I leaned back in my chair and rubbed my eyes.
“What is the point of math?” I asked. My roommate laughed behind me.
“The point is to separate the wheat from the chaff, Mya. The weak give up and drop out.”
I spun in my chair to look at her. Our desks occupied a corner of our dorm room just outside the shared bathroom. Not the ideal location, but it freed up the space under our loft beds for a couch and TV.
“I think I proved myself by making it through the first year. I need a break. Do you mind if I turn on the TV?”
As roommates went, Kristin wasn’t bad. Our personalities blended well since both of us were fairly mellow.
“Go ahead. I’ll put in headphones.”
I flopped down on the couch but hesitated to turn on the TV. I didn’t think I had the brain power it would take to watch a show. I couldn’t wait for winter break, still weeks away. Sure, I would need to deal with the stress of finals first, but it would be worth it to get away from campus. I loved going to OU Tulsa and living in the dorms in Walker. I just missed home and my family.
I picked up my phone and sent a snap to my younger brother. He was no doubt in the middle of a class. But as a senior in high school, he likely wasn’t paying much attention, anyway.
This is my math-sucks face, I captioned the selfie.
A minute later my phone beeped. I opened an image of him trying to crawl inside a locker.
This is my escape plan, it read.
I grinned. Ryan was a goof, and I could always count on him to cheer me up.
Feeling a bit better, I stood.
“I’m going to grab something from the cafeteria. Want to come?”
Kristin pulled out one ear bud. “Nah, I’m good. Don’t forget your pants.”
I made a face. Kristin, like me, usually lounged in a shirt and underwear when in our room. The rooms were warm, and it was comfortable going pantless. Too bad the administration didn’t agree. I put on my shorts so I didn’t have to listen to another lecture about walking around without pants in public corridors, grabbed my ID, and left.
The halls were fairly quiet as I made my way to the exit. Most students were either in class or still sleeping. Given the option, I would have preferred to sleep in as well on my late start days. I wouldn’t call myself a morning person. I just couldn’t seem to sleep past eight. It probably had something to do with the fact that I had a hard time keeping my eyes open past midnight. I used the quiet morning time to get assignments done and relax before class.
I shivered slightly when I stepped outside and almost went back in for a hoodie, but I didn’t have far to go.
At the Couch, our cafeteria, I helped myself to some eggs, ham, and country potatoes and sat at a table to eat. A morning news show played on the huge TV. They were talking about the protesters at the pipeline.
At the bottom of the screen was a news feed about increasing tremors outside of Rheydt, Germany.
“Crazy, huh?” the guy next to me said. “I was thinking of putting some money together to send some supplies to the protestors.”
“I wouldn’t. It’s just perpetuating the need for the oil line. If the protestors really wanted to stop the pipeline, they would abandon their cars and their consumerism. If people stopped buying too much and using their cars daily or even weekly, we wouldn’t need so much oil.”
The guy gave me a disbelieving look. “Do you really think that’s the solution?”
“No. I think less people is the real solution.”
“What do you suggest? The Purge becomes a reality?”
“I’m not suggesting anything. I’m only pointing out that those protests are pointless. Most of the people traveled from distant places, using more fuel than normal to get there. The protest just puts more strain on the supply and demand system they are protesting. Sending them goods, like everyone wants to do, will only add to that demand.”
He shook his head, picked up his empty tray, and walked away. I was used to that. I didn’t think like other people did. My heart didn’t automatically bleed for causes. I was too busy asking myself why a cause was needed in the first place.
Ignoring the protestors on the screen, I read the newsfeed about the earthquakes. The tremors began just after ten a.m. in Germany.
“Two hours ago,” I said softly. The tremors started at a 2.1 magnitude that had increased to 3.9 already. Officials were saying the tremors occasionally occurred due to the Garzweiler mine, some miles south of the town. That was something I could relate to. Residences on the outskirts of Oklahoma City, where I grew up, often felt tremors because of fracking.
“You’d think we’d get smarter,” I said to myself. I finished breakfast and made my way back to my room.
“Anything decent?” Kristin asked when I entered.
“Same as always,” I said.
I took my laptop from my desk and settled on the couch so I could keep an eye on the news while finishing math. Kristin put her earbuds in, and we worked in silence for several minutes before she closed herself in our shared bathroom to get ready for class.
“Hold on, we’re getting reports of unusual activity from our source in Germany.”
The words caught my attention, and I looked up at the TV. The reporter was frowning and calling someone’s name. A second later, a line crackled and the still image of a dark-haired man filled half the screen.
“Garan,” the newswoman said. “Tell us what is happening.”
“Another tremor just shook the area,” the man said with a heavy accent. “Some buildings sustained damage. The results are not confirmed, but we believe this one might be in the sixes. Local residents are being evacuated as a precautionary measure.”
“What about the mining?” I asked the TV.
“Were there any injuries?” the reporter asked, instead.
“Minor injuries,” Garan said. “The most unusual part of this last tremor is the animal reaction.”
“What do you mean?” the news lady asked.
“Everything has gone quiet. I don’t hear or see any birds, and the people I’ve interviewed in the last few moments noted that their pets have run off. One elderly woman said that behavior had decided her evacuation. To quote her, ‘The whole place has an ominous feel.’ I can’t say Rheydt feels very welcoming at the moment.”
“Thank you, Garan.”
His line disconnected, and the anchor woman promised to keep the viewers up-to-date as news broke.
Kristin came out of the bathroom and opened her closet.
“Geez, it sounds like Germany is being hit by some wicked quakes,” I said. “They’re evacuating a town.”
“Really? It must be a pretty big deal if they’re reporting it here,” Kristin said as she continued to get dressed.
“Yeah, they just had some news guy on from over there. He made it sound kinda creepy when he mentioned how all the animals have disappeared from the area.”
As I spoke, the slightest vibration tickled the bottom of my feet.
“Did you feel that?” Kristin asked.
“Yep. Stupid fracking. You better hurry up,” I said, glancing at our large wall clock. “And you might want a coat.”
She quickly combed her hair before grabbing her things and rushing out. It wasn’t long after that one of the girls from the adjoining dorm room closed our shared bathroom door, and I heard the water run again. We’d really lucked out. Our class schedules worked so we never had to fight for bathroom time in the morning.
I listened to the TV and worked on homework for another hour before I started to get ready for class. The talk of quakes and weird animal behavior had spooked me more than I realized because I jumped a little at the sight of my ghostly reflection in the steamed-up mirror. Shaking my head at myself, I pulled the hair tie from my long brown hair then locked both bathroom doors. Nothing about the news had been significantly disturbing. Yet, as I turned on the shower and stripped, I couldn’t shake the disquieting feeling that clung to me. Probably too much stress and the need for a break.
As I washed, my thoughts drifted from the news to possibilities of going home for the weekend. Home was just over an hour away. I didn’t have a car here, but Ryan would pick me up.
I turned off the water, dried, and went back to my room.
My phone beeped. It was an actual text from Ryan, not a snap.
Are you watching the news?
Just turned it off. Is it about the tremor that just went through?
I started to get dressed but only managed a bra and fresh underwear when the phone beeped.
No, Germany. Turn on the TV.
Already saw. They’ve been having quakes for hours.
I finished dressing and read his next text.
A 9.0 just happened. They have it on in school.
Garan was back, but this time live, when I turned on the TV. The scene behind him was a pile of rubble and ruin. His skin was coated with dust, and the air was still thick with it.
“As you can see, this area was hit the hardest. There’s still no estimate of how many residents hadn’t evacuated in time. Rescue personnel are on their way.” The faint sounds of sirens came through the speakers.
“Are you all right, Garan?” As the newswoman said that, something dark zipped across the scene behind him. The camera shifted slightly as if whatever it was had startled the camera man. A smattering of German broke out, silencing whatever response Garan had opened his mouth to say. Garan’s gaze shifted from the camera lens to something just off camera.
“Garan?” the newswoman said.
“I’m sorry. It appears some of the pets are returning. Perhaps to look for their owners.” The camera shifted to a pile of distant rubble where three dark shapes moved. “They appear to be digging,” Garan said.
I stared at the screen, squinting to make out what they were seeing. With the dust still clouding the air, blocking out the already weak sun, it was hard to see the dark shapes they were talking about. The sirens grew louder, and the camera swept away from the rubble as Garan ran toward the vehicle to point to the pile of rubble. Since he switched to German, I wasn’t sure what was being said. But the gesturing and concern on Garan’s face had me thinking he was trying to get them to go check out where the dogs were searching.
A lone, deep yowl filled the air as the sirens suddenly silenced.
The news woman came back on the screen and again promised to keep the viewers up-to-date on what was happening.
The chilling scene of such devastation stunned me, and I yearned for home even more.
I’m thinking about skipping my next class, I sent to Ryan.
Life of a college kid, he sent back.
I shook my head, knowing I needed to go to class, and grabbed my things. The newswoman tried to contact Garan again but reported he wasn’t answering. She speculated that everyone was working together to find survivors as quickly as possible. After expressing that the station’s thoughts and prayers were with the community of Rheydt, the newswoman signed off.
I shut off the TV and hurried out the door. Campus was still quiet and chilly on my walk to class.
Arriving early, I took a seat toward the back of the room and set up my laptop, content to stalk social media until the professor arrived. Around me, the few students in the room were talking about parties that had happened the night before.
My phone beeped, and I hurried to turn off the sound before checking the most recent message from Ryan.
Go to YouTube and look up Nachbar von Hund angegriffen.
Is that German? I sent back before typing in exactly what he’d texted.
Yes. The video is just a few hours old and already going viral.
I made sure to turn off my speakers then pulled up the video. It started with a shot of a backyard from an upper window. After a moment, the back door of the neighboring building opened. A man stepped out with a gun. I watched him fire twice prior to something rushing at him and knocking him down. Before the camera could focus, the thing attacking the man darted away. I covered my mouth with my hand as the shaking camera stayed on the fallen man. Spots of crimson grew on his shirt and pants.
The man jerked, and I watched as he continued to spasm then stilled. The video had several seconds left to it. I was half tempted to turn on the volume to see if I was missing anything when the man slowly got to his feet. As soon as he did, he looked straight at the camera. The video stopped there, leaving me staring into his eyes. Something about them sent a shiver of fear through me.