Ash

CHAPTER FIVE

Summary: When a huge earthquake hits out west, the world learns that Yellowstone National Park’s supervolcano is set to erupt within days. Soon the world is put in a state of chaos as the ash sweeps the globe. Without sunlight and with the air too polluted to breathe, can anyone survive? Can also be found here on ff.net.
The unit changed quickly in geology class when people started dying from the ash, when produce disappeared because grocery stores couldn’t guarantee their freshness because of the inundation of ash over every surface. Instead of starting the class with index cards and moving from there, the lessons went back to where they were. There was a hasty pop quiz on plate tectonics, then a long slideshow with tons of notes about the different types of rock.

Questions came up about supervolcanoes, about what was happening with the outside world, but he now refused to answer them. It was as if the ominous headlines took the fun out of the situation, and the extra cleaning didn’t help either. People couldn’t give up their clean homes and businesses, and many worked tirelessly trying to keep the ash out to no avail. Mrs. Turner closed the library for a day, for example, in an attempt to vacuum the place clean. But a package delivery filled the first floor with ashy boot prints, and after a short walk across the floor, she realized half her work had been erased. She gave up, but she knew the place couldn’t get dirty because the items inside would be ruined.

Museums, art exhibits, and computer cafés had the same problem. They couldn’t let their exhibits or technology be ruined by the ash, so they had to shut their doors. A field trip DW’s class was supposed to take to a museum in Metropolis was cancelled, reminding the fourth graders that Elwood City wasn’t the only place being buried with ash, that other places had the same problem. Video from the Midwest showed ash blizzards and darker skies, but the kids didn’t realize that sort of thing was going to happen everywhere until it happened to them.

Two weeks after the supervolcano exploded, planes could no longer fly because of low visibility and ash interference with the engines, which almost caused several accidents as they stalled midflight. Museums, art exhibits, libraries, private collections, and some stores had closed their doors, refusing to reopen until “all that dirty ash was gone,” but there was no getting rid of it. Ash was everywhere, and two weeks in, people were beginning to notice it in the water.

“There is nothing we can do about the ash in the water. Treatment plants are working as hard as they can, and the water is safe to drink. You might not want to wash your wedding dress in it, but it is safe for consumption,” Elwood City’s mayor assured them.

But the issue was a topic of discussion in health class for Arthur and the others. What sort of toxins were in the ash? A researcher in Topeka, Kansas noted several radioactive pieces of debris that had landed around his town, one at his home and the other through the window of his office. He and others were concerned that the explosion had pulled material from deep within the earth’s crust that they didn’t know about until now, when it was out and available to hurt people. This was a terrifying prospect for everyone—while people with existing respiratory conditions were already struggling, soon everyone could have problems associated with the volcano and its effects.

As the world debated the topic, it was announced that the ash had finally reached back around, that Hawaii now had dim sunlight that was becoming dimmer by the day. Scientists knew this would happen, but the people who were barely clinging to hope as it was found themselves rolling in despair. Suicides rose, as did murder-suicides. There was a family of four in New Hampshire whose mother killed them all by poisoning their food, leaving a note in the ash on her stovetop saying she couldn’t live like this, and she’d make sure her family didn’t either.

Sunlight was now a memory for many people of the world, but it was headlines like this, of needless death, that showed people how dark things were really becoming. Add in the natural deaths—the jet crash not discovered because the volcano sent the plane four hundred miles off course, the falling debris deaths, the asthma attacks, and so on—and people were losing hope and fast. There was nothing that could raise their spirits. They would keep pushing forward, but more and more people were deciding they couldn’t, and several of them decided to take matters into their own hands.

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