This is a 500-word flash fiction story on the theme of ‘Iceland: a land of storytelling’. It was shortlisted in the Iceland Writers’ Retreat flash fiction competition 2015.
“And that’s how Katla Volcano was created,” finished my nine-year-old son Simon.
Mike came in. “Has your grandfather been filling your head with that poppycock again?” he growled. “I’ll show you how volcanoes are really made.”
He led Simon into the kitchen and took out a bar of chocolate and a saucepan. I left father and son to their science experiments.
That was the last story Pabbi told Simon. He died the following week, his hand in mine, reassuring me that it was time for Simon to take over.
We flew to Vik, Pabbi’s hometown, with his ashes. My cousin drove us up valleys of black sand where purple lupins waved goodbye to him in hundreds. The scalloped mountains bent their green heads at the passing of another proud Icelandic storyteller. We scattered his ashes on groaning Mýrdalsjökull Glacier among the ash from Katla’s last eruption.
But Simon didn’t take over. The chocolate experiments proved more compelling than his grandfather’s tales, and he graduated in Earth sciences. Iceland didn’t come up in conversation again until his first teaching year at university.
“I’m going to organise a field trip to Þingvellir,” he told us.
“How lovely! The trolls of Almannagjá,” I said.
Mike shook his head. “No one will want to go there. It’s far too cold.”
A month later, Mike had a heart attack. I hurried to Simon’s university. His dean offered to call him out of his lecture, but I refused: I’d never seen him teaching. A student took me to his lab and left me at the door.
“It’s full, as usual,” she said.
I was proud, yet a little disappointed. I nudged open the door, expecting Bunsen burner fire and billowing clouds of exploding chemicals.
The room was silent except for Simon’s voice. He was sitting on a bench, his students gathered at his feet.
“…Then Katla realised Barði had stolen her magic breeches to find the monastery’s lost sheep. Her anger erupted and she drowned him in a vat of wine. Over winter, the level of wine dwindled. The body would soon be exposed for all to see and the abbot would make Katla pay for her crime. She threw on her magic breeches, ran to Mýrdalsjökull Glacier and jumped down a crack in the ice. Later, there was an eruption under the glacier. It melted the ice and flooded the valley, destroying the monastery. The people said it was hot-tempered Katla the witch. And each time there’s an eruption, people remind each other how Katla Volcano was created,” finished my twenty-nine-year-old son.
I drove him to see his dad at the hospital.
“How’s that field trip coming along?” asked Mike, as Simon held his hand.
“It’s going ahead. There’s even a waiting list.”
“That’s because you’re a damn good scientist,” said Mike.
Simon and I exchanged a smile.
“And a damn good storyteller,” I whispered.