We had been watching it on the horizon for a while, and we still weren’t sure what it was.
Driving through this deserted Icelandic plain, littered with basaltic lava pillars, rubble and moss, the object had not grown steadily from the horizon. Instead, it had suddenly caught our attention, like an old friend in a crowd. Now, even as we turned off the main road towards it, we still couldn’t make it out. It was some sort of deformed black mountain; its structure was broad and wide, but it seemed to have abruptly stopped growing. What was left of this bizarre structure was slightly concave, as if a large spoon had scooped off the vast bulk of it.
Our attention was initially piqued by the fact it was smoking. Nervously, we realised that if a volcano were to erupt, we were on our own. We hadn’t passed a car in two hours. Although the midnight sun was high in the sky, it was 11 PM, and as the presenters went to bed, the radio stations had tuned in to wordless ambient techno.
But, as the rocky road turned towards it, the change of angle brought a sudden relief; the smoke was just an excited mudpit in the distance. Painstakingly, we navigated the van over the broken ground towards an unexplained sign: ‘Hverfjall’. We braked, unsure if it was a car park; the road simply ended and the ash began.
Slamming the van door behind us, we considered this anomaly on our very earthly Mars. The mountain was less rock and more skeleton. A black dune of ashes was left behind, collapsed upon itself from some fiery, godly storm.
We had to climb it, I decided. The ash was steady, and easily withstood our weight. We headed straight up its side through a waterfall of sand. The air was thick with sulphur, and we choked on it.
We surfaced at the top, sucking in air. In the hidden depths of our new horizon, the scope of the collapsed volcano became clear. Within this massive dune, easily a kilometre wide, a giant crater filled almost the entire surface area, made of the same black dust as we were standing on. No explanations were there; just an exploded ghost.
In the distance beyond was the beginnings of Iceland’s interior, hallmarked with a wave of snow-hatted mountains; behind us, the twisted dried lava of the country’s geography. It was quarter past midnight; the sun glittered over a sleeping country. But, I thought, there was no real sleep when the sun never went down; there would be just time for us to close our eyes briefly, before the sun pulled back into the sky.