It began with a silence. A silence that seemed to echo against every surface and magnify as time crawled by. It was deafening in magnitude and paralyzing in intensity. Then it was gone, leaving only the deep throaty voice of a shattered earth behind to fill the void.
Thom dove beneath the kitchen table next to Tanya and Pete as the chandelier crashed to the floor in the next room. Dishes fell to the ground around them, forming an eerie snow-like scene with the three of them huddled together in the room’s center.
“Thom,” Tanya said weakly over the sound of the shattering front window. “What in God’s name is happening?”
Thom winced as the ground silently shook once more. “How should I know,” he responded between shudders. Thom looked over at Pete who was covering his head and appeared just as scared as he was.
Just as suddenly as it had seemed to appear, the shaking was gone and the world was plunged back into the ghostly stillness of which it had been born.
Thomas Newman gazed once more at his reflection in the water at the bottom of his sink. The man staring back at him was disheveled; hair tousled, collar unbuttoned, tie hanging limply around his neck. Today was the same as the day before, and the same as every day before that, but distinctly different than yesterday. Since Pieter’s death 17 years ago, its anniversary was the only day that mattered to Thom.
He scooped the water between his hands and threw his likeness at its original. Grabbing the hand towel from its station above the sink he sloppily dried off his face. Thom took one last quick look in the mirror as he walked out the door and almost saw his brother reflected in his eyes. A tear formed in the corner of his eye but was hastily brushed aside as he walked into the kitchen, smiling at his ten-year-old daughter, Katherine.
“What are you working on today, darling,” he asked, glancing down at her notebook.
“Rhetoric and its pragmatic applications in media,” she responded without even looking up from her notes. She had the same tone of voice that her mother had: the air of arrogance that almost certainly accompanies money.
“Don’t have to much fun, you’re supposed to be studying for your exam this week.” Thom smiled to himself when he saw his daughter’s reaction to the thought she was having too much fun. An under-the-breath oh father followed him out through the foyer and the front door into the bright mid-afternoon.
It was just after four in the afternoon. In his wool pants and heavy shirt, Thom was definitely over-dressed for the summer heat. He walked down the long, sloping driveway towards his sedan but never took his keys from his pocket. Stopping at the sidewalk he tilted his head backwards and gazed at the fuzzy clouds carelessly gallivanting overhead. Taking a right turn would take him to the river whereas a left would take him downtown. Thom was in no mood to go to the river.
Seventeen years ago his younger brother Pieter had drowned in that very same river, just a few miles east of where his plant now stood. It had been an accident, but Thom still felt responsible for the crash. He was the one who had rented the speedboat. He was also the one who left his brother at the wheel so he could go ashore for more fishing bait.
Thom’s eyes became misty at remembering how the sirens sounded from inside the bait store. He had turned to see people running down the street to the river and could not figure out why; his had been the only boat out that day. Running amongst the panicked crowd, Thom could barely see the flames leaping from the mangled bridge of his boat. Pieter had tried his hand at steering and had run the boat directly into the refueling station at the wharf.
Thom’s keys jabbed into his leg as he collapsed against the newspaper-recycling bin at the end of the street. He was reduced to a disturbed, crying man shaking as he sobbed and mumbling unintelligible nonsense into his knees, now held tightly against his chest. Rocking to and fro no one took him to be the richest man in town.
After what seemed to Thom to be an eternity, his weeping began to subside. He looked around with tired eyes and saw a young man standing over him, just to his left.
“What do you want,” Thom demanded gruffly, still hugging himself on the ground.
“I could do with a little food,” came the matter-of-fact response from Thom’s left. “Got any money?”
He slowly cleared his eyes and then looked up at the silhouette. “Excuse me?”
“I saw you sitting there and thought I could help, but you look fine now, so why don’t you give me a hand?”
“So you’re not just trying to rob me,” Thom asked as he stood up. Thom looked in the kid’s eyes and could see something familiar about them; he just wasn’t quite sure what it was. He finally asked the question that had been bouncing around in his mind since he first saw the kid, “do I know you?”
“Doubt it,” the kid shrugged and turned to leave, obviously accepting that he wasn’t getting any money from the sad, unkempt man.
Thom eyed the kid’s even filthier, ragged clothing for a minute and then jogged to catch up. “You say you’re hungry. Let’s go back to my house and I can have my wife fix you something, she should be home by now.”
The kid turned around and looked at Thom with a quizzical eye. After a few moments of sizing up the stranger, he offered his hand. “My name’s Pete, show me the way.”
Amidst the rubble of the kitchen lay three frightened people in silence. There was no motion save for their rapid yet rhythmic breathing and the blinking of porcelain dust from their eyes. The few moments of silence in that wintry landscape drug on for what seemed like millennia before they were wrought from existence by the harsh ringing of the telephone in the next room.
In its new resting place on the hardwood floor the phone seemed hundreds of decibels louder than ever before. Thom scrambled up from beneath the table and limped into the next room, blood now returning slowly to his legs with the familiar sense of pins and needles. Dishes and shattered glass from the windows and mantle-portraits crushed under his shoes as he made his way to the phone.
“Hello,” he queued hastily and harshly into the phone. Tanya and Pete walked with the snow-like crunch under their footfalls and joined Thom in the living room.
Thom’s face grew pale as he listened to the rapid mumbling on the other end of the line until he finally dropped the phone and began to fall backwards into his wife’s and young friend’s arms.
As they laid him on the couch Pete could only make out a few of his stutters: “Plant … explosion … river … Katherine!” Then Thom’s eyes rolled up into the back of his head and he was unconscious. Pete instructed Tanya to get some cool water and after shaking the dust from a pillow propped Thom’s head with it.
“We’ll find her, Thom,” Pete swore to his sleeping friend. “ I promise.”