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Eli's Journey

In the aftermath of the comet disintegration overhead, Eli must survive the deaths of his parents.

By C. L. NicholsPublished about a month ago 7 min read
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Near the top of the mountain, Eli’s gaze shifted from the darkening sky to the forest.

The family had come up in their motor home onto Witch Mettle Mountain, which was short as mountains go. It bordered on being labeled a tall hill, but it was only ten miles from town and gave the best lookout around.

Surprised that no others were there, they stood near the edge of the drop-off where trees didn’t block the view. Signs everywhere advised caution. Teenagers called it Lovers’ Leap, but none ever had.

“Oh my lord,” his mother exclaimed. “Look at that.”

Eli twisted to see his mother holding one hand to her mouth, her other arm extended high. He stared up at what seconds ago had been a glittery ball with a long tail like a kite on fire.

He gasped. It had turned into a sky full of smaller, brighter lights that were now separating from one another. His mouth dropped open.

“We gotta go,” his father said. Eli and his mother turned to him. “These woods,” he said. “There’s only the one way down.”

Eli wasn’t sure what that meant, but goosebumps raced up his arms and his shoulders shuddered like a shut-off automobile engine refusing to die. He looked toward their motor home then at the tall firs that surrounded the overlook’s oval parking area.

“Look!” His mother pointed skyward insistently. “They’re falling down.”

A thick line being drawn overhead became a spear of light. Moving first in slow motion, it gained speed as it plunged lower.

“Let’s go, Helen,” his father said, reaching toward her. She held out her hand to meet his, then her fingers slipped.

“Paul,” she said. It sounded like a question. Her fingers lost their grip and she tottered back several steps.

“Helen!” Eli’s father screamed. She floundered, arms windmilling as she tried to regain her balance. She groped for her husband’s hand. Their fingertips brushed lightly together then she dropped from sight.

Lunging forward in a desperate attempt to save her, his father also went over the precipice.

“Mom!” Eli screeched and ran near the edge. “Daddy!” He almost lost his balance and went over, too.

Dropping to lie on the ground, he crawled to peer over. It was a long way down. He couldn’t make out the shape of either of his parents below.

Something exploded in the near distance. A thin vertical column lit the early night and the ground shook. The forest had been set afire. The blast echoed a very long time, rolling over him in waves.

Then there was silence.

Eli scrabbled away from the edge, pushed himself to his feet. He looked at the motor home. Only twelve, he couldn’t drive it out. Besides, his father kept the keys on a ring on his belt.

Eli had to go get help.

He stared down at trees struck ablaze by the flaming missile.

He had to save himself first.

His bicycle!

Eli ran to the rear of the motor home. He’d strapped his bike there, hoping to get to ride it while his parents watched the comet. They’d planned to spend the night.

As he loosened the strap, he glanced at the fire. At first just a pinpoint of light in the distance, it had grown into a quarter-sized mix of reds, yellows, and blues.

He lifted his bicycle off the bumper and lowered it to the ground. As he quickly mounted and began to pedal, another explosion rocked the earth. This one was much nearer, on the opposite side of town.

Eli wondered if he’d get off the mountain before the fire blocked the highway. Then he wondered if the town itself would be there.

His legs furiously pumped up and down as he raced headlong down the mountain road.

#

Near the foot of Witch Mettle Mountain, the front fork over the bicycle wheel busted loose. Eli was thrown across the handlebars, and his face met the blacktop road. The bike landed on his back then bounded away into the ditch.

He sat up and took inventory of his body. No bones screamed in pain, but he’d scraped skin from his forehead and nose. When he touched raw flesh, his finger came away tacky with blood.

Eli stood, cautiously bent his knees to lower and raise himself. His legs seemed okay, no bones broken. He lifted his arms over his head, let them drop, then walked over to examine the bicycle.

No way would he ride it again. Not only was the frame out of whack, the front wheel was out of round. The bike was definitely out of commission. He let it fall back to the ground.

He’d turned pedestrian.

Eli stared in a mix of wonder and fear at the horizon, halfway between where he’d crashed and town. Smoke billowed and blanketed the night sky.

The highway toward town was centered in the fire. He couldn’t go that way now. The flames appeared to be headed straight down the road toward him. He needed to cut cross-country in a semicircle to get around them.

He struck out through the wilderness in an attempt to escape the wildfire.

Two hours later, he was lost as the fire’s sharp edge crept nearer.

His head hurt, real bad. When the flames sent sparks flying his way, he’d breathed something in that made him sick to his stomach.

A mature pine exploded ablaze, like a sulfur matchstick thumbed into kindling. The ridge line leaped with yellows, reds, and blues as the fire greedily devoured the forest. Were the screams of animals burning only in his imagination? Surely he was too distant to experience their horror.

Not distant enough. The licking flames had tasted him, he was sure of it. Even now, bright embers rode the gusting wind, finding a home in the dark trees between. His time was shortening.

Eli turned to the opening he’d discovered, just a horizontal slit splitting the rock. He’d stuck his head inside, shoved half his body into the tight gap. The hole turned black quickly, gobbling up the scant light. Only a few feet of visibility penetrated its thin lips.

He’d always been afraid of the dark. The forest fire had kept the night at bay, but now he feared the inferno even more. He swiveled to watch its advance.

As the wildfire raced up the slope, Eli whimpered. Standing beside the crevice he hoped would provide escape from nature’s furnace, he hesitated. What sort of creatures inhabited the hole? How would they react to his sudden appearance?

A tall spruce crackled into fiery light a hundred feet below. Its quick heat warmed his face. Sparks shot up, drifted on the wind to fall upon pines above and around him.

Eli turned, forced himself headfirst into the narrow crack, cried out. He was stuck. He lunged harder. His flannel shirt ripped on the jagged edge, then he was falling. He reached back to grab the rock but it was beyond his grasp. His head bumped the rock side, then his left shoulder wedged between the narrowing stone walls. Eli twisted around, and his legs dropped painfully to the ground. He shifted to look up at the cleft ten feet above.

The forest fire was directly on top of his lair. The crevice’s red mouth blew hot, foul air at him. To escape the heat and stench, he pushed into the black space at his back, felt cool air.

He’d guessed right ... a cave. He swung his legs around so he faced the cool dark.

Eli yelped in surprise as the floor beneath him declined. He slid down a narrow shaft that dropped away at a steep slant. Arms reaching overhead, he tried to pull himself back up the slope. The grade was too severe. He slipped farther. Momentum increased, and Eli rushed down the chute. The crevice opening, his window on the world, shrank as he plunged lower. Already the wildfire was hurrying on and the light fading as it passed.

His feet found bottom but he kept sliding until his knees struck the cavern floor. Using every limb, Eli clambered up the slide but the rock was too smooth, the incline too steep, and the pain too sharp. He cried out and slid back to the bottom.

As his echo died, the shaft’s cold throat seemed to constrict, swallowing him whole.

#

Green sunlight stabbed his eyes.

Eli awoke with his thumb in his mouth. All night he’d whimpered in total darkness. No one here to feel embarrassed for. The beacon of light made him sit up, his wet thumb sliding out. Daylight had finally come.

He was cocooned in the rock.

High above him the crevice opening, the source of the light, grinned. Mocking him. Spotlighting his fear. Gleaming down the gaping granite mouth, the jade eye of the sun unblinkingly watched.

Eli screamed. The flat echo scared him. A dead sound. Alone, no one would save him. He was going to die there. He squeezed his eyes shut, screamed again.

And again. Then again. His voice broke, suddenly hoarse.

He screamed again. Then yet again. The last had been without volume, only a gasp of air pushed out in a sibilant cry for help.

Eli opened his eyes, looking up. He lay on his back, on bare baked earth, gazing into an expanse of broad sky. Smoke curled through the hot air all around him. He sat up and looked over toward the crevice opening. Eli realized he was outside, no longer down the maw of the cavern.

What had just happened? He turned his head. Everywhere he looked, the ground was black and smoldering, but the sky was tinted green. He had no idea how he got there or what he should do next.

But he was alive.

Short StorySci FiHorrorFantasyAdventure
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About the Creator

C. L. Nichols

C. L. Nichols retired from a Programmer/Analyst career. A lifelong musician, he writes mostly speculative fiction.

clnichols.medium.com

specstories.substack.com

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