Silence was deafening. Leaves danced slowly as the wind blew at a dusty road. The place would seem completely dead if we didn’t mind the fields all around.
An old man was watching his wheat, gently waving in the air. He was sitting by his house, built in the centre of the valley. There was nobody but him around in two miles. He used to live with his parents, but they had died a long time ago and he hadn’t been ever married.
National Literary Award For Young Writers
He looked at a small hill dominating the view. From its top it was able to see both Pamperton and Holdingham, two towns connected by the road.
Grain turned around in streams of air as the wind changed its ways. Now as it was getting stronger, he opened the door and went to the house to hide.
He poured some whiskey into a little cup, one of his few not wooden pieces of crockery. Wind was shouting outside, blowing behind the shutters as it was getting to a storm.
The cup fell off his trembling wrinkled hands, breaking into small pieces.
"Damn it,” he said and walked back to the hall to pick up his broom laying at the dooryard. He grabbed the door-handle and opened.
The wind outside blew wildly and made branches break. "Well, it’s gonna be a storm,” he said. Grain moved crazily in the streams of air.
He walked in the dooryard, grabbling for the broomstick. Then first raindrops fell on his hand. He grabbed the broom, ready to go back inside.
Suddenly, the ground shook. It was hardly noticeable, but the old man opened his eyes and stopped breathing for a minute.
"What-!” He had been through many storms, but the earth had never moved. Earth’s not supposed to move and it’s not good if it does.
And there it went again – another ground motion, scaring him to death. He had never felt anything like that. Alone, wrinkled man fell on a pillar at the dooryard, holding it as the last immovable thing around.
The frequency of the shakes was growing, supporting the shouts of wind in playing a storm symphony. All of the trees had suffered some damages now; some just had their branches broken, others were all cracked down.
It didn’t look well outside. A single thought got out of the mood in his head – get to the house you stupid! He tried to hand over the order to his legs, but the trembling knees didn’t seem to receive it.
A long, roaring rift opened in the fields. The old man started to scream in a way he’d never done. Now his whole body refused to be controlled and stood in the middle of the yard.
Some parts of his mind still tried to make him go away, although they were pushed back by more powerful parts interested in being horrified. Girders inside the house were falling in the rhythm of quakes.
Suddenly, the roof slumped down into the building. Sound most like a dragon roar ran over as the roof smashed the house under.
"Jesus Christ!” yelled the old man, eyes opened like going to get off his eyeholes.
The crack in the ground was still getting wider. Fifty yards, forty-eight… the hole was heading for the building. Rain was getting greater, watering old man’s hair. 45 yards, 43…
Suddenly, his mind reacted and he escaped the ruining place horror that used to be his house. Knees moved and the he was running for his life. Exactly.
All other thoughts were pushed aside as a one came into the front of his mind: to survive. Nothing was more important than survival.
32 yards , 21.
The house finally fell into the hole, eaten as a prey, but the old men now only cared not to get stuck in the ground soften by rain that got in a storm rage. He ran forward, sometimes falling over, but standing up again.
Halfway uphill his body was yelling for more air, but he didn’t stop till he reached the very top. There he fell on his knees, catching breath.
He turned his head back to the valley he had just escaped.
There was a disaster. Enormous pieces of ground were slumping into a cave, for a long time hidden under the valley but now opened by the earthquake. Underground water was gushing up as much as it was falling down from the sky.
"Dear God,” whispered Bertheld as he was loosing consciousness. "Must… get to… Pamper-ton…”
There was a lightning in the far.
The very first thing Bertheld realized after awakening was pain. It was flowing throughout his body, starting at the top of his head, running through his neck to torso where it divided into four parts, each heading for its own limb. The final sum of agony was as a specific kind of devil’s aria, cruel and painful.
And his voice joined in.
After the violent scream silenced over the valley of disaster, Bertheld’s mind woke up. Pain was ignored while he was thinking of what to do.
He sat up.
He stood up.
He ran away.
And he was heading for Pamperton…
The journey was usually about an hour, but now, with so many harms, it took him the whole day. He needed a doctor. He needed a doctor or else he had to die.
He’d been bleeding from several wounds, wondering he was still alive; he didn’t even believe his body was able to stand such a journey. "Thank you, God,” he whispered gratefully.
He got through the Pamperton fortifications quite easily even though strangers were dangerous to let get to towns. Chaos that was everywhere made it unable to control all ruined parts of the walls.
The misery inside was horrible. People were laying in the streets in front of their ruined houses, dead with alive. There were men without their wives, women holding heads of their dead husbands or children around torsos of their parents, smashed by slumping buildings.
He was slowing down. "I… must go… on,” he whispered. He felt his legs were getting out what they were able to stand, refusing to walk any longer.
No, not that when I’m so close…
He fell over.
A woman watched him suspiciously. He was exhausted, unable to answer anything.
"Is it really him?” said another. He tried to continue walking, but he didn’t accomplish anything.
"I think that’s really Bertheld.”
"It’s surely him.”
More faces were turning at him. Despite their owners were in a deep misery, they seemed to be interested in why he went from his valley to distant Pamperton.
”What does he do here?”
"Maybe he’s seeking a doctor.”
"Are you stupid?” said an elder mother. "He lives in a valley. It must have collapsed.”
"So he somehow survived.”
"Nobody could have survived,” she hissed. "The earthquake was too powerful. Even if he somehow escaped his house, he would die in the storm.”
"You know,” said a woman, "She’s right. Noone could have ever survived there. At least noone… normal.”
Bertheld stopped moving.
"You mean…” whispered the one who first said Bertheld did survive.
"Well, he’s very old. Many young died, so why did he survive?”
Bertheld tried to say something, to tell them he’s a good Christian, but all he did was a cough.
"And he’s never been married.”
"He used to live alone… what did he do there?”
"Our kids died!” yelled a mother.
Come on, people… He made a lot of effort, but it didn’t seem to help. Long journey had taken away all his power.
"Nobody could have survived. Unless he had an… agreement with-"
No, you can’t be serious…
"He’s why we’re all suffering that hard!” cried someone.
"He killed our husbands and children!”
It was the earthquake, not me! Cursed neck, why did you betray me right now? He shook in order to at least sit. He didn’t.
"He’s a heretic!”
"Purge the heretic!”
"Kill the heretic!”
No, no please… Bertheld tried to escape, but he didn’t even move.
Everyone lost someone and it filled them with despair. And despair becomes a rage once someone aims it.
"Kill the heretic!”
Bloodthirsty crowd wanted him. One of the nearest people grabbed his leg, and as next joined, it was torn off. Bertheld screamed as never in his life, neither as he did yesterday. He was a good Christian, he prayed all the time. So he’d become a heretic now?
He escaped an earthquake which destroyed his house and fields. Why was he supposed to die at cure’s door?
Second leg, right hand…
What a terrible joke made him arrive in Pamperton, nearly dead but with hope? Someone had a very strange sense of humour.
"God!” he shouted as he was dying. "God… are you serious?”
Recovery lead him to Pamperton, but the only thing he found there was death. What a destiny.