FoundlingReview

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The earth was supposed to split open and swallow us whole.

No one was quite sure what to expect, but we were told the earth was hungry; other than the bodies we had fed it daily, it hadn't taken a meal in over a century.

In Mr. Franklin's fifth grade science class, we discussed how it was impossible to predict an earthquake. It had never been done before, but Ms. Patterson had told us in third grade that anything was possible. We all liked Ms. Patterson.

Still, by orders of the principal, every class was equipped with earthquake kits, and we all were trained on the finer points of how to use them. We even had to tell our parents to get a kit for home.

Each day in the weeks leading up to December 3rd, the predicted date of our demise, we spent a minimum of ten minutes in each class preparing. Mr. Franklin rolled his eyes the whole time he led us through the drills, reminding us that nothing was going to happen. 

On the chilly morning of the third, my mom and brother argued all during breakfast.

"James, you need to come home right after school," I remember her saying.

James scoffed at the notion. "This is ridiculous."

"I just want you to be safe."

"But I've got things to do."

Mom sighed and looked at me. I knew I was supposed to look concerned. James was sixteen and something of a rebel, at least compared to his goody-two-shoes little brother who'd never been in any kind of trouble at all. He didn't seem to care about my mother's feelings, but when he saw the worried look on my face, he said, "Don't worry, Davey. There won't be an earthquake."

"How can you be sure?" Mom asked.

"I know how to make the earth stand still," James said to me instead of her. I laughed and then he took me to school.

As the day ticked by, we all secretly braced ourselves for the worst, even those of us who doubted it so much
like Mr. Franklin. It wasn't cool to be scared or even to believe it could happen, but we all couldn't help but feel something ominous about the way the sky had looked at recess.

As the day progressed, we started to relax our bodies a little more and a little more until finally we were limber, marching along steadily on the still earth, the earth that either refused to shake or just couldn't. It seemed we had all been duped by a raving attention-hungry lunatic. Our earthquake kits sat in the corner, silently gathering dust.

When the final bell rang to dismiss us, we told comfortable jokes about how we wouldn't see each other tomorrow. Marching to my mother's car, I could see a proud look on Mr. Franklin's face. He knew more than a renowned scientist.

As expected, James didn't come home immediately. I could tell on the ride home that Mom was still a bit nervous. She stayed nervous throughout the evening, constantly moving her eyes from the phone to the clock to the front door. My assurances about Mr. Franklin's extensive knowledge didn't seem to help.

Before I went to bed, I rubbed my palm against the sturdy walls. I knew in the safety of our home that nothing could happen to me now.

The phone woke me right before midnight. As usual, James was calling to say he was going to be late.
Except this time it wasn't James. Mom rushed into my room hysterical, screaming about the end of the world.

It took awhile before it all clicked, but on the way to the hospital I finally understood.

We had been prepared for an impossible earthquake that never could've happened. We couldn't ever have prepared for something that happened so often, but always to someone else. But that's how tragedy is. It can never happen to you. Not until it does.

My brother died in a car crash on the day we were all supposed to die. The earth didn't need to swallow us after all; my brother and his girlfriend were enough.

To this day my mother isn't sure who she blames more, herself for not being more protective or Iben Browning for his fake earthquake.

I don't blame anyone. Instead I just pretend that my brother is a great hero. He sacrificed himself to the earth so we could all live our lives. He really had made the earth stand still.

I know that it's silly to think about it like that, but so is predicting an earthquake, and so is thinking we should change our whole life just because of some crazy theory.



Nathaniel Tower writes fiction, teaches English, and manages the online lit magazine Bartleby Snopes. His short fiction has appeared in over 50 online and print magazines. A story of his, "The Oaten Hands," was named one of 190 notable stories by storySouth's Million Writers Award in 2009. His first novel, A Reason To Kill, is due out in July 2011. Visit him at www.bartlebysnopes.com/ntower.htm
     
 




 





  


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