The following is an excerpt of the first few chapters from my upcoming novel, Shaken, which will be released in November, 2011. Hope you enjoy it.
The lights flickered and Natalie felt like she was losing her balance. She wasn’t dizzy, though the illusion of the room spinning was similar. Her body slowly swayed back and forth as if she stood on a boat at sea. She tried to steady herself with a nearby table, but if anything, the sensation grew more intense.
The fake crystals of the cheap chandelier hanging over the dining room table tinkled. This wasn’t just in her head.
“Woah!” Lucy cried from upstairs.
Trinkets on the shelves rattled. Another cheesy painting, this one on the dining room wall, fell off its nail and slapped face-down on the floor.
A jarring jolt under her feet, under the floor, dropped Natalie to her knees. She struggled to stand, but the floor shifted so abruptly she could barely stay on her hands and knees. The bookshelf toppled over; an avalanche of paperbacks barely missed her. The living room window imploded as the frame caved in.
Something struck her head; Natalie yelped as white dust and plaster billowed to the floor.
Oh, God, her mind panicked. She scrambled under the dining room table. The ceiling is falling!
From somewhere upstairs...a high-pitched scream. Natalie barely heard it over the roar of the trembling cabin.
“Lucy!” She crawled from under the safety of the table. Ignoring the raining plaster from above, she scooted on all fours to the nearest kitchen counter and used it to pull herself to her feet. The floor literally shook.
Dishes, glasses, pots and tumbled from the cupboards and crashed to the floor. The sink faucet snapped; water erupted from the ruptured spout and drenched the crumbling ceiling. The window over the sink exploded, showering her with glass. A shard gashed her cheek; warm blood rolled down her face.
Lucy kept screaming upstairs.
“Hang on, Lucy! I’m coming!” She barely heard herself. Natalie scrambled out from beneath the table and though she gripped the counter, she could hardly stand. How was she even going to reach the stairs, let alone climb them? She felt like she was being shaken to death.
She stared in horror as a crack appeared between her feet, ran across the floor, up the wall and onto the ceiling. There was a splintering whack! like a gun-shot, and seconds later the room was pulled in two. Part of the upper floor collapsed, crushing the dining room table she had cowered under a minute earlier. A huge support beam snapped and dropped from overhead. Natalie dove out of the way, just as it swung like a wrecking ball and smashed the kitchen counter to pieces.
The lights went out. Natalie screamed in the dark and the world shook apart around her.
Five Hours Earlier...
“Earth is a 3-D puzzle, made of large pieces called tectonic plates. Every part of the world’s surface, land or sea, sits atop these plates. Areas where they meet are called subduction zones, and sometimes one massive plate will slide beneath another, triggering an earthquake...”
A few of the dorkier kids hung on Miss Flint’s every word. Most however, looked like Connor felt, anxiously fidgeting in their seats as the clock took its sweet time getting to the magic hour. Five minutes till Spring Break, and Flint was gonna use every single one of them.
Oblivious to the time, she droned on. “On December 26, 2004, just off the coast of Indonesia, the Indo-Australian Plate slid beneath the Eurasian Plate, producing an undersea earthquake measuring between 9.1 and 9.3 on the Richter Scale. One of the strongest quakes ever recorded in modern times, it created tremors which were felt as far away as Alaska, and caused the entire planet to wobble on its axis. The quake displaced massive amounts of ocean water, triggering a tsunami measuring over 100 feet high, which struck the Asian coast, killing 150,000 people and leaving over a million others homeless.
“Some of you may remember the quake in Japan in 2011. Even though it happened thousands of miles away, Hawaii was affected by the tsunami, and beaches all along the West Coast of the United States were closed. You may even recall our schools closed that day, just in case.”
She paused for dramatic effect, convinced she had the entire class mesmerized. Connor glanced around; most looked bored.
“Just off the coast of the northwestern United States, not even 100 miles from where we now sit, lies the Cascadia Subduction Zone. It stretches beneath the Pacific from Canada’s Vancouver Island down to northern California. There is evidence several massive quakes have erupted from this region over the past 3,500 years. Each was followed by a tsunami. It last happened at around 9:00 P.M. in the year 1700. To this day, it is believed to be one of the largest known quakes in history, and the subsequent tsunami ravaged the entire coast.
“If the Cascadia Subduction Zone were to rupture today with the same magnitude as it did in 1700, both the quake and tsunami would cause unimaginable destruction across the entire Pacific Northwest, devastating such major cities as Seattle, Olympia, Tacoma, Portland, Victoria and Vancouver, B.C...
“…and as for the fate of our little coastal paradise, Pangea Bay would likely be wiped off the map.” Flint paused again. A few kids oohed and awed. Having heard it all before, Conner rolled his eyes.
What a drama queen.
Connor’s best friend, Taylor, who sat next to him, leaned over and quietly cackled. “Do ya think anyone’s even listening to her?”
“Ha,” Conner barked, louder than he intended.
Miss Flint suddenly stopped, whipping around to stare into him. The rest of the class, Taylor included, froze.
“Something funny, Mr. McKenzie?” She raised a brow. “Or don’t you believe any of this?”
He shot a helpless glance to Taylor for backup, but his best friend was in self-preservation mode, suddenly staring sheepishly at his desk to avoid her wrath.
Quickly recovering, aware his classmates were staring, Connor offered his best who-me? face and smiled. “No, ma’am. Your story is riveting. And I hope it does happen. I‘ll jump on my boogie board and surf all the way to Portland. Maybe catch a Blazers game.”
Laughter erupted from the surrounding students.
Miss Flint grinned back, a phony smile that didn’t reach her eyes, a telltale sign she didn’t appreciate his latest smart-aleck comment.
The laughter ceased immediately.
“That reminds me,” she said as she sauntered to her desk. “Some of you may find this riveting...your mid-term progress reports. You wouldn’t want to head off to Spring Break without these.”
A collection of groans and sighs filled the room as Miss Flint went from desk to desk, dealing out her students’ fates.
When she reached the back row of the classroom and held out Connor’s report, she pinched it with two fingers as though it was crawling with germs. Her thin lips puckered, like they’d just sucked a sour pickle. Connor stared back hard, willing her to drop dead as he snatched the report from her hand. He didn’t bother to look at it; he knew his fate from the look on her face.
“Your welcome, Mr. McKenzie,” she chided before moving to another row.
“Prune face,” he muttered under his breath.
She whipped around and glared. “What was that?”
Some nearby students giggled, including Taylor.
Connor pasted on his sincerest grin and held open his arms. “Nothing, Miss Flint. You have a great spring break, okay?”
A few more chuckles. Miss Flint’s pickle-sucking smirk disappeared, rendering everyone silent.
“Mr. McKenzie, I’d like you to stay after class for a moment, if you don’t mind,” she said evenly before continuing her task.
“Whatever.” Connor pretended he didn’t care. The truth was just the opposite. Bringing home an F in Physical Science would seriously screw up his vacation. Mom got angry when he brought home C’s, let alone flat-out flunking a class. And all because ol’ Flint had it in for him.
“Good luck, dude,” cackled Taylor as the bell rang. “I’ll wait for you in the parking lot.”
While other students gathered their books and filed out the door, Connor sulked in his chair. Miss Flint returned to her desk, shuffling papers until she had him alone.
“Mr. McKenzie...” she began, not bothering to call him by his first name; that honor was reserved for the few butt-kissers she actually liked; for everyone else it was Mr. This or Ms. That. “...care to tell me what your problem is this time?”
Connor said nothing, avoiding her stare while he impatiently fidgeted.
“Let me guess. You don’t think you deserve your grade.”
“You got that right,” he spat, staring down at his progress report in disgust.
“Mr. McKenzie, you didn’t turn in your Simple Machines project–”
“That’s only one assignment.”
“The biggest one of the term, young man,” she scolded.
Young man? Connor bitterly mused. To you, Jesus is a young man.
“But it isn’t just the project.” She managed that holier-than-thou tone he hated. “You also got D’s on both tests, and never bothered coming in after school to make them up.”
“I have baseball practice after school!” Connor slapped the desk in anger. “I told you that!”
“That’s not my problem. Baseball isn’t one of my priorities.” Miss Flint sat back in her seat. “And after I have a word with your coach, it will no longer be one of yours.”
“Hey, you can’t–”
“Oh, I can and I will, Mr. McKenzie. You’re almost always off-task in class, you’re disrespectful and disruptive. You’re certainly intelligent, but you’re also lazy and never apply yourself. You’re in this quandary because of you, not me. So if you want to blame someone, take a look in the mirror, young man.” She shook her head sadly. “I’ll tell you one thing, Mr. McKenzie...you’re certainly nothing like your father. I never heard him piling on the excuses when he was in my class. I think he’d be quite disappointed in you right now.”
Connor glared back hatefully. “Don’t talk about my dad, Miss Flint. You don’t know how he’d feel, and you sure as hell don’t know me.” His eyes stung as tears threatened. He willed them away, refusing to give Pruneface the satisfaction of seeing him cry.
“No need to use that kind of language, Mr. McKenzie,” she said curtly.
“Yeah?” Connor promptly stood, snatched up his binder and progress report, then stomped toward the door. “How this....up yours, you old windbag. What do you think of that?”
With another pickle-sucking face, Miss Flint slowly stood. “I think, come Monday after spring break, you’re going to find yourself suspended.”
They drove all the way to the train station without saying a word. His mom sat in the passenger seat, sniffling and occasionally wiping tears from her cheeks. Mike stared straight ahead as he drove. Damien couldn’t see the man’s face, but doubted any tears squeezed from those eyes
Except tears of joy, maybe.
Mike pulled his truck into the parking lot of Coos Bay’s lonely train station and gently eased it into two spots. Damien gripped the suitcase next to him, anticipating a quick escape to avoid any gooey goodbyes from Mom. She didn’t want him to go, but Mike was nothing if not persuasive, promising her, with his usual salesman’s pitch, this was best for everyone.
Best for you, you mean, Damien thought, staring daggers into the back of his stepdad’s skull.
As soon as Mike killed the engine, Damien hoisted his suitcase and climbed out of the back seat, taking a last, longing listen to the ocean waves crashing nearby. He was sure going to miss that sound.
Then he deliberately slammed the door as hard as he could, hoping to get Mike’s goat.
Instead, his stepdad leaped out of the truck like a child waking up on Christmas morning; not even Damien abusing the man’s precious Humvee (which he insisted on calling a rig) was going to ruin this day. Mom grabbed another tissue and composed herself before joining them.
Damien didn’t wait, shuffling toward the station like a condemned prisoner. It wasn’t until he reached the entrance that he noticed he was by himself. He turned around, frowning as he watched Mike throw open the hatch of his ‘rig’ and hoist out his army-issue duffel bag.
He watched with mounting dread as Mike slung the duffel bag over his shoulder and marched toward him with a mile-wide grin. Mom did her best to keep up, eyeing her husband uncertainly.
“What’s up with the bag?” Damien already dreaded the answer. “I got everything I need in my suitcase.”
“Oh, this isn’t for you.” Mike put a meaty hand on Damien’s shoulder and chuckled. “I’m coming with you, tough guy.”
Damien blankly stared back, unsure he heard right.
Apparently satisfied with his stepson’s reaction, Mike held the door open for Damien and his mom to enter the terminal first. “After you, Damien Heston,” he said. “Our chariot awaits.”
She was startled awake when a shark struck the side of her face. Dropping into her lap, its one good eye stared vacantly back. The other had fallen off years ago. Natalie ripped headphones from her ears and glared at her sister. Lucy bounced in her booster seat and giggled.
“Not funny, you little brat,” Natalie spat.
From the front seat, their mom craned her head with a stern stare. “I told you a million times not to call her that.”
“She threw a stuffed animal at me.”
Lucy aimed a tiny finger at her and yelled, “You started it!”
“Did not.” Natalie gave her a harsh glare, which made Lucy giggle louder.
“Did to!” Lucy held out her hand and demanded, “Give him back.”
Natalie clutched the old stuffed fish and held it just out of Lucy’s reach. “You want this? What do you say?”
Her little sister swiped at it with a tiny hand. Natalie playfully yanked it away.
“Give me Crunch now!” Lucy demanded.
“Nope.” Natalie shook her head, then stuffed the animal in the seat pocket in front of her. “He was mine before he was yours. Now I want him back.” Not true, of course. She outgrew her attachment to that stupid animal before her sister was even born. Lucy, on the other hand, loved old Crunch. She didn’t care if he was missing an eye, or crusty brown stains spotted his fur. Despite her bounty of newer stuffed animals at home, Crunch was the one she hauled everywhere.
Like flipping a switch, Lucy turned on the waterworks. Tears filled her eyes as she kicked her legs and whined.
“What’s the problem back there?” Their dad scowled as he drove.
“Lucy’s being a brat,” Natalie insisted.
“I said don’t call her that,” Mom groused.
“Mommy, Natalie won’t give me Crunch!” Lucy cried before cramming a thumb in her mouth.
“‘Cause you threw him at me. Must mean you don’t want him,” Natalie teased.
Lucy raised the volume of her tantrum.
Her dad angrily glared back and barked, “Stop teasing her and give it back before I turn the car around and go back home!”
“Fine. I don’t want to go on this stupid trip, anyway. I got better things to do.”
Dad’s jaw tightened, a sign he was about to explode into one of his obscenity-filled tirades. They used to scare her, but they came so often lately she could easily tune them out.
Mom intervened, squeezing Dad’s shoulder as she glanced back. “Natalie, you’re fourteen, she just turned four–”
“But–” Natalie tried to protest before Mom raised a silencing hand.
“You’re her big sister, and you need to just overlook it when she’s trying to antagonize you. You weren’t any different when you were that age. Now stop teasing and give Crunch back to her.”
Disgusted, Natalie grabbed Crunch and tossed it into her sister’s lap. Once again, the little chumbucket gets away with murder; once again, I’m the bad guy.
Her mom looked at Lucy. “What do you say to Natalie?”
Lucy glared, stuck out her lower lip and scolded, “Bad sister!” Then she clutched Crunch to her cheek and stuck her thumb back in her mouth. End of argument.
“Lucy, you be nice,” Mom encouraged with a sweet grin.
Natalie sneered back. “Aren’t you a little old to be sucking your thumb?”
“That’s enough, Natalie,” Mom added before turning back around.
“Whatever.” Natalie crammed her headphones back in her ears and dialed through the songs on her iPod.
A few minutes later, Crunch pelted her in the face again.
After he left the building, Connor went to the nearest trashcan, yanked his unfinished Simple Machines project from his binder, and tore it in half, then in quarters. The term was over; there was no point in hanging onto it now. A few pieces of tattered paper fluttered to the ground as he stuffed the can. Not bothering to pick them up, Connor hurried to the school parking lot and found Taylor, leaning against the back of his Chevy pick-up and talking to Tawnya Garcia. His best friend was decked out in his usual gear...a letterman jacket and the most recent ‘funny’ tee-shirt he picked up at Wal-Mart. This one read, I didn’t say it was you’re fault...I said I was going to blame you.
“Hey, buddy,” Taylor said. “Turn around.”
“Why?” Connor asked, doing as requested.
“How ‘bout that...still intact. I thought for sure I’d see one of Flint’s high heels buried in your butt.”
Tawnya giggled. She laughed at all of Taylor’s attempts at humor, even when they weren’t always that funny.
“Yeah, ha ha, dillweed,” Connor muttered.
Taylor shot a glance at Tawnya. “Hey, I’ll call you later, okay? Me and my comrade here got some business to discuss.”
“Okay,” she said hopefully before strutting away, intentionally swinging her hips in a clumsy attempt to appear sexy.
“Kinda hot in a ditzy sort of way,” Connor offered admiringly. “For a sophomore, anyway. You gonna ask her out?”
Taylor chortled. “What, Tawnya? No way.”
“Why not? You know she has it bad for you.”
“You obviously haven’t sat and talked with her for five minutes.” He aimed a finger at his own head. “Scrambled eggs up there, dude.”
“Then why string her along?”
Taylor shrugged indifferently. “It’s fun. If and when some dumb little hottie ever thinks you’re like the greatest male specimen walking the planet, you’ll do the same thing.”
Must be nice, Connor thought enviously. He was no slouch, but rarely dated anyone as hot as the girls who threw themselves at Taylor. And the guy always acted like it was no big deal. Taylor didn’t know how good he had it.
“You’re gonna die a lonely man if you keep blowing these chicks off,” Connor said congenially.
Taylor laughed again. “Not a chance. Come on, it’s time to celebrate. Spring Break is upon us!”
Taylor climbed into the truck and fired her up. Connor tossed his backpack and binder into the bed with Taylor’s baseball gear and joined him.
“So...” Taylor said, screeching out of the parking lot and heading toward downtown Pangea Bay. “...let’s hear it.”
Connor slapped a hand to his forehead and pulled it down his face. “Man, I’m so screwed. Not only wouldn’t she listen to me about my grade, she’s gonna have me thrown off the team. I’m probably gonna be suspended, too.”
“Suspended? What for?”
“‘Cause I totally went-off on her. My mom’s gonna go ballistic when she hears that. She’ll take away my boogie board and ground me for life.” He sighed heavily. “You’re looking at a dead man walking.”
His friend slapped the steering wheel and snickered. “Went off on Flint? What’d you say, dude?”
“Up yours, windbag.”
Taylor’s mouth fell open. “You got some big ones, buddy! That old lady’s the biggest hard-case that ever rolled through Pangea Bay High. She scares the crap out of everybody. Even me!” He turned into the parking lot of Crazy Dog, a fast food place where a lot of kids hung out on Friday afternoons. “What’d she say to get you so riled up? Was it the baseball thing?”
Connor stared out the windshield as his friend found the only open space left in the tiny lot. “She brought up my old man. Said he’d be disappointed in me.” His head sunk as he stared into his lap, fighting tears again. He didn’t want Taylor to see him cry any more than Miss Flint.
Taylor’s grin morphed to a scowl as he killed the engine. “Man, that’s a low blow, even for her. She knows what happened.”
Despite his efforts, Connor's eyes filled up; a few droplets soaked into his jeans. “Do you think she’s right? Do you think my dad would be disappointed in me?”
Taylor pounded the dashboard. “Dude, don’t listen to her. Just because she had him in a class a jillion years ago doesn’t mean squat. She’s just an old lady who’s burned-out from teaching too long and has no life of her own, other than making kids miserable. Who gives a crap what she thinks.”
Connor couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. “I miss him, man,” he sobbed quietly. “I miss him so much...”
“I know, man,” Taylor squeezed Connor’s trembling shoulder. “I know. We all miss him.”
“She didn’t have the right...” Connor furiously rubbed his fists into his eyes. “She had no right.”
They sat in silence for a few moments. Connor slowly pulled himself together.
“Come on, dude,” Taylor finally said. “Let’s go inside before people start thinking we’re a couple of queers.”
Connor suddenly snickered; snot shot from his running nose.
“Yuck,” Taylor groaned, yanking an old paper napkin from the glove box and wiping his dashboard. “Snot rocket!”
Connor bursted into laughter...
...as the pick-up started to slowly rock.
Taylor’s key-ring, still in the ignition, jingled like tiny chimes.
“Huh?” Taylor grunted, gripping the wheel.
The truck swayed back and forth. Connor looked back, thinking one of Taylor’s football buddies was bouncing on the tailgate. No one was there, but at the outdoor dining area just outside of Crazy Dog’s pick-up window, several wide-eyed customers gripped their tables. A few sodas shook and toppled over. A kid he recognized from his Humanities class, a pint-sized sophomore named Albert, struggled to keep his balance at the take-out window, teetering like he was drunk. Connor shot a nervous glance out his window; the car next to them rocked too and its alarm went off.
Then the shaking subsided.
He looked back again to the big commotion at the dining tables. Customers stood wide-eyed and paralyzed, jaws falling open in dumbstruck awe. One lady pulled a wad of napkins from a dispenser to wipe the drink that dropped in her lap.
“Dude...” Taylor said, finally releasing his grip on the wheel. “...was that an earthquake?”
“I dunno,” Connor replied. He opened the door and climbed out, wincing as the car alarm next to him continued to screech. The vehicle’s owner ran out of the restaurant, aimed his key ring, and shut it up.
“You boys feel that?” the man asked with a grin. “Healthy little tremor, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah,” was all Connor could muster.