The hike started normally enough. Peter and Nancy, she leading, him trailing, moved along the narrow irregular path on the side of the hill easily not because they’d been there before but because they were moderately experienced and were comfortable in their movements and with their equipment. It was mid-morning, not as early as they would have liked to have started but still, they’d be back at camp before lunch.
Sun broke through the trees that obscured most of the sky, their leaves thick and green in the first half of summer. It was a bright day and would warm considerably, though the west side of the hill they were on was still cool from night. The last drops of dew still hung to parts of the underbrush that were in deep shade and left small water marks on their shoes as the trod through it. Birds moved through the trees above them and occasional sounds from closer to the ground reminded them that they were not only not alone but that they were not in their indigenous element.
“Hey,” Peter said to get Nancy’s attention as he stopped to take a drink of water from the metal grey bottle clipped to his backpack. She turned and looked and saw he’d stopped and so did likewise.
“We’ve only been at this half an hour and you’re already thirsty?” she said as she too drank from her own bottle.
“Yep.” Was his only reply.
“Wuss,” she countered.
After a few moments they started back up, both freshly hydrated. They’d barely gone a mile and had at least three more to go to make it around the hill and back to where they’d left their car. The angle of the sunlight shining through the trees changed as they and the morning progressed. The two, dating 14 months now, spoke infrequently as they walked, enjoying both the silence of being alone in nature and the companionship of not needing to be solitary while doing so.
The first rumble was barely noticeable, shaking whatever remained of the dew off the long grass deep in the woods. Nancy’s head turned to her left wondering if she’d heard something but Peter kept on without change, lost in his own thoughts, including the meal they’d packed for the lunch they’d enjoy in a few hours and a well-deserved nap that would likely follow.
The second one, though, threw both of them off their feet and off the path. They both tumbled down the hill, equipment falling off their backpacks and out of their pockets as they rolled and rolled, Nancy screaming and Peter yelling. When Peter stopped 30 feet down he tried to stand up but a lightning bolt of pain ran down his right leg.
“Nancy!” he yelled to the distance. “Nancy!”
“I’m over here,” she said and he knew she was mad and annoyed. But alive and hopefully alright.
“I’m coming!” and he moved in the direction of her voice.
It took longer than it should have to get to her because of the leg, which he didn’t think was broken but was certainly not great. Finally he saw her sitting against a rock, blood coming down the side of her head and onto her left ear.
“Oh my God are you OK?”
“Yeah…just a hit to the head. I think I nailed it on a root sticking out of the ground a few yards back” and she pointed uphill toward where they had once been walking.
Peter slung off his backpack and searched for something to put on the cut, which upon inspection wasn’t too bad. “Scalp wounds…,” Peter said and Nancy grunted in agreement.
“What was that?” she asked. “We’re not exactly in earthquake country here.”
“No idea. I’m pissed cause I can already tell I lost a bunch of stuff out of my pack while falling.”
“You’re hurt, I’m hurt. I say we cut this short and head back the way we came. Let’s just get back to the car and back to camp and reevaluate the rest of the weekend.”
“Agreed. I still have my stick so can use that for leverage.”
So the two stood up and looked at the ground for anything more that might have fallen out of their pockets. It was only then they noticed the lack of shadow either one cast. As they inhaled the air caught in their throats, suddenly dry and acrid like smoke from a fire. Another rumble knocked them again off their feet and the reached for each other, still falling but this time more controlled and together. When they looked up they saw a massive grey cloud had blotted out the sun, which had been shining and warming just 10 minutes prior. Now they felt a shiver as the temperature suddenly dropped.
The two looked at each other, unsure what was happening. As birds started falling from the sky they sought shelter under an outcropping of rock not far from where they were. The high-pitched scream that ripped through the air caused both of them to cover their ears. Nancy began calculating how long it would take them to get back to the car but was distracted by the sudden explosions in front of her. Dirt, moss, roots and grass were launched dozens of feet into the air, only to come raining back down around them, steam venting from the holes left in the ground.
She looked over and Peter was unconscious. As she moved toward him yet another rumble knocked her from her feet and with nothing to help balance her she fell another seven feet down the hill. Unable to take a deep breath she saw lights flashing in her eyes as she stumbled back up toward him. Lying on her back, the sky grew an ever-deeper shade of black and she was no longer strong enough to lift her hands to her ears to protect against the piercing sound that echoed through the canyon. Something…she thought. Something…