It began with me as a teenager visiting in a small town. I was going from house to house, slipping between hedges, visiting friends. All the friends happened to be elderly women. One was my great-grandmother. The town was lifted out of the fifties, with small houses, typically white, single levels, with shutters, and tidy yards lined with flowers. I always entered the houses through the back, kitchen door, because that’s where I knew the people would be. And I was always right. They were in their tiny kitchens — smaller than the bathrooms in my house — busy cooking, moving around a small table with four chairs. All greeted with smiles and laughter and offered eagerly accepted food, mostly cookies and donuts.
After, though, I left, and found myself wandering in old homes where no one lived any longer. The further that I went, the less there were of the houses. First absent were the flowers and lawns, and then the walks and the windows. Inside, I found empty, dusty rooms.
I was a little older now, perhaps in my twenties. Soon the houses lost their roofs and doors, their siding. I was out where the hills rose, then found myself in a quarry. A house or building, maybe part of a mining operation, had been erected to one side. Little remained of it except an oddly stout brown wall.
I went through the quarry, clambering over boulders and rocks, scaling short cliffs. I became aware that two children had entered the quarry. They were about eight, blond and fair. One was taller than the other by two or three inches.
I watched them for a moment. They had as much right to be there as me, so I continued my exploring. As I climbed a sheer wall, picking handholds on the sandstone and flint outcrops, dirt and rocks fell over me. I threw myself back and away just in time to avoid a huge granite boulder. I didn’t know where it’d come from; its size astonished and scared me. As I recovered from jumping back and away, I saw a large slab of the wall break free and fall.
Scrambling backward took me to safety. As dust rose, I thought of the children. I saw them about forty feet away. They’d climbed as I had and had reached a ledge. I shouted at them that it wasn’t safe, that we need to leave. Rocks tumbled around them. From my vantage, I saw larger, heavier rocks breaking free above them and called out a warning.
The children slipped into a small crevice about twenty feet above the quarry floor. Rocks fell without striking them. Yellow dust thickened as gravel slid down the cliff. The children were coughing. With more rocks falling around me, I made my way over rocks and stones across the quarry to help the children.
Their rock wall moved in, like it was taking a breath, carrying them in with them. The children disappeared from sight. Dodging rocks, waving away dust, I hurried to find and help the children. A rock taller than them pushed them out of the crevice. As they moved aside, it teetered for a moment before rolling down the cliff, jarring more rocks loose with its thunderous landing.
I was almost to the children. Realizing their danger, they were taking action to get down. I reached them in time to help them to the quarry floor. The walls on three sides were spasming and then stilling. I feared something more catastrophic was about to happen and raced with the children to get out. When we reached the point where we’d entered, we discovered our way blocked by collapsed rocks.
The children were panicking. So was I. Frantic to do something, I saw the brown wall. Crossing to it, I jumped up and caught the top of it. Very carefully, I tilted it backwards into the quarry. I found a huge off-white strap, inches thick and about four inches wide, which reminded me of a fire hose, that I used to help me leverage the wall back toward us.
When the wall was low enough, I directed the children over it. They climbed onto it and slid down the other side. Once they were safe, I precariously balanced the wall. More quarry fell in behind me. As it did, I used the white strap to cautiously climb up and over the wall to safety. When I was done, I pulled the brown wall back up into place and regarded it before moving on.