Sylvie wakes with a shiver. She can hardly feel her feet. Her back aches. She has slept with bent knees and now her right leg has cramps. She shakes it back to life, warming her toes as she does so. She doesn't mind the cold, not with Jim sleeping beside her and the knowledge of what today means. She turns towards the blissful sight of of his lovely face in the green tentlight. She could gaze at his face for hours, but the sun will be rising soon, and they can't be late. She strokes his smooth skin and is rewarded with his eyes fluttering open and his lips reaching to kiss hers.
"It's time," she says.
"At last." His grin is ecstatic.
They jump out of their sleeping bags, pulling their clothes on, eager to get moving.
"No time for breakfast," says Sylvie.
"We're not going to need any, where we're going." He grabs her hands and they race towards the cliffs. The air is cool as the grey-blue sky lightens in preparation for the final dawn. Jim takes large strides up the stony path, forcing her to takes twice as many steps just to keep up. The exertion warms Sylvie and she soon forgets her aches and pains.
They arrive at the top, beaming at each other in breathless elation. At the edge of the cliff, they find a grey boulder. They sit against it, staring out across the sea at the horizon which is already lined with a strip of orange-gold. A seagull sweeps past and dives down into the waves below. Otherwise they are completely alone.
"I thought the others might come," she says, trying not to sound too disappointed.
"They were faint-hearted. Not true believers," he smiles at her, "It's better this way. Just us. You're the only one worth saving."
Oh the delight of hearing those words. After all this time, she still can't quite believe she is his chosen one. But here they are, just the two of them, right at the end. She snuggles against him, watching the clouds above the horizon turn pinky-orange. The wind has picked up causing the waves below to rise and fall, crashing against the rocks below. She looks at her watch, five to six. The sun will soon be here and then, and then...
"What will happen to the others do you think?"
"Earthquake, fire, pestilence, plague."
"Even my mother?" This has always been her one reservation. Her mother isn't a believer, of course, but she is a harmless soul.
"I'm sorry sweetie, but your mother is one of the worst. She reads the Bible, but doesn't hear the message. It's right there in Genesis, and Matthew and Peter. This is the last day of tribulation, it's quite clear. Yet she doesn't believe it."
Jim has explained this before - the thousandth year since this, the seven thousandth since that. The importance of using the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars. If truth be told, Sylvie doesn't quite understand, but it is enough that Jim does, "I guess you're right."
"You know I am."
The sun is half way above the horizon, joined at the water's edge by its orange reflection, creating the momentary illusion that a ball of fire is burning the sea. It is getting warmer,d espite the wind and the sky has paled into blue. A dog barks in the distance. Sylvie's watch says a minute to six. She squeezes Jim's hands. He squeezes back.
"I love you Sylvie," he says, and she trembles with joy. This is it. The two of them, about be raised up to heaven. The sun pulls itself above the horizon blazing the sea with orange and red waves. They wait in eager anticipation. Any second now. The hands on Sylvie's watch march round to six. They wait patiently. Any second now.
They wait...any second now...and wait...The sun rises higher in the sky, fading into yellow, it's reflection reduced to a tiny circle in the waves. Six ten, six twenty, six thirty, seven. Nothing happens.Nothing. But the sun keeps rising.
Sylvie's back is sore, her knees ache, her right leg is cramping. She is longing for a cup of tea and a fry up. But she doesn't dare to suggest it. How could Jim have got it wrong? He's always been so certain. Suddenly, Jim throws his hand against his forehead, as if he's heard her thought, "Idiot. I'm a total idiot." He ruffles in his pocket and picks out a leaflet. "Look," he says, pointing to the date and the time. "I misread the time. It's 6pm NOT am."
Sylvie grins with delight."So, it's still going to happen then?"
"You betcha." He stands up and stretches. "Come on," he adds, "Breakfast. We'll come back later"
Hand in hand they run back across the cliffs. Towards the day ahead, and the rapture that is still to come.