Jacqueline Harkness

San Francisco

18 April 1906

My second day of work began with a blinding pain in my eyes. Obviously trying to keep using my contacts in 1906 would be a hopeless effort. I wiped white mucus off my eyelids and dug the lenses out of my corneas. In the small mirror on the wall five feet from me, my face was blurry. My contacts shriveled in my hands in a desperate attempt to stay alive, but they were destined for the trash.

Since I probably wouldn't be going back to sleep, I forced myself into the corset, squeezed into the green dress Mrs. Watson gave me, and headed off for the kitchen to pilfer some fruit. Time to get used to little to no sugar. I pressed my face to the grandfather clock in the library to read the time: 5:12 am.

The floor jumped under my feet and threw me into a bookshelf. My first-grade earthquake drill training kicked in and sent me for the closest cover. I dove underneath one of the flimsier desks, not even bothering to try for the solid mahogany one and held onto the legs, my knuckles turning white. I tucked my knees into my chest as far as I could without my corset cutting into me. Books flew across the room like bats and bookcases tumbled, narrowly missing my desk.

The sound of the earthquake wasn't just a roar from the Earth having a Grand Mal seizure. Furniture tumbled like building blocks in a dryer. Windows and brick-brac shattered every two seconds. So called fireproof brickwork burst from walls, right behind me even. I felt the extra destruction through the floor, like it would give way. Elsewhere in the house, the kitchen I think, the roof caved in under weak wooden supports. A bookcase somersaulted over my desk, crushing half of it before I could duck further. One hundred horses trapped in stables around the neighborhood screamed like children. I heard their spines and necks snap under falling bricks.

And the humanity, the women and children drowning everything out with their shrieking. Cries of chaos echoed in my head. The world had met its end right before our eyes, except I covered mine and curled into fetal position. Blood hardened in my veins when I heard men screaming not just in terror, but in pain. Who would make this stop?

The Earth was mute. Oh, there was still sound, but not from the earth. A few whatnots that had lasted through the shaking, finally fell and broke in the distance. Screams echoed across the city, accompanied now by, "Help me!" and, "For the love of God, kill me!" And variations thereupon.

I couldn't make myself open my eyes. My heart was on overdrive and my entire frame was locked into place. The bookcase had left my desk completely in shambles. Wood splinters surrounded me, jabbing my back. If I moved too quickly, I would be stabbed.

"Jackie!" an impossibly high pitched voice screeched in my ears. Right. I'm a governess. I seemed to be alive, so I had to make sure the boys were too. My eyes shot open, my hands unlocked their vice grip on the desk legs, and I unwound my quivering body from the splintered desk. The room swayed, or maybe that was my head. My feet pulled me forward – I let them do the work.

I wove my way around the debris to get out of the library. With no whole or standing furniture, the rooms were eerily open and hollow. But the floors were a blind man's nightmare. I was practically crawling just so I could see the dangers ahead. Broken glass and ceramic pots. Avoid that, they will hurt you. China Cabinet gone through the wall with brick-a-brac scattered all over. Duck here, move more to the left. A chandelier from the ceiling. You might want to step over that. Warped stairs. Slow down there, the ground's unstable.

I found the boys' mother, Mrs. Watson, at their door, throwing herself against it, sobbing, "The world is ending! The world is gone!" The doorknob turned just fine, but the door was jammed. I tried to help her break it down, but all I got was a sore shoulder and barely a budge for my efforts.

"Are you guys alright in there?" I shouted through the crack. My throat burned and my voice came out two octaves lower than normal. No answer. I pressed my ear against the door. They were sobbing. Alive.

"Where's Mr. Watson?" I asked as I desperately tried to pull open the door.

She hiccuped back some emotion. "I . . . I don't . . ."

"Mr. Watson!" I screamed. "Mr. Watson, where are you?"

Mrs. Watson started crying again. "They're trapped, Ms. Harkness! For good!"

No. Not going to happen. I threw myself against the door, giving it all the momentum I could. There was a small crack. Was that the door or my shoulder? Again. The Watsons had spent good money on these hunks of wood. One more time.

"Ms. Harkness, it's hopeless. Just wait for Mr. Watson."

"Those demons put a toad in my soup, rigged my room with trip wires, and short sheeted my bed. They're not getting away with that." And with one final heave, the hinges split from the wall and the door crashed open.

Alexander and Christopher were still huddled under their beds like the quake hadn't stopped. Earnest was huddled in a corner, his eyes wide and his skin white. Mrs. Watson went to get the two from under the bed. I sat by Earnest. His face was cold and sweaty.

And dun dun dun!!! I'll put in more chapters when I feel like it.