A family holiday gone wrong. What happens when a volcano changes your life forever?
Based on a true story, the tragic eruption at Whakaari/White Island in 2019
This novel is based on quite a touchy and disturbing subject, and will therefore reflect into the story told itself. I am deeply sorry if I have any details incorrect, I am merely writing from my own imagination and research that I have conducted, and although sounds like an actual occurrence, is entirely made up. I am only taking inspiration from the actual eruption. Please feel free to end or stop reading at any stage, if it gets too much for you.
My heart goes out to anyone who perished and their families and loved ones who are still here after this tragedy, as well as anyone who was impacted by the horrifying events.
-A. M. S
It all begin just after 11:30am. The boats had left for the mainland, and the people who'd wanted to head to the volcanic island had been there for around two hours. Me and Pheobe were completing some origami in our kids club (more like a teens' nightclub). Pheobe, though, was beginning to feel a little seasick. The waves were getting choppier. I could feel the floor rocking below my feet and seat.
"Got any seasickness tablets?" I asked her.
She shook her head. "I forgot to put them in my purse. They're back in our room".
I thought for a second, folding a tricky part on my origami dinosaur. "Don't they say to watch the horizon?" I casually said.
I didn't realise my mistake in saying that.
Pheobe grinned at me. "Oh, yeah! How could I forget? That's like, the most simple rule when you go boating!" She shook her head a little dumbly, muttered, "Dumbo", under her breath, and headed over to one of the porthole windows that looked out.
But we weren't facing the vast ocean anymore.
We were facing a volcano.
The erupting volcano.
*8 months earlier*
I ran down the stairs as fast as fast as usual. I was running late, I'd slept in, like always. Pulling my blazer on at the same time, I wandered through to our kitchen. Mum was there already, making us kids our school lunches. I was probably too old to be letting her do that, a recently turned 15 year old, but mum never asked me to make my own, so I never complained. And she made everything just right as well.
My younger brothers Jack and Brendon were still eating breakfast, playing Uno. I assumed my dad was still upstairs, getting ready for his day in the office. "Morning!" I announced, grabbing some of the bread from the packet on the bench.
Mum looked up. "You're late, darling", was all she replied. But even though she seemed like a grumpy woman, I loved her. My mum was amazing. She took so much care of us all, including dad.
"I know, don't remind me", I replied, rolling my eyes as I made my way over to the toaster.
I made my own meal, and sat beside my brothers. "What took you so long?" asked Jack, the older one. He didn't even glance up from his cards. If he was this anti-social already at 10, I hated to see what he'd be like as a teenager.
"I slept really well", I answered him.
Beside me, Brendon, the younger one, showed me his cards. Brendon was everyone's favourite Cooper child. Even though he was only 8 years old, he seemed the most mature of us all. He understood so much at his young age, and was way more understanding than me. At this moment in time, he whispered to me, "He's won the past three games. But I have a plan. You should join in next game".
Dad came down the stairs himself, pulling at his tie. Mum saw him, and beckoned him to come closer. As she retied the piece of fabric around his neck, I heard him ask her, "Have you told them yet?"
Just like the attentive kids we are, it turned out we were all listening. "What? Tell us what?" asked Jack, turning around quickly. We all looked in interest at our parents.
"Oops", dad said quietly, and continued, "We're having a family meeting tonight".
Jack groaned, banging his head on the table, but me and Brendon stared at each other with smiles. Why? Because a family meeting only meant one thing; we would find out where our new holiday would be taking place.
One thing that you should understand about the Cooper's is that we go on a big holiday every couple of years, along with our family friends, including my closest buddies. It's really great, as I get to spend some of the best moments of my life with them. I mean, I love my family, but spending those memorable times with your best friends is like, AMAZING. I will never get sick of it. And you don't have to say goodbye to them either! EVEN BETTER!
So where have we been, as a group? Well, the Cooper's, Johnson's and Watson's have been to Queensland (we live in the suburbs of Sydney), the UK, an entire roadtrip around Australia, California, New York, as well as Western and Central Europe. It's been amazing. I never want to lose the opportunities to do this. Ever.
But I have now.
"What?!" Maxine Johnson spun around in shock.
Yep, that's my Max. The rebel of our school.
"That's what they told us", I responded, casually packing away my books from English. Forrest Heights P-12 school had several different classes, but only had around 1000 students overall. We only had the elective of French together.
She sighed from her locker door beside me. "Mine said NOTHING this morning".
Her twin, Harvey, approached us from behind, waiting for her to finish so he could get into his own locker. "Well, maybe they'll surprise us tonight".
She snorted. "Maybe I'll just pop to Maccas or KFC then, just to spite them. See how THAT makes them feel".
Harvey rolled his eyes, and looked at me. He smiled. "She won't, don't worry".
I felt myself blush a little. "I know, I've known her for years too".
"EMILY!" I heard from behind me.
I spun to see Pheobe Watson rushing towards me. "Hey, Pheob! How's your day?"
"Where were you this morning?" she immediately asked.
"We got stuck in rush hour traffic, and I was a little late", I replied.
She stared at me for a few seconds. "Were you up late last night? I can see bags under those eyes". Her eyes focused on mine through her pink glasses. "You should try make up, my friend. Hide those bags".
"Maybe. I was studying, got Maths test today", I confessed, my cheeks blushing even redder.
"Ah, yes", Max rubbed my head. "That's our little teacher".
The three of us are so different. It's a wonder that we're actually friends. And sure, we've had our fights. But somehow we always come back together again. Maybe our parents have a role in our friendship. They were all close in high school and university, marrying and having kids, growing up close together. They raised us in each other's backyards. We've grown up together. Even if I think back to my first memories, I can only bring up images of Pheobe, Max and me. And sometimes Harvey. We only know life together.
It was a shame things had to change after 16 years together.
Yes, I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. I loved school, and it hurt me to think that I would have to leave its' safe walls one day. So I had decided to become a teacher. I loved children, and I wanted to teach our next generation. My friends loved to tease me about the fact that I was going to have many children when I was older.
Though I wasn't alone in knowing what I wanted to do with my life. Pheobe had recently decided to become a makeup artist, as she was a perfectionist. Still is, even after everything had happened to us. She had decided to design hair styles and apply makeup to celebrities all over the world. She was very skilled, and often tried to make me and Max wear it. We always refused.
Maxine loved sport, always had and always would - or so we though- so she wanted to obviously be a sporting superstar. She really enjoyed soccer. She wanted to become a part of the Matilda's, the national women's Australian soccer team, in a few years time. She was already the star player of their school and local teams.
And Harvey. He was quiet, and loved outdoors. I honestly thought that was VERY cute, though I would never DARE tell the girls. He hung around with us sometimes, though he did have his own friends and clubs that he had joined. He loved nature, and wanted to be a researcher biologist when he was old enough and had finished uni.
So the four of us were very different. Me and Harvey wanted to go to uni, Pheobe to TAFE or get an apprenticeship, and Max to a sports academy where she could be trained up. Our futures were all planned out.
Or so we thought.
"Well, you can't speak", I pushed Max's shoulder. "Our future soccer superstar".
I even saw my friend blush a little.
"What were you guys talking about before?" Pheob asked all of a sudden.
As I moved aside with Max so that her and Harvey could get into their lockers, I explained what had happened this morning in our kitchen. "So we reckon tonight they're going to say when and where our next holiday is going to be".
Pheobe looked disinterested in my comment. "Oh, is that all? Ha. I haven't just got an idea, mum couldn't keep it from me and my sisters. We MADE her tell us we're going on holiday, we even know when".
Us three stared in surprise at her. "Why didn't you say anything to me in homegroup?" Max thundered.
She looked at us. "I thought your parents had told you all the same thing!" she said.
"NO!" Max cried out. She groaned. "WHY HAVE WE BEEN LEFT OUT???"
Harvey sighed. "You should be an actor, Max. Show off your skills to the world. You'd be amazing at it, that's for sure".
I laughed a little. "Yep, all those people watching as well. You'd love it".
Me and Harvey shared a smile and a giggle.
"Well, they should tell us tonight", my boy-friend (NOT boyfriend, at least not yet) nudged his twin, before shutting his locker. "Come on, let's go to lunch. We can talk tonight on Messenger".
As we dawdled along the corridors to the school canteen, I smiled around at my friends. It was going to be another amazing holiday. With my friends.
I wish I'd known the truth.
School ended, and we Coopers' were back at home. It was after dinner, and even though we had been nagging since entering the house, our parents had kept it from us. Until now.
"TELL US!!!" Jack bounced up and down on the couch beside me. "I WANT TO KNOW!"
Mum and dad shared a glance. "We just have to wait 2 minutes", mum told us. "We agreed we'd all tell you at the same time".
Jack groaned. "URGH. You guys are so annoying".
While he complained to our parents, I glanced down at Brendon. He was quiet, like usual, but his foot was bouncing, and I saw a small smile on his face. "Excited?" I asked him quietly.
He nodded. "Yes! I can't wait to go on holidays again!" my little brother grinned at me.
Before we knew it, it was time. Time to discover where we would be going.
Time to discover the place that would change our lives.
"Now, our annual Cooper-Johnson-Watson holiday will be a cruise this time", began dad.
I rolled my eyes. "Where to?"
"New Zealand!" cried mum.
Us kids sat there in amazement. "Okay, cool!" I replied, happy I was going to see my good friends for at least a week, because all cruises from Australia to the land across the channel last at least 10 nights.
"Awesome!" exclaimed Jack. "Can we go skiing or snowboarding?"
Mum laughed. "We won't be anywhere near the slopes, and when we go, it'll be near summer".
Only Brendon sat silent. I nudged him while Jack was chatting to the parents. "Hey. You okay?"
He looked at me. "Yeah. Just... fine". I looked at him accusingly. He blushed a little, and turned back to face mum and dad. It wasn't until we went back upstairs to our rooms to get ready for bed that I actually found out what was wrong.
"Hey", I said, walking over to my littlest brother. Curled up on his bed, he seemed the perfect picture of misery. I sat beside him, rubbing his back. "Are you alright?"
Still with his back facing me, he replied, "Yep, I'm fine".
We sat in silence for a minute.
"You know, you did a great job of hiding it from mum and dad. But you can't keep the truth from me".
He rolled over and faced me. "I don't want to go to New Zealand", he confessed sadly.
"Why not?" I asked, confused.
"Because", he replied. "They have all sorts of natural disasters there".
"Brendon, nothing like that's going to happen. They occur once in a blue moon. You'd have to have very bad luck for an earthquake occurring or a volcano erupting to happen".
"But I have back luck at the moment", explained my brother seriously. "I've lost so many Pokon cars in bets. I never win those random luck games. And whenever I'm about to win in car games, I run out of petrol or get hit by one of the computer drivers. It will be just my luck that something happens on this holiday".
I should have listened to my brother's strange and kiddie worries.
"Stop worrying about nothing", I told him, putting him on the shoulder, trying to bite back my smile. Losing Pokon cards luck? Oh my gosh, seriously, Brendon? "It's not going to happen, alright? Just think of all the exciting things instead".
Yeah, Emily. You do that. And don't worry about the bad things that could happen.
Oh, right. Too late.
You can't get them out of your head now.
*8 months later*
"Are you kidding me?!" That was Max again.
We were having a random conversation while waiting in line to board the ship.
"I can't believe your brothers still prefer xbox over playstation!" she continued, completely disgusted.
"You have to remember we only own a PS3", I reminded her, "and an xbox one. Go figure".
Our family was in the middle of the other two. It meant I could move around and talk to the twins and Pheb. But as she was busy occupying Lucie, I was chatting to Max and Harvey.
He rolled his eyes at us. "And I thought they said guys are obsessed with gaming", he muttered quietly, but with a grin to show he was joking. "Why don't we talk about our future? You know, where this boat will be taking us?"
That's what I liked about Harvey. He was so different to any other boy I'd ever met. He enjoyed talking about animals and plants to his sister and her best friend. No one else I'd ever met had ever done that before. He was so cool, in his own way. And personally I thought perfect for a nerd like myself. I liked to imagine the gossip that would travel around school. "OMG look! The nerds!" "Aww, aren't they cute together?" "I wish we had the love they do". "Can you see their sparks? It's practically obvious from here they're perfect for each other!" But of course, I could only dream. Harvey had never had a girlfriend, and I was pretty sure he didn't want one. Unless she was into biology as well, which I wasn't. I wanted to teach children, even have my own one day. That would mean settling down, and wouldn't Harvey want to move around.
Well, I thought that. Back then.
We began talking about New Zealand, all the fun things that we'd be able to do over there. It was a bit of a shame it was coming into summer, as we wouldn't be able to even take a day trip to any snowfields to go play in the snow that we got far too rarely in Australia. And Harvey promised us that the landscape would be absolutely beautiful. I smiled at this, whereas Max just snorted through her nose.
"All I care about is that Lord of the Rings was filmed there", she announced.
As their family moved up towards the checking-in booth, I slipped back behind my family to talk to Pheobe. "Excited?" I asked her.
She looked a tad pale. "Yes! Just a little nervous is all, but I always am, it's nothing to worry about".
I looked on worriedly. "Well, if you need it, there's a bin right there, and the toilets are ready for your projectile vomit to enter them if need be, about a 2 minute walk, quicker if you run".
She laughed a little at this. "Thank youuuuuuuu, Emily". We smiled even wider.
I loved my natural ability to be able to help people. It was why I wanted to become a teacher. I would be able to help children every day reach their full potential. It was the perfect job for me. I had fallen in love with the idea at a young age, and it never left my mind.
Soon my family checked in our bags, got our quick photos taken, then were put in another line to wait for security to check our hand luggage. It took FOREVER to get through there, but eventually we did, and headed onto the gangplank. I loved looking down and seeing so much space between the Earth and the sea. The sea which was becoming my home for the next 2 weeks. It was strange to think I wouldn't touch Australian ground for a fortnight. I'd almost wished I'd kissed the ground before I'd left, just in case anything happened.
I should have.
My only worry was that our suitcases would get lost. We had to trust the company Sunset Dreams with our personal possessions! What if they forgot the trolley with our bags on it? We'd only have our carry-on luggage and what we had on ourselves at the time. No new clothes! Ew! And there were theme nights onboard, including dances. I was hoping to bags one with Harvey, but me in dirty jeans and a sweaty t-shirt would attract no attention from ANY guys at all, especially my crush. I only hoped that wouldn't happen. That would be a disaster for my holiday, it would be ruined.
But it was in another way, one I never could have imagined.
Dinner rolled around soon enough. There weren't enough tables for the 18 of us, so we were put on tables, completely split up; 10 of us on one table, then 2 tables of 4. Me and my mates grabbed one table all for ourselves. Our dads and Max's older brother Ben grabbed the other, so that all of our mums, my two brothers, the Johnson's younger brother Luke, and all of Pheobe's sisters; Chloe, Lucie, Kate and Marie sat at the other, larger table. The good thing was, we were all positioned in a line, so we could easily talk among each other.
We were discussing the basics of the cruise, like where we were headed and going to land, and our rooms, which we had checked out just beforehand. Our family had a room for 5, with mum and dad having a king, me having sofa bed, and my bros having bunks. Pheobe had to share with her younger sisters, Lucie and Kate, but she also had to use a sofa bed. The others, however, were luckier. Maxine and Harvey had their own room. Two single beds all to themselves. We'd tried to talk our parents into letting the four of us share a single room, but they'd said no, we were still too young. In a couple years time, though...
But Marie then asked the famous question that all of them except her and Brendon knew the answer to. "How'd you guys become such good friends?" she asked innocently.
We all looked over and glared. Chloe placed a hand on her shoulder. "NEVER ask that question again", she groaned, but it was plain to see that she loved her sister, with the look that she gave her.
Our 6 parents all looked at each other. "Well, where do we begin?" Celeste, sorry, Mrs Johnson, smiled around at us.
They told of how my mum, my dad, Celeste Carson, and Charles Watson had met in year 7, and become close friends there and then. Over the years, they'd become closer, and my parents had begun dating. So had Celeste and Charles, but it had never felt quite right, and they'd agreed to stay friends. Later on, both Robert and Luella had moved to their schools, the boy in year 10, the girl in 11. Robert and Celeste had needed a bit of encouragement to get started, but with Charles and Luella, it had been love at first sight.
Such a shame really, that it turned out that Robert and Luella had been the ones to vote for New Zealand as our next holiday, we later found out.
Anyway, the six of them had stayed close friends, staying in contact all through uni and their first jobs and apprenticeships. Charles and Luella had married first, followed soon after by Celeste and Robert, and finally, my own parents, John and Ann. The youngest of us children was Brendon, and 8, and the eldest was Chloe Watson, at 19. The rest of us, the other 10, including me, slotted in between their ages.
That was basically the whole story. We'd all grown up together, it was like being part of a massive extended family. We all lived close to each other, within a few streets, so I often didn't come home for a few days and it was perfectly fine.
It's sad to think now that those were the good old days, when we thought they would last forever.
We laughed and chatted about all of our past memories together. Some of the earliest from my time, like when we'd had a pool party in the Johnson's backyard, and us babies had been put in the blow up paddle pool, or when the Watson's had invited a clown to their place, and Max had screamed and refused to move from behind Harvey. And then some more recent memories, like when my parents had reenacted their wedding, and I'd been their fake parents, along with Harvey (DREAM MOMENT I'M TELLING YOU), or when we'd all gone to Dream World up on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, and we went on the Buzz Saw, and Pheobe threw up all over her older sister Chloe. Even simply the time the four of us had stayed up til 3 am at the Johnson's, and had a half-asleep-food-fight. Oops!
And then the topic came up.
"Now", my dad announced, wiping his mouth with his napkin. "Any last minute beggers who want to come to Mount Bellisle and see the volcano?"
I shuddered internally. The idea of even traveling to an active volcano terrified me, let alone actually doing a tour to the very hole (later I discovered is called a crater) where lava could shoot out and burn anything in seconds. I would NOT be going, no one could make me.
Already booked for the boat taking passengers on our ship were my dad, Mr and Mrs Johnson, Max, and Chloe. But to my surprise, I saw Brendon's small hand rise in between Jack and mum.
"Brendon?" I think I whispered aloud, though it was only meant for my head.
He cleared his throat. "I'd like to go with you, dad", he said, with a slight tremor. "I want to see a working volcano, and tell everyone at school in a postcard what I did".
Dad was proud of him. "Well, okay then! I'll book you a seat, son!" Mum smiled down at him. Even Jack looked on a little enviously. But he had Luke. He wouldn't go and leave his friend. As Max had told me Luke was scared of penguins, and Mount Bellisle was known for its' Yellow-Eyed Penguins. It seemed I was the only one who noticed.
My brother was scared. I was him slightly shaking.
If I'd spoken up, maybe the holiday wouldn't have been suck a disaster.
If I'd asked him later about it.
And now, as I look back over the events that have happened, I would honestly kill myself and go back in time to warn these innocent people, all of them going, that there was danger ahead, they shouldn't go.
But guess what?