Soaring to Mt Aspiring with Alex

Soaring to Mt Aspiring with Alex

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Emily, Harry and Jack and an Earthquake - Jack's story.

This is Jack's story, of what happened in town. If you've enjoyed this story please let me know. If you didn't like it, I'd like to know that too. Constructive criticism is always welcome.


Jack’s Earthquake story.

It took Harry some time to calm things down and peel the kids off Jack. When he did manage it he wrapped him in a huge hug of his own, the relief of the safe arrival of the baby and Jack’s return overwhelming. They clung to each other.  Jack was filthy, reeking of something nasty Harry couldn’t define but he was alive and here, home safe.
The police officer shepherded the children out of the room then came back, standing over them, awkward and uncomfortable. ‘Do I need to get him to hospital?’ he asked someone. Harry wasn’t sure if it was him or the midwife.
Jack was a mess. Harry had no idea if Jack ought to be in hospital. As he wrapped him in his arms Jack gave a choked sob and started to cry. His body was shaking like he had a fever. ‘Hey?’ Harry stroked his face, trying to work out what was wrong with him. His skin was gritty and dry. ‘Are you okay?’ Jack didn’t speak, just curled tighter into his arms.
A hand touched Harry’s shoulder as the midwife Marnie crouched beside them and held out a bottle. ‘Jack love, do you need water?’ Jack reached for it gratefully, sucking hard. He coughed and spit out mud. ‘Easy,’ Marnie soothed. ‘Are you hurt Jack? Let me check you out?’
Jack sat up straighter in Harry’s arms, making a visible effort to control himself. He shook his head but his breathing stayed ragged. ‘I’m okay.’ It took him two goes to get his mouth around the words, ‘Bruises, that’s all.’ Marnie ignored him, running her hands through his hair, feeling his cheek bones and moving down his neck. Jack winced as she got to his shoulders. ‘It’s just bruises.’ His grip on Harry tightened; the shudders back. ‘I’m okay.’ He buried his face in Harry’s neck, his voice a breathy whisper that Harry hardly heard. ‘I’m alive.’

The weather was grey and nearly drizzly but Jack didn’t mind. Life was good and he was happy. He tucked the large canvas prints carefully into the boot of the car and checked his phone. The baby could come any time and he needed to be ready. He patted the canvases, so pleased with how they’d turned out. They were gorgeous and were going to look great in the foyer of the new place. He decided he’d head around there now. He laughed out loud with delight. He was sort of in love with the place. It was like the previous two gyms had taught him, taught them, him and Harry and Kev and the team, what they really wanted from the business and this one would have it all – studio with a sprung floor, state of the art sound systems, full time, professional trainers and something really new for them, a café in the foyer.
Coffee. That was a thought. Maybe Harry could come over to the new gym later and they could, he laughed again, christen the place maybe. Grinning he pulled out his phone as he drove out of the car park behind the camera shop. It was illegal to text and drive, but he wasn’t on the road yet. Coffee. He’d invite Harry for coffee, then if the workers had gone…. The guys doing the floor were supposed to be finished by this afternoon. “Cof” was as far as he’d got before he arrived at the street. He wasn’t as fast at texting as the kids. He hung onto the phone as he swung out onto the road behind what looked like a brand new four wheel drive. That would be great for heading up the ski fields in winter. Jack would kill for a truck like that. Maybe if the new gym started doing well it would be time to take some money out and reward themselves; stop funnelling money back into the business all the time.
Pulling up behind the vehicle at the lights he continued struggling to find the letters for his message. Coffee later, come to new gym, was what he was intending to send. “Coffee L8”... He looked up and saw the lights change, eased forward, glanced back at the phone for the next letter. Bang. The car jolted. He fumbled and dropped the phone.
The four wheel drive had barely moved before stopping again and Jack had just driven into the back of it. And… ‘Oh crap.’ The driver’s door opened and a guy in a suit got out. A big guy. ‘Fnck.’ Pulse rate increasing Jack got out to meet him. It wasn’t that he didn’t think he could look after himself if things went bad, but he just didn’t want to get into something in the middle of the street for heaven’s sake. And honestly - over reaction. He’d barely touched the other car and if anyone had come off badly it was probably his tinny front bumper. Other traffic tooted but he couldn’t do anything. He couldn’t go anywhere or get off the road with the other guy in front of him. Someone edged around them, hand heavy on the horn, other hand gesticulating rudely. The advancing driver was about his age and in spite of the suit and tie he looked fit. And really pissed off. Oh great.
‘Hey,’ Jack held up his hands. ‘I’m really sorry.’
Then suddenly the whole world went weird.

Jack’s memories of the earthquake were incredibly confused. He remembered seeing the ground rolling, great waves coming across the park and along the street, but he was also sure he was knocked off his feet in the first instant. He spent the entire time flat on his belly trying to crawl under the car as bricks and shrapnel crashed down on him. He was sure he was going to die. The noise was incredible, an overwhelming cacophony of sound abruptly ending in a moment of eerie silence as the ground went still. The silence lasted one, two heart beats and then suddenly the air was filled with the sound of alarms as security systems in buildings and cars went off. The noise was shrill and insistent and over it rode the sound of screams.
Dust was thick in the air as Jack tried to move. He was held down, weighted by rubble, bricks and concrete and he fought, panicked to get to his knees. He hurt. He as coughing, choking in the dust then he felt hands on him and suddenly he was free, yanked painfully out from under a mantel of bricks. ‘Christ man,’ said a male voice and through gritty eyes Jack recognised the Suit Man. At least he no longer seemed to want to beat Jack to a pulp.
With the other man’s help Jack staggered to his feet blinking in shock and disbelief. His car was covered, absolutely covered in bricks and concrete. So was the footpath and half of the road. With a sense of complete unreality he realised the whole front of the building nearest to him, all three floors of it had come away and cascaded outwards. If he’d been in the car he’d have been lucky to survive.  If he’d been on the other side of the car he wouldn’t have survived. He could see into rooms as if they were film sets, someone’s flat on the upper floor, kitchen table and chairs, a potted plant in the corner. The rooms below obviously storage for the shops below them. A tangle of fallen shop mannequins made him giggle hysterically. It looked like a frozen orgy.
The city he’d been in, only minutes before was gone, replaced by a cloud of dust, the set of a disaster movie. It wasn’t even a good disaster movie he thought, slightly unhinged. If Hollywood had done this they’d never have piled all those bricks so haphazardly, they wouldn’t have put the mannequins like that. The dust would be more artistic. People were looming out of that dust, like zombies, panicking and crying, and Oh My God, it suddenly hit him as he turned to look back up the street, there’d been another earthquake, a big one, and this time the city hadn’t got away with it.
‘I think the truck’s got some real dents now.’
Jack blinked in surprised. He’d forgotten about running into the four wheel drive. It hardly mattered now. The four wheel drive wasn’t completely destroyed like his car, it had been further out into the intersection, away from the falling building façade, but it had certainly taken some hits. Jack started to make some comment, when his eyes swept on past. Dust was starting to settle and it looked like… oh God. Of course there had been people in those cars. ‘Come on,’ he grabbed for the guy’s arm. ‘We have to get them out.’
The two of them worked down the row of cars that had just started turning with the lights. Many people had already gotten themselves out. They managed to wrench open doors and in one case smash through a windscreen to rescue several others including a teenage girl, bleeding copiously from wounds to her face. Suit Guy had run back to his vehicle and found a towel to wrap her head in. She was barely coherent but she refused to sit down and wait for help. She was terrified. Jack didn’t blame her. After shocks rumbled through and more bricks fell as the ground heaved. Everyone was frightened. The girl pressed the towel to her cheeks and started walking. She disappeared into the dust and the crowd. Some people were still running past; others were stumbling, shell shocked. Many people walked with purpose, getting out of the city, out of the devastation.
‘Shit,’ Suit Guy said. ‘We should have gone with her. Made sure she got to the hospital.’
‘I know.’ In mutual agreement they both stopped a minute, leaning on a ruined car. Other people were trying to climb into a collapsed shop. There was a lot of shouting. Office workers joined construction workers, students, tourists and the occasional police officer frantically trying to save people trapped in the rubble. ‘Do you think we should get out?’
‘Might still be people in those cars.’
Some of the cars had managed to drive away. It was funny, but after Suit Guy pulled the bricks off him Jack had never considered leaving. Suit Guy’s car was in the clear, he could have easily left and yet he remained at Jack’s side, the two of them checking cars and pulling people out. There was quite a crowd now, slowly making their way down the centre of the street, leaving town. There was also quite a group, climbing into damaged shops, pulling rubble aside, helping people. It still felt like a bad disaster movie set, but now they’d seen real blood it was all much more real.
They’d cleared the line of traffic that had been stopped at the lights. Someone was shouting at them, waving them over to a shop front. With a start Jack realised it was the photographer’s building he’d been in only minutes earlier. It was completely shattered, the verandah fallen down, the ceiling collapsed and a chain gang working, passing out rubble, obviously working to free someone who was trapped. Jack recognised the huge photo mural from the back wall, mostly obscured now by concrete beams. He and Suit Guy turned in that direction when Jack heard it. Suit Guy heard it too because Jack saw his eyebrows go up. ‘Shit,’ he whispered as Suit Guy held up his hand, urging him to be quiet.
Over the sound of sirens they both heard the sound of a baby crying. Jack turned his head, trying to localise the sound in the chaos. ‘This way.’ It took them a moment or two and when they found where the sound was coming from they stopped in total disbelief. It was another car. This one had been parked by the footpath. It was buried and hidden under concrete and bricks, nearly completely crushed. It was only half as high as a car ought to be. They scrabbled their way through the mess, clearing a space; just enough to see into the car and then Jack wished they really hadn’t. There had been a woman in the car, probably in the passenger seat. She didn’t much resemble a woman any more. Long dark hair and a sparkly hair clip suggested she’d been quite young.
Jack recoiled backwards and Suit Guy caught him. Then Suit Guy saw what Jack had seen and they both swore and gasped. Neither of them threw up, but it was a close thing. Blood caked dark hair was going to feature in Jack’s nightmares for the rest of his life.
The baby was still crying.
Steeling himself, Jack climbed back into the space and peered around the body into what small space was left in the vehicle. Strapped into the back seat was a sturdy plastic baby car seat. The child was obscured by the car seat but he could see small hands waving furiously as the occupant protested at being frightened and alone. ‘I’m coming,’ Jack managed to call out. ‘Hang on baby. I’m coming.’
It could be Sarah in the back seat. ‘Oh God.’ For the first time since the quake Jack actually thought of his own family. ‘Please God.’ He spoke out loud. ‘Please let them be all right.’ If something had happened to any of them… Don’t let any of them be broken. The kids would be at school. School buildings should be safe. Emily and Sarah though, they’d be at home. If it was this bad here, what had happened there? And how would Emily cope, if she had to get out of the house? Jack really couldn’t afford to give in to his fear, not if he was going to help this baby, the one right here. ‘Be all right,’ he whispered. ‘You have to be all right.’
‘Is the baby all right?’ the other man asked.
Jack started climbing back out. ‘I think so. We can’t get to it this way.’ He felt in his pockets. Harry would be at the gym. That was an old building, an old movie theatre. It could be in as bad a state as any of the buildings he could see here. ‘I’ve lost my phone,’ he told Suit Guy, panicked. Harry could be buried under a ton of bricks. Emily and Sarah could be in the ruins of their house. Who knows what was happening with the other kids. ‘I need to ring my family. I need to check they’re all right.’
‘Phones aren’t working,’ Suit Guy grunted, shifting broken concrete off the back of the car. ‘I’ve been trying. Nothing happening.’
‘My wife’s due to have a baby.’ Jack got his arms around the other end of a beam and together they managed to shift it a few inches. ‘She’s at home with our one year old.’  
 ‘Shit man, you should go home.’ Suit Guy had raced back to his car and come back with a tyre iron. The baby was crying. It could have been Sarah… Jack couldn’t go home, not yet.
It took forever to clear enough space to actually get close enough to break into the car.
Jack managed to get his own car boot open and get his tool kit and tyre iron out too. Two people were carried out of the photographer’s on make shift stretchers before they managed to get in through the back driver’s side window. ‘If Mum was in the passenger seat, where do you think Dad is?’ Suit Guy asked.
Jack looked at one of the broken bodies being carried out of the building and shrugged.
Suit Guy managed to get his upper body through the broken side window. ‘I can’t undo the straps,’ he called desperately. ‘I’m going to have to try and slide the baby out of it. Easy little fella.’
‘No. Don’t do that. What if it’s hurt?’
‘It’s moving a lot.’ And screaming. Suit Guy didn’t need to say that.
‘Hang on.’ Jack looked up at the crowd of people still walking past. ‘Has anyone got a pocket knife?’
A young Asian guy came over. ‘Don’t look in the car,’ Jack warned, just too late. The kid fumbled and handed over a knife before staggering back into the crowd.
With a knife to cut the seatbelt it only took a minute until Suit Guy was pulling the solid moulded baby capsule out of the car. A small angry person blinked at them and waved his fists in fury. Jack and Suit Guy smiled so hard it hurt. ‘There, there,’ Suit Guy said inanely jiggling the car seat up and down.
The baby was younger than Sarah, probably a bit under a year old and Jack was pretty sure it was a boy. He was nearly too big for the capsule type car seat he was in but that car seat had undoubtedly saved his life. ‘There’s nothing wrong with him.’ Jack had had plenty of experience and was pretty sure he could tell a baby that was okay and one that wasn’t. He cut the straps holding the little boy in and carefully picked him up. The baby stopped shrieking and cooed. ‘There. See.’
Suddenly the Asian kid was back. He had a bottle of water and held it out tentatively. Jack could have kissed him. Together they managed to tease some into the baby’s mouth before Jack took a drink himself. The water was so good as it cut through the bile and dust in his mouth. He took a careful mouthful, swilled and spat before taking another and swallowing. He passed the bottle across to his partner. Suit Guy too took a grateful swallow.
The child was more settled now and Suit Guy took him, holding him close against his chest. His big hand completely enveloped the little head. ‘He needs to get checked out.’ He looked up at Jack. ‘I need to make sure that this one gets to the hospital.’ Then in what was just one more bit of weirdness in a weird day he turned and walked away. Jack and the Asian kid stood there and Suit Guy, holding the baby joined the crowd of people trudging off down the street.

‘We should have got some ID,’ Jack said. He was sitting on the sofa shovelling beans on toast into his mouth from a plate on his lap. He was dressed now and hadn’t stopped talking since he’d started in the shower. Some of what he was saying wasn’t really appropriate for his audience to Harry’s mind, but the kids weren’t leaving and Jack couldn’t be deflected. The words just tumbled out.
‘I didn’t think until he’d gone. I could have grabbed the mother’s bag; there would have been something to say who they were. They’ll have got to the hospital and no one will know who the baby is.’ He looked up, ran his gaze around the room, looking at everyone in turn as if checking once again, that they were all there, that they were all safe. Kathleen and Jenny were sitting on either side of him and he took a moment to stop eating and give them a hug. ‘I came back later,’ he said. Emily and Harry were on the other sofa with the new baby and Sarah who was burrowing between them, completely out of sorts. Jack’s eyes rested a moment, warm and soft on the baby in Harry’s arms. Harry looked down at her and swallowed. A rush of warmth and love caught his breath. He kissed her soft cheek.
‘Da,’ Sarah said crossly.
Harry grinned and Emily pulled Sarah back onto her lap.
‘I put a note on the window to say the baby was okay and he’d been taken to hospital.’ Jack seemed on the verge of crying again but controlled himself. Wilson who was sitting on the floor at his feet gave his leg a pat. ‘I just thought. What about the Dad? What if he managed to come back to the car and found… found… She was dead. And the baby was just gone.’ He pushed the plate away and Kathleen saved it from hitting the floor. Jayden took it from her and carried it away. ‘So I left a note.’
Jack sighed and shut his eyes for a minute. ‘I never even learnt his name.’
‘The baby?’ Emily asked.
‘Him too,’ Jack smiled sadly. ‘No. Suit Guy.’
Harry was aware of Marnie watching them all carefully. The television was still playing the terrible images of destruction and despair in the city. Jack seemed to have stopped shaking, but he couldn’t stop talking.
‘I was going to come home then, just join the crowd and start walking.’ His eyes were bright with tears. ‘I was so scared of what might be happening at home.’

Heading for home might have been his intention, yet somehow Jack had ended up helping to free a woman trapped in the wreckage of the photography shop.
‘Hey mate.’ Jack couldn’t actually see who was shouting at him from inside the dark building. ‘We need some help in here.’ The world had been turned upside down and Jack could help so he went in.
In amongst broken glass shelving, thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment and huge printing machines a woman lay pinned by beams that had crashed through the ceiling. Her upper body had been protected by a desk. Her legs and hips were buried in the rubble. ‘Her name was Hazel,’ Jack told the family.
There were already three people working to free her when Jack arrived with his tyre iron. The Asian kid brought two car jacks and they started a delicate operation, lifting and bracing the beams. They worked excruciatingly slowly as the woman screamed in pain every time they moved anything. Jack held her hand for a while until his physical strength was of more use propping the beams with sturdier pieces of rubble so the jacks could be moved and the beams shifted just a little more.
 ‘Stop.’ There was a man in overalls leading the rescue. An aftershock had them all cowering, arms over their heads. Their braced beams rattled ominously. ‘We have to get her out now.’ Dust was thrown back up into the air and something crashed heavily to the ground behind them in the gloom.
Coughing Jack looked around at the other dusty, teary faces, all of them eyes wide in the dim light. Everyone was nodding. ‘Just do it,’ Hazel said quietly. They barely heard her. ‘I don’t want to die in here.’
‘Last attempt,’ the leader said. ‘Get those car jacks under here. Crank em up as high as they’ll go.’
Jack and another man linked their arms under the Hazel’s back and through her arms. He could feel her tense as she braced herself. Two men worked each jack, one holding it steady, the other cranking. ‘Go,’ people were shouting. ‘Pump it. Go. Come on. Go.’
The beams protested, things moved, all the way back into the corner. Hazel screamed. Jack and his partner took a grip and when the guy in overalls nodded they pulled.
Hazel popped out surprisingly easily and the two men nearly lost their balance. They collected themselves, standing and lifting and rushing her out of the store. As they left someone shouted, the rescuers leapt back and one of the jacks overbalanced sending the whole heavy concrete beam crashing back to the floor.
Outside someone had prepared a door and they lay their burden gently on to the makeshift stretcher, deliberately not looking at the bloody twisted mess of her legs. Jack had a brainwave. ‘Wait here a minute,’ he shouted to the others and raced back out into the middle of the intersection to Suit Guy’s SUV. Suit Guy had walked off with the baby but he hadn’t needed to, he could have driven. His vehicle was battered but still perfectly drivable. And, thank God, Jack breathed, he’d left his keys in the ignition. It started first time.
‘Ambulance,’ Jack announced, flinging open the back door. They very carefully loaded the door and its precious cargo into the car. It wasn’t big enough to fit all the way in, but it as long as Jack drove carefully she shouldn’t fall out either. Jack grabbed a towel from his gym bag and they used that to cover Hazel’s legs. First aid didn’t come into it, they didn’t even try. She needed the hospital and she needed it now.
Someone climbed in the back with Hazel and the Asian kid stationed himself beside the driver’s door, walking beside the vehicle, spotting holes, cracks and obstructions to the road. Jack was grateful. It was only five blocks to the hospital but it was the longest drive of his life. The bridges over the river were impassable to cars and hundreds of others were trying to find a way across, trying to get out of the city.
Jack gave a howl of frustration as the third bridge they’d tried had the roadway buckled and broken, the approach torn away. People were walking across. He stopped the car. ‘We’ll carry her. The hospital is just over there.’
 ‘It doesn’t matter.’ The guy who’d been in the back with her climbed down stiffly. His voice choked. ‘She’s gone. Not long after we loaded her in the car. I wasn’t sure. I kept thinking, she’s just unconscious. She’ll be all right. But she’s not.’ He looked pale and shell shocked. ‘I kept hoping.’ He raised a shoulder, tried for a nonchalant shrug that he didn’t pull off. ‘At least we tried. Right?’
‘Right,’ the kid agreed. He looked absolutely gutted. ‘You’re sure?’
‘Yeah. I’m sure.’
The three men stood, lost and unsure. Jack wanted to hug, wasn’t sure if it was right, but then the kid gave a sob and he wasn’t sure who started it, but they were all, three strangers huddled together, holding each other, grieving for the brave lady that none of them knew.
‘We carried her the last few hundred metres to the hospital door.’ Jack had sounded surprisingly matter of fact as he told his tale but was starting to lose it now. His voice was thicker, and he rubbed at his eyes. ‘We left her to be properly pronounced dead on arrival.’
 Carrying the baby Harry shooed Kathleen off the sofa and settled beside Jack. ‘And we could tell them who she was,’ Jack told Harry, leaning in against him. ‘And then I started walking home.’
Kathleen took the baby as Harry pulled Jack into his arms.

Emily, Harry and Jack and an Earthquake. part 5

This is the end of the first section.

Harry sent Kathleen off to (carefully) rummage through the store cupboard in the garage and find a tarpaulin. ‘Have you heard from Jack?’ Emily asked as soon as they were alone. They walked slowly up the passageway to the bedroom.
‘I got a text, but it doesn’t make sense.’ Harry showed her.
‘Looks like he fumbled the buttons. You know he always does that. The keys are too small for his fingers. He probably pushed send before he’d finished the message.’
‘But “coffee”? In the middle of this? And why’d he send the same thing again?’
Another contraction started and Emily turned in towards him. She wrapped her arms around his neck and he had to brace himself as she writhed, crying and shouting in his ear. Her body felt so hot and damp and foreign. ‘God,’ she growled as it eased. ‘I should be in hospital. Having drugs.’ She sagged and he took her weight. ‘Arrrghh.’ She panted some more. ‘What are we going to do? I’m going to have this baby soon.’
Harry had already figured that one out. ‘It will be fine,’ he soothed. ‘Like Marnie said. You’re fit and healthy and you’ve never had any problems before.’ He really really hoped that was the case. He shuffled them into the bedroom.
He and Kathleen stripped the bed then made it up with the tarp over the mattress, a pile of towels, a sheet and more towels. It crackled a bit but it shouldn’t be too uncomfortable. The trouble was, Emily was exhausted but she didn’t want to lie down. She leaned on her elbows on the top of the dresser and insisted on having the TV on, even though Harry wanted to keep her calm. ‘How can I be fucking calm when Jack’s out there,’ she hissed at him. ‘Leave it on. I have to see.’
Harry looked up alarmed, to see Kathleen’s shocked gaze. Damn. It was barely a year since the girls’ mother had died. He couldn’t bear the thought that they might lose their father too. None of them could contemplate that thought.
‘He’ll be helping people,’ Kathleen said, gesturing at the screen. ‘That’s what he does.’ The TV was showing a group of people, some of them in dirty ruined business suits, still wearing their ties, lifting someone on a blanket into the back of a four wheel drive. ‘He’ll help people then he’ll come home when he can.’
Harry and Emily exchanged glances. ‘Of course he will,’ Harry tried to say brightly.
‘Just if he doesn’t hurry up,’ Emily said in a strangled voice as she doubled over again, ‘he’s going to miss this baby. Oh fucking hell it hurts.’ She screamed.
Harry raced over to support her. Jenny was standing in the doorway, baby Sarah on her hip looking at Emily aghast. Harry pressed his hand into the small of her back, the only thing he could do that eased her pain, even slightly. Kathleen went to her sister and hugged her. The disaster on the TV continued.
It took a bit of coaxing but eventually they managed to get Emily on to the bed and settled her on a pile of pillows, lying partially on her side. She dozed between contractions. Harry lay on the bed beside her pressing into her tailbone. Emily’s phone had been bleeping and she’d had the same message from her friend Chantelle three times. Harry had had the enigmatic coffee message from Jack once more too. The phone system was not working properly. The reports of the destruction on the TV were starting to repeat themselves. There didn’t seem to be any new news although there was speculation of a huge death toll.
Kathleen had fetched the bottle of water that Harry had had rolling around on the floor of his car for weeks. It was the only drinking water they had as they had to treat the tap water as contaminated. He offered it to Emily who drank half of it in one go. He wished he’d thought of it earlier. The kids shared the bottle of fizzy that was in the fridge. Harry directed the girls to use a clean pot and ladle water out of the toilet cistern. He figured that would be fine to use to wipe Emily’s face and cool her down. There had been no word from the midwife for some time.
The boys appeared through the door from the patio. They were covered in mud. ‘The tap outside my bedroom’s come off,’ Wilson announced. They’d followed the sound of rushing water they could hear when they were in Wilson’s bedroom and realised that the tap on the outside wall had come apart. He was brandishing a hammer.
‘The place was flooding so we’ve turned the water off at the main,’ Jayden explained waving a large wrench. Harry was impressed. ‘Now we’re going to go and fix it.’
‘What?’ Harry sat up. ‘How?’
‘Well we probably can’t actually fix it,’ Wilson told him, ‘but it’s not like we need the outside tap right now so if we bend the pipe up and stop it running then we can turn the water back on.’
‘Can’t make things any worse,’ Emily murmured beside him.
‘Okay then,’ he agreed reluctantly. ‘Don’t wreck the place.’
Five minutes later, when Emily was in the middle of another wrenching contraction there was a huge after shock. The house thrashed like it was in labour, things crashed and broke and Harry hung on to Emily and tried not to scream. Dear god, the kids were under the house. How could he have let them do that? What sort of moron was he? The whole building could collapse on them. As soon as he could stand he raced for the man hole. Jenny and Sarah were screaming. As he got there Wilson shot out of the hole. He was pale, his eyes huge with fright. He threw himself at Harry. ‘Jayden?’ Harry yelled.
‘I’m here. I’m coming.’ The other boy climbed up out of the hole, shaking and white.
Harry pulled him into his arms, hugging the filthy pair. ‘Don’t you do that again. That was a really stupid idea. I’m such an idiot.’ He realised he himself was shaking. ‘Just stay safe okay. Stay safe.’
Jayden gave a funny grin. ‘We fixed it though.’
Back in the bedroom he found Emily on her knees on the bed, her eyes wild. ‘They’re all right,’ he told her hurriedly. ‘The boys are fine.’
‘The baby’s coming,’ Emily gasped. ‘I think I want to push.’
‘Oh shit.’ He hurried to hold her as she tried to pant through the contraction. He was absolutely terrified. ‘Don’t push. Not yet.’
‘Not going to be able to hold off for too long,’ she grit out. She let out a string of swear words and Harry could feel her whole body involved in the effort of giving birth. ‘Goddamn bloody Jack,’ she cursed as the contraction finally eased. They were much stronger and longer than they had been.
‘Is this his baby?’ Harry could have bitten his tongue as soon as he said it.
‘You know I don’t know,’ Emily growled at him. ‘Could be either of you. Not going to happen a bloody gain.’ She snorted through her nose and reared up, grabbing for the head board and slumping back onto her knees, legs wide apart. ‘Oh god.’ She leaned her head on the wall, taking a moment’s rest. ‘I need to know. You’ll have to look. Am I dilated enough? Is it safe to push?’
‘What? How would I know?’
‘Have a bloody look.’
Unwillingly Harry lifted her nightgown and peered at her nether regions. ‘It doesn’t look normal,’ his voice squeaked.
‘Of course not,’ but her voice tapered off into a grunt as the next wave took her and Harry watched helplessly as things bulged where they shouldn’t. Jesus, he was a gay man. He shouldn’t be looking at women’s twats at anytime and certainly not like this.
‘Oh gross,’ said a voice. Harry dropped the edge of the nightie and looked up to see Jayden staring at them appalled. Brilliant. Then his eye caught a glimpse of a familiar looking uniform and his heart thunked. ‘Someone’s here,’ Jayden announced and a police officer walked into the room. The young man was very deliberately not looking at Emily on the bed. Harry felt all the breath leave his body. ‘Jack?’
‘Pardon?’ said the officer.
A moment later a small middle aged red haired woman swept into the room. ‘Now what have we here?’ the midwife said cheerfully. She handed Jayden the towel she’d been drying her hands on and beamed around the room. For all the cheerful smiles her gaze was assessing. ‘Emily love, you’ve created a lot of fuss. Looks like I got here just in time.’
She nodded at the police officer. ‘I flagged down young Benjamin here and his four wheel drive. He’s been a real trooper. I’d never have made it otherwise.’ She pulled a large green wrapped bundle out of her bag and proceeded to quickly and efficiently set up equipment on the top of the dresser. ‘It is absolute carnage out there on the roads. You’ve got no idea, there are pot holes the size of trucks and,’ her eyes spotted the TV and went wide. The cop was riveted by the images too. Harry realised that if they’d been on the road they probably had no idea of what was happening in the city centre. Well they’d probably heard on the police radio but to see it... Marnie’s eyes narrowed at Harry and he shook his head. No, he wasn’t turning it off. Her prattle continued, ‘You’re so lucky you stayed put. If you’d tried to get to the hospital you’d probably be giving birth in the car. I know you read about that in the papers all the time, but believe me you don’t really want to try it. Awfully messy. Really hard to get the stains out of the upholstery.’
She hitched up the night dress and ran her hands over Emily’s belly, feeling the baby, assessing the situation. ‘Oh not long now, doing well.’ She pulled out some sort of instrument. ‘Let’s just listen to baby’s heart beat shall we,’ and a swisha swisha swisha sound filled the room. Harry had never felt so relieved in all his life.
‘I want drugs,’ Emily moaned.
‘Too late for that.’
Emily gave a strangled cry. ‘Can I push?’
‘Go for your life.’ Marnie motioned to Harry. ‘Hey Dad. Up on the bed. Whatever she needs,’ she whispered as he clambered up. The cop’s eyes were wide and Harry realised that all the kids were hanging in the doorway too. It didn’t matter at all.
Things happened very quickly after that. Emily hung onto the headboard and bore down with everything she had. Harry pressed on her back. Emily screamed. The world outside was full of chaos and death but in here, on the bed where the baby was created, Emily was giving birth.
‘There’s the head,’ Marnie said with satisfaction. ‘Just easy now. Let baby come. Good girl.’ And with a final agonised cry from Emily the baby arrived.
Emily collapsed into Harry’s arms as Marnie wrapped the baby in a soft white towel. ‘It’s a lovely girl,’ the midwife said happily.
‘Oh.’ Emily sighed against Harry’s neck.
Something wasn’t right. ‘She didn’t cry,’ Harry said panicked. He looked down at the little bundle. A bemused blue eye blinked at him from a scrunched up face.
Marnie grinned. ‘They don’t all. She doesn’t need to. She’s fine. She’s just lovely.’ She wrapped an arm around Emily and kissed her. ‘You did real good.’ She passed the towel wrapped baby up into Emily’s eager arms. ‘Turn around real careful. We haven’t cut the cord yet.’
‘So everything’s all right?’ Jayden asked anxiously, edging into the room.
‘Everything’s just fine,’ Marnie told him. She smiled at the kids. ‘You’ve got a new sister and she’s perfect.’
‘Thank God for that,’ said a gruff and unexpected voice by the patio door.
Harry jerked his gaze away from Emily. ‘Jack?’ He didn’t look real, didn’t look like Jack. He was chalk white, eyes huge and dark in his face, lips pale. Harry’s first startled thought was that this was Jack’s ghost. Then the figure gave a choked sob and slid down the wall to sit on the floor and Harry realised that this was Jack all right. He was battered and broken and he was covered in dust. There was blood too.
Jenny screamed and everyone surged forward.
‘Thank God,’ Harry said with utmost sincerity. His eyes filled with tears. ‘Oh thank you God.’

Emily, Harry and Jack and an Earthquake. part 4

Part 4

Harry didn’t know what he was going to come home to. It had taken him an agonising ninety minutes to get from the gym, collect kids from two schools and get home, covering an overall distance of roughly fifteen kilometres. Emily had been right though. The schools had stood up quite well. Freaking out teachers trying to do the right thing had held him up. Jayden and Wilson were corralled in the middle of the playing field with the rest of their classmates. A teacher was stationed at a desk and anyone leaving was supposed to sign out at the desk with the parent/guardian collecting them. All well and good. The problem was that Kathleen should have been there too and she wasn’t.
Once that was sorted it had taken him and the boys nearly half an hour to get to the primary school along with every other panicked parent in the suburb. With flooding, liquefaction and torn tarmac there was barely one lane passable on the main road the school was on. He let Wilson out of the car and sent him running ahead, hoping that he’d be able to collect the girls and come back. That hadn’t worked of course. Jenny’s school had an even more stringent sign out system than the high school. Harry ended up driving into someone’s front yard and running down to the school himself.
It seemed to take forever before he had them all and could head home. Jenny was pale and freaked out by the quake. Her school had already had quite a bit of damage from the first one and her teacher had gone into a screaming panic when it struck. The three older kids however were quite excited by all the drama. They had their phones, thumbs texting frantically and seemed to know more about the destruction of the city centre than he did. He didn’t tell them that Jack had gone to town.
He’d given his phone to Jayden who’d done a mass text of all their gym staff and friends in the city simply asking “Ok?” His phone was now continuously bleeping. Jayden checked the messages and passed them on.
Finally coming up their long drive he was relieved to see the house still standing and looking perfectly normal. Emily had said the kitchen wasn’t safe. He really hadn’t known if the house would be standing or not. They’d passed other houses that weren’t. Harry hit the automatic garage door opener as the phone beeped again. ‘Jack,’ Jayden shouted as he looked at the phone. So maybe Jayden had picked up on Harry’s concern. He felt overwhelming relief, a great weight lifting off his chest. Then he had to hit the brakes when he realised the door had only risen a few centimetres and then stuck. ‘What’s he say?’
Jayden sounded confused. ‘Coffee? What?’
‘Give it here?’ Harry grabbed for the phone as everyone clambered out of the car. The message didn’t make sense. “Coffee L8”.  ‘What’s he on about?’
The boys had grabbed the garage door and were trying to push it up but it wasn’t going. Kathleen grabbed Harry’s keys from the ignition and tried the front door. She shoved it hard. ‘It’s stuck.’ They all streamed around to the back.
The back yard was a surprise. Liquefaction had come up through the patio and in several places across the lawn leaving grey greasy mounds. It had flowed right into the dining room through the open sliding doors but at least they could get in.
‘Emily.’ The kitchen was trashed but the house seemed sound.
‘Mum.’ Everyone was shouting.
Harry’s phone bleeped again. Message from Jack. He fumbled to open the message only to stare at it in confusion. The message was the same as before. “Coffee L8”. ‘What the fuck does that mean?’ The feeling of dread settled back in his chest. Jack wasn’t sending nonsense, not at a time like this. He stopped long enough to text back, “whr r u ru ok”. Doing that meant that by the time he got to Sarah’s room, following the sound effects, he found Emily and all the children balled up in a semi hysterical huddle. They were all of them on their knees on the floor. He pulled the baby out of the crowd and passed her to Kathleen before fighting his own way in and taking Emily in his arms. She groaned as he grabbed her, arching back and crying out. Her protruding belly pressed against him and he started in surprise as he felt it go rock hard against him. The kids backed away nonplussed as she screamed.
The spasm seemed to last forever as he held her and tried to think of what to do. It was obvious that the pain was beyond what she could breathe through. Her attempt at panting sounded more like a gas burner as she forced air through her nose and teeth. He was inordinately pleased that he’d seen her in labour with Sarah because otherwise he would have been terrified. He was still pretty scared but at least he knew this was normal. Then he felt her belly soften and she collapsed against him puffed and limp.
‘Hey,’ he said gently, placing a kiss on her forehead. ‘How you doing? How far apart?’
Emily nuzzled against him tiredly. ‘Getting closer. Haven’t timed them recently.’ She looked up and grinned at the appalled circle of teenagers. ‘It’s okay guys. I’m having the baby and it hurts. But it’s okay.’ Harry couldn’t believe her instinct to care for everyone else, even in the middle of all of this. ‘Having babies hurts.’ He hugged her tight and buried his face in her tangled hair.
‘What do we need to do Mum?’ Jayden’s voice cracked.
‘Yeah, you know,’ Wilson piped up, ‘aren’t we supposed to boil water or something?’
Harry tried to pull himself together. He’d just spotted the TV over Emily’s shoulder and the sight of the destruction was distracting. God Jack could be in the middle of that. ‘Ah. Boiling water. Actually that’s a good idea. Get out the big pots and boil water. We’ll need it for drinking. The tap water won’t be safe.’
‘Just like last time,’ Jayden agreed.
‘Yes, three minutes, just like last time. And while you’re at it, can you two have a go at getting the kitchen cleared up. Bring the rubbish bin in and just chuck anything that’s wrecked. See if you can shovel out the sand too.’ That should keep them occupied for several hours and save them from seeing Emily in pain. They didn’t need to see that.
He turned back to his wife. ‘Have you got hold of Marnie?’
‘She’s trying to come. The bridges are out so she’s having to come around the long way. She should be here soon.’
Harry thought about how long it had taken him to travel a much shorter distance but kept his concerns to himself. ‘Have you spoken to her?’
Emily shook her head. ‘Text. Landlines work but you can’t call to cell phones. Texts work sometimes. She says I’m a healthy woman who’s already had two normal deliveries so she doesn’t expect any problems and not to worry.’ She passed over her phone and Harry scrolled through the messages from the midwife. Every message said “Don’t Panic” in it somewhere. He was resisting the urge to panic and collapse completely so he didn’t find Marnie’s advice particularly helpful. Emily gasped and tightened her grip on his arm as the next contraction arrived. They really weren’t very far apart. Panic seemed like a bloody good idea right now because it looked like he and the kids were going to be delivering this baby.
‘Oh god.’ Emily was crying. ‘It hurts.’
He kissed her. ‘I know baby.’ He held her through the contraction then stood up carefully when it ended. ‘Come on. Let’s go do this on our bed. You’ll be more comfortable. Kathleen, give us a hand.’ They helped Emily to her feet.
He tried to think of what else needed to be done. ‘Jenny, you’re in charge of Sarah okay. Keep her out of the kitchen until the guys have made it safe. Get her something to eat at her tea time. Can you do that?’
Jenny clutched her little sister, her eyes round and scared. ‘I can do that,’ she whispered.
Weakly Emily smiled at her. ‘It’s all right sweetheart. Really. I’ll be okay.’
‘Where’s Daddy?’ the little girl asked quietly.