She was living in California with her husband Mike and her daughter Ylison when the big one hit. It was an auspicious night for an earthquake, being all hallows eve, though in the beginning, it appeared that it would be an average weeknight for the family of three. Mike was tapping away in the study on his latest novel, and Ylison was playing happily with some blocks on the floor of the living room. Jamie hummed a plaintive wistful melody as she puttered back and forth between kitchen and dining room, preparing the evening meal. She didn’t know why she chose that tune except perhaps that it was appropriate for the night. She was actually in an unusually cheerful mood. But like everything else about her life, that would change that night. It was eight o’clock, when she first heard the wailing. Thinking that something had happened to the baby, Jamie rushed into the living room to see what was the matter, but Ylison was cooing happily to herself on the floor while she nibbled on the corner of the orange bridge. Jamie listened carefully, but the sound was gone. Thinking that the wind had made the sound, or perhaps one of the neighbors’ dogs, she went back into the kitchen, to finish preparing dinner.
“Come and get it,” she called out peeking around the door of the study to see Mike sleeping over his work. Smiling, she entered the room to wake him. Now that he was out of the Navy, it seemed like Mike slept more than ever, and in the oddest places. She looked over his head at the neglected screen. The words seemed to leap out at her.
The darkest wind howls in the soul
At night when slumber hides our thoughts.
And evil from our inner core
Corrupts our sleep with dread.
Then the demons of our hidden self
Vie with the tatters of our shame,
And wrest from us our brightest mores
Until we wake to fight again.
“Wake up! It’s time for dinner, Mike.” She shook his shoulder till finally he c out his arms, yawned, and woke. On their way back into the kitchen, she picked up Ylison and placed her in the high chair.
Ask they were eating, Jamie’s mind turned back to the shriek she had heard earlier. When she asked Mike, he said he had heard nothing, which was not surprising considering the state in which she had found him. Once again she dismissed it as some naturally caused disturbance. She and Mike talked about his latest book, and her new class of students until they finished dinner. Mike slipped back off into his study, purportedly to finish working on his novel, but probably to finish working on his nap. Ylison continued to distribute what was left of her food in a ragged circle on the floor around her high chair. As Jamie was walking back into the kitchen with the dinner dishes, it came again. Longer this time, It indeed sounded like a child crying inconsolably. Jamie dropped the dishes. The sound seemed to penetrate to her very soul, laying bare all of her most feared secrets, those she kept even from herself. The crash brought her back from eternity, and the wail cut off abruptly, leaving her as shattered as the plates on the floor without knowing quite why. She bent down and began to pick up the larger pieces and tried to figure out what was happening to her. Was she perhaps going crazy? She didn’t think so. Besides, you were never supposed to think you were going crazy if you really were. Unsettled, she carried the larger pieces to the trash can, and then returned to the scene with a broom and dustpan from the pantry. As she deposited the last of the shattered china in the wastebasket, the first tremor began to shake the house.
For a split second she thought she really had gone crazy as the house shook in silence, Then suddenly cacophony ensued as Mike rushed in from the study, grabbing Ylison from the high chair, Together they rushed back through the living room and down the stairs into the basement. They huddled together in the cramped space as the world fell apart around them. Ylison cried and cried, and could not be stopped. Mike held her and rocked back and forth on the concrete floor. It seemed like days, though it was only hours, before the shaking finally stopped. It was the worst earthquake that Jamie had ever been through. Little did she know it was the worst earthquake since the continents were formed. When they finally left the basement, little was left of their once proud home except a single corner beam standing resolutely upright in a world of wayward angles. The portable radio Mike had retrieved from the basement was broadcasting emergency shelter areas. After figuring out which one was closest, and that the car would not take them there, they headed out at a brisk walk. As more and more people came out of their homes, the suburban street began to be quite crowded, and suddenly, without knowing how, Jamie was separated from Mike and Ylison. She looked around trying to find them, but the press of the crowd drove her inexorably forward. Finally she gave up, knowing that they would meet up again at the shelter.
The shelter was a huge concrete and steel structure built in the 1950’s as a bomb shelter. Inside, it seemed roomy despite the rising number of occupants, and appeared to have been someone’s house. Jamie got a cup of coffee from the pots in the dining room, and went into the living room to try and find a place to sit and wait for Mike to show up with the kids. Eventually, she was able to procure a recently vacated seat on one of the several couches. Sitting next to her was a large man with a ragged if full mustache and a Eurospanish face. He seemed better informed than most of the milling crowd, both as to the world situation, and as to that of the shelter itself. When she spoke to him she found out that he was the house’s owner, and had offered it to the government temporarily as a shelter.
She talked to him for several hours discussing everything from current politics, to religion, to ways to feed the incredible crowd of people. Suddenly in the middle of their conversation, he stood up and shouted out in a voice that carried above the sounds of the milling crowd,
“NOW.” He immediately sat back down and resumed their conversation saying, “Sorry for the interruption my dear lady, but I had some urgent business I needed my associates to take care of for me. You were, I believe, giving me your recipe for crumb cake?”
“Well yes, I was, but what is happening? Everyone seems to have gotten quiet all of a sudden.” It was true. The formerly boisterous crowd was now murmuring ominously, and the air was charged with sudden tension. It was then that Jamie noticed that the front door was now closed.
“Ah, yes, that was what I was signaling to my associates. I do not want my house completely overrun, so I had them shut the doors to keep out any more people. Once the crowd realizes their good fortune in having this place to themselves, they’ll be back to their boisterous selves.” Jamie turned pale.
“But, my husband and daughter are still out there!”
“Well, I’m sorry for that, but I really can’t make an exception for you. If I reopen the doors the whole mob will come pouring back in here with twice the force that they were before. I really can’t have that. I’m sure your family will be safe at the next shelter.”
“Well I’m not sure. If you can’t let them in then simply let me out, and I’ll catch up with them at the next shelter.” Jamie was starting to be really worried.
“I’d like to do that, I really would, but if I let you out, the government won’t believe in my sincerity when I demand an extremely high ransom for the people in this house, namely, the abatement of some of the irrational policies you and I were just discussing as well as a small fortune in gems for myself. I just couldn’t let them think that I have a soft heart and might be persuaded to let some people out. My associates have already made the necessary phone calls, and there are probably news helicopters outside already.” His eyes pierced her with a look of calculated honesty.
“Please,” she begged him, grasping his hand and tugging futiley, “Let me go. I’ve got to make sure my baby is alright.”
“Cease this outrageous pleading, Madame. The only way you will leave before the government has met our demands is the same way as the others, in a body bag.” In desperation, Jamie threw the one weapon she thought she might have against him. The knowledge of the plan he had just told her.
“I’ll tell the rest of the people here what you’re doing. You can’t kill everyone. They crowd will overpower you and then we’ll all escape.”
“Doubtful dear. First because I have agents scattered throughout the crowd, ready to crush any such suggestion, and second because you have just doomed yourself to be the first person to die.” He made an almost imperceptible motion with his free hand, while using his other to grasp one of her hands so hard that she could not even cry out. Suddenly, out of the crowd, a young girl of 18 or 19 appeared. He turned to her and told her to take Jamie down to the bathroom and kill her. They would keep the body there until they needed their first example for the government negotiators.