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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28. Chapter Twenty Eight

Sevenoaks, Kent. 16.39.

It had taken a roundabout route to get here, but at last Kevin Norris turned his mountain bike down the short, unsurfaced turn off which led to his home. He and Debbie had bought the rundown but sturdily built agricultural cottage some years ago; it was the ideal place for them both, located as it was near enough to London and the motorway to make commuting there possible, yet far enough away to avoid the worst of the eye watering mark-up in prices proximity to the capital exerted upon hard-pressed buyers. Over the years they'd slowly but steadily renovated what was once no more than a shell as time and finances allowed until it became a nest which neither of them could contemplate selling.

Norris eased the bike to a stop outside the pair of heavy wooden gates barring the entrance to his drive. The rest of the property and its garden were screened from the rest of the world by a curtain of prickly hawthorn hedge. It was this camouflaged seclusion which was one of the house's attractions: That, and it forced any intruder wanting to get in to clamber over the high gates. Propping the bike against one of them Kevin unlocked the heavy lock securing the other and pushed it open. At once he heard a loud barking and the sound of rapid paw steps on the gravel drive. A large Alsatian dog came running toward him but any hint of menace evaporated when it recognised its master. The dog ran up and greeted him, though its attention appeared to be preoccupied elsewhere

"What's up Jasper? Where's Debbie gone?" Norris said ruffling the dog around the ears. Debbie's little hatchback was missing from its parking place: She'd obviously gone out somewhere; either shopping at the local hypermarket, or else she'd driven to the station car park and then caught the train to London, leaving the dog the run of the garden. Norris knew all of Jasper's moods well and picked up an uncertain nervousness about him. Closing the gate behind him, Kevin laid the bike down and looked carefully at his home. All was quiet and there appeared to be no damage from what he could see. With Jasper following closely, Norris conducted a slow walk around the outside of his property. Relieved he concluded it had escaped serious damage.

"Let's see what it's like inside, eh?"

Kevin inserted his key into the front door lock and turned it, but for some reason it was hard to open, which was unusual because the last time he'd had no problem unlocking it. With difficulty he felt the lock's internal mechanism moving; he pushed at the door but it only moved an inch before he encountered a stiff resistance. He gave it a good hard shove and the door opened all the way at once, nearly spilling him into the hall. What had caused that? he wondered. As he moved through to the lounge an answer came to mind; the 'quake must have caused the door frame to warp slightly, and if that had happened what damage might have been caused to the rest of the house?

Then it struck Norris that all was not right here; it appeared as if the place had been ransacked with items of furniture being moved about, and the group of pictures Debbie had artfully hung on a wall now either hanging askew or jolted off their pegs and lying on to the floor. Kevin bent to pick up one of the fallen prints; it had landed on one of its corners, breaking the frame at the joint and cracking the brittle plastic cover glass. And there, Debbie's prized Venetian vase, a wedding present, had juddered itself off the windowsill and struck the coffee table, shattering. She was going to be upset when she learned about that.

Many of the draws had been vibrated open, and ornaments flung down from their places to the carpet, some of them breaking in the process. Had he not known about the earthquake, and without the watchful Jasper to stand guard on the unoccupied house, Norris would have thought he'd been burgled, but this was obviously not the case.

Dejectedly Kevin pulled out his mobile phone; it would be wise to record the scene as it was as evidence for the insurance claim before he began the long task of bringing some sort of order to this chaos. There was still no network connection displayed on the screen so no chance of him contacting the insurance company at the moment, and in any case they were likely to be overloaded with calls. Idly he wondered how much of a hit the insurers would take from an incident of this size, and what effect it would have on their share prices along with the economy in general?

Slowly, and treading carefully, he videoed the breakages before going into the kitchen to inventory the scenes of disorder there. Saucepans had tumbled down onto the floor from their hanging rack and the spice rack had come away from the wall completely; that would be another thing to annoy Debbie. Fortunately there was no smell of leaking gas though he suspected the supply might have been cut off elsewhere. Experimentally Norris tried turning the light on, but as he expected the power was still off.

After pushing the half-open draws of the kitchen units shut and pushing the washing machine back where it should be, Kevin took stock of the larder. The stockpile of tinned food he kept for emergencies such as this had been disarrayed with a few of the fallen cans getting dented, but apart from a spilled bag of sugar the cupboard had escaped largely unscathed. Then he checked the fridge-freezer: It unnerved him slightly to open the door and be faced with a darkened box, but there wasn't much in there he needed to worry about at the moment. Instead he opened the freezer door to document its contents, as yet there were few signs of defrosting but if the blackout were to continue what couldn't be cooked would be lost; best to make a record of what was in there. That done he closed the door and fetched a large cloth kitchen towel which he pushed underneath the freezer with a large wooden spatula to catch any leaking water; a flood was something he could live without. That would soak up the worst or now but he'd have to change the towel when it became saturated, and if the power cut seemed likely to persist there'd be nothing for to it remove what ice he could from the cabinet by hand before it melted into a puddle, and throw the food away. He'd most likely need to dig a pit in the garden and bury it.

That done he set off upstairs. Luckily on checking the hot water and heating system there appeared to be no leaks, and the tap ran slowly for the few seconds he tried it, but that was no guarantee of a future supply. When Debbie returned he'd warn her they'd need to economise on their water use as much as possible until the situation became clearer. Norris had stored bottled water as well, but it was strictly for drinking only.

Checking the house and its contents took longer than expected, and by the time he'd completed the task it was late afternoon. Making his way downstairs Kevin looked through the window to see Jasper pacing agitated around the lawn. "Come on in you daft animal!" He called, but Jasper obstinately stayed outside. The dog had obviously been spooked by the 'quake. "Oh well, stay out there if you want to; see if I care!"

Kevin pushed the front door closed as far as he could; the frame would need resetting when he could organise it. Then he brought out the emergency wind-up radio and battery powered camping lantern from the under stairs cupboard where they were kept. Turning the radio on he tried scanning the few available analogue channels in an attempt to learn more about what was going on, but the reception was patchy with only a few stations on the air, and of those most of them repeated the scant few scraps of information they could glean between playing records while the presenters, understaffed and overworked, tried to garner more information. As ever in a crisis one of the greatest needs was for up to date news, and often it was the first thing to be found wanting. Kevin imagined the radio as a soundtrack to peoples' frantic delving into the cobwebbed depths of cupboards, sheds and garages in searches for the damp old candles or rusty camping stove they were sure was still there despite the warnings of aftershocks and the dangers of entering damaged properties: No doubt there would be plenty of meals cooked by feeble lamplight on barbecues in the relative safety of gardens and sheds tonight.

Kevin reasoned there was no point in trying to use his satellite phone to call Debbie; the chances were the mobile network was still down. She'd find her way home when she could, whenever that might be. Equally what news there might be on the internet connection would be little more than hearsay at the moment; not worth the slow and expensive hassle of trying to access it. He kept the satphone switched off to conserve its battery but left his mobile on just in case Debbie was able to call him.

Norris considered heating a tin of food on the butane gas stove he kept handy for power cuts or boiling some water for a mug of tea, but didn't feel hungry: In fact he didn't feel all that well. It must be be the stress and effort of the day so far that was getting to him. Kevin felt slightly tight-chested and slightly out of breath; probably as a result of the cycling he'd done. No doubt he'd be riding a great deal more in the days and weeks to come while they sorted the roads out... It could be the kick start his health needed. But in the meantime he really ought to lie on the sofa and nap for a while. If Debbie returned Jasper would be sure to let him know and if there was a strong aftershock as he expected there would be he'd be able to bolt out of the front door to safety from here.

Despite the catastrophe developing around him, Kevin Norris drifted into a light sleep.

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