The drive north had taken the beautiful Nash along a corridor of ascending mountains. As Viner, Spike and Noreen waited for the burst where they had stopped on a lesser peak, they could see how Nevada had hunched up behind them in a huge spinal column.
Far across the great lunar sea of 52, the sun was rising above a tongue of clouds when it seemed to explode.
They were wearing the special goggles which Viner, a veteran of nuclear tests, kept in his glove compartment. But despite the goggles the incredible spreading of light nearly blinded them. The sun, a small brilliant disc they had been able to stare at directly through the goggles, came rushing past Mercury and Venus, and up the horizon to Nevada, coming so fast it was as big as the sky in an instant.
Frightened, Viner turned quickly to look at Noreen. There were a hundred tiny lines on her cheeks, and between them, 1,000s of little flakes of dead skin. He could see the minute skin chips with incredible clarity. He looked out the windshield of the Nash. The small scratches on the impeccably polished pearl-grey hood showed as fine white rivulets of wax.
“What is all this God-forsaken light?” Viner screamed.
For an instant the light dimmed slightly and he could see all the mountains around them. He jumped out of the Nash. The light came back up to its powerful bleaching intensity. Spike and Noreen jumped out, too.
Noreen walked stupidly towards the huge achromatic fireball, it had a shape now, it was a mammoth cloud of light climbing the sky like a balloon. It had grown so large and yet was still so near and low, it reduced the momentous humped back of Nevada to a few grey nuggets of dirt spread across a dusty desert floor.
“It’s not, don’t, don’t” Viner heard himself jabbering. He realized he’d been shouting from the instant the sky had turned into light. “Don’t, oh no, no, not this.”
“The mountains look small,” said Spike. He sounded far off to himself, feeling like he was admiring a Hudson River landscape in a New Jersey museum.
The toroid cloud of light seemed like a comet struggling to fly. The strain of lifting off was draining its energy because it lost brilliance as it labored upwards. It sparked with a luminous purple dirt. It was dragging an incredible train of smoke and ash up into the sky. A white halo formed about the sparking ball of purple and silver green. The column of dirt looked like a primitive animal brain stem shooting up into the roiling tormented cloud above it, bloating it until it began to resemble human cortex. It was a couple of miles high now and growing horizontally towards them.
“The article in Mercury was right,” Viner said. He’d fallen to the ground with shock over what he was seeing and found himself now babbling from the seat of his pants. “It’s a volcano. They’ve crushed through the earth’s crust.”
The bomb had ripped a hole in the earth and its guts were coming out. A minute passed. The cloud climbed until it was 6 miles high. It was growing towards them as fast as it ascended. Purple, in a rich pleasurable hue, was the color of death, and his own death was coming towards him right now in a noxious cloud of speeding gases. The sulfurous smoke the article had said would be the result of a chain of volcanic eruptions was curling over the desert floor like surf. It would wash a burning suffocating death over them soon.
The 3 of them looked back and forth between the cloud’s terrifying advance and each other. Without speaking it, they knew they shared the same startling thought. Not only were they dying, so was the world itself. It had been punctured to its volatile core.
This first edition of >H has a terse complexity which shows well against a paterson copying James M. Cain but as genuine as a drag performer operating a Sophie Tucker song.