Tremors is the first edition in the continuous short story series Eyes of the Innocent that will span across this year’s Verse magazines, inspired by the theme of each particular edition. It tells the story of how one cataclysmic event can affect different people and how it can bring them together.
Diego was at school when the first bomb went off.
There was a crack as his head hit the asphalt. The skin of his hands tearing like fine fabric as it grated across the cement. He felt more so than heard the boy step towards him, felt the fine point of the shoe that forced itself between the gaps in his rib cage over and over again. He had forgotten how to breathe.
The remains of his lunch lay scattered in dried leaves, spilling out of a fallen box like the innards of a deer.
‘Go back to where you came from,’ one of the boys said. Diego felt the air wheeze through his tightened throat as the foot was removed from his stomach.
Moisture splattered against the side of his cheek as a second boy spat on him. He didn’t flinch. He resisted the urge to clench his jaw as rage simmered in the pit of his gut.
A third boy sat behind them, seated on a swing that made no sound as he swung back and forth, dark eyes fixed on the trio in front of him. Neither of the two children acknowledged his presence as they turned to leave, sneering, ‘Don’t come to this side of the yard again.’
Diego closed his eyes, their footsteps echoing in the dark that followed. He laid there for what seemed like decades.
Pain shot through his chest, stung through his bleeding hands, as he uncurled himself. His head throbbed in time with the blood rushing through his skull. He groaned, gritting his teeth as he rolled onto his back. His eyes opened blankly to stare at dark clouds. The tips of buildings edged his peripheral.
‘Well, that could have gone better,’ a dark head obscured his view.
Diego grunted, the motion causing him to wince, ‘Fat lot of help you were.’
Tony’s nose curled as he shrugged, ‘You know there was nothing I could do.’
Diego had lost count of how many fights his friend had seen and been unable to stop. He closed his eyes again, his body thrumming in time to heartbeats. He could feel drops of blood sliding down his palms to kiss the cement.
‘It’s not for forever, you know,’ Tony said. There was no sound as he shifted to sit beside Diego. There rarely was.
Diego could only feel the air caressing his bruised cheek. He nodded.
‘Hey,’ Tony’s face appeared above him, a grin spreading across his thin mouth. ‘Maybe we can hide frogs in their bags after school, what do you reckon?’
Diego couldn’t help the chuckle that danced its way up his throat. It hurt.
He could see it then, how many more times his skin would be torn open by unrelenting concrete, how many times his ribs would take a barrage of kicks and punches. How many more times Tony would have to help him remember how to smile.
His grin faded.
‘We should go back, recess is-‘ Tony was cut off by a distant rumble; the growl of the planet below him. The ground shuddered beneath Diego’s shoulder blades, burrowing into bone. He sat up, his bones grating against one another like rusted pipes.
‘What was that?’
The windows above them shattered.
Diego called out as glass fell like sharp snow, coating his hair and scattering amongst the bark. The swings in front of them rattled as if being shook by invisible hands. In the distance, he could hear other students shouting, could see them scattering across the oval, swarming towards the open doors of the school. Like flies to a carcass.
He stood on shaky legs, taking a step towards the mass of bodies now pushing for the safety of the doors.
He was stopped by a voice rounding the corner, calling out, ‘You there, are you okay? Come on, we’ve got to get inside.’
Diego turned towards the voice at the teacher that towered above him like the buildings in the distance. He paused when he saw the blood on Diego’s hands, the bruise already forming on his cheek. ‘Are you alright?’
Another boom echoed across the field, the cries of terror from the doors rising with it. The earth hummed again.
The teacher grabbed Diego’s arm, the grip making him hiss as old bruises cried out in protest. A siren began to scream above them. Diego’s shoes crunched over broken glass as he was dragged towards the doors. He pulled back in protest, looking over his shoulder to ensure Tony was following.
He wasn’t there.
Behind them, smoke curled around buildings like a viper; black plumes reaching to suffocate the sun.
His heart was pounding, the tips of his hands starting to shake. He looked over his shoulder again, he couldn’t see Tony. He couldn’t focus.
‘Where’s Tony?’ He called up to the man, he pulled back again and was rewarded with the teacher picking him up, his small body so easy to manoeuvre as the teacher broke into a run through the yard, across shattered windows and curls of dust.
The wall they were leaving behind was shaking, shuddering as if thousands of bodies were being thrown against the other side. A figure stood next to the wall; his body so small.
It was Tony, the wall behind now swaying like it was made of nothing more than paper.
He was too close.
‘Tony!’ Diego screamed through the chaos, the smoke and the dust, his voice cracked. He flailed against the arms barred across his chest. ‘Stop! Stop! We have to get him!’
His hand screamed as it connected with the teacher’s face. He was turned around, viciously, by hands shaking almost as much as he was. ‘Stop!’ The teacher screamed at him, his eyes wild, panicked. ‘There is no one there for god’s sake! There is no one there.’
Diego stilled for a moment, wide eyed, his heart raced like a wild animal, ‘But what about- ‘
‘There is no one there.’ The teacher said, gesturing towards the wall, his eyes not seeing the small boy reflected in Diego’s.
Diego raised his head, shaking more violently, looking towards the wall as it fell, as if in slow motion, onto the body of his best friend.
The brick and cement fell flat onto the ground. The sound lost to the sirens, the cries, the ringing in the air. It was as if it encountered no obstacles, as if Tony’s body hadn’t been any more than dust motes in the air.
Because he had never been there at all.
Written By Rylee Cooper