Friday, February 27, 2015

First Pour (Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge)

I was in my late twenties when I saw my first pour of gold. Oh, I had seen films of iron ore cascading, throwing bright-hot sparks as it was poured from kettles the size of dump-trucks. I had participated in pours of molten aluminum and other inexpensive metals while playing with lost-wax casting, where the retorts we used were barely larger than a cream pitcher.

I knew gold ore would be smelted in a vessel somewhere between those two in size. I wasn't, however, prepared for the heat. It poured from every surface of the reservoir, and leaked in almost-visible streams from the heavy brick dam, behind which crushed ore was being heated.

Also totally unexpected was the redoubling of heat as the dam was pulled away to allow the molten gold to escape the vessel. Despite the intense heat, all the observers moved closer to catch the initial glimpse of the hot gold. 

First out of the opening at the bottom of the reservoir was a crusty brown slag. Next, a wash of ash-grey foam rolled down the stepped channel. None of this was gold; it was composed of lighter contaminants and flux material that had floated to the top of the liquid metal. 

Then came the moment we were there to see. The intense lime-green flash of superheated gold appeared in the opening, rapidly cooling as it ran down the channel, shifting in color to hot yellow and then bright gold as it cooled. The "pour"more of a "release"was complete when the ingot mold at the lower end of the channel slope was filled to the top.

We watched them skim the last of the ashy slag off the top of the ingot before it could cool completely, then tip the gold out into a dish-water warm "cooling bath" for further chilling. None of the "waste" would be thrown away. It would be cooled, ground, and added back to the next batch of ore to recover any remnant gold that might remain in the slag.

A stream of molten gold is what I envision when "rivers" are evoked in my memory. So when the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge channeled Norman MacLean's nature-based novel A River Runs Through It, that golden memory refused to allow any other topic:

February 25, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a river and a person (or people). Think about MacLean’s famous line that “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.” Give it your own meaning. It can be a rivulet of water cutting across a city sidewalk, a farm ditch or a famous world river. Who is experiencing the water? What observations are profound? How can a river and a character merge with meaning?

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First Pour

Heat rises in waves from the dry bed, pouring like syrup from the base of the reservoir. The front of the dam radiates energy. Sweat runs in rivers from the faces of those gathered for the historic event.

The foreman hooks the top of the dam, nudging its bricks out of the way. All lean closer, heedless of the heat. There is a concerted gasp of awe as they see that first flash of green.

Suddenly, a bright river of molten gold runs down the stepped channel. Flashbulbs! Champagne!

The new mine's first smelt of ore has officially commenced.