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The Beat of the Earth
By Risa Heinrichs
Genre: Fiction Level: Junior 7-9
Category: UAA/ADN Creative Writing Contest

            I step out into the blinding snow. The wind whips needles of ice around, stinging. I tilt my head down and pull my jacket up to my chin, squinting into the gale. The snow lashes at my face, whipping my brown curls around, threatening to let the Canada cold in. I stumble.

     *                                         *                                              *                                              *     

They said it wouldn't explode. They said it was dormant. They said it was just a forest fire. They were wrong. There weren't enough trees left anywhere in Washington to fuel a fire that turned the sky black like that.

     *                                         *                                              *                                              *     

            When I open the front door to the egg-blue house, heat pushes past me out into the chill. I slam it and set my bag down on the stairs, heading towards the kitchen. Macey is there cooking dinner.

            "Helena," Macey says to me as she points to a cabinet and I pull out a pot, "Sorry about the snow. It wasn't like this last year. I should have told you, since you're new around here."

            "It's fine," I tell her, and being a guest, I don't want to complain. She is kind enough for fostering me.

            We cook in silence. Neither of us knows what to say. I only got here a few weeks ago; I don't know her very well. Letting the water run as Macey's knife rhythmically taps the cutting board, I stare at the carrots being splintered into pieces. The sound echoes in my head.

     *                                         *                                              *                                              *     

            A knocking booms from deep inside the Earth, a slow thrum. I am outside with Will, my little brother, sitting in the hammock, looking at the grey, polluted sky when I feel the start of the steady pulse. Trees tremble. We run inside to our parents and meet them in a doorway.

            "Helena, Will, under the table, it's just an earthquake," Mom shouts to us over the beat of the earth us as we run in, out of breath. Then I hear the first crack.

     *                                         *                                              *                                              *     

            After dinner I sit at the table doing my homework. Nothing is new. I learned this last year, freshman year, but something about my being out of school for a while made me be held back. People treat me like I'm special because of what happened. Like I can't remember what we learned about the coming ice age and all of that. They treat me like I can't even remember the date, but if you asked me right now, I could tell you it was December 2073, with the coldest temperatures since the past four hundred years. Everyone thinks what happened changed me, and I guess they're right.

     *                                         *                                              *                                              *     

            The earth split on Mount St. Helens. Seconds later, the thundering volcano shattered like a mirror. The pressure from ninety years sent boulders flying miles from the eruption. I guess whoever built our house believed that the volcano was dormant, but as I stared from under the table, I knew we were too close. Through the ashy window I watched slabs of shaded rock plummet towards us. The first one hit the house as I screamed. Windows shattered. The table cracked on my head and everything went black

     *                                         *                                              *                                              *     

            "Are you ready, Helena?" Macey calls up the stairs from the front door.

            I take my backpack from behind the table and jump down the stairs. We head out into the thick snow. As we drive along the slick roads, it is quiet. I break the silence when we get to school.

            "Thanks, Macey," I say as I get out of the car.

She smiles, but looks sad. I know she feels bad for me, but tries not to bring it up. On the rare occasions she does, she looks away. I know she wonders what happened, but I don't know when to tell her.

     *                                         *                                              *                                              *     

            I open my eyes and see dust. Everything is grey and smells like smoke. I struggle to pull myself out from under a piece of the roof that had fallen in. Trying to yank my leg out from under a beam, I feel a crack in my ankle as it scrapes out from the rubble.

            "Mom, Dad, Will?" I ask quietly, not wanting to disturb the quiet yet loud air, still yet rumbling.

            I look up and realize there is no roof. The walls and floor are blackened by a dusting of charred rock, black soot. There is smashed rubble everywhere from the crumbling roof.

            Crawling through a hole in the wall, I limp over to a broken bench on the charred lawn. Pain shoots up my ankle with each jolt of my body. It is quiet when I sit down, other than the thump, thump of the dying mountain. I keep thinking that my family is going to come out soon, but in the back of my mind I know it's not true. They are under the rubble.

     *                                         *                                              *                                              *     

            At school I sit through classes. During lunch I eat with Natalie, my new closest friend. Somehow, she pieced together what happened to me, and like everyone else, doesn't talk about it. I'm grateful for that, but at the same time think that if I don't tell someone I'll explode like Mount St. Helens, sending pieces flying, spewing anger at people close to me.

     *                                         *                                              *                                              *     

            The next day the trucks come. I am sitting on the lawn when I hear the tires crunching over crushed houses. What once was a city is now a mound of rubble coated with black ash. For the last few hours I have been sitting here, staring at the growling, brewing mountain. I jolt from my trance when a hand touches my shoulder from behind. Turning, I see a young fireman with ash on his uniform, his face dirty from the cinders.

            "You're fine now," he says. "Come with me."

     *                                         *                                              *                                              *     

            Days pass as usual. People don't ask, and I don't tell. I feel the pressure inside me building.

     *                                         *                                              *                                              *     

I point to the house and try to speak, but only cough. The soot has choked my lungs. The fireman nods and turns towards the collapsed wall, squeezing through the gap. He lifts the table and stops. Pulling at the radio on his belt, he says something into it while glancing back at me. When he comes back out, he reaches to lead me to the fire truck as the first flake of dark dust falls onto my sleeve. Seconds later, more cinders fall. I look around and see powder coming from the sky, flakes of embers floating down. Then I cry.

     *                                         *                                              *                                              *     

            When I am walking home with Natalie, it starts to snow, with a calm breeze instead of the usual wailing wind. The snowflakes fall in big clumps, landing on the roofs of quaint shops. A memory is caught in the back of my mind. Tears well up in my eyes.

            "It's about the ash, isn't it," Natalie says, looking at her boots. I had told her about the falling cinders when the first snow came.

            "Yeah, I guess," I mumble, staring ahead. She halts under a coffee shop awning, looking at me. I slow to a stop.

            "You know, you can tell me what happened, right?" she asks, stepping into the cafe.

            The tension is leaking from me. We sit down at a table inside, and I tell her about the volcano, my family, and how Macey is fostering me. The volcano inside of me shrinks until it is just a bubbling fountain. I don't think the spout inside of me will ever go away; it is the memory of my family. Tears fall and I wipe them with the back of my hand as we open the door to leave. I step out into the blinding snow.


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