I woke to the sudden quaking of my bed and I was positive if i opened my eyes I would find Joel laughing at me, shaking my bed back and forth. He always did things like that on the weekends-refusing to let me sleep any longer than eight in the morning. But when I opened my eyes my room was still dark, still shaking, and Joel wasn't there. I sat upright, my heart pounding as I struggled to get out of my bed without falling to the floor. The things on my shelves were shaking-a trophy won at Exeleration, a photo frame, a stack of really old books I couldn't bear to let go-and toppling to the floor.
Seconds later when it subsided, I found myself standing in the doorway of my tiny bedroom, eyes wide, hands shaking. I left the doorway and rushed down the stairs, taking them two at a time and nearly twisting my ankle funny when I landed in the kitchen. It was six seventeen in the morning. Joel would be awake.
"What the hell was that?" I demanded when I found him staring at his computer at the kitchen table. His blue eyes were as wide as mine.
"I don't know." he said, shaking his head. "There should have been a warning . . ."
"Will there be another one?" I asked looking around the kitchen cautiously. Boxes of cereal and cans of food lay scattered across the floor, the cupboard doors hanging open.
He shrugged his slim shoulders once. "I-I don't know."
I let out a slow breath and stared at my genius brother. "What next?"
"This is it, Sunday." he said, his dark eyes particularly morose. "The beginning of the end."
Joel and I grew up in Portland, close to all of our mother's family except for Crazy Abel. Dad's family all lived on the east coast, but every summer they would all fly out to Oregon and we would have this huge family reunion.
Sometimes Uncle Abel would come, if mom and dad felt up to dealing with him. Did I mention he's crazy? Like, off-his-rocker-been-to-an-insane-asylum-certifiably-crazy crazy. He was always raving like a lunatic about Yellowstone and supervolcanoes, but no one ever paid much attention. The adults would casually steer the conversation away from him if any of us kids felt brave enough to ask him what he meant.
Once, Joel dared me to talk to Crazy Abel at a family reunion. I was only seven and I didn't know any better than to do what my twelve-year-old brother like mom and dad told me to, so I did.
I had nightmares for weeks.
He told me about Yellowstone and the ash and lava that would eat up everything in it's path. About how the end would come before any of us were ready because God was angry at us for destroying earth.
Sometimes, I still have nightmares. Just like he did. The really crazy thing was that despite the fact that Crazy Abel's doctors thought it was just PTSD from WWIII, he was actually right.
I guess I didn't realize that Joel had even thought to pay attention to Crazy Abel or remember what he said.
"We need to think about leaving."
Joel's voice broke the preganant silence and I stared at him for a few moments. "Leave? It was an earthquake-"
He shook his head, cutting me off. "It's the start of the first swarm." He motioned to the network of technology spread out on the kitchen table. Some of it was new-hand-held laptops, digital data recorders, holographic maps-while other things were old-laptops, huge monitors from the early 2000's, even a camera. There was a stack of papers and an assortment of markers off to one side and a cup of coffee that had miraculously survived the quake. "This one was just a 2.3. It's just the beginning, Sunday."
I nodded once, deciding that despite Joel's attempts to get me in trouble when we were littls he knew what he was doing. "When?"
"Noon," he replied, heading to the walk-in pantry to his left. Seconds later he returned with three large gray tubs, the kind that were supposedly bear proof. "Go start packing. Clothes: enough for a few weeks. We're going on vaccation. A very long vacation."
I was shaking as I climbed the stairs again, looking at the rows of family pictures that had lined the walls since Joel was born. We hadn't touched anything-not even their laundry-and we had never planned to, but I pushed open their bedroom door anyway.
There was a large layer of dust over everything in the room but it didn't bother me as much as it probably should have. Instead, I dropped to my knees and lifted the bed skirt, peering into the near darkness for an old hard backed black suitcase. I grabbed the handle and tugged it out from under the bed, heaviness settling over me.
It had once belonged to Crazy Abel, but his doctors and my parents took it from him years ago, hoping to put an end to his obsession with the end of the world. I unlatched it and lifted the lid. It was very messy-probably just as Abel would have left it-letters and journals were jumbled together, regardless of any dates. I sifted through them quickly, turning the pages of the leather bound notebooks, and opening yellowed envelopes. Unable to decide and with time wating, I grabbed all of the journals and a handful of letters. At the bottom, a flash of red caught my eye and I retrieved a red leather folder. I set the new information aside and closed t suitcase, returning it to it's original position under the bed.
My room was the only other one in the cramped second floor. There wasn't even a bathroom or a hall closet. Just goes to show you how cheap people had gotten.
I only had one small dresser of street clothes since I spent most of my time working, so I emptied the drawers into a suitcase without sorting through it. Then my work clothes-several black pairs of loose pants and matching t-shirts-scrubs, they were called in the old movies. These I folded with care and packed too. Who knew, maybe my skills as a veterinarian would be needed. If we even survived.
I understood now why Joel had always insisted on buying double, even triple, of everything on the shopping list. We now had stacks of shampoo and conditioner, boxes of toothpaste and toothbrushes, hair ties for me, combs, deodorant, and bars of soap in the bathroom downstairs.
I even owned two pairs of thick soled brown leather boots. They had probably originally been intended for fashion, but I'd sprayed a waterproof coating on them and now they were good for almost everything. There were also a pair of riding boots that I used at work. I packed those as well. There was my medical kit, something I had thrown together when I turned eighteen and received my license, sitting on top of my dresser. It had bandages, tools for minor operations, medications, pain killers, and the like for all types of animals, mainly farm animals. I shouldered the bag and picked up my suitcase and the empty one for Joel's things and left my room for the last time.
Joel was busy packing up the kitchen when I got downstairs. The tubs were nearly full of preserved foods and kitchen supplies. "Hey," he said quietly as I set my things on the floor. "Were you going to change?"
I looked down and realized I was still in my pajamas. "Oh,"
He smiled faintly. "Just thought you might want to know."