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LA DÁRSENA To whom it may concern, Please find enclosed my submission to Slaughterhouse Publishing for consideration of my novella “La Dársena.” This story is a treatise on compassion and communication. An early draft of the story was published online serially for the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake by San Francisco’s beyondchron.org. It has since been professionally edited and I’ve had it posted on Kindle. I’d be happy to take it off if you all could offer me something better. What I have to offer you is a serious satire made through the intentions needed to live inside of, and not on top of, the rest of the natural world. The plot elements are intended to affect a productive working on the reader, confronting the effects of individualism. It’s also a poem to the landscape of central California, a book from the west coast to the west coast, for people who grew up pissed under Bush, by a same such person. I’ve contacted your outfit because your enthusiasm for promotion of fresh material can use my story toward mutual benefit. I’ve been contributing to zines for a long time, and would like to see something more done with this one. We’re both just starting out. I’ve been rejected by only nice folks so far, so you are the next logical addressee. I would like to say that I’ll tour, but things are up in the air as I’m currently in Minnesota doing a master’s degree while racing myself to become the next Steinbeck, or at least the first myself. I have contacts in local media on the California coast, as well as some ins in bookstores. At this time I’m also waiting on two bloggers to review the book, which could turn out some readers. Should you be interested, we can talk further about promotion. Thank you for your time, and enjoy the story. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Yours, A. Cardott, Mankato MN After a devastating earthquake has twisted the coastal resort town of La Dársena off from the hills and caused most of its population to vanish, Michael wakes up injured and his two hiking mates are gone. He immediately seeks to reunite with his best friend, Maria, upon whose house in the woods a monster has appeared. Between struggling with the monster, surviving the increasingly violent weather, and avoiding the murderous mishandling of the situation in town by two agents of the Bureau of Crisis Management, Michael and Maria debate the idea that everyone’s thoughts and words may have more influence on the environment than is usually possible. It is impossible to tell what the share they, the earthquake, and the rest of the world have in shaping current events. Michael tries to seize the opportunity to grow, in order to protect Maria, but fails. In the end everyone dies, but don’t let that be too important.
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Part One Michael wakes up cold and damp as a wet wind wafts over his face and blows open his eyes. The land lying beneath him falls careening down, and thrusts back upward under piles of destroyed trees laying in big fissures just torn open in the earth. Green grass grows next to Michael, and below bloodred weeds, and below that yellow flowers, undisturbed by the quake, sweating a tiny premonition of the coming rain. The wind blows somehow the same as earlier, with the same tone of voice, but lazier and quieter now. Michael’s inflamed eyes regard the landscape; he sees the sun suspended in the south as at noon, but the land below isn’t where it was before. The sky looks feverish green now, the wind frightens him, and he doesn’t know where he is. He looks all around, but there’s no trace of his friends. When the quake started they were hiking up the hillside looking for wild strawberries and apples. The grass was dry on top and wet deep down, the moisture sneaking into their shoes. As Rolf was grasping for an apple, the tree shook, and right then the earth began to growl. The wind howled out of the ground and gusted in all directions. Dirt and stones fell down the steep hill and the earth appeared to them to shift violently to the right, throwing the three men on the rocks. Nick screamed, scared of death, as the incline fell upon them, and Michael was pitched over in the fall. Now he lays leaning against a small eucalyptus, its brown, half moon-shaped leaves hanging over him like little sickles. His bones hurt and the stillness gives him the chills. Where’re my friends anyway? He carefully tries to move his legs and notices that his dirty pants are bloody around the knees. He’s still got both shoes and his old brown jacket on. His knees and joints move without protest, and he observes them for a while. Both knees are scratched up, and his right elbow must also be injured, because it feels twice as big and full of fluid. He tries to calm himself and waits for pain to come. Still in one piece. He stands up slowly, as if he’d forgotten everything to it after the fall, and looks about again for a trace of his companions. It’s impossible to tell how far he’s fallen from the apple tree. Over there: thirty feet further the tree hangs upended over its bare roots. It seems to say to him mockingly, thanks for nothing. The land, peaceful only a few hours ago, shudders and looks astray about itself, just like he does. Michael has a terrible hunger that’s growing stronger for the wounds. He aimlessly staggers around the smashed stones and trees. Neither Nick nor Rolf shows up. The breathless green earthquake-weather sky is quickly darkening, and Michael knows he must find something to eat. It’s still early, but if a storm were to come in it would probably kill him. He can’t find the way down the hill. The sun moves westward, but the city isn’t there to draw back its shadow against the sun. Is it somewhere else now, if at all? He looks and looks, but everything’s strange to him now. The air doesn’t smell like the creek or its plants, doesn’t smell like the ocean. He climbs further through black up-reaching weeds down the torn-up hill. He follows a small stream toward the sun as it’s grayed by a cloud. The city should be directly under the sun, but nothing recognizable comes up from the green fog. Shit. He reaches the foot of the hill and can see the run of the beach along the plateau behind great golden cliffs that push up under the land, standing on their toes to keep the sea away. It doesn’t smell
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like La Dársena. All around Michael stand big, dark tangles of trees and poison oak. The beach up ahead lays strange and abandoned, like a destroyed cemetery. Without being able to see the city, without his companions, there’s no choice left for him except to find some food. It’s raining now and the sky grows white and cold, descending down upon him. Soon Michael steps on something soft and smooth, and at the same time the smell of blood and death hits his nose. He looks down over his knees, covered with pointy hunks of skin and dirt. A long, narrow piece of raw wet meat sits under his right foot, as if his own meat had begun to drip out of his shoes. In the darkness of the rain he can’t see exactly what piece of flesh it is, from which animal it may have come. If it’s fresh, on account of the earthquake, he could eat it right away or even somehow cook it, so he could sparingly eat it throughout the night. It doesn’t seem rotten. The meat isn’t there in one piece, but rather leads further into the forest. Michael follows it, sees it shine like a long worm in the mud. His hunger confuses him. Is the meat still alive? Is it a wounded snake? No, it’s dead anyway. It must be intestines, now three yards long, now five. At the end the meat stops and meets no other piece of animal, and suddenly the smell of blood is gone. What should I do with the meat? Should you eat entrails raw? How did it get laid out there? His head swims in a river of hunger, floats on the earthquake’s terrible wind. Normally after an earthquake one still feels the shaking in the gut, the trembling of a building that stands in the quake’s way and has to host the tremors, but Michael experienced the quake outside this time, so he feels nothing. Nevertheless he bends over and almost pukes as the gut feeling of the quake mixes with the smell of the guts. He fills his mind with the sensations of apples and spits on the ground. He wonders how long he laid under the tree; his hunger has become intolerable and there’s no dust in the air after such a huge earthquake. Everywhere uprooted trees and crushed stones can be seen. And under his foot there’s this piece of entrails, and above no birds are singing, whose song may wipe the polluted sky with light and the silent wind from their wings. The drizzle makes it too wet to make a fire, and too difficult without a lighter. He assesses that he has to either consume the raw flesh or die. He’s used to eating cooked and packed food, and to him the intestines are no kind of food. And besides that, what if the entrails belong to Nick or Rolf? His tongue gets hard and tastes like salt. He abandons the guts and turns around. He calls Nick’s and Rolf’s names and climbs the hillside again, where one can relatively safely get up. He calls to the west and to the east until his voice gives out. Then he sees something shining in the east. With renewed resolve he staggers down the hillside as the rain falls harder. Now he can clearly see the shining object. It’s the statue of the harbor, La Dársena, the old harbor’s memorial –the city’s first mayor Judge Henry Morales, poured in steel. For thirty years he’d pointed at Hawaii with his finger, but now he points at a puddle of motor oil and gasoline that floats on the water. The masts of the sunken boats bear over the water like hanged bodies. Michael looks to the west where he woke up, and he’s dumfounded by the position of the land: the earthquake caused the entire group of hills to violently turn itself a hundred and five degrees to the east. Michael figures he probably fell before the hills made their turn and was carried to the south with the dirt.
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He and the other two men were definitely hiking up the western slope, but the hunger and pain cause him to lose his orientation. He looks in the direction of La Dársena and sees no smoke. Maybe all the fires have already stopped; maybe the earth simply swallowed the town, as many faults as are visible. The chills course over him again. He tries to repel the biting hunger. If he could find the way to the northeast, he could eventually find Maria, if she’s still alive and if her hut would still be standing. Still, the way will lead him behind the sunset. Sometime later fog sticks to his face, the rain water wets his skin under his clothes, and his knee is swelling and weakening. He can finally see smoke rising out of the distant hills. It’d be interesting if he could clearly measure the whole destruction of the town, but he’s not ready for that yet. Everywhere refracting patterns of light can be seen. The rhythm of crushed car and house window material registers a tremor, like past pain is revealed in the face of an old man, like dead rivers in the size of an ear of corn. That’s enough for a youth who has no relatives in town. The drizzle diffuses the smoke, so he can’t clearly recognize where the fire’s coming from. There’re no people anywhere. Why is it that I haven’t met a single other person? The earth can’t just swallow an entire city full of people. It’s impossible. Behind Michael something explodes and makes a muffled sound, as if it came out from deep in the ground. A great ball of fire momentarily brightens the buildings on the hillside and illuminates the destruction once again. It must be the collapsed natural gas lines. At least that makes sense. More things should be exploding for the destruction, so much power and gas as goes through the town. As long as this fucking silence goes away. He limps past an overturned car that lies an unusual distance from the street. Blood is sprayed all over the window panes, black and hard as obsidian in the darkness. Finally another person, yet no real kind of person. He was lucky to have awoken under a tree. How many hours ago did the earthquake happen? He woke up with no adrenaline at all. His wounds dig further into him, tangled tight in the sopping pants. The route toward Maria’s hut is invisible at this point. The sunset seems to tell Michael follow me, follow me under, your goal lies not on the land, but beneath, in the underground where we’ll die. Michael reaches the gorge in the cliffs where the edge of La Dársena’s group of hills meets an opposite one, in which rests a dark forest of pine and fir. Michael and Maria call the two tallest firs the two Saguaros; behind them small, dim stars shine in the twilight. In the last blink of light Michael sees a bush with berries on it. He squats down and eats them quickly, tastes by turns the bitter taste of the young ones and the sweet of the ripe ones, but they serve only to strengthen his hunger and wake hidden pains in his gut. The sun glints on the pale leaves and he thinks immediately, it’s a cherry tree or maybe plums. A prunus, a stone fruit. Could be. But how high up? Damn it, I’ll never get there. Onward. He enters the dark woods and waits for the stars to make him a path. He suddenly realizes that he’s got his cellular phone with, and that’s got a light. He searches in his jacket pockets and withdraws the small plastic device. Wrecked by the fall, the little thing falls apart in his hand. Wind rustles in the dry branches of the evergreens, cold and quiet. Michael can almost count the steps to Maria’s hut, he knows these woods so well. It stills his wounds and suppresses his hunger. He finds it remarkable that so few trees in this area have fallen down. The forest here isn’t comparable to the woods in La Dársena. In the moonshine a lot can be
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seen: moss hangs on the firs, the knotty bark of a pine glows like a little starry sky, a few owls look at him as he passes by. He hikes through the woods, which are rather flat, until finally at Maria’s hut. In the dark it seems bigger, as if it had enlarged itself. “Maria,” Shit, please be home. “Maria.” Her voice creeps strangely loud and full out of the house. “Michael!” “Maria, is everything okay with you?” He goes up to the house, giddy from the hunger and pain. “How about that for a fuckin earthquake, huh? Did you feel it?” “Michael, don’t come any closer! Get out of here please! Please go!” “What’s wrong with you?” Then something growls horribly loud, louder than two cliffs colliding with each other, angrier than a thundercloud pushing weaker air out of its way. It sounds exactly like the beginning of the quake. “What kind of scary shit is that?” “Michael, go!” He comes almost to the door, his arm outstretched. Out of the concealing blackness a huge black arm grabs at Michael, like the tentacle of a terrible tree beast. He makes a few steps backward, the roar of the monster bellowing in his ears. “Michael, get out of here!” “Where? Where’ll we meet?” “I don’t know, go and get help!” Help? Against –what is that anyway? “I’m coming right back! You’re the only person I can find.” He runs off and waits for the monster to chase him. After thirty seconds nothing comes and there’s no sound behind him. He’s already run out of the forest and he falls down on the ground next to the berry bush, upon short young grass, and there he passes out. ♦ Nick wakes up with his knees under his chin in the totally dark and quiet. He opens his eyes and sees nothing. He feels about himself. The earth is hard and dry, empty of roots, like dry sand. He feels above his head. The same. He notices that his breath comes hard and short out of his chest. Where has the air gone? Where’s the light? He fumbles after a match, strikes it, and the round walls are lit up. A circle of earth closes around him, without entrance or exit, big enough to bury a body in. How did I get here? Did the quake jerk me under? How deep? The thought takes his breath. His joints and muscles throb with panic, but he can’t stretch his legs, he can only lay there in a ball. I’m turning into dirt. God damn it, I’m gonna die in this giant’s fist. Perhaps an hour passes by, perhaps less. After the single match burns out, the air burns out too, and Nick feels as if he’s sinking deeper into the sea, down to a drowning death. He feels his lungs
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deflate tighter and tighter, the emptiness in his chest enlarges like a flat fire, and though he doesn’t want to die, his breath chokes unbearably out of his throat and he lets himself breathe no more. ♦ Maria closes her eyes and wishes that the noise would quit. She sits on the cold floor in the damp corner of her house, and holds her eyes shut, holds herself in the dark of her skull, that she must not stare into the dim corner. It’s unthinkable that the noise could shove against the fragile walls of her house so forcefully, that an unimaginable beast could sit upon her roof without making it collapse. It appeared when the earthquake occurred, and as part of the damage to the hut it remains there, living damage that can’t be reworked with dead tools. And now Michael’s come by, now he’s run back into the woods, soon he’ll look for help in the forest where so many more monsters could be – it could be that he won’t come back. She doesn’t know how the quake turned out, whether she’s alone on the earth, whether Michael will return. She searches among the tools in the corner for something that she could defend herself with. Hot tears stand in her eyes, and she wants to pee and she wants to run away, like in a hiding game. The monster pounds angrily once more with its great arm on the walls of the little house, which it sits on and shades, and roars with rage into the night, as if it must regurgitate nails out of its gut through screaming. Black blood gets smeared on the wooden frame of the window that hangs over the door as the beast repeatedly runs its arm along the edge. The blood makes a scraping and rubbing noise when it hits something. The arm finally knocks over a glass ampoule that covers a candle, and it shatters on the ground and darkens the room even more. She hears the tentacle quickly running on the wall, patting along toward her as if by sense of smell. It touches her shoulder and she feels it slime and bite her, the tiny teeth sharp on her skin. It moves like a panicking fish. Finally she finds a small razor blade lying on the ground from the last repairs and stabs the tentacle with it. Right away the monster draws its arm back without changing the tone of its scream. After a while, however, the monster stops. Maria waits and listens to the silence. She pays attention to the sound of the wind until it too goes silent and nothing more can be heard except the quaking of her heart. It’s as if everything were a nightmare and she can’t move or close her eyes. It’s pointless to wonder about such a terrible day. She waits a while for Michael to come, and then falls asleep as her body relaxes itself. She dreams of a clear river that runs through the city where she isn’t alone, but where she knows no one. ♦ Michael wakes up soaked. For three seconds he remains in the dream world still, where there’s no pain, where one understands all the rules. Of course the pain still shoots through his legs, but he meets the pain and the wet world undisturbed. Then he wakes fully and the world comes back into his brain, every ache and every fear flows once more into his heart. The world again becomes his strange enemy and his body remembers how to shiver. Two little singing birds eat the berries hurriedly from the bush. Michael’s lying on his mudcovered face and his knees shriek with pain as he tries to stand up.
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Damn it, I’ve got to take care of my knees. Otherwise I’ll need a wheel chair. He regards the forest and the two Saguaros. Hunger and pain force him from the woods, though he desperately wants to save Maria. First he’s got to get ready. He comes upon a yellow maple with cool water standing upon its leaves. He takes the leaves softly in his hands and drinks the drops to wet his lips and tongue. After a long hour Michael comes past the flipped-over car again, with its tire tracks full of new rain water that runs down the hill, and soon he stands for the first time after the quake on the sidewalk of La Dársena. The street is covered with brick, wood, glass and water, on top of the usual garbage and dirt, and small piles of debris gather against cars and posts. There are still roofs on some buildings and a few semaphore poles still stand on the street, the others leaning against buildings. Nothing’s burning. With everything destroyed the street is strange to Michael, its materials and shapes are ridiculous and frightening. With his knees throbbing so bad, everything hard and shattered seems to lay spitefully in the way. After such a long hike, new blood creeps out of his knees. He turns to the nearest small shop and grabs the door knob. The whole door comes dutifully off the frame and Michael enters the shop, setting the door back like usual. Almost all the packaged stuff in the store lies on the floor, as well as a lot of puddles of cola and drinks of every color and smell. It smells like sugar that’s gone bad in the rain, like the chemicals used to pack gas station food. He goes around the puddles, grabs onto the big curtain that hangs over the window and tears himself off a good long bandage. Suddenly he hears two quiet, worn-out male voices laughing. Then something rustles and the laughing stops. Michael stands still as if he’d forgotten how to talk to people. “Little brother!” A big awkward man picks himself slowly up and waves Michael to himself with a bottle in his hand. “Morning. Come over and drink a cold one.” Michael hobbles slowly over and looks at the two old men. Both sit on the ground and are wearing new blue sweaters under their gray spittly beards, on which the words La Dársena stand, and underneath a picture of a green palm tree. “Hey howya doing. You survived the big one! Like the tee shirt. My name’s Bert, this’s Fabian.” Michael forces a laugh down. “My name’s Michael.” “Alright then Michael. Welcome to Bertland–” “Yeah, welcome to Fabianistan,” “Where everything’s cheerful and cheap! Lookit what we found.” They’re drinking beer out of undamaged glass bottles no doubt still cool from the rain. “There’s still a lotta good cases stored behind the cooler. You’re lucky you met us. A blind pig can find a acorn, too. But look at you! You’re almost starved to death. Bert, give the kid something.” “You like tater chips?” “I’ll eat whatever’s still good.” They load him up with packages without standing up. “Alright then, tater chips, eh, two packs of salami there –sit down, brother. What’s wrong?” “I’d like to recover from a fall for a spell.” He shows them the curtain. The drunks calm themselves as if out of embarrassment. “Oh –yeah, that looks bad. I’ll hold the food for ya.”
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Bert waves at the shelf behind them. “Look Michael, there shid be plastic bottles over there yet. Disinfectint.” “Thanks.” He finds a small tube of disinfectant and a pile of water bottles, from which he grabs three. He sits down across from the hobos, who regard him with wonderment, and he takes his pants up along his leg. He pours water over his knees and wipes the dirt and blood off the wounds with one end of the curtain. The skin is well swollen but not inflamed. Bert sets two beer bottles at Michael’s feet. “Thank god everthing’s packed in plastic these days, huh?” They laugh softly as the sky grows cloudier. Soon Michael’s through with treatment and bandaging and he opens a bottle of beer and the package of salami. “Cheers, gentlemen.” They drink and Michael regards the rain, and the homeless men shoot the shit. After a while Michael lets himself relax. The men don’t ask him how he got injured. “You feel better, kid?” Michael empties the bottle and lets it fall. “Never got to drink this expensive beer before.” “Yep, beats bee el, that’s for sure.” “Tell me then, why’s everything in Bertland–” “That’s Fabianistan! Eh eh eh!” “Why’s everything cheerful and cheap?” “Simple! It’s –look, have you seen the childern?” “No.” Fabian smiles broader and speaks, as if sharing gossip. “An hour anna half ago or so we saw a couple kids. Good lookin kids from up the hill. Probly two belong to one set, the other three to another. What’s funny is the parents were in a real fuss. To get out of the city. They survived the quake, no kids died, no fire’s broken out in the area, and they’re crying over their collapsed house. At least a half hour they yelled and bitched. They even fought with each other, in front of their kids even! They’re just as hasty and fussy as before. And the kids were playing at the same time in the street and in the park nearby to us. Happy enough that they’re still alive. They know after all, we’re still living in La Dársena. It’s just too pretty here to get sad, and the war’s still far away.” Michael opens up another beer and drinks. His breath still comes heavy and slow like yesterday. He can’t tell the measures of honest feeling and irony stirred in the man’s words. “But will it last? Someone must come soon to rescue all the people. They’ll for sure bring back order.” Bert shakes his head and sets his bottle down. “Look around yerself. Before everything noisy, everything screaming ran around, said mine, mine, this is my piece of paradise. Not yours. Before, everyone came here to buy up their piece of the sunset and sit on it. But is it really mine? The ocean? Do ya earn privacy from work? From inheritance? And what’s it worth? What’s the inheritance good for? And how does it give you the right to shut yourself in, to say, you all arn’t good enough, rich enough, loud and uptight enough to be neighbors with me? That causes one thing: the authorities fuck over the people that ain’t shut in. Exposed, like us. Who’s got that right?”
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It’s too early for Michael to talk pre-earthquake philosophy. “I –I don’t know.” “I bet you do know. But knowing ain’t important, huh? It’s feeling that counts. The point is,” “Yeah Bert, come to the point.” “Don’t jack your jaw! The point, Michael, issat the earthquake has abolished this shit special property right. Wiped it away!” “After one day?” “Doesn’t matter. And who’s coming to save us? The goverment? I don’t hear no hellicopters. But of course all the hellicopters are gone out to war. Who knows how many victims the quake’s left behind? Anyhow, before noise, property, police, and now quiet. You can hear the children playing. Can hear the rain falling. The cops are home too. They’ve gotta cover up their windows too. They needa repair their own little worlds, just like you and us. And look around –are we murdering each other? No. We’re helpin each other. Without human awthority we assemble by our own rules!” “Even though you’re drinking the results of the authorities’ protection.” “That don’t matter neither. They come out with these products to please us. We don’t ask for food. But with food you always gotta be selfless. When people come by and ask for food, of course we givem food. Without thinking about its so-called worth. A few days and then it’s all trash. The point is, when the obedience quits, like after a bad disaster, property doesn’t count for anything anymore, greed isn’t worth nothin. Then what do the police defend property for?” Now Michael smiles with a glow in his face and feels confused by the words, though a little free. He’s luckily lost nothing important, and naturally he wants to believe what the first friendly people say. “Where’ve you guys been?” “Behind the curtain of privilege. But now we ain’t homeless anymore. Now we’re neighbors. Skoal!” The two men laugh. There’s no trace of anger in their speeches. Michael begins to right himself. “I gotta go.” Fabian looks suddenly disappointed. “So soon? You been with us only an hour and already you wanna get? Where to?” “You’ve really helped me. I appreciate that. But –I’ve got friends in the woods that I’ve got to help. I can’t think about anything else. Have you noticed that the city’s turned itself?” “Turned? Like a round table?” ”Yeah.” “Ya hear that, Fabian? Turned over. One would doubt that it were possible.” “It’s true. I’m really worried about a girl friend of mine who lives in the forest. She can’t come out of the house. I’d also like to find two other friends, but I think they’re probably already dead. Even so I’m gonna look for them.” The two old men grow silent and their faces grow mild. Maybe they’ve satisfied their own loneliness, whose thirst is somehow smaller, yet they seem to understand Michael’s intentions. “I’ll bet. Well, we wouldn’t force you. Just don’t forget about us! Come visit sometime. We’re mostly here and over there in the harbor bar.” “Until the police come.” Fabian laughs and Bert drinks. “Perhaps, kid. Shit, take two sweaters. You’re all wet and it ain’t gonna stop raining.”
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Michael receives two sweaters; he takes off the brown jacket and his shirt, puts the sweater and the jacket back on. He does it quickly, that the hobos may not look so much at his bruises. The absence of wetness is a relief and the new material feels warm and gives him strength. “Come back soon! We wanna meet your girlfriend.” Michael limps out of the store. It’s still raining and he has to cover his head with a newspaper. Most importantly he wants to protect his knees from the rain so they can recover as fast as possible. His head’s full of questions. The two hobos are really satisfied, and sure, that all imposed order is gone. Do those two bums really give food out to people without prejudice, if at all? When’ll the owner come back with his insurance money? Surely the police wouldn’t blame them for giving out the surviving food… He wanders aimlessly again. He wants to see the wreckage; he wants to see if anyone can still live in the city. After two days in which Michael’s only seen ruins, something normal would seem like a hallucination. The street goes straight for a kilometer and a half uphill from downtown. In every store window one sees shattered glass, colorful gifts, bathing suits, cans of food, and no people. The laughter of those children can’t be heard. Michael decides that he’ll bring a sack of cans with him when he leaves town. He goes left and comes into an area where homes stand. The wooden houses stand relatively upright, compared to the brick buildings, although many shingles are missing. Long cracks run along the stucco walls from window to window as if to slice the houses into filets. Most of the windows are open, empty of glass. Again no trace of people. Slowly the cries creep out of the houses. No one comes out of a house as he goes through the still street. Instead their voices come out, like ghosts. Not like it would do any good to knock on a door. Everyone has his own problems, and beside that Michael hasn’t anything to say to anyone. At the end he comes through a small tangle of eucalyptus and grass at which the street ends, through which he can get to the cliff over the beach. The rain falls lighter under the trees. Soon he reaches the street that runs along the cliff. A pair of markets and a gas station sit across the street. He goes to the cliff and regards the sea. Big waves break on the beach, laden with rain. After ten minutes it abruptly stops raining. The sun slowly comes out from behind a cloud, and Michael presses water out of his shoes. He looks for a dumpster where he can toss the newspaper when a voice intones beneath the clouds. “Hey!” The voice startles him, but somehow it sounds familiar. He turns around and looks at the buildings. Behind them runs a dejected old train track, over which a bridge stretches. “Hey! Are you there?” He looks and finds no one. He notices that the bridge stands completely out of the earth on its heavy, faltering columns, and is almost falling over. It’s almost thirty feet away from its anchorage. Luckily no car’s fallen from it. There Michael sees someone on the bridge, and who: Ott squats on the sunburnt pavement and doesn’t seem surprised to see Michael turn up. His long black hair hangs soggy and slack on his brow, and he’s got his blue raincoat on. Michael draws near the bridge to get a better look at Ott. “Michael! There you are finally, eh? You recognize me?” “Ott!” Their hollow, yowling voices are blunted by the cement of the underpass.
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“Hellme get off this fuckin bridge. What’s wrong?” “Nothing, the sun’s in my eyes. What you want me to do? You jump and I catch you?” “No, pick up that rope over there, the one next to the fucked-up car.” Ott’s long, somewhat blaring voice rubs itself on the buildings. “You mean you’re gonna swing from a power cable?” “There is no power, man. Look around you. I know what I’m talking about! The streetlamps weren’t turned on last night. Otherwise I’d have found the way down arready.” “And so?” “I fell asleep. I was out cold drunk. I dunno how I didn’t get killed. I rode on the bridge during the quake like a damn cowboy. So I hadda drink one and then another.” “And you got drunk? In the rain?” “Cause I was on the way to my house with a pack of beer and food when the quake happened.” He grips a paper box from behind him and flings it away behind his head. “You got a better idea? I need a shorter rope, too.” “I’m going, I’m going already.” Ott watches Michael as he limps irritably toward the cable and lets the newspaper fall away. “Or can’t you do it? Are your knees in bad shape? They don’t look good,” “I can do it,” “Michael,” “What?” “I’m glad you’re still alive.” “Likewise. Wait a minute.” He heaves the cable up. It’s about fifteen yards long and its higher end is bound fast to the telephone pole, and even with its weight hung on the pole it’s still pretty heavy. The opposite pole is visible on the ground behind the bridge. Next to it lays a short, unused telephone cable, which he throws up to Ott. Then he makes a loop from his end of the shorter one and ties it to the bigger one. Ott pulls the cable up, takes the shorter one off the longer one and throws it back down to Michael. The power cable stretches tight between the bridge and the pole, and Ott draws it to himself to make it shorter. “Alright then, here we go,” Ott jumps timidly off the bridge and swings down. He falls fast toward the ground and lets go of the cable, lets himself fall two yards down, hitting the ground with his right hip. “Shit,” Michael comes near. “You okay?” Ott stands up and shakes his leg while Michael laughs. “Shit. Yeah, it still works.” Michael gives him the second sweater. “I brought you a new sweater.” “Excellent, wife! You thought of everything.” He takes off his raincoat and flings it carelessly on the ground. Then he shakes the water out of his hair and pulls the sweater on. “Thanks a lot. I didn’t want to dry out up there like a squid for sushi.” “No sweat.”
12 La Dársena – A. Cardott
“The lace looks good on your knees, too.” “Thanks. I feel better having someone with me. When it gets really bad I can devour you.” “Were you by yourself when the quake happened?” “No.” He remembers Rolf and Nick. The same feeling comes upon him –he wants to search for them, but at the same time to go back to Maria, and it makes him feel sick to be pulled from every limb. Even the cannibal joke reminds him of the entrails. He thinks of so many things that he’d like to chase out of his mind. He can hardly stand still. “No, I was hiking in the woods with Nick and Rolf.” Ott hesitates. “Where’re they now?” “I got no idea.” Ott turns to the cliff, keeping his feelings to himself, and Michael follows. Regular meter-high waves roll upon the restful water toward the beach, exactly three yards apart. It’s a perfect day for swimming and surfing, and below can be seen a handful of standing surfers. They’re wearing their black wetsuits and carrying their long surfboards and they remain very still. Ott laughs and shows them to Michael. Perhaps they have to surf in order to relax, to travel far from people; perhaps they won’t today, simply out of respect for the others who’re suffering. To Michael Ott is like an acquaintance from work, with whom one hasn’t yet drank. He met Ott through Nick, they having earlier been coworkers. Ott’s friendly with his witty language, but Michael doesn’t know anything of his intentions, especially whether he’d make it more difficult to help Maria. But without closer companions, and without anyone outside of the city who’d look for Michael, he’ll have to do. Even with his sopping jacket dragging on the ground. “I’d sure like to know where my girlfriend is, too. Maybe she’s still alive. We’re not dead anyhow, Mike. You think a lot of people are dead?” “I don’t know, but I’ve hardly seen anyone today. I expected chaos. No one’s plundering the supermarkets, no one’s fighting each other over food.” “The hell with the fat fuckers. Lettem try it. You seen highway one? Look over there, there, along the cliff. It’s in a thousand pieces. These people can’t drive out of the city in their trucks. Probably they can’t get out of their own streets! That’s what people get for having such big cars.” The hospital is also in the next city that lies eight miles over the hill. Ott’s mean words annoy Michael and he doesn’t want to hear anymore. “By the way, I got the sweater from a couple friendly drunks. They talked like you. All rebelling. Not thinking about reality.” “Mike, don’t be so beaten. Just because you come to La Dársena from a bad life and now you’re doing better doesn’t mean you hafta follow every rule.” Michael looks away. Ott shouldn’t profess to know shit about my life. “Do I do that?” “Uh –well it seems like it! It’s not your fault that the earthquake happened. This is a new opportunity to do something good, something unusual.” “What’re you getting on me about? Soon the authorities’ll be here, then we’ll have to behave ourselves like nothing’d changed.”
13 La Dársena – A. Cardott
“Just wait. Doesn’t the air make you think, everything’s just gotten easier? We can’t do our usual thing. Instead we can just start again.” They look at each other, Michael with a face like to say, you know there’s no starting again. “Hey, I’m just tryna make you feel better.” “We’ll see. First I gotta save Maria.” “Maria?” “A friend of mine.” “I don’t know her.” “Well no. She lives in the woods and grows her own food. She can’t come out of the house. A monster lives on her roof.” “Well what kinda monster?” “I don’t know. It almost killed me last night.” “Anything’s possible.” “Follow me, you should meet the hobos. They’ve probably got beer still. We should have a few.” “At least. I still got a hangover.” Ott grows silent and follows Michael through the streets. On the long street where the houses are, they can see an old man coming toward them. He walks with a fragile bent branch in his left hand, and in his right he grasps a full bag. He wears a fine black suit and a broad black hat, walks slowly, and seems so burdened that even under his slight body weight the branch might break. When they’re three steps away from each other Michael sees that the old man is wet. He speaks out of worry. “Grandfather, don’t you have a stronger stick?” The oldtimer laughs softly. His wrinkled face is shaved smooth. “Not today. This’s the biggest one I could take from the tree. I lost my cane yesterday.” “Do you need help?” “Thank you, no. My son needs help though. I’ve gone to the market for him. I’m happy that there’s still food in the market. There were even fresh oranges. I would’ve paid gladly but the owner wasn’t there.” He searches in his bag and holds an orange out. “Beautiful huh? For some there’s a new day dawning. For you all, too.” The orange glitters in the pale sunlight. His hand is so white that the sunlight doesn’t even color it. Suddenly Ott gets talkative. “Is your son wounded?” The oldtimer seems to try to calm them down. He puts the orange back in the bag hastily, as if he felt unappreciated. “Yeah, but don’t worry about it. His family’s lost their house. I live two streets over from them, so I can help them. My house isn’t falling over; this isn’t my first quake. They’re fine with me now. Except my son –he might not go home again.” “Do you really have to do everything for them? They’re supposed to help you.” “Ha! My young friend, you know these people. They’re weaker than you youth, and weaker than us old people, too. I’ve gotta teach my son that death comes faster to the weak.” The old man laughs to himself. Michael doesn’t understand. “Are you sure you don’t need any help? That stick’s gonna break.” The old man looks so weak; it seems like he’s about to fall in half, but even so his voice is clear and strong.
14 La Dársena – A. Cardott
“Don’t worry kid, really. My house is around the corner. Now I’ve got to go. Have a nice day.” He nods a greeting and turns from them to the right, then walks slow and steady into the street that leads to the left. Over his shoulder a house can be seen with a big twisted tree fallen over it. The two young men go on. Ott shakes his head. “I dunno if I wanna stay in this town. Everything’s got weird. And the rain’s gonna probably fall through every roof, if there’s no monster sitting on it. It’s time we find normal people. Hopefully your drunks don’t get pissed off at a short visit.” Michael considers while they walk. “Did you notice the smoke on the hill yesterday?” “Which smoke’re you talking about? A lot burned up. The natural gas lines exploded.” “I saw that too. I mean, did you see the smoke that came up out of the furthest hill?” “Christmas Hill? Where the herd usually grazes?” “Presumably.” “I didn’t notice.” “If we can save Maria, we can find the source together. People must live there. We’d better stay there as just the two of us in the shit pit.” “You’re right. Maybe Heather’ll end up there too. But if a monster’s really sitting on top of Maria’s roof, you’ll have to save her yourself.” Michael smiles, hides his fear and looks toward the hill, but he hasn’t got used to looking in the new directions of the city. Instead of seeing the hill he sees a big breach where two gorgeous cliffs had met like red waves. The rift they created is slowly getting filled with the cement, glass and iron of the luxury homes. They come out of the street once more onto the cliff above the beach. They regard the sea, the single place where one can look without seeing proof of the total destruction of the city. In life one is used to only looking at familiar and unthreatening things. The city’s becoming like a nightmare world, where everywhere terrible things can be seen and where no one can close their eyes. But the ocean can’t be understood by people; it always quakes, it always reconstitutes itself. By the water the earth is invariably born, and by water it’s constantly consumed. Thus the ocean is strange and terrifying, but its unending inhuman calm lets people feel as good as no fear. That absence of fear, before such uncertainty, is the marine world’s medicine. “The surfers are gone.” “Yeah.” The sun climbs up to its daily height and it gets warmer despite the wet. The clouds spread themselves out about the bay and long bright rays fall through them. Soon the two men come back to the store and the door is leaned sideways against the inside of the frame. They step in and Michael calls the drinkers’ names. No answer comes. “That’s odd. I was only here an hour ago and they’re already gone.” The place where they sat earlier is cleaned up and blank like an island in the mess. His shirt lies forgotten where he was sitting. “Look!” Ott discovers the beer bottles in the refrigerator. “You want one?” “Nah, I already had two. I wonder if they’re in the park.” “You don’t want any now? Whatever. Did they tell you they live in the park?”
15 La Dársena – A. Cardott
“Yeah.” As Ott strikes the neck of a bottle against the edge of a metal rack, Michael chances to see a little piece of paper behind the glass door of the refrigerator. On the paper is his name written in a shaky hand. He opens the door and grabs it out. “What’s innere?” “A letter for me.” “From Hawaii?” Michael unfolds the receipt tape and reads. Michael –unforchunatly we haf to go. Your savyers comming and I cant write were we’re going but ill wait for you at th place were I sad. From hear on out we haf to stay out the way a few day’s. You shuld too, at least till the army is gone. Maybe well see each other next week. Bye, B and F. “No.” “Took you long enough to find out. What’s up?” “He says the government is already here.” “Shit. I sure don’t wanna mix with them. You got your ID on you?” “No. You?” Ott searches in his pockets and finds his wallet in the jacket. He opens it and chucks out a card. “No.” He steps on the card, rubs it against the floor. “All rebelling or what?” Michael grins and picks up a few bags. He starts to throw the nearest packages in it. “I hope the hobos are safe. Are there two milk crates back there?” “Yeah, but how many beers do you actually wanna take?” “I’m not you. Put the water bottles in the second, dumbass.” “Fuck the water, I got vitamin water here.” “The red one?” “No, the yellow one’s got more in it.” “Hurry up.” The bottles mutedly bounce together. “Done. How much food do you have?” “Three stupid little bags.” “There’s not bigger ones?” “No. Let’s get out of here.” Ott comes out from behind the refrigerator and lays the crates down on the ground. “Now let’s each take a box with the bags on top.” He looks across the room. “Do they have vitamins?” “I dunno. Let’s go.” “Wait a minute, think about the nutrients we couldn’t afford before.” He finds four little plastic bottles, the kind of concentrations that are supposed to keep truckers awake, and tosses them in a bag. “Damn small bags. Can you hangem on your shoulder?” Michael tries. “On my elbow.”
16 La Dársena – A. Cardott
“That works.” Finally they have each a crate and three plastic bags in their arms. “Ott, that’s too heavy for me.” “Whatta you mean?” “My knees are swollen, dick.” “Oh yeah. Ah –where to then?” “Into the woods.” “And I hump the boxes up the hill?” “I got you off the bridge!” “Let’s go. We’ll see how far you make it.” Michael throws the letter from the hobos in the garbage can. They carefully leave the store, left into the street that ends at the hiking path hidden behind a portal of tall dry bushes. Michael turns around once more and looks into the park for a trace of the hobos. The park is a block away and divides the city from the harbor in back of it. He can only see trees and the playground. “Come on Mike, you’ve gotta lead.” In the park one can see people coming forth. “Michael. What’re you seeing?” “Shh. Stay still!” Two men come out of the park to the street, wearing the waterproof clothes that the coast guard wears. Behind them many people with luggage are now visible, gathering themselves. “Shit. They’re here.” “If they see us we’ll definitely be in deep shit. This is looting! Let’s go!” “Hey! Wait a minute please! We’re coming!” The two men come nearer, their steps louder and louder. “Shit, Michael. Put the food down there. Behind the fence.” Michael barely steps back onto the sidewalk from behind the paper-stuffed cyclone fence when the two men come around the corner. Ott and Michael stand up straight, hands at their sides. Both men are older and fat, unmeet to do the work for which one wears such clothes. The thicker one speaks. “Don’t worry, fellas. The government is here. I’m called Morris and this is Witt. Federal Bureau of Crisis Management. We’ve come all the way from the capital. Your town is gorgeous –uh, was gorgeous. Are you wounded?” “No, not at all.” “All’s well with your knee?” “Yep.” Witt speaks. His voice is ridiculously low set, totally unbelievable. “Your identification, please.” “I don’t have it with.” “Both no identification?” “Nope.” “Why not?” “Our house burned down.” Witt scowls at Morris. “What’re you doing here then?” “Looking for food.”
17 La Dársena – A. Cardott
“In the wreckage? That’s called looting, kid.” “I’m really sorry, but we want for money.” “Now look, smartass,” Morris grabs Witt’s arm. “Look. We’d like just to know your addresses and your last names.” Michael and Ott come out with the first names that come off their tongues, like children on the playground. “I’m called Miller.” “My name’s Taylor.” Witt takes a clipboard out of his backpack, reads from it and draws a pencil from the top down. “Miller the real estate salespeople family?” “No.” Witt glares at Ott now. “Taylor the fishermen?” “I like fishing.” “From Taylor’s on the Beach, the famous restaurant in the harbor, asshole.” “We’re not these families’ children. We’re grownups, asshole.” Witt grows angry and takes a step forward, the clipboard in his fist like a club. “Stop, Witt.” Morris raises a hand. “Listen to me. If your families aren’t looking for you then we don’t give a shit if you want to stay or go. Just stay out of our way and don’t let us catch you looting, or else we’ll lock you up.” “Bullshit. This is the city of La Dársena. You don’t have any power here.” “This is a disaster area. Whoever wants to stay, eat, drink, they do it by our rules. You understand that?” Michael chucks Ott on the arm. “That’s enough. Let’s leave.” Morris looks Ott spitefully in the eye. “See you later, kids.” They turn and stride away. Michael is sick. “Mike, that was the last time you hesitate. We almost got caught. God damn it. I liked to pissed.” “No worries, huh? Shit. You know, now we can’t go to town anymore, except when these assholes are gone.” “Doesn’t matter. There’s nothing here that I want. We need a tent though. Can your knees hike? You gonna puke?” “As long as we get out of here. No, I’m not gonna barf. But I’m sick anyway.” They heave up the heavy boxes and hang the bags on themselves and climb the hill. “Those guys probably thought you’re gay, what with the lace on your pants.” “Fuck you.” People who want to get out of La Dársena gather in the park. At this time roughly three hundred people stand in rows, luggage at their knees, sunglasses on, grimacing. Morris and Witt stand before the rows with their clipboards in their hands and Witt growls through a megaphone.
18 La Dársena – A. Cardott
“Quiet please, quiet! Please come up with your ID when we call your name. The ship can take ninety people per trip. We’re waiting for a second ship. Quiet please! Please make sure that you get a schedule. Seats on the boats are in order of last name.” The people entertain themselves impatiently. Each protest receives a card and a promise of a private audience with R. H. Morris and J. L. Witt. “Delia, I swear to you. Why’s it just get harder and harder? Mark just paid for our remodel only a month ago and now everything’s gone just to shit. I didn’t even like the paint yet! Why is it so god damned cold? Soon it’s gonna rain again! These idiots from the government don’t have any way to pay for our losses! Why don’t they see that they owe us?” “Listen to me, Maggy. God has destroyed this town because too many gays and homeless live in La Dársena. Don’t you ever forget that. My baby, if you only hadn’t ever had to see the wrath of God! You’d better pray to God that Jesus judges the Mexicans and homos and brings righteousness back into the world!” The words disturb the daughter and she cries behind her expensive, stylish sunglasses. Morris hears something on his radio and steps away. A fifty-something woman with a Hawaiian shirt on and a cross around her neck calls to mister Witt. “Where’re the helicopters and planes anyhow? My husband needs his blood pressure medicine.” “Unfortunately everything’s in the middle east right now in the war. We may only borrow boats from the coast guard. Otherwise we only got fighter planes and helicopters from the air force, and no one fits in them.” “Then you’d better order them out of the fucking middle east! I know you’ve got resources! We’re the richest country in the world!” “I can promise you, madam, we’re dividing our resources as per the best possible plan.” The woman swears and goes away. “If you don’t serve us better we’re gonna pay even fewer taxes.” Morris steps back over. “What’s up?” “There’s two old bums in the park. They’ve secreted themselves away under the stage. They’re drunk and have a lot of food with them.” “And?” “They’re resisting arrest.” Witt speaks with someone over his radio and turns back to him. “Wait until the people are underway. Tell the men to ignore those bums.” Morris nods and steps away once again. An hour later most of the people are underway and the sun begins to climb down the sky. Witt goes into the park to look for the two old men. He finds them behind the broad stage among many dark, bent people. Fabian is talking to a couple of them, his gray pointed beard shuddering rapidly. “No, no. Sorry but that’s all of it. You gotta wait till morning. Ustedes –esperan por favor hasta mañana.” Witt shouts suddenly from behind. “Out! You’re all looting! Police. Everyone out now.” With the word police the congregation breaks up and vanishes. Fabian and Bert step before Witt. “Who’re you? What do you want?” “Federal Bureau of Crisis Management. You’re homeless and you’re looting.”
19 La Dársena – A. Cardott
“Federal nothing. Fuck off! We haven’t done anything against the law. We were helping them just now.” “I bring the help.” “Sure, fine, but you scare the people and that doesn’t help.” “I’m arresting you.” Witt draws his weapon. “You’d done better to arrested yerself, dickhead. Your law’s got no value. This is our city, our park, and we’ll improve the situation as we see fit.” Witt shoots the men. The report of the weapon scares the birds that had been resting in the trees, and that now flee together like a black cloud through the golden rays of the clouded sun. Bert throws both arms in front of himself as he falls on his knees, and shoves his finger at Witt. “That’s right, asshole. Kill two old men that bring help. Have it your way.” He coughs up blood. “You gonna rub out the rich too? When you’ve got their money packed up? Fabian, stay up, fight…” Noise creeps through the lanky trees, the sound of the rich people’s unrest. An unsettling echo of that unrest dribbles against the tiled sidewalks and ornate stone impersonations of colonial buildings that surround the park. Witt takes his radio up to his mouth and speaks into it. “Did anyone hear the shot?” “Yessir.” “Tell the people to remain calm. No one’s injured.” “Yessir.” “And I want someone to come into the park and take out two bodies.” “Carroll’s men are coming now.” “Good.” Fireballs rise above the harbor with the sound of thunder, and illuminate the crowd waiting for the rescue ships. The people regard the explosions as if they were fireworks, though the Bureau of Crisis Management is sinking the boats that remain floating half-submerged in the harbor. The masts burn against the sky that darkens itself with a blanket of clouds as the sun finishes its daily journey. Deep drumbeats rumble up from under the water as the steel keels separate from their burnt wooden or fiberglass frames and strike the harbor floor. Several yachts remain undisturbed, but the crane in the middle of the main dock has fallen over numerous others and destroyed them, so it’s got to sink too. Judge Henry Morales’ steel finger reflects the fire. Around the finger bright rain drops gather, illuminated by the fire, and they course together and join the water. Through the incinerated masts breaks a small ship that bears the badge of the coast guard. Shortly it floats up to the dock and Witt runs down to the edge. “Excellent arrival! Bring it to me!” The ship halts at the end of the dock and a rope is thrown down from above. Witt ties the rope to the cleat. The captain comes out and jumps over the bars upon the dock. “Mister Witt?” “Yes.” “My name’s Hanford. Is everyone ready? The harbor’s way too dangerous, I’d like to not stay.” “Sure. I’ve got ninety ready on the hill.” “Great. Let them come down, we sail for Santa Carla. Everything’s fine there.”
20 La Dársena – A. Cardott
“Not to Brighton? It’s only eight miles away.” “No. Your land’s turned itself, mister Witt. But you knew that, didn’t you? Brighton’s been entirely wiped out, ground up between hills. Like coffee. La Dársena’s only been spared by its position on the corner of the range. Please hurry up, we’ve gotta go.” As the crowd comes down into the harbor the earth shakes hard once more, like a suddenly startled heart. The people scream and look about themselves, as if it helped to know that one is still alive. Morris goes behind the line and calls out through the megaphone, hoping that the tremor was only an aftershock. “Keep going! You’ll be safe on board. That was just an aftershock.” Hanford helps the people who have difficulty getting on the boat until all are on board. “What is this, a monkey bars? Why do we have to drag ourselves aboard? This railing is so unsanitary!” “Mom, I can’t do it!” “That’s ninety. Without any problems we can be back within three hours.” Witt marks down the names on his board and shoves it under his raincoat. “Good. We’re waiting for a team that’ll find and count the dead. They won’t be here till morning.” The boat’s motor becomes louder. “No problem. We’ll take who comes. The next captain’s name is Stagnaro. Keep awake and pray that the aftershocks don’t bother us!” Hanford takes the rope and leaps back up on the ship. “Goodbye. Martín! Let’s go!” ♦ Maria feels the moisture on the end of her nose. She becomes fully awake for the first time today and notices, through her anger, that everything is still. She’s only stood up once in countless hours to get a heavy wool blanket from the bed, and now she lies yet in the corner of her little hut, in the single place where she knows that the monster can’t touch her. Somehow she was able to sleep the whole day; she deals with the monster as with a fever, and her fear comes in the same waves. As long as the monster makes no noise, it remains distant and nightmarish, distant enough for her to feel safe in the stillness. The dry, dark emptiness in her stomach and esophagus have begun to feel normal, but she does worry about whether her heart will ever work normally again. It irritates her that she has to play the helpless woman. She thinks about Michael’s arrival with humiliation, and wonders why she hasn’t escaped out of the house today. Just to see if she could. She wishes that she could have wounded the monster worse. Maria regards the sun through a little window as the sun begins to sink, and the tiny rain drops on the pane become pale gold. Then the earth shakes hard again. All the things in the house ring and spring once, then set themselves back down. In the same moment the monster roars terribly loud and furious again. A swarm of noises scratches down through the ceiling, like something big is dragging itself on the roof. Maria shrinks lower, trying to get more air between the noise and herself. The roaring grows oddly quiet, then silent. As her heart calms itself, Maria stands up. She goes to the door, opens it and looks up. In the dimness she sees very little. She steps three steps before the house and looks again. No monster shows itself, and the forest is still and cool, just like she likes it.
21 La Dársena – A. Cardott
She thinks about it: can it be? Can the quake summon the monster and also repel it? More quakes will doubtlessly come, and the monster may certainly not stay upon its next visit. Maria fills a backpack and two cotton bags with the little bit of food that she normally has stored in the house, and puts on two sweaters and two pair of socks. She folds the blanket into a roll and ties it to the backpack. The backpack and she fit tight under her raincoat. Under her left arm she carries her trusty old tent that she lived a long time in before she’d built the hut. It doesn’t make a difference to her if it rains all night. She hikes toward the first house that she may find. Perhaps no one’ll be staying there, so there’ll be less explaining and understanding and commiserating to do, and perhaps there’ll be lots of food. In any case the monster’ll answer to a rifle’s bullet as all beings do. Part Two It’s getting dark as Michael and Ott come upon a truck that has a shell on it. Ott swears to himself for the weight of the box until he sees it, then he steps excitedly up to it. They’ve both seen it at the same time and, though they’ve barely spoken throughout the whole hike, they both know without looking at one another that they have to get under its cover. They whisper loudly to each other. “Lookit. There’s enough room in there! Let’s get in.” They make enough noise as they step around the truck, because the weeds grow fat and thick under the oaks, but it seems already long abandoned, and no lamplit nor moonlit windows can be seen around it. Dense oaks that cling to the ground surround the hillside. Michael sets his case down on the ground first and checks the tailgate. It’s open and he anxiously opens it up. There’s rather little garbage in the bed and almost no spider webs. The long slender windows are closed tight; likely no insect could manage in there. They take the old leaves and packages out and load the truck with the boxes and bags, and take their jackets off so they can let them dry out in the cabin. Then they lay down with their heads toward the tailgate. Light rain falls upon the liftgate and drips before their eyes. “How much was that, three miles?” Ott opens a bag of chips up and eats thoughtfully out of it. Then he turns amused. “No, that was a mile anna half at most!” “My knees don’t feel any worse but my arms and back are wore out.” “Mine too. That’s good, though, for your knees.” Both were spared from the hardest rain under the trees, but now the air is getting colder. Michael moves his knees carefully and breathes deep. He can’t see if they’re bleeding. Ott brings two water bottles out and they drink. “I wonder where those flames came from.” “Well what explodes then, beside gas lines?” “I don’t know. Sewage?” “I doubt it. But I’da liked to seen that. Burning shit in the air.” It occurs to Michael how deeply weary his body is. The hard metal floor seems to pull his weight down upon it. “Tomorrow we can stay somewhere else, where there might be a gun. Maria’s shack isn’t far away. It’d be better to stay somewhere tomorrow and get ready to save her. I’m only scared that she might starve though. But we’d better fight with the monster in the day light.”
22 La Dársena – A. Cardott
“Yeah?” Ott purses his lips and regards him in the dark. Almost everything is the same color, except when Michael moves his head. “And to be completely honest I’d like to see it in the day light, to know whether I’ve lost it. I’ll own I could’ve been confused by my injuries. And I coulda just fallen down where I woke up. But the noise,” He shakes his head, shrugs, and looks away. Ott searches in his breast pockets. “Wish I had a cigarette. Look Mike, as far as I’m concerned it was all a dream. You were pale as death when you found me. To be sure you were disoriented by your wounds and ran around deeper in the woods and fell down.” They get quiet and lie there in the stillness, both propped up on their elbows. Michael doesn’t bother to defend his sense of direction by mentioning the two Saguaros. Soon he falls asleep, and soon he feels the cold of the early morning between himself and the steel truckbed floor. He climbs out of the truck and leaves Ott to sleep. His knees aren’t throbbing, and he wants to take a little walk to see around the forest. The sky between the trees is clear and glows gold despite the blue and the cold air, the way it glows only on this coast. He comes through some oaks, whose glittering leaves and branches stick his skin. The steep incline stretches brightly upwards, as if the air ran at such speed up the hill that nothing but golden light could stand between the flat ground and the shoved-up, floating foliage. He hikes up the hill, and when he reaches the shoulder he looks down toward La Dársena. The harbor is empty, its water polluted. Above no houses can be seen. Michael goes a pace further and a half mile below in the next valley he finds the hospital. The street that leads up to the hospital is heavily damaged, and close to all the parking spaces are empty. Inside all the pictures are fallen off the walls and a couple of windows are broken; otherwise everything’s in shape. There’s still power on account of the hospital having its own generator. The pale, dusty fluorescent light appears even stranger to Michael, as habit would have him first expect to see the glow of incandescent lamps after not having power for this long. Michael enters the hallway and searches in the rooms for someone. In one room he meets the old man from yesterday, as he draws a fresh blanket over a still body, and it startles him. “Grandfather, are you really here?” The old man, still clothed in suit and hat, notices Michael and smiles. “Course. Everything fine with you?” “Yeah but –how can you be? And the hospital?” “The hospital’s resistant to earthquakes. But the whole staff is gone. I’ve only got to take care of a few, cause only the sickest are left. By the way,” He picks up a board from the table and reads. “In room twenty-three, one floor up, there’s a family. They’ve been trying to have a kid for three days. They came just before the quake. The wife’s ready, but the child isn’t having it. It doesn’t matter, cause they’ve probably got nowhere to go where they’d be safer. Will you do something for me?” Michael gets scared because he isn’t a nurse, but he agrees. “Good. Here,” The old man grabs a jar covered in a handkerchief from off the table and gives it to him. “Just givem this. That’s all that I can do for them, and it wasn’t easy to find what they need.”
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“What’s in it?” “It doesn’t matter kid. And you also don’t need to say anything to them, because they only speak jungle tweeting.” “Okay.” “Thanks kid. It’s because I can’t do it myself.” The oldtimer grins again to himself, nods, leaves the room and vanishes without even the sound of a footstep. Michael takes the elevator to the second floor and finds the room with the door open. Three small, very dark people stand under a pale lightbulb in the room, which is unfurnished and empty of machinery. The room looks too big because there’s also no bed. The husband stands next to his wife and holds her arm, stroking it. The wife stands upright and her long black hair lies braided on her breast. Their little son stands anxiously between them and regards his mother as she expectantly stares at nothing. The father and the son are both wearing their most modest clothes so they can get them dirty without worry. The mother wears a colorful reboso over her robe. The father notices Michael first, but wastes no time with talking. There’re traces of sadness and gratitude in his eyes. He pushes his son forward instead. The woman seems to relax a little, and she prays under her breath in some Indian language. The little child takes the jar from Michael, steps backward to his parents, takes the handkerchief off the glass, and unscrews the top. Inside is a little black, about six inch-long, nondescript fish, helplessly tilting in the water. The child picks the glass up to the height of his mouth and looks fearfully at the fish. The father speaks softly to his son and squeezes his wife’s arm. The child turns brave, sets his brow and drinks the fish down, though it barely fits in his mouth. He grimaces and swallows hard, he wants to throw up, and finally brings the fish down. Then he grasps at his belly –the fish is still swimming. The mother begins to cry, and she grows proud and beautiful, lit by her inner light, and braces herself with heavy breath against her husband. He tells her something in the strange language and seizes her in his arms from behind. Michael wakes up sweating terribly. Ott wakes up just then as well. “What? What? You alright? Did you have a nightmare?” Michael calms himself and breathes deep. “No. No, it wasn’t a nightmare. It was beautiful somehow.” He doesn’t mention the old man. The offering they made stands fast in his memory, but he doesn’t understand the old man yet. “Uh huh. Mine aren’t nice –I always hafta flap my arms or I fall right back down.” Ott slaps Michael’s arm. His elbow doesn’t throb anymore and feels the same size as the other, so he props himself up on his elbows and reaches for a water bottle. The expensive vitamin water tastes good and makes a scratching feeling behind in his dry throat. Ott opens a packet of jerky and quickly drinks a bottle empty as well. “That’s four less bottles then. I finally gotta piss. Maybe I’m not as totally dehydrated as yesterday. That’ll help with the schlepping.” “Let’s see if my knees are better.” “You should definitely eat vitamins. Couldn’t hurt.” Presently it’s not raining. They climb out of the truck and Michael tries out his knees. They’re still inflamed, but better. He stretches his legs and pulls his box and bags out of the truck. He finds the vitamins and eats three pills. They look about themselves and grin about their tourist sweaters.
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“Where to then?” “I guess we should just go up the hill. Maria’s nearby and I know a little road that runs along the deep woods, where there’s at least four houses. There’s just a ravine between them. Hill people. Someone must have a gun.” In the cabin their jackets are still hung up, and when Michael takes them off the seats they leave wet spots on the upholstery. They put the jackets on. Then the men heave the boxes up and, appreciating the lighter weight, take off. As they reach the shoulder of the hills, Michael has the sense that he’s experienced all this before, although he knows that his last trip was a dream. La Dársena can be seen below, and on the horizon one can see a boat from the coast guard coming. The citizens that have the money to be able to live away from home are fleeing, and who doesn’t have enough remains in the rubble to somehow live off of what’s of use there. They hike through the forest and still notice how good the forest still stands compared to the areas below. Maybe the trees are just older here. The hike goes slowly because they often have to stop to relax their muscles. Nevertheless, as promised they find the ravine before the sun reaches its highest stride, and across from it stand two tightly set houses. Ott sets his carton down on the ground and looks into the dim ravine. It’s not steep, but it is thickly overgrown. “Man, it’s totally poison oaked-out. Crap,” “Be patient. Look some more.” Michael finds a way through big trees, under which only ferns are growing. “There! Good, come down.” They slowly climb down the ravine and take a break at its foot, through which a tiny stream trickles. They climb up the ravine’s opposite incline up to a house’s fence. The paint is old and the shingles are only being held on by the grace of the moss. The two young men search in the windows after a trace of the owners. None show up, until Michael hears the growling of a car. “Shit, get down.” They crouch down below the house and observe the car as it arrives. It stops at the other house and a man gets out of it. A woman comes out of the house and they can hear him explain that the road far below has been damaged. Then they enter the house. After a few minutes no other car comes by, and the young men look for an entrance. There’s always a tiny, eye-level bathroom window that can’t be locked, and soon enough they find it and Ott drags himself in. Inside the house is very comfortable, consisting of a large living room, the kitchen and bathroom, and a big bedroom. Ott drops everything and drops himself onto the sofa. Michael looks hastily in the bedroom closet and discovers not a rifle but a small loaded pistol. “That’ll have to work.” Ott comes into the room taking his jacket off. “Whatcha find?” Michael shows him the pistol. “Is it loaded?” “Luckily it is.” Ott nods and returns to the sofa. Michael finds a backpack and some shirts and sweaters that more or less fit him in the closet. He also finds two waterproof jackets with which they can replace their soaked coats.
25 La Dársena – A. Cardott
“They left enough clothes behind.” Then he considers that the owners may not be gone. He decides not to tie up his knees again. They work. When he’s all newly dressed from socks to collar, free of the tourist sweatshirt, Michael goes into the living room and lies down on the second sofa. He breathes out slowly and draws a blanket, handmade by the owners, over himself. He may still feel that Maria is pulling him, and getting more upset with him with every hour that he doesn’t come, but the sofa is pulling him harder. The sun shines through a cloud in the window and heats Ott’s sofa. If the owners are really gone, they’ve cleaned up well. A pile of framed pictures lies on the television and a couple of big pieces of Indian art stand leaning against the wall under their lonely, useless nails, contributing to the silence. On the kitchen floor lays a neatly swept pile of shattered glass and porcelain, and the empty shelves can be seen in a cupboard. Out the window an old, orderly pen can be seen, the inhabitants of which are also vanished, and the ancient wooden posts of which seem able to hold in nothing bigger than an old lame sheep. There’re no cars parked in front of the house. Michael looks at the variety of patterns in the rug until he falls asleep. When he wakes up Ott is already up and busy unpacking. “How long was I asleep?” “Don’t know exactly. Half hour? Did you dream more?” “No, thank god. Just slept. What’re you eating?” “The fridge’s empty, which is too bad. But there’s running water. They must have a well. The water’s good.” Michael stands up and goes over to the bag of food, still careful not to damage his knees any further, and unrolls the packages from yesterday. The clock on the television shows one thirty. As he sits and eats dried fruit with jerky he hears the loud boom of an airplane that’s flying much too low to the ground. The sound echoes in a closer valley, then through a further one and so forth, like the beam of a flashlight. “What could that be? Red cross?” “More like a television crew. There’s ruins.” They eat and drink enough to be able to sleep long hours. Michael tries to read the paper, though he finds nothing true in the news from intact La Dársena. Instead he does the crossword puzzle; it doesn’t matter to Ott if they talk at all. Once the sun is asleep they don’t speak. Outside the window the stars shine, undimmed by the city lights, and their stories play out on the endlessly dark stage of the sky. One doesn’t learn the stories, but the circle of the play teaches that one can also learn something new from the stars’ persistence in mounting their daily show, something terribly important. In the morning a wintery wind blows over the earth now bedded down in the rain. Michael notices that he’s awake and that he feels as if he’d comfortably sunken deeper into the sofa than is possible. He feels for the first time after the quake the fuming energy and practical nerve of a common day that one gets having simply slept good. His knees are still injured, though they’re no longer like a ball and chain. He springs up off the sofa and drinks down two bottles of vitamin water. Ott wakes up just then and scratches himself. “Let’s see. Is the weather better?” As yesterday the sky is clear, however a storm is gathering over the ocean to march in with the wind. “That looks heavy.”
26 La Dársena – A. Cardott
“What?” “Another big storm’s coming. It’s coming from the water.” Ott’s face looks different to him as it animatedly speaks; the absence of the swelling and redness of exposure further adds to the disconcerting feeling of normalcy that the house is maintaining. It’s like being forced to pause and vividly relive a memory when survival depends on moving one’s feet forward. Michael counts up the water bottles. All of them fit in one box. He puts them all together, and it occurs to him that they should just leave the boxes behind. “Then let’s get on the way.” Ott’s furrowed brow betrays fear and his form falters. “To the monster?” “Yep.” Michael checks the pistol once more to be sure that it’s loaded and puts it gently in his pocket, leery that it’ll go off if he moves wrong. “This’s your chance to do something extrordnary. Drink the rest of the water and let’s go.” They empty the bottles and Ott picks out a new jacket from the closet after Michael’s recommendation. The neighbors’ car stands resting before the house and all is still in the woods. The young men climb the hillside and, though the path is steep and wild, they soon come to a cleaned-up hikers’ path that Michael knows. They come around the shoulder of the hillside, where a handsome twisted pine grows with little circles of needles on its slim members. From this angle one can plainly see the town below. “You really helped me recover, I appreciate that.” Ott spits into the bush. “No sweat.” The harbor can be seen easiest. It looks still more polluted than yesterday. A great circle of dead red seaweed floats around the longest dock. The repeated view of La Dársena from this position wearies Michael. He’s suddenly weary from the repeated climbing, and feels as if he’ll never stop with the climbing up and down and back and forth, except when he could somehow live in the woods, like Maria. His over-boiling energy is already sinking back into his all-devouring feelings. No boats sail on the ocean and the devastation stands deathly still. No cars roll through the cracked-open streets, so there’re no windows to reflect the light, and that airplane from earlier is already flown off to nowhere. As they tramp further they see falling sickle-shaped eucalyptus leaves that swim straight downward toward the ground while they turn in their way, like little fish. Yet before all strange things the hard, untouchably obscure smell of the rain rises soothingly into their noses. Soon they reach the two Saguaros. Michael keeps his eyes from the places where he slept sick and hungry and wounded, and leads into the dense forest. Like last night, he doesn’t tell Ott about the two Saguaros, but this time due to the chance that he may not want to let him know how to find the place later. For the twisted trees, and also for the distinct darkness of the foliage, things so customary to him, a confusion of feelings flames up in him. His hidden fear of the monster steps on the easy rhythm of his memorized sensations. He doesn’t ask Ott if he’s scared. “Michael, are you scared?” Why did he ask me that? “I’m not sure enough of what’s up to know if I should be scared.”
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He draws the pistol and squeezes it. The usual sounds of the woods are muted and strange, the small ground-cover plants finally softened by the early rain. As they come to the hoary hut, Michael’s fear evaporates almost unnoticeably before the empty lack of a single unusual thing. Ott leans politely toward him. “So. How big’s the monster anyway?” Michael waves him away and steps nearer to the small house. He calls Maria’s name, sees the dark trees behind the building, the long pleading arms of the firs. Rounding the whole hut, he finds no huge tentacled beast and hears no answer from Maria. Only the flourishing plants in the garden radiate to him a certain soothing, futile love, the after-scent of Maria’s presence, which contradicts the quake’s natural wrath. He sets himself down in the fresh grass in front of the hut and hangs his head in a gloom. Ott stays stiff. Michael considers, while he nervously empties the pistol, that everything could be a nightmare, that maybe Maria wanted to warn him of the collapse of the roof as she spurned him. That he really knows nothing, and that the third day after the quake should be the same as the first, a repeated and repeated fever attack. “She home?” “No.” He wishes that he were alone. “You going in?” “No.” “Don’t be pissed man, I’m just asking.” The rain smell floats over Michael’s new clothes. He doesn’t feel like he has the energy to further look for Maria, his legs are stuck as if shackled in the damp grass. Regardless, he must. Sure it would’ve been easier to leave her behind for dead, to leave her to the ghosts of Nick and Rolf. He rolls the six bullets in his hand and wonders how its hard wrinkly skin looks so old. All words are caught in his throat. “I don’t know what to do now. Where would she’ve gone?” “You haven’t looked in the windows.” Michael swallows, shakes his head and looks back. “Can you?” Michael stands up and goes to the window. He looks around the house. “No. She’s definitely not there.” He goes over to Ott and they regard the sky awhile. “Well, there’s always Christmas Hill. We could look for the source of your smoke. We gotta go somewhere.” “Yeah, let’s do that. We’ve got plenty daylight. ” Ott wags his arm and sniffs. “What?” “Nothing, nothing at all. Come on.” Michael’s knees throb a little, though less than before. They climb up Christmas Hill pretty fast and it comes to mind how many times he’s wished to climb the beautiful hill. So many times at two in the afternoon he’d looked out from the window of the fast food joint, dreaming that one day he could simply call the owners on the phone and ask for permission to spend a day hiking in the hills without being chased off the property with a rifle. Now there’s neither herd nor owner for him to disturb.
28 La Dársena – A. Cardott
They stop twice to get their breath, to see the view of the rolling –in some places crashed –hills, and to look at old rusty skeletons of farm equipment that they find in the tall weeds. When they get to the broad peak they stop at great jutting stones, and are astonished again by the position of the land. Behind the hill they can see the whole chain of hills that runs along the coast and meets the big mountains thirty five miles away. In between they see the sea of fractures and fissures, and beyond that the valley where Brighton was. “Shit.” The word drips slowly out of Ott’s mouth. “Is that for real?” What was the broadly bending beach at the foot of the hill has torn itself apart and revolved, and against the opposite, straight run, one can clearly measure its angle. Between La Dársena, which was somehow held together, and the hills that lead to Brighton, there’s nothing but completely shattered land. Under the grasses, trees and earth the bleached, sandy stone of the coast is visible in some spots, which glows freshly polished by the rain like the bloody ribs of a slaughtered animal. Uprooted trees protrude in every direction and wild flowers blow in the wind, still growing as bound and moveable parts of the earth. There’s definitely no hospital nor any settlement; it would be impossible to make a settlement amongst the fissures and clefts. The smoke with its promise of heat ascends out of the ground no longer. Likely Brighton has finally burnt up completely. Many rainy seasons will have to pass in order to rejoin and soften such a landscape. So the earthquake had to have started north of Brighton to have destroyed the entire plateau. That seems right. Ott sees nearer beneath them the corpses of many cattle that lay in nightmarish contortions. Many are missing heads and legs, many lay half-swallowed in the earth. They couldn’t escape as the quake hastily shredded the land. Buzzards dive down on them and eat the meat from their bones. “Shit, that’s that.” Michael plants himself on a leg, thinking of the empty hut and the men from the Bureau of Crisis Management. He feels a vibe of disappointment, or maybe just exhaustion, coming from Ott, and the inside of his head is beginning to groan from the everything in it. Then they must at last try again to stay in La Dársena, at least until they can get a lift out. He doesn’t want to imagine the circumstances in town; having to waste time waiting in a pen in the gymnasium, having to sit next to Ott and his loose tongue and let their experiences and hopes slide pointlessly into comparison, to fight over food and space, to always be monitored by soldiers who’re younger and dumber than he. That’d be worse than hiking toward Santa Carla, but even so, some feeling goads him once more back to La Dársena. It’s been his only refuge so far. For a moment he thinks that he shouldn’t have left home and come out here, since it’s been nothing but trouble since, but the thought doesn’t lay any roots. He doesn’t want to ask Ott to go along any further. The feeling compels him to what he knows, what concerns him, what he could lose. Perhaps it’s not about Ott at all; perhaps it’s simply about Maria. She’s still the only surely living person left to him, his island in the hardship, even if he hasn’t found her yet. As he stands facing the nightmare of reality, while combating the hallucination of normalcy settling into his senses, he can’t make out what realness may lead him to Maria, who is the only thing he would unfalteringly pursue. He replies to Ott. “Yeah, that’s that. We definitely need to find some food. Whatta you want?” The wind blows calmly and businesslike through Ott’s hair, and he looks at the wrecked coast, and he throws his arms up and down.
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“No idea. Back. Start in the flat area south of the harbor.” Always back. Out of the one danger –into where then? They climb down the great mountain silently. In the sky the dark storm is still gathering as it sails near, as if it were the ship that would carry everyone dead out of the city. “We’ll stay in the city tonight, or in a house like yesterday. That storm looks ugly.” “I know the fastest way down the hill. Let’s go.” Before long they meet a grazing deer that sees them coming near. It lifts its head, which stands on its oddly long and bent neck. Its ears turn back and forth and its eyes gaze very carefully at the two men, though its pointy mouth freely chews away. Michael studies the deer too, looking in its being for some trace of the terrible monster. The deer, like the forest, seems to be undisturbed by the quake, as if it were a connected part of nature, and hence safely moveable, never to be disintegrated by natural forces, never to have to negotiate then and now and what unknown may come. In its way it steps away into the bush. ♦ Lightning breaks out in the black clouds in the distance over the ocean. Three firemen from the coast guard meet in the middle of a still street. Some houses there lay in ruins; some are only missing roofs and chimneys. The wind heaves itself up out of the ground and runs toward the hills, as if that were its warning. “Yours?” “No one. Yours?” “Nothing either.” “A dead old woman in mine.” “Is there still a way in?” “Course, I wouldn’t a gone in without a safe way in.” “Course. Is the body covered?” “No. Skull injury –from the fall, I’d guess.” The one speaks into his radio. “Ross,” The radio murmurs quietly. “Yeah Holm.” “Nothing alive on Isla Vista way. One body in one three eight, female, sixty five, thin.” “One’s enough, Holm, all clear. Get axes from the truck on Rodriguez street and keep on in Calle Escondida. That’s just four big houses, two on either side. They’re made of wood though, and the cliffs under Bayview have fallen over them. That’s your last assignment for the day, cause there’s a storm coming. We’ve heard of the presence of some hungry dogs in those houses –don’t try to be vetternarians.” “Ten four, over and out.” The three walk around the corner toward Rodriguez street, which runs along the hillside whence downtown can be seen. “I’d sure rather dig in the downtown, that’s for sure.”
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“Why? There’s still stuff burning down there. And there’s still so much shit in every building that you can’t go through safely. Yesterday Washington reached after a corpse and had to go to the hospital with a broken leg.” “Yeah, but I wanna look for souvenirs.” “You never been to La Dársena?” “No way. I live in San Luis.” “Me neither. My wife always wanted to.” “Why not then?” “Everything’s too expensive.” “Yeah, and dusty now.” „Don’t matter.” A young lady comes in a hurry on a bicycle from the opposite side of Rodriguez street toward the men. “Hi!” “How are ya.” “How are ya. My name’s Kim Ortiz and I’ve come with the Coast Volunteer Service Club.” “I see. Can we help you?” “We’ve brought food and first aid supplies from Santa Carla.” “Really? But highway one’s out of commission.” “Really. We drove till Brighton, then we had to unload the car and ride to La Dársena on bikes. There’s thirty of us and each is carrying twenty pounds.” Holm applauds quickly and the others whistle. “Outstanding! Do yer cell phones work?” “Unfortunately no. Tell me where everything should be stored and I’ll come right back with my colleagues.” “Just ride straight in the direction that we were going, along Rodriguez, then right into Front until in front of the park. The captain of our team’s there, he’s called White and he’s friendly.” “Thanks.” “Thank you.” She rides off toward the shoulder of the nearest cliff, where a smaller street leads to an onramp. “You guys believe that? Eight miles over cracks with twenty pounds.” “Crazy.” A half hour later everything’s unloaded at the feeding operation next to the broad stage in the park. The leader of the volunteers, a twenty year old young lady, speaks with the distribution boss. “So do the people know that they can also get blankets, clothes and first aid here?” “We’ll announce that as soon as we can. A television setup is being built today so they can send out the news as fast as possible. But leave that to us –you can’t stay in La Dársena at this time. It’s because we don’t have a process for identification, and we must be able to know who’s a volunteer and who’s a resident.” “That’s too bad.” “I think it is too, but the Bureau of Crisis Management has forbidden us to add private persons to the help. Not till everyone’s been shipped off.” “You intend to send all the people in La Dársena away?” The man’s face grows dark and he drops his eyes.
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“It looks that way now. It’s because the land’s become too dangerous. The news from upstairs sound to me like we can’t save this town.” “I don’t get that. How could you be sure that in the end everyone’s gone? Do you really plan to let the city fall into ruin? The businesses on the beach and downtown are worth millions. Everyone knows that.” “I’m sorry, but I’m not at liberty to discuss that.” The young woman glares at him. “You’re lucky, mister, that I don’t have any relatives in La Dársena.” “Please bring more food when it works for you, and please don’t tell them in Santa Carla anything complicating. I thank you really for your cooperation.” The young lady turns to her group and they all climb onto their bikes on her signal. They silently ride away. The chief of distribution breathes out heavily and looks at the park about him. The volunteers ride along a long row of people as they go to the highway. The patience and orderliness of the assembly, which comprises perhaps five hundred people, has been markedly stable until now. Nonetheless the assembly grows rowdier on sight of the volunteers. A row of tables stands before the mass, occupied by staff, and between them and the mass stand soldiers. The chief calls to his lieutenant, who stands fifty feet from the tables. “Richard! Have you counted everything up?” “Just a moment,” He speaks shortly with two people and calls back. “The club brought exactly three hundred pounds with, the rest is blankets, bandages and so forth.” “What’s that all together?” “That’s five hundred to give out now and with their stuff two hundred for tomorrow.” “Thank god. Are the distribution stations ready?” “Ten four. Let’s do it.” The workers at the tables call to the soldiers, then the soldiers wave the crowd on, and it begins fluidly and quickly to break into four. After a few minutes two soldiers turn on a big screen that hangs nine feet over the right side of the tables. Shortly thereafter the scrubbed face of mayor Carl Kelly appears. “Hello La Dársena!” The sound is much too loud and upsets the crowd more. Someone turns it down. “I congratulate you all for your bravery in this terrible trial. I’m talking to you from a safe place so I can advise you as helpfully as possible. First: the Bureau of Crisis Management is here to help you. I’m asking you please to follow their instructions to the letter.” A small group of men stand in line, still dressed in their muddy work clothes. “Él es tonto. La mayoría de la gente no entiende sus palabras. Que nos quiere dar ayuda o insulto? De puta madre.” “Qué dice?” “Que obedezcamos las instrucciónes de la policía.” “A qué?” “No lo dijo, cabrón.” “Por qué hemos venido mil kilométros pa vivir en el estado de sitio, güey?” “No sé.”
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Many people stand yet with tears on their faces. They wipe them away with cloths that they grip as if they were the hands of their lost relatives and loved ones. Their moans echo in the bird-filled branches and mute the mayor’s voice. “Please come forward with your identification. You must prove that you reside in La Dársena in order to receive an aid package. We suggest that you bring a driver’s license with current address or some kind of bill from home with. Children must be accompanied by their parents. Your names will be written down so next time the process’ll go faster. Many homeless and criminals may try to take advantage of the crisis. Please report all unusual people and events that you witness, as to raise security.” A murmur flows through the crowd, and then many people suddenly break off. “Tomorrow we expect a boat full of food, first aid and toys from Santa Carla, which come as gifts to us from the gracious survivors among our neighbors.” The chief comes up to a table and asks the assistant about the crowd. “What is it? Why’re they leaving the line?” “They don’t have any proof that they live in town. They’re scared to be arrested.” “This is a catastrophe. I’m calling mister Morris right now.” “They also wanna take more than the one pound. They’re telling us that they have big families at home.” “Explain to them that it’s impossible. They have to sit under the tent we provided. Director, this is Clarke, sir.” His radio squawks. “Whatta you want Clarke?” “Sir, we’re about to have a major failure here already at the distribution. The crowd’s breaking up. They’ve got no proof of residence with, and they’re getting unruly.” “I expected that, Clarke. Don’t worry about it, everything’s gonna get fixed right now.” A Spanish-speaking worker two tables away is arguing with a family of Mexicans, whose two parents hold dishes. Their wet daughter grabs a third plastic plate with both hands and the man holds it down on the table with one of his. The child cries, her long hair stuck wet to her cheeks. “You’ve got all of it! Two dishes only. Dos platos is todos!” Finally the daughter yanks the dish free and tries to run away through her parents. “Give it back! Que me lo dés!” He climbs over the table. The child, between her parent’s knees, has begun to shovel the food off the plate into her jaws. The worker takes the dish forcefully from the father and thrusts it back onto the table, then takes the plate right from the kid and gives it to the father. The kid wails over the stolen food. Soon Witt comes over in a jeep accompanied by two soldiers. It’s one of the only small vehicles in the city that can drive amongst the wreckage. Witt gets out and comes up to the chief while the soldiers mind the truck. “What’re ya staring at?” Clark steps backward. “I expected mister Morris.” “But you know who I am, don’t you?” “Yeah –I do.” “I’m here as mister Morris’ servant.”
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With the noise overtaking Witt’s voice somewhat, he shoves the chief in annoyance to the side. “Where’s your bullhorn? Use it!” He finds the megaphone on a table, lifts it to his mouth and shouts through it. “Listen to me! Forward.” The soldiers encircle the lines and lower the barrels of their machine guns menacingly, at which the moaning of the assembly raises itself. People who obviously have no language problems can be seen creeping carefully with their packages toward the tent. Witt continues. “No one is allowed to take the food out of the park plaza! There’s garbage cans everywhere; simply throw everything into them when you’re through. I repeat, no one is allowed to take food from the park. It doesn’t matter if you want to give your part out freely, but no one is getting food from us without the necessary identification! Come to one of us if you have a question.” A man draws near to the chief and Witt with his wife. “Hey! What’s that rule for? My house burned down and we don’t have any bills left! That’s the circumstances from lots of us! How’re we sposed to get food?” Witt gives the megaphone to the chief of distribution and steps forward. “You live in La Dársena?” “Of course, you idiot! We can’t leave this shithole!” “Then get some food and fuck off!” Witt throws his scowl at Clarke, and the chief runs off to meet the couple. He strides toward the stage, where they collect and organize the food. Five workers are dragging the big packages around. Witt notices right away the vegetable cartons from the Service Club, and the many-colored blankets tied up with twine. “What’s this? Hey! Where’d you get these cartons?” The nearest worker looks the packets up and down and looks at him as if to ask what he’d done wrong. Witt’s radio screeches in his ear and he grabs it. “What?” “Sir, a group of fishermen are complaining about the dead fish. You know the harbor is covered in oil and now half the coast’s worth of fish is floating in the tides. They might start taking the fish out of the oil soon.” “Letem fall in the water then! That’ll fill their mouths up! But don’t let anyone make it to the tables with those oily fish.” He ends the conversation, during which the worker’s been trying to sneak away. “Stay there! Where’d these cartons come from?” “A club from Santa Carla brought it all this afternoon.” “No! Everything out now!” “But why?” “Clarke! Come here!” The chief steps in, worry in his eyes. “What now?” “Do I have to draw you all a fuckin picture for everything? Did you already give this shit from Santa Carla out?” “Well, no.” “Then you haven’t lost your job yet! I want all this taken out by morning!”
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“Sir, tomorrow we desperately need that food. We can only feed everyone for three days with our ration. Tell me please, what’s the difference when they get blankets and food from the bureau or from the neighbors?” “Clarke, you do know that we have to have everything checked. The blankets could be infected with influenza. The aid has to come from the bureau,” “And that’s why the red cross isn’t here? Cause they can’t prove residence and they’re not from the bureau?” “That’s exactly why, smartass! And taking first aid supplies from volunteers –did someone shit in your brains? You don’t wanna cooperate, someone else can have your job. And maybe I’ll have you and your god damn mouth left behind in La Dársena! Now get outta here!” Clarke turns and steps away, miserable. Witt talks into his radio. “Morris. Morris.” “Yep.” “Don’t let anyone else come into the city except the severely injured. Today we welcomed in some kind of volunteer club from Santa Carla,” “How’d they get here?” “I didn’t ask. But listen. They brought food and clothes and blankets, and we don’t wanna attract every bum within ten miles. We expect the survivors from Brighton tomorrow at the earliest, if there are any. We gotta do it by the numbers, Morris. We don’t have means enough to be charitable. I’ll call you later.” As he leaves the food operation a crowd of people go past him. A man stops before him and talks with a foreign accent. “Tell me, where do we sleep now when not in the–” “In the gymnasium, river street and third.” “Except the gymnasium, I said! Is there a tent or sonthing?” The group seems to be made up of two big families. “No, I can’t say exactly. Now leave me alone! I don’t have time for this! Go and look at the television.” He quickly steps away, and his foot lands on a slippery object lying in the grass. “What the,” He tries to kick the little hunk of gristle away, but it’s stuck to the ground and the toe of his shoe gets caught under it, like it was a raccoon trap. Up from under his foot wafts the stench of a dead animal. “Ick.” He wags his foot free, steps over the thing and climbs into the jeep. The mayor’s voice comes once more through the clamor. “…And that’s why I always say, prepare earlier, fail less! Cause we don’t have anything if not the quality of life that we’re used to. That’s the way to settle into peace. Now enjoy the beautiful day, and I ask you all, think about the troops in the war! And we’ll see each other tomorrow. Bye now!” ♦ The path leads the two men once more past Maria’s hut. Michael is so lost in the labyrinth of his foggy thoughts that he hasn’t managed to choose a different path. They climb down the hill until at its
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foot, where the long, dark, flat halls of firs and pines draw outward. The sublime smell of the endlessly damp and cool forest floor reminds him of fir cones that he’s so often held in his hand and crushed under his foot, while Maria complained of the common problems of their lives, and while she explained to him her newest inventions and truths and zealously enumerated to him the absurdity of his impractical intentions. Michael hikes slowly past the hut, about ninety feet away, and suddenly he becomes aware of the tiny movements there, as one notices every branch pruned from the trees of one’s hometown. Someone is home. He draws nearer through the dry gray pine branches and Ott follows him silently. The hut’s door flies open and Maria strides out, a big shotgun under her arm. “Michael!” She comes to him and grabs his forearm. Her green eyes shine like the drops sitting on the leaves as they flash between Michael and Ott. “Look.” She lifts the shotgun. After a pause she pumps it and grins distractedly to herself. “I found it in a ranger’s truck.” She strokes the shotgun with her eyes. “My killer cock.” “I’m so glad to see you again. Are you hurt?” “Not at all. I’d hid myself in the corner like a kid until the thing had run off.” Ott snorts. “The thing. So you were right, Mike.” Embarrassment and misery swim over Michael’s face, and Maria follows them across his eyes. “What is it?” He smiles. “I found a pistol so I could help you.” He pulls the pistol out of his pocket and shows it to her. Ott laughs heartily to himself with his voice’s long cadence, but Maria shoots him a heavy look and he quiets down. “Thanks Michael. I always trusted you to get help for me. Who’s this?” “Ott.” “Ott. Ott what?” Ott seems to have difficulty meeting her eye. Michael doesn’t know his full name. “I don’t actually know,” “Well just Ott.” Maria blinks at him, then makes a gesture. “Come on in. The monster’s gone in any case. We’re safe and we’re ready.” Ott remains talkative despite her coldness. “What kinda monster was it then? Mike, I had put it all down to brain damage.” “I noticed that.” Maria stops before the door and gesticulates upward with the gun. “I never saw it. But it had a long dark tentacle, covered in thousands of tiny teeth. It touched me on the arm and I stabbed it. Then it didn’t bother me anymore. Michael, did you see it better?” “No, it was really dim. It was big and dark, though, and that kind of an awful loud roar must have come from a huge animal. It did also have a tentacle.”
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They enter the hut, and clear sunlight illuminates the wooden gray-painted walls that look like they were stolen from a deceased barn. The shack is bigger inside than one would expect. Across from the bed that’s built into the wall next to the big window there stands an old porcelain sink under yet another big window, which is held up on a circle of naked earth by its rusty pipe. Across from the three is a closet that matches the walls. Along every wall benches are built and they’re covered with books and glasses and candles and the trappings of a forest woman. The single unused corner, a narrow recess created by a tall bookshelf next to the kitchen area, is full of tools, and it has a tiny pane above it yet. A small, round stove sits on some bricks and its rusty chimney climbs out through a hole in the wall. Fresh vegetables lay in a basket on the bench aside the sink; carrots, beans, potatoes. Sacks hang on the walls, presumably full of the same kind of stuff. A guitar lies on the bed. “Sit down where you want to.” Maria unrolls a thick blanket on the floor and throws two pillows from the broad windowsill down onto the floor. The sun shines through the candle glasses and the glass gnomes and animals that guard the windowsill. Maria sits down next to Michael, folding her legs expertly as she descends, and takes the guitar from the bed to her chest. “Michael, you know what drove the monster off?” “No. What?” “The aftershock.” “What aftershock?” He trades looks with Ott. “The day before yesterday evening. You guys didn’t feel it?” “No. We were hiking through the woods.” “And we had these fuckin boxes full of water with us. If the earth’d shook again, we wouldn’t have felt it.” The room grows darker by and by as the sun sinks lower behind the trees. Maria scratches her almond brown hair, then plays her fingers gently on the strings, picking the slowly-walking melody to “Cielito Lindo.” “Ott, you have anyone in town you want to look for?” “Yeah, I sorta have this girlfriend Heather. She worked in the organic store. If she’s still alive I’d like to join up with her again.” “Where you from?” “From town.” “Me too.” “Really?” He smiles, though he stays distant from them. “So, did the monster leave a mark on your arm?” Maria strays a little from the melody, then takes it back up. She collects herself and tries to answer the question calmly and patiently. “No, it didn’t bite me.” She nods toward the door. Over it hangs the traces of a broken frame. Around it a dried fluid is sprayed all over, the flecks of which can also be seen on the walls. Ott seems to realize what it is, bending over his stomach and going quiet. The glitter of a fern in the clearing distracts Michael until the stillness brings him back into the room.
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“So, after a break, do we wanna look in the city for Heather?” Ott throws his long hair back and sniffs once more. “Heather? I’m sure she’s gone with the ship. Unless she’s dead. I’d rather be with her, then in the other town we could deal with everything.” Michael thinks about Ott’s words from two days ago. All rebellion. Now he’s complaining that he misses his girlfriend. He slices the air with a flying hand. “Why didn’t you go then?” Ott looks down again. “I wanted to help you.” “Then quit bitching.” Ott picks himself up and goes to the door. “I gotta piss really quick. Is there a special spot?” Maria laughs. Maybe for herself, Michael thinks, maybe at us. “No, just behind the house so we don’t have to look at yer dick.” “Alright then.” Michael reaches right over and embraces Maria. She lets the guitar go and hugs him back warmly. Only after a few restful minutes in the hut has Michael begun to feel the true measure of pain in his limbs. His weight sinks down between himself and her, then he breathes deep and speaks. “I’m not crazy.” “No, Michael. Did Ott say that to you?” He draws back again. “No, just –god damn it, that blood is horrible –I was hurt by a landslide in the quake. I got really sick. Now I’m better. Your house is beautiful, your garden.” “The monster was there, you weren’t that sick. Otherwise why’d I lifted that ridiculous gun? I’m not giving up my house, Michael. We mustn’t be alone anymore. We can’t. You can absolutely stay with me. Ott can too, since he came with you.” She takes another small, lazy pause. Her calm is especially deep to someone used to the energy in town. Nonetheless her eyes betray an unrest, the temptation to flee from her only sanctuary, the knowledge that her flight is itself her own sanctuary. “Though he annoys me.” “Me too.” She smiles and plays on. “Where you know him from?” “From in town. He was a coworker of Nick’s. I took him with –well, out of humanity, but also cause I know him.” The shine in her eyes consoles him. They’re the same color as the ferns. “You don’t have to explain anything. Where’re you hurt?” “Worst on my legs.” “Lemme look.” He takes up his pants. The down-swelled skin displays the wounds more clearly. Fine, smooth, amber colored scabs have grown over the cuts and flow stretching over his knees like small glowing streams. Cautiously she raises her hands and runs just her very fingertips alongside them, not even pressing. “They’re healed up good. Did you really go up and down the hill twice, and with a box of food?”
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“Yeah.” She leans back, looking at him, and plays. Ott comes back into the house as she sings softly to him and her fingers play on the strings. “Ay ay, ay ay, canta y no llores.” The rain falls slowly outside the window now, as flecked with stars and smooth as Maria’s hair. She notices the rain and shortly lays the guitar down. She picks herself up and looks in the corner beside the sink, then goes over and gets out a bundle of wood. “On account of the monster I haven’t gathered much wood.” She throws the bundle in front of the stove and returns to the sink. Ott crawls over to the stove and starts breaking the wood up. Outside the sky turns itself over, and suddenly everything gets shady. “It’s getting dark way quick.” Michael looks out the window. The clouds aren’t just coming from the west like this morning, but from over the bare mountains as well. “It’s sure gonna be a hell of a cold, wet night.” Maria lifts up a knife and throws it through a fat potato, releasing its clean earthy smell. “You guys hungry yet? I’m starving to death.” “I could eat.” “Me too.” “Ott, you’re there already, you mind the fire. I’m making a plain stew.” Ott finds a lighter and a can of newspapers beside the stove. Michael leans forward. “You don’t want me to do something?” Maria turns to him with a grin. “No, no, Michael. I don’t need any help in the kitchen.” He leans back again. “Okay.” “You can dig around the house though. The ditch is overgrown, and in case it really pisses down brutally I don’t want the house to float away. Put on my coat.” “Alright.” He grins and stands up, puts the coat on and goes out the door, his arm outstretched and feeling for a shovel. Ott looks about the house and nods. “Your house is totally well-built to have survived the quake. Did you build it yourself?” “Yeah, with my ex-boyfriend. He wanted to live in the woods too, never have a job and so on. But the money seduced him away from me. He got the chance to go trim grass up north. The ground’s made of old brick; the wooden walls begin here.” She shows up to her knee. “It doesn’t shake so hard up here in the mountains.” “So you let him buzz off?” “Of course. He didn’t break my heart. It’s just now everything is a little more difficult. But Michael wants to experience this kind of a path too. So he helps me a lot to maintain everything. He’s not built for city life, like me. I grow my own fruits and vegetables and trade the rest with the neighbors. Otherwise my friends bring necessities. I almost don’t need anything from town.” The flames reach their bright colors from the stove out toward the walls. “No one chases you off the land?”
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“I know the owners. They’re old hippies too. As long as I could share food with them and could keep other people out of the woods it was fine with them.” “You think they escaped?” “Yeah, if they’re not dead. Anyway they haven’t come around since the quake.” “Maybe they saw the monster and ran away.” “That’s not funny.” She sets the knife down beside the sliced potatoes and brings him a log as long as her arm. “For that you get the log.” She swings it at his nose once and lets it fall into his arms. Then Ott shoves it into the stove. “Is the pot big? The mouth of the stove is narrow.” “It’s just that much.” She shows him the three inch-tall pot. “That’ll work. When the wood burns down it’ll fit in there.” “Exactly.” Shortly Michael comes back in and flings the raincoat on the floor. “Now we couldn’t lack anything but crocodiles.” Soon the flames rush in the fat-bellied stove and the stew bubbles and whistles over the eveningred coals, its handle hung out its mouth like a hard tongue. After Maria has taken the pot out of the stove, she mixes spices into it that smell of earth, moss and smoke. The meal flows by calmly. Rather than linger in the trouble inside them, they press themselves to excited conversation. They vent their fear from the past days out of themselves, so long as only other people can in that time perceive the circular running of the fear and envy in human distance. Something occurs to Maria, and she looks in the sacks hung on the wall until she takes from one of them a bottle of wine with no label on it. “I’d totally forgotten that Sky brought me this wine. It was shined way up in the forest on Trout Creek road.” Ott holds the bottle for a moment regarding it, before he passes it to Michael. “Cool. I knew a guy in school whose parents made wine. During summer vacation I’d stomp the grapes with them. I was the only kid come September that wore sandals to show off his blue feet.” Maria opens the bottle, they pass it round and everyone draws a sip from it. “Where was that?” “In Green Valley. Old Conejo road.” “It’s pretty there.” “Totally. Years after we drank that wine at work when I worked at the golf course.” “Oh, so you know David Slegel?” “Course, we worked together in the bar at the golf course. Us and Carly Kayley too.” “It’s a small coast. David and I were raised in the same street. He lives in Oregon now, huh?” “Who knows. But I don’t doubt it. Mike, do you know David Slegel? Was he a friend of Nick’s?” “No. I don’t know anyhow.” Satisfied, Maria returns to Ott. “Do you have siblings?” “No. You?” “No. I was my parent’s first successful birth. After that they quit, they always said they’d have a calamity next time, the way it goes.”
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“Were you home when the quake started?” “Of course. Nothing was shattered, luckily. I expected a wall to collapse, but everything’s stayed good. Michael, where were you?” “I was on a hike with Nick and Rolf. After I woke up they were gone.” “I see.” She gets a little more serious on his account. “And they were vanished after the quake?” “Yeah.” “You shouldn’t worry anyway. They could be in La Dársena or already like that out of town. Same thing with Heather.” “Yeah, she could,” “We’ve seen boats sailing into the harbor. Probably the coast guard’s taking everyone out of the city,” Ott interrupts Michael’s interruption. “These assholes met up with us who claimed to be from the Federal Bureau of Crisis Management. Mike found me on a bridge. He helped me get off it.” “Would you’ve stayed there otherwise?” “No, but I was scared to break my legs.” Maria lets that go. “What did the assholes want?” “They wanted to identify us –whether we were rich and wanted our moms. They had some list of the richest families in the city.” Maria shakes her head and bows forward. “They’re always the bloodhounds of the rich.” Otherwise the earthquake, the Bureau of Crisis Management and Michael’s companions barely get discussed, though Maria knew both of them. To Michael, they’ve got tremors enough in their bodies without hexing them further with words. He considers while Ott and Maria gossip: if one had no fear except for the loss of his or her own life, then one would first be unable to distinguish a relationship or a responsibility among other people and beings as corruptible by oneself, because one can’t really ever certainly communicate with or even express oneself to others with words – words cursed, loaded, human, disguised as consolation –so one wouldn’t have a doubt about how others would interpret their actions as made by a numb animal, and thus one would be, among people who’re aware of such an interpretation and just as well unable, blameless and prepared to get the same from other people. However, a person who would set their intentions in such an order is generally not in the kind of space to receive the same from others, as one would like, but rather to recognize the same, to flee from it and repel it, even if it were only the loud echoing of one’s own self. Such an echo is, after all, the plants’ mode of expression. Nevertheless Michael looks Maria in the still, river-deep eye. The manifold loyalties, shared emotions, dreams and moments that ring inside him like real instances of fusion and communication strike up and close about him like the pleading arms of the trees, and the flames in the stove and the scent of the food soften him and force him down from his distant height. Then he’s there again, in the clearing of empty huts, monsters and hours hopelessly waited out. Then the fear and the envy must keep him caught where he is. He must harbor them in his breast and in the arcs of his movements, because they connect him and Maria and are true and shared. If he would
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rid himself of that burden, Maria would no longer recognize him, he’d be full of gaps, and the exchanges between them would turn into curses. That absence of fear would be a betrayal. Besides that, he can’t be fearless like she seems to be, and that angers him. Perhaps he could be that way, but how? “Michael,” He finds himself staring at the floor, and finds her and Ott staring at him. “Let it go. You’re awfully far away.” He smiles slyly to himself, more stirred by her voice than up to talking, and blinks away the moisture behind his eyes. “It’s all good.” “Are you afraid?” Michael hesitates. “No. I don’t wanna be afraid anymore. I’m tired.” Maria grins at him. “That’s daring.” Michael leaves his spoon lying in the dish and feels the rarest sensation afforded the world as it now is: the odd warmth beneath the navel that’s only felt through relishing the food and digesting calmly and without distraction. Ott stirs the spinach leaves and potatoes in his bowl with his spoon, catches a big bite of spinach and basil, slurps it down and licks the spoon as he pulls it from his chops. “When’d you move to La Dársena, Mike?” “Four years ago.” “And you’re from Gilroy, right?” “Yeah. I left school and came to La Dársena to work for the resorts. I worked through one summer, then I learned that the city sleeps in the winter and I couldn’t get any work until the next summer, then the casino hotel was closed down where the boss had promised me work. Luckily I’d met Maria and Nick in a house where I used to sleep a lot and they helped me find a room and some small work.” “I don’t unnerstand. Why didn’t you just go home?” Michael’s eye meets hers and she shrugs while she passes round lit up candles and takes the guitar back up. “Cause I couldn’t. There wasn’t anything for me left at home. I came to La Dársena to earn money so I could help my sister. My folks’re gone to Arizona and she’d got pregnant. I was poor and couldn’t stay in the city college. As long as I would send her money, she said, she’d keep the money for me and we’d rent an apartment in Brighton come autumn. September came along and my job was through with me. I called her up and asked, when are we gonna look for an apartment. She’d used my money to get an abortion. I was jobless for six months! Since then I haven’t talked to her.” Ott begins to spit out one of his long-intoned laughs as Michael’s staring sight falls upon him and he suppresses it, such that his reaction sounds like a cough choked in the sharp angle of the throat. “You think she’s okay after the abortion?” “I dunno.” Michael, with the candle before his chest, its light illuminating the oldest scars and hollows of his face, looks pathetic and sad to Ott. “Or to your parents?” Michael takes a small drink from the bottle. “I got even less to say to them.”
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“At least you had Maria then, who stood by you through that misery.” “Yeah. She was as angry as me.” “Though I’ve since cooled off. They both were dumb and they should make up again. At least they’ve gotta each voice their complaints to each other in front of each other, then they can have it past them.” While they talk she looks at Michael. “That doesn’t seem supportive of Michael.” “I’m only a woman, Ott.” Her words repulse him, so powerful and practiced, like the muscle of an old hatred, just like that of the one that Michael and Maria draw between them. He must hold his hands up in front of himself. “That’s not what I meant.” The rain presses down on the roof, balled up and forced through the trees by the wind. “And it was a long time ago. We’re not jealous little kids anymore.” “That’s also occurred to me once or twice, Ott.” Michael lets him digest that for a spell. “So you can see why I wanted to get to Maria.” Ott regards the two intertwined branches and bites his lip, then he relaxes. “I understand, man.” Michael thinks, he doesn’t understand. He’d like to understand, so he doesn’t take himself for being trapped by hostile sibling fanatics, and he’d be sensible for that –but he can’t without siblings of his own. Michael knows regardless that he shouldn’t hold anything so harshly against Ott. He’s in a really special house, where the home-made family energy is in control. “That’s why I say to you again, you should make contact with your folks tomorrow. Or with someone in your family. There’s nothing for you in town. Like you said, this’s a new opportunity to do something out of the ordinary. You could go to Santa Carla and start there. You could do something that interests you.” Ott shakes his head slowly. “Everything in Santa Carla’s still business as usual. Nothing new’s done in ordinary surroundings. I thought about that we could set up in La Dársena, like in Berkeley, and make our own little town in the ruins. But I think the Crisis Management’s gonna ship everyone out and just close the city off.” Maria touches Michael’s hand furtively so he doesn’t contradict him without thinking. “What then?” “I don’t know. Maybe hike in the woods until I get to Santa Carla. I don’t wanna mix with Crisis Management.” “Are you afraid of them?” Her voice is soft, yet he rejoins hastily. “You’re not?” “No, Ott. I’m not, because there’s nothing I need that they can keep from me.” Michael doesn’t want to let him go despite everything, but he does try to imbue his words, born out of anger, with reason. “Man, either punk settlement building or leaving everything for the woods, there’s a lot between those two choices.” Just then his dream of the old man and the family blooms powerful and clear in his mind. “You’re gonna have to dedicate yourself to someone.”
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The wind howls terribly. “Uh huh. That’s what you’re doin with her?” Maria plays on in the stillness, this time an unidentifiable folk melody. Behind the flat black trees sheet lightning breaks out, as if it were the peering head of a giant. The ancient thunder, in the voice of which there’s no earthquake roar, sounds peaceful and good to Michael. The argument lets itself go, showing Michael his own lack of more to say. Ott lets it go, too. “I mean, doesn’t matter to me. Tomorrow we can start new; maybe I’ll go along the beach. There must be private sailors, fishermen, who take people away in their boats.” Maria responds to Michael. “Yeah, and maybe Nick and Rolf are in the city too. You’re not gonna stop worrying about them, huh?” “I don’t know.” She looks him up and down again and raises her eyebrows. “You’ve got new clothes.” Michael laughs. She would notice, because he has so few worn-out clothes and never dresses in such bright colors. “Yep. I got new stuff out of this house where we slept yesterday.” She laughs too now, and picks out a bright scale. Ott silently gives him the wine bottle and he picks it up to his mouth, then looks down into it. “It’s about gone. Here Maria, drink the rest.” “Take it for yourself.” Her comforting, flushed smile spreads out beneath her cheeks. “Could well be the last bottle of your life.” Two of the three candles abruptly burn out; only the one next to Michael still glows. “Well let’s go to sleep. Ott, cheer up and say your prayers.” “Don’t you have any candles left?” “Sure, but I don’t feel like staying up anymore.” She climbs up onto the bed and throws two thick horse blankets down from the foot. Michael passes one to Ott. “Don’t I get to sleep in the bed?” “Nah, then I’d have to let Ott do it, too.” Michael packs himself into the blanket and lays his head on the floor and tries to ignore the drumming rain. Not that his body will raise any protest against sleep. After a while Maria’s voice creeps over his shoulder. “Is it really bad in town?” “Yeah. I think it’s getting a lot worse.” The morning light blinks blue, conquered and feeble into the window. The gray walls of the hut clothe themselves in the same gloomy blue and nothing stands up sturdily, but bends patiently under the rain. The firs and pines outside have themselves become rain, their bark gone black as earth and dripping like the rain, as if to show the world and its inhabitants the fluid unity of all earthly things, especially of the stones and of their proudest, most impermanent creation, the dry floating earth. In the distance intones a murky noise, like the tumbling of great trees into water. The dampened din wakes Michael. He notices that Maria’s awake above, and right thereafter follows the high pitched snapping
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and crashing of colliding, falling branches. In the night they’ve learned to ignore the rain and only upon the return to consciousness do they notice how loud and heavy the rain has become. “Maria, you hear that?” “Yeah.” Upon her yeah the crashing roars louder, and then everything grows strangely still beneath the rain, as if the crashing noise had deafened the whole forest’s eavesdropping ears. “What is that?” “Trees are probly falling down the hill. Look.” She nods her head and Michael turns over. A high standing wave stands still on the ground a half yard away from them, like a tidal wave on vacation. He gets up and pulls the blanket up to himself. “Are you wet?” “No.” She opens the door and views the clearing. Its floor is flooded with a full four inches of water, which flows fearlessly over the ditch and the short rise of the hut. “I gotta dig. We can’t stay like this.” She pulls on her raincoat and Michael comes with out of the house. Only then do they perceive how green the air has become. In the rushing rain she digs deeper along the ditch. Michael grabs the mud with his hands and throws it about the little house to chase the water away, and to give it a new destination. Ott appears in the door frame with a broom and sweeps the water out of the house. There he suddenly pitches against the frame and blanches. Michael sees him pulling himself up. “Ott, what is it?” Ott pulls his jacket over his head and lurches before the shack. “An aftershock’s starting!” Then the earth roars with the terrible quake-monster voice and the water jumps quickly on the grasses. Michael, Maria and Ott look among each other as their clothes get wetter and wetter. Under Maria’s foot the water blooms pink. Small bubbles rise up from under the water and pop in the air, as if an underground tunnel had been broken open. Small cracks open up in the mud and suck some of the water under, exchanging it for more wisps of pink. “What’s happening?” She moves toward the house and grips Michael’s shoulder. From some hair-fine cracks blooms deep red blood. The piercing scream howls once more out of the ground. Michael steps around the house looking for something. He’d rather see a monster before it sees him. The blood smells exactly like the guts that supposedly bloomed out of the ground. Then he hears the soft moaning of a familiar voice. In front of the western window over the kitchen he steps past a face that lies buried in the mud, whose nose is about to sink under the water. Its eyes stare straight upward to the sky, reflecting the hazel clouds. It’s Rolf’s slim face. “Rolf!” Michael digs, scratches the clay under his fingernails, and lifts out the soaked earth. Under Rolf’s face is the same face again, all on the same rough skin. Michael steps back toward his friends as the long snake lifts itself out of the mire, coil upon coil. On its back dozens of Rolf’s faces are moaning. “Maria, get the guns!”
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Before he’s come around the corner, Maria’s rushing out of the house with the pistol and the shotgun. “Ott! Hide!” Maria and Michael step together before the house, their weapons ready, as it occurs to Michael that the pistol is empty. He grasps around in his jacket for the bullets. After a mile-deep voyage his shaking hand draws the six bullets out, now slimed with mud and alkali, and they fall as if from magnetism into the chambers. Ott grabs the shovel off the grass and jumps into the muck behind an old rotten log, the last trace of an old tree trunk, that’s about as big as he. Maria screams after him. “That log was never there before! Ott! What is that?” The trunk slithers out of the mire until it’s freed the end of its tail. Then the tail rolls up to Ott, closes around him and rolls him over squeezing against the ground. Maria hazards a shot, but Michael grabs the shotgun’s barrel and she stops. “No! Don’t shoot him!” “Michael, it’s…” Ott swings the shovel at the beast, but his elbow and shoulder are caught uselessly between his chest and the monster. The monster’s nasty, eyeless head floats about the edge of the roof and opens its huge jaws, which could swallow two of its own bodies. In the green dimness behind curtains of rain it remains yet obscure and indiscernible. Its coils wring Ott’s helpless body once more, blood sputters from his mouth, and then the monster lets the body fall to the floor with a dampened splash like a soaked rag. Michael and Maria fire upon the monster, but, though big chunks of meat are shot out of it, the thing doesn’t defend itself. Michael’s bullets run out first and Maria empties the shotgun shortly thereafter. The monster’s neck directly under the head is almost blown away, but it holds the dead head up yet and roars with the same tone of the earthquake. It moves along the walls, encircles the hut and slithers toward the two youths, who step back through deep puddles. Ott’s blood blackens the soaked ground about his body, and the monster seems through its movements to somehow lust for the body. The dead head hangs down over the bloody water and the snake body behind it rolls through the wet grass; blood races out of its wounds down over the skin. On its back stands no more of Rolf’s faces, but a more common snakeskin pattern. Michael takes a short stick from the ground and steps before the monster. He doesn’t know whether decapitating it would bring it to a halt, but he has to do something for Maria. He wants it to lift him up so he can ram the stick into its throat. “Michael, no!” But the great serpent does nothing but slip around the hut again and tail-first into the hole in the earth. At the end the terrible head sticks fast in the dirt, twitches and shudders, then it too vanishes, and the monster is gone. Michael and Maria stand frozen in the pouring rain, and Ott’s corpse lies in the water, and nothing can be heard in the clouded blue but the rain’s patiently chattering patter. Part Three A chain of ships floats through the green rain over the crashing, spraying waves toward the old harbor of La Dársena, the single dock of which is getting surrounded by a little sea of dead fish and
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oil: a worn-out fishing boat, a coast guard ship and a combat ship, upon which flies the armed forces’ standard. In the night well near the entire cliff over the harbor has plunged down, and the long iron piles of the steps that lead to the park are showing in their sandstone vaults, and long masses of sandstone crumble and shear themselves off of the cliff and diffuse in the air. Small congregations of people saunter in the alleys about the park, passing the time in tears and in anger. They’ve got to clean up the gymnasium in some manner and care for the injured, thus many people must wait out the hard, apparently unremitting rain under trees and on the covered stage. The largest congregation is composed of Mexicans and Salvadorans who pray softly and still under umbrellas, clothed in black and in overcoats despite the heat. The long voices of the Mexicans and the tightly woven syllables of the Salvadorans drift through each other like the ocean’s tides and breaking waves, and over them little clouds of moaning cross back and forth. The ruins seem to be supported by the black rows of bent people, with everyone stuck on the walls under every eave and overhang. Beyond the closure of the gymnasium, after this morning’s aftershock, people prefer to just stay out. Around the park and next to the harbor office soldiers and workers are standing around; some smoke, chat, leaf through old magazines and vainly listen to their radios. Since most workers from the Federal Bureau of Crisis Management can’t speak Spanish, foggy fences of silence have woven themselves between the groups. A seemingly single look shoots through the crowd, whereby everyone knows that the ships have arrived. Director Morris risks a slow walk down the steps and tests his radio until he hears something. The combat boat floats a mile away yet. “Can you hear me?” The speaker squawks and a voice comes out. “This is ship bee-zero-zero-forty-nine to director Morris.” “Ten four.” “Requesting immediate landing, we’ve arrived right on time to deliver a soldier.” “A soldier? Is that your secret mission?” “You got it. It’s the coffin of a dead soldier. Haven’t you received any announcement?” “No, I think that’s pretty clear. We’ve received no messages except from the satellite phone.” “No matter. The appointment was confirmed in September. He fell in Iraq and his family’s already paid for everything. We must immediately,” The voice gets cut up. “Copy that?” “We must immediately land and immediately shove off again. The cemetery should be prepared.” “The cemetery? There’s no one here but immigrants and my staff.” Morris touches the wooden planks of the dock with his foot. Below roll oily lazy waves. “Well come on then. I’ll deal with the coffin.” The ship overtakes the others and lands speedily but with precision at the dock. The lieutenant strides up to the edge and Morris salutes, his hand catching in the wiry hair that hangs out under his raincoat. The lieutenant doesn’t respond but regards the burnt edge of the dock and passes Morris a clipboard. “Lines fifteen and twenty two.” Morris takes the clipboard and bends vainly over it and signs the two places in the green rain, which drops down off his hood onto the paper. He gives the board back and the lieutenant instantly
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disappears. Six soldiers in dress uniform come out to the edge carrying the coffin on their shoulders. They halt and wait for Morris to secure them a gangplank. “You three come down to me.” The soldiers hesitate. “Yeah, chop chop! Come down.” They lay the coffin down on the ground and three men jump down onto the dock, then the other three slide the heavy box down to them against the deck and climb down. “Good. Now you have to bring it up the stairs. I’ll handle the rest.” Carefully the coffin is brought up to the park. The soldiers almost let it tip over into the water as the flag slips off its lid and two men grasp for it as the last corner flutters over the railing. As the soldiers stand before the park, putting on their white gloves and little caps, the coffin at their feet, Morris waves them away with a hasty gesture. “Thankee very much. Now –I needa have the other boats land. Say hi to your captain for me and tell him everything’s in order.” One soldier coughs and replies. “Sir, we still have to grab the rifles.” “What for?” “We intended to fire the salute, as is every soldier’s due.” “No, regrettably there’s no time for that. You gotta leave.” “Sir,” A heavy hurt and humility steal over Morris’ face. “Look. After a month you’re going to have to explain what you did today in La Dársena, and why you didn’t report anything to your captain. Please don’t force me to let you see more.” The soldiers whisper to each other and march back down the steps. Morris unravels the flag and draws its corners over the coffin lid. Then he peers up and before him stands the crowd. In the cloudy wet air they look like a black army of corpses, bent foot soldiers and in between them the umbrellacarrying ones for knights. All of them wear that uniquely miserable, tormented face. “It’s a coffin. No food.” The people stare at him, at the coffin, and behind him at the ships. “Nothing useful here! Please make me some room.” He turns to the ocean, then to the still crowd. “I need four worthy men to haul this coffin to the harbor office!” He knows that he doesn’t have enough distribution staff available to give the new aid package out in an orderly fashion. The people of the soaked mass know well that one of the ships comes bearing food. In the night the park was regularly assailed by hungry people, as well as in the early morning when the rain strengthened itself. No one’s received any package, no evening meal nor whole pair of shoes. Instead they get a plastic bag full of what the staff could reach. The food’s run out, though people are certainly acquiring food through looting, especially amongst the some five thousand people who are supposed to live in this town that he hasn’t even seen yet. Meanwhile Witt’s riding around in the only car that has gas in it, and everyone’s scared of him. The employees and firemen have been reporting distressing things about Witt to him, yet he hasn’t time in the present moment to investigate those claims. He continually hears from the fire crews that the town is so full of dead that some blocks stink like rotting flesh. He gets reports that most buildings are too
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damaged to allow safe extraction let alone to pile the bodies up somewhere –and now the army wants to lay another body on him. A couple of mortified men step forward and lift the coffin. Morris gesticulates toward the office, to be found kitty corner from them, and the men steadily carry it off. It occurs to Morris that the crowd won’t break up until the ships are past. He heads back down the dangerously trembling steps and turns his radio back on. The ships must have connected to each other, for a voice screeches out of the device immediately. “Issa to harbor, please respond.” “Copy?” “Fishing vessel Clarissa to harbor.” “Ten four. Whatta ya want?” “Cargo of gifts for the city of La Dársena. Requesting landing.” “Granted. Hurry up.” The old ship floats slowly into the harbor and anchors at the thrashed main dock. Compared to the trim combat vessel, it looks like an unseaworthy wreck. The old fisherman steps out, leaps hardily over the railing and shakes Morris’ hand, which stretches strongly out despite the sadness of his face. A small rain shower falls before his eyes from off his broad hat. “Harvieux.” “Morris, Federal Bureau of Crisis Management.” They have to shout over the noise of the rain. “It breaks my heart to see so many dead fish.” “Unfortunately the harbor’s been burned.” “I caught that. The harbor’s also set wrong. Has the whole town turned east?” Morris furrows his brow. “I –I don’t understand.” “The harbor’s laid more than ninety degrees to the east than it was on my last visit.” “No idea. I’m not from the coast.” “Help me unload the cases. It’s damn heavy food.” He leads the director to the stern, where the dock’s boards stand about as high as the deck, climbs carefully back up and drags two boxes stacked on top of each other to the edge. “Two for me, two for you.” The load is made up of six equally sized vegetable cartons from farm cities with names like Salinas, Gonzalez, Chualar. Inside there’d be enough pounds to serve a meager meal. The hauling up the steps is difficult and both men, a strong but aged man and a bureaucrat, have to recover at the top. After the second trip everything’s stuck under a tree in the park, where the rain’ll drive less than everything to rot. “I thank you very much, mister Harvieux. Sadly I must wish you a quick, safe trip back. You can’t stay in the harbor cause it’s too dangerous.” “Sure. I’d like to stay.” “I bet.” “You got any messages for the people in Santa Carla?” Morris almost lets his facial expression slip, then he swallows and smiles. “No, just that the people are very resilient and that we’re gonna get through this.”
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The ship sails off clasped between the two reflecting bodies of water; the slapping waves and the sunless sky of thunder clouds, deeper than any imaginable sea, close over and under the ship like the earth around a deep-dwelling snake. Morris orders Witt to drive the jeep to the harbor office –from their headquarters in the hotel La Posada –and bring the cases to the gymnasium. The useless television screen stands under a tent, dark and silent, its shiny former usefulness so far behind it as that of the fishing scow. Soon the jeep comes roaring into the park plaza. Witt dismounts and has his two body guards set the cartons into the car. “Morris, you’re all wet.” Witt passes him the megaphone and he switches it on. “Listen please. Lead the people to the gym to receive a little gift from Santa Carla.” Up to this point he’s not had to use the soldiers in order to keep the movements and actions of the people in line; just to influence them. The soldiers peel themselves off the walls and encircle the biggest lot, then constrict its circumference while forcing the annoyed people, who don’t need them, into the street. For all that, few from the crowd outside and no survivors from Brighton show up in the gymnasium. It’s as if only those present had heard Morris, and then the message just died out. Many must remain in the low areas across the beach from the harbor, where wide blocks abound with immigrants and poor workers –who daily maintain the thriving works of the city in every hotel, public space, restaurant and lunch counter –where the squat houses resemble old Spanish adobes that flow in and out of each other, and where one has neglected to plant trees in the sidewalks. Workers set the boxes down behind tables and prepare themselves to let everything go as fast as possible. Morris obtains a message from the donors. He clears his throat and notices that a terrible soft and steady coughing and sniffling is fluttering through the gymnasium. The long basso coughs roll together like the waves of the ocean, and they’re struck and broken by the sharp sniffles that spring shrill and straight over the waves like the spray and starlight of some crashing pacific waves. Over the slouching groups stand great pictures of lively athletes painted on the walls, and further up stretch the gymnasium’s sturdy roof arches, well-built and impervious to earthquakes. Since the second day after the quake, the cold has been developing in the flats. The people who don’t have any shelter from the rain have carried the cold from house to house, from dish and bowl to towel and blanket. Out of today’s latest aftershock a damp, green heat has come in with the rain, and the cold’s developing further in the dense air. An assistant who’s responsible for directing the badly injured and the sick to escape boats and doctors strides through the groups and stops at a gray-haired woman and her grown son. The old lady lies on a cot and the son kneels on a rug brought from home. “Can you explain the illness to me?” “She have a bad sore on her shin.” “Does it hurt?” “Cómo?” “Te duele ahorita?” “Sí, es que,” “Yeah, it hurts.” “How was she hurt?” “Cómo te pasó?”
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“Por favor dame agua.” The son strokes his mustache and gives her a plastic water bottle, from which she takes a short drink. “Es que estaba limpiando en el hotel y se me cayó la fregona. Y cuando me quise cobrarlo, me caí y me golpeé la espinilla con la rueda de la cubeta.” “She fall on the metal wheel of the bucket in sweeping. She worked in the hotel.” The worker writes on his clipboard. The old lady takes up her faded pant leg and shows him the sore. It’s sunk well down there and has turned purple and black, its fleshy red glow turned to a dry, easy hardness. “She was working in the hotel when the quake started?” “No –no, it makes two months that she has it.” The staff member looks up once and his eye meets the son’s. “Not injured in the quake?” “No.” The worker scribbles something once more on his board and weaves the pen back into his breast pocket. “Please excuse me a moment.” He turns, strides off and doesn’t come back. Just as Morris wants to present the letter, a group of men break into the gymnasium with some urgency, along with the odor of fried animal flesh, and he throws his hands over his head. They’re bearing poles, upon each of which two or three barbecued animals are impaled. “Fresh meat!” Morris rushes over to them. “Whatta you all want with that shit?” The leader of the hunt steps forward and tips his wet cap to him. “We got dog meat to sell.” “For what? That stinks, it’s disgusting! I’ve already got a health code violation here!” “Yesee, we saw it on the learning channel. It’s really important: after humans go extinct the Chihuahuas are gonna spread like rats! Cause they can feed on the same food as the rats and they’re a threat to surviving humans. So we gotta killem, but it’s no problem cause we need food too. They’re all cooked through and the money’s going toward our trip to Santa Carla.” About the neck of one small one, whose huge terrible eye sockets stare black into the blue, hangs a softened gold collar that says “Prizewinning Pooky -832 461 2286.” The one beneath it is actually not a Chihuahua. “Unbelievable. You may absolutely not sell these monstrosities here or givem out! Now get outta here and don’t let me catch you soliciting that!” He slaps his sweaty brow with a handkerchief. More people have come in and the gymnasium is almost as full as in the night. “Please listen. We’ve received a donation from Santa Carla. Please quiet down.” The crowd quiets down slowly. “We’ve received a donation from Santa Carla and they want me to read a letter to you.” He grabs his glasses from his breast pocket and hangs them on his nose. The words sound as if they were composed by the same speech writer as the ones written for mayor Carl Kelly, who vanished without a moment’s notice.
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“Dear survivors and neighbors. We wanted to send you a little present so that you don’t have to suffer so much in this time of strife. We’re safe in Santa Carla and we hope you’ll come safely and soon. The most well-off of us wish you the comfort of God’s love, and hope that you all search for God and find him. So we’ve sent you a way to learn how to talk to God. In this way you can leave the hunger and pain in your body behind and bathe in the warm rays of his love. Only when you recognize Jesus as your lord and savior will you be absolved from pain. Soon we’ll all be together again.” The workers open the boxes and do a double take. Morris reads on. “We wish you a beautiful day. God be with you.” The boxes are packed with copies of paperbacks that one can get for next to nothing in any church: How to Find God, Living Water, God Wants You to Be Rich, and so forth. Six whole boxes. Some people step forward, look at the boxes, whether one can read the title or not, and turn away disheartened and disgusted. One could imagine how someone who only speaks Spanish would be annoyed by such a course of events. And who practically understood Morris’ words would have to wonder: does the gringo mean for us to feed ourselves on those books? Instead of barbecued dogs yet? “You don’t want the books?” The noise of conversation cooks up again and those who can’t stand the heat go sniffling back out. They’ve also got their sinuses full of the revolting stink of the fried dogs, for which the soft moaning of the children and elders cooks up a few degrees higher. Morris wipes his brow once more, his face wound up in a grimace. He goes toward the door, fleeing from the heat and the stench and the sick people. Outside the strange green rain is still pouring down, and before the sound reaches Morris’ ear, he sees dark and wet shoving and slipping in the corner of his eye. He turns to the right and goes toward the group in which men are fighting. Four or five men, all wet and swearing, shove each other around and grasp at a dog kebab that lies on the floor in the water. Morris isn’t up to jumping into the fight, so he calls to them through the megaphone from a distance of eight paces. “Hey there! Hey! Quit! In the name of the Federal Bureau of Crisis Management, desist!” He meets eyes with some soldiers, though each remains at ease. The men give no heed and fight on. Coins fall on the ground with their unmistakable ring as some wallet or another is ripped from a pocket and splits open, and the men, fighters and onlookers, all take a step back. “Shit!” “Gettem!” “Outta the way, asshole!” Morris watches as the men bend down and make a little forest of limbs as they snatch after the coins. The dog kebab stays on the ground. Morris smiles to himself, dazzled by the steam on his glasses. But then comes the flash of a blade swiftly shoved into the forest of limbs. The stabbed man falls quietly to the ground, onto the coins yet, and blood rushes out over the ground. Morris blanches. The megaphone flies up to his mouth and he shouts. “Forward! Suppress them!” Three soldiers stride around the men and fire upon them. The hollow sucking of compressed gas strikes the walls and the wet street and six of the eight or nine men collapse. Large rubber balls bounce out of the group and flee like rats. The barbecued dogs crackle under the men, ribs and flesh thrashed
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apart by their weight. The soldiers lift the men off the ground and fling them together until all of them are kneeling before the barrel of a rifle. “Find the rest of them and bringem here. Carroll! Send Knox and his troops after them.” Up to this point he’s not had to use the soldiers in order to keep the people in the cage that the bureau has designed for them. His orders are, of course, not to let them become aware of its existence, but he’s still got to do his duty by the design. The frenzied attempts to furnish food –which developed after the failure of his own procedure –the attacks in the street, the much too great number of those remaining behind in the wreckage of this most remote tourist town: all of this worsens the crisis, and he must manage the crisis and end it. Therefore, the parties involved in a certain event are by extension also infected with the crisis; when an individual incites a chain of troubles amongst his or her fellowship, it brings those concerned into the same disorder that the individual has. Moreover, all the people and circumstances in the city, in which there’s no measurable order to be found, are part of the great disorder. Such is the way it’s quietly gone in Morris’ reports since the beginning, hidden in the data, but now it comes comprehensibly out to him: his inaccuracies, and also Witt’s, are the results of their trying to deal with the disorder in a certain orderly way. The disorder has won because it mustn’t obey a standard, and if he wants finally to come out winner, he must simply erase the entire disorder. Otherwise the data will corrupt his reports and keep them unresolved, the people will depend on the miserable disorder, and the city of La Dársena will remain a disaster area forever. Such an unfinished job on Morris’ file would be intolerable for his career, and the consequences, the loss of money and prestige –he couldn’t bear it. He doesn’t consider that so many of the people remaining live daily in this style, always looking for leftovers, at least for free or for the cheapest food, always waiting for two or three owners before new clothes become available. He’s never had to live that way, nor has such a lifestyle ever concerned anything in his line of work. The sucking and smacking of the guns boom yet in the distant streets, followed by the screaming and fighting of several people. Presently his radio chirps. “Yeah.” “Sir, this is Knox. Sixty three people’ve been caught altogether with the dog meat, either selling or eating it –actually, fighting over it, too. All’ve been suppressed.” “Great. Put them in the harbor office and lock the door.” “Copy that? You want us to have the harbor office guarded?” “No, that’ll not be necessary. Just lock it, over and out.” Soon a long line of people marches burdened and wounded to the harbor bureau. It’s not a big building; at most ten or twelve people may stay comfortably in the front room for a meeting or something like that. The office’ll also heat up quickly in today’s heat. Morris already knew that, because the harbor office was the first building that he and Witt discovered upon landing, and the first to be considered for service as a headquarters. However, Morris is still not yet completely gone into a panic. The third ship is coming on now, which should be bearing the last official load of food from the Bureau of Crisis Management. The last before either plan A is carried out, in which all the people –the people who could be counted –get taken out of the city in any case, or … or another crisis of a different kind develops, for which there isn’t yet a plan B, nor any measure by which one would know whether it’s a further crisis or simply a permutation of the first.
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To his horror the radio squawks once more, and he juggles the coiled wire until he grasps the mouthpiece. “Yeah.” “Captain Schultz of ship double-ay-one-seven-nine-three to director Morris, please respond.” Morris lets him land the ship sparing argument, so it’ll seem to him that Morris is busy with ordinary things. “This is Morris. You may land immediately.” “Sweet, but the question is, may we hang it on that dock?” “Whatta ya mean?” “We’ve seen through the telescope that the dock’s on its last legs.” “Perhaps. Either way I’m asking you to land. We need that food, and I see as well in my notes that you all have a brig and barracks enough on board to fit a hunnerd and ten people altogether. I’m glad we could borrow a real war ship instead of the little swamp boat.” “That’s true, but we’ve got no orders concerning that. And it also depends on if we can carry out such an activity on that dock.” “Please, at least take the seriously injured.” “Shit,” The channel grows inappropriately silent. “Very well, come immediately to the dock and bring the injured.” Morris waits until the channel is open and speaks again. “Witt.” “What Morris?” “You know the situation with the stabbing victim?” “Victim’s alive. Stab wound in the kidney.” “Great. Go to the gymnasium and have the soldiers and workers bring all the injured and old to the dock.” “Already on it, out.” The war ship stops at the dock. One first has to figure out how at all to carry the injured down the steps. Slowly in pairs the sailors, workers and volunteers carry the injured to the ship; it takes a half hour until all are safely beneath the deck. A worker must sweep water off the steps so no one slips and falls down them. Morris talks with a good lot of people who don’t understand why those people can leave, before they realize that those people are the injured. Out of this, their gossiping and arguing fills the park plaza with more visible guessing games than Morris would like to answer. He reflects on how many people on that boat will likely be detained by immigration and customs control. The cliff is still crumbling off and rushing down by and by into the murky, rain-flooded harbor water. The rain falls just as hard and soaks everything through. Schultz comes up with some forms and has Morris sign everything. “Now the food’s coming up. Please sign for the cargo. I’m taking the injured on your word that no high jinks comes up on board or in Santa Carla. This is the coast guard’s transport mission with full support from the navy, but this operation is your job. Don’t let any of your shit get sprayed on us or I’ll throw you in the brig myself.” “I solemnly promise you.” “You know that this is the last delivery that we have planned for you,” Schultz exhales and frowns with annoyance.
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“And still you haven’t sent your bureau any report declaring the true and correct population, let alone how much food you have to secure from other sources. I could’ve used that information, but I can’t demand it of you.” Morris is annoyed at getting a lecture about discipline and organization from a sailor, but he hides his anger. “I take responsibility for everything, Captain, don’t worry about a thing. And I thank you very much for your cooperation.” He begins to throw a salute. “Don’t try that.” He drops his hand to the side in embarrassment without trying to cover it with another gesture. Schultz leaves and steps carefully down to the ship. He gesticulates over his shoulder and the wet sailors carry large paper cartons up the steps, again in pairs. Morris climbs the stairs backward in order not to get himself trampled by the line. He orders the guard at the harbor bureau to get out the coffin and have it brought to the stairs. Then he speaks again into his radio. “Captain Schultz, I’ve got something else for you.” Shortly Schultz responds. “What now mister Morris?” “Perchance we’ve received this coffin. It was supposed to be buried, but now there’s no one here to bury it, and, honestly, no one left to visit it. So I’m asking you for another favor.” Schultz cuts him off. “Morris, there is no way I’m taking a coffin to Santa Carla. We’ve got no paperwork for that, no orders –and I myself am not into it. That’s your problem, Morris. He was a soldier, he died, and he’s got to be buried at home. This one time I’ll act like you hadn’t suggested no kind of thing. Over and out.” Two saddened sailors pass him by. “Take a coffin with?” “He’s off the deep end.” Morris’ radio intones. “What?” “Sir, we hafta open the door to,” “You have your orders!” “We have to open the door to get the coffin out.” “Then take,” He sees the soldiers, the guard and another, open the door, and a group of men floods out as if they were waiting on a spring. He drops the radio and shouts. “Don’t lettem out!” He draws his pistol and draws near them with it aimed at the men. “Stay in there! Go back in!” Two more soldiers appear and enter the office. The men go back in, though the prisoners’ shouting doesn’t stop. Then the first two go in, pick up the coffin and drag it out. “Lock the door back up. You two carry the coffin to the ship.” When they’ve got it halfway down the steps they meet the sailors with the food boxes. “Hey! We’re still bringing something up.”
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The steps screech and bow a little; beneath them great sheaves of sandstone shear themselves from the columns and the whole structure bows again. “Everybody off!” The sailors and a few workers flee to the dock and the soldiers to the cliff. The coffin slides down the steps, then everything hangs together for a moment as the slipping objects fall at the same speed as the step structure. Then everything falls quickly off the steps –many cartons, and the heavy coffin – into the water. There’s barely a splash amongst the rain and its huge thirst for earthly things. It only swallows everything heartily under. But no one alive has fallen in. “God damn it! That’s it! Everyone fall back! Now –Schultz. Schultz!” The radio lends no answer. “Schultz! What kind of ship is the last one? When do we expect it?” Not a word hisses forth from the radio. If he wants to know all that, he has to use the satellite telephone. He’d have to speak personally with the bureau, report something verbally, unless he sends them the telegraphic Morse code of three short letters. Then the bureau would assume that everything has failed in the wake of a further eruption, and by which the bureau will only send a little helicopter to pick up Witt, Morris and surviving help. He thinks that, the way it’s going with this weather, and with their handling of the situation, this trip will come out that way in the end. No one can stay any longer in the rain, and the workers are carrying the remaining cartons toward the gymnasium. Morris feels the air’s heat on his skin and the wet’s coldness in his bones. He regards the harbor again for a moment. There’s the splintered steps and their crooked iron columns that almost struck the ship, the half sunken flag, the stars and stripes on which have turned green and obscure in the water, and the fleeing ship that sails off with his hopes of ever leaving La Dársena unburdened and with his reputation intact. He turns to the plaza and shuffles numbly toward the hotel La Posada. Some wet people step up to him as he goes. “Hey! How much food did they bring? When are you opening the distribution?“ “Go away.” No one risks grabbing at him. “Is that books too? Why do you want to torture us? For god’s sake, when’s a rescue ship coming?” “Can’t say yet.” “What’re we gonna eat then?” Around him stand the great stone buildings of the early days, which to him represent no longer strong walls against the earthquake, but rather a fortress against the desperate mob. Behind them he sees the ruins, rows of deserted cars captured during the start of the quake, and wishes that the ruins would just swallow everyone up like the water did so easily. “Witt, open the door, I’m home.” A key falls on his head. He picks it up and opens the lock, shoves the door open and goes in. In the room on the second floor Witt slouches on his bed and eats cold something or other out of a can. On the shelf stand two fat liquor bottles, one empty, one on the way. Morris takes his shoes off, tears coat and shirt off, and shakes his thin hair out. “Okay?” Morris sets himself down on his bed across from Witt and lays his head in his hot swollen hands, rubbing up and down.
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“You witness all that?” “What?” “Witt, Witt, be serious.” He lifts his head back up, stares into the glare and speaks agitatedly. “Did you witness all that?” Witt sets the can down and sucks happily on his stubby teeth. “Let’s see. Stab wound due to lack of food, no report composed or reported to the office.” “After that yet.” “Captain Schultz came with last aid package, eight boxes delivered, twelve dropped in the drink. Meanwhile a coffin also fell in the water. Remains of Ernesto Eddie Galvan, born in La Dársena, diploma from Harbor High two thousand six, deployed to Iraq two thousand eight, killed in a fire fight in the summer. Remains too wasted to hold a funeral. Further?” Morris stays frozen. “Cliffs over the harbor significantly damaged by the weather. Extreme unusual heat, humidity and rain for this area, unpredictable change. Hence the steps from the park to the main dock below collapsed, dock almost completely destroyed. No report made to the bureau.” “And what’s that mean?” “Additional ships must float at the beach a mile from downtown while rescue teams row to the beach in small boats. Boats and crew yet to be procured. Two streets cross Beach street: Pine Park street has broken off the incline between Trout Gulch way and Sand Hill, Plateau street was damaged hard in a landslide this morning.” Morris waits the words out, then repeats. “So what’s that all mean?” “Well,” He makes some calculation to himself, and Morris interrupts. “Captain Schultz asked about the population numbers. Mexicans sprout up out the ground here. What could I’ve said to him? That we haven’t counted, so no report?” “That’d be the truth. Before all I’d have the pen put up –about five hundred will fit in there –and sit out the rest of the time until the army gets us a couple damn boats. It’s easier to keepem in a cage than chase them around. What? You asked.” “I know good and well that the fence holds five hundred, but –should we do that? What if someone’s taken a photo of it and sends it to the media? And with this cold?” “I haven’t experienced any cold.” “Then pray to god that it just goes away.” “Otherwise what?” “Witt, it don’t matter if someone tells all to the media. The situation is hopelessly fucked up. If I had it my way we’d just send the help signal. Because of the weather, Witt! We can do it.” “Morris, why of all times do you just now have problems with commitment?” Morris’ head turns suddenly to him and his voice shoots flat and loud out of his neck. “You gonna clean this up then? The same way you made it this far?” “You coward.” “I don’t mean you fucked everything up. I mean,”
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“Shut up. You know it Morris, we have to finish it. I already got the choppers ready and waiting for me. Even if the whole city turns against us we don’t have to even come out the hotel. Now let’s wait for the rain to quit, then we’ll keep on.” Under the bed Witt’s radio shrieks. He grabs at it, the hand holding the can shooting high up over his head. “What now?” “Director, the sewer pipes downtown and in the hill across from the plaza have broken open.” “How bad is it?” “The rain’s strewing shit all over.” Witt scratches his forehead with a finger and then presses the speech button again. “Wait a minute. Out.” He grins. “Well then. Maybe we won’t need a big fence after this.” “And the food, by the way? How’re we gonna distribute it?” “Simple. We’ll sell it.” The long cracks that cross the landscape beneath the city have been filling with rain to the point that the water exercises its own pressure on the chunks of earth and the buried pipes. First from underground on Kaukau street, “the world’s longest tanning booth,” comes the filthy slime with its particular smell. Soon a waterfall flows over the harbor into the contaminated sea, and below in the flats a lake gathers up under the landings of the houses. The rain makes it impossible to clearly see the quality of the water, even when it hasn’t yet fallen out of the air onto the ground. As the smell ascends, everyone begins to flee in terror from the water. ♦ Maria und Michael stand under her umbrella, she in her galoshes now and he barefoot, worrying about two holes in the ground. The one won’t fill. More and more mud slips for the rain into its deepest snake tunnel, where one could lay a sewer pipe, and the more sand and grass and mud is thrown in the hole, the more its hunger grows. Michael could have therefore had to throw little mud in, and perhaps it’d laid there smeared over the monster’s entrance. The other similarly won’t be dug. Ott’s repeatedly-checked body lies next to the hole, blood dried on his face despite the rain. The more Michael’s dug, the more the mud has flowed back in, so Ott could only rest in a flat sink. “We’re never gonna get anywhere with this.” In both of their eyes stand tears and confusion, and Michael’s upper lip twitches before the repulsive pressure of death on his body. That Ott was killed by a nightmarish monster, that he’s become the only clear proof of the nightmarish thing’s existence that Michael has witnessed, and that he left behind a sharply real corpse, as if he were strangled by a smoky nightmare itself, and that that monster left behind such a frustrating puzzle in the ground –it’s too repulsive to Michael, and he feels as if he were slipping out into an abyss without senses. Only the shovel holds him upright and on the ground. “Then stop.” He looks at her under the flood of rain. “What then?”
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She takes the shovel from him and lets it fall beside Ott’s body. The scratching feeling of the shovel as it’s pulled from his hand surprises him and excites his nerves. “Let’s go in the house.” Shortly thereafter they’re sitting on the bed, their coats and umbrella laying nearby on the bench, and drying themselves with towels. To Michael, Maria looks so weak, so exhausted, as she pats her shoulders and presses her fingers deep between her eyes and nose, that tears break out again in him. “We left the shotgun outside. If someone saw it and Ott there,” “You’re really worrying about that?” He leans back, strays from her gaze. Strange feelings fill his insides. Could she be mad at me because I tried to bury Ott? How could I avoid working against what she wants when we’re both scared shitless? What’s she mean? He ties his feet up with dry shreds of cotton from a pillow case and waves his shoes over the flooded floor to wring a few more drops out of them. Maria looks over her things, counting and checking. Then she looks in another way at the walls, the floor, the benches, as if she’s already resolved never to see all this again. “We don’t have enough food, not in the house or in the yard, to sit out this storm.” She sniffs and bows a moment, then collects a few bags to herself. Michael looks out the window. Her pride scares him –in any case this weaker side of her pride scares him, through which she shines so resolutely, though the weaker side is the obligatory other side of the pride coin, like that of all coins that people trade. “Michael, I’m beginning to think that we could be bringing all this on ourselves.” “What do you mean?” “I don’t wanna go into town. That doesn’t solve anything. A natural disaster is bad enough … but when people interfere in it, it definitely gets bigger; I mean, the healing takes longer and loses its ability.” She’s spoken somewhat to herself, but now she turns her eye back to Michael. “I get the feeling that if we stay in the forest, something even worse’ll happen to us. Because I’m living in the woods, so I can learn to understand something else, without having to carry every other dumb asshole’s problems on my back –is that a reason for nature to put my life in danger? Did I kill a snake once and now nature wants to get back at me? Or aren’t I smart, strong enough, to be able to live out here? Michael, I feel so weak. It’s as if the things we’re saying,” Her words make so many terrible notions crop up inside Michael. He doesn’t want to let on what she’s implying. Regardless he knows he has to say something consoling to her. He doesn’t think clearly enough to be able to say that she’s comparing apples to oranges, that she, just like he, is trying to figure out the entire riddle of the time since the earthquake with one explanation. “Maria, no. No, it’s not like that. Look, you’ve always been the one of us that always has insisted how we’re not separate from nature. Have you told me a thousand times in a thousand ways, how we don’t get anywhere if not through our connection to nature, just to abandon it now?” “Michael, I know that, but you don’t have a monster in your yard, or a dead body!” He considers that perhaps his and her mentalities have grown too far apart. He sees himself as a survivor; perhaps she sees herself yet as a working part of the catastrophe. Despite that distance, he’s never wanted to share his share of the proof of her theory with her, but he must. “You could be right. Rolf’s face was on the snake’s back. Otherwise I’da not started digging. I don’t know what it means, if he’s dead, or, like you said,”
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Suddenly the men from the Bureau of Crisis Management spring up in his memory. “But then every person could be an attack from nature.” The words fall out before he can cover his mouth. He blanches at the thought and his dark eyes grow deep as they glide over Maria’s face, as if his eyes wanted to dump the burden of the idea out into hers, but were unable to do so. No, that’s impossible.” He realizes that he hasn’t asked her if she also saw Rolf’s face. But it doesn’t matter. He embraces her and goes quiet. She shudders a little in the wet, but the little tremor feels bigger in her strong arms, which are much stronger than his. “Regardless of everything we’ve got to go Michael. It doesn’t make any sense to starve. We’re coming back no doubt, and we’ll live here and we’ll keep learning. It’s only rain. The crisis management can’t control everything at once. We’ll see. And we’ll stop pissing our fear out on nature. Are your ready to do that with me?” Her green eyes shine full of resolve and wisdom, radiant yet still, with or without a smile, like herself. “Just quit being scared?” “Yeah.” He awkwardly bends out of her arms, more out of the humor and tension of sleepiness than out of fear. “I dunno.” “Michael!” She stands up. “Then I’ll go without you.” “I didn’t mean that! Maria,” Now he realizes whence his first absurd questions came from. It’s the same impossibility of communication, and it makes sense that a person experiences it only first in a great natural disaster: when one remains out of contact with others, one either moves toward compassion or away from it. Michael has of course come to Maria to get consolation from her compassion, but he hasn’t brought any for her. He thinks of how, in his dream, he supposedly had learned so much from the old man’s assignment that he also had liked to teach Ott something from it. But without the compassion that communicates itself in the act, nothing else can be given. An act like that had brought the old man past him the first time and also at the hospital, and for the same he’d got help from the old bums, without which he’d never reached Maria. He’s got no proper vessel, so to speak, with which to let himself be filled by her compassion, nor the simplest connection to her, through which their two mentalities could meet. It wasn’t, therefore, his first offering, as he stepped before the monster. He gives himself credit that his first offering was his will to come back with help and weapons, like the dream child’s will to swallow the fish. In that there was definitely a trace of compassion for her; he mustn’t deny that. Although his offering before the monster didn’t succeed, the earlier one still counts, and that’s also a bridge between their intentions. If only it could be related with certainty. Regardless, such excuses come down to the same thing: he shouldn’t have led Ott astray to his death just to accomplish his own goal. Ott had other reasons to help him besides saving Maria. He remembers how Ott didn’t believe him with regard to the monster.
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Hence Michael feels furthermore that his unfriendliness to Ott was due to the same breadth between intentions. Whether Maria were alive or not he wanted single-mindedly to come to her, and now he’s brought Ott on the trip and thrown him and his life before the deadly nightmare. Neither Ott nor Maria shared his needs. All of this makes him feel very guilty, hunted, and finally alone. “I’m sorry.” “Michael, I’m not gonna do that –don’t you know me at all?” He nods and remains sitting until she’ll clearly tell him what exactly she wants to do with her decision, and hopes that she doesn’t take him for a coward –that he, as yesterday, doesn’t have to explain anything to her. That feeling that he had on Christmas Hill becomes elucidated now, and is like a bridge between the decisions of the past and of the present –they must go to La Dársena on this bridge, together this time, where compassion and people’s other coins may offer a good deal. “I’m just doubting that I can rely on you, with how you’re dealing with this. Last night you said I don’t wanna be afraid anymore. You take everything for something else, and Michael, that’s fine, but don’t be surprised when I don’t keep up. And it’s the same for me from where I’m standing … I can’t do this without you.” “I’m here, though.” “That’s what I mean. Come on, get up.” “What’ll we do when we get there?” “I just wanna see it. You probably thought the same thing, Michael. No one has to see us.” He looks at her, seeing in her reflection behind his eyes all the things between them, things from before that they can’t have right now, and rolls his eyes slightly from side to side to balance the tears standing precariously in them. “I won’t ever leave you.” At his words she lets her strong face down and grabs his head, holding it to hers, which is deceptively hot and moist. He stands and they go under her umbrella out into the pouring green rain and heat. A few more trees groan and cry in the distance, and Ott’s body has sunk slightly deeper into the mud, his eyes staring with their unsatisfied smirk at nothing. They carry him up to a slight rise to the west of the hut, an errand that manages to cover Michael’s new dry foot bindings with wet mud. They dig deep under a tree root where the ground has naturally sunk away from the looping pine roots to make a basin. It’s almost too difficult for Michael to bury a human body in the ground, shoving the elbows and knees and hips about in order to fit the human form into a tree-shaped hole, as he’s never had to handle anything but a living, cooperative person. But after so many unreal trials he tries to imagine that it’s something common, like dressing an unwilling child. Still he gets the feeling that he’s somehow doing poor Ott wrongly. “You have coyotes up here?” “Not really. Mostly deer. They won’t come near it.” “Are you sure you don’t mind having a dead body buried up here next to your house?” “I didn’t kill him.” Michael’s misery holds so strong to his face that, when the smile breaks out over it, the grimace makes his muscles ache as it reluctantly leaves, and he laughs. “Okay.”
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The discomfort of being in the hot rain also keeps Michael from his revulsion at the job, and beyond that his nerves are too shot after fighting the monster to be bothered by anything else. “Are you done? Get rid of the shovel.” “Yeah.” He puts the shovel at his side so she can stop arching over him with the umbrella outstretched in her hand. They set off toward the slope, empty handed as if on a hike, through the flat stand of their many trips home. At the shoulder of the hill in front of the two Saguaros there’s already a good river of mud pouring down the hill, a misplaced copy of the little creek that Michael and his companions were hiking up when this mess started. Mud flows down through the thick woods, splitting up into smaller rivulets around trees and bushes. One could suppose that it’d be unrecognizable by the time it got to the bottom, an attenuated wave of flood waters. It doesn’t, however, take the same path that the two are hiking, but makes its own as the weakest soil gives way, and thus they gradually move away from it. A quarter mile down the hill they begin to see the results of the crashing noises from this morning. Firs and tall, thin pines lay slanted against each other like a stack of books that hasn’t fully fallen over, some pitched toward the incline, some ready to fall in a tangle down the hill. Even the ones leaning against the hill would probably lose their footing and fall the same as the others, only with the opposite end first. In the devastation one notices, as in all disturbed forests, the lack of other animals. Not even a daring deer paces silently through the crushed boughs and crooked trunks that form a labyrinth as far as they can see. Deep beneath the high treetops it’s so dark that every turn, though they need a turn in order to get out of the destroyed trees, becomes unfamiliar and risky. If the water washes this slender path away, it’ll be difficult to get back to Maria’s hut on account of the second-growth woods’ being so choked with bushes and poison oak. With healthy knees Michael remembers how quickly one can get up and down this hill. It’s not really far from town. He recalls how Maria first showed him the site on a hike after his bicycle was stolen from outside of the hotel where he worked, when the grassy ground was occupied only by her tent. He doesn’t bother to distract her with his reminiscences; it’s enough to feel as if their tiny collection of working brains, like two matches in the darkness, offers more shelter than one. He supposes it was like that with Ott too. “You hear the water?” Michael listens. They reach a hump of dirt, beyond which the ground has given way and the mudslide is flowing aggressively down toward town, likely mixed with the recently awoken tributaries that feed the creeks only during the short rainy season. There’s no way to cross without getting wet, and the mud doesn’t advise of its own depth. Maria looks up and down the current and points. “There. We should try that tree.” A fallen tree covered in sharp points where its limbs broke off stretches over the water three yards up the hill, invisible from where they came due to the trees and small boulders. They clamber up the boulder toward the little bridge. Michael jumps out from under the umbrella and tests the trunk with his foot. It rolls a little on its own inertia, but the other end stays still. “At least it isn’t rotten.” They summarily cross the bridge and a lot more can be seen from the other bank. A washed out wall of sandstone with a yard-thick web of shining black redwood roots for a roof opens up to the view of La Dársena lying under the green mist. The patterns of shattered glass and twisted metal don’t gleam in this weather like they did for Michael, but their exhibition of smashed condominiums, and
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the naked ribs of the church tower, show Maria the strength of the quake. As always the tall, thin palm trees stand indomitably straight, having had some exercise in the quake. At its low angle the sun illuminates the roofs of the lined-up cars on highway one, and below the plateau the beach stretches calmly out to the south, where the sea, oblivious to the turmoil on the land, lays ready to swallow whatever may fall into it. This is at about the same elevation as the apple tree. They continue after Maria looks, asking no questions, and soon the smell of death begins to ooze up from the ground. “Michael, what the hell’s that?” Trails of intestines, round and flowing with some liquid, wrapped in tiny, lively red capillaries, stand half buried in the ground beneath the grass, leading out and downward like the innumerable creeks and feeders in the mountains, displaying their footprint on the flat slope. A deer notices them just as Maria does, puts its nose down warily, and then quickly runs off. Michael grabs her elbow. “Come on, let’s go.” They trot down the hill trying to dodge the intestines, the courses of which seem to push them toward the mud flows. It’s so unreal and disgusting to Michael that he creeps back behind his senses and simply tries to get through, as if leaping hurdles on a track. Under their feet the cracks from the first quake are now hidden under water and Michael’s ankle sinks down into one, bloody bubbles rushing up over his shoe. “Shit!” He pulls his leg up and lands in a run with the other leg down, sparing his ankle and knee. “Are you alright?” “Yeah, I didn’t get hurt, let’s go.” Soon they stand on the last eminence above the path that goes to the park plaza. They move slowly, looking about themselves for more guts, and keep behind bushes to avoid being seen from below. “I can’t believe my house didn’t fall down. This was all done by the first time you came?” “Yeah.” “Who’re those people?” She points to the wet mass of people, who’ve gone back to praying and wiling the time away. Their wailing is too distant to be heard in the rain, but some have their faces to the sky and are clearly crying. “I don’t know. When I was here the place was deserted except these two bums in the Daylight market.” “What two bums? You didn’t mention them last night. Neither did Ott.” “He didn’t meet them. But they really helped me though, the day after the quake.” “They helped you with your knees?” “No, they just gave me beer and beef jerky.” “What was that on the ground? Did you see that the day after too?” Michael’s still thinking of how he didn’t mention the hobos. They’d have been upset at him if they found out. He also experiences the small guilt of withholding information or interest, as when asked by a drifter for change, a tactic that everyone uses when not wanting to give of oneself, when demonstrating such knowledge or interest may cause the other person to ask for something. He feels that Maria may have caught him at it, and there’s no reason she couldn’t. “Yeah. I thought it was just a dead animal.” “But this time it was everywhere. I wonder if it’s,”
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“I don’t know.” Maria lets it go with a deep breath. “I’d sure rather have that coming and going at my house than a fucking giant snake that kills my guests.” “Shh. Someone’ll hear.” They creep down to the corner and stand behind the building, next to the fence where Michael and Ott had avoided arrest. “I don’t see anyone. Let’s go.” They turn the corner and rush as slowly as they can into the market. “You think there’s food in here?” “This is where I met the drunks. Me and Ott almost got arrested for looting here by the guys from the government.” “Oh good.” “I hope those two guys are okay.” “The guys from the government?” “No, the two bums.” “What’s your plan?” “Come back here.” He takes her behind the big refrigerator, a space which is almost black as night in the absence of fluorescent lighting. There are still a few cases of beer and some orange juice against the back door and plenty cartons of trucker snacks. “I guess they don’t wanna loot this place with all the feds around.” Maria takes a big pull from a jug of orange juice. “Well let’s get filled up, we might not be able to eat until who knows when.” The orange juice tastes like furniture polish, but it’s still edible. They drink the gallon down and eat everything in sight. Then the door slams shut. Michael and Maria hit the ground silently and stare at each other. Michael thinks of how he’d shut the door when they came in. Light footsteps make a tearing noise as they part from the sticky floor. There is the crash of a loud blow against metal, accompanied by the little bell in the cash register. The footfalls come toward them. Maria has already relaxed and nods at Michael with a dirty look on her face. The tall pale man, his face hidden in the black hood and collars of the raincoat, stops with a jump and stares frozen with his little blue eyes down at them. No one speaks, and the man keeps on, stepping carefully between Michael and Maria and out the door with the plastic cash tray clutched to his gut. Michael and Maria decide to leave the same way as the man did, Michael silently scolding himself for not trying the back door last time, and they take a few quarts of beer apiece with, still chewing. They cross a retaining wall behind the row of shops and climb up a narrow, steep street carved across the hill, stopping at the point where the street plunges into the graded, sunken downtown. Along the street stand small, expensive stone- and deep stucco-faced houses with their windows shaken out. They’re supposed to be a fairytale type lodging that make the inmates feel like they’re in the Mediterranean. The house before them is particularly narrow, with a tall narrow door and pointed arches over every structural piece, overlooking the plaza from over the three story-high roof of the hotel La Posada. “Hey, why don’t we stay awhile in this house? If no one’s home.”
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Michael grins and peers into the window. “Hello?” The long living room is silent. “Yeah, let’s go in.” They climb into the window and gather chairs near it; Michael goes searching the other rooms. Maria regards the soldiers and the crowds of bent people as she collapses her umbrella and sets it down on the floor. There’s a tension in everyone’s movements, but she couldn’t say what for. Michael comes back into the living room with dry coats and towels and sits down on the other side of the little window, handing Maria her share of the clothes as he crosses behind her. “Oh, lucky us for dry clothes. Yuck, other people smell so bad.” She takes off her jacket and sweater and pulls on the coat, shivering slightly. Michael puts his on and takes off his dripping muddy makeshift socks. “If we get out of here alive I’m gonna break down and buy new shoes.” “Me too.” They sip their beer and watch the rain fall. It could be that they’re not out in it anymore, but it seems that the rain has let up a little; it’s quieter in the flat surfaces of the town than out in the million branches of the woods. Maria wiggles her nose and frowns. “Does it smell bad to you?” “The clothes?” “No, I mean the air. It smells like shit. And the heat makes it more pungent.” “Could be a sewage leak.” “Wouldn’t that be great. Rivers of shit in the yuppie boutiques. Too bad it’s all insured.” She watches the rain fall and seems to be trying to decipher the situation. “What I don’t understand is, why aren’t there monsters and the ground growing skin here in the city? How come that’s only in the woods? No wonder you thought you were crazy, Michael. Since we’ve survived and are here in my normal little hometown, it’s like –it’s like none of that happened.” “I know what you mean.” He draws a gulp from his beer and she pushes her short hair back from her brow. “I miss my house. I hope I don’t have to replace the floor.” “We’ll go back soon enough –soon as you’ve seen enough.” “It’s just –no one obviously wants to talk or come in contact with each other. I don’t know how this crisis administration is handling it. Are they evacuating?” “I saw a boat from up on the hill but I don’t have any idea how often they’re coming. Are you worried about your parents at all?” “No. They probably left on the first boat out. Probably ordered a private yacht with their cell phone or whatever.” She turns to him. “Maybe we should go where they’re evacuating to and try to help people. We don’t have anything else to do.” “I don’t know, Maria. The one guy from the feds looked like he wanted to kill us. I’m serious! He looked at us like he was gonna lock us up when we said we didn’t have any ID.” “Any ID?” “We chucked our licenses so they’d let us go without asking any questions.”
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“I guess that was a good idea. Mine’s still holding my place in Judy’s copy of ‘No Logo.’ I don’t even get carded for beer anymore. Not like I really drink.” “Did you ever get carded?” She smiles at him with a squint. “No.” She watches two soldiers grab onto a tall metal rack with a television hanging on it and drag it out of view behind a tree. An arrow-shaped cloud of birds flies in an elegant curve out of the park toward the ocean. “I wish we could see the harbor from here. I don’t see any masts poking up in the air though.” “We saw fire coming from there the second day. They could’ve exploded.” “Or someone blewem up. It’s a deep harbor, I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to bring a Norwegian cruise ship in here to take everyone away.” “I don’t even think that’s legal.” “Well huh, I guess I’m wrong, retard … it’s good you grew up with a sister, Michael. You’re sweet.” Suddenly the rain quits. Over the sea the sky becomes pale with thick, empty clouds. “I’ll be damned. It stopped!” Some high pitched shouts and yelps can be heard in the plaza. They peek their heads out the window. Near the edge of the park facing them two middle-aged women in clothes from the mall are standing around swaying, each with a large bottle of beer in her hand, looking like they’re trying to control hysterical laughter. Their clothes, physical fitness and hairdos give the impression that they never drink, but have had to reluctantly reacquaint themselves with beer because it doesn’t spoil. As the noise of the rain subsides, one of the women’s jolly squeals bounces off the windowsill below Michael and Maria. In the street going into downtown at the bottom of the incline are also some people, though not the ones who’ve started celebrating the rain’s end. Two are staggering from out of the shopping district, covered in dark mud, and three are backing away as they shout at the first two. The three disappear behind the hotel La Posada and the two muddy people follow. Nothing moves for a moment, then two soldiers and a man in a raincoat stride toward downtown. They reappear moments later retreating hastily. It sounds like a crowd of people are splashing through deep water toward the plaza, and then a group of soldiers appear in the alley with weapons up. They fire into the street and the splashing grows louder. Heavy objects can be heard rapidly striking people, who answer with shrieks. “Listen!” They listen as hard as they can and then sit back down in the cover of the house. “Did he say dysentery?” Michael sniffs the air. “Did he? He could’ve said anything. He could’ve said something about a ferry.” “A fairy?” “A ferry, not a fairy!” He forms a boat keel with his hands. “Shit.” She looks quickly out the window again. “Yeah, I’d like to be able to after we leave here.” “Could you sleep?”
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“I’m a little afraid of what I might dream about but we should try.” They pick up their things and go into the narrow bedroom, which is packed tight with a large opulent bed on the floor and large flat television screens on the walls. Above the bed hangs a painting of a palm tree, and from the ceiling a striated and peeling fake brass chandelier. “What time do you think it is?” “I don’t know. Three?” “Shouldn’t be that late. I don’t know when we woke up this morning.” They lie down on opposite edges of the bed and stretch their bodies, eventually curling into one another, each silently racing the other to be the first with a calm heartbeat. Michael falls fast asleep, his brow remaining tensely folded, and Maria lays there looking at the plastic pearls overhead, not minding how close he’s holding her. The bed is welcoming but foreign, like in a hotel, affording only hard sleep essential to bring on the next activity. She shuts her eyes, for the sooner she sleeps the sooner they can go outside, if Michael can get the nerve up. When she awakes from dreams of being late for an exam while trying to get a car to start, Michael is gone already. She rises and goes out into the living room. It’s still light out, though growing dim, and Michael sits at the window, his head held back, draining the big beer bottle. “Have a nice nap?” Michael wipes his mouth off. “Yeah. It’s nice not to have any more aftershocks. How bout you? Any nightmares?” “Yeah, but at least I get to share it with you. You can finish mine if you want.” He keeps his grin on her as he reaches for the other bottle and she throws a hand in the air as she has an idea. “So if we want to take a piss, how do we do that if the water’s off? It’s different here with everything covered in dipshit concrete. I can’t even dig a hole. And besides that I don’t want dysentery crawling up my butt.” “I don’t know. You could use the toilet and I could use the sink.” “Okay, deal.” “Me first.” He crosses the tiny kitchen into the bathroom, coming out quickly thereafter shaking his hands out. “There’s a little water left in the pipes, and there’s no shit in it.” She goes now, returning almost as quickly as he and shutting the door fast behind her. He finishes the beer and sets the bottle down behind his chair. “Still, I keep forgetting how therapeutic sleep is. You could have an earthquake every day long as you can sleep afterward. But I woke up cause it was so damn warm. It’s too late in the year for this heat, and the sun’s not even out.” “I never believed in earthquake weather, but I’m beginning to.” Michael turns to her, but doesn’t ask her to sit down. “Do you still think that things we’re saying are –yknow –coming down on us?” “I don’t know Michael. Maybe I didn’t mean to say that even. I don’t know. Come on, let’s go out.” “To where?” “At least to the park.” “Are you serious?”
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“Listen. I wanna do something, and we haven’t separated yet. You wanna lose me again after all this?” “No,” “So come on. Unless your legs are hurting.” “They’re –no, they’re fine.” “Alright.” They search the closet in the bedroom for more dry layers and socks and climb back out the window. Michael is inwardly glad to have changed clothes so many times; he may be unrecognizable to the two men from the government now. Though he direly doesn’t want to go out in public, he must make at least this little offering to Maria, if it’s to be that and not earnest, unmediated cooperation. They walk down the steep hill, grateful that the rain has stopped, toward downtown and find the low-lying shopping district filled to the top of the curbs with reeking water and strewn with garbage, debris and small dead animals torn apart by either guns or larger animals. “Oh man, that’s disgusting.” “You think that’s really,” “Miss!” A soldier strides up from behind them and they whirl around in surprise. On his shoulder is no military designation, but a copy thereof, a gold chevron in which is embroidered the words Liberty Conflict Management and the silhouette of an assault rifle. “You can’t go in there, there’s a sewage leak across the whole city and it’s quarantined.” “All of downtown?” “Yeah. You should check in at the gym if you feel any kind of symptoms.” Michael speaks up. “Okay, thanks.” He pulls her away toward the park before she asks anymore questions. In front of the harbor office a group of workers and soldiers are building some kind of tall fence. “What’s that?” “I don’t like the look of it. Looks like a pen. I’m surprised they’re just building it now.” “I wanna know.” She takes his hand and hurries toward another of the hired soldiers standing guard. Michael’s nerves sink down into him as he prepares to be arrested or killed. “Hey! What’s this thing for?” The soldier looks for support to his associate, who’s busy unloading his rifle. “Don’t lookit me, I’m outta hours for today.” “Well?” “This is uh –this is to be the waiting area for all the people who’ve been cleared for riding out on the next boat to Santa Carla.” “Oh yeah?” “That’s what they told me.” “When’s that?” “What?” “The next boat.” “The regular service has gone down to three a day. There’ll be less today because of the weather. Go to the gym to sign up.”
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“Yknow there’s probably a red carpet and some velvet ropes in the gym’s closet.” “Hey you don’t like it, why doncha beat it, huh? I’m just here to protect the fuckin fence.” “Getter for harassment, Steve.” The soldier turns away from them. “I thoughtchou were outta hours for today. Shut the fuck up!” Maria walks away in disgust, still leading Michael by the hand. They step to the landing where the stairs lead down to the docks and reel backward as their eyes, just before their feet, meet an unexpected emptiness. The cliff, much shorter than before, drops straight down into the water. Slivers of burnt wood float, now clearly visible, on the oily, fish-strewn water. The stair structure lies half sunken in the water as well, and the main dock’s outer extremity stands stranded five yards out from its twisted steel footing like a curious child in a tide pool. No boats can be seen on the horizon. They step back toward the park, now in silent agreement to stay as far as possible from any authority figures, and find themselves amongst the praying and softly wailing crowd of the devoted. Some of them can’t be understood for speaking Spanish, but it’s all probably the same verses from the bible. “Will you help us pray?” “Pray for us, please!” “Jóvenes! Recen con nosotros.” Then suddenly darkness shines down upon everyone from the west and they start, as children do when they discover the darkness of a cloud passing over the sun. It seems that everyone looks up at once, and is lost in the unity of shared wonder and focus of attention. Exactly half of the sky has become dark as night and starless, from due south to the end of the west, while the other half remains pale afternoon white to the end of the east. There’s no line in the sky to divide them, for each zone is almost too big to perceive. Before anyone has time to consider the portent of such an event, a great crying rises up from behind them. A mass of people are flooding in from the narrow street that leads west down the hill to the flats. They’re dirty and wet and one carries the other while the other clenches at his or her bowels and buckles over his or her gut. The soldiers come to attention and form a great circle around the park, but there aren’t enough of them sufficient to influence the mass’s movements. They course into the park and fill it from end to end; the garbage from the distribution tables and the empty cans of fuel and dead car batteries disappear in the swarm of people. Soon it’s impossible to see or count how many they are. The heat, amplified by bodies, the smell of sewage and the sharp bark of coughing creates a new atmosphere that closes around the park like a wall. Before long the mass replicates a cell of itself, which draws with a single motion toward the gymnasium, looking up at the terrible riddle in the sky while pushing forth. The mass comes to a halt at the gymnasium’s doors, where soldiers have presumably blocked the entrance. Michael and Maria cover their faces and race around the mass back toward the little store and the hiking path. They stand behind the deserted corner and watch the park from that same vantage point from which Michael and Ott had seen the men from the Bureau of Crisis Management approach. “I don’t understand why they’re coughing. There must be a cold bug too.” “You can’t get dysentery from coughing?” “I don’t think so.” She nods toward the mass in the park. “But definitely from water.”
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“The flats are flooded.” “Yeah, that’s for sure now.” They sit there on the curb for what seems like a half hour, each clasping the other’s hand, until their hearts beat with a calm cadence and the spectacle takes on the feel of common people-watching. No one comes near their hiding place. They watch people staggering toward their end of the park, squatting behind trees and relieving themselves, desperately crying agua, water, drink, agua. In the middle of the park tents are springing up overhead and they appear to be hanging tarps between tree branches and broom sticks. Soon Maria’s face turns up and her resolute voice acquires new urgency. “If we bring them water from in the store, do you think the rent-a-cops’ll catch us?” “Well –we might as well try. It could keep some of them from dying.” “Have you seen the men you and Ott talked to?” “Definitely not.” “Well then come on.” They enter the store, grab up as many bottles of everything they can find, of which there are much fewer as upon Michael’s first visit, and throw it all in bags. Michael wishes in the back of his mind that the two hobos could see him finally bringing their arguments to life. As they’re crossing the street toward the park a helicopter appears from the north, hovering above the buildings, its downdraft spraying drops of rain water down off the roof tops. Above it the day remains half scalped, the night bleeding out from within. A loudspeaker on the helicopter growls out over the town as they dart under the nearest tree. “This is the Bureau of Crisis Management. We order you to sit on the ground and await instructions. I repeat, we order you to stop, sit down and await instructions. This is for your safety.” It’s an attack helicopter fitted with little wings brandishing several different kinds of weapons. From his movie experience Michael knows that the helicopter is equipped to level most of downtown with small rockets and to cut people in half with precision using an electronically operated machine gun. He hopes to hell that everyone cooperates. From their hotel window Witt and Morris watch the crowd begin to duck down and kneel in the sopping grass. “God damned trees, why didn’t we have those cut down?” “I couldn’t plan for everything, Morris.” Morris speaks into his radio. “Okay, now don’t fire. Can you fire from the roof?” “Ten four.” “Okay. But don’t yet! Land on the roof. How much does that thing weigh?” “I think the roof can take it, sir.” “Great. Just land it. But keep the guns on the crowd. Carroll!” “Yessir.” “Get your men into the plaza and prepare to load that fucking pen up.” Almost immediately they hear footfalls trotting into the lobby of the floor below them, where the security company has its arsenal. “Knox, you on the way?” “Negative, we have an impasse at Palma street. Sewage flowing in the road down toward downtown. We need to find a crossing.”
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“Well just get here! Get your men real guns and go into position, half on the ground, half on the roofs. Carroll! The rest of them arm up with nonlethal suppression.” “Yessir.” “My men already have lethal weapons except two.” “It’s in your hands, Knox, but get men on the roofs first.” He turns his head to Witt. “Finally, things’re properly situated. I’m not leaving this building until it’s all over.” “Have you decided yet?” “Decided what?” “Whether or not to use the emergency signal.” “No, and I’m not gonna decide until it’s all over. Now look, get down there and make sure the tables are ready to sell those last relief packets. As soon as that pen’s full I want that stuff sold.” Witt speaks now into his radio. “Clarke, did you find those tickets downstairs?” “Yes sir.” “Alright, like I said. Each packet gets one, that’s the ticket out on the next boat.” “When’s the next boat coming?” “I don’t know yet, Clarke. It doesn’t matter. But like I said, everyone that has an ID for the town gets a packet, anyone else can buy one. Forty bucks. While supplies last. Over and out.” Morris takes a sip of liquor. “I gotta admit, that was a stroke of genius.” “Shut up, Morris. Carroll.” “Sir?” “Clarke’s people are gonna be selling the relief packet with the ticket out of town. When it looks like people’re starting to sort themselves out, have your men take the people who don’t get a packet into custody and throwem in the pen.” Clarke’s voice chirps from out the radio. “Are you saying we’re locking up the people who don’t get one?” “Clarke! I wasn’t talking to you, was I? Keep your god damn nose out of this or you’ll end up in that fucking pen too! Now get off the radio!” Carroll’s voice comes urgently back over. “Sir, there’s a serious health issue going on here. People’re running high fevers and shitting themselves. Orders?” “Just putem in the pen, Carroll, and don’t worry about it. This is a temporary situation.” Morris grabs the radio from Witt. “Another thing Carroll. What’s with the sky?” “I don’t know sir, that wasn’t us. I’ve never seen something like that before.” “Hm. Neither have I.” In front of the pen, where a knocking can be heard on the door of the harbor office where people remain locked up and forgotten, a man and woman stride up to the soldier Carroll, drawn to him because he seems to be giving the orders. “Mister, what’s going to happen with that fence?” “That’s a holding place for the sick, mam.” “When’s the damn boat coming to take us out?”
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“Mam, as soon as we get the people in the pen out of town we’ll have another boat coming to take the people out who have a ticket.” “You’d better hurry! And why do they get their own boat? You’d better be deporting those people! And I’ll tell you why: because they are ill-legal. You understand? Just because I wanna leave this town doesn’t mean they should be allowed to stay! And I spose they’ll be treated in our hospitals for the sickness they got living ten to a room?” “Mam, it’s a policy of immigration and customs to treat the sick before pursuing any domicile adjustment.” “Well, I think that’s bullshit!” “Mam, please calm down. We’re setting up a distribution now so you can have a ticket out to Santa Carla. If you don’t have a,” “Why aren’t you announcing this from that stupid helicopter?” “If you don’t have a way to prove that you live here you can simply buy the packet for forty dollars. Okay?” “Okay? What am I supposed to say?” The man pulls the woman away. “Enough.” In the park Michael and Maria crawl on the ground, dragging the bags alongside them. The burdensome sacks move in awkward arcs opposing that of their elbows, as if they’d each grown a second forearm off the elbow that was trying to crawl like a snake. The point of Maria’s umbrella keeps sticking in the ground and pitching her shoulder up in the air. At length they deposit the bags in front of a group of people sitting on a tarp, some lying stretched out and some kneeling over them either whispering or praying to the mysterious sky. Each begins opening water bottles and handing them to the sick. The helicopter remains hidden in the distance behind the boughs overhead. Maria notices someone walking freely amongst the kneeling people like a teacher amongst his seated students. “Who’s that? Michael. Is that someone from the government, too?” Michael looks up. The old man is striding steadily through the crowd, his chin down attentively, speaking too softly to be heard. The soldiers nearest the park don’t respond; it’s as if the old man were invisible. They are however entering the lawn and beginning to drag people up on their feet. Michael and Maria watch in horror as the soldiers prod the people into the pen at the end of their rifles. The old man comes near them and only notices Michael at a pace or two. “There you are young man, good to see you!” “Grandfather, stop, they’ll see you.” “I’m only looking now, young man. Is this your friend?” “Yeah.” “Who are you?” “I’m just here helping things move along.” “Grandfather, please don’t draw attention to us! We brought water so we can help these people. They can’t all fit in that pen –we might be able to help some out of here and,” “And hidem in the houses up the hill.” “Exactly.” The old man gazes at the water bottles and at the softly moaning people at his feet.
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“It’s no use putting it all on yourselves now, young man. That helicopter’ll shoot you down if they catch you.” Maria nearly shouts, but restrains her voice after one syllable. “Then what’re we gonna do?” “You can help them like you have with this water, but you can’t hope to protect anyone from what may come to each of them. I hope for your sake that you understand.” They regard the old man with aggravation, and he sets his chin back down toward the floor and goes on his way without saying goodbye. Michael finds himself sweating; the frontier between his sleeping fantasy and waking experience seemed almost to disintegrate during that exchange, and he nearly loses his balance. “You know him?” “Yeah.” “That’s one of the old bums?” “No.” “Why didn’t you mention any of these people last night?” “Don’t be mad. I’m still really confused about all this.” “Guess so.” “Let’s get out of here.” They duck out of the park and rush back toward the corner. “If we go back into that house the helicopter’ll see us.” “I’m over this, Michael. Let’s just go home. There can’t be aftershocks forever.” “We don’t have any weapons. What if the monster comes back?” “This dysentery’s more dangerous than the monster. Besides Michael, shit, maybe the thing just wants some space.” Michael catches himself once again finding the humor too late to respond in a trustworthy way. “Alright.” They hike up the familiar path, wary not to step on intestines. The thin black weeds reach up like skeletal hands, the feckless grass begins to right itself as the rain slides off its back, but no intestines can be seen on this part of the incline. Michael keeps his head down, not wanting to see the bisected, sunless sky. On the ground deep shadows frame everything beneath the surfaces lit from the east. Both run through a puddle of mud, splashing mud up to their waists, and Maria points to the right. “Look!” The mud is coming from a pipe that’s shot out of the ground and split where it reluctantly bent. The water coming out of it smells and appears to be thick, dropping with more weight than rain water in arrhythmic plopping clumps. As they enter the wooded section of the hill they hear the rushing of the mudslide. It’s impossible to tell whether the mud running in that flow is contaminated, or if a foul smell is following them on their clothes. Michael walks over a deep crack in the ground that’s full of water about four feet down. Maria looks down into it before crossing over, seeing her dim reflection in the thin ribbon of water. More shallow cracks lie before them, full of mud and already sliding together back into slippery but even ground. They come around a short bend, Michael in front, and he screams and nearly falls down backward, his eyes fixed on the thick redwood tree on the inside of the bend. Maria picks him up and looks. The head of a huge shark protrudes slightly from a hole in the tree at eye level, its eyes retracted
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into its pointed, leathery head and its toothy jaw jutting out in a frozen grasp. Maria steps back as well and curses. “Come on Michael, get up.” They scramble past the frightening thing, stepping over a branch that appears to have created the hole as it fell off, and further up the hill. As they reach the log bridge where they crossed the mudslide, they draw together into the center of the woods. They look all about at the trees. Thin red intestines are growing up the trees, seeming to grow out from between the bark up toward the canopy, and beneath their feet the rapping of balled fists can be heard in the still, hollow earth. Too scared to be still, Michael grabs Maria’s arm and springs over the log to the other side, pulling her precariously along. They race up the hill, panting with breath they can hardly spare, looking only at the ground ahead now. Michael jumps over a trickle of mud, for any water could have dysentery in it now. His leading right foot lands on a log buried in the mud. The log rolls, bucking his foot off and sending him falling into the mud. His right leg gets caught up with the log. A small broken branch stub on it tears through his pant leg and draws open his thigh from the knee to a few inches up. He screams and rolls over on his back in the stinking mud. Maria stops short and bends down over him. “What? What happened?” He loosens his grip on his leg enough to bring one hand up, which already has blood smeared on it. He gasps out a few words. “It huh –it hurts. It burns.” He scratches at the mud in his bloody scrape wound, trying to remove it. “Stop it, get your hand off it.” She takes a handkerchief out of her pocket and pats the wound until the mud and blood are gone. It’s only a good scrape, except for a puncture in his quadriceps a few inches above the knee where the spike on the log went in, which bleeds steadily forth. “Calm down. Keep breathing.” “We have to go back. I have to put fresh water on this or I’ll get sick.” “There isn’t any. I’ll take care of it at home.” “I can’t –I can’t walk up that hill. We gotta go back so I can get something for my leg. Please.” “I really don’t think it’s a good idea,” She looks in his eyes, blinking tears back into her own, and then helps him up. “There’s another way down but it’s longer. It’d be faster to go home.” He stands leaning on his left leg and panting under the pain. “I can’t think straight.” Maria sees that it’s still raining in the hills, and as her eyes come back down over the slope she sees the wave coming down toward them. “There’s a mudslide coming! Hurry!” She drags him staggering down the hill into a thin corridor of poison oak and sharp pampas grass. With Michael’s adrenaline-fueled stumbling it takes fifteen minutes to get down the hill, but that’s twice as long as usual. They arrive down the hill from the park, in a neighborhood near the beach cliffs. Pine Park street lies twisted in pieces on its slope and Michael has to lift himself up with one leg and his shoulders on slippery wet sandstone in order to get up on the road. Shortly after they reach the intact road a chunk of mud and gravel falls off the hill whence they came into the rubble of the street, followed by many small streams of mud.
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They arrive back in the park plaza and people are moving around again. Michael stumbles toward the gymnasium, he and Maria trying not to be noticed in their mud smeared, grass stained clothes. Michael walks with his hand over the bloody tear in his pants. Maria points out every person that looks like they’re from the Red Cross –if only by the cut and cleanliness of their clothes –eager to get help and get back out. “Wait. Just let me look.” “We have to hurry!” “I know! But just let me look.” He stops, bends over, and tries unsuccessfully to throw up. Before they get to the gymnasium Michael notices the long table set up next to the harbor office, before which stands the cyclone fence pen full of people. “Wait here, Maria.” “Where?” “Just stay back, don’t let anyone notice you. Don’t go near the pen!” There is a crescendo of shouting behind them and Maria turns around. From a small opening in the pavement across the street, likely a storm drain, comes a sudden flood of water under high pressure that flows like a river across the street and into the park. “Oh my god.” Michael approaches the table as a man is being hauled off to the side by soldiers. “What are you talking about? I’m not Mexican!” They unlock the pen and throw him in. “I’m Portuguese and my father was born in La Dársena! Listen to me! My father was born in La Dársena!” The worker notices Michael’s appearance. “Wow, did you just come out of the hills?” “I,” “Are you from Brighton?” “No, I –I’m from here. I just came from up the hill.” The worker puts a bag in front of him and his associate comes over. “Wait. Don’t give it to him yet.” “I need first aid. Is this where I get first aid? My leg’s hurt.” “There’s some in the bag, let me just make sure,” The other worker turns abruptly away and joins in a burst of shouting with the people to his left. A woman has grabbed one of the plastic bags with one hand while holding onto the shoulder of her little daughter with the other, shouting over the worker’s voice in Spanish. “You have to pay for that, I said!” Michael stands there, disoriented, and looks back at Maria. She mouths at him to come on. He turns back toward the table and he sees Witt appear to his right, his pistol in his hand. Michael grabs the plastic bag and steps away from the table, his eyes fixed on Witt. The tall bureaucrat grabs the woman’s tiny child off her feet and clutches her to his chest, the gun pressed to her temple. “You have to buy that damn thing! Give it back and I’ll give her back!” The woman screams back at him in Spanish. People begin to encircle them, civilians and soldiers alike.
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“Buy it!” “No!” He fires the weapon through the woman’s long cry of no, and through the child’s skull. He drops her to the ground, then whirls around and stalks back toward the hotels. No neighbors intervene because they don’t want also to be shot, and no soldiers intervene because they didn’t expect this and are unsure of their orders. Two soldiers grab the woman and shove her into the pen, which is now too full to accept three more. Behind the pen the window of the harbor office is smashed open from within. Men grab at the windowsill between the blades of broken glass, trying to lift themselves out. The soldiers fire into the window and nothing more moves from inside the office. Morris’ radio squawks and he picks it up, his mouth full of cold canned food. “What?” “Sir, this is Carroll. The crowd’s getting unmanageable.” “To what degree more than usual? Start shooting then! You’ve got nonlethal weapons. These troops don’t know a god damn thing about crowd control!” “Well maybe if you’d got the national guard to lend us some men with real military training and not these white trash rent-a-cops! They’re gonna start killing people down here! What am I supposed to do, you asshole?” Morris turns off the radio and throws it on the ground. Witt speaks into his radio on the way out of the crowded park plaza, out from which he’s having more difficulty pushing than he thought he would. People don’t seem to know that he’s the one who fired the shot. “Morris. Morris, where are you?” “Director Witt?” “What?” “This is Smith in the helicopter. We’re receiving reports that there’re fires starting in and around the city.” “How is that possible? Everything’s wet!” “It could be more gas and methane from the broken sewer pipes. We don’t have any means of fire control.” “You haven’t called Santa Carla?” “Santa Carla has one helicopter but it was damaged in the bad weather yesterday trying to make a landing in Brighton.” “In Brighton? Shit.” He wipes his nose with the back of his hand, squeezing the radio speaker in frustration. “Then shoot the pipes open and lettem burn off.” “Roger.” He sees the helicopter spin over the city. In the blocks on the other side of downtown a rocket strikes the ground and a ball of fire climbs over the roof tops. Witt tries his radio again. “Morris, pick up the got damn radio.” Michael’s eyes flash about the crowd, searching for Maria as his hand blindly searches in the bag for a tube of some kind or a bottle of clean liquid. He spots her in the arms of two soldiers who can barely keep her still. She meets eyes with him. He looks down at the plastic bag in his one hand and the unmarked red raffle ticket in his other, upon which the words rescue ship are hand written, and then up at her. The soldiers open the pen door
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and throw Maria in and he loses the sight of her green eyes. His heart vanishes from inside him. To his right Witt is still standing, an ironic grin on his face. Michael screams, waving his bag and ticket in the air. “Let her go! She’s with me, let her go!” “Don’t you see kid? The whole program’s planned so you have to betray her. Now take yer ticket and get the hell outta here.” “Let her go!” He screams at the soldiers and pushes them both against the fencing, trying to find Maria in the already crowded pen. He lands two punches in one man’s face while tearing at the pad lock on the door, and then something big strikes and bounces off of him under the shoulder blade and he falls down into blackness. Witt strides into the park with his weapon drawn and pushes people aside so he can see into the middle of the ring of trees. He steps around low tents made of tarp and over ground-hugging shelters made of blankets. The helicopter from Liberty Conflict Management suddenly appears above. There’s smoke in the center; he approaches a big pile of smoldering broken wood from the wreckage of buildings, about to become a bonfire. He doesn’t notice the flood of water creeping silently through the park that’ll undercut any blaze they manage to get going. A mass of shivering, sick people huddles around him in the cooling air, from which the heat of the earthquake weather has fled. A man in a ball cap throws a final half can’s worth of gasoline into the center of the pile and it bursts into flame in the half-night with a great sucking draft of air. Witt looks back up at the helicopter over his shoulder, the heat on his back, and says to wait. But he hasn’t got his radio in his hand. The right wing of the helicopter discharges a heavy projectile that smashes the pile of wood, and a second that explodes and engulfs the crowd in flame. ♦ Michael wakes up with tree duff in his face and foliage overhead between him and the starry sky. Thin smoke rises up from next to him across the sky and a flame crackles in his ear. He sits up, resting on his right leg, and groans as the throbbing wound sounds a protest under his weight. He rubs his eyes; next to him sits the quiet old man in his fine black suit and his black hat. Neither of them speak. Around them people sit quietly, eating food from cans and murmuring amongst themselves. This must be a camp above La Dársena set up for the care of a handful of people. A few expensive tents stand on the flatter part of the woods a few yards away and children can be heard shrieking and playing. His mind is empty, washed clean by adrenaline, delirium and concussion, except for the last thing he saw: Maria’s eyes and their expression, which he couldn’t begin to fully read. He sobs emptily and without sound, throwing his face into his hands, wanting to tear his body into a million pieces. Why didn’t I get up and go up the hill like she said? Why did she let me go back? Why didn’t I think of another way? It makes you crazy to find out that your manner of rebellion against the oppressors that you so hate has already long been foreseen and taught to you by them, and that their means of protecting the hated situation has long been organized. “I’m sorry about your friend.” The old man’s voice, strong and clear as ever, startles him in the silence. He looks up at the old man, whose expression seems to order him not to be angry with him. “Isn’t this place interesting? You wanted to find a place like this the whole time, didn’t you?”
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Michael thinks of the smoke on top of the hill on the day of the earthquake. “What’re you talking about?” The old man smiles to himself and doesn’t pursue it. “What happened to her? What happened to Maria?” “She’s gone now.” “How did I get here?” “You were hit by a rubber bullet and fell unconscious. I carried you here.” Michael glares at him incredulously, but says nothing. “There’s no sense in being angry. I warned you that you couldn’t protect anyone.” “But she got taken away because of me! I did it!” Some people turn briefly and look at him, then go back to what they’re doing. “What I’m telling you doesn’t depend on the cause of the situation. Besides, you were going to have it your way. That’s how it is with all people.” Michael turns the ideas around in his head: first the old man remarked that a new day began, that life was to continue. Then he taught him how to make an offering, and then that he couldn’t protect anyone. Yet Michael didn’t understand how it was all different views of the same gesture, one that he couldn’t make for having stood in his own way. And what it cost him; how could this misunderstanding cost him Maria? It’s as if every star, every thought in the other peoples’ heads, every needle on every tree, were pointing at his guilt, all witnesses of his betrayal of Maria. Nonetheless he can’t let go of his dependence on the idea of trying to communicate, and of all the rules that come with it, of the hope that his efforts would be returned. What else could there be? Why do I keep not getting it? “Is that what you were trying to teach me?” “Teach you?” “When I met you in the street? And in my dream? With the offering?” “In a dream? I don’t dream your dreams, young man.” Michael grows more confused and words stick in his mouth. He puts his head back in his hands and breathes heavily. “I haven’t been trying to teach you anything. I’m simply reporting what I see. But we don’t have to talk about it anymore. Now it’s time to do my job, and I’ve got you where I want you.” “What? Are you God or something?” The old man laughs quietly, the deep frailty of his person expressing itself now as if he’d chosen on a caprice to let it out. “It’s surprising how many people think that I’m that thing. I don’t know a thing about it, beside what I hear from all the people I meet. You’re not the only person fooling himself, young man. I’m sorry it cost you your friends, but you’re not the first one to end up like this either. Just stay still if you could.” Michael weeps into his hands, his body too full of the emotions that only people have. His animal system is unable to carry such a massive load of imagined things become expressions of physical energy. “I can’t handle knowing that I got my best friend in the whole world taken away. It’s like no matter what we said or did, it made things worse.” “Ah, don’t be so hard on your –you know, that’s what I find incredible. How you seem to think that you’re the cause of everything that’s happening. You can see that the way things’re going has
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taken away your friends, but that isn’t good enough: you keep on with the guilt, because you can do it by yourself. But like I said,” “What the hell are you talking about?” Michael’s nerves ripple once more, though more weakly, at the fresh idea that the earthquake could be influencing him as well. Could the old man have intended to say that? “You think since the earthquake I’ve changed too?” The old man wheezes out the same unimpressed laugh and shakes his head. “Now, that’d be something.” He remains still, withdrawn but unoccupied, his eyes veiled in darkness and not reflecting the fire light. At length he turns to Michael again. “Did you ever hear the story of Malibu, young man?” “No.” “Funny story. When the padres first came to Malibu, the Indians said look, this land is called Malibu, that means the earth that moves. You shouldn’t build anything here because the first rain’ll wash it away.” The old man waits for a response, but Michael doesn’t want to hear it. “So the big rains come and the Indians say we’re out of here, we’re going up into the mountains. This is southern California, mind you, going up into the mountains is no sacrifice. So they go up and the padres’ buildings all get washed down the cliff into the sea. Next season they built them all over again. And now look what a mess they have down there. You’re not the only one, like I said –you’re not the only one who can’t get simple things through his head.” The large camp fire roars peacefully up into the dark night, free from every side of city lights, illuminating the trees around it. The absence of immediate fear, of the monster and the landslides and the non-negotiable wrath of nature allows an idea to float up in Michael’s mind. Here in the forest, in the firelight, in the skylight, dark as it may be but still being light, it’s as if he were a part of everything. It’s easier to believe that it’s so. Michael thinks of his old desire to go up into the hills, to escape from his boredom at that old job. The flowers that survived the quake come to him. They moved with the earth, but more importantly they were part of it, so nothing it did could hurt them. If he could’ve let himself be part of the land, of whatever he was looking at, at those times, instead of being sure that he could only long for it in the distance, maybe it could’ve helped him. It would’ve made things easier when they were looking for help in the city, when he had the choice to keep fighting or flee. Perhaps it would’ve brought him closer to Maria, and prevented him from losing her. He’d had ego enough to tell Ott that he needed to dedicate himself to someone, but his own dedication to Maria wasn’t being there. It was only greater concentration upon her from a distance. If he could’ve been there, it would’ve made things easier when the monster came around. Could nature simply have been trying to communicate in some way like his own? If he were a part of nature, of Maria, of the monster, could he learn how to respond? Or perhaps then he wouldn’t even need to strive for the sure failure of communication. Michael wipes the tears from his face and notices the old man grinning at him. Overhead the noise of helicopter tines striking the air suddenly growls up through the trees and steals Michael’s attention away from the old man. He and the others watch as it rises up, unsure if it’s seen them, and it discharges a rocket into the heart of the camp fire, and the fire explodes like the tide against a cliff and consumes everyone.
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Santa Cruz, August, December 2009, June 2010
Comments/Questions/Notes: • Sentence structure/Language: o Purpose of long, complicated sentences? Sentences need to be simplified and more concise throughout. There are several run-ons and many parts are confusing. Ex. XXX and XXX and XXX o Comma usage XXX, and (When is it appropriate?) o Use of “one” Makes ideas more confusing then they need to be. Confuses tense. Could be easily eliminated in several instances. o Use of contractions An attempt to set a certain tone or dialect? Seems effective in some areas but not others In my opinion, the narration should be more formal and then when the characters use contractions, the language will be more effective o Tense changes in some places o Language Some inappropriate word choice Use of “yet,” “anyway,” etc. in dialogue almost gives off an uneducated tone when characters speak. Is this done purposefully? In all characters? Just some? • Characters: o Maria and Michael Too flat Not likeable in my opinion (or not likeable enough to be main characters) • Maria seems pretentious • Michael seems absent o No strong qualities o How do we relate to him?
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o Looks down on Ott (why?) but confines to anything Maria related o Are we supposed to dislike Michael? o Obsessed with “being there” for Maria, but she doesn’t seem to need him as much as he needs her. If this is intentional I think that the author should develop this attribute in Michael (lost boy seeks to “help” girl-- in actuality he is helping himself all along) Their relationship • Alluded to in the text several times, but never really explained beyond “they are best friends” “they meet eyes” “there is love between them…” Too simplistic • For readers to be involved in their relationship (aka care what happens to them, especially when they are separated) there should be more background on the relationship o Why do they have such an intense connection o Why is Michael so consumed with Maria (we hardly know anything about her)
o Morris More developed character Readers will have a strong reaction Readers may be feel conflicted about his character • He is clearly being portrayed negatively, yet he is put in a “no win” situation that readers can sympathize with. • Points a finger at someone above Morris o Alludes to a bigger problem with American disaster aid o FEMA o Katrina parallels Themes: o Apocalyptic o Rebellion from the government To a more natural and organic way of life Interesting that Michael and Maria remain separated from the chaos of downtown until the very end—they seem surprised (and quickly accepting) of the situation which I’m not sure is realistic o Qualifications and integrity of government officials o Problems with American disaster aid in general o Racism/Class systems o Fate/Acceptance of fate o Nature Cyclical
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Several personifications relating to nature and visa versa. Very useful and pertinent to themes o Natural disaster/Weather Accepting the fact that it cannot be controlled Nature’s unpredictability How does natural disaster effect us? How do we effect natural disaster? Specifically, how does natural disaster effect our perception of reality (Michael seeking to “help” Maria, Michael’s “growth,” both Michael and Maria as they wonder whether or not they had a role to play in the disaster) Tightly aligned with cyclical nature themes Weather imagery is very developed, especially like the continual rain Plot: o VERY BORING 1st HALF Is this purposeful as Michael is disoriented, confused? Very focused on description/setting. Also purposeful? I can see the utility in starting slow but it’s very hard to get through in my opinion Rising action doesn’t happen until Part 3. This is a long time for readers to wait… o the novel Dahlgren Michael attempting to become re-oriented with the city Allusion to a new social structure post-quake New beginnings, seeing the quake in a positive, post modern light The importance of community, the people Michael meets along the way, how they affect him, help him o The “monster” Reminds me of Tremors, a little cheesy… Doesn’t tie up as tightly as it should with the themes I think the function of the monster contributes to the natural disaster and cyclical nature themes, but this should be flushed out more As it stands, it just seems like there is a weird sci-fi episode mid novella Relevance of shark head? Intestines? o Foil of what happens to Nick vs what happens to Rolf (we never really find out) o Government conflict and relief plot points are developed well Advice: o Develop Michael and Maria’s characters as well as their relationship The beginning will be less boring because there will be more to the plot then just description and Michael walking around aimlessly • Can still hold off on rising action if that was being done purposefully Readers will feel more attached to the characters if they know details of their personality. How they met, why they connect, some kind of anecdote would probably really contribute to this situation
82 La Dársena – A. Cardott
Complicate their personalities (likeable and unlikeable traits) o Expand even more so on Michael’s views It seem like by the end we should see how he develops (or doesn’t develop) from beginning to end His societal views pre-quake? Immediate aftermath? He is effected/influenced by every new person he comes into contact with His guilt seems to be a big deal at the end, why? What are we supposed to get out of Michael’s journey? Is it’s supposed to be so vague? Very simply: Who is Michael? Who does he become? Is he pertinent to the plot? Should we relate to him? o Shorter, more concise sentences. One idea at a time. If it takes someone more then 3 times to read one sentence, obviously your point is getting lost • General:
I have a lot of questions at the end about what readers are supposed to walk away with. By eliminating a lot of vague and confusing wording, I think some of this misunderstanding can be alleviated. Overall, I really like some of the things this novella is trying to get at. Especially in the wake of Katrina, natural disaster is a hot topic. Further, because natural disaster (weather and nature) is something that society always has, and will always deal with, many of these themes are very relevant. I would like to see the author spend a lot more time developing his characters to tighten this up. As it stands, the novella has good ideas, but there is potential for it to become more relatable. I would like to see Michael go through more explicit self discovery (or specify the lack there of) via more concise dialogue (and monologue) especially throughout the beginning. Currently, Michael absently goes through motions: first to Maria, then exploring downtown, talking to civilians, finding Ott, going back to Maria. In this first 40 pages, I would say readers rarely get a visceral and raw reaction to Michael’s surroundings and his point of view. Michael seems to latch onto whatever is in front of him. The only thing that ever consumes his mind is “saving” Maria (and we get no background on this). If he is supposed to grow/not grow/try to grow, it is very unclear. I believe the end of the novella would have much higher impact if this was remedied. I think the last 13-15 pages are the strongest of the novella and honestly made the whole thing worth reading. To be print ready, I believe there needs to be either reflection or clarification by the author and in turn a strengthening of main characters.