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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31. Chapter Thirty One

Jubilee Court, Addiscome. 20.52.

It took the Bucklands longer than expected to reach Michelle's grandmother's flat; by the time they did, twilight had fallen. Though the effects of the earthquake had become less pronounced as the family trekked west, there were still instances where they'd had to divert around streets cluttered with fallen rubble from damaged buildings or skirt what might be trouble of other kinds. Eventually Ryan armed himself with a short length of scaffold pole he came across at the site of a house renovation and felt more confident as a result; but now he had to be wary of any moving bright lights lest they be the headlamps of police cars or the spotlights of low-flying helicopters heralding a fusilade of automatic fire.

Eventually, footsore and weary, they arrived at Nan's squat block of sheltered flats. Almost immediately they ran into the truculent warden, Hobbs, as Ryan knocked on the common entry door which had been locked shut.

"Go away!" Hobbs shouted through the wire reinforced glass "I'm not opening up at this time of night!"

"It's Michelle Buckland! I'm checking to see my grandmother's OK. She's Sylvia Grant in number twelve!"

"She's allright! I looked in on everyone here personally. You can come back and see her tomorrow!"

"I'm not waiting until then! I want to see her now!

"Well you can't! You'll just have to- OI!" Hobbs exclaimed as Ryan unexpectedly swung his scaffold pole at the door lock with such force it startled Michelle, Grace, and the warden.

"Open the door!" demanded Buckland. "Or I will!"

"I'll call the police!" threatened Hobbs.

"Go right ahead." sneered Ryan. "I think you'll find they've got their hands rather full at the moment! 'Chelle, you and Grace stand well back. I'm going to get this door open whatever it takes!"

The women did as instructed, then Buckland began to methodically rain forceful blows on the area of the door which contained the latch. It was a frightening sight for Michelle to watch her husband swinging away with such a demented strength at the lock; she caught the look in his eyes as he did so and wondered what kind of stresses he had experienced during his day which were being relieved now.

Pausing for a moment Ryan changed his grip on the thick pipe and started slamming the end of it like a battering ram. Michelle could see the door flexing in its frame and the toughened glass cracking as well as breaking into small chunks under Ryan's determined assault.

"All right! Stoppit! You'll frighten the residents! I'll open the door!" Hobbs capitulated.

No sooner had Hobbs unlocked the door Ryan put his shoulder to it, pushing aside and unbalancing the warden who staggered backward a few unsteady steps. Buckland shook his pole at him. "And don't you ever try to keep us out again..." he warned. Wide eyed and fearful Hobbs shrank back still further. Behind him a front door opened a crack and a concerned elderly face showed pale in the moonlight dimness of the hall's emergency lighting.

"What's going on?" the woman asked plaintively.

"It's all right Joan." Hobbs replied. "It's nothing to worry about. Just stay inside and do as I tell you." The door closed again and the sound of bolts being thrown closed punctuated the tense atmosphere.

"You see what you've done?" chided Hobbs, regaining some of his composure. "You shouldn't-"

"Shut it." Ryan said in a loud, threateningly level tone of voice which left no doubt as to what would happen if his command was ingnored. Hobbs shut up.

"Come on Ryan, let's go!" urged Michelle. Buckland gave Hobbs a final withering look before turning on his heel and heading for the stairwell.

Sylvia Grant's institutional front door was identical to all of the others on the first floor; it was a heavy, wood effect veneer construction with a letter box at it's center and a narrow strip of a window down the side, something which looked more a fire door in an office than anything to do with a home. It made a solid sound when Michelle knocked on it.

"Nan, it's Shelley!" she called out. From inside a torch light approached with shuffling footsteps; there was the sound of a safety chain being attached, and then the door opened. Nan's pinched face took in the family.

"Oh 'Chelle! I knew you'd come to see I was allright! I tried to call you, but I couldn't get through. Come on! Get yourselves inside!"

With the door unchained Slyvia hustled them all through. They embraced. "Go on into the lounge all of you! I'll put the kettle on!"

"Uh, how would you do that Nan?" asked Ryan. "The power's off."

"I've got a camping gas stove." she replied conspiratorially. "Little 'itler 'obbs doesn't know about it either, he'd 'ave kittens if he did! Break 'is precious bloody Rules it would! Can you give us a hand with it love? I'll need help to get it out of the cubpoard, I can't bend down too easily these days..."

"Of course!"

Ryan shucked off his pack and followed Sylvia into the kitchenette.

"Down there dear; it should be in the box at the bottom, just under those old pans... Yes that's it."

By the anaemic light of Nan's torch Buckland pulled out a strong cardboard box which was larger and heavier than he anticipated. He set it down on the worktop and opened it. Inside among other things was a blow moulded plastic case containing a hob style burner; the sort powered by a long butane cylinder lying clamped alongside it. Setting it up on the useless electric cooker top, he picked a saucepan from the rack and filled it from the tap, though despite pushing the lever all the way open only a slow stream of water trickled out of it.

"Mr Hobbs has been up on the roof tank." Sylvia explained. "He said the water pressure is bound to be affected and the supply might not be safe, so he's shut it off at the mains pipe and restricted the flow from the tank. We've got to economise as much as possible, and we're not to wash or use the lavvie unless we really have to. He was going to dig a latrine pit in the garden tomorrow for us to go in if things got really bad! As if we'd go out in the open, even with a windbreak! We'll all 'ave to use a potty and tip it in there afterwards! Some 'ope, eh? 'He also wanted us to pull the curtains and not show any lights, just in case it attracts the wrong kind of people. I reckon he was born too late; he'd 'ave made a fine Air Raid Warden!

Anyway, 's a good job I filled up the bath with water like he said before he cut the supply down; I thought these sorts of problems were going to 'appen... But I had some bottled water put by anyway; you never can be too careful..."

Ryan filled the saucepan two-thirds full and put it on the burner, then turned the piezoelectric ignition on. With a quietly satisfying whuff the gas ring lit with a corona of electric blue fire; he adjusted the control so that no flames licked wastefully around the sides of the pan, a long-forgotten boy scout lesson returning from the depths of his memory.

"Let that heat up for a while." said Buckland. "Though it's best to keep an eye on it just in case-" Even as he spoke the words there was a rattling aftershock. Some water slopped over the edge of the pan and sizzled on contact with the hot burner. Ryan made to steady the pan on the stove but before he was able to grab the handle the disturbance had passed.

"Are you all right Nan?" asked Michelle, who along with Grace had run to the kitchen.

"I'm fine love. We've 'ad quite a few of those today. The radio said there would be aftershocks and some of them might be strong... 'S no wonder they've been telling us not to use candles! They're worried about them causing fires, says there've been some bad ones in the East End... It's a good thing I've got me torch, but I've only got this set of batteries for it; I 'spose I should've got a spare pack, but the price of them these days on my pension..."

"Don't worry about it Nan, I've got some more in my bag." Ryan reassured her.

"Oh, what a relief! The radio takes the same ones as well. They keep saying to turn it off to save the batteries and to listen on the hour for the news; not that it's getting any better. It's obvious no-one's got a clue what they're doing, they're just running around like 'eadless chickens."

The lid began to judder on the pan, signalling the water was boiling. After turning off the stove Sylvia dropped some tea bags into the pot and the family decamped into the lounge for tea. Over a weak brew and biscuits they swapped their earthquake survival stories.

"That settles it." said Nan, decisively when the Buckland's tales had been told. "I'm not having my family starving under a tent in a slave camp while there's room and food here. It may not be comfy, but at least you'll have somewhere to kip until you can get yourselves sorted out. If that bloody Hobbs or Janet my social worker tries creating about you staying, then-" Sylvia rapped the coffee table with her heavy aluminium walking stick "- I'll give them a flea in their ear!"

Ryan didn't doubt Sylvie's determination, but didn't want to impose on her. "How much food have you got here Sylve?" he asked.

"I've got enough." she said firmly. "You remember how my Ian - bless him - was always thought World War Three was going to break out; or the power cuts of the 1970s return; or if it wasn't that then it was another Fuel Strike or the Great Storm happening again? Well he might have worried a bit too much but his heart was in the right place. Anyway, after he passed on I kept the pantry stocked up as he would have wanted. As the tinned food reached its best before date I ate it and replaced it. You can look through it all later just be sure, but I reckon there should be enough to keep us four going for around a fortnight. I've got eight spare gas cannisters for the stove; some packets of powdered milk and instant mash which should be OK even though they may be a bit old; two bags of tealights and six boxes of matches still in their wrapper; Oh, and three gas lighters in a blister pack bought from the old Pound Store just before it closed... I wish we 'ad more water, bog roll, and batteries, but I think we'll be OK for now."

Ryan didn't share Sylvia's confidence about the future given what he had seen on his way here, but he wasn't going to deflate her grin and bear it attitude. Instead he kept his fears to himself.

"And I think I'd better use what I can from the fridge before that spoils first; who'd like some fried sausage, bacon, and egg?" Everyone rediscovered their appetites so Nan cleaned out the fridge; the tiny freezer compartment was left alone for the time being; if the power hadn't been restored by early tomorrow whatever could be salvaged from its thawed contents would be their next meal.

After washing up using the bare minimum of water by the stark alien autopsy glare of Ryan's head torch, the family helped Sylvie pull out what spare bedding she had and set up the lounge as a bedroom. While doing so Ryan came across that day's copy of the Daily Post, Gary Sheldon's alarmist headline splashed across its front page now seemed to be a relic from a bygone world. Ryan made to throw the outdated edition in the bin but Slyvia saw him and said "Keep it dear; we might 'ave to cut it up and use it for toilet paper. That's all it's good for these days!" Buckland didn't relish the thought of wiping his backside with the harsh newsprint.

"If it"s that bad why do you buy it?" he asked.

"I dunno. Partly for the TV guide and to laugh at the stories I spose. Anyway, that scientist - what's his name - got it right; 's a shame he couldn't have given us more of a warning..." she tailed off at the thought there would likely be no television to watch or paper to read tomorrow. "An' if you think the Post is bad, you ought to see some of the others!" Ryan couldn't help but agree on that point.

They tried to catch up with the radio news from a station which had managed to get itself back on air, but when they belatedly tuned in the bulletin was still vague and uninformative. "-a government spokesman said the restriction of the internet and social media was a temporary provision to ensure the networks didn't crash under unprecedented demand. It is hoped the measures can begin to be eased in the next few days.

And finally, several American artists who have cancelled their tour dates in London as a result of the earthquake are planning to record a charity fundraising record for the victims. The song may be available to download within the next forty-eight hours.

That concludes the news: Stay tuned for a repeat of the National State of Emergency declaration and local inform-"

Nan switched the set off. "Same old same old..." she grumbled. "I dunno about you, but I could do with a good stiff drink!" Both Ryan and Michelle agreed.

Sylvie poured large tots from her bottle of medicinal rum saved for special occasions for the adults, and even Grace had some watered down for a nightcap. After making sure no chink in the blackout curtains would spill any betraying light, they settled down for the night.

Grace shared Nan's double bed; Ryan slumped himself over the sofa under a fleece blanket, his headlight and the scaffold pole kept close to hand in case anyone tried forcing their way in, while Michelle improvised a matress on the floor from the sofa's cushions. Though it was the more comfortable option she was the last awake after the torches were switched off; her mind swirling with the events of the day.

What were the family going to do? What if Ryan was made redundant from Wizzit Couriers as a result of a slump in deliveries and the state of the ruined road network? Where were they going to live in the longer term? What about her job and Grace's school place? Would she ever be able to get rid of the government virus from her phone? Would life ever get back to norma-?

Michelle's train of thought was disrupted by faint cries and sporadic pops carrying on the evening air beyond the pulled curtains. Though they sounded like fireworks she knew they were gunshots.

"Ryan..." she called out quietly, but he was oblivious, rasping heavy snores through the darkness. The shooting appeared to have stopped anyway. Michelle drew her duvet closer around her shoulders and before long her fatigue overcame her fears.

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