Monday, October 22, 2012

Earthquake and Bear: Flash Fiction

I wrote this a couple months ago as an experiment in rewriting a Chinese fairy tale by Pu Songling as slipstream flash fiction. The original story is simply titled Earthquake. I hope you like it!


The port of San Diego was struck by an earthquake on June 17th, 2027 at seven o'clock in the morning. I was stationed at the barracks then and sipping at tea with my good friend Linda when we heard a sound like thunder rolling from the southeast and going northwest. The lights went out and the video screen toppled from the kitchen table, smashing on the tiles of the kitchen floor. Soon white dust began to seep from the seams of the ceiling and we were thrown from our feet. The walls and rafters shook and shrieked. We looked at each other, our faces gone pale. It took awhile to realize that the sound was coming from outside, in the port. Each of us hurried outside. Two and three story buildings were drunk: swaying to the left and right. The sounds of the disaster, the wails of women and children, the seething uproar of falling walls and collapsing buildings, fused into one. No one could stand, they sat on the sidewalks or in the streets and let the buckling earth toss them around. The waves at the piers crashed 15 feet into the air. Car alarms and dog barks echoed through the streets. Some time later the last of the tremors quieted and my friend and I stood up. In the street, all of Linda's neighbors, who gathered at the street corners, were talking frantically, all of them in their pajamas, nightwear, or in nothing at all. The rumors were already blooming: the water mains had broken the next street over, someone's south-facing exposure now faced east; the Emerald Plaza had imploded; a sinkhole had opened on Madison Ave swallowing an entire apartment. Before too long, both Linda and I retreated to her house to escape the insanity. 
I told her about when I was five, on a camping trip to North Carolina, a bear had come into our campsite. My mother was inside the RV, changing into hiking gear. My brother told me she heard me crying and when she came out the bear was standing right on the other side of the table, looking at me. My mother swung into action. She threw her backpack at the bear and started shrieking at it. The bear, suddenly under attack from a madwoman, actually backed up a few steps before squatting down and staring at us both. By this point, my mother's screams had alerted our neighbors and they came running with axes and air-horns. The bear went away and my mother snatched me up in her arms. She pointed at the bear and held me tight against her chest, describing what had happened to the assembled neighbors. At some point it dawned on her that she was only wearing her panties and bra. Her face went white and off she sprinted back to the RV.  
Somehow these were linked in my mind, the earthquake and the bear, how when seized by panic, men and women forget themselves. We laughed, both at my mother and her neighbors as we began picking up what had fallen and shattered.
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