The Shaking

Seismic terror is about to strike...

Maverick geologist Brian McLean was ridiculed when he warned London and south east England were at imminent risk of suffering a major earthquake. But when the unthinkable happens buildings collapse, power grids crash, transport is gridlocked, and high-tech life grinds to a shuddering halt.

In the stunned aftermath courier Ryan Buckland journeys through a shattered city to be reunited with his family, Deputy Prime Minister Stuart Pullman sees the emergency as his chance to seize power, while nuclear engineer Alan Carter desperately tries to avert a far greater catastrophe. If he fails, destructive aftershocks will be the least of our problems...

A homage to penny dreadful natural disaster potboilers, The Shaking will rock you to your very core!

A 103,000 word novel. Rated PG 16.

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14. Chapter Fourteen

Sandbeach Caravan Park.

It happened so suddenly: One moment George Fenning was standing stark bollock naked on the diminishing uncovered end of his caravan, the next there was a plughole glugging sound as both he and the 'van were gone; drawn down by the morass; the bubbling slurry spiralling in their wake in a thick brown viscous whirlpool. George hadn't even the time to order Sam to begin pulling them out before he vanished. Now all there was to show a mobile home had ever stood on that spot was the taut towline leading into the swirling mire.

The couple's only slim chance at life was for Bicknall and his tractor to pull the rope out of the bog in the hope the Fennings had managed to attach themselves to it, as well as them not drowning while he did so. Tugging his feet free with difficulty from the cloying mud Sam leaped into the driving seat and eased on the accelerator. The engine roared and a plume of dark grey sooty fumes erupted from the vertical exhaust pipe, but the tractor didn't move; the large rear wheels with their blocky tyres span in place, throwing up rooster tails of slop but going nowhere. Quickly slamming the gear lever into reverse with a grinding clash, Bicknall revved the engine again, the machine and its trailer rocked backward slightly before churning mud once more.

But that movement had been enough to break free, even if only for a short while. Selecting a forward gear, Sam now bet everything on one do-or-die go. If this failed he'd have to abandon the sinking tractor and save himself. He floored the accelerator and the rear wheels spun, then gripped, spun, gripped again, but this time gained traction. The tractor began slithering its way forward onto firmer ground, and Bicknall with relief felt the steering firming up in his grip along with the resistance of something on the end of the tow rope. He didn't know what it was, but he knew that if the line had been attached to the mobile home there'd be no chance of him being able to pull it back up to the surface, the rope would break under the strain: Instead he'd have to hope it was the Fennings he was pulling through the goo; and once the tractor had clawed its way to safety he'd find them alive rather than dead. The rear view mirrors were covered in splattered mud, so Sam wouldn't know until he stopped pulling whether his rescue had been a success or failure.

 

The Fennings’ Trailer.

Their bedroom was now well below the surface of the quicksand, and it seemed all hope was lost. When his support fell away beneath him George tried sliding through the open window and closing it behind him in the hope it might gain the couple just a few more moments of life together, or even a chance for another rescue attempt, but to no avail. He couldn't reach the window handle before a thick stream of ooze covered it and started pouring in through the opening. In any case he had enough to cope with using the line in his grasp to arrest his fall. He did so, but at the cost of rope burns to his palms.

Looking up the couple saw with dismay the shrinking patch of daylight being obscured as the mud, liquid like melted chocolate, spread over the window glass. So this is it... George thought. What a way to go... Embracing his beloved Renie he wondered what he could say to her as their time ran out; "I Love You." was an obvious choice, but even that seemed so inadequate compared to the situation they were in. Maybe after being married for decades some things didn't need to be said as they faced their great leap into eternity together: Just to physically hold each other at the end was enough.

"Renie." George blurted. "I just wanted to say-" but he didn't get to finish his sentence. The rope around Irene suddenly tightened, and she began to lift. "Close your eyes, hold your breath, and keep your head tucked in to your chest!" He urged as she continued to ascend. Wrapping and crossing his legs at the ankles around her ample hips, Fenning grasped the towline with his raw hands and held on as well as he could, anything to lessen the strain on Irene's body. The couple rose as one, George guiding them both with a free hand directly under the mud shower, and as the last glimmer of daylight was extinguished by the marshy slime, they were drawn up into the filthy deluge.

 

Connect24 studios.

"Are we still on-air?" Despite being rattled by the immediate aftermath of The Event - whatever it was - Dominic Paige's instincts kick-in. Something Big has just happened, and it's his job to make sure Connect24 are the first to discover what it was.

"WHAT WAS THAT?" he shouts; a question asked of anyone who is nearby. The power which had suddenly cut out begins to flicker back again, replacing the dull emergency lighting; screens and terminals start to reboot.

"I don't think it was The Bomb..." replies Ian May, the deputy editor. "Mad as it may seem, and judging by the shaking after that first great jolt, I think we may have just suffered a large earthquake! Maybe Brian McLean wasn't so mad after all!"

"That figures." Dominic agrees. "It must be a follow-on from the tremor which happened the other day. OK people, let's get on it! I need information - now! Ian; see if you can find some experts who will talk about it. Also we're going to need images-" he looks over at the social media feed screens; as yet they are showing nothing. No one appears to be commenting, which is remarkable in itself - or an ominous portent. "-no, scramble anyone who can use a camera; get them on the case!"

Paige concentrates his attention back to the studio monitor where Andrew Patterson and Anna Coombes are recovering from their surprise, Patterson is busy filling in and promising more details of whatever has occurred as we get them - good man!

But as yet there are no details; and even if there were Paige has no idea how many people are watching C24. At least the satellite uplink appears to working so the international audience and news networks will be able to receive the station's output, even if few viewers at home will be able to. But if the mains electricity has been cut as seems likely they will only be able to broadcast for as long as the emergency generators have fuel.

However that is a problem for the future; Dominic lives in the now and curses that tightwad Euan Rees' insistence in only maintaining token offices in Westminster and the Docklands in order to save money, instead basing Connect24 out of the way in a redeveloped industrial park and office complex in fucking Clapton of all places! Paige wishes they were closer to the action.

Looking around the control room it appears the production staff are getting themselves back together, apart from a pale skinned blonde waif of a female intern he doesn't know; She's trying to mop with an absorbent kitchen roll a puddle of coffee which has spilled onto one of the consoles. Dominic's accumulated stress erupts in an abrasive Edinburgh snarl which startles her; "If you've broken that you're going to pay for it!" In response the trainee on the verge of tears frantically scrunches up larger wads of tissue to blot even more urgently at the panel.

Fortunately for her Paige notices a new feed coming in on one of the monitors. At least someone is thinking and has run outside with a minicam. Now there is a live scene which can be broadcast, even if all it shows is a stationary line of bemused traffic and what might be a cloud of smoke far away. It isn't much but it will have to do for now, and it will be a visual distraction from the presenters wearing the same few facts down to nothing by continual repetition.

Reassured Connect24 is still functioning, Dominic's overwrought mind is able to relax very slightly, and a lower priority unformed thought which was nagging at the edge of his consciousness is finally able to coalesce.

"Is everyone all right?" he asks.

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