I was six years old, napping in the backseat of my father’s car, when I first saw the end of the world. Granddad had preached that morning about loving thy neighbors, and I fell asleep wondering if he meant all our neighbors or just the ones right next door. Thankfully, Tabitha Sind didn’t live right next door. She lived a few houses down from us, so surely I couldn’t be held accountable for not loving her. She’d pulled my hair in kindergarten. On purpose!
As my eyes drifted shut on the ride home after Sunday dinner, I figured I’d have to at least try to love her. Granddad said so. So I pondered how I was going to manage such a miraculous feat as the car swayed and the sun cast shadows that slid across the back glass, coaxing my eyes shut for longer and longer periods of time until I fell into a deep slumber.
Or so I thought. What seemed like seconds later, a vision—so bright, it blinded me; so sharp, it ripped through my skull—flashed hot in my mind. I’d had the vision before, but only in dreams and never with such urgency. Such desperation. This time it had enough weight behind it to seize my lungs.
They were coming.
And they would kill us all where we stood.
I awoke to the sound of my own screams. To Mom draped over her seat, trying to grab me. To Dad swerving off the road, barely missing a semi. He careened onto the shoulder and ground to a stop, the tires kicking up dirt around us until the world outside became a brown haze. Mom unfastened my seat belt and pulled me over the seat, into her lap.
But I couldn’t catch my breath. As the dirt settled on the windows around us, I screamed and kept screaming, terrified beyond reason. I didn’t understand what was happening. I just knew we were all going to die.
I clutched at my mother’s jacket and begged my parents, who were the smartest people alive as far as I was concerned, to stop the darkness from leaking in. They gave each other worried glances before my mother cradled me to her and said to him, “Already? So soon?”
Dad bit down, his bright gray eyes watering as he asked, “Where is it, pix? Where’s the gate?”
Trembling uncontrollably and unable to draw in enough air to speak, I pointed a shaky finger. Farther down the canyon. Farther away from our home in Riley’s Switch. Around the twists and turns of Abo Pass. Closer and closer to the ancient Pueblo missions. The ruins. The sacred grounds where the beginning of the end was seeping onto Earth.
My father peeled through the dirt and gravel, following my lead, but my mother begged him to stop. To turn around. To go back for help.
“There’s no time,” he said, his jaw set in determination.
She pulled me closer and I was no longer sure which of us was shaking more.
We rounded a grassy hill, and the gate, as Dad had called it, came into view, but it didn’t look like any gate I had seen. It looked like a bolt of lightning that had been split down the center, hovering in the afternoon sky while night seeped out of it. Only it wasn’t night. The thick oily blackness that leaked into the bright sky was in fact hundreds of dark spirits escaping onto our plane. I didn’t know that at the time. I wouldn’t find out for ten years that what I was witnessing was a rip in the fabric of reality. A portal between two worlds that should never have been opened.
* * *
The bright edges of the gate sparked and crackled when we skidded to a stop. Wind rocked the car, howling around us like a coyote at night. Dirt and debris hit the glass, making sharp thuds and scratching sounds, but I could not take my eyes off the rip in the sky. I sat paralyzed, utterly confused by what I was seeing, though somewhere deep inside, I knew the darkness brought death.
No, not just death.
Mom and Dad sat frozen too, looking up in disbelief. Hints of panic flashed in their eyes; then Dad swallowed down his fears and reached into the backseat to grab his journal, the one he carried everywhere, the one with scribbled notes written in cursive, a method I had yet to learn. When he opened his door, Mom lunged for him, clamped on to the pale blue sleeve of his shirt. He stopped and looked at her, and in that moment, I saw the depths of his love. My father, so handsome and strong with his red hair and scraggly stubble. And my mother, so absolutely beautiful, her long cinnamon hair falling over her shoulders and brushing across my wet cheek.
Then he took my face into his huge hands. “I love you more than anything on Earth, pix, do you understand?”
I tried to nod, but fear and dread didn’t allow it.
That was our family motto: Forever. It was all we had to say. He leaned over and kissed my forehead before letting go of my face and kissing my mom on the mouth. The kiss was hungrier than I’d expected. More desperate.
When he broke free, he didn’t look back again. He tore out of the car with his journal and ran for the rip in the sky. Mom scooped me up and we took off after him, but he was already on a hill just beyond the ruins. She stumbled—the wind was so strong—and we took cover behind a clump of bushes. Dad stood on the hill, reading from his journal as the gale force knocked him to his knees. He recovered and began reading again, shouting over the gusts, his words barely audible and completely foreign to me.
“He’ll do it, pix,” Mom said into my ear as she held me tight. “He’ll close the gate, don’t worry.”
But I had turned my attention to the dark shadows that darted past us, each one nothing more than a blur before it disappeared over the hills, slithering along the ground like vaporous snakes.
Mom began praying, but again, I didn’t understand the words. She closed her eyes, cradling me to her as her hair whipped about and tangled in the bushes. Then everything stopped. The wind. The noise. Mom lifted her head and looked toward my father. An instant later, she struggled to her feet and we ran.