12. Surfer

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"We should get back to the camp," Farid said as a gust of wind swept over us. "We can't stay up here during a storm."

Wondering if he worried for me, I studied his stubbly face. A faint scar ran down from his left eye all the way to his mouth, like the trace of a bitter tear shed ages ago.

The wind carried the first drops of rain with it. Fat, lonely projectiles that hit the ground with a splat.

"Come, let's move," he said.

We still hadn't found Pamela. She might have fallen and hurt herself. Maybe she was lying somewhere, helpless, waiting for the storm to hit her.

The coasts to the west and the north were battered by white waves stirred up by the wind, but the white shirt of her uniform would still be easy to see. She had to be somewhere. The island wasn't that large.

A narrow valley ran down the peak's slope towards the sea in the north-east. Dense vegetation grew at its bottom—lush and viridian green, an echo of the shrubs at Chris Creek.

Pamela might have wanted to explore this, hoping for more fruit to feed us or for shelter from the incoming rain. And maybe there was something to collect rainwater there—such as some large leaves.

"Let's take that way." I pointed at it.

He studied it, and then he looked east, at the approaching clouds, frowning. "The storm will be here in a couple of minutes. We should head back directly." He gestured south-east, towards our camp.

I didn't want to abandon our search for Pamela, to give up on her. "But it's not much farther that way." I nodded at the valley before us. "We can descend here, and then we can head back along the coast."

He looked at me, his mouth pressed into a thin line.

"Please."

He eyed me for a moment longer, then he shrugged. "Okay."

The storm's sheets of falling water touched the island's shore now. A gust of wind tugged at my greasy hair. The rumble of thunder rolled in over the water, its low notes resonating in my bowels.

A drop hit my head, its impact almost painful.

A familiar scent replaced the traces of sulfur as we began our descent. It brought me back to the fragrance of raindrops hitting hot asphalt after a sunny day. It was the smell of summers long past, of teenage evenings spent in parking lots—hot and sultry, exciting and full of dares.

But that scent and its memory were soon washed away as the individual drops merged into a steady drumming that drenched me in seconds.

It wasn't cold—just wet.

Fortunately, the going was easy. The ground held firm, and the rough rock of the old lava gripped the soles of our shoes securely.

Farid hiked ahead of me, his steps quick and deft. The rain had soaked his blue shirt, and it now stuck to his body, showing the moving muscle underneath.

Again, the memories of these teenage nights tugged at my mind.

A flash of light followed by a violent thunderclap shattered the scene. The storm was upon us.

It was time to leave the hill.

I wondered if it had been a bad idea to take the long way home. Should I suggest turning back and taking the short route? I glanced back uphill. We already had lost a lot of height and that short route would be much longer now. Climbing the hill again didn't seem worthwhile.

Hoping that the valley before us would indeed provide a path to the coast, I squinted ahead. But the rainfall had thickened, and visibility had dropped to a stone's throw.

We'd have to find shelter, maybe in the shrubs below us. I hurried to keep up with Farid's quick steps as he approached the border where the continuous surface of basaltic rock ended, and a steep field of rubble and scree began.

That was where it happened.

One moment, he stepped over the last slab of rock, and the next one that slab sagged with the cracking sound of something breaking. He froze, still standing on the rock's surface.

For a single breath, nothing moved.

Then the slab under his feet shuddered, and it began to slide, slowly, downhill. Farid fought for balance on top of it, like a surfer on his board, as it slowly accelerated over a bed of stones and scree. It looked bizarre, him standing there, his legs apart, his arms spread, as he and his craft lost height and gained momentum towards the front of dark, thick-leaved bushes that marked the entrance to the ravine.

I had stopped and watched the slow-motion spectacle as the garage-door-sized piece of rock plowed into the vegetation. The first bushes yielded under its violent approach, tearing and breaking. The slab plowed on, even gained speed, as if intent to plunge into the sea. Then its forward edge rammed into a flat, broad rock blocking its way. The impact made the sound of a shooting squad—several gunshots fired at the same time. Shards of stone spayed up, and dust billowed. The slab's rear end rose, and I lost sight of Farid.

Momentum carried Farid's rock into the air, where it turned over before it slammed into some larger bushes. The violent downpour erased the details.

I didn't see him.

Then it was over. The rain still assaulted the world around me, but Farid was gone.

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