“Hey, wake up.”
“I am up, been up for hours.” Brett groaned.
“Yeah, me too, I got cold. Is the weather changing?” Karen asked.
“It shouldn’t be. Spring is starting. But I haven’t seen the sun for a week after the impacts filled the sky with fallout.”
“You don’t think we are going to get one of those nuclear winters, do you?” Karen worried.
Brett struggled to lift his aching body off the rock he slept on and moaned in a painful full body stretch. “Nuclear winter? Where’d you come up with that?”
Karen felt awkward for bringing it up.
A rumble of thunder rolled off in the distance as it had for hours. A light breeze that started out quietly in the newly budding trees was picking up. Spring was trying to take hold and the forest was ready, but the temperatures were still dipping, especially with the Sun blotted out lately.
“You ready to get moving? I think we can get to the cabin today if we get started.” Brett asked.
“May as well, I never want to sleep on a rock again.” Karen said as she attempted to brush off the dirt and leaves.
Brett reached for her hand and they maneuvered down the embankment. “Is that the creek I hear? It sounds louder than before.”
“I guess. Maybe there was rain up stream overnight.” She replied with a shiver as she stepped down on the trail.
Brett was helping her get a solid footing, when he noticed something odd. “What’s up with your hair.”
“Uh, thanks for that but I slept on a rock if you’ll remember. You don’t look so fresh either.” She snapped back at the insult.
“No, it’s all standing up. Like you rubbed a balloon on it.”
Karen felt the tingle of follicles and looked at her arms. Then she looked at Brett. “Your hair is too.”
A bright flash of lightning exploded on the edge of the wood line. The crack in the air made their ears ring and the flash blinded them as they fell to the ground. A jolt of electricity seemed to run through their bodies as if they had touched an electric fence. The tree that took the hit exploded and shrapnel sprayed through the still barren forest. Energy dissipated through the Earth all around.
“Are you ok!” Brett crawled to Karen’s side, “Hey, are you ok?!”
No response, Karen wasn’t breathing.
“Karen!” Brett looked around as if help could be there, but he was alone.
He checked for a pulse and felt nothing, his ears were still ringing so loud he could barely think straight.
He remembered a first aid class from years ago. “No pulse, no breathing, CPR.” He muttered.
Crawling to position himself, he tilted her head back and gave two quick breaths then began chest compressions. “One, two, three, four…” A rhythm took over and in his mind he heard the song Stayin’ Alive just as he had learned.
After a minute he stopped to give a couple more breaths and feel for a pulse. “I feel it! Just barely.” He said aloud. He knelt close to check for breaths and look for the chest rise to indicate she was breathing.
“Breathe, breathe!” he commanded. He didn’t see anything. His ears were still ringing so he couldn’t hear much either. Two more quick breaths and he leaned in close again. A slight warmth reached his cheek as she expelled one breath, then another
“Wake up! Karen? Are you there?” He said as he pulled her into his lap.
A slight moan emanated from her lips.
“Honey, can you hear me?” He asked again.
Her eyes seemed to slowly fall into focus, but she was unable to hear anything. She looked around seemingly having no idea where she was until she saw her boyfriend. Suddenly a wave of fear washed over her.
“What happened? What’s that smell?” She asked.
“I think it was lightning.”
“What’s on your face?” She asked.
Brett brushed a hand over his cheek and felt something sharp embedded in his skin. It was his turn to look afraid. Wincing with pain, his hand gave a slight tug, he withdrew a jagged splinter from his face. A dripping trail of blood revealed the force of impact from the finger length shard of wood.
“Owww!” he complained as he held the jagged splinter up, “How bad is it?”
Karen still trying to focus, made a squeamish face. “It’s a hole but I think it’ll be ok.”
Smoke began to drift down onto the trail. “What is that smell?”
“Your shoes are smoking.” Brett said as he looked closer, “Are you ok?”
Karen wiggled her feet, “They feel tender but not too bad. I think I can walk.”
“Are you sure?” Brett asked as she struggled to stand up.
“I’m good but…” Karen looked behind Brett and drifted off.
“What is it? Babe?”
Brett followed her eyes over his shoulder and saw a wall of flames climbing over the slight rise near the trail. Embers were beginning to float up into the canopy.
“Wildfire! The lightning must have started it. We need to get moving. Can you walk?” He said, half dragging Karen down the trail.
“I think so.”
The low humidity of recent months had left the forest and surrounding grasslands dry and ripe for fire.
“I’ve got you.”
“I heard lightning, doesn’t that mean rain? Maybe the rain will put it out.” Karen grunted as she tried to keep up.
“Not always, lightning can strike miles from a storm.”
“I can’t breathe,” Karen coughed, “The smoke is getting too thick.”
“Hold on, sit here. I’ll go wet my t-shirt and try to make a mask.” Brett eased his girlfriend to the ground and slid down the hill to the creek that only hours before was small enough to cross.
Now it was swollen into small rapids.
“Oh no.” Brett said to himself as he soaked his shirt in the water.
“What’s wrong? Karen asked when Brett came running back up the hill.
“The bridge we need is almost under water, the creek is rising. We need to hurry, or we won’t make it across.”
Looking back over her shoulder, Karen compared the danger of being caught in a wildfire and wading through water. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Come on, hurry! We’re almost there.” Brett said from several steps ahead.
At the bridgehead the couple slid to a stop.
“Uhh, I don’t know.” Karen said. Trees were piling up against the little foot bridge and it was flexing under the pressure.
“The water is less than a foot over the bridge, we can do it, hurry!” Brett said leading the way.
Karen hesitated, “Are you sure?”
She grabbed his hand and waded into the water. “Hold onto the rail!” He instructed.
Scooting their feet ever deeper toward the center of the bridge, they struggled against the rush of water.
Brett heard the scream at the same time he was pulled over backwards.
“Help!” Karen’s feet had washed out from under her and she was being pulled under. The opposite railing kept her from floating away but pinned her helplessly against the oncoming deluge.
Brett also found himself pinned and gasping for air, using every ounce of strength he could muster he pulled himself up and reached for Karen.
“Grab my hand!” He yelled against the torrent.
In return all he received was a gasping scream.
Behind them, the pile of trees was winning the battle and the bridge began to break up. The heavy logjam splintered the bridge creating a massive break. Their end of the bridge swung downstream. The only bit of luck was that the broken section of bridge began to float enough for the couple to stand up and run to the landing.
The pair collapsed on the ground in an exhausted heap.
“Are you…are you ok?” Brett asked yet again that day.
“Yah.” Karen gasped amid choking.