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Rated: E · Fiction · Children's · #1858854
Just the first chapter of a story I'm working on
Outside playing in the warm, July sun, nine year old Emily Ann Granville, Emmy, as she was called by friends and family, stopped suddenly. Something wasn’t right. The ground trembled beneath her bare feet; a gentle vibration at first but it grew. A deep rumbling filled her ears as the movement crawled up her ankles, embraced her calves and shook her knees.

Inside the nearby house, Emmy heard her four-year-old brother, Ethan, cry out. Unbalanced, she fell to the ground as she looked towards her home. It wasn’t vibrating like she was, but a rhythmic sway took it. Side-to-side it loomed as she scrambled away, eyes widening. Her mother ran out holding a wailing Ethan. She grabbed Emmy by the arm with her free hand and backed them away from the structure.

“It’s all right,” said mama, steadying Emmy against her as they all continued to tremble with the ground. Emmy clutched at her mother’s clothing as she watched the shaking world and tried to make sense of what was happening. After a few minutes, the ground settled back to silence again, and the only movement Emmy could detect was mama’s gentle rocking as she spoke in reassuring tones to both her and Ethan.

Eventually, Emmy pulled her head up to look at her. Her mother’s gentle smile encouraged her. “See?” mama said, “all done.” Emmy shifted nervously on her feet as she looked around.

Her older brother, Bud, came running around the side of the house. “Ma, you ok?” he asked, a bit breathless but not at all fearful or panicked, Emmy noticed. Mother nodded, and Emmy caught mama’s eyes shifting to her and back to Bud. He nodded as well. She didn’t think much of it then, beyond perhaps that mama didn’t want to upset her any more than she already was.

Just then, the hoof beats and creaks of father’s buggy sounded as it came rolling up. He exchanged glances with mother too and told Bud to hop on; then they took off in the direction of the barn. Emmy turned back to mama. As her fears subsided her natural curiosity surfaced. “Mama, what was that?” she asked as she looked warily towards the now still house. Mama squatted down next to Emmy, putting an arm around her. “It’s called an earthquake, Emmy. The ground shifts from time to time, and it’s nothing to worry about” she said. “We’ll ask father about it tonight. He can explain exactly what happens when the ground shakes like that.”

Emmy looked at her; trying to make it all fit: the memory of the ground’s vibration, the images of the house shifting back and forth. “Mama, is it safe? To go back in the house, I mean,” said Emily. Mama smiled down at her. “Yes,” she replied with a nod of her head, “it’s safe.”

She took Emmy’s hand in hers and squeezed it as she walked her and Ethan back inside. Emmy looked around curiously but could not find anything out of place. She had expected to find things strewn about the floor, pictures off the walls, and furniture overturned, but everything looked exactly as she had left it earlier in the day. That’s strange, she thought. It was as if nothing had happened here. She considered it a moment more and then moved on to her more pressing concern.

“Where did papa and Bud go?” she asked, following mama into the kitchen. She had an urge to stay close to her. Mama answered her in distracted tones as she settled Ethan and checked on the dinner she had been preparing before the quake interrupted. “Oh probably just to check on papa’s telescopes, make sure everything’s still standing I suppose.”

Emmy thought about what Mama said as she sat at the table absentmindedly breaking into pieces the cookie her mother had placed before her; her glass of milk sweating in the afternoon sun. Something wasn’t quite right. She kept picturing papa and Bud riding away from them toward the barn. The barn, that was it. “Mama? There are no telescopes near the barn. They’re all in the tower or around the house, except for that one on the roof.”

Mama turned and smiled down at her, wiping her hands on her apron. “Well, I’m sure papa just wanted to make sure everything was all right in the barn first then. Check on the horses and such. Now, are your chores done?” Emmy thought for a moment and nodded.

Her curiosity piqued, Emmy’s mind now turned from the unsettling earthquake of this morning; she asked mama if she could go back outside. Mama said she could but not to go far and to keep the noise down for Ethan’s nap, and not go off wandering. Emmy smiled to herself as she walked back out into the sunshine. She figured it wasn’t "wandering" if you knew where you were going.

Making her way to a corner of the porch, she climbed onto the railing and sat there staring in the direction she had seen papa and Bud go. Their barn was much farther from their house than was usual on most farms and ranches. She had never really thought much about it, but the day’s events, and the looks exchanged between mama, Bud, and papa, had all combined to give her an itching in her brain. Papa always said that questions were like an itching in your brain and that finding the answers to your questions were like scratching that itch. Before long, Emmy decided the time had come to scratch her itch.

Turning her head briefly to scan the doors and windows of the house for mama’s face, she hopped off the railing and began to walk slowly toward the barn. Her ears strained for sounds of papa and Bud. Chances were if mama didn’t want her at the barn, neither did they.

Emmy crept slowly up along the side of the barn, her cotton pinafore rustling against her legs. Peering around the corner to scan the doors, she saw papa’s buggy sitting empty; the horse lazily chewing on the grass as it waited. She paused, listening for their voices, but nothing floated to her on the air. Papa and Bud didn’t seem to be around. Odd, she thought, and glanced over to the one telescope she could see in the distance from here. They weren’t there either.

She tiptoed over to the open door, her senses alive with a mix of curiosity and apprehension. She looked inside the dark barn, and her eyes blinked to adjust to the difference from bright sunshine to shaded barn; Papa and Bud weren’t in there either. Looking around she could see the effects of the earlier ground shaking. Tools, saddles, and a few other things were laying about the ground. Why wouldn’t papa have had Bud clean this up if they came out here, she wondered. Emmy sighed as she looked around, feeling a bit deflated. She didn’t know what she had expected to find out there because she still didn’t know what she was looking for, only that the itching in her brain was not yet scratched.

Spying a large spill of hay in one corner, Emmy flopped down into it to consider the day’s events. The whole world shaking yet nothing out of place inside the house, the strange looks between mama, papa and Bud, and going to the barn to find papa’s buggy empty but no sign of him anywhere.

She pushed her hands down into the hay to adjust to a more comfortable position, and a round, metal object pressed into her palm. Curious, she brushed the hay from around it and saw a small handle attached to some pieces of wood. Now, she scrambled to her feet and began earnestly brushing and kicking the hay away from her find. When she was done, Emmy had uncovered what looked like a small door in the barn floor.

Emmy looked down at what she’d found. Why would there be a door in the ground? she wondered. Staring at the thing she saw that it had a latch but it was unlocked and splayed open.

Emmy knelt down and fingered the handle slowly, as if coming to a decision. She looked around, saw she was still alone, and the four fingers of her right hand wrapped around the handle of the door. Eyes focused on the edge of the wood, her grip tightened as she pulled up on the handle; nothing. The door didn’t budge.

Emmy’s eyes narrowed with determination. She stood up and turned around. Planting her feet on either side of the door, she squatted down and crowded the fingers of both hands around the handle. Both hands gripping, elbows locked, she drove her feet against the ground as her legs began to straighten, and she tugged against the resistant door. Slowly, the heavy thing began to lift. Emmy strained back as she rose, her teeth clenched with effort. When the door reached its tipping point and began to fall back, she let out her held breath as a wave of exhilaration rose inside her. She was about to get some answers!

Emmy came around and kneeled at the edge of the opening, peering inside. She had expected to find nothing but a black hole, like when Bud would open the doors to the storm cellar by their house, but what she found appeared to be a square hole in the ground, the sides well defined with a ladder attached to one side.

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