Natalie, a self-centered girl whose family drags her away from home at the worst possible time. Damien, a juvenile delinquent condemned as an accessory to murder. Connor, an angry young man unable to get over the death of his father. Three teenagers from different backgrounds, each suffering pain and loss, must now find strength, responsibility and heroism they didn’t know they possessed if they’re to survive the worst disaster in American history, a 9.7 earthquake which devastates the Pacific Northwest. Facing a struggle for survival that will not only test their resolve, but affect the lives of those around them, they must let go of their own personal issues and look beyond themselves before a massive tsunami destroys them all.
Earth is a 3-D puzzle made of large pieces called tectonic plates. Every part of the world’s surface, land or sea, sits atop these plates. Areas where they meet are called subduction zones, and sometimes one massive plate will slide beneath another, triggering an earthquake. On December 26, 2004, just off the coast of Indonesia, the Indo-Australian Plate slid beneath the Eurasian Plate, producing an undersea earthquake measuring between 9.1 and 9.3 on the Richter Scale. One of the strongest quakes ever recorded in modern times, it created tremors which were felt as far away as Alaska, and caused the entire planet to wobble on its axis. The quake displaced massive amounts of ocean water, triggering a tsunami measuring over 100 feet high, which struck the Asian coast, killing 150,000 people and leaving over a million others homeless.
Just off the coast of the northwestern United States lies the Cascadia Subduction Zone, which stretches beneath the Pacific from Canada’s Vancouver Island down to northern California. There is evidence several massive quakes have erupted from this region over the past 3,500 years. Each was followed by a tsunami. It last happened at around 9:00 P.M. in the year 1700. To this day, it is believed to be one of the largest known quakes in history, and the subsequent tsunami reached as far as Japan.
If the Cascadia Subduction Zone were to rupture today with the same magnitude as it did in 1700, both the quake and tsunami would cause unimaginable destruction across the entire Pacific Northwest, devastating such major cities as Seattle, Olympia, Tacoma, Portland, Victoria and Vancouver, B.C.
Damage would be in the hundred of billions of dollars.
Loss of life could number in the hundreds of thousands.
Coastal towns would literally be erased from existence...
...towns like Pangea Bay, Oregon....
She was startled awake when a shark struck the side of her face. Dropping into her lap, it’s one good eye - the other fell off years ago - stared vacantly back. Natalie ripped headphones from her ears and glared over at her sister. Lucy bounced in her booster seat and giggled.
“Not funny, you little brat,” Natalie spat.
From the front seat, their mom craned her head with a stern stare. “I told you a million times not to call her that,” she said.
“She threw a stuffed animal at me!”
Lucy aimed a tiny finger at her and yelled, “You started it!”
“Did not.” Natalie gave her a harsh glare, which made Lucy giggle louder.
“Did to!” Lucy held out her hand and demanded, “Give him back.”
Natalie clutched the old stuffed fish and held it just out of Lucy’s reach. “You want this?” she teased. “What do you say?”
Her little sister swiped at it with a tiny hand. Natalie playfully yanked it away and smirked.
“Give me Crunch now!” Lucy demanded.
“Nope.” Natalie shook her head, then stuffed the animal in the seat pocket in front of her. “He was mine before he was yours. Now I want him back.” Not true, of course. She outgrew her attachment to that stupid animal before her sister was even born. Lucy, on the other hand, loved old Crunch. She didn’t care if he was missing an eye, or about the crusty brown stains spotting his fur. Despite her bounty of newer stuffed animals at home, Crunch was the one she hauled everywhere.
Like flipping a switch, Lucy turned on the waterworks. Tears filled her eyes as she kicked her legs and whined.
“What’s the problem back there?” demanded their dad, scowling as he drove.
“Lucy’s being a brat,” Natalie insisted.
“I said don’t call her that!” Mom grouched.
“Mommy, Natalie won’t give me Crunch!” Lucy cried before cramming a thumb in her mouth.
“‘Cause you threw him at me. Must mean you don’t want him,” Natalie teased.
Lucy raised the volume of her tantrum.
Her dad angrily glared back and barked, “Stop teasing her and give it back before I turn the car around and go back home!”
“Fine. I don’t want to go on this stupid trip, anyway. I got better things to do.”
Dad’s jaw tightened, a sign he was about to break out into one of his famous, obscenity-filled tirades. They used to scare her, but came so often lately she learned to tune them out.
Mom intervened, squeezing Dad’s shoulder as she glanced back. “Natalie, you’re fourteen, she just turned four - ”
“But - ” Natalie tried to protest before Mom raised a silencing hand.
“You’re her big sister, and you need to just overlook it when she’s trying to antagonize you. You weren’t any different when you were that age. Now stop teasing and give Crunch back to her.”
Disgusted, Natalie grabbed Crunch and tossed it into her sister’s lap. Once again, the little chumbucket gets away with murder; once again, I’m the bad guy.
Her mom looked over at Lucy. “What do you say to Natalie?”
Lucy glared over, stuck out her lower lip and scolded, “Bad sister!” Then she clutched Crunch to her cheek and stuck her thumb back in her mouth. End of argument.
“Lucy, you be nice,” Mom encouraged with a sweet grin.
“Aren’t you a little old to be sucking your thumb?” Natalie grumbled.
“That’s enough, Natalie,” Mom added before turning back around.
“Whatever,” Natalie whispered, cramming her headphones back in her ears and dialing through the songs on her iPod.
A few minutes later, Crunch pelted her in the face again.
Miss Flint reached the back row of the classroom and held out his midterm grade report, gripping it with two fingers as though it was crawling with germs. Her thin lips puckered into a tight smirk, like they’d just sucked a sour pickle. Connor stared back hard, willing her to drop dead as he snatched the report from her hand. He didn’t bother to look at it; he knew what his grade was just by the look on her face.
“Your welcome, Mr. McKenzie,” she chided before moving to another row.
“Prune face,” he muttered under his breath.
She whipped around and glared. “What was that?”
Some nearby students giggled, including his best friend, Taylor, seated in the desk next to him.
Connor pasted on his sincerest grin and held open his arms. “Nothing, Miss Flint,” he said innocently. “You have a great spring break, okay?”
A few more chuckles. Miss Flint’s pickle-sucking smirk disappeared, rendering everyone silent.
“Mr. McKenzie, I’d like you to stay after class for a moment, if you don’t mind,” she said evenly before continuing her task.
“Whatever,” Connor muttered defiantly, pretending he didn’t care. The truth was just the opposite. Bringing home an F in History was going to seriously screw up his vacation. Mom got angry when he brought home C’s, let alone flat-out flunking a class. All because ol’ Flint had it in for him.
“Good luck, dude,” cackled Taylor as the bell rang. “I’ll wait for you in the parking lot.”
While other students gathered their books and filed out the door, Connor sulked in his chair. Miss Flint sauntered to her desk, shuffling through some papers until she had him alone.
“Mr. McKenzie...” she began. Miss Flint never called him by his first name. That honor was reserved for the few butt-kissers she actually liked. For everyone else it was Mr. This or Ms. That. “...care to tell me what your problem is this time?”
Connor said nothing, avoiding her stare while he impatiently fidgeted.
“Let me guess,” she offered. “You don’t think you deserve your grade.”
“You got that right,” he spat, staring down at his progress report in disgust.
“Mr. McKenzie, you didn’t turn in your Renaissance project - ”
“That’s only one assignment.”
“The biggest one of the term, young man,” she scolded.
Young man?, Connor bitterly mused. To you, Jesus is a young man.
“But it isn’t just the project,” she continued in that holier-than-thou tone he hated. “You also got D’s on both tests, and never bothered coming in after school to make them up.”
“I have baseball practice after school!” Connor argued, angrily slapping his desktop. “I told you that!”
“That’s not my problem. Baseball isn’t one of my priorities.” Miss Flint strolled behind her desk and took a seat. “And after I have a word with your coach, it will no longer be one of yours.”
“Hey, you can’t - ”
“Oh, I can and I will, Mr. McKenzie. You’re almost always off-task in class, you’re disrespectful and disruptive. You’re certainly intelligent, but you’re also lazy and never apply yourself. You’re in this quandary because of you, not me. So if you want to blame someone, take a look in the mirror, young man.” She shook her head sadly . “I’ll tell you one thing, Mr. McKenzie...you’re certainly nothing like your father. I never heard him piling on the excuses when he was in my class. I think he’d be quite disappointed in you right now.”
Connor glared back hatefully. “Don’t talk about my dad, Miss Flint. You don’t know how he’d feel, and you sure as hell don’t know me.” His eyes stung as tears threatened. He willed them away, refusing to give Pruneface the satisfaction of seeing him cry.
“No need to use that kind of language, Mr. McKenzie,” she said curtly.
“Yeah?” Connor promptly stood, snatched up his binder and progress report, then stomped toward the door. “How this....up yours, you old windbag!” Just before leaving the classroom, he whipped around and shot back, “What do you think of that?”
With another pickle-sucking smirk, Miss Flint replied, “I think, come Monday after spring break, you’re going to find yourself suspended.”
They drove all the way to the train station without saying a word. His mom sat in the passenger’s seat, sniffling and occasionally wiping tears from her cheeks. Mike, his stepdad, stared straight ahead as he drove. Damien couldn’t see the man’s face, but doubted any tears squeezed from those eyes
Except tears of joy, maybe.
Mike pulled his truck into the parking lot of Coos Bay’s lonely train station and gently eased it into two spots. Damien gripped the suitcase next to him, anticipating a quick escape to avoid any gooey goodbyes from his mom. She didn’t want him to go, but Mike was nothing if not persuasive, promising her, with his usual salesman’s pitch, this was best for everyone.
Best for you, you mean, Damien thought, staring daggers into the back of Mike’s skull.
As soon as Mike killed the engine, Damien hoisted his suitcase and climbed out of the back seat, taking a last, longing listen to the ocean waves crashing nearby. He was sure gonna miss that sound.
Then he deliberately slammed the door as hard as he could, hoping to get Mike’s goat.
Instead, his stepdad leaped out of the truck like a child waking up on Christmas morning; not even Damien abusing the man’s precious Humvee (which he insisted on calling a rig) was going to ruin this day. Mom took the time to grab another tissue and compose herself before joining them.
Damien didn’t wait, shuffling toward the station like a condemned prisoner. It wasn’t until he reached the entrance that he noticed he was by himself. He turned around, frowning as he watched Mike throw open the hatch of his ‘rig’ and hoist out his army-issue duffel bag.
He watched with mounting dread as Mike slung the duffel bag over his shoulder and marched toward him with a mile-wide grin. Mom did her best to keep up, eyeing her husband uncertainly.
“What’s up with the bag?” Damien asked, already dreading the answer. “I got everything I need in my suitcase.”
“Oh, this isn’t for you,” Mike replied, reaching to pull open the door. Then he put a meaty hand on Damien’s shoulder and chuckled. “I’m coming with you, tough guy.”
Damien blankly stared back, unsure he heard right.
Apparently satisfied with his stepson’s reaction, Mike stepped back to allow he and his mom to enter the terminal first. “After you, Damien Heston,” he said. “Our chariot awaits.”
After he left the building, Connor went to the nearest trash can, yanked his unfinished Renaissance project from his binder and tore it in half, then in quarters. The term was over; there was no point in hanging onto it now. A few pieces of tattered paper fluttered to the ground as he stuffed the can. Not bothering to pick them up, Connor hurried to the school parking lot and found Taylor, leaning against the back of his Chevy pick-up, talking to Tawnya Garcia. His best friend was decked out in his usual gear...a letterman jacket and the most recent ‘funny’ tee-shirt he picked up at Wal-Mart. This one read, I didn’t say it was you’re fault...I said I was going to blame you.
“Hey, buddy,” Taylor said. “Turn around.”
“Why?” Connor asked, doing as requested.
“How ‘bout that...still intact. I thought for sure I’d see one of Flint’s high heels buried in your butt.”
Tawnya giggled. She laughed at all of Taylor’s attempts at humor, even when they weren’t always that funny.
“Yeah, ha ha, dillweed,” Connor muttered.
Taylor shot a glance at Tawnya and said, “Hey, I’ll call you later, okay? Me and my comrade here got some business to discuss.”
“Okay,” she said hopefully before strutting away, intentionally swinging her hips in a clumsy attempt to appear sexy.
“Kinda hot in a ditzy sort of way,” Connor offered admiringly. “For a sophomore, anyway. You gonna ask her out?”
Taylor chortled. “What, Tawnya? No way.”
“Why not? You know she has it bad for you.”
“You obviously haven’t sat and talked with her for five minutes.” He aimed a finger at his own head. “Scrambled eggs up there, dude.”
“Then why string her along?”
Taylor shrugged indifferently. “It’s fun. If and when some dumb little hottie ever thinks you’re like the greatest male specimen walking the planet, you’ll do the same thing.”
Must be nice, Connor thought enviously. He was no slouch, but rarely dated anyone as hot as the girls who threw themselves at Taylor. And the guy always acted like it was no big deal. Taylor didn’t know how good he had it.
“You’re gonna die a lonely man if you keep blowing these chicks off,” Connor said congenially.
Taylor laughed again. “Not a chance. Come on, it’s time to celebrate. Spring break is upon us!”
Taylor quickly climbed into the truck and fired her up. Connor tossed his back-pack and binder into the bed with Taylor’s baseball gear and joined him.
“So...” Taylor said, screeching out of the parking lot and heading toward downtown Pangea Bay. “...let’s hear it.”
Connor slapped a hand to his forehead and pulled it down his face. “Man, I’m so screwed. Not only wouldn’t she listen to me about my grade, she’s gonna have me thrown off the team. I’m probably gonna be suspended, too.”
“Suspended? What for?”
“‘Cause I totally went-off on her. My mom’s gonna go ballistic when she hears that. She’ll take away my boogie board and ground me for life.” He sighed heavily. “You’re looking at a dead man walking.”
His friend slapped the steering wheel and snickered. “Went off on Flint? What’d you say, dude?”
“Up yours, windbag.”
Taylor’s mouth fell open. “You got some big ones, buddy! That old lady’s the biggest hard-case that ever rolled through Pangea Bay High! She scares the crap out of everybody! Even me!” He turned into the parking lot of Crazy Dog, a fast food place where a lot of kids hung out on Friday afternoons. “What’d she say to get you so riled up? Was it the baseball thing?”
Connor stared out the windshield, watching his friend find the only open space left in the tiny lot. “She brought up my old man. Said he’d be disappointed in me.” His head sunk as he stared into his lap, fighting tears again. He didn’t want Taylor to see him cry any more than Miss Flint.
Taylor’s grin morphed to a scowl as he killed the engine. “Man, that’s a low blow, even for her,” he said sympathetically. “She knows what happened.”
Despite his efforts, his eyes filled up; a few droplets soaked into his jeans. “Do you think she’s right? Do you think my dad would be disappointed in me?”
Taylor pounded the dashboard. “Dude, don’t listen to her! Just because she had him in a class a jillion years ago doesn’t mean squat! She’s just an old lady who’s burned-out from teaching too long and has no life of her own, other than making kids miserable. Who gives a crap what she thinks!”
Connor couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. “I miss him, man,” he sobbed quietly. “I miss him so much...”
“I know, man,” Taylor squeezed Connor’s trembling shoulder. “I know. We all miss him.”
“She didn’t have the right...” Connor furiously rubbed his fists into his eyes. “She had no right.”
They sat in silence for a few moments. Connor slowly pulled himself together, while his best friend waited patiently.
“Come on, dude,” Taylor finally said. “Let’s go inside before people start thinking we’re a couple of queers.”
Connor snickered; snot shot from his running nose.
“Yuck,” Taylor groaned, yanking an old paper napkin from the glove box and wiping his dashboard. “Snot rocket!”
Connor burst out laughing, just as the pick-up started to slowly rock. Taylor’s key-ring, still in the ignition, jingled like tiny chimes.
“Huh?” Taylor grunted, gripping the wheel.
The truck swayed back and forth. Connor looked back, thinking one of Taylor’s football buddies was bouncing on the tailgate. No one was there, but at the outdoor dining area just outside of Crazy Dog’s pick-up window, several wide-eyed customers gripped their tables. A few sodas shook and toppled over. A kid he recognized from his Humanities class, a pint-sized sophomore named Albert, was at the pick-up window struggling to keep his balance; he teetered like he was drunk. Connor shot an nervous glance out his window; the car next to them was rocking, too, setting off its alarm.
Then the shaking subsided.
He looked back again to the big commotion at the dining tables. Stunned customers stood dumbfounded, waving their arms and chattering at those around them. One lady pulled a wad of napkins from a dispenser to wipe the drink that dropped in her lap.
“Dude...” Taylor said, finally releasing his grip on the wheel. “...was that an earthquake?”
“I dunno,” Connor replied. He opened the door and climbed out, wincing as the car alarm next to him continued to screech. A few seconds later, the vehicle’s owner ran out of the restaurant, aimed his key-ring and shut it up.
“You boys feel that?” the man asked with a grin. “Healthy little tremor, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah,” was all Connor could muster.