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THE QUAKE

I wrote this story after seeing the very tragic photos of the deadly earthquake that struck the Kerman province of southeastern Iran on December 26, 2003.

THE QUAKE

Short story: P. Anil Prasad


It was the hardest winter in his memory. He shivered severely in the piercingly cold wind as the full Moon peeped through the pale yellow sheath of fog. The view of the village in the moonlight frightened him. The collapsed structures and uprooted trees together reminded him of the giants in the fairy tales. Only relief was a small group of people who were sitting nearby.

Aseem once again recollected the incidents occurred in the morning. He and his twin brother Abed were on their way to School when the massive tremors occurred. Their school was on the other side of the river. To cross the river they had to go over a very old and narrow wooden bridge.

The first and the most deadly tremor occurred just a few seconds after he crossed the bridge. His brother was still crossing the bridge. Suddenly the ground lurched violently. The air filled with inhuman rumbles and human screaming. He did not understand what was happening. Everything started to vibrate terribly and he was tossed against the wooden wall of a shop and then to the ground. Something heavy crashed near him. While lying scared on the ground he heard people shouting "Quake…Quake…"

The first tremor lasted for about three minutes. When the it stopped he remembered his brother was crossing the bridge. He crawled around in great pain to have a view of the bridge. Then there was no bridge! The river was covered with soil and uprooted trees. A frightened Aseem called his brother aloud in a heartbreaking voice “Abby…Abby..”, but there was no reply. His voice subsumed in the loud voices heard from everywhere.

Sitting on the ground he looked around. But nothing was visible. The air was clouded by brown dust. Hardly had he emerged from the first shock when the second tremor occurred. Some sharp objects fell on him. He thought it would be the end of the world! Panic squeezed the breath from him. When the cloud of dust slowly diluted after a couple of minutes, he could not believe his eyes! His village looked like a battlefield that he had seen only in cinemas. All building in the vicinity were reduced to heaps of debris! People covered in dust and blood were crawling out of it.

With all his strength he got up and ran towards the river. It was then he got the real shock. His home also disappeared from the other side of the river! The small hill on that side had fallen completely into the river. He felt like everything was spinning very fast and soon he fell unconscious.

He did not know how long he had lain there. When he opened his eyes again, he saw people trying in vain to remove the debris using bare hands to save the lives of those trapped under it. The destiny was so cruel to them. The earth swallowed thousands alive, including his mother and brother, and rendered hundreds of thousands homeless. The stroke of the truth was far beyond his toleration. He sat there with a frozen mind. When he saw people pulling out the defaced body of an old lady from the debris, he reached at the verge of another collapse.

After some time he also joined the rescue works as the elder people who were busy in rescue operations asked him to help them. Gradually he was fully engaged in helping others and temporarily forgot his pain, sorrows and fears. In the afternoon, since most of the elder people got tired by then, he even took the lead in finding out lives amidst debris.

When the night came, they had neither shelter nor food. The attack of the winter storm made the night a real nightmare for them. They all were very much tired, both physically and mentally, after a daylong hectic rescue works without food and rest. He silently counted seconds for the night to end. In desperation he thought that terrible night would never end. At last the sun appeared over the mountains giving them some relief and more dreaded views.

By the second day, after exhaustive efforts, they were able to save a lot of lives; whereas the heaps of corpses were also growing up. Towards noon, suddenly the sky became dark. Lightning flashed and heavy rain started.

The rain further ruined their badly wounded minds and bodies. The rain pulled them into another danger. The water levels in the river rose very fast and new springs appeared in the hills. Slowly the river began to eat away the land. When the angry river reached near where they were by the evening, they tried to pull the injured away to the higher planes.

On their way to higher planes, older and weaker ones started to fall down. Others were left with no choice other than leaving the fallen ones there and continue their climbing. Their condition was also very bad with hunger and injuries. On the higher planes, someone in the group managed to find out some foodstuff covered in dirt from among the debris of shops. They were kind enough to share it with others.

On the third day they all lost hope. Nobody came to help them. They would not attempt search and rescue anymore, because they could not even stand upright. Gradually they lost the differentiation between consciousness and unconsciousness. They did not know whether they were dead or alive.

From the memories Aseem fell into deep sleep. After some time the rain started again. But he did not wake up. While lying on his back in the pool of rain water, Assem had a dream. In the dream he played with his brother over the bridge. He could see their mother in the front yard of their little house. The air was filled with sweet fragrance of flowers. All of a sudden the sun disappeared...darkness spread all over there... lighting flashed. He saw his mother and brother running away. He screamed in panic. But voice did not come out of his mouth.

At last, when he opened his eyes with great effort, he saw a lot of people standing around him as vague images. Their cameras flashed. It was very difficult for him to keep his eyes opened in the intense flashlights. When the cameras continued to flash, his eyes silently begging for help. Suddenly a lady with camera hanging on her shoulder leaned over him and pulled him up. While she wrapped him in her jacket and held him close to her body, he murmured “Maa...”
#openfiction 

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