Screaming. So much screaming. It’s not the kind of screaming that young children do as they chase after each other on the playground. No. It’s not even the type of scream that escapes from teenagers mouths as they fly through the air on a roller coaster. It’s something else entirely. It’s the kind that rattles someone straight to the core, and makes them want to cover their ears because they can’t take it anymore. It’s the kind of scream that makes your blood freeze in your veins, your chest collapse on your empathetic aching heart, and your stomach lurch in disgust.
Katie comes to consciousness slowly. Her eyelids seemed to be sewn together as she pulls them painfully apart. It’s too bright. Much too bright for her eyes, which seem to have grown accustomed to the darkness.
Finally, as the fogginess abandones her mind, the horrific screams seem to form words. “Katie!” screams the familiar voice of her sister Nevada.
Katie raises her head painfully from the stoney gravel. A wave of nausea quickly discourages this sudden movement, but she forces herself into a crouching position despite her body’s excruciating protests.
“Nevada!” she tries to yell. Her throat is far too dry and scratchy, so only a pathetic screech passes her dry bleeding lips. Her vision is blurred and splotchy, which is why she can't believe her eyes when she sees her sister laying in the middle of the other blurry blobs of color, which soon come into focus, and Katie discovers everything is on fire. She smells the gas in the air and realizes this whole thing will blow up soon.
Slowly she forces herself to her feet with a minimal amount of pain. She catches her balance and then attempts her first step. Her leg immediately protests in pain, causing her to stumble. A groan passes her lips as she catches herself on a nearby tree. Four deep breaths later she pushes herself off of the tree in the direction of her sister who is more like an air horn, than a person at the moment.
Nevada is in mid-scream when her red crying eyes spot her sister hobbling out of the woods. She breathes a sigh of panicked relief. She begs her sister to hurry to help her until, Katie collapses on the ground. Nevada catches her somewhat skillfully and helps lower her to the hard compacted ground below. Katie clutches her sister desperately, as if she might disappear if she lets go.
“The plane?” Nevada croaks as her eyes search frantically around at the burning wreckage.
“It crashed.” Katie replies with tears in her eyes. Her sister winces at her words.
“Can you walk?” Katie asks changing the subject. Nevada nods her head slowly and her sister barely manages pulls her to her feet.
Toxic fumes of chemicals wafting through the air burn their noses and eyes. The thick smoke surrounding them clogs their wheezing lungs to the point where they can barely breath. The putrid smell of burning flesh hangs low in the air, but slowly dissipates the farther they hobble away from the burning plane.
Majestic pine trees tower over the two sisters making them feel small and vulnerable. Under the watchful eye of the reaper-like birds hovering above them in the night sky, they make their way to the edge of a lake.
Katie lowers her sister on the rocky edge of the dark water before collapsing beside her. The small pebbles mixed in the rough sand dig into her hands and bare legs. Cuts from shattered glass cover her burning skin like big paper cuts. The pale moonlight bounces off of the shards still deeply embedded in her skin. She uses her long manicured nails to pick at the pieces she can see, as she bites her lip to keep from crying out.
“What are you doing?” Nevada exclaims as she swats at her sister's hand. “The doctors can take those out when we are rescued.”
Katie bobs her head half heartedly as she buries her one bare foot in the sand. She had made the mistake of wearing sandals, shorts, and a tank-top on the flight because it was hundred degrees outside the airport where they were waiting to board their plane to California to see their father.
“We are going to get rescued, right?” Nevada asks and when Katie doesn't answer she presses her even further. “They are going to find us, aren’t they?” she whimpers, afraid to know the real answer.
“I don’t know!” snaps Katie. “We are in the middle of the freaking forest, Nevada!” her words come harsher than she intended, but it’s too late to take them back. She watches as her frail little sister shrinks into herself.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.” she admits “They will find us.” she says reassuringly as she places her hands on her sister’s thin leg. The black fabric of her jeans are soft against her scratched and worn palms, but when she pulls it away they are covered in sticky crimson blood.
She jumps in surprise at her sudden and unwanted discovery. She stares intently at her sister who seems completely oblivious to the gaping gash on her leg. She springs into action pressing violently on the wound as more blood seeps through her fingers. Nevada screams in pain as her sister frantically fights against the gushing blood.
“Take off your sweater!” Katie orders frantically. Her sister hysterically follows her instructions and peels off her ripped and stained black sweater. Quickly, Katie ties a tourniquet around her sister's bloody shredded leg so that she wouldn’t bleed to death in the middle of nowhere.
Katie slowly pulls her hands away from her sister's leg. She inspects it intently as her brows furrow and her eyes narrow. Mud, rocks, blood, sweat, and other unidentifiable substances cover the girls, giving them the appearance of wild animals.
The woods surrounding them are quiet. It wasn’t peaceful quiet. It wasn’t relaxing or comfortable. It was the kind of quiet that makes you hallucinate sounds because your mind can’t take the silence any longer. The pale moonlight settled on the white choppy water, illuminating the unsettled waves and rapids hidden by the darkness. The dark trees surrounding them towered high above, scraping the starry sky. With every passing minute the air around them seemed to get colder, until finally the girls were shaking and covered with goose-bumps from head to toe.
Katie alternated her line of sight between the fierce rapids, brutal waves, and the sky that held so much promise of a rescue that might not come in time.
“I’m gonna die out here” Nevada whispers in between her fighting breaths.
“No you’re not. They will find us.” Katie reassures her as she wraps her arms around her shivering sister.
“I can’t move my legs.” Nevada squeaks just before tears escape from her pale blue eyes. Katie can only stare in horror as her sister focuses all her energy into moving any part of her legs. Nothing happens. Katie realizes she has a decision to make.
She suddenly rises to her feet as the sands shift under her weight. She drags her dying sister over to the nearest rock. “I will be right back.” She swears under her breath just before she kisses her sister’s dirty head. “No matter what happens I will come back for you.”
“Where are you going?” Nevada asks weakly.
“To get help” She replies before she walks into the treacherous waters.
“I love you.” Nevada cries. “Please come back for me.”
Katie looks back and forces a smile as she replies, “I will always come back for you.”
Her toes and feet sting and burn as the icy water wraps around them. A sudden disappearance of footing, and she plunges completely into the depths of the lake.
The current forces her head violently under water. Relentlessly, it holds her there until her lungs burn and her vision blurs. She lashes out violently at the water, until it releases the vise like grip on her thin frame. She continues to struggle. Her head smashes into something hard and for a moment everything is calm, until suddenly it all comes rushing back. This time the forces push her in a random direction, that she can only hope is upwards.
Suddenly, she breaks through the surface and air rushes into her desperate lungs. Gasping, she treads water. Barely keeping her head above the murderous current, she struggles. Constantly moving her aching exhausted limbs she aims herself towards the shore that seems miles away.
After an eternity of fighting a seemingly pointless battle against the rapids, Katie washes up on the rocky shore of the river like a beached whale. So tired she can barely move, she forces herself onto her feet and begins the frightful trudge up shore into the woods, in hopes of finding someone to save her sister.
Twigs and dry leaves crunch under her raw, bleeding, bare feet as she walks shivering through the woods completely alone. The dew sprinkled across the shrubs and grass sparkles in the faint early morning light, as the sun prepares to make it’s presence known above the hills in the distance. Morning birds chirp somewhere in the distance, and the clean aroma after a fresh rain or heavy dew swirls around in the air as Katie trudges on, desperately searching and listening for anything that could lead her to people. Anything to help her sister.
Then she hears it. Ever so faint. The rumbling of cars in the distance. She starts running as fast as her tired legs can carry her in the direction of hope. Pushing off the rough scratchy bark of the the trees she launches herself further. Each step fueled by pure desperation and a deep burning need to save her sister’s life. She runs for hours.
Her feet hit the asphalt like a slap in the face. Bright headlights blind her as tires screech to a halt, cutting the horrible silence like a knife. The car stops only feet away from her shaking body, and two people jump out of the car.
“Please help!” she gasps just as exhaustion takes over and she crumbles to the ground.
A plump woman with a kind face worn by time, rushes to her aid and cradles her head. Her honey brown eyes full of terror examine every inch of Katie’s battered body. The woman’s fair skin seems translucent in the rising sunlight.
“Robert! Get some water and a blanket! She’s freezing to death!” the woman screams.
Seconds later a pudgy older man with a similarly worn face appears with a wool blanket and a bottle of water. He wraps the blanket around her shaking body and says a few words that just sound like echoing noise in her head. Her vision begins to blur as the woman reaches up and touches the side Katie’s face. A burning pain explodes on the side of her head and her eyes widen in fear as she spots the blood soaking the woman’s hand as she pulls it away.
“My sister.” she tries to say but her eyes are too tired, her eyelids are too heavy, and the pain is too intense. “Please. . . My sister. She needs help.” She tries to explain but everything in her mind is jumbled.
“I left her by the lake. She’s gonna die, please.” she chokes. The couple exchanges a look of sorrow before they turn to confront Katie.
“Honey. . . They found a girl's body by the lake late last night.” The woman regretfully affirms.
“No.” Katie whispers. “No! I have to go back for her! I have to save her!” Tears spill down her cheeks and she feels her chest tightening around her breaking heart. “I promised I would go back for her.” She sobs into the woman as the life begins draining from her body.
In the distance she can hear the sirens growing closer. She fights to keep her eyes open but she is to tired. The exhaustion finally takes over, as she hears her sister’s voice luring her into the darkness.
June 8, 2017