Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Rumble


The Rumble
Sometimes the big events in our lives come quietly, almost without notice in our busy, skeptical world. Only when we look back, do we see the enormity of our situation. . .

One night, after going to bed quite late, Linda Westerhazy woke suddenly, seemingly, and in doing so, she felt the rumble, coming deep from within, yet distant, building, and growing, faster, louder, like two lovers coming to a quiet climax. Her husband, Don, was sleeping soundly next to her, and was completely unaware of the threat that was approaching. Linda, sitting up in bed, quickly, looking around, the stillness of the room contrasting oddly with the tension she felt of an impending doom. Gazing around the room, eyes adjusting to the dark, the memory of a pleasant dream interrupted by the rumble, now slipping away and Linda thought. "Did I dream that?"

"What?" Her inner voice asked.

"That noise" she replied.

She felt the room shaking again, the bed rolling, the curtains moving, fan swinging, a dull roar vibrating in the wall behind her.

"That noise!" Her mental dialog with herself continued.

The rumbling stopped.

"Don't lie, you felt that."

Turning frantically in the bed, Don sleeping soundly, snoring, oblivious to the shaking, she poked his side.

"Ugh" Don grunted, his head lifting slightly. Then his breath settled back into his rhythmic snore.

Linda was about to push her husband harder, but thought better of it.

"Don is a light sleeper," she thought.

"That noise should've waked him up -- but it didn't."

Linda laid her head back down on her pillow, trembling, staring at her husband as he slept. Her mind not shutting down, it was times like this when she would start thinking back to her childhood, growing up with an alcoholic mother, and her father who was never around much to make a difference. Her head hurting, Don drooling, Linda continued thinking about what she felt and heard, trying to reconcile all the shakings and rumblings. Considering herself non-religious, agnostic at best, Linda's mind didn't wander anywhere near the subject of religion. God, the devil, and the vocabulary of the Bible were not part of her every day life. Those were Don's interests, not hers. Not a fan of science fiction films or of the super-natural, Linda's mind gravitated toward logical, explainable solutions and answers. The closest Linda ever came to exploring religion of any kind was as a freshman in college, and she thought back to the time she took a comparative religions course. Interested in learning more, she considered, "exploring" one of the many campus religious youth groups. However, the seeds of religious enlightenment died without ever germinating, her mother succumbed to a heart attack that year and died. Her dad showing up for the last time in her life, Linda remembered how old he looked, so tired, so worn, the years of dealing with her mother's alcoholism took its toll on him. Her father's hair was completely gray, yet she knew he was only in his mid-forties. Remembering back even further, when she was a little girl, her dad was tall, straight, and handsome. Now looking at him, she could hardly believe this was the same man. While growing up her father rarely talked with her, usually only barking orders or demanding answers. This was probably the first conversation they ever had; it was definitely the last.

"I don't believe in God, dad."

"Never did much myself, as far back as I remember." He replied.

"What's going to happen to mom now that she is dead?"

Despite his hangover after the wake, her father's lucidity on the subject made a point so deep that his words would stay with Linda for the rest of her life.

"We are just dust, honey, and to dust we return, there is no heaven and there is no God." Linda's father paused, for dramatic effect as he sighed, setting Linda's core beliefs for the rest of her life.


Her father said "you receive from this world only what you put in to it. There is nothing more and nothing else. Because when you die Linda, your dead, and that is the great-all-no-more."

Horrible thoughts were still running through her brain, like trailers for disaster movies flickering onto the screen one after another, her mind racing, refusing to shut down. Deep breathes her yoga instructor told her, slowly, and gradually after a few hours, just as the dawn began peeking over the horizon, the anxiety slipping away slowly, Linda Westerhazy fell into a sound dreamless sleep.

Later around mid-morning, after the sun came up, while watching the Saturday morning news, as Linda was making breakfast, Don, turning the TV's volume down so he could talk, turned to his wife and said, "Did you hear about these earthquakes?"

Linda, looking up from shredding potatoes, her face was expressionless and drawn. The feelings of hopelessness returned.

"One was in Argentina, the other in Chile." Don continued. "And another one was an eight point fiver that happened off the coast of Japan."

"Did you hear anything last night, Don?"

Not paying attention, Don continued his running commentary of the earthquakes as the reporter narrated the scenes of destruction on the television.

"What? No, I didn't hear anything." Don said, as he was leaning forward towards the television, straining to hear. Linda noticing for the first time, how a touch of gray was starting to form at her husband's temples, his face clean shaven, fresh, thinking how distinguished he looked for only being forty.

"Last night, I heard a noise." Linda was saying, hoping to get Don's attention. "The noise, I think I heard it around two or three this morning? Are you sure you didn't hear anything?" Linda asked again.

"No. Like what?" Don said, still not looking at his wife.

"Uh nothing, I guess. I just thought I heard noises."

Linda said, as she looked down at the half shredded potatoes, bacon sizzling in the frying pan behind her, feeling silly. Looking at the TV, she felt the panic festering again and she opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out. Their two children opened the sliding glass door and came inside, laughing. Dropping the subject, the sun shining, the smell of breakfast filling the kitchen, Linda went about her day forgetting about the night before.

A week later, Linda woke in the middle of the night, again hearing a low rumble.

"Don!" Linda whispered as she poked his side.

"Unh" groaning, Don's eyes opening to mere slits.

"Don!" Linda said, a little louder this time.

The room was shaking, the bed rolling, the panic rising in her voice.

Half asleep, Don waking, unhurriedly "What?"

"Did you feel that?" Linda hissed.

"No." Don said in a half whisper. He was sinking deeper back into his dreams.

"You don't hear that?" Linda exclaimed!

"No I don't, go back to sleep" Don said, mumbling as he turned onto his side, away from her.

Linda, more insistent, "please can you check on the kids?"

Pause, feeling Linda's eyes burning into his back, Don relented, "okay," yawning.

Don, getting out of bed, gliding out into the dark hall, over to each of their children's rooms, opening their doors, looking in, quietly, shadows playing on the walls, soft breathing filling his ears.

"All clear" Don said, as he returned to his wife.

Getting back into bed, "The kids are sleeping"

Pulling the blankets around him, "besides, the dog would have barked if something were wrong."

Again, turning onto his side Don was snoring in an instant. Leaving Linda alone, sitting up in bed, perplexed, a glint of moonlight streaming through the window. Linda, staring into the darkness, wondering if the sounds she heard were real or imaginary.

"I know what I felt," Linda thought.

"Do you?" She questioned herself.

"Yes, I do."

"Then why didn't Don feel it?"

"I don't know." her thoughts trailing off, like smoke into the air.

The next day was busy, and life went on. However, the day after -- Don remarked, just above a whisper, over dinner, that a seven point three earthquake hit the coast of Sri Lanka the day before, but he forgot to mention it. The Westerhazy's energetic teenage daughter, Riley, sporting short brown hair parted in the middle, a deceptively anorexic looking thin body, and who always brought up the obvious, said, "Wasn't there three earthquakes last week?"

Turning to her husband, Linda said, "That's four in a little over a week, isn't that?"

"Five, if you want to count the one in Haiti last month" twelve year old Aiden remarked. The boy, short for his twelve years, light brown hair, uncombed, his eyes widening, a pre-teen finally becoming aware of his surroundings.

Don looking at his wife jokingly said.

"Well perhaps we are just getting ready for 2012."

"That's not funny," Linda said, as she ate her crispy, oven broiled chicken, juicy but not dry.

"What's so big about 2012 anyway?" Linda asked, confused.

Riley replied, a look almost of disgust, but not quite, on her pretty face, a frown on her brow,

"Mom, everyone knows about 2012, it's almost a year away".

"That doesn't explain anything" Aiden replied.

"Besides wasn't there a movie about it?"

"That doesn't answer anything either," their father said. Don, smiling at both of his children, getting ready to explain, he knew this story like the back of his hand.

Turning to his wife, "Like the Hindus and the Buddhist who believed that creation and destruction were cyclical, the ancient Mayans, had a calendar that revolved around a 5126 year cycle. At the end of the cycle, there is a great cataclysm, and it just so happens that on December 21, 2012 is the end of this cycle. You can Google it for yourself if you want to."

He turned back to his rice and continued eating. Linda looked down at her plate and stared at her food. Oblivious, her family started new conversations, about school, Don's work, about the news, leaving Linda once again alone with her thoughts.

Time slipping away a little faster each day, Spring coming, going, kids off for summer break, spending time with their grandparents on the west coast, new awakenings, the cycle winding down. Linda Westerhazy, née Wilson, loving her family even more as each day passed, not knowing if the rumble that she felt and heard was only a bad dream, and not knowing if she ever would wake from it. Having a husband and children were all she ever wanted. After her mother died, and her father left, the desire for a family became unbearable. During her junior year in college, she met Don, then a senior, ready to graduate and start life. To make a long story short, as Linda would say, "Don and I got married, and just over a year later, Riley was born." Linda was on the path to the life she always wanted but never had.

Early one evening in the middle of the summer, following a winter of scattered earthquakes around the world, a spring of numerous monsoons, a June of one tsunami after another, the family watched the television as the weatherman was explaining that the number of geological and meteorological activities that the world was experiencing was in fact, "slightly above normal," the weatherman emphasizing the word "slightly." The family, at the kitchen table, eating dinner, pork chops, covered with a delicious brown crust, vegetables, and a summer salad of fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, Linda stopped eating abruptly.


"Don't you hear that?" she asked her family.

"What?" Aiden replied.

"I don't hear anything," Don said.

"I am not saying anything," Riley replied, not wanting to go against either her mom or her dad.

"That!" Linda said as she put down her fork and knife, pushing herself away from the table. Her tan face turning pale, her eyes widening in excitement and fear, she looked around at her family, blank stares looking back. Linda Westerhazy was scared, hands trembling, the hairs on her arms standing on end. On television, the news, breaking away from the usual stories of war, global warming, drugs, and without warning, the newswoman was announcing a breaking story.

"The long dormant Santorini volcano, situated in the Mediterranean Sea, had just erupted moments ago, killing thousands of people, sending volumes of poisonous gases into the air, killing millions of fish, the death toll mounting! Stay tuned to this channel as we will have more information on our 10 o'clock newscast," the bleach blonde newswoman said with a grim smile.

The family stared at each other, Linda -- still scared asked, "you really didn't hear that rumble, and feel a vibration?"

The family dog, Miss Zelda, a half Lhasa Apso, half Terrier, relaxing in front of the television, tail wagging, not a care in the world, cocking her head towards the family, thinking that all the attention was on her. The dog got up off the floor, walked softly under the dinner table, and lay down again. The family watching their dog for a moment then turning and staring at each other, puzzled.

"No we really didn't" Don said finally. Dinner was over.

The 10 o'clock newscast didn't provide any more information, but the reporter promised to have more details "as soon as we get them, we will be the first to report them, stay right here for more."

Linda and Don went uneasy to bed that night, both dreaming about volcanoes, earthquakes, and floods. Linda was the first to wake up, just before three a.m. she sat up. Looking around the room, darkness, turning to her husband, he too sprang up.

"Did you feel that?" she asked, this time her eyes were imploring, not scared. Don said, "I think so, but I am not sure."

Quickly, Linda said, "There it is again, don't you hear it?"

Not feeling anything moving or shaking, but he did feel compassion for his wife.

"Yeah, I hear it." Looking around the dark room, Don seeing nothing, "I'm sure it's nothing, go back to bed, I'll check things out in the morning, OK?"

Linda acquiesced, hesitantly, "OK."

Don went back to sleep. Linda, feeling relieved in the knowledge that she wasn't crazy, laid her head down, listening to the rumble in her pillow as it grew fainter. For the first time since she was a teenager, Linda said a deep, heartfelt prayer. Her fear subsiding, she fell asleep.

Mount Vesuvius blew through its caldera that night, killing the people of Pompeii once again, this time they were tourists. Later that summer Mount St. Helens spewed noxious fumes and ash into the air killing thousands more. The late summer saw Krakatoa -- not East of Java -- erupt once again.

Accenting the darkness of an early fall were the ashes spread into the air. The newscasters, interviewing top-level government officials, assured the masses that the situation is, "under control and nobody should panic." Each time Linda heard and felt the distant rumble, each time it was louder, each time a bit closer, more pronounced, along with her fear, her anxiety, her feelings of loss, and her feelings of guilt. Each night as she went to bed, she said her prayers, praying that she would not hear nor feel that awful rumble, that her husband, the Mayans, or whoever, were wrong, that she would sleep peacefully, and that no one would die while she slept.

Linda didn't always feel the rumble in the middle of the night. Sometimes, sometimes it came during the day. She would be at the grocery store and she would feel it. Looking around, expecting groceries flying off the shelves, produce rolling onto the floor, shoppers running out of the store in a panic, but none of this ever happened.

"Did you find everything you were looking for today?" The cashier asked cheerfully.

Looking at the woman, Linda ventured to ask, "Didn't you hear something a few minutes ago?"

"Yes, I did, you mean about Hawaii, right? Those poor souls never had a chance, it being an island and all."

Linda paid in cash, debit and credit cards were no longer accepted; telephone lines, and cell phone communication had become unreliable.

As Linda left the store, she stood in the parking lot, looked up towards the ashen sky, saw that it was getting darker. After loading her groceries into the car, the last fresh fruits and vegetables she would ever buy, Linda would sit, hands shaking turning on the radio, waiting for the terrible news to come, and she would sit there crying. Linda's tears were tears of sorrow, for the people who were suffering, her tears were also tears of thankfulness that these catastrophes happened somewhere else, anywhere but here.

A few weeks later, on the last day that the grocery store was open for business, Linda, while she was sitting in her car switching around for radio stations, looking for music to lighten her mood, and not finding any solace. What she found was either religious fanatics proclaiming the wrath of God is upon us, or "experts" throwing theories and plans to reverse the decline, or punk kids whom, taking over the radio frequencies, ranting about everything and anything. This time Linda didn't cry, instead she focused on a broadcast from "the esteemed professor," an expert from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, explaining, "None of the phenomena we are experiencing has anything to do with Mayancalendars or with the supernatural."

Continuing, the professor illustrated, "They are the combination of solar flares and the gravitational force of a yet undiscovered planet re-entering the solar system, completing its 3600-year rotation around the sun."

"Could this be true?" Linda thought.

" You've gone over this again and again, haven't you Linda? Nobody feels what you feel, nobody hears what you hear, -- do they?"

"I should tell somebody, Don at least."

"Will he listen? Does he ever listen?

"That's not fair, Don listens, sometimes..."

Linda conceded, "Yes I know I am alone." Then added, "But I'm not crazy."

Quickly before the reply came, Linda added, "OK, can we call it a draw then?"

"Yes Linda, a draw, we'll leave it at that."

First one, then a few more, the insurance companies started coming under fire for not paying out claims to the victims of Nature's wrath. Like the clichéd domino, this weakness in the economy had a negative effect that rippled across the world. The default of payments of claims for those whose lives were destroyed by the Mt. St. Helens disaster went unpaid. When the Mississippi river flooded its banks leaving many thousands of residents homeless, the insurance companies defaulted on the payments. Their excuse was that they had to pay too many insurance claims in Southern California due to the mud slides along the coast. The summer before, the Santa Ana winds, with an increase of solar flare activity, kicked up a heavier than usual fire season, so much so that in many cases the fire teams just let the fires burn. Without the plant growth, erosion set in when the rains came, heavier than usual, as if the heavens tried to wash away the dust and ash in the sky. Rich and poor alike went without aide for almost a week before FEMA stepped in to help the over taxed California National Guard and Red Cross. Spotty local TV coverage kept a lot of information about the incident out of the national spotlight, rendering humanity's tragic cries of sorrow into a whisper throughout most of the world. In the meantime, the United States watched stunned, while criminal investigations, indictments, and finally the bankruptcy of the American insurance industry.

In a panic, people began withdrawing their money to purchase supplies, which in turn led to a run on the American Financial System. The Federal Government stepped in but to no avail. Within the last few years, the devaluation of gold had led the United States to start on a path to abandon the gold standard. Not too much later, after this last onset of disasters, the economy reached a tipping point, and money wasn't needed anymore and people just went ahead and began to barter for food and other supplies.

School was cancelled the next day and most people stopped showing up for work. With the kids home now and available to help, Don set about getting ready to survive this crisis. In Don's mind, the crisis was minor and temporary. If anything major comes out of this… crisis, Don would be surprised, nothing abnormal ever happens to him. Thinking back, Don has lived his life rather safely. The price for this frugalness, and life of safety, was one of stagnation and the false belief that bad things don't happen to ordinary people like himself.

"Here's the last bottles of water, mom." Riley said to Linda while handing the two water jugs to her.

"No more?" Linda asked, while she was coming out from under the stairwell closet.

"Nope, that's it."

"Doesn't seem like enough, does it?" Linda asked.

IPod in her ears, volume turned up, Riley wasn't listening.

Aiden and Don came in from the garage, unloading boxes of survival gear onto the kitchen counters, gas masks, respirators, goggles, and cans of food.

"What's all this?" Riley said, now concerned.

"Your mom and I talked, Riley, we need to hope for the best but.."

Aiden cut his father off,"… but prepare for the worst."

Linda, kneeling on the floor in front of Aiden, holding his face in her hands, said, "Honey, I want you to wear this mask whenever you go out."

Aiden, looking back at the seriousness in his mother's face said. "Ok, mom -- Richie down the street started wearing one a couple of days ago."

Riley rolled her eyes and scoffed, "They look stupid."

"Quiet, Riley," Don said, continuing; "this is important."

"The Health Department is recommending that we wear these from now on." Linda said.

" Wouldn't it be better to not go outside all together?" Riley, continued with her whining.

"Enough!" Don said louder, but not shouting.

"Take these extra filters with you; keep them in your backpacks." Don held up a small cylinder the size of a bottle of water.

Riley stood there, arms folded, hip sticking out, eyes rolling, lips pursed tight.

Don continued with instructions.

"If your filter gets clogged, then take a rag or a shirt and soak it with water: wrap that around your nose and mouth."

"Cool." Aiden's eyes brightened.

More bad news came, every day it came, by Halloween the rest of the southern part of the Pacific Rim, Malaysia, and Singapore, all in ruins. Inactive for well over 74,000 years, the volcano in Lake Toba, Sumatra, erupted once again. By Thanksgiving, the state of California, from Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay, hit by a massive earthquake, rocking it into submission. Not long after the San Andreas Fault in California split the state in half, cutting off the Southwest with the West Coast. Don with Aiden's help, installed the house's new air filtration device, a larger generator, and set up door seals from the ever-present ash and dust. Inside they could breathe relatively clean air. Outside, their lungs burned their eyes watered, grateful that they had decided to get the oxygen masks while they still could. Two days before, Aiden had gone looking for his dog. He searched inside the house, looking in the closets, under the beds, and in the garage.

"Dad!" Aiden called from the bottom of the stairs, mischief, glazing over his bright hazel eyes.

"I'm in my office, Aiden."Walking up the stairs and into his dad's office, glancing left, then right, as if someone was watching him, Aiden asked, "Have you seen Miss Zelda, Dad?"

Sitting in his chair, his now useless computer taking up space on his desk, the internet now gone, reading a book on survival tactics, Don, looking up at Aiden, "Nope, haven't seen her." Turning back to his book, Don stopped, thought a moment, and said. "I don't think I have seen that dog in a few hours." Don was thinking some more how odd that Miss Zelda would be outside in the harsh environment. "Don't go out there, Aiden!" His dad warned him.

"OK." Aiden lied.

Turning his back on his dad, going downstairs, "I promise dad, I won't go looking for her."

Don returned to study his books, with an acute determination to find a solution to this crisis.

Aiden, going out the back door and jumping the fence, he went looking for his dog.

About the same time, Linda and Riley noticed that the insistent whining of the roving dog packs had stopped. Don realizing his son had lied to him, furious, forgetting about the respirators, instead, wetting a bandanna and wrapping it around his face; he went out looking for his son.

About two hours later and almost a mile away from home, Don found Aiden sitting under a wash. The air thicker than it was a week before, Don could hear Aiden choking on his sobs. Kneeling down, holding his boy straight in front of him, tears streaming down the little boys face, Don told Aiden, in his best stiff-upper-lip-good-old-chap sort of way, that Miss Zelda went somewhere with all the other dogs to die.

The violence that Mother Earth imparted upon her children was tragic. What was worse was the violence that the children of Mother Earth imparted to each other. After every disaster that she heaped upon her children, looters, thieves, and vandals descended upon the victims like vultures on a carcass. The pain and grief of the suffering, multiplied like the boils upon ancient Job, leaving Linda feeling empty inside. As each disaster was reported, and as each atrocity perpetrated, the hope of a future slipped nonchalantly away. The governments of Europe and Asia were faltering beneath the debt created by the disasters. The governments of Central and South America, already in decline, were crippled as earthquakes and floods ravaged the land. The socialist governments went first, feeding on their own people, subsequently the people revolted. The democratic governments didn't fair much better, they too were weighted down by the debt of trying to cope with the disasters. In all the chaos and infighting between the governments, the people didn't care that the Amazon rainforest was dying exponentially, much faster than before. The death had started years ago, but no one took heed, people were ravaging the rainforest but Mother Nature was the one who killed it off. Almost as if she were saying, they didn't deserve it. The once beautiful rainforest, dying during a two-month period of earthquakes, monsoons, floods, and fires, was gone. What little that was left of it, was not enough to support an already embattled ecosystem, the people, too busy revolting, did not care.

The air, becoming thicker and dirtier with each volcano blast, finally began causing interference with televisions, radios, and cell phones. After spending an hour in the attic, rummaging around, Don found what he was looking for. Coming down from the dusty attic, insulation clinging to his hair, triumphantly, a black box under his arms, Don spent the rest of the day trying to get his old ham radio working. As Don set up his toy, he thought about his amateur radio operator license long expired, probably since getting his Eagle Scout badge, back when he was in high school. The President, heard by his country for the last time on the shortwave radio, declared a state of national emergency. Every day Linda thought of telling Don about the rumble, about the vibrations, about these visions, or what ever was happening to her. Every day seemed a little less hopeful than the day before.

"Don?"

"Don?" Linda repeated. She and Don were sitting at the kitchen table. Don looking over his survival manual, pouring over the information, page corners folded down to mark his pages, sections highlighted.

"What, I'm sorry, what were you saying?"

"Do you think these things that are happening are really about this 2012 thing?"

Don, pausing to think, the information he had read in the last year about 2012 phenomena running through his head over again. Finally, once again Don relegated the thought to the back burner of his mind.

He smiled, "no, I do not. Scientists the world over do not believe that any of these phenomena are related to Mayan's and their calendar. It's a joke." He turned back to his book.

Linda, looking at him, her eyes narrowed, her lips pursed, she leaned forward to speak.

Focused on his manual, scanning each page, Don continued, "It's just a coincidence."

"The Earth just needs to reset itself a bit." Looking at her now,"We should be able to weather out this storm."

"Do you remember the dreams I told you about?" Linda, finding the courage to tell her husband about feeling and hearing the rumble, she said. "Do you remember my dreams I was having?"

"They went away, right? Cause you stopped talking about them, so I figred. You know."

"Besides we have 16 dormant volcanoes in our state, one of the few states with the least amount of volcanoes so we should be safe." Pausing, we could always move to the east coast, if think we can escape this."

Linda lowered her eyes and focused on the survival documents that Don had handed her. Her mind glazed over.

Harvey Richardson stood in his driveway, his garage door open, Stacy -- Harvey's wife, pulled their van loaded with their kids and their possessions out of the garage, and parked it in the street, she had a wet rag around her face.

Don came out of his house, filtration mask hanging around his neck.

"Harvey!" Don called.

His mask strapped to his face, Harvey, unhooking it so he could answer.

"Good bye Don." Harvey's eyes burning and his breathe labored; his stocky features shifting side-to-side, standing with his head lowered, in the stagnant gray air.

"I hate to see you guys go." Don said as he came up to his friend. His hand extended, ready to shake.

"I'm surprised you aren't leaving too." While looking down at his ash-covered driveway, Harvey's watery eyes were focusing on a mound of ash and not on Don.

Grasping Don's hand firmly, he continued, we're moving closer to Stacey's parents near St. Paul."

Harvey's eyes rising to meet Don's, "we're staying. I don't think there's any place to go"

"You know, by the looks of it, you're gonna be the only ones left."

Both Don and Harvey looked around the block, trash blown about by the wind, windows broken, roof shingles missing, still, and almost desolate the gray ash covered the block. It was Harvey's last goodbye.

The local police were the last to abandon their posts to protect their own families. A month before, the Sheriff's office announced, that due to the national emergency, he was allowing his deputies to go be with their families. The Sheriff said he was "just following the example of the state and federal agencies."

Fearing for their safety, Don, Linda, Riley and Aiden, began arming themselves constantly. Knives, mace, and the Glock .40 caliber, were the family's defense of choice. Don traded some food for several pump shotguns and many boxes of shells, just in case. Living on planet Earth was getting scarier and scarier as the weeks progressed, each day new reports of disaster greeted them. Each night Linda would go to bed knowing that in the morning she would awake to a new horror, that each night she would hold on to her pillow or to Don as she felt and heard the rumble. Don was getting used to his wife clutching him in the middle of the night, he knew something was coming, but he neither felt nor heard anything.

The pollution in the sky, floating in the atmosphere, dirtying the air, killing birds in mid flight, and is asphyxiating the life out of the people. The Westerhazys braced themselves up, despite all the hardships, considering them only setbacks or mere obstacles to overcome. Their small suburban town, not entirely abandoned, banded together, for support, the sharing of food, and the sharing of what little hope they had. Maybe less than a 100 families left, Don would lead the town's men in foraging patrols, canvassing each abandoned house for supplies. With winter creeping upon them, the Saudi oil fields caught fire, with very few resources left, they let them burn. Two weeks before Christmas, "Old Faithful" in Yosemite blew up, not like it normally does, this was big, really big, it happened in the afternoon when Riley and Aiden had gotten home from the Red Cross station, Linda from the food shelter, and Don still on a scavenging hunt. This time the whole family could feel it. While driving, Don, about a mile from home, the ground shaking, swerving his car, the road moving sideways beneath the tires, forcing him into a ditch. Getting out of his car, grabbing his pistol from the glove compartment, the car stuck in the ditch, tires flattened, his head bruised, but not badly, shaken, Don Westerhazy, respirator strapped to his face, two extra cylinders in his pockets, .45 in hand, walked home cautiously.

News on the shortwave is getting worse, that it is time to repent, that the end is near - "alas Babylon - alas Sodom - alas Gomorrah", the evangelist ranted. Aiden took sick first, the eruptions of the many volcanoes, hurling their tons of deadly ash into the once blue sky turning it nuclear gray, was strangulating the life out of the little boy. Aiden died the week before Christmas; Don buried his boy in the back yard. The dust in the air was too thick for either Linda or Riley to stand outside for any length of time. Don, wearing his respirator, digging a shallow grave for his son, pausing for a moment, saying a short prayer, then shoveling the ashen earth over Aiden's body, wrapped in his Star Warsblanket.

Riley, the strongest of the family, began coughing up black blood less than a week later, her already skinny frame, weakened by the loss of appetite, quickly declined.

"I don't know what to do Linda." Don said, tears running down his face. He had just come down the stairs after leaving his daughter's room, his once strong features, now slightly bent, as if he was carrying a large weight on his back, his eyes once bright, now filled with sadness.

Sitting at the kitchen table, Linda was sobbing, and thinking about Aiden.

"He's gone." She whispered. "Now my little girl is going too." Her face was pale and drawn, frown lines deepened by the week of mourning.

"I don't know what to do." Don repeated, unshaven, his last razor blade worn, now useless, his face, weathered by the strain of the last few months, furrows plowed in his forehead by the sorrow of the decline of the life he loved. Looking out into the backyard, the air, a dark cloud of brown dust, so thick, Don couldn't see the back fence where he had buried little Aiden the week before. His sob, caught in his throat, gagging, coughing up blood, he caught the black liquid in the wet bandanna hanging around his neck.

Surprised, while laughing, he said, "You know, coal miners a hundred years ago called this stuff black lung disease." Don noted, while he looking deep into his wife's eyes. Linda, looking back at her husband, and not saying a word while taking his hand.

Don and Linda cherishing the few remaining moments they had together, actually listening to each other, hanging on to each other's words, never knowing how soon this would all end.

A week later while coming to terms with his own mortality, the mortality of his family, and the morality of the human race, while returning from a scrounging trip around the town, Donald Westerhazy died. Collapsing in front of his house, Don thought about little Aiden, his mischievous smile bright in his memory. Turning his thoughts to his firstborn, Riley, what a beautiful young lady she had become. As the dust choked the thoughts from his mind, his last image was of his lovely wife, Linda, holding her hands out toward him, they were in college, and she was smiling at him. He focused as intently as his dying mind would allow, as the dust and ash slowly enveloped his thoughts.

"I'm Sorry." Don whispered, finally.

Linda found him outside the front door, too weak to come inside.

Linda Westerhazy, sitting once again at the kitchen table, a shoebox of photographs in front of her, filtration mask strapped to her once handsome face, alone, remembering the many meals she and her family had enjoyed here. She thought of the many arguments, the many stories, the many discussions they had at this table. Pulling photographs out of the box one-by-one, she remembered Don, always having a scholarly fact to tell the kids. She thought of Riley as a little girl, beautiful, and happy. Linda thought back to the day little Aiden was born, premature; he spent a month in the hospital. She thought once again, perhaps if she told Don sooner about the rumble, they could have prepared better... She remembered how the rumble started, an earthquake here, a tsunami there, a volcano erupting every now and then, a heavier than usual monsoon, realizing that it was all adding up, all leading towards December, 21st 2012.

Linda Westerhazy thought back thirteen years before, when her children were small, when she was younger, happier, and confident that phenomena like Y2K was going to come and go with only a whimper. Now she stared out the back of her house, through her goggles, through the sliding glass door. The shoebox started moving as the table started vibrating. It was dark outside, the dust enveloping her back yard, but the clock said it was just after one in the afternoon, she could dimly make out the crudely shaped crosses marking the three graves of each one of her family members. In the last year, Linda had done a lot of praying and "talking with God." She plead to the Lord to spare her family. Not once did she ask for anything for herself. Yet here she sat, alone, and the words of her father came to her once again. "We are just dust, honey, and to dust we return, there is no heaven and there is no God." Those words echoed in her head as the rumble got louder, the lamp above the table started swinging, faster, the tension rising and the rumbling growing louder, like an orchestra coming to a crescendo. Time is running out she thought, winter is coming in a few days, then what? Was it truly the end?