“Okay, guys, listen up. It’s quake season, and so far we’ve been lucky, but I wouldn’t count on that luck holding up forever. We need to be prepared, because the quakes give us very little warning.”
Dan sat at the table with the rest of the family, but these family meetings were never happy ones. The quakes took a toll on their village each year, and while death visited many of the homes around him, it’d spared the Tuckers so far. He knew all too well that the odds were against them.
At the other end of the table sat Carol, his wife of 22 years. She, too, knew of the luck they’d had in the past, and she could read the apprehension in his eyes better than anyone.
Their four children sat on the benches around the table, too. There were no chairs, as all of the furniture in the house had to be anchored to the floor. The benches made it easier to do that.
Madison was eighteen months old and, remarkably, was sitting quietly in the booster chair built into the bench. She was playing with a Cheerio she’d found from breakfast.
Leeann, the oldest at 16, was your typical teenage girl ten months out of the year. But when quake season rolled around, she knew she’d be asked to help with her younger siblings, and she shouldered the responsibility without hesitation.
Their oldest boy, DJ, was just two years younger than Leann, but most folks thought he was older. Taller and stockier than his old man, DJ knew he’d also be counted on to help with the family whenever a quake struck.
But it was Ryan who had them worried the most. Four and a half years old, he was still too curious for his own good. Like most boys his age, he was into everything and usually without much thought for the consequences of his actions. Numerous trips to the doctor’s office would attest to that.
“Daddy?” he asked. “Why does everything shake so much? And why does it always start snowing?”
“Well, son, no one really knows for sure. Your grandpa -- and his daddy, too -- said there’s always been quakes for as long as they can remember. But I don’t think it really snows each time. I think that the quake is so strong, and it shakes so much, that the snow from the mountains around us is thrown for miles. At least that’s what your grandpa always told me.”
He could see that Ryan still had questions, but he put his hand up to stop him.
“Now,” he started, addressing the entire group, “everyone knows the drill, right? You stay indoors as much as possible. You walk to and from school with a buddy, and --”
“What, Boo-Boo?” It was the family’s nickname for the accident-prone Ryan.
“Don’t people know when a quake is coming?”
“No, son, they really don’t. The only warning is that the sky gets darker and darker, and you hear strange murmuring noises like this.” He cupped his hands over his mouth and began mumbling nonsense. “It’s kinda like thunder, but not really. Now be quiet a minute and let me finish talking, ok?
“As I was saying, stay with a buddy if you’re gonna be outside, and look for some type of shelter. As for inside the house, you’ll all be happy to know that your mother added some padding to the inside of the quake boxes.”
A quake box was Dan’s contribution to quake-proofing the house. They’d proven so successful that most of the families in the village asked him to build some for them, too.
The quakes that struck their little town at the base of the mountains were unlike any other quakes. Simply standing in a doorway, or crouching in a corner of the room, would offer little protection. Buildings were so violently shaken that more extreme measures were needed to ensure survival. During one particularly violent quake when DJ was nine, he was tossed from the floor to the ceiling – and back again – like a wet dish towel.
The quake boxes were nothing more than “parson’s benches,” eight feet long and two and a half feet square, permanently mounted at the base of a wall. Earlier in the year, Carol had thoughtfully lined the insides with foam padding, thus ensuring a more snug fit.
Each room in the house had at least one. But for the rooms most often occupied by the whole family, such as the kitchen or den, quake boxes lined the entire room. At the first sign of a quake, each family member would jump into the boxes and pull the lids closed.
“So the sides will be a little softer now?” DJ asked hopefully.
“Yes, they will,” his father answered.
“Good. I remember last year my butt got smacked around quite a bit.”
“Ooooo, you said ‘butt,’” Ryan scolded, pointing at DJ.
“Oh yeah? Well, I’m lookin’ at a butt right now!” he shot back.
“Boys,” their mother said, “that’s enough.”
“I know what you mean, DJ,” Leann offered. “I could protect my head in my arms, but I don’t have enough arms to protect my butt, too.”
“Even if you were an octopus, you wouldn’t have enough arms to protect that butt,” DJ retorted.
Leann tried to protest, but the howls of laughter from DJ and Ryan drowned her out. Finally, Dan let out a loud whistle to calm the chaos.
Ryan started to say something, but Carol put a finger to her lips. He sat back in his chair and put his hand over his mouth.
“Okay, any other questions?” Dan asked. “No? Good. It’s Saturday, so let’s all find something fun to do, okay?”
They each slid off the benches and began to rise. But no sooner were they on their feet when they heard the all-too-familiar rumblings from the sky. Instantly, they all turned to the windows and saw the sky darken.
“It’s a quake!” their father yelled, and they all shot from the table. He grabbed Ryan and hollered at DJ, “Get Maddy!” But he needn’t have worried, as DJ had already snatched her from her booster seat and hugged her to his chest.
Dan turned around, raised the lid on the box behind him, and quickly lowered Ryan inside. He turned around to help Carol, but already she and Leann were crawling into quake boxes on the far wall.
“DJ, hurry!” he shouted, as he watched his oldest boy place his little sister into the third box and climb in after her.
The sky was now completely black, and Dan knew the quake was just seconds away. He slid into the box with Ryan and pulled the door shut over him. Pulling his son close, he wrapped his arms around him. Suddenly, the house began to heave. The pitching seemed more violent than he remembered, and he hugged Ryan even tighter.
“Daddy, I’m scared!” he cried. Between the sobbing in his ear, and the thunderous noise of the quake, Dan thought for sure he’d go deaf.
The pitching soon stopped, but they all quietly waited inside the boxes. Finally, Dan peered out and saw that the sky had brightened again. He climbed out of the box, stepped over to a window, and looked outside.
“It’s okay, you can all come out,” he called to his family. Slowly, they emerged from their hiding places and made their way to the window where Dan stood.
“Look, Daddy!” Ryan squealed with delight, the terror of the turbulence beginning to fade from his memory. “It’s snowing!”
Dan put his arm around Carol’s shoulders and whispered in her ear.
“Thank God we survived another one.”
“See, Grandfather? This is one that Father brought back from his trip to America. It’s a tiny village in the Rocky Mountains. Watch this.”
The boy reached for the snow globe, and as his hand got closer, it cast a shadow across the tiny houses and shops inside. When he’d grasped the clear top of the globe, he gave it a good shake for two or three seconds, set it upright on the table, and watched as the snow fell on the mountains and village inside.