Terra’s lips felt weird. It was the first thing she noticed; before the dust, before the sirens, before the pain. Her lips were gritty and stiff and dry. Terra tried to lick them, but she couldn’t muster enough saliva to get through the thick coating of filth. She closed her mouth, counted to ten, licked her lips and opened her eyes.

                She blinked rapidly, trying to clear her vision. The air around her swirled brown and grey in puffs and filthy gusts. She rubbed her eyes in one of her first attempts to somehow clear her vision. Chunks of stone and dirt and bricks and mortar and a bunch of other stuff Terra had no interest in identifying were dropping all around her. She took a few panicked breaths, counted to ten, then sat up.

                Everything around her was a swirling ball of chaos, but also strangely static. Terra grabbed the end of a twisted steel beam and pulled herself up to a standing position. The ground lurched and she gripped the beam tighter. She looked around and didn’t like what she saw. Just about every building in Pioneer Square was leveled or damn near leveled, like a bunch of deflated balloons. Well, it was old down here, she thought to herself, how could anyone expect anything else.

Terra looked north, up First Avenue, towards the big hotels and new office buildings. She almost smiled. The marvels of modern engineering. Ha. Although most of the buildings were still standing, the glass curtain walls were shattered, with gaping holes where floor-to-ceiling windows used to be. It reminded her of her smile when she was six, when she had lost four of her upper front teeth all at once. She looked the same, more or less, but there was something off if you looked long enough. Also, many of the buildings were in flames. A key difference.

A wave of nausea hit her, and she bent over and threw up. She steadied herself with the steel beam, idly wondering where it was from, until her head cleared. Her thigh throbbed. Terra looked down at herself and wondered how long she had been unconscious. Her jeans were covered in blood. She thought about how pissed off Ryan was when she first bought them and he caught her trying to sneak them into her closet so he wouldn’t notice.

“They’re jeans,” he said, shaking the receipt at her like it was a dirty pair of underwear she had left on the bathroom floor. “I don’t care of if they’re made in America and they’re organic and Carrie Brownstein wears them too. They’re JEANS.” He shook his head and tossed them on the bed. “When we’re trying to retire–I mean when I retire and you’re still working–I want you to remember where all your retirement funds went.”

She had always thought Ryan was being ridiculous, hoarding his funds away for some distant time in the future where they lived in a veritable Shangri-La with group of other old people who somehow managed to save for this middle-class dream future by denying themselves simple pleasures. At least she had been right; Terra excused all her extracurricular spending with the caveat “nothing is certain.” Look who was right now.

Terra’s head started clearing.  Her thigh was throbbing, worse, so much worse now that she was standing up. The upside, if you could call it that, was that she wasn’t as groggy as when she first opened her eyes and stood up. She mentally thanked her injuries for that.

The downside was that she could feel her heart beat in her thigh where she was hurt the worst. She looked down at her bloody jeans again. There was a deep gouge on the top of her left thigh where denim and a fairly big chuck of flesh was supposed to be. Gouts of blood seeped out the hole in sync with her heartbeat. Terra stared for a while as the blood pulsed. She pulled off her belt and looped it around her thigh, pulling it tight. Another expensive item she’d have to throw out or give to Goodwill. Dammit.

She wondered where Ryan was right now. Maybe he was at home with their dog. Maybe he was trying to contact of her. Maybe he was hurt or maybe he was even dead. Terra’s heart beat faster and she felt sick again. What was happening, what the hell was going on, what did she have to do? She had to focus. Terra considered staying calm and carrying on was for fools and people who collected throw pillows. She was neither a fool or an expert at interior design. She just had to figure out how to turn this current screwed up situation to her advantage.

Terra ran through several scenarios in her head. Her anxiety kept her up at night; she always had several half- dozen worse case scenarios to ruminate about during sleepless nights. Was it an earthquake, the fabled “Big One” that occupied the imagination of so many local newscasters and most Pacific Northwest residents?  Another 911, one more terrorist attack by jihadists? A bomb set off by a group of angry anarchists sick of Amazon techies and the desecration of the Comet Tavern? Terra had no idea. Whatever it was, it was worse than she imagined. She had always hoped any emergency would take place when she was on vacation.

What time was it? Terra freaked out and grabbed her phone. The shiny black screen was dead, reflecting only Terra’s dirty face. No time, no signal. No Facebook. She shook it hard, like maybe it would jerk back to life with a little movement. It didn’t. The last time she looked at a clock was when she glanced at the little read-out at the bottom right corner of her computer screen. She was at work. It was 2:09. Afternoon coffee time. She grabbed her purse and told her assistant she was going to Starbucks. It seemed like a long time ago.

The sky was different now, and it wasn’t just the dust and the smoke from the fires. It felt a lot later than that to her. The sun was in a different place, the light had changed from when she left the building and walked to her Starbucks. Before she went to sleep and woke up in someplace completely different. Her Rinpoche had urged her toward embracing a dreamlike state, a waking meditation. Terra found the notion ridiculous when she attended her weekly dharma studies. Now waking mediation seemed to be a competent defensive position.

Whatever happened, it was not what she expected for that day. She catalogued the day’s events. She didn’t think there was a warning. No big bang, no big blinding explosion. Nothing in the New York Times or on NPR that morning about Trump fucking things up that varied significantly from the day before. No amber alert. The birds weren’t acting weird before she blacked out. The only thing she knew for sure was that her jeans were ruined, everything had fallen down, her leg was hurt and she had no idea what to do next.

Her hearing came back in a sonic wave that left her dizzy again. Not that she had missed it. There was a little background noise for a while, maybe. But the noise hit her in an instant. Sirens and screaming. Some sort of message, a deep male voice repeating over and over again, “This is not a test.” Who in hell thought there would be a test on this type of situation, Terra thought. It seemed like an outdated luxury of the baby boomer era, all the drills and practicing for an emergency that would never come. Baby boomers, she thought. I hope they’re all fucked now.

Terra lurched forward away from the beam. She was going home. This was enough. She mentally made herself a promise never to complain about work again. Terra began walking south toward the iron pergola, the symbol of old Seattle. Remarkably, it was still standing. Even the glass lights at the top were intact. It was louder in the square, more activity. Terra had gotten used to her nook between the rubble pile and the iron beam. Things were a lot different out in the street.

As she walked down the middle of First Avenue, she once again admired the energy and tenacity of the city’s youth. Roving packs of young women and men, some obviously injured but operating on sheer adrenaline, were running through the streets bashing in windows of the retail stores and small plate restaurants, the essential components of Pioneer Square’s thriving tourist trade and hipster local scene.

Terra watched as a cop, in some seriously misguided adherence to the pre-situation old rules, pulled her gun and tried to stop 15 or 16 people from smashing in a toy store window and grabbing whatever they wanted. Terra wasn’t exactly critical; it was “being in the moment,” as Rinpoche would say.

Someone jumped the cop from behind, and the crowd pulled the cop to the ground with her bullet-proof vest. A couple kicks to the head, bricks smashed into her face, and the cop stopped screaming. Triumph, the crowd ran on in a joyful frenzy. Terra ran over and knelt down next to the injured officer. She brushed the cop’s hair away from her face. Only one green eye remained intact, the other clouded with blood and splintered bone. She moaned, twisting and turning, her mouth pulled over to the side in a left grimace.

Terra held her hand, glancing nervously around, watching chaos reign as the cop’s hand jerked clockwise in a semi-circle until she was still. Looking around one last time, Terra rooted through her clothes and pulled the cop’s gun free of its holster. It was a cheap Beretta, one of Terra’s least favorite guns. It would have to do. Terra rooted through the dead woman’s pockets and police-issued pleather fanny pack. No ammunition. Now what.


About bbcstudiowrites

This blog is me archiving the BBC Studio Writers Workshop.

Posted on April 13, 2017, in Fiction, Seattle, Short Stories. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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