SHAKEN
by Lisa Mason
1

Emma “J” for Joy Pearce is on the twenty-second floor of Three Embarcadero when the birds begin to twitter. She is sipping her first cup of coffee and watching the rush-hour traffic crawl across the Bay Bridge into downtown San Francisco. A five-car pileup has blocked the Fremont off-ramp for ages, and she shakes her head, savoring her breakfast blend and feeling just a little bit smug. She doesn’t have to deal with that commute, thank her lucky stars. Living on Telegraph Hill and hiking ten blocks to the office is the way to go. She wouldn’t live anyplace else on the planet.

The birds, a flock of lively sparrows, swarm outside her window. Which is sort of odd. Emma just doesn’t see the tiny birds flying so high. Sparrows tend to be ground-bound, pecking at cookie crumbs outside a café on the mezzanine level. Odder still, they are diving and swooping, forming strange frantic patterns against the pink light of the rising sun. They begin to twitter in earnest now, almost screeching, in a weird frenzy. Sounding not like birds anymore, but some other feral creature, weasels or rats.

The birds rouse Emma out of her morning grogginess into mild surprise.

She had spent the night with Timothy and, half smiling, half frowning, has been mulling over what he’d said. She loves him, of course, but she just isn’t sure. No, wait. That isn’t right. It’s insane, what he’s asking. When they’re both so set in their ways. Things going so well, for the both of them, just the way they are.

She’d bounced out of bed with the completely genuine plea of a very hairy deadline. Buzzed into the office an hour early before the first of the flex-timers. Timothy. Dear sweet wonderful Timothy, but after five years, who would have thought? She sets her cup down, stands and stretches. She isn’t quite ready to start tearing apart the manuscript for Genes: Why I’m Me and Not You, Thank Goodness. The first chapter is a mess with lapidary moments, like the rest of the manuscripts Nigel Fontaine has turned in over the years.

More mess than brilliance in his projects these days. She must have a heart-to-heart huddle with the old coot sometime soon. She checks her calendar. Maybe lunch next week?

What’s with the birds?

A hollow booming rises out of the westward fog. Her windows begin rattling. Suddenly, flagpoles are tossing to and fro on the tops of high-rises.

The earthquake strikes.

It starts with a long, rolling shudder, just like the five-point-five in the spring of last year. Emma had been in this very same office, except then she’d been a senior staff writer, and now she’s the managing editor. Someone in the corridor outside her office now yells, “Whoo-eee! Shake-n-quake!” In the cubicles, the copy editors scream, half in fright, half in fun, and giddy laughter peals out.

Just like last year.

Emma doesn’t laugh. Her Blackfeet Indian pencils roll across her desk and spill off the edge, and sharp panic sets her heart pounding. The hand-thrown pottery on her windowsill clinks and totters, and a vase–the most expensive one, of course–tumbles to the floor, splitting in two like a cleaved melon. Her PC monitor flickers, then blanks out.

“Shit! I just lost an hour’s worth of work,” wails the new staff writer.

Emma doesn’t think twice. She grabs her handbag, her cell phone, her trench coat, the first aid kit she keeps in the bottom left-hand drawer of her desk, and she scrambles the hell out of there.

She flees the southeast corner offices of Ridley Publishing for the architectural heart of Three Embarcadero. There, where the elevators and lavatories are located, she finds the very same coat closet she fled to last year. She flings herself inside, secures the door behind her. Burrowing past winter wools and leather jackets, she finds the very same sturdy corner, where she crouches in a quivering fetal ball.

They said the five-point-five last year lasted all of fifty-seven seconds. But in the dark, in the isolation, the sensation of a twenty-eight-story, steel-girded, million-ton high-rise tossing back and forth as casually as the wicker rocking chair in her living room had seemed to last forever. Crying quietly into someone’s raincoat, Emma had felt dizzy then, disoriented. Paralyzed for the entire hour it had taken Jack and Eddie to find her. Led by the beeping of her cell phone as they’d called her and she couldn’t even answer, they’d stumbled into her coat closet at last, calling, “Hee-re chick chick chick! Chick chick chickie?”, and pried her out. After that, they’d ribbed her unmercifully for weeks, often seizing her by the shoulder and shaking her around.

She was vexed. Emma “J” for Joy Pearce was no crybaby or scaredy-cat. She’d relocated on her own from Philadelphia to San Francisco for the position at Ridley Publishing, and has regretted not one single moment in the seven years since. She adores the Bay area. She backpacks in the Marin Headlands or Tilden Park, rides horses on Stinson Beach, plays a decent game of racquetball at her health club downtown. She bungee-jumped–just once–on a hundred-dollar dare. She used to make every Friday night happy hour and get to know every available guy on the scene. Or at least his astrological sign. That was in the days before Timothy, of course.

But earthquakes?

Earthquakes have turned out to be Emma’s one and only phobia. For some people, it’s spiders or heights or the number thirteen. For Emma, hands down, it’s earthquakes. The ground suddenly giving way beneath your feet, the helpless plunge into darkness and chaos. It is her recurring anxiety nightmare, a chasm gaping open, and she runs and runs, unable to escape that plunge except into heart-pounding wakefulness.

It started with a little quake right after she moved here, a tremor that struck while she was at home, causing her aging apartment building to groan and sway, filling her for the first time with that sharp panic. She took charge, made changes. She moved to a Victorian flat on the solid bedrock of Telegraph Hill. Yet she just can’t shake the knee-jerk. Every rattle of wind in the windows, every erratic creak in the timbers, every tremor from a passing bus, sends her blood pressure shooting through the roof. Some nights, she’s had trouble sleeping. And then, ever since the five-point-five, there have been the nightmares.

Terrific. She’s got a job she loves and will never willingly leave, perched high in a skyscraper above one of the most infamous fault lines in the world. What a time to find out she’s got an actual phobia.

Holed up in her coat closet once again, now Emma stifles a moan. She presses the back of her hand to her mouth, gnaws at her knuckles. Come on, woman. Pull yourself together. She will stand right up and she will march right out, back to her office. She will tell the copy editors to stop farting around and get to work. She’s got that deadline and she will meet it. She’ll be tarred and feathered before Jack and Eddie will come chick-chick-chicking after her again. She will. She will get hold of herself, just as soon as the long, rolling shudder stops.

But it doesn’t stop.

The shudder deepens into violent shaking. Empty coat hangers bang with an explosive metallic clang. A chemical odor fills her senses, and the strangest sensation, hot and cold at the same time, and the awful prickle of a powerful electrical field. Images of doom from her dreams leap before her eyes.

“Stop it!” Emma mutters. “Stop it, stop it.”

But it doesn’t stop.

It doesn’t stop.

A BOOM! rises up from inside the building. She can hear the thud of heavy objects slamming against the walls, and screaming, panicked screaming, and a massive shatter of glass. The coat closet pitches, the walls tipping at impossible inclines, flinging her against one sheet of pressboard, then the other. She grabs at an alpaca shawl hanging above her, pulls it down. Seizes half a dozen jackets and pulls them down too, cocooning herself in coats.

Then, incredibly, the floor begins to sink, in short, choppy drops at first, then faster, deeper, like an elevator plunging out of control. Moving out of sheer instinct, Emma struggles free of the coats and scrambles on top of them. She clutches the clothes pole, tucks her tongue out of the way of her teeth. When the bone-crushing bottom finally comes, the ceiling crashes in within a handspan of the clothes pole, and a beam in the floor pops out of the carpet with a ripping noise.

Emma loses her grip–which way should she go, anyway?–and slams herself into the mound of clothing.

She lies there panting, stunned with disbelief, pulse pounding in her ears.

She hears the wail of the emergency warning sirens and, somewhere beyond the closet walls, people screaming and screaming. There is a piercing scream, too, that in a moment Emma identifies as her own voice, and it seems as if the whole city cries out from one throat.

So there you have the beginning, my friends, of a twisty story. Shaken is on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

NEW NEW NEW! One Day in the Life of Alexa, my new novella, IN PRINT NOW at https://www.createspace.com/7181096. As a Kindle Select ebook One Day in the Life of Alexa is offered on Kindle Select for a limited time only (until August 11, 2017) at US Kindle, UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, France Kindle, Germany Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Spain Kindle, Brazil Kindle, Mexico Kindle, India Kindle, and Japan Kindle.

From the author of Summer Of Love, A Time Travel (a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist and San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book). On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

The Gilded Age, A Time Travel (a New York Times Notable Book and New York Public Library Recommended Book). On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. On Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

Time Travels to San Francisco (boxed set of Summer of Love and The Gilded Age). On US Kindle, UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Brazil, Mexico, India, and Japan.

Arachne (a Locus Hardover Bestseller). On US Kindle, UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. On Kindle in France Kindle, Germany Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Spain Kindle, Mexico Kindle, Brazil Kindle, India Kindle, and Japan Kindle.

Cyberweb (sequel to Arachne). is on US Kindle, BarnesandNoble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Brazil Kindle, France Kindle, Germany Kindle, India Kindle, Italy Kindle, Japan Kindle, Mexico Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, and Spain Kindle.

Strange Ladies: 7 Stories (“A must-read collection—The San Francisco Review of Books). On Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

The Garden of Abracadabra (“Fun and enjoyable urban fantasy . . . I want to read more!) On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. On Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

Celestial Girl, A Lily Modjeska Mystery (Five stars) On Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

Shaken On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

Hummers On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.

Daughter of the Tao On US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, BarnesandNoble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in AustraliaFrance, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

Every Mystery Unexplained On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.

Tomorrow’s Child On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

The Sixty-third Anniversary of Hysteria On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.

U F uh-O On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.

Tesla, A Screenplay On US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, BarnesandNoble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.

My Charlotte: Patty’s Story On Barnes and Noble, US Kindle, UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Netherlands, and Mexico.

“Illyria, My Love” is on US Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Germany Kindle, France Kindle, Spain Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Japan Kindle, Brazil Kindle, Mexico Kindle, and India Kindle.

Please visit me at Lisa Mason’s Official Website for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, and blogs, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!

And on Lisa Mason’s Blog, on my Facebook Author Page, on my Facebook Profile Page, on Amazon, on Goodreads, on LinkedIn, on Twitter at @lisaSmason, at Smashwords, at Apple, at Kobo, and at Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

If you enjoy a title, please “Like” it, add five stars, write a review on the site where you bought it, Tweet it, blog it, post it,, and share the word with your family and friends.

Your participation really matters.
Thank you for your readership!

 

Advertisements