe—”
The woman scoffed and took out her phone, waving it in my face as she dialed her husband’s number. A sly grin crept onto her face, “You’re so in for it now.”
Before the ringing stopped, she snapped it shut. “Looks like there’s no need to call them. Here they come now.”
Walking towards us, my boss, the hotel manager Ms. Iosua nervously talked to a man in an expensive suit. “What’s the delay, my darling?” The man asked. Guess he was her husband.
The spoiled woman puffed out her cheeks. “This man refuses to give the tour. You should fire him.”
They both turned to Ms. Iosua as her eyes flickered across the sky to avoid direct eye contact. “Well…” She squeaked. “I’m sure Kai has an explanation for this. Don’t you?”
I crossed my arms. “Yeah, I do. The engine needs to be repaired. It’s not safe to fly.”
“Looks intact enough to me,” Mrs. Snob’s husband said.
“Exactly. Let’s go already. Get the pilot,” Mrs. Snob demanded.
“I’m the pilot,” I said. “And I’m not going up in a helicopter that might fail without the proper repairs.”
“Now now, Kai,” Ms. Iosua said, nervously. “Surely, there must be something you can do?” She pulled me aside and whispered, “Look, I’ve been given direct orders from the owner to make sure these two have the perfect vacation. If they don’t, I’m fired along with anyone who ruined things for them. That includes you. Can’t you just do a quick fix then cut the tour a little short? They’ll never know.”
Ms. Iosua pulled away and begged me with her eyes. “Please.” She mouthed. “I need this job to pay off my student debt.”
I cursed at myself. “Fine. Give me half an hour.”
“Half an hour?!” Mrs. Snob cried. “We’ll miss part of the lu’au.”
“No problem,” Ms. Iosua chirped. “We’ll push it back for you. And… and we’ll make you the guests of honor, too. Front row and first pick of the roasted pig.”
Mr. Snob raised an eyebrow. “We weren’t already the guests of honor?”
“Well I… well I mean…”
Mrs. Snob started walking back towards the roof exit. “Whatever. Let’s get some drinks. We’ll be back in half an hour.” She snapped her fingers twice. “Chop chop, little lady. Open this door for me.”
“Sorry!” Ms. Iosua cried as she raced after her.
I leaned against the helicopter, chewing on my cheek. What a bunch of asses.
With an uncomfortable amount of duct tape slathered on for dramatic effect—to dissuade them from going—and half an hour later, they still got in, expecting the tour. “Chop chop,” Mrs. Snob demanded.
“You’re not worried at all?” I asked, pointing at duct tape as I slid into the pilot’s seat.
“Please,” Mr. Snob. “God doesn’t have the guts or power to kill me.”
And that was the end of that conversation.
“If you look over to your right, you’ll see one of the biggest lava tunnels on Mauna Loa,” I said as we hovered above it. Fifteen minutes of flying so far and no one died yet. That was good… I suppose. “This tunnel is unique as it’s said to have a sharp drop of over several hundred feet.”
Mr. Snob oohed while Mrs. Snob stuck her nose up at it. Before she could complain even further, a soft puttering came from the engine. Oh no.
The blades stalled for a second and we dropped a few feet. I needed to land this thing now before we fall out of the sky like a chicken thrown out of a plane. Mrs. Snob sunk her claws into the helicopter’s seat cushion. “What happened?”
“The engine's having trouble. I don’t know if we’ll be able to make it back so I’m going to land it now.”
“Unbelievable,” she huffed. “You promised this was safe. I’m suing your ass.”
We dropped another few feet and she shut up, finally.
Oh look, smoke is billowing out from the engine. And the blades completely stopped so we’re going to crash. Who could have predicted that?
I’d be terrified that I’m about to die, but I’m way too bitter at the moment.
It’s warm. Oh, maybe I’m being pushed out a lady’s cervix and this is my entry to my new life. Okay, now it feels hot. Too hot. “HoT!” I screamed as my eyes flew open. Something hot touched my skin. Caressing me. “Get off!” I tried to flail my hands around, but it was like I was stuck in a thick mud. A really hot thick mud. A really hot, glowing orange, thick mud. That smelled a lot like burning flesh.
Lava! I’m in lava… and I’m not dead? I glanced around. I was still stuck in the helicopter, strapped in by my seat belt, but it was half-submerged, floating in the lava. From my belly button down was consumed by the melted rock. Strange. It didn’t hurt.
I twisted my neck around to see if the Snobs were having the same weird experience… oh, they already burst into flames, burned to a crisp, and died. RIP, but not really because I still hate them. Death doesn’t make you a better person, it just makes you a less annoying one.
The helicopter lurched to the side. My upper body slammed against the window. Something was yanking on my helicopter. Wait, was something alive down here. I gulped. I didn’t like the thought of that.
Regardless of my thoughts, the helicopter kept lurching until it was successfully dragged out of the lava pit. Once the lava drained from my lap, I climbed out, despite for freedom. I collapsed onto the ground, exhausted.
My pants had burned off, leaving me, a six foot man, half-naked and vulnerable in front of the four-foot, muscular woman that dragged me out of the pit. She gazed at me with eyes that absorbed every atom of my existence. “You have the blessing. Interesting.”
“The what?” I rolled over onto my back.
Above me, rock chains with locks dangled from where the cave’s room carved in a little before narrowing into the tunnel I fell down. Rock hammers of all shapes and sizes hung on the tunnel’s wall above a rock shaped like an anvil. Next to the lava pit, a furnace sat, feeding from it.
“What is this place?” I asked.
The woman gave me a blanket made from palm tree leaves woven together. As I stood, I wrapped it around my waist and tucked it in.
“This is my forge,” the woman grunted. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m Kai. My helicopter crashed…”
Kicking the side door enough to dent it, the woman asked, “This thing with the mortal materials?”
“Yeah. I don’t know how I survived.”
“Ah,” the woman said. “That is because the lava chose to let you survive. It allowed you the blessing. I have the blessing. I am Pelle.”
My eyes widened. “You’re the Pele? As in the goddess of lava and fire?”
“That is my sister. She lives in Kilauea. I live in Mauna Loa.”
“I didn’t know Pele had a sister.”
“Few do. It is not something she… ah, how you mortals say… ‘advertises'.”
“Huh.” I put my hands on my hips. “Interesting. You said something about a ‘blessing’?"
“Oh yes. It is a rare blessing from my sister. It is all of great smithing abilities, including a resistance to heat and lava. Tell me, child, have you experience with smithing?”
“I’m a helicopter mechanic?”
I stared up the tunnel I fell down. I couldn’t see the end. There was no way I would be able to get up there without a working helicopter. And mine was… mine was toast. “Is there another exit?”
“To the surface? No.”
“Well, where does that lead?” I pointed to another exit in the far corner of the forge. Two sturdy rock doors blocked it.
“Deeper,” Pelle said vaguely.
“Do you know how I can get out of here?”
“Hmm… this place wasn’t made for going back up. Maybe you can repair your mortal craft and use that.”
“I… I don’t know. Do you have the right supplies?”
She gestured to her forge. “I have the tools. The only materials I have available is rock, however. Though, you have plenty of mortal craft to work with and the blessing. This should not be a problem. You may take your time. While in my home, mortals know not hunger, nor thirst, nor fatigue, nor age. You are timeless here.”
I rolled up my sleeves. “Cool beans, let’s get to work.”
Pelle cocked her head to the side. “But the ‘beans’ can only be hot here. There is lava.”
“I mean… I'm gonna repair the helicopter now.”
A couple of days later, or maybe weeks? I can’t really tell time down here. Regardless, some amount of time later, my helicopter was nearly fixed. I had thinned out some of the remaining frame to fix the melted parts and added rock supports to the weakened areas. The engine was still a problem, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. This ‘blessing’ thing was a pretty nice deal.
Admittedly, this whole thing was a pretty nice deal. The cave was always the perfect temperature. I could spend my time happily creating whatever I wanted—though that was helicopter repairs at the time. I never had to worry about food or rent or my boss threatening to fire me or being forced to deal with rich snobs at all. No politics, no worries, no stress.
As I put on my finishing touches, I glanced over at Pelle. She had had her head down, working on the same project the entire time. Every now and then, she would grunt, throw it aside and start again. When the clutter of old failures became too much, she would string them up with the rest of the hanging locks and chains. Always making locks and chains.
After a while, my curiosity got the best of me and I asked, “What are you making?”
“Locks and chains.”
She sighed. “It is not something you should concern yourself with.” Pelle lifted her head and noted my improvements to my helicopter. “You have come far and in such little time. Impressive.” She bit her lip. “Maybe there is something you can help me with. Follow me.”
Pelle took me to the rock doors that led ‘deeper’ and opened them. We continued down the tunnel, lit by the occasional lava torch. Pelle held up her hand to stop me. “We are here.”
The tunnel stopped at a large, circular room lit by lava torches surrounding a huge, rock gate on the floor. Chains and locks like the ones Pelle was making littered the gate, keeping it shut. Every now and then, something would slam against it from the other side, making the entire volcano crumble.
My pulse quickened. “What… what’s under there?”
“There is a reason my sister sent me to live in Mauna Loa. It is so I could continuously craft a barrier to keep the demon, Tarath, from breaking free and destroying the islands.” She shrugged. “And maybe the world. I do not care for the rest of the world very much, though.”
“Are you kidding me? There’s been a demon like a hundred feet from me this entire time?” It slammed against the gate again. One of the chain’s links cracked. “And it’s this close to breaking free?”
“That is what I would like your assistance with. No matter what I create, it is able to break it. I need a permanent solution.”
Pacing, I tried to cool off my nerves a little. “Alright. What are the chains made of? What’s their measurements?”
“They are made of cooled lava… i.e. rock as usual. I do not think the size will stop him, the bigger ones do not last, and only partly slow it.”
“Rock… rock’s not good for the tension caused by slammed against it. We need a more flexible material.”
“There is nothing else I can use. I only have what is in this volcano and I cannot leave it and leave Tarath unguarded.”
I snapped my fingers. “But there is something in this volcano we can use: my helicopter. Metal is great for handling tension.”
“I do not think that can produce enough material.”
She was right. Each chain was four feet long and two feet tall. If the chains were made solely out of my helicopter, there wouldn’t be enough.
“We can use a mix of metal and rock. The blades are made of steel—we can make a hybrid reinforced concrete using the rock and blades.”
Pelle frowned. “If you use your helicopter, you will not be able to go back.”
“If I don’t, I probably won’t survive the demon breaking free.”
“Will it even work?”
Tarath slammed against the gate again. Another chain cracked. “It has to.”
Sweat sizzled on the ground as we worked together in perfect harmony and stripped my helicopter of its precious blades. We melted them into thin cords and poured the hot lava around them into the shape of chains and one final lock.
“It is down,” Pelle said, staring at our complete project.
My lungs struggled to breath after the labor-intensive work. I slapped the chain. “Alright, let’s get this bad boy to the gate already.”
By the time we reached the gate, Tarath was howling with laughter. Almost all of the chains were broken through and it could feel it. The pounding picked up pace and the gate, shuddered with each hit, threatening to collapse. “Lock this on the far side of the gate.” Pelle rolled one of the carts with the chains towards me. “I’ll handle the other.”
“Pelle?” A voice growled below us. “Is that you?” It giggled. “Oh, you’ve come to greet my entrance into the new world, how kind of you.”
“No,” she answered stiffly as her hands worked with the lock.
Tarath banged against the gate. Another chain snapped completely through. I flung the heavy cart over the gate to keep it from opening up. Kicking its wheel, it tumbled over, spilling the chains right where I needed to lock them up.
“Oh I can feel it, Pelle. Can’t you? One more hit will all it’ll take.”
She didn’t respond. Her lock was already snapped into place, but I was lagging behind. An uncomfortable silence filled the room as Tarath moved back for a running start and I worked. Almost done…
And not a second too soon. Tarath rammed its entire body into the gate. The new chains tensed, but held. It growled beneath us. Frustrated, it repeatedly, and speedily slammed into the gate in a quick series of tiny thuds. “Open,” it demanded. But the gate didn’t.
“It worked,” Pelle breathed.
A wide smile flooded my face. “Yeah, it did.”
You’d think stopping a demon from invading the world would give you enough good feelings to last a lifetime. But for me and Pelle, it didn’t last for more than maybe an hour.
Together, we sat at the lava pit’s edge. Our clothes rolled up as we stuck our calves into the pit, letting them dangle in the thick liquid.
“I apologize for your situation,” Pelle said after a while. “You had to give up on returning home because of my incompetence to solve that problem.”
“Ah, don’t worry about it. It’s pretty impressive you managed to keep him locked up for—how long again?”
“A few thousand years.”
“A few thousand years with only rocks.”
She smiled. “Thank you.”
I picked up a stone and skipped it across the lava pit. “Besides, I don’t mind being here for eternity or whatever. This place is pretty cool—er hot.”
“Really. No worries or lame job to be ordered around at. I can just relax and create whatever I want.”
“Then… shall we move onto our next project? We need to make you your own rock anvil.”
I smiled, too. “We shall.”