The Morning When My Planet Shuddered!
At first it was a single quick and violent quake that rocked my bedroom, but it was followed by a long series of powerful thuds — shuddering thuds. Immediately the dust was so thick I could taste it, and I struggled to get a breath of air. Pieces of my stone roof and walls crashed down onto my bed. Struggling to wake up, I rolled out from under my blankets to the floor and crawled under my bed. The shuddering continued, as well as the crumbling of my bedroom. My mind was a jumble of rapid-fire thoughts. Was I dreaming? Was my life ending? Did our planet collide with something else floating in space? Confused and dazed, I screamed out to my father, but I wasn’t sure he could hear me over the terrifying roar coming from beneath my underground world.
In the next room, Prowdesh, my older sister, shrieked, and shrieked again. Father’s voice could be heard, but I couldn’t tell what he was saying. He too was coughing. The tiny glow stone that was my nightlight was all but buried by the debris, but it offered enough glow that it allowed me to orient myself in the swirl of thick dust.
The shuddering continued but it was decreasing. When my mind gradually cleared I ran out into our living room, stumbling over bits of stone from our ceiling. Father stood in the middle of the room, holding his lamp with one hand, and his night shirt to his face with the other. Mother was still in Prowdesh’s room, trying to calm her down.
I held onto Father with my eyes shut tight until the shuddering stopped. When everything grew quiet again, I opened my eyes and blinked to see through the dust. Several large stones had fallen from our ceiling, and some from the walls. Everything that was upright the night before, now lay on the littered and dusty floor. Father put his lamp on the floor and quickly ran his hands over my head and shoulders. His voice sounded steady, but his hands trembled, just a little. “Nahroe, are you all right? Are you injured?”
I coughed and gagged from the choking dust, but managed to sound brave. “No. I’m ok. Really.” I held back that my feet hurt from racing across the sharp stones that now littered the floors. At fifteen I was trying desperately not to disappoint my Father. But the truth was, inside I still felt like a scared little boy.
Mother led Prowdesh from her bedroom into the living room, tripping over stony rubble. Both of them clutched a piece of clothing over their nose and mouth. Like Father, she too checked and found that her daughter was safe. I’ve seen Mother tired, even a little angry before. But this was the first time I’d ever seen her terrified.
I struggled against the urge to start crying from all that was happening, but it was Father’s coolness in the face of the nightmarish event that helped me compose myself. The dust was settling, but still thick enough to keep us all coughing. He got down on his knees and gently touched Mother’s foot. “You’re bleeding, Feinta.” He coughed, then turned to me and calmly ordered, “Nahroe, get me some clean cloth, and some water.”
I didn’t get halfway back with the cloth and water when our cave home shuddered with another, stronger but single thud. Prowdesh began screaming again. By now, the air was again a maelstrom of dust. A bed-size piece of rock, once a part of our ceiling, crashed to the floor, blocking the lower half of the door that lead to the Chamber Way outside.
Prowdesh buried her face in Mother’s arms and held on tight. We all nervously waited in the cloud of choking dust, desperately hoping there would be no more jolting. A long minute passed, then several smaller thuds followed, but each one was smaller than the one before. Father drew us all together in his strong arms, and we continued waiting longer.
The wait seemed to take forever, but then all became quiet again.
Prowdesh coughed several times and held out her trembling hands. Her eyes were large and wild-like. Father stroked her face. “What is it, Prowdy?”
When she managed to speak, her voice was faint, and quivering. “I yold tou.” She corrected herself. “I told you, that I felt little thuddings. I’ve been telling you for months, but no one believed me. But these, these were the worst ones of all. And I’ve been trying to tell you about the humming, too, Father. For years I’ve heard a strange hum sound coming from below. But mou and Yother — You and Mother never believed me. I told you I could hear them. I could feel them. I told you tany mimes — many times. Everyone thinks I made it all up, that it was just my imagination!”
Father brushed her hair with his hand. “I’m so sorry, my daughter. I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you. I — Well, I certainly believe you now.”
Mother hugged her tightly. “I’m sorry too, love. I never wanted to hurt you. And like your father, I will take you more seriously from now on.” A faint cry from the Chamber outside stopped her from continuing. She cried out, “The others! I must check on the others.” She broke from Father’s arms, took Prowdesh by the hand, and clambered over the great stone, and out into the Chamber Way.
I cleared my throat. “Father, what has happened? Does what Sister said have something to do with all this? Is our world breaking up because we’re getting close to the Star?”
“I simply don’t know what happened Roe, but what she said got me thinking. I also now wonder if this might turn out to be connected to the Star’s movements lately.” He righted the table, chairs, and a few other overturned things. He looked at the dust and rubble, taking a swipe at the table top with his hand. “I really need to go up to the surface and see what I can learn. Mostly I want to check the Star.” He looked at me and added, “We’ll have to go up and make the sighting earlier than usual. I suspect that I’ll find the Star’s position will be changed — a lot.” He straightened himself and began picking up the rubble. “But first, we have to clear this mess up. Go get a broom, please.”
For the next hour, Father and I move all the smaller chunks of stone into baskets, along with the dust I swept up from every room. I picked up and dusted my small collection of valuable books. The books that some of our neighbors make fun of me for reading and learning.
Mother and Sister eventually returned with the sad news that there were many injuries, some severe. Worse, no one had heard from many of the neighbors living further down the Way. She said that rumors had already begun, leading many to believe that as many as 30 homes were completely destroyed. That would mean that upwards of 60, or more, of our friends and neighbors may have died. Sixty, or more — buried while they slept.
There were no further shudderings that I could feel, but Prowdesh insisted that she could sense, or was it hear, much smaller ones from time to time. As she became busy with more of the cleanup she grew much calmer. With the house cleaned up as much as possible, the huge stone blocking the door remained. Father said we can deal with it later. Mother and Prowdesh let it be known that they hated having to climb over the thing.
Only a few hours after the first terrifying jolt, we were all exhausted, but we were also hungry. Mother, Father, Prowdesh and I, worked together and fixed a simple meal. And tired or not, after we ate, Father got up, went into our storage room. We kept four surface suits there, along with patching materials. He pulled out two surface suits — mine and his.