Chapter Thirty-Five

For a few short minutes which felt like long, slow hours of effort, Samantha and I clambered up the steep hillside with desperation and fear driving us ever forward. The ground around our feet was littered with the remains of brittle, coarse vegetation and the dehydrated plants flickered with dancing orange flames, burning fiercely and lighting our way along the precarious route.

The pathway traversed its way across the face of the hill rather than driving its way straight up the steep face. Although this would have been a welcome benefit to the climbing tourists who normally walked along the beach and scaled the cliff, tonight it was nothing more than just another hindrance put there to further complicate what remained of our already complex lives. It was too dangerous to leave the path in the low light and so we had no alternative but to follow the winding route. It took twice as long as it need have but we eventually stumbled breathlessly onto the top of the hill and could look down onto the burning world around us.

I stood on the flat top of the cliff, sucking in deep breaths of the hot, dry night air and holding Samantha close to me. Below us the sea appeared deceptively normal save for the hot, hissing mist which hung over its writhing surface, and the colour of the horizon had returned to its normal dark purple hue. The sky was clear and still and millions of stars looked down on us. It was strangely ironic to see them looking so peaceful and unaffected in the dark sky and it was difficult to believe that it was our own star which was killing our planet. I wondered if the earth looked any different tonight from a million miles away.

I turned my head to look inland and, for as far as I could see, the surface of the planet seemed to be alight. Thick smoke palled into the dirty sky above towns and villages and the heavens were turned a deep, ruddy brown colour as the light from thousands of uncontrolled fires flickered and danced. Fields of starved grass and dried crops had been turned into raging, unchecked infernos and the cities were lit not by electric light, but by the dying flames of the crumbling buildings within them.

Samantha looked at me and I stared back into her clear, deep blue eyes. Her skin was blackened with smoke and dirt and the tears which rolled down her pretty face carved clean lines down her cheeks. I was exhausted and found it difficult to think of anything to say.

'That might have been it,' she whispered hopefully.

I smiled and held her close. I knew that there would be more to come and I felt sure that Sam also knew that our ordeal was far from over. Despite the fact that there was little time remaining, I could not stop my mind from wandering and I still could not help but be amazed at my luck at finding someone like Samantha. With possibly only minutes of our lives remaining, she was still making the effort to try and comfort me and to cushion the inevitable blow that would soon strike. Although I should not have wasted those precious seconds dreaming, I found myself once more trying to imagine how things might have been had I met Sam earlier and in different circumstances. As I pulled her body tightly to mine and revelled in the warmth of her tender touch, I realised that the woman I held was the woman that I had always been destined to love. It left a bitter taste in my mouth when I thought that my quest to find someone like Samantha was going to end so bitterly and cruelly. I tried to cling to the hope of survival that she had tried to convince me of moments before. Perhaps that really had been it - perhaps there would be no more of the terrible heat and light - perhaps we would not die.

In those fleeting moments when we stood together on what felt like the roof of the world, there was so much that I wanted to say to Samantha. No matter how hard I tried though, I couldn't bring myself to shatter the fragile silence and, instead, I just held her tightly, never wanting to let go. The bitterness and anger which I felt could hardly be expressed - it was not so much that we were going to be parted, or even the fact that I was going to die - the one thing that hurt the most, that I could not even bear to consider, was the fact that Samantha was about to die and that there was nothing I could do to prevent it happening. For a moment I thought about my family, hundreds of miles away. I hoped that Mom, Dad and Michelle were as safe and secure as they could be and, although I was sorry that I could not be with them, I knew that I belonged with Samantha now.

On the top of the hill, only a few yards from where we had stopped, stood the remains of a little stone cottage. It had no roof and only three walls and yet, in our dazed and confused condition, it seemed that it might offer us some protection from the inferno which we both feared would eventually strike. Slowly at first, and keeping Samantha right by my side, I walked towards it.

As we tripped and stumbled over the hot ground, I wished again that things could return to how they had been. Even the office which I had grown to detest and hate with all my heart seemed a pleasant alternative to the painful death which stared us both in the face at that moment. Again, I looked at the girl at my side and, as I watched her wipe tears from her beautiful eyes, I too began to sob uncontrollably.

We stopped walking and I held Sam in front of me. She took a gentle hand and wiped away the salt-water trails which ran freely down my tired face before kissing me. Our lips were dry and cracked but the feelings expressed with just that one, single kiss filled me with love and sadness. I cleared my painful, sore throat and told her, simply and softly, that I loved her. Samantha held me tighter than she ever had before and I pulled her so close that I thought I might have hurt her. I screwed my eyes shut and listened to the silence around us, the quiet only being disturbed by the noises we made as we cried in each other's arms.

A sudden wind began to blow. I opened my eyes, afraid of what I might see. The strength of the breeze increased and it was only seconds before it had reached gale force and was threatening to blow our legs from underneath us. Defiantly, I stood firm as the scorching wind whistled and howled all around us. I buried Sam's face in my chest and held her head tightly as I looked out to sea and watched the horizon again begin to change colour.

A yellow light appeared in the furthest distance and it quickly began to sweep towards the shore, burning through the air like liquid fire and reaching out for us with an incredible speed and ferocity. Shaking, and yet still holding onto each other for all our worth, we sank to our feet and huddled close together on the baking ground. I fought to shield Sam as best I could from the wind and light and still protect myself but there was nothing that either of us could do to escape.

The light struck, and it was as if the air around us had suddenly become fire. For a moment, the pain was unbearable but then it was quickly numbed. I could see nothing but the brilliant light and could feel nothing except Samantha holding onto me tightly. I felt the clothes, skin and hair on my body being burned and scorched away and I fought to keep hold of Sam in the ferocious wind.

I waited for the heat and light to die.

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