Cumbre Vieja


Driving side roads into the heart of Hampton Beach, even the classic rock station is only playing emergency broadcasts: “All highway lanes are converted to westbound traffic only. Obey first responders. Evacuate…”

I slap in a warbly Black Sabbath cassette and crank it against the drone of distant sirens.

Navigating the rusty Corolla down narrow lanes of sagging coastal bungalows, I look for anything familiar. No idea what the address is. All the cars are gone, crammed onto highways like socks into a suitcase that’s never going to close. Along NH’s 18 miles of coast, there’re only three highways out. These clog to a standstill during daily rush hour, so imagine them with everyone fleeing. No one’s going anywhere. The Granite Staters will die as they lived—stuck in a traffic jam of distracted Bostonians.

I round a corner and lock eyes with a guy shooting up on his front porch. He gives me the finger, then slaps his upper thigh, his boxers around his ankles. I recognize the hydrangeas down the block and turn, stopping in front of a purple one-bedroom rental three blocks from the beach. Moving my foot to the brake shifts the ankle tracking-bracelet that chafes when I forget socks.

I honk. Then honk again. Nothing. As I’m climbing out, the back passenger window explodes simultaneously with the shotgun blast.

“You stupid bitch! What’re you doing?” I could always sweet talk her. “Sorry. You OK?”

I don’t hear my old .410 racking to reload, so I pick myself out of the gravel and peer over the roof. Gina’s standing in the doorway with our daughter. She’s still aiming the gun at me, unaware the slide’s half open.

“Why are you here?” I ask. “Don’t you have a radio?”

Gina gives me her glassy-eyed stare. I raise my hand and wriggle my fingers at our girl. She smiles.

“You’re s’posed to stay way from us, Daddy.”

“I know, Sweetie.” I address my ex: “Well?”

“I don’t have a car. I couldn’t—what’s happening?”

“Some island in the Atlantic nobody ever heard of erupted. Half of it fell into the ocean. Now a wave’s coming.”

“So, what, you just had to see us one more time?”

“C’mere.” I walk around and pop the trunk. “C’mere, damn it!”

She shuffles over, still pointing the useless gun at me. She doesn’t even react when she sees the guy duct-taped in the trunk. I gently take the gun from her as she gawps.

“My neighbor,” I say. His eyes dart between us, then to our girl stretching to look inside. Gina reaches for the gun, but I slap her arm away. “Get in the car.” For once she listens. I slip out my phone and check the time: “Damn…”


My daughter sits on Gina’s lap as we haul ass up Lafayette Road. I take the turn at 80 mph, drive three houses past my apartment, and over the grass to a shed in the backyard.

When I open the trunk, he’s worked his hands free and found the crowbar. I snatch it away and toss it. “Don’t be stupid.” I flick my knife out to cut the tape from his ankles (lucky bastard).

“Gina, open the shed.” I help the man rub feeling back into his legs. “Northwest, right? High ground. Conway or farther? The water’s going to crest 200 feet when it hits.”

He nods.

We three push the ultralight from the shed to the center of the lawn. It’s a two-seater, but it’ll hold two-and-a-half.

I crouch and brush a strand of hair from my daughter’s face, kiss her forehead, then hand her over. The pilot’s in his seat—fuck preflight, time to go. Gina grips the girl on her lap and gives me a smile. I hand her the gun; they may need it later.

“Stay clean, Gina,” I tell her. She doesn’t bother to fake offense, just nods and settles in.

I watch the craft rise, then diminish into nothing. As its engine fades, I hear a distant roar behind me. I turn in time to see a robin land and pluck itself a worm. It torques in the bird’s beak, fighting to the end.

~ fin ~

Zakariah Johnson has been a mink rancher, commercial fisherman, and repeated target of hungry polar bears. His short fiction appears in Shotgun Honey, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Yellow Mama, and other fine outlets. Zakariah hails from NH where it juts up like New England's defiant middle finger, and has recently finished his novel "The Cutting Game," a knife-laden kidnapping tale set in the White Mountains.