He was halfway up the cliff when he looked back and screamed, the sound vibrating through the canyon walls and echoing into my skull. I gripped the slackline firmly, expecting that even the twelve-year old’s body could send my mere five-foot frame soaring into the air if he fell, but he kept clutched tight to the rock like it was the only land left on earth. The spotter a few yards to my left caught my eye and smiled knowingly. There were always a few of the campers who froze mid-climb, holding up the line of other kids waiting impatiently at the shelter for their turn to practice rock climbing.
“It’s all right, Jason,” I called up to him. I tried not to sound bored. “You’re almost there. Just keep your eyes up and stay moving.”
He shook his head a little, eyes still fixed wide on something behind my head. What is it? I furrowed my brows and pivoted my body to turn and look without loosening my hold.
Then I saw what had scared him.
A wall of glowing black billowed gracefully across the horizon, devouring the sky in massive bites, and licking the sunlight from the desert ground. The breeze quickened and brought the acrid smell of a boiling world into my lungs. I froze.
What should I do? What should I do? Someone was yelling at me. I watched the beast spread out around the canyon within a few moments, moving far too quickly for something so large.
I looked back at Jason, still hanging to the wall, crying now. He was too far up, half a dozen ropes strapping him to cursed ground; it would take us ten minutes to get him down. We didn’t have five. I looked between the boy and the fire, my brain screaming at me to let go of the ropes and run. What do I do? What do I do?
The wall of ash and smoke descended upon us, an infinite outer space starred by burning embers, fierce and raging and unforgiving, and I stood still in the consuming darkness, holding tight to the rope.