The Quake by Heather Eagar

The skyline was beautiful. Roger couldn’t deny that. Pinks and golds swept through the clouds. Spires penetrated the vision here and there, the city lights beginning to blink to life. As the sun set deeper behind the mountains, the shadows of the city left a handprint against the stars.

He sighed. It was beautiful, yet at the same time he couldn’t shake the terror he felt every time he looked at it. It was frightening how easily it could all be taken out with one fatal blow. He had lived in the city for most of his life. He knew how it was. And it could all be summed up with one word. More.

More money. More gadgets. More buildings to make more money. Taller buildings than the ones that already existed so they could hold more world records. Everyone wanted more of what they already had. They were so busy creating the next innovation that they didn’t even realize what they were missing.

Roger hadn’t known what he was missing, either. But he felt there had to be something better than endless days in a cubicle, all so he could have more of something he didn’t really care about in the first place. So he left. It had taken some work to convince Rebecca that moving fifty miles into the middle of nowhere was a good idea.

But in the end, Rebecca followed him. He knew she would, or at least he hoped she would. Every married person he met complained to him about how awful their marriage was, and how wonderful it would be to be single again. He felt sorry for them. He couldn’t imagine a single day without Rebecca by his side. And thankfully for him, she felt the same way.

So Roger traded in his pin-striped suit for camo fatigues, and traded in their sedan for a pickup truck. It was hard to leave, and not just for Rebecca. It was hard for him too. But all the same, Rebecca followed him into the unknown with nothing but what they could tie down in the back.

Roger stood up and stretched, the sun now gone for the night. He climbed down the rickety steps he had made himself and stepped down from the roof into their one story home. He saw Rebecca reading by the fireplace and smiled. After being out on their own for a couple years, they still didn’t have much, but they had each other. And that was home enough for him.

Roger walked over to their dining room table and turned on a small solar powered radio to hear the weather update. The voice crackled, like it wasn’t sure if it was ready to be awakened, but it came through clear enough to be understood.

Seismic activity is increasing throughout the state. We strongly urge you to prepare yourselves. We don’t know when the series of earthquakes will hit. But they WILL hit. Will you be ready?

He turned the radio off and sunk into his homemade rocker opposite Rebecca. She looked up and shook her head. “I don’t know why you listen to that blasted thing,” she said, setting her book down on her lap. “They’ve been warning of earthquakes the entire time we’ve been here.”

Roger gave her a sad smile. “And they will come.” He looked into the fireplace. “I know you think I’m crazy.” Rebecca gave a small laugh. “I just feel so sorry for everyone else,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “One bad shake and all those buildings are going to topple like dominos, bringing everything down with them. What is a city of that size going to do without electricity, gas, water…?”

“It will fall into chaotic ruin,” Rebecca quoted.

Roger looked up, surprised. His surprise was quickly replaced with a laugh, deep and rolling like thunder. “It looks like I repeat myself a little too often around here,” he said. “But it’s true, all the same. And we’re prepared for when it happens.”

They were prepared, all right. For two years, ever since Roger turned on that damn solar powered radio, they had worked to protect themselves against the day those earthquakes would hit. He didn’t know much about building houses, but that was where he had started. He figured he would build a simple wood frame house; the lighter the building material, the less chance of being hurt.

After that came the real work. Planting crops to store food, building solar panels and finding ways to catch the rain for drinking water; these were just a few of the skills he realized they needed for survival on their own. Lucky for him, Rebecca seemed to have a better handle on the situation at times than he did. Such was the case when Roger was attempting to build a complicated system to catch the rain water by cutting pipes in half to serve as a gutter. It was while he was trying to figure out how he could attach them to each other when Rebecca had walked outside, placed a wooden barrel down next to him and said, “That will catch the water just fine.” Roger had looked up, sweat on his brow, and didn’t say a word. He smiled, nodded, and threw the pipes aside for a future project where he might need pipes that had been cut in half.

Next came the defensive measures. Barbed wire was promptly put up around their compound. Once the earthquake hit, Roger knew that all of the survivors would be pounding on their door, ready to steal their food and take their provisions. He wasn’t going to let anyone threaten his and Rebecca’s survival. A few trips were taken into the city to buy more guns, knives, and ammo. A solar powered motion sensor was installed to alert Roger if anyone came within a hundred feet of the barbed wire.

He also made sure there was a gun in every room of the house, though Rebecca wouldn’t touch them. She said she’d rather be dead than hurt another human being, no matter their intentions. Roger didn’t let that sway him. He had twenty additional guns, ranging from a pea shooter to a sniper rifle, locked up in a gun safe in their bedroom, just in case. He went out into the field every day for marksmanship training. And he got good. Real good. If anyone came near his place, they didn’t stand a chance.

After two years, Roger finally felt like they were prepared. He had even reinforced his wooden home with steel beams, and felt confident it could survive the predicted earthquakes.

It was eleven-o-clock on a Sunday morning when the first one hit.

It was September, and Roger and Rebecca were out in the garden, harvesting their crops. Roger had just thrown some kale into a basket next to him when he felt the ground begin to shake. Rebecca looked up, alarm in her eyes. Roger scooted along the dirt to where she was pulling carrots. Wrapping his arm around her waist, they remained curled on the ground, holding onto one another as the earth tossed them side to side.

To Roger, it felt like the ground shook for several long minutes, rather than the forty short seconds it actually lasted. When it finally subsided, he took a deep breath and sat up. That’s when the second quake hit, this one more violent than the last.  It slammed Roger back down into the ground and his hand desperately searched for Rebecca’s. When his fingers met hers, their hands intertwined and he brought his eyes up to meet hers. Rebecca’s lips moved forming the words, “I love you.” Roger knew she wouldn’t be able to hear him but he mouthed back, “I love you, too.”

The sounds of crunching metal pierced the air, and Roger’s head snapped up. He forgot how to breathe when he saw that a chasm had opened up in what used to be a field only a hundred feet in front of them. The ground formed what looked like a sneer, the top lip curling down. And their truck was in the process of being swallowed by it.

Roger wrapped both arms around Rebecca. He felt her shallow scared breathing against his chest. Eventually, the shaking stopped. He didn’t know when. He and Rebecca remained curled together for a long time before he realized that he could let go. They sat up, panting. Roger’s muscles hurt, unable to release the tension he still felt.

“Oh, Roger,” he heard Rebecca whisper. He turned and saw her staring at their home. Or what used to be their home. “You didn’t by any chance research to see exactly where the fault lines ran, did you?” she asked.

Roger didn’t answer. Judging by the chasm that went straight through their home, splitting it in half, he didn’t need to.  Instead, he stood and shook the loose soil from his clothes. He moved to the edge of the chasm and looked down. He saw nothing but empty darkness. The truck was gone, as was much of their home. The gun safe was balancing precariously on a ledge several feet down.

Roger made his way toward what was left of the home. After testing the stability of a pile that consisted of wood, twisted metal, and a few rain barrels, Roger picked his way to the top. Looking out into the distance his fears were confirmed. There, fifty miles away, was the outline of the city. And it was still standing. Roger figured they had at least some broken glass and such, but those hundred story buildings still stood. Mocking him. They wanted more, and they got it. And Roger was left with nothing.

That wasn’t entirely true. He still had Rebecca. Roger sighed and climbed his way down the rubble. “Well, my dear,” he said, taking Rebecca by the hand. “How do you feel about taking a stroll with the man who will love you forever?”

Rebecca raised an eyebrow. “I would follow you to the ends of the earth. But I feel we’ve already been there.”

“Well then, let’s head this way,” Roger said, nodding in the direction where the city still stood. “Do we still have my old suit?”

“No, remember, you burned it when we first came out here,” Rebecca said.

“Ah, yes. My declaration of liberation from society. Well, I can always get a new one.”

Hand in hand, Roger and Rebecca looked over what remained of their two year endeavor to one-up civilization. And once they began walking, they never looked back.

Heather Eagar lives in Logan, Utah with her husband and two children. She attended a different university every year for four years before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Utah. She is currently a stay-at-home mom who writes often while her husband attends graduate school.

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