“I’ve always loved nature,” I say to my friend next to me. “I’ve always felt… connected to it in a weird way, y’know?” I turn to look at Drew, who’s walking the mountain trail with me.
He nods. “I get it. Is it because of your leaf birthmark?”
I chuckle and raise a hand behind my neck, just below my hairline. I can’t feel it, but I know the pink-shaded, five-pointed leaf. I’ve only seen it in pictures and had people describe it to me, and from what I can tell, it looks like a digitate leaf. “Maybe. Or maybe it’s because I spent a lot of my childhood outside.”
Drew kicks a rock and it skitters off the path and into a pile of leaves. “That’s also true.” He looks up the path. “Where’d Kylie and Kendal go?”
I tilt my head. “I’m not sure. I swear they were just ahead of us.”
Drew opens his mouth to shout, but another voice rings through the trees and mountains, scaring us both.
“Robin, Drew, come on!” It’s only Kylie, and she appears at the top of the trail’s hill, her light brown hair coming out of its braid and blowing in her face. “You guys are so slow. There’s a few fallen trees we can rest on before we continue the hike.”
Drew looks at me and I smile a little. “Race you," I challenge with a smirk.
He tries to say something but I’ve already started running to catch up with Kylie, my hiking boots crunching the autumn leaves. I reach the hill just before Drew and he stops a little ahead of me, puffing. It wasn’t that tall of a hill, was it? I mean, sure we are high up so there’s less air, but why’s he panting so hard?
We’ve reached an open space of the trail with a look at the mountains and landscape. Kylie and Kendal are sitting on a fallen oak tree with crooked branches. Kendal has a protein bar in his hand and Kylie is turning a rock in her hands. I walk over and sit next to Kendal and slide my backpack off and it thumps to the ground. Drew sits on the ground and takes his beanie off to run a hand through his black hair. I watch him for a moment but look away before he catches me.
I lean down to reach into my bag, looking for the container of trail mix I made last night. I pull it out and pull off the lid. Kendal grabs a handful and I look up at him.
“Hey! You could have asked me,” I grumble and pick up a raisin and throw it in my mouth.
Kendal smiles and grabs another peanut. I punch his arm and he groans.
“Ask before you take,” I say. Kendal reaches for the container again and I hold it up. “Ask.”
“No!” Kendal says and stands on the tree to reach the container. I jump up and dash to the other side of the tree, shaking the container. Kendal goes after me and I jump off the tree.
He chases me around some more before I stand on the cliff, my back facing the view. I’m smirking and staring at him, a brow quirked. Kendal is watching me with a grin.
He steps forward and I take a small step back. He rolls his eyes and takes another step and I scoot backward. I can play this game.
“Robin,” Kylie calls from the tree. “You’re really close to the edge, be careful.”
I wave my hand. “I’ll be fine, Kylie. Kendal.”
“Yes?” the boy asks and tilts his head. He steps for the trail mix and I step back. I kick a rock and turn to watch it fall down the cliff and out of sight. I really should be careful.
I look back up at him. “I’ll give you some trail mix if you ask politely.”
He sighs long and dramatically and rolls his head back. “Fiine.”
I smile and nod. “Good. Now, here’s some--”
“Psych!” Kendal yells and runs towards me, smiling. I stumble backward and my foot catches the sharp cliff.
Everything feels like it’s going in slow motion. I think I’m falling. My arms are flailing as I tumble over the edge of the cliff and I hear voices frantically shouting for me and see Kendal reach for me, his green eyes wide and panicked. I can’t move. I’m paralyzed. To my right, I see the container of trail mix drop, its contents spilling everywhere. I look back up and see my three best friends with tears in their eyes watch as I drop. They know they can’t help me now.
I snap out of my shock and try to look for something to grab onto. I can’t die yet. The cliff was at least 350 feet above the ground. I’d die on impact. I can’t die yet. There’s so much I haven’t done yet. I haven’t gotten a girlfriend. I’ve never gone on a rollercoaster. I’m still not over my fear of water.
I search for something, anything at all, but there’s nothing. It’s a sheer cliff face with no hand-holds or anything. I’m done for.
It’s not that I’m scared of dying. I’m scared of what comes after. I’ve never been a religious person. I’ve been an atheist my entire life. I’ve never gone to church except for weddings. No one knows what comes after death, and that thought terrifies me.
Will dying hurt? Surely my death will. I’ll break every bone in my body when I land on the ground below. I close my eyes, let out a long, deep breath, and brace for the pain.
It takes a lot longer than I thought.