The earth heaved with a frightful shudder. Laura’s feet felt the earth-shattering tear. Her teeth rattled. Cement split, cracked. She thought to leap for the sidewalk, but it lurched upward by the quake. A moment of inertia preceded a terrible rumble. It growled to a roar. Car alarms began screaming across the city. All was chaos. Skyscraper-chunks dislodged, tumbled through the air. A car was suddenly flattened. Laura tried to pretend she hadn’t seen the people there, couldn’t.
She’d been running through the park when it began. Her new, daily ritual had put her there. She’d only just found out her weight problem was going to become diabetes. If she didn’t get fit now, she might lose a foot– or worse. The future would only get more difficult. Fortunately, something had woken her up this time. Even though her breath was perpetually ragged that first week, she’d lost ten pounds. Now, breathing was much easier all ‘round.
Somehow those things so present in her mind dissolved when all hell broke loose. Moments ago, she was content, joyous. She should’ve known. She’d feared those emotions from the years of terrible happenings usually succeeding them. Her luck had been bad since childhood: when she first the wonder of life, her parents divorced. Her childhood home was sold off as community property. When she finally recovered, she got her first period. When that was over, the skies cleared just long enough for adolescence to become teenage angst. Cliques excluded her. Her grades fell. She was altogether depressed until college. The first rays of sunshine once more appeared when college dissolved the cliques gone. Even a few boyfriends came around, despite her “unattractive” physique.
Then the clouds parted, and a downpour flushed her hopes. A car accident forced her into traction, worsened her weight problem. Her then-fiancee stuck around long enough for her to walk again. Since then, her life was one series of disappointments after another and preceding more. Now, when the sun’s rays seemed most likely to shine again, the asinine happened.
She could’ve lived with a broken leg, getting hit by a car, or somehow gaining weight when she meant to lose it, but an earthquake? Really? This was absolutely the most unlikely thing to happen. Sure, the west coast got quakes, but here? In the middle of the park? At the peak of Seattle’s dormant period? And just when she was feeling alright? Seattle hadn’t had a major quake in almost twenty years. They weren’t “due for one,” either. This was a fluke. Of all the times… If she’d believed in God, he was laughing and pointing right now. Asshole.
Her body engaged. She leaped to the sidewalk. It shuddered, lurched. The ground split. A chasm appeared, widened. She bolted at a break-neck speed, raced splitting earth. Her feet bucked and trembled, bounced and skipped against the upheaval of concrete. She felt as if levitating, rather than running, feet never touching ground. Asphalt cracked. Car windows shattered. Something exploded far-off.
All the while the hot sun beat through a cloudless sky as if in a reality all its own of peace and serenity. Bastard.
She sprinted past falling debris, flocked with crowds rampaging the city. They were stampeding in every direction. Fleeing for nowhere in particular. Fleeing just to flee. They were no longer people: scared animals, directed and steered by crashes, cracks. The cluster around Laura grew larger each second. It became a gathering, an assembly, a stadium, so on until everyone in Seattle had joined them.
They fled together. Some manifested only panting terror, fueled by adrenaline. Normally Laura would’ve joined them– panting, wheezing, stumbling and eventually falling back to accept the inevitable. Being heavy and learning to run meant learning to breathe again though. If the quake had hit even a week earlier, she’d have fallen miles ago. She’d have been trampled to death by the crowd surging around her.
Now, she ran.
Her muscles ached. Joints burned. Her heart was a metronome set to insanity. Until now, she hadn’t liked the aches, the pains. Now, it meant she was still alive, intact, still running. She needed that. She managed to pass a few people, push nearer the mob’s front. She could jealous hatred around her:a fat girl outpacing them? Well they never! Jackasses.
Near an intersection, someone fell. People trampled him, unaware of his cracking bones in their terror-flight. He screamed, bellowed for help. Laura pushed her legs toward him, threw her weight around to shoulder and elbow people away. One strong arm pulled him up. His eyes and face were red, wet. He bawled “thank yous.” People tried to shove her away, force her along the current of bodies. Between her new muscles and still-heavy build, she was a boulder in the rapid.
Something exploded, forced them into a half hunch. A half demolished car careened out of control. It ramped off un-level asphalt, arced nearby. Its rear-end caught a fire-hydrant, tore it free. A geyser erupted the persistent swoosh of pure, liquid fury. The car punched through the front of a coffee shop, pinned a few people down inside. The man half-pulled, half followed her toward the still-running car. Its roof was dented from an impact of debris, driver dead. Laura’s adrenaline suppressed vomit and fear. They scrambled over shattered glass, angled nearer the pinned screams.
The man managed to kill the engine, the Earth’s trembling lessening each moment. Laura’s tone– “bitch” as it was often called by, at last count, everyone she met– rallied the people still standing in the shop. Together twenty-five people helped turn the car onto its side. The people still able to walk fled for their lives. Others merely moaned in pain. A few people helped to set bones over screams, a couple ending as their producers passed out. Jerry-rigged splints were fashioned from broke tables and various miscellanea. Someone even managed to loot crutches and from a drugstore nearby.
Laura turned to eye the man she’d saved. A doctor tended to him, an off-duty ER doc in from the street to check the injured. The rest were being carted off for nearby hospitals. The doctor assured the man he had a few broken ribs, some bumps and cuts, but otherwise was fine. The man stepped over to Laura, and as best he could, hugged her with thanks.
Then came a moment of almost total silence. Reality was still. The world had stopped. Laura swiveled: the entire coffee shop eyed her with gratitude. Someone said “thank you.” Someone else clapped. Another person whistled. Laura reddened. A line formed of people wanting to shake her hand or take pictures with her– even though her face was beet-red from exertion and bashfulness, her skin slick with sweat, and her hair wild.
The moment passed and the man pulled his savior aside to slip his phone number over sheepishly. “For, you know, if you wanna’ actually have coffee some time.”
Laura giggled. Then together, they laughed full on. Maybe her luck had changed. Maybe, it wasn’t such a bad day after all…