"A Journey to the Center of the Earth Story"
By John Pirillo
Their apartment overlooked the park. The sun was shining, warming the beautiful oasis stuck in the middle of a concrete jungle of towering gods of iron, steel and concrete, Plexiglas and streaming ribbons of iron and plastic beasts that honked, cursed and swore their way through the catacombs of the massive city. "Funny, how one can get used to almost anything."
Her father, a spry old man of fifty-five laughed. He swept the graying hair from his face, and then turned back to the salad he was making. What kind of dressing, Claire?"
He looked up at her, the laugh lines around his eyes deepening for a moment, foreshadowing the onset of old age. "Come on, you never use Balsamic!"
"I do now."
She came over. Clapped a hand to the Sylvania stuck between the oven and the dishwasher and opened its first and larger door. She surveyed the shelves on the right inside of the door, scouring past the pickles, the mayo and the various jams and jellies. Her father's breakfast love. And then spotted the unopened bottle of Balsamic. She rescued it from its loneliness, shut the door behind her with a bump of her hip, and then heaved at the screwed top of the vinegar.
It made a slight groaning sound, then surrendered to her grip and came loose with a loud complaint and a rush of air.
"Tah-dah!" Her father yelled. He came over and raised her right hand, the one not holding the vinegar. "And the winner is..."
She giggled like a small child for a moment. He always brought her back to such fond memories of her child hood. Even though he was a rugged school teacher, who could holler with the best of them at the rowdy kids who made up the classes these days, he was a comedic and very funny father who would stoop to anything to get a laugh.
"Don't let him kid you like that, Claire, or I'll never get a moment's peace when you're off on the plane back to the sunny realms of California."
Claire spun around and gave her Mom a hug, one hand around her shoulder, the other still holding her captured Balsamic vinegar.
They hugged a long time and then let go. Her mom's cherubic face beamed at her with pride and motherly love. She ached inside, knowing she was leaving within a few minutes. She was already missing them and she hadn't even exited the front door yet.
"Bark!" Came a beloved voice from nearby.
Claire stooped down to catch up Sparkie, the cute little Chi with floppy ears that she had given her mom for Christmas. Chi had been a puppy she'd rescued from the pound. She knew she had to save it when she saw it barking happily and chasing its tail when the other dogs around were sitting forlorn, as if awaiting death or just barking, as if angry at their fate.
She had felt for all of them, but there was no way to save them all. So she had saved the one that had called out to her heart.
"Hey Sparkie!" She chided.
Sparkie licked all over her face, driving her into a frenzy of happy laughter.
Her mom finally rescued her from an aching stomach and lifted Sparkie into the air, where it kicked its legs and tried to lick her face. She cradled it in her arms, and then eyed Claire as she took the salad bowl from her father, set it down on the kitchen table, which was laden with a beautiful yellow cloth and sparkling white polka dots.
He came over and kissed the top of her head. "Gotta keep your strength up."
Her mom had scalded him. "Then where's her bacon and eggs?"
He gave her a sad look. "She's a vegetarian now. She can't eat such things."
"Dad!" It's not like I died or anything."
He laughed, and then pulled up a chair opposite her to watch as she ate. Her mother fretted at the coffee maker which had begun making choking sounds, retrieved three cups as best she could with Sparkie in her arms, and then set them on the table. She put Sparkie down, got another cup and filled it with milk for the dog. He began lapping it up, making glugging and gurgling sounds as he did.
Claire watched him a moment, then returned to her salad. "Where'd you get the olives, Daddy? There weren't any in the frig last night."
He gave her a shrug. "Must have wandered in from our neighbor's fridge."
"Dad!"Claire scalded him.
"He got up early, disturbing my beauty sleep and went down to Ernie's."
Claire nodded. She remembered the tiny Italian store with the huge Bronx man, who always had a smile to spare and an extra plug of bubble gum for her when she went there. "How's he doing?"
"Ten pounds more and a lot meaner." Her father replied, sipping at his coffee, which her mom had just topped off.
Her mom topped her cup off, then her own, and replaced the coffee pot into the coffee maker. She sat down with Claire and took her hands in hers. "Don't leave."
"Damnit!" Her father said, cutting himself with a knife as he was slicing tomatoes in his own dish of salad.
Her mom gave him a nasty look. "You did that on purpose."
He didn't say anything, but got up to leave. Supposedly to get a band aid, but Claire had seen the tears in his eyes. He had cursed her mom not because she was wrong to ask, but because he didn't have the heart to ask himself. She read it in his face and his posture as he vanished into the small bathroom.
Her mom looked at Claire again, squeezing her hands. "He doesn't have much longer, you know."
"I'll be back soon. I promise..." She froze midsentence, her voice choked up, and then she finished. "In plenty of..." She mumbled a curse, then broke free from her mom's grip and rose. "I'll be back, I promise. Next time. Next time I'll stay longer. I swear it. They owe me a huge chunk of time off."
Claire's mom nodded, but she didn't believe her for a moment.
"Hank, get your hairy butt in here!" Her mother hollered.
He popped out of the bathroom with an oversized bandage on the damaged finger. He looked at it pitifully, like a small child who had just lost their most favorite toy. He ran over and hugged Claire to him as her mother lifted the handle of the rolling luggage case she had used for the trip to New York.
"I love you, Pops!" She said in the midst of the crushing hug he was giving her. He couldn't hide the tears anymore or the choking sounds. He just nodded, and backed off to let her mom take over. Which she did in full measure.
Finally, Claire looked to Sparkie, who ran over and leaped into her arms. "Love you too, you little rascal."
The dog licked her good-bye, and then still wriggling like a hopeless storm cloud, she handed him over to her Mom, took the handle of her luggage as her father opened the door and rolled it out. She looked back at them. "I love you."
They couldn't speak. Their eyes were as wet as hers. Sparkie answered for them, barking over and over.
She went to the elevator, pressed its button and looked back. They still stood there watching her. But Sparkie was silent. He had that look on his face all animals get when faced with the inevitable, stoic and unmoving. The elevator clanged as it opened behind her. She waved one more time and then entered; shutting off the view of the only people she had loved so much in this life.
As the doors closed she felt this kind of rattling and Sparkie had leapt from her mother's arms. As the doors were closing she saw the dog running towards her. The doors closed and she swatted the tears from her eyes. It was messing her eyeliner up and she would look like the Wicked Witch of the East once she reached the street if she wasn't careful.
The ride down was long and felt as if it would never end.
The taxi she had phoned for, miraculously, stood idling in front of the apartment building. She gave one last look at the building, imagining her family still standing there watching the elevator, hoping against hope she would change her mind. She didn't.
"Kennedy." She told the driver.
He nodded, raised the flag on his fare, and then zoomed into traffic, nearly clobbering another rushing cab. As the cab accelerated into traffic she reviewed her life. She had become a celebrity announcer and reporter. She was known around the world, but she had no one special in her life. She didn't have time for it. She had a career to build. But her parents. She had asked them to move out to California and live with her. Not just once. But every time she phoned or visited. She had plenty of room in her Beverly Hills home...
"You gotta be kidding, doll!" Her father had exclaimed in his best James Cagney impression. "What? And leave Broadway and the Statue of Liberty? Your mom would never forgive me. And I would never forgive me. Not even my shadow would forgive me."
She'd laughed and waited until next time they met or she phoned and repeated her offer. Never accepted or even considered. She felt the weight of a loneliness rise in her chest, and then was startled when the cab seemed to hit a hard bump.
She had been more lost in her thoughts than the time had seemed. They were pulling off the road into the stretch that led into Kennedy's main passenger terminal. But they never made it that far. The road was getting more and more bumpy. The cabbie was swearing up a storm, cursing his car and shaking a fist at it, when the road ahead and the nearing traffic suddenly shot upwards, shaking off cars like a dog shakes off water.
Their car was struck by a rolling SUV and knocked into the parking lot on the right. They slid to a stop. The engine was spewing smoke. She stumbled out of the car. The cabbie didn't move. The ground was shaking like a giant was moving it back and forth and up and down. She could barely move, but she managed to struggle to the cabbie's window. She banged on it once, and then froze. His head was at an odd angle and blood was pouring from his slack mouth.
"Oh God!" She cried out.
Then she saw the main terminal building begin to heave upwards and crack as it did so. A jet rushing along the runway suddenly veered to its left as the runway opened up, revealing a deep chasm. The jet crashed into another jet parked along the runway. They exploded.
The main terminal building spilled a swarm of ants, all seeking to escape the doomed building. Hundreds of people squeezing out, screaming, hollering, roaring to be safe. None of them made it. But she didn't see that, she was knocked to the ground. The taxi startled rolling towards her. Other cars came bouncing up and down towards her, as if the ground were folding up on both sides. She scrambled to her feet and ran. She had gotten maybe ten yards, despite the shaking, when the pavement snapped shut on the cars and screaming occupant, then dropped from view.
Some of the passengers from the cars clung to pieces of pavement that were still shaking violently. She looked on in horror as dozens fell into the opened chasm before her eyes.
Then she came to her senses. It was as if a light had been turned on. She turned back to look towards New York City. The Empire State Building was rocking back and forth. She was frozen in place, not believing her eyes when it broke apart and fell in pieces from view. Skyscraper after skyscraper broke and tumbled.
But her thoughts were not about the massive edifices of concrete and steel.
"Father. Mother!" She croaked. The dust from the debris about her was choking.
And those were the last two things she remembered before she was flung hard against an overturned bus and lost consciousness. When consciousness returned, she lay in a pool of her own blood. She felt her head and it was moist. She hurriedly tore off some of her blouse and wrapped it like a tourniquet about her forehead, staunching the flow of blood.
She stumbled awkwardly to her feet.
Everything was deathly silent. Maybe for about ten seconds, and then as people woke up from their stupor, or fear, or unconsciousness, the air became filled with the sounds of horror, wailing and anguish.
She stumbled around the bus, feeling like a helpless child. Her mother and father. They had to have survived. They just had to. But as she looked at the smoking ruins of New York City, she knew they probably hadn't.
A New York Blue, who had been patrolling the airport when the quake struck, looked up from an older man he was trying to save. "Do you know anything about strokes, lady? They ain't ever taught us about that."
She dropped beside the older man. His face was turning blue. "I don't think it's a stroke. She gently lifted his body with the Blue's help. They both looked at the piece of carbonite steel that was stuck in his back. Right into his lungs.
"Damn!" The Blue had sworn, then crossed himself and muttered a small prayer when the older man had died, not once ever having opened his eyes.
They both stood up and surveyed the dead and dying all around them.
Then they heard another sound. A far worse one.
In the New York harbor, the boats that had been tossed about violently, some of them crashing onto the docks, or overturning were suddenly finding themselves running out of water beneath them.
"Tsunami!" Claire hollered over the rushing, roaring sound that was gathering. They both turned and saw the huge black and blue waters boiling and surging several miles offshore and rising higher and higher.
"Oh shit!" Blue swore, and then crossed himself again.
Claire didn't know why, but as she looked around, she spotted an overturned diesel truck. The driver had fled, leaving its door open. "Inside. Quickly."She had urged, already rushing for the open door.
The Blue gave her a look of utter disapproval. "You kidding, lady, you'll be like a cork in a turbulent bathtub of water, only dead!"
"And what will you do, swim for it?" She cried over her shoulders.
She reached the truck, but the door was too high to reach. She felt rough hands gently raise her to the door. "Need a lift, lady?"
She caught the edge and drew herself inside. She turned back; saw the waters of the bay rushing in at hundreds of miles an hour. A huge shadow fell over the crushed airport that had once been the pride of New York. "Hurry, hurry!" She urged.
She reached a hand down. He caught it and she strained to pull him up.
He looked back over his shoulder; saw how close the waters were. He smiled up at her. "Aw, I just remembered I forget to get my cat."
He let go and landed on his feet. He smiled up at her. "Good luck. You're going to need it. All of it." He said as he turned to face the huge mountain of water about to drop on them.
She wiped at further tears in her eyes, managed to shut the huge truck door and lock it. She rolled the window all the way up, then knowing there was a rear compartment, scrambled into it, praying it had a door she could close. It did. The last thing she remembered before all hell broke loose, was sliding the door shut, and locking it and burying her under the mattress she found there.
"Mom, where's the salad?" She asked, as her father smiled at her from the living room, reading his favorite comic book. Spiderman.
"She's in the bathroom. Had a wee to do." Her father laughed.
Claire shook her head and got up to grab the salad for herself. At nine she was just getting tall enough to reach the middle part of the counter. Though it was a stretch, even for her tall figure.
"Hey look at this, will ya?" Her father hollered.
Claire forgot about the salad and ran to stand beside her father as he looked out the window. A very bright sun was rising over the park, and it seemed so big and bright that it was unreal.
"Honey. Isn't it beautiful?" Her mom had said from her side. She looked over and took her mom's hand. Her mom squeezed tight. "Love you."
"Love you too, Mom."
Her father ruffled her hair playfully. She laughed, and then he looked into her eyes and smiled. "We'll never be far away."
She wondered about why he was saying that, when the apartment began to shake and crumble apart. The whole time her parents stood beside her, holding her close, comforting her, as the world around her went more and more crazy.
"She's going to make it."
Claire felt a hand on her forehead. "Tough cookie."
"Hey, I know this doll!"
"Yeah. The announcer."
She felt herself being lifted gently and a moving motion. She was finally able to open her eyes. Nearby was a Marine Chopper, with a Red Cross symbol on it. Some people were already inside it, their faces filled with shock and anguish. A child was crying horribly. No one held it or heard it. They were lost in their own horrors and terror. When she was lifted into the chopper hold, she managed to hold up an arm. It was painful. The child rushed to her and she crushed the tiny girl to her, holding her tight as much for herself as the child.
"It's all right, sweetie. Everything's going to be all right."
The Chopper lifted with a huge growling sound and arced to the left, heading inland. As it turned she could see the devastation of the harbor and city. It was all in ruins, and little lakes now filled portions of it. She wept silently, the child no longer crying, sound asleep against her, lost in its own world of sorrow.
She wept. Not for herself, but for the loss of all those below. And for her parents. No. She smiled. Not for them. She turned her face away from the tragedy below and in her mind's eyes she saw her parents smiling at her again, their bodies surrounded by white light.