Marnie put some toast in her mouth and turned the volume on her headphones up. It was a sunny Tuesday afternoon, and she had nothing planned but chilling out and playing on the internet for the rest of the day. She’d been at work all morning, blogging up a storm and it was time to relax.
A little wobble made her Milo slosh in the mug. She must have knocked the desk accidentally with her knee. She took a sip to lower the level and put the cup back down.
The world shattered and started to unwind itself around her. The house swayed and creaked as the earth began to twist and tear. Earthquake. The word slammed itself into her head. She’d been in dozens of them before, rumbles and grumbles that made the lights sway and maybe dislodged a few loose objects. This was a different animal. It was a beast rising from the bowels of the earth, unleashing pure hell and a primal terror that ripped the facade of civilization aside in a second and left her staring at the vicious nature of reality.
Her Milo became a milky brown spray across the room, the closet burst open, showering the floor with shoes and clothes, her books flew off the shelves and then the bookcase itself toppled over on top of them. The world was in motion, everything flying this way and that.
Under the desk, or in the doorway.
Growing up in New Zealand, she’d been drilled on what to do in an earthquake since she was a very little girl. As she was being shaken like a pebble in a tin can, Marnie tried to make it to the door. It was only half a metre away, but it may as well have been a kilometre. There was no way she was getting to it. Her feet couldn’t move on the shifting ground, the carpet jamming itself up and down against her as she swayed back and forth, staggering in place.
The shaking intensified. She could hear the cupboards flying open in the kitchen, glass smashing as jars of pasta sauce, cups, saucers, plates all propelled themselves through the air. This was it. She was going to die. She was going to fucking die in her pyjamas with half a bite of toast in her mouth and a podcast playing unabated. She didn’t have time to cry, she didn’t even have time to scream. Her mouth was dry, her teeth clenched hard together as she battled to survive what felt like the very end of the world.
And then it stopped. Or at least slowed. She couldn’t tell if it was still shaking because now she was shaking from head to toe, her body flooded with absolute adrenaline. She ran for the door, heading for outside.
Never go outside.
Her body didn’t give a damn about the official guidelines. Her body wanted to be out, away from the scary shaking. She sprinted out onto the footpath, where she found the ground moving beneath her feet, hard concrete waving up and down in slow undulations, like standing atop water. In the garden beyond, geysers of liquid sand were spurting from below, covering grass and burying flower beds in a matter of minutes. Later on, the news would call it liquefaction. In that moment, all she could say was holy fuck. Holy. Fuck. Over and over again.
Shocked and stunned, she hugged her arms around herself. How could this be happening? This wasn’t an area known for active fault lines. Wellington, that’s where the big one was supposed to happen. Not Christchurch. Christchurch was supposed to be safe.
But that didn’t stop her neighbour’s chimney from being on top of their car. And it didn’t stop their kids from screaming and crying, and it didn’t stop water from flooding up from nowhere and turning the street into a wet sandy mess, great holes opening up in the roads and pavements, houses suddenly sunk into the ground up to their windows.
Other people were coming out of their houses. She saw the same shock and pale fear on their faces as the ground rumbled again. Their suburb was adjacent to the central city, where clouds of smoke and dust were rising. It was the middle of the day and the city would have been packed.
Marnie tried to call her mum, but her fingers were suddenly too awkward to work the cell phone, and there wasn’t any signal anyway. They’d been cut off. There was nothing. Nothing. Fuck.
“Are you okay?” A woman touched her shoulder. Marnie nodded, holding back sudden tears, and the lady, whose name she didn’t know, ushered her over to where her family was gathered. Over the next little while, huddled groups of people formed in gardens and on the side of the road. Nobody wanted to be indoors if another one hit. Neighbours who never talked to one another in years suddenly became instant friends, bringing out cups of tea from their broken houses, finding camping equipment to put to good use. The news, spoken in hushed tones, was not good.
Buildings were down. People were inside.
That was the day Marnie learned you could feel death in the air. It was a stillness, a hollow feeling that resonated with some deep part of her, the core of what it meant to be human and part of a community. She’d never noticed it before. Only now that so much had been destroyed could she suddenly feel the web of humanity all around her, and the gaping holes where something and someone had suddenly become nothing and no one.
The earth kept rolling all night and into the next day. Every few minutes it would rumble and shudder again and adrenaline spiked through her as she anticipated the return of the beast. Over the following week, three hundred and sixty aftershocks rocked the broken city, and in the end, Marnie fled.