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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13. Chapter Thirteen

Sandbeach Caravan Park.

At first Sam Bicknall though there was something wrong with the tractor he was driving: The engine vibrations changed, becoming rougher, and the steering went rubbery. Oh shit! This was the last thing he or his father who jointly ran the family-owned caravan park with him needed right now, what with things being so tight. They relied heavily upon this scaled-down multifunctional machine. It was almost always in use; either to trim the hedge boundaries, mow the site's lawns, tow the caravans around, or haul the members' boats up the concrete beach launching ramp onto dry land (Fees apply. Please consult your members' handbook or ask at reception for current charges. 'Season tickets' for regular service users are available.)

Now it appeared that after twenty years of faithful service the tractor was developing serious and probably terminal problems. It felt as if something had broken loose inside the motor, and possibly taken out the power steering pump as well. Sam's father Laurie would most likely blame him for not performing the DIY servicing diligently enough. Whatever the reason for the breakdown the cost of the new parts or a replacement machine would put another unwanted dent into the park's accounts: Laurie was bound to be greatly displeased.

As Sam was about to switch the ignition off before the engine completely chewed itself into scrap metal it dawned on him the juddering he felt had nothing to with the tractor. Instead the whole park - the very earth! - was wobbling like a jelly!

Disbelievingly he looked on as what had been solid ground began to turn watery, and some the caravans close to the beach end of the site began to settle into the mire. What was going on? At least this was happening on a weekday so the weekend residents had yet to travel down... with any luck we'll be able to clear up any mess or damage before they arrive. It's a good thing those vans are empty at the moment or there'd be a barrage of complaints...

But hang on! The trailer at the far end of the park sinking the quickest would be occupied! With a start Sam remembered talking to George Fenning earlier; the randy old sod checking the coast would be clear for him to give his old lady a good banging. She loves to scream and howl does his missus; and everyone knows it, so they try to be as discreet as possible. Well good luck to them I say! I hope I'll still be humping away like that when I'm that old...

Shocked out of his temporary confusion Sam realised the Fennings' caravan was in the middle of the biggest liquid sinkhole, it was tilting up at the end as well as going down fast! They might be trapped in there and need rescuing!

Sam gunned the tractor's engine and breaking the site's 10mph limit, sped along the narrow tarmac access road toward the group of subsiding 'vans. As he approached he saw the end window of the Fennings home burst open and a pair of aged bare male legs push it forcibly aside, the effort nearly carrying naked George through, leaving him sprawling over the outside of the by now almost horizontal end of the trailer.

When the tractor's steering began to feel unresponsive Sam realised he risked driving headlong into the spreading void. He spun the wheel into a hard right turn and jammed on the brakes. This was as far as he dared risk taking the machine without it being swallowed as well. Now Bicknall had to work out a way of bridging the remaining distance and saving the Fennings with what he had to hand. Sam's thoughts turned to the heavy duty nylon tow rope stored along with his other tools in the low aluminium tub of a trailer the tractor habitually towed around. That should do it! Clipping one of the spring-loaded heavy-duty carabiner clips joined to the ends of the line onto the rope itself to form a lariat and fastening the other end to the tractor's hitch, Bicknall gathered the cable up into a spool. "GEORGE!" he shouted to the uneasily balanced Fenning,"TAKE THIS!" throwing the line across to him.

George snatched at the rope as the end of it struck the cream plastic plank effect siding of the caravan, but it landed just too far away for him to grasp, sliding off into the marshy puddle surrounding the all but consumed trailer. By now the liquefied mud was level with the end of the park home and, gurgling as it did so beginning to dribble ever closer to George and the window. If Sam couldn't recover the orange tow line and cast it back again in time it would be too late for Renie, and George would be unlikely to swim his way out of the quagmire unaided.

Sam threw the rope out with greater force this time. The loop skittered off the window glass but George was able to catch hold of it. Pulling the rest of it to him he fed the lasso through the open window and down to the terrified Irene. "Slip the it over your head and under your armpits; that's it! George urged her. "Now hold on tight and keep your arms down and close to your sides!" Fenning was about to give Sam the signal to pull Renie clear when with a loud burping noise the caravan was sucked down as the earth enveloped it, and the couple completely.

 

Woppa Burga.

All members of the Woppa Burga staff knew where to find the first aid kit with its sachets of burn cooling gel. Eyes adjusting to the gloom of the ruined kitchen, Jason Wallace located the prominent sign and scrambled over the debris strewn floor to it. As he detached the kit from its wall mount his nose wrinkled. Was that the sulphurous smell of leaking gas? Could he hear a faint hissing sound amid the noises of settling debris and the trickling of a broken water pipe? - Yes! Oh shit! It must be escaping from a cracked pipe somewhere. And that faint crackling sound? Was it an electrical short circuit?

Jason realised the danger he was in. If a spark ignited the gas in this oil saturated atmosphere the resulting explosion could bring the weakened building down on top of him. Anyone injured or trapped in the toilets would just have to wait until the Fire and Rescue Service arrived for help. He couldn't delay a moment longer, he had to get out now!

As he left Wallace paused for a moment by the gas supply inlet valve; he could at least shut it off in the hope it would stop the flow. With any luck if the leak wasn't from the gas main the hazard would dissipate quickly and closing the supply wouldn't take more than a few seconds to accomplish. He considered switching off the mains electricity at the junction box as well, but decided against it for fear of creating the spark which could set off an explosion.

Quickly he turned the valve to the off position and looked over to the still lit flame grill where the Char Burgas had their carbonised outer crusts burnt on, expecting to see the low flames shrink and die. They did, but too late.

Something touched off the combustible atmosphere. Jason glimpsed the soundless yellow-white flash and knew he was doomed. There was a wave of intense heat and Wallace was slammed up against a wall, or had he been knocked down to the floor? There was no way of telling. Suffocating, the manager tried to breathe but couldn't; something was wrong with his lungs. Small painfully hard objects - chunks of masonry most likely - pummelled him, and then a far heavier object dropped on to his chest. Jason felt several intense stabbing pains and a part of his mind which was his - yet not his - told him several of his ribs had just been broken, with the splintered ends being driven deep into his vital organs. In any case, even if his rib cage hadn't been crushed, his lungs were seared and useless now. The awful truth dawned on him; he was going to die!

Wallace, like everyone who worked at Woppa Burga, knew what it was to suffer painful burns. But now rather than only getting briefly splashed by the fryers it was as if he'd been dropped in a giant vat of superheated boiling oil. His skin - in fact his whole body - was nothing but degrees of agony.The suffering is temporary; it will pass soon,. a distant, emotionless, expressionless Voice told him. You can't fight it. Just surrender and let yourself go.

Despite suffering the profound shock of the grievously injured Wallace's dying senses were acutely heightened, and his mind - his soul - was aware of itself in a way which it had never been before. Why did this only happen now, at the end of his life? he asked himself. Jason sensed a part of him was in the now - his mortally wounded body writhing in torment pinned beneath the collapsed rubble of the former restaurant - but a facet of him felt strangely disconnected from it all. So this is what it's like to have a ton of bricks fall on you he thought wryly. And there was the mystery of the disembodied Voice; it felt like a part of him, yet it was distinct; so cold, so cruel, so very clear, but slightly distorted, as if it were an artificial entity speaking via a faint telephone line from a great distance away. What was it, and where did it come from? Not long to go now. it soothed.

Wallace's mind rebelled against his imminent death; however he felt anaesthetised by a sense of peace and resignation. Yet his psyche was also swamped by waves of grief and anguish; regrets about the things he would never get to do now, especially getting married to his long-term partner Becky and starting a family with her. Becky! - Mum! - Dad!... The realisation he would never see them again, and that they would be the ones bereaved by him tore at his heart. Noooooooooo!...

A profound chill grew inside him; Jason felt far colder than he had ever been before, but he could not shiver. Instead he sensed a  tingling spreading throughout his body. Soon now; very soon... reassured the Voice-thought-connection to some unknown realm. Don't try to resist it. Yes, it's a horrific experience to go through, but it will be over shortly... Wallace was suddenly overwhelmed by an avalanche of sensations; sights, sounds, smells, tastes, emotions, memories forgotten until now. So this is what they mean by your life flashing before you he thought; but this isn't so much a final playback, it feels more like an electronic file being compiled ready to be downloaded - but to where? Jason began to experience the entirety of his being; everything that was Him, preparing to leave this body - this existence - in one final, irrevocable step to a place beyond imagination or description. The thought terrified him. With a disorientating lurch he felt his ego splitting in two; his spirit floating as it struggled to free itself as if hatching from an egg, but this life's consciousness remaining trapped within his dying brain.

All was dark; Jason's burned eyes were blind. His senses, along with his physical mind, were fading. Yet some flickers of random thoughts persisted in the husk of the body he was leaving; the draught in the wake of his passing. If only he'd been able to get the cold packs out and use them on Esme... I'm sorry Esme; I failed you... And what was that? Even as his hearing was shutting down it registered a faint wasp trapped in a jar ssssp-ssssp-ssssp... Somehow amid all this destruction electricity was still reaching the piped music speakers buried among the debris of the fallen ceiling. Distractedly, and with a bizarre under the circumstances annoyance, Wallace noted how not even a disaster could interrupt the infuriating sibilation which had become known as "the soundtrack to your life".

As a dizzying waterfall roaring nothingness engulfed him and the final heart beats pulsed like thunder through his eardrums, Jason's last thought as the embers of his mind cooled to ashes was that even his death would be set to some bloody background music. 
 

Jason Wallace (24), Rasheem Khalid (22), Esme Graham (18), PCSO Alison Garfett (30), Michael Holmes (45), and Perry McIvery (48) were killed outright by the explosion. John Hicks (44) was also critically injured: Despite the best efforts of the first-aiders in a makeshift treatment centre he would die of his burns and shock later that day. The death toll from the quake was beginning to rise, and would continue to do so.

Meanwhile, in the Leicester head office of a big shed homeware retailer where news of the earthquake had yet to reach, keywords in a submitted CV and cover letter triggered the interest of an algorithm. Automatically it generated an email response which would forever go unread: Dear Mr Wallace, We have received your application for the Branch Manager vacancy. We would like to invite you for an interview...

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