Chapter 47

The paramedic who was not named Saunders grabbed James by the shirt collar hauling him off the floor. "That’s it." He said as the aftershock grew in intensity. "Everyone, out of the house."

"But John!" The artist called as he was pushed over the beam in the direction of the door.

"Everyone out!" The paramedic said again, this time screaming the words.

As they fled through the bedroom’s door and down the hallway it began to become apparent that this was a more powerful quake than the original had been. They stumbled in their retreat, grasping onto the walls as the building lurched and burst apart all around them. Sheet rock dusk fell from cracks in the ceiling and sconces flew off walls leaving behind a trail of sparks.

Dustin came to the stairs behind Sylvia and Alexis. The old woman held on to the pregnant girl tightly as they clawed their way down the steps. Wood came unhinged and popped. The banister came loose causing them to almost go careening off the side. A great chandelier hanging from the top of the room fell and shattered.

Alexis dropped her fish. The bowl fell onto the tiles of the entryway below. "My fish." She said as she continued to be pulled along.

Dustin watched it break.

Together they pushed, pulled and helped one another along until they were out the door. The two paramedics from outside grabbed at them as they exited and rushed them off into a far corner of the yard. Steve stood in the spot yelling, "Over here!" so that they could find him in the darkness.

They fell into fetal positions, looking up between their fingers at the house as it slowly collapsed. Dustin saw a one of the gables disappear into the structure and then all of the other bits of wood, glass, roof and gutter followed it. The thing seemed to shrink into a pile of dust. The sound was deafening.

"John!" The artist called again, rising to his feet.

Steve jumped up and tackled him. "Forget about it man!" He said, pinning the artist with his knee.

"Thank God." Sylvia said sadly.

The quake caused the ground to pitch and reel violently. It went on and on as they cowered and huddled together listening to the roar of the earth collapsing around them. A water geyser shot from the rubble of the building. A huge chunk of land fell into the sea.

The tree that Dustin had noticed growing up from beneath the huge stone out front snapped and splintered. The rock tipped over, crushing the grocer’s truck and the engine of the ambulance that was parked behind it. One of the vehicles exploded in a great ball of flame.

The canaries burst from their cage and fluttered out into the night. The tips of their wings were smoldering. Mr. Kennedy’s casket was buried beneath the fallen rock. The flames spread. Another truck exploded. It was Steve’s.

"Damn!" The man snapped still pinning the artist to the ground.

The paramedic named Donaldson turned to the one that was named Saunders. "I told you that we should have cut off his leg."

James struggled. "John!" he said again.

Alexis looked down at her empty hands. "My fish." She lamented.

Kennedy smiled, watching it all burn. "Problem solved." She said.

The quake became a low vibration and then nothing. There was silence. They all stood.

James went rushing towards the building, clawing through the wreckage.

Dustin looked around. "Where’s Lance Aldrich?" He asked.

The paramedic not named Donaldson raised his eyebrows. "Yeah." He said. "Where is the fat guy?"

Everyone blinked and swiveled their heads.

Dustin took a step towards the EMT’s. "I thought that he was with one of you guys." He said, pointing at them all.

Donaldson looked grim. "He was right in front of me." He said. "I swear."

"I saw him too." The other one said. "He was running down the hall."

"Well where is he now?"

"I don’t know."

"Do you think that he may have gone back?"

"He’d have been crazy if he had."

Dustin turned, silently counting. "He’s not here." He said.

"Then he’s trapped."

Together the four EMT’s rushed into the pile joining the artist in his search through the rubble. They picked up picture frames, rocking horses, salad bowls and dining room chairs as they probed deeper and deeper into the dusty wreckage. Dustin watched them as they formed a small excavation line. They worked by the light of the burning trucks.

Steve shook his head. "I just hate that about my truck." He said, turning to Dustin. "You owe me a truck man. If it wasn’t for you then I wouldn’t have been out here at all."

"I don’t owe you a damned thing." Dustin quipped. "I don’t even know how you found me."

"That grocer, dude." Steve said pointing in the direction of the fallen house. "You gave that Aldrich guy my number. You told him that I could handle the burial arrangements for his momma and daddy."

"So he called you?" Dustin asked.

"Yep." Steve said. "I don’t know what you were thinking man. You know as well as I do that I don’t even care about all of that junk that you do with the families. I hate that stuff. That’s why I need you."

Dustin shot his partner an angry look. "I quit." He said, walking away.

Steve followed. "Now don’t be like that man." He groaned. "You need to come back and at least tell the police what happened with that architect dude."

"No." Dustin spat over his shoulder. "I wasn’t even there Steve. I don’t know why I’m involved in this."

"Just finish up." Steve pleaded. "Just take care of the burials that we have on our schedule right now and then you can quit."

Dustin spun around to face him. "We’ve got bodies all over the place Steve." He shot back. "I’ll never be done burying them all."

"Well at least lets help these guys find this Aldrich guy." His partner said, gesturing back in the direction of the flames and ruins behind him. "I mean, that’s the least you can do dude."

Dustin thought about it for a little bit. "Screw him." He said turning to walk away. It was a great relief to him to be able to say those words.

The End

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