The Earth Trembles
An original work of fiction by Ellie Benitez
There it was again.
Rona lifted her foot just a fraction off the ground, hesitated, and then placed it back onto the soft white carpet. She didn’t have to listen to them.
The faint rumble penetrated the thick rug and tickled her bare feet. Faint, yes, but clearly discernable.
And slowly getting stronger.
Laying her paper-thin tablet aside, Rona lifted herself out of her snowy chair and waited until it finally faded away, her feathery eyebrows knitting together in contemplative frustration until it completely ceased.
Falling back into her milk-white chair, she curled her frigid toes around the inside edge of her black sweat pants and tucked her legs beneath herself. She picked up her tablet, intent on immersing herself back into her story, but her thoughts constantly fluttered back to the mystery.
She had been awakened early that Saturday morning by the dawn sunlight pouring through her unfiltered window. She’d neglected to set her shades the night before, but she hadn’t minded. She had forgotten how nice it was to let the warmth of the sun gently open her eyes.
Saturday was the day she always looked forward to. All week she worked faithfully, doing her duty for society without complaint. All she asked for in return was one day of uninhibited indulgence in her passion for ancient fiction. But, instead of peace, this thing kept plaguing her.
Tossing her tablet onto the matching couch just inches away from her chair, Rona jumped up, crossed the small living room, and entered into the even smaller kitchen. The spotless white floor changed beneath her feet from the warm carpet to slick, hard linoleum, chilling her skin as she padded towards the island sitting smack dab in the center of the square room. She circled around until she was facing the living room and leaned her elbows onto the cold surface.
She must get her mind off of it. She had learned her lesson by telling Michael about it, who had then promptly informed her sister. The regret ran deep while she had to endure an afternoon of lecturing about the difference between reality and imagination.
She frowned at the alabaster countertop winking up at her. When was she going to learn that Lynn was the last person who was going to understand her?
Spinning around on her heel, she grasped the handle of her shiny silver refrigerator and tugged the door open. She leaned heavily on it as the cold air escaped from the depths and swirled out around her. Food always made her feel better, not that Lynn would approve. More than one food tablet was the definition of excessive to her. Rona reached for one labeled “slice of chocolate cake” when she again felt something beneath her.
A vibration echoed through the floor and rumbled up her legs.
The chocolate cake thoroughly forgotten, she gently put a foot forward and waited. It took only a few moments before the pulses were felt again. She kept moving forward, slowly at first, then faster when the quivering did not cease. It led her to the back door.
Bracing her hand on a strip of white wall, she peered through the smudged glass window and out onto the fenced in plot of land she liked to call a yard. The uniform square of white that lay behind everyone’s home was smooth and slick, but frankly rather depressing to look at. She had tried to dress it up with a silver chair and a tall, slender table, but it did nothing to improve the utter desolation of the outdoor space. Usually she avoided the window on Saturdays, but the trembling was beckoning her out and she couldn’t stop herself from twisting the silver handle and stepping out onto the sunbaked floor. It didn’t take long to find where the vibrations were the strongest, which, incidentally, was right smack in the middle of her yard.
Bending down, she spread her hands out wide on the flat surface. She waited patiently, but felt no movement for the next hour. Defeated, she fell on her back and stared up at the azure sky.
Maybe she was crazy.
Her eyes flew open in time to see her older sister’s face hovering above, her dark almond eyes narrowed in suspicion.
“Lynn! I was—I—”
“Why am I not surprised?”
Lynn spun around and traversed the three steps it took to get back inside, Rona just mere inches behind her the entire way.
“Rona, please tell me you weren’t out there because of that thing you’ve been talking about all week.”
Rona stepped over the threshold and pulled the door shut behind her.
“Of course not.”
“Because you promised me you wouldn’t talk about it anymore.”
“You’re the one that brought it up,” she mumbled too softly for her sister to hear.
“We’re staying in reality, right? No more vibrations, no more stories, and no more—” she stopped and walked over to the kitchen island, her shiny black high heels clicking sharply against the white linoleum floor. Seizing the little clear glass bottle, she plucked the blood red, plastic flower out of it and tossed it into the trash.
“And no more flowers.”
Rona shot her sister a glare before she fished the flower out of the trash and tried to straighten the crumpled petals. She could feel Lynn’s gaze boring into her even though she kept her eyes locked on the artificial blossom.
“Why do you insist on being so rebellious? Why can’t you be like everyone else?”
Rona frowned. She didn’t need this lecture again. Prying the jar from Lynn’s fingers, she stomped into her room and stashed her flower next to her bed, and then on second thought, stuffed it into her pocket. She hoped to find her living room empty when she returned, but she was disappointed. Lynn was seated on the couch and examining the discarded tablet.
“I thought you said you weren’t going to read these stories anymore. No wonder you think there’s something beneath the ground when you’re filling your mind with this trash.”
Rona opened her mouth to deliver a biting retort, but closed it at the last moment. She had never been able to beat Lynn at an argument and there was no chance of it happening magically right then So instead Rona marched over, pulled her sister up, and herded her towards the door.
“Rona! What are you doing? Stop this!”
“I’m sorry Lynn. I’ve got to make dinner and you’re in the way.”
“It’s nine in the morning.”
“Breakfast then. Goodbye now.”
She pushed her out and slammed the door before she could turn around. She could hear Lynn stomping around just outside, but that did nothing to change her mind.
She wasn’t crazy and she was going to prove it.
Her attic was kept locked at all times, just in case Lynn came by with destructive thoughts. Her “museum”, as everyone who knew about it called it, was her collection of forgotten odds and ends lovingly stored up away from prying eyes. Below, she kept everything socially acceptable, but above, that was the one place she was sure she could be herself.
Sliding the small golden key out from underneath her white tee and the sterling silver chain from around her neck, she unlocked the little door and stepped into the long, dusty room. Careful not to hit her head on the royal purple fabric that swathed the low sloping ceiling, she crouched slightly as she slid her fingers over the arm of a sunny yellow rocking chair and the spines of paperback books stuffed tightly within an enormous wooden bookcase, which spanned the entire eastern wall. If it was all up to her, she would snap that tablet in half, but then she wouldn’t be able to read any of the latest novels— so that wasn’t a viable option.
Sunlight trickled in, transforming the floating dust into sparkling stars and spotlighting the faded striped wallpaper. The wooden floorboards creaked beneath her weight, an oddity only revealed because Rona had pulled up the standard snowy white carpeting that lined every floor in the world. Just like she always did whenever she visited her museum, she paused and seated herself on a small circular braided rug. She traced the different colors of fabric that ran through each strand, fingering their rough texture until she ran out of rug and collided with the wooden floor. Its waxen smoothness delighted her fingertips almost as much as the various divets and occasional ragged ruts. Everyone else covered up the blemishes, the mistakes, the flaws—but once gone, how easily were they fooled into believing there was nothing beneath the surface.
Rona—and only Rona—knew it was all a lie. Beneath the white carpet was wood. Beneath the shining silver of the sink were the inner bowels that provided the water. Beneath the flawless faces of those who believed there was no more need for the rare curiosities she stored up in her attic were shriveled souls.
And beneath the ground, there truly was something.
Her determination renewed, she jumped up and headed straight for the corner that housed a tall metal shovel and snatched it up before heading back down the stairs and outside. She plunged the sharp chevron edge into the ground, but it made barely a dent. Deciding that it would take too long to simply stab the ground with her shovel, Rona tossed it aside in favor of the table, which, when the round bottom was removed, resembled a thick metal spear. She pierced through the white surface, cracking the thick shell with only a few blows, and stopped only when she saw something brown peeking out.
She scooped it up and rubbed it between her fingers, marveling at the foreign, gritty texture. Snatching up the shovel, she quickly pried away more of the white shell. By the time the sun had reached its zenith, Rona had made an admirable hole.
“What’re you doing?”
Rona started at the familiar masculine voice and whirled around, her eyes widening guiltily as if she was digging a grave in the black of night.
“Your shirt. It’s—It’s brown. And where did you get that?”
“I’m planting a garden.”
“A garden? Are you kidding? Tell me, Rona. You may have discovered dirt, but where are you going to find plants? In one of your books? No one has gardens anymore. No one digs anymore.”
“Yes, well, I seem to recall a certain promise involving going to lunch today.” He paused to tuck away his copy of Rona’s house key away in his pocket. “Did you forget?”
“Today? Was that today?”
“Why am I not surprised?” He sighed and shook his head. “Sweatpants and dirt. Please don’t tell me this is about the ground shaking thing.”
“Michael, you’ve got to believe me. I don’t know why it only happens when no one’s here, but it does happen. I promise.”
He ran his hands through his dark hair but never looked up.
“We all know how much your promises are worth.”
“No, Michael. Please.” She dropped the shovel, climbed out of the hole, and grabbed hold of his arm. “You’ve got to believe me. I’m not crazy.”
“I never called you crazy. You did. Don’t you think you might be telling yourself something?”
Rona dropped her hand and stepped back.
“Rona, you need help. You’ve been going on about this far too long.”
“Why can’t you just be like—”
She didn’t watch him leave, only waited until she heard the door slam before she jumped back into the hole and recommenced her digging.
As the sweltering day progressed, Rona’s digging morphed from sure and steady to frantic. It was reaching night and she had nothing to show for her efforts. How was she going to prove to Lynn and Michael that she wasn’t insane?
Deeper and deeper she delved, faster and faster she worked. The warm earth had quickly turned frigid, which her bare feet had been much appreciative of for most of the day. But when darkness fell, shivers coursed through her body.
Maybe it was time to quit.
No! She was almost there! She could feel the vibrations getting stronger every minute.
Maybe she was crazy.
She wouldn’t give into that line of thought.
She was right.
She knew it.
Blackness enveloped her, a cold, complete blackness that sent a different sort of shiver through her. Maybe she should go inside and call it a day. She wasn’t giving up; she would return in the morning, fresh and ready to continue her work.
Climbing out of the hole proved more difficult than she had assumed, but somehow she managed it. She had come at the ground at a startlingly slanted angle, so the hole more resembled a skewed cave than a traditional well. In an odd way, she was proud of her day’s work, for she was one step closer to proving herself.
The rumbling suddenly returned, but this time more violently than ever before. If Rona hadn’t known better, she would have thought she was at the epicenter of an earthquake. She turned back around, all thoughts of leaving thoroughly forgotten.
But the darkness deprived her of her vision. She couldn’t see a single thing. With a groan of frustration, she ran back into her house with the intentions of finding some sort of portable light source before she remembered that, because she rarely ever went out after dark, she didn’t own something like that.
No, wait. She did have a flashlight upstairs. She ran up and got the little pink cylinder. The light flickered on, its dim rays illuminating the ground before her.
Something indiscernible was emerging from hole. Rona directed the flashlight down the aperture, but its feeble light barely helped her vision at all.
She smacked the plastic tool. It glowed brilliantly for two seconds and then died.
Rona gasped at the suddenness of the blackness that engulfed her. Fear prickled up her spine. The flashlight fell from her grasp and clattered to the floor. She backed up slowly, one step, then another, then another…
The ground shook violently and Rona fell. She pushed herself up, scrambling to get a foothold.
An unearthly sound roared from behind her, followed by a sickening slap of something hitting against the cold floor. Rona shrieked, but it was too late to call for help. She felt something wrap around of her leg. She clawed uselessly at the soft earth, trying desperately to prevent herself from being pulled back into the hole. She screamed again, but was abruptly cut off.
Silence filled the air as the vibrations slowly faded away.
A soft knock echoed around Rona’s quaint house. Lynn, feeling that she had given her sister enough time to answer the door, fished out her spare key and let them both in.
“Where is she?”
“Probably still in her yard.”
Lynn peered through the back window, but didn’t see her sister out among the grass. She went into the bedroom, but found Rona’s bed neatly made. Puzzled, she checked the kitchen, the bathroom, and even the attic that Rona thought she didn’t know how to get into.
The house was empty.
“Lynn, you better come see this.”
Michael was outside, standing next to the gaping hole that Rona had made the day before. He kneeled down and pointed to indentations in the dirt.
Human claw marks. Someone had been dragged though the dirt. A small pink flashlight lay discarded to the side.
Lynn passed by the marks, by the flashlight, by Michael, traveling deeper within the crumbling cavern and only stopping when something else caught her eye.
A crumpled red flower lay half buried within the dirt.
Lynn scooped it up and smoothed out the bent petals.
“She was right.”
The earth began to tremble.