A funeral home director with a mild social anxiety disorder and a strong desire to avoid the past is woken up one morning by an earthquake only to discover that everything he's buried has finally come to the surface
The jolt knocked Dustin from his bed. He had a moment upon being awoken where he was aware that he was falling before he hit the floor. Furniture and picture frames toppled and fell around him as the building rattled. The lamp from his nightstand shattered throwing a brief flash of sparks around his head. As their burning embers subsided he was left in darkness, scrambling to his feet. The shaking died to a slight vibration and then it passed entirely.
He stood there motionless in the corner of his bedroom listening as the boards and beams groaned around him. The apartment seemed to lurch forward, giving off a series of pops and bangs as the timber within it broke and came unhinged. The glass in all his windows shattered, cascading out into the street below with a sound like wind-chimes. Then there was the noise of dogs barking and people screaming and car alarms going off everywhere.
It had been an earthquake, a bad one. Dustin was still in his bare feet when he began to run for the door. The only thing that reminded him that he needed to grab his shoes was stepping on the broken figure of a glass fish that he’d kept on his dresser. He yelled in pain as he limped back to his bedside to put them on. That’s when he saw the building across the street collapse.
It was a three story Victorian just like his own apartment and the kind of design that was common in his part of the city. He’d been frantically tying his laces and trying to remember where he’d put his flashlight when the edifice outside cascaded downward. Dust from it billowed up into to his bedroom through the broken windowpanes as the structure fell across the road with a loud rumble. Dustin sat awestruck by the sight of it.
He could hear voices yelling both on the street and in the foyer of his own building. People were trying to help other people and the tenants that he shared this apartment with were terrified and fleeing. He bolted, joining them on the staircase outside and then through the front door and out into the night. He stopped to hold the door open for the couple that lived in the unit next door to him. The woman was pregnant and holding a fishbowl in her hands. The husband held a bloody sock to his head.
“Thanks.” The man said as Dustin followed them out to the street. Giving a shrug to indicate the spot where he held the sock he explained. “A picture frame hit me in the head.”
Dustin nodded looking at them both. “Other than that, are you guys okay?”
The woman looked down at her fish. There wasn’t much water left in the bowl and what was left had flecks of sheet rock floating on its surface. “I don’t think he’s going to make it.” She said sadly.
The man extended his free hand towards Dustin. “I’m James.” He said. “This is my wife Alexis.”
Dustin noticed that they were both still dressed for sleep as was he himself. Alexis wore grey sweatpants and a stretched out T-shirt with the image of a playful bear riding a glittering rainbow. The shirt was pulled taught against the bulge of her extended tummy. James was in a pair of paint stained cargo shorts and no shirt.
Having seen them in the hallway of the building many times befor, he considered the wife to be mannish looking with dark red hair and sharp angular features. The husband, he thought looked more bookish with a large nose, shaved stubble on his head and a pencil thin mustache. In the darkness of the street their worst features were enhanced.
Dustin introduced himself giving the man’s hand a firm shake. “Are you sure everything’s okay?” he asked again, this time pointing with a finger at a spot on his own head showing where the man was injured.
“Oh, I guess.” James said giving a little sigh. “I’m a little disappointed. The picture that fell and hit me was one of the last ones I painted and I really liked it. Also, Alexis had this great fish tank that ruptured all over the living room floor. Things are just a mess.”
Dustin nodded turning to look at the collapsed building that was lying in the street before them. Already a small line of men had formed, passing bricks and pieces of lumber off to the side as they searched for survivors. Watching, he saw one of them suddenly pull a birdcage from the wreckage. Holding it up to examine it, the man smiled at the two fluttering canaries he found inside. Then he passed it on down the row.
The scene was illuminated by a great plume of flame which shot from a ruptured gas pipe further up the hill. The pipe jutted at an angle from a strip of buckled sidewalk. It sprayed fire over the tops of the buildings on the other side of the intersection. Nearby a toppled fire hydrant gurgled water across the avenue. It was an interesting contradiction of elements Dustin thought to himself as he took it all in.
James nudged him. “Hey, Dustin.” He said as he pointed to a spot where the street ran in the opposite direction. “Isn’t that your car?”
Dustin turned looking. It was his car. It had fallen into a sink hole. The taillights peeked up over the edge flashing in defiance as its alarm went off. He loved his car. “Yes.” He replied.
“That’s terrible!” James said. “That was a really nice car.”
Years ago, Dustin had saved for and bought a mint condition 1990 Alfa Romeo Spyder. His five-foot eleven inch frame fit perfectly in the driver’s seat and he liked to think that the sporty personality of the vehicle matched his own. In truth, Dustin was much more anxious than the car belied him to be. It was how he felt driving it however that was most important to him. He felt in control.
Alexis coughed. “My fish.” She said to her husband. James turned to comfort his wife. Together the couple began to head off in search of water.
“Sorry.” James called over his shoulder as they left.
Dustin stood there gazing at the half buried outline of the vehicle. Anger and disbelief welled up inside his mind threatening to burst free like the flame from the gas pipe behind him. People continued to wander out into the road from the surrounding buildings. They looked scared and bewildered as they took in the scene before them.
A large black man ran past, holding his arm and screaming “Mother!” Dustin watched as he disappeared into the darkness, running past the destroyed car. That was when it occurred to Dustin that he would miss his twelve-step meeting that evening.