It took five hours to make the clearing. John came out of the thicket first, swearing as he wrestled free of the thorns and thistles that had jabbed, poked, and prodded all of them for the last quarter mile. Carrie was next, then Micah. Micah’s pack came last, hauled out by the one remaining strap. The other had broken off somewhere in the thicket, just ripped out from the stitching entirely.
“That’s what you get for buying cheap,” John said with a laugh.
“You can shut the hell up,” Carrie snapped. “You got us into this mess in the first place. If you can’t get us out and we run out of food, we’re killing you first. Right, Micah?”
Micah didn’t say anything. Carrie turned toward him. He just stood there, staring up at the sky. They’d seen this valley a dozen times. There were some great views, but Carrie wouldn’t have considered them breathtaking. She turned.
John, studying the thicket, turned at the word. “What? Oh. Shit.”
Just above the mountain peaks surrounding them, the sky was black mass of swirling clouds. John noticed it on his way in but didn’t think anything of it. Besides, Carrie never mentioned it, and Micah was too busy fumbling with his pack to look up. Inwardly, he cursed himself, though.
“Does anyone have rain gear?” Micah asked.
John shrugged his own pack off his back. “The tents are waterproof. I checked them before we left.”
“What are you doing?” Carrie asked.
“Setting up camp,” John told her.
Overhead, the sky flickered. Thunder rolled through the valley a second later.
“We need to find shelter,” Carrie said.
John hauled his poles and tarp out of his pack. “No time. The sky is going to open up.”
“It’s cold,” said Micah.
John fumbled with his poles, counting the minutes. “I know. Just get your packs open and your tents up. You don’t want to be out in this when it starts. Hurry.”
They hurried. John made it first, sliding his last pole into place and hammering stakes into the hard ground. He hurried to Carrie, who waved him toward Micah. Carrie joined them a few minutes later, setting the last pole while John and Micah started on the stakes.
Then Carrie was shouting, “Get in! Get in! Get in!”
John looked up. A white wall of rain and wind had materialized on the far side of the valley. It rush toward them, swallowing the trees in its torrent. Behind him, Micah disappeared into his tent and fumbled with the flap to get it closed. Carrie disappeared as well. That left John, who sprang toward his tent, leapt inside, and walled himself off behind the zippered door.
“Everybody set?” he shouted.
Carrie heard him, tried to shout back, but her reply was sucked away by the oncoming gale. It hit them all at once. Around them, the trees whooshed and the wind howled. Carried screamed as the walls of her tent danced against the force of the storm. Outside, the sky darkened another shade.
“Oh, God,” Carrie prayed. “Please let me get through this alive.”
It went on for hours, three small tents thrashed by wind and rain until the storm ran out of bluster. In that time, all three had paid their respects to God and nature, promising off any number of things in order for a second chance at life. And here they were, free and clear and unscathed at the end of it.
Drizzle cloaked John’s skin when he hauled himself out of his tent, calling after the others. Carrie came first, then Micah — same as always. They stood tall against the chill, as though they’d braved the storm head on instead of cowering inside their tents like rabbits in a hovel.
Carrie crossed her arms, doing what she could to fight the cold settling into her bones. They needed a fire, but the rest of the trip was likely a bust. They wouldn’t be exploring the valley after a rain like that. Too much loose terrain.
“Go find some wood,” John told Mikah. “I’ll grab a few stones to make a fire pit. With luck, we’ll have some heat tonight.”
Carrie sighed. It would take a little more than luck.