Natural disasters, p.1
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Natural Disasters


  Natural Disasters

  J.K. Wise

  © Copyright J.K. Wise 2018

  Black Rose Writing | Texas

  © 2018 by J.K. Wise

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publishers, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a newspaper, magazine or journal.

  The final approval for this literary material is granted by the author.

  First digital version

  All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  Print ISBN: 978-1-68433-050-8

  PUBLISHED BY BLACK ROSE WRITING

  www.blackrosewriting.com

  Print edition produced in the United States of America

  For Evan

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Chapter One - Don’t Think

  Chapter Two - Over Now

  Chapter Three - Fish Out of Water

  Chapter Four - Warnings

  Chapter Five - Surfacing

  Chapter Six - Things Shift

  Chapter Seven - Out of the Blue

  Chapter Eight - Definitely Not Good

  Chapter Nine - Things Disappear

  Chapter Ten - Days After

  Chapter Eleven - Digging Out and Falling In

  Chapter Twelve - Safeway

  Chapter Thirteen - Walking Home

  Chapter Fourteen - Setting Things Back

  Chapter Fifteen - Party at Roberts’s

  Chapter Sixteen - Fallout and Fall Down

  Chapter Seventeen - In the Basement

  Chapter Eighteen - Waking Up

  Chapter Nineteen - Borders

  Chapter Twenty - Standoff

  Chapter 21 - The Spin

  Chapter 22 - Downtown

  Chapter 23 - Shelter

  Chapter 24 - Return to the Scene

  Chapter 25 - Didn’t See It Coming

  Chapter 26 - Toxic-landia

  Chapter 27 - Stand Together

  Chapter 28 - Half Submerged

  Chapter 29 - Romeo and Juliet

  Chapter 30 - To the Light

  Chapter 31 - Three Quick Steps

  Chapter 32 - Side by Side

  Chapter 33 - Don’t Think

  BRW Info

  Chapter One

  Don’t Think

  My heartbeat, my breath, and the splash of my body are the music in my head as I warm up in the lane. The water erases everything else, even the weight of my body. I move through space without resistance.

  Angie and Hannah are standing at the side of the pool when I start my warmup, their eyes hidden behind the darkly tinted goggles we all wear. They’re my captains, and we’re a team, but only one swimmer can be State Champion next week.

  I block them out of my bubble and try to think in movement instead of words as I work myself through the water, swimming slowly during my first four laps. When I pick up the speed, words come back to me. Well, just two words. Not lift your elbows or straight legs or any of things I used to tell myself in the water when I was a kid. Now, it’s just two words: go faster.

  Breathe. Burn. Go faster. Go faster. My movement is clean. My mind is clear.

  I swim until I’m warm. I don’t bother counting laps. I can feel when I’m ready to race. I climb out of the pool and stand, dripping, while Angie swims her warm-up laps in the center lane. She’s fast, but she’s sloppy. Her times have been all over the place this week. I shake my arms and legs and circle my shoulders to keep warm as I wait for Coach to signal for sprints.

  I look over to the stands as I run through all of the stuff that could affect my sprints today. Have I had enough protein today to keep pushing? Am I hydrated? Did I get enough sleep? Am I loose enough?

  Coach blows the whistle, and it’s time.

  “Melanie, you’re next to me and Hannah.” Angie arranges us in the center lanes as the swimmers to beat. We step onto the blocks.

  Even though this is only practice, this is always my worst swimmer’s moment, out of the water, hoping I’m warm enough, nerves pulsing, keeping my breath under control. Don’t think, don’t think, I think.

  I never hear the shot, but my body does. I fly off the block, skimming the top of the water, and then, I’m in my stroke. Angie is just behind me, Hannah, one body length in front. Breathe. Push. Faster.

  I go into the flip, but when I push off the side, I catch the edge of my foot on the tiled wall. Hannah and Angie are both in front of me now. Go faster, go faster! I push my pace, moving like a machine. Motion, breath, speed. I do what I’ve trained to do. I act and react. I pass both of them and push myself through the burn. My muscles are red-hot.

  I touch first and surface. Coach yells out my time, a pro finish, breaking my own state record, a full second faster than last week. I want to yell into the air and shake my fist at the sky, but instead, I spin my goggles around my neck. Blood rushes in my ears, blocking out the sounds from my team. I take a deep breath and duck back underwater, smiling in the chlorine for a second before I come back up to the top.

  I pull myself out of the water. When my eyes focus on the crowd, there he is, sitting in the stands with a group of his friends. He doesn’t wave, but he looks me up and down over the top of his RayBans. His gaze makes me feel bare. His tilted smile breaks my rhythm.

  I don’t look back at the stands for the rest of practice.

  We do three more sprints, and I win each one easily even as my times slow down each time. I’m wasted by cooldown and take it easy in the practice pool, keeping it slow and loose.

  Alec was in the stands. Why?

  And why did I botch that flip turn? I still killed the time, but what if that happens at State? Or if I get a cramp? Anything can happen.

  I play back each sprint in my head. Every lap has its own story to tell. Behind the moving pictures in my brain, I hear Alec’s whispered words during Chem Lab yesterday.

  Your shoulders have freckles.

  Why do you care so much about school?

  You don’t carry a purse like other girls.

  You’re a hot shit swimmer, right?

  I’m gonna come see you at practice.

  CHAPTER TWO

  Over Now

  “Hey, Jared, you got any Icy Hot?” Chris whispers over at me. It’s dark and boring in the film room. The team is watching last week’s defense, and both Chris and I play offense. Coach’ll make me do push-ups if he sees me look away from the screen, though, so I try to shake Robbins off for now. I feel his pain, though. Everything hurts from tough practices this week, Coach’s punishment for last week’s loss, as if the sting of 42-12 isn’t bad enough. It’s hard to concentrate on anything but the pain, both body and pride. I try to focus on the game film, but it’s bye-week. Next week’s game feels like a long way away, and I’ve got all this film in my phone anyway.

 
Did you see the Frosh cheerleaders practicing on the track during sprints?” Robbins whispers. “Varsity privilege. Take your pick.”

  I saw them, but I shake my head anyway. I don’t feel like running more stadiums, and that’s exactly what will happen if coach sees us talking during film.

  Varsity privilege. That’s Robbins, not me. He lives to be King of the Locker Room, and he pimps around making sure everyone knows it. For me, it’s all about what happens on the field, running until I puke, hitting hard.

  I wait until Coach turns the lights on before I start digging around in my gym bag for Icy Hot and all of its miracle-working glory. Robbins nods a thanks when I hand him the plastic jar.

  “Maybe if the rest of the douches on our team would hit harder, we wouldn’t get pummeled on the field every Friday,” he says as Alec Newton walks past.

  Newton stops in front of Robbins’s chair. Oh shit. Here we go.

  “What’d you say?” Newton asks, leaning over to Robbins. There’s never been any love between these boys.

  “I said ‘douches’ and yeah, I was talking about your girlfriend,” Robbins says, squaring off.

  I’m on my feet before Newton can step up to Robbins. “Guys, Coach is in the room. We’re a team. Mute the egos.”

  “Fuck off, Portillo,” Newton says. “You’re the douche. Why don’t you hit your mark next game, lazy chalupa.” He hisses the insult in my direction. “Or do I need to ask en espanol?”

  I don’t say a word, but my stomach tightens, and I can feel my face flame up. I’ve been listening to his simple-minded words since grade school. There’s no point to reacting to the hateful shit he pukes out every chance he gets, but he still makes me sick.

  White-boy Robbins doesn’t mind giving Newton the reaction he wants though. Chris loves to defend my brown honor. He steps forward, chest to chest with Newton, his tight fist lifted.

  That’s when it starts.

  I feel the ground move, a vibration. The papers on the table in front of the room jump around. There’s a crazy-loud sound, a sort of groan, lower than the roar of the Air Force jets that fly over every day, and also way louder.

  And then it stops.

  “What the hell was that?” yells Newton.

  “It felt like a friggin’ earthquake,” Robbins answers.

  All the guys start yelling and laughing at the same time until Coach blows his whistle to shut us up. Whatever it was, it’s over now, he shouts.

  Robbins and Newton stand away from each other, the ugly moment past them, for now. I’m glad. I hate fighting, and I hate it more when Robbins tries to draw me in. What’s the point? Newton’s going to think what he thinks. You can’t change stupid, even with a punch to the jaw.

  That earthquake shit was wild. I’ve never felt anything like that, but Coach is right. Whatever it was, it ended as fast as it started.

  CHAPTER THREE

  Fish Out of Water

  “Hey, congrats on your record, Mel. Great swim,” Angie says as she opens her locker near mine. “You’ve really stepped up your times. No one else can touch you.”

  “Yeah. You too.” Then I remember that I beat her in every sprint. “I mean, you’ve been doing better. Just not today.” Shit! I never say the right things. I collapse onto the concrete bench, leaning against the cold metal of the lockers. My legs are rubber, for now, but soon, the familiar pain will settle in.

  Angie looks away from me and shakes her head. The rest of the girls on my team nod when they walk by to acknowledge my new record, but no one else, thankfully, tries to really talk to me.

  I always mess it up. It’s painful to be ignored, but it’s better than kicking myself forever for the dumb things I say when I’m out of the water. When I surface, everything always blasts up like an ugly siren.

  Outside of the locker room, the chilly autumn air surprises me as the setting sun turns the desert mountains red. I’m glad I put on my thicker sweats for the walk home.

  The heavy metal door of the boys’ varsity locker room swings open and hits the cinder block wall behind it with a bang, shaking me out of my head for a second, and then, out walks Alec. His light hair is wet from the shower, and he throws his head back and shakes his curls out of his eyes. He walks next to me towards the parking lot.

  “Hey Gold Medal,” he says. “I saw your sprint. You’re pretty amazing.”

  “Thanks. Why were you at my practice?”

  He smiles and shrugs. “Mine was over. I told you I’d stop by.”

  His face glows from the setting sun, and he’s so perfect, I can’t look at him. I keep walking, and for unknown reasons, he walks next to me. My legs are starting to get heavy, but the walk home will keep me loose until I can stretch again before dinner. I shake my shoulders, circle my arms.

  “Sore?” he asks.

  “Not yet. But soon,” I say.

  “Are you going to the game next Friday?” he asks.

  “Football?”

  “Yeah,” he laughs.

  “Do you play?” And I looked down at his shirt. Northside Football in huge red letters.

  He smiles his tilted smile, and my face gets hot.

  I pick up the pace, but he walks faster along with me. I just want to get away from him and the stupid things that I’m sure I’m about to say.

  “Hey, hold up for a second,” he says, reaching out for my hand.

  His touch freaks me out, and I pull my hand away before I think about it. He turns to face me in the gold light of the low sun.

  “Are you walking home?” he asks.

  I nod.

  “Do you want a ride?”

  “No, I like walking.”

  He frowns and looks down.

  “Are you sure?” he asks again.

  “Yeah, I’m sure,” I answer again.

  He shakes his head, a small tremor, like he’s trying to cue the right answers, but I’m not getting the hint. “Well, I’m beat from practice.”

  I nod. I don’t know what to say. Boys are a mystery.

  “That Friday game is going to be a good one.”

  I nod again, even though I know I’ll be at practice or sleeping during the game.

  “We got our asses handed to us last week, so Coach is hungry for a win.”

  “Sure,” I say, flinching from the visual of his comment.

  “Do you want me to get that?” he asks, pointing to my gym bag.

  “Why?” I ask.

  He shrugs.

  This is the dumbest conversation I’ve ever had and that’s saying a lot, but I can’t get myself to walk away and put an end to the pain.

  Alec yawns, stretching his arms up over his head, his own gym bag in one of them. His shoulders are rolled forward, his weight shifted over to one of his feet. Strong hands. I wonder if he can wrap that hand around the whole football.

  “How wide is a football?” I ask.

  He squints his eyes a little.“Why?”

  “You have big hands.”

  He grins. “Yeah?”

  “And I wondered if you could fit a whole football inside your hands,” I finish. “They’re really big.”

  He smiles more deeply as his eyes squint more from the sun, but he doesn’t answer me. Oh god, does he think I’m flirting with him? This is what happens when I let words come out of my mouth. He yawns and arches his back and stretches out the cords of muscle down his neck and into his shoulders.

  “Okay, well, good talking to you, Alec.” I turn to go.

  “Wait,” he calls out again. “S
orry, I always yawn when I’m nervous.”

  “Nervous?”

  For a second, he doesn’t say anything. “Melanie, are you going to Homecoming?”

  “No,” I answer warily. Say what?

  “Do you want to go with me?” he asks. But before I can answer, he reaches for my gym bag and sets both his and mine on the ground. Then, he reaches for my hand again, leans down, and kisses me. He pulls me a little closer, and I’m holding my breath. His strong hand is warm on my back, and then, while his lips are still on mine…

  …I laugh, loud, obnoxious, and full of spit, like a freakish, awkward quacking duck.

  He jumps back and wipes his hand across his face, and my face burns hot. He looks at me, his head tilted, like I’m a strange curiosity. A fish out of water.

  “Sorry,” I sputter, “But why’d you do that?”

  He laughs, deep and cool. “Because I like you, Melanie.”

  “Well, that’s because you don’t know me.”

  “We’ve been going to school together since second grade,” he says, lifting his chin.

  “I just spit on you.”

  “Yeah. That was…weird,” he says, and he grins. “Wanna try again?”

  “I’ve got to go,” meaning it very much this time.

  He picks up my bag and his and walks with me in the direction of the parking lot. “Are you coming to Homecoming with me?”

  I don’t really even know what Homecoming is. I’ve never had time for stuff like that, especially during the fall swim season. My head is still spinning from our kiss. “Sure. Why not?”

  He smiles the squinty-eye-smile again. “Let me give you a ride home, okay? It’s getting dark. Plus, there was that tremor during practice. That was weird.”

  It barely slowed me down. The water sloshed inside the pool for a second. I didn’t know until I finished the set that it had been an earthquake.

 
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