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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36. Chapter Thirty Six

Sandbeach Caravan Park. 07.01.

Liam Welch eased his nippy little hybrid car through the park's open gates. Reaching what must be the main complex set just inside, the local government officer pulled up there and parked.

Welch had been redeployed from his usual role in the local authority's Planning Services Department to go round commandeering any spare accommodation there was to be had in the area in order to house people made homeless by the earthquake. The caravan park was an obvious target.

But it was clear from the untidy state of the lawn around the Social Club that the place hadn't been unaffected by the disaster: Muddied cars and caravans had been drawn up closer to the building than would usually have been the case to make the most of the available hard standing. He noted a stilled micro-digger standing watch over a trench it had excavated and partially backfilled on a nearby green; and he heard the monotonous idling of a petrol generator running, it sounded as if it came from the rear of the social club building, which itself showed evidence of hurried minor repairs

Yes, they had no doubt suffered to some extent as much as the rest of the region had; nethertheless he had his job to do, no matter how unpalatable it may be. Seeing the glass fronted reception area of the site office was unoccupied, Welch walked to the social club entrance.

As he pushed the doors aside Liam sensed a subdued atmosphere; a bank of fruit machines and video games along one wall had their mesmerising displays switched off; while only a few of the ceiling lights were lit, giving the room a gloomy air. The bar/restaurant's large screen TV was a dark mirror. Upon sight of him what muted conversations there were faded to an uneasy silence. Seeing no-one who looked to be in charge, he walked purposely up to the bar.

"Can I help you?" asked a bleach blonde middle-aged woman behind it.

"I'm looking for..." Welch consulted the notes on his tablet screen "Mr Lawrence Bicknall. Where might I find him?"

"He's round the back refilling the generator. I'll get him." the barmaid replied in an abrasive South London accent. She disappeared for a moment and returned leading someone who was presumably Lawrence Bicknall behind her.

Bicknall looked a worn down, rangy man in his late fifties. He wore a dark green polo shirt embroidered with the park's logo, grease stained jeans, and heavy work boots. A tweed flat cap was jammed on his head.

"Mr Bicknall?" asked Welch.

"Yeah, that's me. Whaddayawant?" Bicknall replied in a surly tone of voice.

"Mr Bicknall. I am Liam Welch representing the Regional Resillience Authority. Under the State of Emergency decree I am hearby requisitioning this site for emergency-"

"What the fuck?" Bicknall exploded in anger. "Have you looked around here? Do you know what we've been through?"

"Mr Bicknall I really-"

"SHUT THE FUCK UP AND LISTEN!" the site owner roared. Liam could see the man was literally shaking with rage. Bicknall looked the sort who would be quick to resort to using his clenched fists so Welch held his peace and let him continue.

"I'll tell you what we've been through." Lawrence said in a menacing estuary snarl. "We were struck by a tidal wave which wiped out two-thirds of the site. When we tried calling the emergency services all we got was message telling us they were busy at the moment and we should call back later, or if there was no immediate danger to life to call the non-emergency number!"

"You see that trench out there?" Bicknall pointed through the large plate glass window to the ditch Liam spotted earlier. "That's where six people are buried for the moment. When we finally got through to the police after pressing option one, option five, then option four; that's what we were told to do with their bodies for the time being! Wrap them in plastic if possible and bury them!" Tears began to well in his eyes.

"I'm sorry to hear that, but I-"

"My son and the rest of the staff are down the beach end of the park right now." Bicknall's monologue continued: He was going to vent his frustrations without interruption. "They're going through the wreckage to see if they can find anyone else. We think, but we can't be sure, there might be up to another eight people unaccounted for out there; that's why I dug the grave longer and left part of it uncovered.

Now with so many 'vans wrecked we've had to have families bunking up together in those that are left, and in case you hadn't noticed." Bicknall gestured to a multicoloured pile of folded duvets and sleeping bags stored in a corner. "Our members are sleeping in here overnight as well."

"You see those two over in the corner?" The irate man nodded toward a old couple sat at a table who had paused their unenthusiastic picking at plates of suasage and chips. They looked tired and wore obviously borrowed clothes - he tracksuit pants and a lairy looking sportswear sweatshirt far too young for him, she a wolf print fleece jacket as well as beige leggings. Both watched the developing row, seeing but not comprehending in the depths of their dolour. "That's George and Irene Fenning. They've been members here for ten years. They nearly drowned when their 'van was swallowed by the mud; my Sam had to rescue them with his tractor. Now they've lost everything; all they have is what they're wearing and that came from our charity clothing drive. They kipped on the floor last night, and will again tonight, and more than likely tomorrow night as well because they lost their motor in the 'quake, and even if they had a car they couldn't drive back to where they live in London because of the state of the roads. They're not the only ones left stranded here either!

Now you may think this is just a holiday park, but a lot of people live here all year round, and now they're homeless. We're looking after our own for as best we can, but we can only hold out for so long like this. The club's freezers went off during the power cut; the generator can keep only some of them running, so we had to cook what was in the rest of them all at once when it defrosted. Even with what we could save and the stock from the site's mini-mart there's just enough to last three days or so-" Laurie paused, watching Welch scribbling notes as he spoke. "Yes, I hope you are getting all this down! If you've any plans to take our food - forget it! We'll have eaten it by the time you get back!

Drawing a deep breath, Bicknall resumed. "We're sharing one working toilet between a hundred or so people. If that gets blocked or we can't flush it I'll have to dig a latrine outside. Thank God there's a trickle of mains drinking water getting through, but if that goes, we've had it!"

"So this is what we're coping with..." Laurie said more calmly, his diatribe running out of steam. "... And then you turn up!" his rage reignited like a nearly extinguished fire happening upon new fuel. "You never provide the services we pay for; you jump at the chance to make our lives a misery with your bloody nit-picking regulations; you're never there when we need help, but now you turn up all high and mighty demanding we hand over what little we have when we need it the most!"

"Well it ain't gonna happen sunshine!" he roared. That comment brought murmers of support from around the darkened hall. "So you go back to your Authority and tell them we're the ones who need aiding, not robbing! And if you want to come back with the police and army, fine! Just as long as they're here to do something useful. But if you're looking for trouble, you'll get it in spades!" The affirmative grumbling around him rose in volume.

Liam had faced occasions like this before in his career; he knew the best course of action when faced with such hostility was to retreat and return later backed by the police, but they were thin on the ground at the moment. If he tried to force the issue now he risked the situation flashing into violence.

Welch understood the measure of his likely antagonists; the two men who had drawn up behind Bicknall, ready to lend some muscle if required, and the others he sensed closing in a circle on him from the shadows. They were tough men in their late middle age, their bodies hardened by a life of hard work and harder knocks. They were used to getting their own way and wouldn't stand for being pushed around, especially by the petty beaurocracy he represented. Their forbearance - already stretched to begin with - teetered on a tightrope, with just a further slight push enough to tip them over the edge: They were the sort of people you didn't mess with. One wrong word on his part could lead to a severe beating at the very least, and he had little doubt that if it came to it a sawn-off shotgun - along with the will to use it - were close to hand.

Bicknall had stopped his ranting. It was up to Liam to say his piece now; to carefully withdraw but without losing face or conceeding defeat. "I see your point." he said. "Given you obviously need assistance there's no point in us requiring anything from you. I'll report on your current state and do what I can organise some help for you but I have to say don't expect too much too soon; this earthquake has stretched us all to breaking point. I've a busy schedule ahead of me, so I must be leaving now. Goodbye."

Without waiting for a response, trying to not show his fear or walk away too quickly, Liam turned and exited through the doors he'd come through. As he stepped outside he heard a triumphal cheer from within.

Let them have their victory he thought, relieved to be out of there. On the way back to his car he felt the gaze of many truculent pairs of eyes boring daggers into his back. Warily looking around him he caught sight of the downslope park through a gap between two mobile homes; it looked just as Bicknall had described it. Caravans and cars lay on their sides or pitched over at impossible angles; detrius was heaped into mounds and contorted sculptures not even the most drug addled experimental artists could imagine. Also visible from this different perspective Welch noticed a simply made plank crucifix had been hammered into the ground at one end of the trench. A vase of flowers, probably plastic ones, stood at the foot of the cross. Pinned to the wood was an A4 sheet of paper inside a transparent plastic file slip; lines of text carefully hand printed on it: A list of the dead.

Liam reached his car, got in, and drove away. As he passed through the park gates his rapid breathing and heart rate began to return to normal. Welch considered himself lucky to have just dodged a bullet, or more likely two barrels of five shot.

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