We moved briskly, taking the long route around the trees to avoid falling branches and logs. The children cried and screamed with seemingly endless energy. I was thankful the little girl with her hands wrapped under my chin sat silently upon my shoulders. Her cool, bare fingers lightly tripped along my chin, tickling as they skimmed my jaw. She fiddled with the little flyaway pieces of hair that had come undone from my bun, seemingly oblivious to everything going on around us.
As we passed the lake, a loud snap rang around the valley, bouncing from the mountainsides while the vibrations created a buzzing in my ears. I covered my ears with my hands. The little girl copied my example.
Steam spouted through cracks in the ice. Bubbles surged through the gaps. The frozen surface receded before my eyes, leaving angry gurgling waves that, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out where they were coming from.
The bubbles grew bigger, the steam gushed faster and faster until it was hard to see where the steam and water separated. It looked as though the whole lake had turned into a geyser. All of a sudden, the lake seemed to give an extra burst of heat and sent its entire contents rocketing into the air in one great ball of vapor. The heat crawled over us.
The bottom of the lake lay bare of water. Aquatic plants that had been frozen in the cold of winter shivered. The heat penetrated them even further, radiating from the dry lakebed. The edges of the plants curled in on themselves as they withered, water sapped from their cells.
The rumbling grew louder before another crack sounded. Unlike the first, it didn’t jump out of nowhere. This time, it grumbled along and, the earth split apart.
Dried dirt separated and a lethargic gurgling began. The temperature around us grew and a swell of golden magma rose from the crack. The air shimmered, heat radiating off it in waves.
“Run!” The molten rock surged upwards. It gained speed, the crack widened and more magma flowed freely into the open to fill the lake with liquid gold.
The ground rocked side to side beneath our feet as we scrambled over fallen logs and skidded on the still icy path. A ripping sound tore through the air.
One of the men tripped over a branch. He went down like a ton of bricks. His grasp on his assault rifle prevented him from extending his arms or protecting the young boy on his back. The little girl on my shoulders stopped me from being able to do anything. Mouse saw, though, and increased her speed. She managed to catch the little guy as he soared over the merc’s head.
She flipped the toddler onto her back. Nicole and Nike grasped the fallen man between them, bringing him to his feet.
We jogged for as long as we could, but after some time the mercenaries grew tired and weak. Those with food shared it between us, and we rearranged the children so everyone could keep going. Those who hadn’t been carrying one already took their turn and those who needed it could take some time without the extra load to try and recover a bit.
The magma followed us, the smell heavy in the air. As we started uphill again, the stench of sulfur and rotten eggs dwindled. A heavy gust of wind flew into our faces and blew of the men from his feet.
I let out a sigh as we crested the hill to see the cars waiting, but the relief was only temporary. The tiny brook had thawed and swollen with the melted snow, filling the banks with rushing water. It reached halfway up the hillside we were standing on, more than five times higher than it was earlier.
As the wind stilled, tiny droplets of water fell from angry clouds that swirled around the sky, blocking any light the sun or moon might have provided. I pulled the small LED head lamp from a loop on my belt and slipped it over my head, switching it on.
Even if I didn’t need that much light, it was comforting and it would help the other men too. Most of them brought out their own flashlights; some were on a band around their head, like mine, some attached to the barrels of their weapons.
The rain swelled, too, the fine pitter-patter grew to plump drops. I glanced behind us to find the glow of the liquid fire creeping closer. We were surrounded. The lava on one side, while the river below us continued to grow even more monstrous than it already was with the help of the pouring rain. If it were to keep getting larger, it would likely consume the cars, leaving us with no way out of here.
Glancing between the men, I took inventory of what was available to us. We all had ropes but needed somewhere to tie them. There were no trees on this side of the bank that we could possibly anchor them to. There was a huge tree in the center of the river, which had been right next to the creek earlier, but that was of no use if we couldn’t get there.