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Shaken Up
By Allison Wayt
Genre: Non-fiction Level: High School 10-12
Category: UAA/ADN Creative Writing Contest

Allison Wayt

(11.30.18, 8:27 am)

For once, I'm not scrambling to do my homework during class. I feel relaxed, buoyant even, striding down the halls with a backpack slung over my shoulder. I'm thinking about my best friend's birthday in two weeks. I'm thinking about debate club after school. I'm wondering if I received a text message in the minute and thirty seconds since I last checked.

The classroom fills up around me. My teacher sways in and grimly reminds us that a visible phone means detention. I discreetly slip mine into the waistband of my jeans. She starts passing back papers, and I think about my grades, how finals are coming up, how the girl next to me has dyed her hair bright red.

Then I hear it. Over the chatter and clamour of a class just begun, there's a roar in the distance. It's faint, but the hair stands up on the back of my neck. I have a second to wonder, to question, before the table jolts beneath my elbows and my only thought is, it's coming.


(11.30.18, 9:16 am)

Afterwards, I text Rebecca, who lives 5,000 miles away. She says she doesn't understand why we hide under tables.

"Would not the table hit you too?" she questions in almost-perfect English. At least her English is better than my German. I look for the words to explain. How do I explain the years of drills, of crouching under classroom tables with crayons rolling over the edge, the automatic response to seek an open doorway when the ground heaves under your feet. I think of how she's never held on with white knuckles to the legs of a table, tasting rust and grinning hard at your friends nearby. She's never had her leg cramp from being sat on by another student, waiting for the loudspeaker to crackle and tell us it's safe. I'm not sure how to translate my thoughts into a language she will understand, much less English. How does one explain instinct? I tell her it's safer under tables, to hide until objects stop falling. Rebecca doesn't believe me.

"Crazy Americans," she calls us fondly, and asks once again if the house is truly still standing.


(11.30.18, 10:34 pm)

I can't sleep. Every movement, every creak of the bed is another reason for adrenaline. I feel my mattress shake, and my legs are over the side of the bed before I know what's happening. I map out a route down to the driveway before my brain catches up with my feet. The shaking stops before my feet can hit the floor. My heart pounds, strong enough that I can feel it in my ears and thumbs. In the dark of my room, I force myself to breathe. My mom calls,

"Are you okay?" I call back an agreement, sliding my legs back underneath the sheets. I seriously consider sleeping in jeans. Every slight shudder makes me tense. All I really want is sleep. I jam a pair of heavy headphones over my ears and roll over. Mother Nature owes me one anyways, after today.


(11.30.18 8:56 am)

The house is dark. My hands are shaking as I open the car door. There are no signs of damage, no markers of the apocalypse. My brother shakes snow off his shoes and points to the front door; if the power's out, there's no point in trying the garage. My dad's repeated words on the wisdom of keeping a house key in your backpack are coming back to haunt me. I dig around for the red lanyard I know lives somewhere in the deep recesses of my bag. I pull it out triumphantly, the first time I've used this key in my entire life. My hands are still shaking. After a moment, I give the lanyard to my brother instead.


(11.30.18 8:30 am)

For a split second, it goes pitch black, and terror courses through me. Someone screams. It was all routine until now. This is off the books, off the grid, sliding into the unknown. The lights flicker back on, and suddenly there are sirens wailing, cutting through the confusion. The girl next to me stares back with wide eyes, red hair falling in her face. The shaking hasn't stopping, and I'm aware of my mouth moving though I'm not sure what I'm saying. It might be a repeated, "Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god." My palms were pressed flat on the floor, but now I scrabble for my phone, still tucked safely in my waistband. I decide I don't care about detention. I want information, and I want it now. I text a dozen people in as many seconds: are u ok?? The fire alarm still screeches aboves, and heads appear from under desks. It feels like too long until my teacher peers into the now empty hallways and tells us to go. I grab my backpack and join the mass heading for the door. We're the last ones to leave, and the dark hall echoes the shriek of the siren. Everyone is talking, running, taking steps two at a time. I try calling my mom. No connection. I try for a second time with no better luck. I check, and none of my text messages are sending. By now we are outside, with no clear direction and no idea how bad the damage is. I feel chills, but I don't feel the cold of early morning November. I cannot contact anyone. I am powerless.

I stand with the rest of my class shivering. No one has a coat. People left purses, car keys. Some even left their phone. I spin in circles, trying to catch a familiar face. My hands are shaking so bad I have to stuff my phone in my pocket to keep from dropping it.

The ground heaves once more and more people shout. It echoes in the freezing air, my eyes locked onto the swinging street lamp overhead.

I spot the younger brother of a friend. I can only hope he knows who I am. I shout his name and he turns, the moon catching in his wide eyes. I shout, asking where his older brother is. He shrugs, shoulders hunched to the strange person screaming at him about his sibling. I force my legs to move, though my steps are unsteady. I push through knots of people. Teachers are trying to keep order, but kids have long since abandoned the cold for the heat of their cars. I keep searching.

I find my brother, bemused by my frantic actions, and finally am able to call my mom. I don't know when the fire alarm stops, because it's quickly been muffled by our frightened babble and car engines. Those who left their car keys inside argue with teachers and security, without any success. The clumps of kids neatly grouped by class has long since spilled into one another, a mess of people laughing and talking furiously. Someone hysterically claims the school is on fire, someone else that it's flooding. No one knows exactly why the fire alarm went off.

I wrap my arms around myself, still searching for something. I take a mental headcount of all the people I know. I'm worried I'm forgetting someone. I won't realize they're missing until a picture in the newspaper, a teary phone call, the day we come back to school and see somber faces-

My brother arranges a ride with a friend. I've never talked to him but now I'm sitting in his car, next to a pair of skis on half a seat covered in dog hair. My feet shuffle amongst the school papers that form a carpet as the car pulls out of the lot. I huddle in on myself as my brother turns up the car radio.


(11.30.18 8:47 am)

The groupchat explodes, a million texts a minute. Reports roll in from all over: Fairbanks, Homer, Sitka, and Eagle River, Washington and California.

"R u ok???"

"the ceiling fell"

"Holy sh*t that was big"

"Is everyone good?"

"What's going on?"

"I'm ok"

"Tsunami warning. We're fine"

"Jesus what??"

"I'm fine"

"Thank god"

"I'm okay"


(11.30.18 12:19 pm)

I listen to my mom assure my relatives we have running water and heating, that our roof is still attached. The aftershocks come every ten minutes or so, ranging from light rattling to real shaking. From the other room, my mom fields questions from aunts and uncles who live land-locked and on steady soil. They've never seen the lights swig back and forth, imagined the ocean swallowing up the entirety of downtown. Then again, I've never seen a tornado lift a house into the air. I've been naturalized to snow and tsunami warnings. I close my eyes, listening in to the phone conversation. Maybe things will be okay after all.

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