Jern Siong tells a heartwrenching tale of the many victims of a tragic earthquake.
There was a lull in the air, a certain degree of quietness that would have gone unnoticed by most, save him. The years in the battlefield had robbed him of his pity, his life, and even his left eye, but it had left him with one thing; instinct. It had helped him stay alive and sane during the nights of stumbling around the charred bodies and the streams of blood, with a rifle in his hand and his knapsack of provisions upon his battered back.
He felt it before everyone else; the unusual, deathly silence, broken only by the tinkle of the music box in the living room. Immediately, he rushed towards it, where Eliza and Josh, his two beloved children, were playing. Inches from the doorway, cacophony ensued. The barks of the neighborhood canines, the ceaseless cawing of crows, all heralded an evil too dark to even comprehend.
Then the cracks appeared, running down the walls, across the dusty tiled floor, and ripping apart the ceiling. He arrived in time to see his children, aged three years apart, huddled together in a corner and whimpering in fear. Somehow, he knew that he would never get them out in time. The fact struck him like a bolt of lightning and left him motionless for a second. Then adrenaline kicked in and he leaped into action. “They will survive,” he whispered.
Grabbing an enormous wooden table with Herculean strength only a desperate man could summon, he hefted it over to his cowering children and slammed it upon them, trapping them between its oak legs. By then, chunks of plaster and concrete were falling from the ceiling, crashing upon the ground like thunder on a stormy night. One hit him on the shoulder, almost tearing his arm from its socket with its almighty force. A blinding pain shot through him, raising his senses to a climax.
“I have been through worse,” he whispered, through gritted teeth, and ignored the stabbing pain in his shoulder. Then the room tilted and the large clumps of cement began slowly sliding towards the three of them, as if mocking their inability to escape the painful death awaiting them. There was only one thing he could do. Dropping to the ground, he wound his body around the exposed sides of the makeshift shelter, and screamed in pain as the first block struck him full on the back, leaving a ragged wound, from which a stream of red hot blood burst forth, tasting the dusty air.
Then everything began coming at once, as if someone had hit the fast forward button on the world. He was rammed again and again, each hit leaving his frail body racked with a pain so intense he wanted it all to end. His screams for help brought no results, and as he felt himself slowly drowning in the ocean of darkness, the faces of his children burst into his mind, clear as crystal. The image gave him new strength, to make sure his children survived the catastrophe.
His right eye flew open, and he could see his two children, scared but relatively unharmed. A smile lit up his bloodied face, before a shard of glass plunged itself deep into his remaining eye.
* * * *
She opened hers, and was greeted with nothing but a sea of night, from which unforeseen terrors burst forth, leaving her shivering in horror. Her arms, which were tightly wrapped around the body of her younger sibling, lashed out against the invisible enemies. Demonic visages leered at her from every direction, vanishing as her hand passed through them, and then appearing again somewhere else, with bright shiny eyes and teeth that gleamed in the darkness.
“No! No! Mummy, help me! Help!”
Her screams shattered the silence of the never-ending blackness. Then, right in front of her eyes, she saw something move. A dagger of fear plunged deep into her heart, and she scrambled to the other end of the tiny space in which they were imprisoned. Her entire being was shaking, and she gripped her brother’s limp body tightly. Then, a soft, faltering voice, filled with pain, sounded in their airless grave.
“Eliza… take care… of… your…brother…” The voice grew softer and softer before finally dwindling into nothingness, leaving her alone with her demons once more.
* * * *
“Here I am, standing amongst the ruins of what was once the proud town of Padang, Sumatera. Beneath the rubble, thousands of people have been buried by the sudden earthquake which measured an unbelievable 6 on the Richter scale. Rescue operations are ongoing as I speak, but most of the 5000-strong community is feared to be dead after 5 hours of being trapped underground. I’m Mia Edwards, reporting for BBC News.”
Turning away from the camera, she wiped away a lone tear that rolled down her cheek as she gazed upon the scene of total destruction and devastation all around her. Cries of pain punctuated the air, followed by anguished sobs as family members were pronounced dead. How could this happen? What did they do to deserve this? Question after question sprang up in her mind, and for the first time, she questioned her faith in the god she had been praying to all this time. What kind of person would allow such a thing to happen?
Then, suddenly, she heard cries of excitement from a group of rescuers somewhere further of. Curious, and feeling strangely hopeful, she stumbled across the rocks and bits of concrete that littered the ground. Mia arrived in time to see the men extricating two tiny bodies from amidst the rubble.
“I can feel a pulse. They’re still alive!” Excitement filled the air as the children were placed onto a stretcher and carried towards a waiting ambulance. There, a woman was waiting, her tear-stained cheeks pale with worry. When she saw the two children, screams of joy filled the air as she embraced both of them, tears pouring from her reddened eyes.
Then, Mia turned back to the men around her, who had managed to unearth another body. This one was of an adult, but whether it was a man or woman, she couldn’t tell. The corpse was so bruised and bloodied that it barely resembled a human form anymore. It was laid gently on the ground. Slowly, Mia approached it, gazing with a mixture of sadness and disgust as she took in the sight of the mutilated body.
Suddenly, she heard a tiny whisper in the wind. Perhaps she imagined it, but as she looked closer at the figure lying on the ground, she could swear that its torn lips were moving slightly, forming unintelligible words. Mia leaned closer, and her sharp ears caught the words, “Are…. my……. children……………. alive?” The final word was so soft, a mere rustle in the air, that she could hardly hear it. But, she understood and nodded vigorously.
“Yes, they’re alive. They’re okay!” she shouted, much to the amazement of the rescue team members around her. Then, she watched as the sides of the figure’s lips twitched upwards slightly, before slipping into the gentle embrace of death.
Jern Siong is an AUSMAT student at Sunway University College. An avid reader and fan of country music, he keeps a close tab on entertainment news and supports gay rights.