The Last Wave
Northtown Elementary, Northtown, Ohio, September 1
Robin was still undecided that morning about calling the Palominos to come in for a conference. She fretted how she might open such a meeting without upsetting them. They were known to be acrimonious at regular PTO meetings. Mr. Palomino, with his shock of red hair like a twisted flame on top of his head, railed against Tammy’s reading choices for her seventh-grade class last year, as if The Hunger Games were on a par with Fifty Shades of Grey. Jenny Palomino, however, defended her teacher to her parents, but Jimmy, the youngest in the family and her student, couldn’t even if he wanted to.
Most parents of autistic children were sensitive to any criticism of their child—how could you blame them, after all? But Jimmy’s drawings were becoming alarming despite the fact his behavior in class remained normal; being a Special Ed teacher had taught her to put air quotes around “normal” long before she started teaching her first classes. However, images of people being ripped apart, limbs flying off bodies, and being blown up in fireballs were crossing from “imaginative” to “gruesome” and becoming, to her, downright scary. Not that she feared violence from a ten-year-old boy, but she was concerned that some inner turbulence was sparking and being projected onto drawing paper in bright Crayola colors and Magic Markers.
* * *
Maumee Bay, Toledo, Ohio, September 2
Captain Ray Peters looked over the stern of his pride and joy and wondered if he was going to make the loan payment this month. Last year’s disaster was starting earlier than usual—green algae was threatening to ruin another season for Lake Erie’s western charter boat captains. Already it was outward from the bay and the slimy green stuff would be sticking to pilings and surrounding every boat at dockside. The rotten-egg smell was overpowering near shore, although he assured prospective clients the water out where the walleye were running was
“crystal clear,” a harmless lie. Peters remembered when he was a deckhand aboard the ore freighter J. Burton Ayers carrying taconite from Superior, Wisconsin downlakes to ports in Sandusky, Cleveland and Lackawanna how bats would fly ten miles out from shore to hang from the pilot house electronics for the flies. Back then, Lake Erie was brown sewage and it took decades to clean up. Last summer, hog farmers were blamed for dumping unfiltered sewage into ditches that ran into the lake. He didn’t know what made that emerald-green bacteria bloom out there, but he knew enough of piloting sailboats in rough seas to appreciate certain forces, like gravity and buoyancy. Just like any boat underway, its heeling angle and the righting moment is different from any other, but if any vessel heels past 60 degrees, she’ll likely capsize. Something was off in nature. He didn’t know what.
His eyes wept from the stench and his throat itched; he spat a gob of phlegm at the piling where his bowline secured the Gone Fishin’ to her berth.
* * *
Museum of Natural Sciences, Cleveland, Ohio, September 3
Professor Mark Tobin stood at the lectern and cast a sweeping eye around the room. His paper on the “Lake Kivu Effect” was causing a few sideways conversations here and there, which was better than the usual tepid response of academic audiences—meaning, polite boredom and lukewarm applause after the speech. He noticed OSU’s most prestigious faculty member, Dr. Fulton Abriss, a bona-fide University professor and esteemed appointee of the Georgia MacDougal Chair in Geophysics having an animated whispered conference with a few colleagues seated behind him.
A shiver ran up his spine; he was, after all, a mere associate professor of Geology at Kent State, not even a credentialed seismologist, and he was telling scholars like Abriss that the massive natural gas reserves sitting beneath the Great Lakes Watershed were becoming “volatile,” like the warming permafrost of Siberia that could unleash enough methane gas to infuse the world’s atmosphere with enough CO² to bring about an epochal change in climate. Too late for second thoughts, he wished now he’d scrapped that early simile about the planet-terminating dinosaur Yucután asteroid 65 million years ago.
He decided to omit reading his final two paragraphs and do an impromptu softening of his conclusion. As he concluded, a smattering of applause broke out in sections of the auditorium, but his peripheral vision caught the cadre of heavyweight professors sitting on their heads as he left the dais.
Walking out of the auditorium before the next speaker’s introduction concluded, he felt a tug on the fabric of his suitcoat, an additional purchase for this occasion.
“Doctor Tobin, can I buy you a drink?”
“Who are you?”
“My name’s Groper. I’m a seismologist from Washington State. I enjoyed your talk.”
“I didn’t get to choose. What about that drink?”
“Make it two,” Tobin said.
* * *
Lake County News-Herald, Tuesday, September 4.
Girl Pulls Boyfriend to Safety from Seiche
Yesterday afternoon Mandy O’Connor, 18, and four friends were standing on the pier at Lakeside Fishing Club when a massive wave “came out of nowhere,” according to O’Connor and knocked all of them in to the water. Two of her friends, Jenny Cartwright, 16, and Elise Randolph, 17, swam to safety. Her boyfriend Tim Johnston, 19, a recent graduate of Perry High School, was unable to swim, however, and she had to pull him the pier where Cartwright and Randolph were able to guide Johnston to the ladder at the end of the dock. None of the teens were hurt.
A seiche is a massive wave created by intense downward wind pressure by a steadily moving squall line. Often mistaken for tsunamis, these ‘rogue waves’ or ‘harbor waves’ are more common to the shallower Great Lakes like Michigan and Erie, being the shallowest of the 5 Great Lakes, because of southwesterly winds impacting the usual pattern of northwestern wind flow. Often the water temperature, wind, and barometric pressure all coincide on a calm day to make the perfect wave, if the opposite end of the lake is experiencing turbulence. These huge waves can appear suddenly on days where mild temperatures and clear skies are typical as for example in a deadly wave that washed 10 people from a breakwall in Ashtabula Harbor in the summer of 1892 and on June 26, 1954, when a freakish ten-foot wall of water crashed into the Chicago harbor drowning seven people. Seismic disturbances are also culprits in creating large standing waves . . .
* * *
“I wrote my sabbatical proposal on waste-water disposal and poro-thermoelastic effects based on changes in gravitational loading.”
“Sorry, not your specialty, I realize. I’m studying fracking-induced earthquakes along the New Madrid fault line. Fifty miles east, ten miles offshore Ashtabula harbor, they had a four-one last year. The Mahoning Valley—that’s mainly Youngstown, fifty miles south of Ashtabula, they’ve experienced a rash of small temblors, mostly in the three-oh range, the last few years.”
“That’s not surprising, is it? I mean fracking would explain it.”
“You’d think,” Groper said, “but there’s more than rumbles beneath the houses and cans knocked off grocery shelves. Fracking is blamed. Seismographs show the rupture is beginning to widen. That’s why I was so interested in your Lake Kivu paper. I’m here on semester sabbatical doing a study.”
“Kivu was a massive CO Two release. I don’t see the connection,” Tobin replied.
“I know. I’m following a lot of dots that might not connect to anything. Don’t take this the wrong way, but it sounded to me as if you crimped your ending just as you were about to get to the good part.”
“Call it my scientific instinct for drawing verifiable conclusions.”
“I’d call it your academic sense of self-preservation. Sorry. That came out wrong. Look, I’ve got the same affliction. We academics sometimes miss the lunar eclipse because we’re looking at one of the moon’s crater’s.”
“I won’t split hairs,” Tobin admitted; “you’re right. I sensed the mood in the audience was not receptive to—”
“To what, Doctor Tobin? You’re among friends here.”
Tobin looked down the bar and saw a couple men in work coveralls and greasy baseball caps. The bored bartender was reading the paper at the other end of the bar.
“OK,” Tobin said, “you asked for it. A lake that ‘overturns,’ as we say, is more like the smaller Lake Nyos. Think of it as a Big Gulp-sized, fizzy drink. Just like the gas in Lake Kivu, it’s trapped below the cold depths and remains there.”
“But you said Kivu’s explosion involved methane gas, too, because of the seismic activity in the lake bottom.”
“Yes, but Kivu’s one of three exploding lakes,” Tobin said and ticked them off his fingers, “Kivu in Rwanda where the disaster occurred—”
“—Your paper, yes, I recall.”
“Nyos and Lake Monoun, both in Cameroon. They’re piping the methane from Nyos ten miles away from the barges and burning it for cheap fuel.”
“Why not do the same thing on Lake Kivu?”
“Because Kivu is a thousand times bigger than both,” Tobin replied. “It’s too big to siphon out the gas. Say you’re a villager in Rwanda back then. You hear a loud explosion—nothing too bad. You go back to sleep. Then a fog slowly rolls over the lake surface across the land. You and seventeen-hundreds of your fellow villagers and three thousand animals all die at the same time.”
“How many people live in that lake basin now?
“About two million. If that methane ignites, you’re going to get a repeat of nineteen-eighty-six times ten. Degassing it won’t work and might lead to an explosion or a series of explosions that will produce lake tsunamis. Everyone in that basin will die . . . what did I say?”
“How much natural gas lies below the Great Lakes basin?”
“Conservatively speaking, about five trillion cubic feet. Enough to power five million households for fifteen years.”
“How many people live—”
“Millions. Between Duluth and Buffalo, I don’t know. Fifteen million, twenty. What . . . exactly are you inferring here, Doctor Groper?”
* * *
Port Huron, Michigan, September 5
The Fish & Game man felt the eyes of the beachgoers on him. He was the sole figure fully dressed despite the intense heat, which was building toward brutal. This late in the year the heat anomaly was more irritating than , and a day at the beach was a common notion for hundreds of people already. Now this. The shad lay along the shoreline, their tiny silver bodies piled up, nose to tail, as if they were jostling for a better place. The sun rippled off their sides as they floated and bobbed ashore. A shad die-off at this time of year was unusual, not to mention the sheer numbers in the hundreds of thousands, and it wasn’t the only one he’d been called out to investigate. Mackinac Island was at peak tourist season and the stench from their rotting fish was producing calls to the office every day—as if there was something he could personally do about it. Damn fish decide to die like lemmings jumping into the sea—hell, it wasn’t his doing. This was nature.
Some kids frolicking along the shore, oblivious to the smell of decomposition were being called back by anxious parents. “P-U!” they shouted to one another; one bold little girl kicked a mass of fish at her sister hitting her in the legs and back and made her run back to the blanket screaming for mommy.
Some recreational boaters were reporting bubbles ten miles out. He’d say they were indulging in too many liquid spirits if it weren’t for the fact that a couple lakeboat captains east of Bruce Peninsula near Georgian Bay had reported the same thing a couple days earlier. Gas seeping up through fissures and bubbling up causing a massive fish die-off wasn’t possible. The lower lakes were shallower, sure, but these are Great Lakes—not possible.
* * *
Harborside Nursing & Rehabilitation Facility, Duluth, Minnesota, September 6
Supervising Night Nurse Jean Whitcomb had never seen anything like it in 40 years. She’d taken this post in the twilight of her nursing career because Bob lost his job at the Allouez ore docks in Superior, terminated for drinking—not the first time—and they needed the income until they could collect Medicare. She wanted a quiet exit from her hectic days and twelve-hour shifts as a med-surg nurse. “Boring,” all her friends said. “You’ll go crazy from doing nothing.” They drank tequila shots and made cricket noises to simulate the eerie quiet of her future position at the farewell party in Jilly’O’s Tavern on her last day at Duluth General.
She wondered what had happened to that prediction. The patients were like the walking dead. She couldn’t keep the mobile ones from leaving their rooms at night, walking the halls, and getting into cupboards, exploring rooms, and making messes everywhere they wandered. Some of the most docile were now some of the most violent and agitated. Even the bedridden ones were awake at night, screaming from nightmares and howling in misery. Many were now restrained, a fact she had to report these “behavioral issues” and explain to many relatives. Between their complaints to management and her explanations to the board, she felt like a ping-pong ball. Her sleep was affected now and three of her best LPN’s were threatening to quit.
“What do we do about the activity room? Some of the patients were asking me.”
“Keep it closed,” Jean said.
The aggressiveness of some had resulted in fights among several patients that resulted in facial scratches and hair pulling. Two days ago, Mr. Clancy’s checkers partner of the last five years, Adrian Nusbaum, had slammed a book across the bridge of Clancy’s nose, breaking it. The normally docile Alzheimer’s patients were getting worse. Mrs. Clapper-Davis was howling like a banshee from the corner of her room. Old Mrs. Bixler, a toothless shell slumped over in a wheelchair all day, had been heard to mutter gibberish by the cleaning crew. She hadn’t spoken a word in years.
Her best night-shift nurse looked as if she hadn’t slept much either since the “senior chaos” started, as they referred to it privately.
She hated to do it because it went against her training and her instincts both, but she felt she had no choice. Tonight, they were getting Risperdol, the antipsychotic. She had no choice. The entire facility was out of control.
* * *
Tobin studied the amber fluid in his glass and thought, What the hell. I might as well go back to my motel drunk.
Groper kept pace with him, drink for drink, but he seemed somber and grew silent. Tobin thought that was merely how he handled drink. Some get gregarious, others get quiet. He seemed like a nice guy, but he’d had enough company for the day and wanted to go back to his room and forget the disaster of his presentation to colleague that morning.
“You shaid—you said, my dear Doctor Tobin, that there’s no seismic activity equivalent to create a Lake Kivu effect beneath the Great Lakes.”
“Yep, that’s right,” Tobin replied, still staring at the light refracting through the amber drink glass he held aloft. “No volcanoes. Not a one. Nothing bigger than that.”
“What about tectonic plates? Are they big enough for you?”
Tobin set his glass down on the bar top and turned to stare at Grope.
“What about them? Are you implying what I think you’re implying?”
Groper made an exploding noise with his mouth that came out like a mushy sequence of popping sounds; his hands mimed the explosion with spreading fingers.
“There’s a fizzy drink worth contemplating, wouldn’t you agree?”
* * *
Indiana Harbor, Illinois, September 7
Associated Press, Monday, Homicides Are Up in City
Homicides rose 25% in the city over the last year. U. of Illinois Sociologist Mark Bedford says that the extraordinary increase does not deflect from the fact that homicides have been going steadily down during the preceding decade. He attributes the uptick to “a statistical fluke.” Bedford claims, “Measuring the incidence of any recurring human phenomena over time is always subject to these occasional ‘burps’ in data analyses. Outliers like this should not give rise to fear or dire predictions about the human condition.”
* * *
Belle Isle Park, Detroit River, Michigan, September 8
Associated Press, Tuesday, Scientist Studies Insect Disorders
Entomologists from the Biology Department of Wayne State are studying aberrations in insect life around the islands in the Detroit River. Professor Gina Montaigne earned her doctorate from the University of Wisconsin studying hive disorder in bees in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Her study has now expanded to include a dozen varieties of insect from praying mantises to woolly adelgids, dragonflies, and butterflies for the Department of Natural Resources. “There’s been an increase in mutations of several species of insects that seem to be occurring along a similar timeline. We don’t yet have a cause to explain these defects. First led to the area by the huge decline in Monarch butterfly populations along the Great Lakes, Montaigne sees a commonality that can’t be explained by a single event or a principal cause such as a disease that runs across so many different species simultaneously.”
Groper was getting worried. He’d collected statistics on fish die-offs from Fish & Game along the Ontario and Erie shores, he had current NOOA satellite data for Superior’s northern and eastern shorelines, and his colleague finally got back to him about those bursts of seismic activity in the Great Lakes basin. No one, it seemed, was putting any of these disparate pieces together.
He called Tobin at his office in Kent State and left a message. He went back to his charts. Maybe the figures were off. All this activity couldn’t be related to one cause—not possible. The data had to be ratty somewhere. It’s too vast, he told himself, too many people . . . No, inconceivable; he needed to talk to Tobin, get a second opinion. If he jumped off, half-cocked on this, he’d be laughed out of the profession.
* * *
The National Weather Service, September 9
United Press International, Wednesday, “Surge in Weather Outbreaks Recorded by Detectors”
Using the standard F-scale, meteorologists report that tornadic activity in the upper Midwest along the Greta Lakes region has never been as intense. The NWS reports that 60 years of datasets reveal nothing has ever been seen like the outbreaks of tornadoes located so far north of Tornado Alley during the preceding two months. The unusual clustering and directionality indicate a series of “hot spots” evolving along the Great Lakes region, which is generally devoid of late-summer tornadic activity. One pre-dawn twister near Racine, Wisconsin yesterday killed six people and injured a dozen.
Unusual seismic signals called “tornado seismographs,” because of their association with tornadoes, were recorded by an array of 100 state-of-the-art seismic detectors located across the midcontinent. The digital seismographs revealed a strong, low-frequency pulse beginning around 6:34 a.m. on Sep.8 as a large atmospheric pressure transient related to large thunderstorms spawned the tornado. So far, thousands of earthquakes have been recorded on these devices along with mining and quarry explosions. The widespread fracking believed to have been responsible for the large number of small earthquakes in the Mahoning Valley region of Northeastern Ohio in the past is being cited by environmentalist groups as evidence confirmed by the raw data of these seismic detectors.
The NWS is joining the National Science Foundation in its four-year undertaking to look inside the Earth to detect seismic activity. A project called EarthScope, which is likened to an “upside-down telescope” to probe the Earth’s interior.
Jason Van der Meer, a Cleveland, weather forecaster since 2008, said: “Nothing like this has ever happened before in Northeastern Ohio. We don’t know what to make of all this surge in activity above and below the ground. We’ve had flash-flooding in areas that are drought-stricken. It’s like Armageddon arrived this year. Thirty-below-zero in Northtown, a summer of fist-sized hailstorms preceding F3s all around the Great Lakes, and the highest wind speed ever recorded at Cleveland Hopkins Airport.” Scientists can’t say yet if there’s some not-yet-understood correlation among these disparate weather events. “Global warming or just freak coincidence? We don’t know enough to say but it sure is keeping us busy in the weather room,” Van der Meer said.
Green Bank, West Virginia, September 9
Reuters, Thursday, “Plumes Baffle Astronomers”
Radio astronomers at Green Banks Observatory noted unusual red, orange, purple, and pink auroras while scanning the late-night skies on the night of September 7. Flashes, streaks, plasma plumes, and a massive plasma dome were recorded on home-security cameras in the area known as “America’s Quietest Town,” where cell phones are banned and any use is grounds for prosecution.
Wyandotte Club, Northtown, Ohio
Barry Schumaker normally drank alone at the end of the bar on weekdays. He liked to get drunk by himself and stagger off to his mother’s house on Buffalo Street. Now that his nagging bitch of a mother was no longer among the living, she couldn’t nag him about his excessive drinking, and he could pass out on her couch (he’d gleefully ripped the protective plastic covering off the day of her funeral) with the TV going and wake up in time for an early dinner, which usually consisted of a pizza delivered to the house. Barry no longer denied he had a drinking problem. Whenever he was cut off by one of the twenty-something bartenders of the Wyandotte, a once-private club opened to the public, he always said he had “no drinking problem because he had no problem drinking.”
Today he was seated on a stool somewhere close to the middle of the long bar because of the crowd. He’d never seen so many people in the place in the middle of the afternoon. This was no recreational boating crowd, either. Nor were they locals. Most of them looked as if they came from New Mexico, what with all the turquoise jewelry. Barry broke a personal rule by talking to the guy seated to his left. He was in his thirties, wore John Lennon glasses, and had a scruffy beard like some hippie off a commune.
“It looks like some kind of convention,” Barry remarked.
“Hopi,” the man said.
“Hopi Indians. They’re here because their elders have called an important meeting. See those two old guys with braids at that back table near the pinball machine? They’re Sioux from the Pine Ridge Reservation. Wonder why they’re here.”
Barry wondered why any of them were here. Why would any Indian from Arizona want to come here? It certainly wasn’t to fish. All he’d heard all summer from the charter boat captains was how bad the fishing season was. Those old dudes off the reservation, the Sioux, drinking their whiskeys and looking at the Hopi with suspicion as if they were about to get jumped. Oh boy, here goes hippie Dip again, off on one of his whackjob monologues . . .
“They won’t say what it is or why they came,” Hippie Dip said, indifferent to Barry’s lack of attention span, “but it’s got something to do with a mega-disaster of some sort—earthquake, tornado, tsunami—something in their prophecies is about to happen. I heard about it in Santa Fe and I followed them north.”
Barry was just drunk enough at that point to be intrigued. “What are you saying?”
That opened the floodgates. The guy was a conspiracy nut. Big time. Barry couldn’t follow him half the time and it wasn’t because of the three dirty martinis he’d imbibed before the guy moseyed over to join him. He started off talking about some kind of “alignment” between Nexrad towers and straight-line thunderstorms, created by a nonparallel grid alignment with the Great Pyramid of Giza. Great Pyramid, my fat German-Irish ass . . .
Barry almost spluttered into his drink; he whipped his head around to stare into the guy’s face, see if he was having him on.
“I’m serious, man,” the guy said. He introduced himself with a name that Russian or Polish. Barry mentally dubbed him Hippie Dip.
“Are you serious?”
“Weather manipulation by ULF technologies has been going on a for decades—”
“What the hell is ULF?” Barry asked, half-convinced the guy was jerking him around.
“Ultra-Low Frequency,” Hippie Dip replied. “They stole it from Nikola Tesla before they murdered him.”
“Mu-murdered him—who did you say? Who murdered him?”
“Tesla. The FBI or German Intelligence. We’ll probably never know,” Hippie Dip said. “But they stole his papers and
The next twenty minutes of Barry Schumaker’s life were bizarre. The bar’s closed-circuit camera would have revealed Barry’s wide bottom fixed to his bar stool, unmoving—yet if you could film the inside of his mind as Hippie Dip unraveled a series of interconnecting theories in his monologue, you’d have seen a roller-coaster of imagery in motion. Barry had heard some tall tales from the charter boat captains and a few of the more colorful locals in this bar where once dock workers, steamship captains, and tug boat crews were the entire clientele like Barry’s father, a lakeboat captain. But this lunatic took the prize
From Tesla’s assassination and missing notebooks and diagrams of a “death ray machine,” Barry had listened to it all. The man was insane! He had to be. In fact, the least crazy idea he expressed was the one about low-frequency pulses from the Doppler Nexrad towers inducing tornadoes. As if that weren’t enough, Hippie Dip went on to give Barry a geography lesson and explain how the New Madras Fault that ran through the midsection of America was actually connected to the Great Rift Valley of Kenya in Africa and this “collapsing fault” was due one day to generate an earthquake that would kill hundreds of thousands.
Hippie Dip said it had happened in the early nineteenth century, rerouted the mighty Mississippi when three quakes struck within days of one another. “Not many people living here back then. The Indians knew something was up when they saw passenger pigeons blocking out the sun for fifteen minutes at a time.”
Passenger pigeons, WTF. Dear God, where was this nutjob going next? Barry was rapidly formulating an excuse to get off the stool and make for the exit as calmly as he could when the next round of drinks showed up in front of him and the Dip. The bartender looked at Barry who looked at the bartender.
“They’re on that guy, the one down there, see him? He’s wearing that goofy hat with a feather in it and looks like he stole his grandmother’s print dress to make that shirt.”
Hippie Dip took his drink and raised his glass in the direction the bartender indicated. Barry saw an older man with wind-burned skin nod at them both.
“Who is that?”
“That’s John Ho-Toto,” the Dip told him. “He’s in touch with the spirit world. His name means ‘warrior-spirit-who-sings.’”
Barry was thinking of another Toto, Dorothy’s dog, and a place just as surreal; the Wyandotte was becoming an Oz of its own. An ordinary afternoon had suddenly been transformed by these Indians and this man next to him who spoke about very extraordinary things he couldn’t put into his mind as easily as the booze he poured down his throat. Barry slugged back the whiskey and grimaced. The beer chaser helped but he had tears in his eyes when the burn subsided.
“I’ve got to go,” he said. He slid off the stool. That was easy, he thought. I should have done it a half-hour ago.
He took his keys and wallet out of his pants’ pocket to leave a tip and return the courtesy of a drink to Chief What’s-His-Name, Hottentot, down there, but the wallet dropped from his hand. He bent down to pick it up but the keys slipped to the floor next as if floor had suddenly become magnetized.
When Barry straightened up, he was looking directly into the face of John Ho-Toto, whose own stare back at him wasn’t unkind.
“Hell-ooo, there,” Barry said, almost crooned the greeting, in his surprise at the man’s magical appearance—or was he that drunk? He must be.
Now he was trapped between the Chief and Hippie Dip.
Barry was about to make his excuses, plead an appointment, but the energy drained from his body like water from a colander. John guided him with a light pressure on his triceps, redirecting Barry back to his bar stool.
The alcohol fumes clouding his brain evaporated like a mist in sunlight. He wanted to be drunk—but he couldn’t manage it. He couldn’t move. His free will was gone and he might as well have ten-penny spikes driven through his shoes as try to move off, get away from the two men who kept him fixed in place; neither touched him—or even referred to him. Their conversation excluded him. Yet he knew, at some subconscious level, he was meant to hear everything they spoke even if he didn’t understand it—and Barry Schumaker didn’t comprehend much of it. The Hopi creeped him out with his talk of a Purifier, the blue kachina, two suns in the sky, and people all over the world going insane because they lacked the “inner spirit” that made them human. Him and his “Day of Purification” sounded like his old whisky priest Father Hennigan from his altar boy days. The old boozer loved to give his favorite sermon: Dies Irae, “Day of Wrath.” Judgment Day.
Barry Schumaker, was going to have a ringside seat when it did. Shifts in the magnetic field, Earth’s rotation, changes in the planet’s spin, geomagnetic jerks, resonances—what the hell did that mean anyhow? The Indians bothered him more than that crazy from California—or Arizona, whatever. They were like bees in a hive, all buzzing around a dead queen.
* * *
Knight Ridder. Thursday, September 10
An investigator from the CDC arrived in the small northeastern Ohio town of Perry to observe and listen to students, parents, teachers, and other conference attendees on the subject t of school suicides. This small village in Ohio with its population of a little over 1,600 has seen six students die by their own hand in the space of a single year. In his 23 years of experience investigating malaria, typhoid, HIV/AIDS in Lagos, Nigeria; Burkina Faso, Dr. Aaron Schiff has investigated every major infectious disease known to humankind, whether waterborne, vectorborne—and even snakeborne. “I’ve been to six countries under the bulge of Africa for everything from meningococcal meningitis through yellow fever to the infamous H5N1, avian influenza,” Schiff said, “but the fact that you have so many teenagers committing suicide is a singularity we have to know about.”
* * *
Northtown Elementary, Northtown, Ohio, September 11
Jimmy Palomino’s agitation was getting worse. His drawings were less violent, but all his pictures revolved around a single theme in three colors: tiny black stick figures, wading into shallow water or standing on a blue shore on brown beaches, while a massive blue wave gathered on the horizon. Now in the latest drawings, far more lurid with bright Crayola smears for faces, were the people caught up in the onrushing wave.
To hell with Mr. Palomino and his big mouth,” she said to her steamed bathroom mirror that morning. “I’m going to see the Principal today.”
* * *
Shooter’s, The Flats, Cleveland, Ohio
“My sabbatical study ends in a week,” Groper said. “I can’t say it’s been fun. Interesting but not fun. Thanks for meeting me here, by the way. It’s good to see you.”
“I heard the chimes at midnight many a night from places like this back when I did my undergraduate degree at Cleveland State,” Tobin said. “Have you got the data to publish?”
“Some, most—not all,” Groper replied. “I’m still collecting. I’ll finish up when I get back to my office in Pullman.”
Tobin was happy to see his colleague off with a farewell toast; he liked Jerry Groper, but his pensive silence and morose vibe were beginning to chill the atmosphere around them. Twenty-somethings in club outfits or wearing the tribal regalia of their colleges and fraternities were beginning to take over the bar from the older, professional afternoon drinking crowd.
“You’ve got something on your mind, Doctor Groper, and I suggest you spit it out,” Tobin said, although he didn’t mean it to come out as harsh as it sounded.
“You ever heard of the Red Dawn?”
“It’s a war movie, right? Something about Russians invading America.”
“No, not a film. It’s the Red Dawn of a supernova. Betelgeuse could supernova any day or any century.”
“Yeah, but won’t it take four, five hundred years for us to be able to see it?”
“What I’m getting at is like that but different,” Groper said.
“Different how? You’re an earthquake scientist, not an astronomical physicist.”
“I am,” Groper said, “and I know I’m speculating here, but say, if there’s a connectedness among several phenomena occurring at the same time, not all of which can be measured and quantified because we lack the technology, wouldn’t you say there’s something to it?”
“OK, this is the stuff of conspiracy nuts.”
“Not all conspiracy nuts, Mark. Buddhist wisdom traditions predicted a red star dawning, writings from Sanskrit, Indian lore from the southwest, pictograms carved into giant rock facades from the pre-Columbian era. By the way, did you happen to notice the presence of a new clientele in here?”
“Yeah,” Tobin responded, “Hard to miss. This bar is starting to look like a Navajo trading post. But, come on, you don’t buy any of that hocus-pocus, do you?”
“No, but it worries me. Let me ask you, why do buildings fall in an earthquake?”
“The ground shakes beneath them, they lose their center of gravity, I suppose. I never thought much of it.”
“Wrong. It’s resonance, Mark. Everything that exists has a resonance to it. The human heart is a muscle that exists in a resonator cavity that generates infrasonic frequencies. The circular force of infrasound resonance is a roaring in the skies above us, if we could hear it. Cloud circles, ice circles, fog domes—all of those phenomena were recorded by seismologists around the world last year.”
“What’s your point, Professor?”
“People who believe that, when Earth transitions to a higher density, in its periodic oscillation every thirty-six thousand years, something big happens to the planet. My point is magnetopause destabilizing occurs as a scientific fact and these EM pulses are increasing and if—say the lore is all true about a red giant like Betelgeuse in Orion occurring—then the blastwave released might be enough.”
“Enough? Enough what?”
“Enough to induce a geomagnetic reversal of the Earth’s core,” Groper replied.
“I know, I know. It’s crazy but . . .”
“But you’re giving credence to it. Is that what you’re telling me?”
“No, I’m just getting quietly drunk,” Groper said. “Forget it.”
“Damn,” Tobin replied. “You had me going there for a second. I was about to ask the bartender to cut you off.”
“Here’s to my sabbatical,” Groper said, raising a glass. “Wish me luck when I go to submit my findings to a juried panel of tenured academic pricks.”
“I do, but buddy mine,” Tobin said, “do yourself a favor and leave out the parts about the earth reversing its spin, galactic superwaves obliterating us, and the rock murals, OK?”
* * *
Walmart Parking Lot, Northtown, Ohio
The bearded homeless man was nicknamed “Homer” by teenagers and was a familiar sight to shoppers turning into the parking lot of the Northtown Walmart. He was often spotted pushing a shopping cart of his collected junk down Route 20 causing two lanes of busy traffic to swerve aside like a bow wave to avoid hitting him. He was reputed to live among the cattails in a shack built of Styrofoam packing and discarded cardboard filched from dumpsters.
Yesterday afternoon, he appeared cleaned up in an old but pressed suit; even more surprising to locals, he was shaved close and his pink face glowed, although his expression remained as severe as always. He carried a sandwich board sign and stood at the entrance oblivious to the car horns blowing at him in concern for his safety. The white board revealed a fancy script, a quotation from Acts 2:20: “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord comes.”
* * *
Kent State University, Geology Department, Kent, Ohio
Tobin didn’t know what to make of the call from Groper. After their farewell drink at the bar in the Flats, he was certain Groper was holding back something he was either unwilling to re3veal or he was conflicted to reveal it. A scientist with a crisis of conscience wasn’t new to him because science and morality were inextricably linked, or so he’d always believed. He was amused scientists were always reluctant to speak openly about their personal beliefs as if some stigma attached to them that didn’t apply to, say, athletes who spouted off in front of cameras all the time.
But Groper’s call unnerved him. There was that odd question about “the tallest building on campus,” for example. Tobin had responded, “The campus library. It’s twelve stories. You can see to the end of Portage County from the top floor.”
But Dan hadn’t followed up the question with an explanation. Instead, he’d talked about his work. It wasn’t that Tobin found a discussion of strike-slip earthquakes versus convergent or divergent earthquakes dull; it was the fact that Groper kept circling around the subject like a dog following a scent to its source. When he pressed him for details on the theory that the Great Lakes basin was potentially subject to a collapse earthquake, he grew vague and refused to commit. When he’d asked him how big an earthquake would be—in theory, Dan—there was silence at the other end before the answer came: “A ten,” he replied; “it’ll rock the planet.”
Tobin laughed and said, “In that case, wouldn’t a twelve-story building be about the last place to go?”
Groper’s reply was an injection of ice in his veins: “Not if you want to avoid the tsunami.”
“You mean a lake tsunami?” Tobin was trying to recall the volume of Lake Erie, the shallowest of the Great Lakes. The glaciers that carved them were eight times the size of the Empire State Building.
“Lakes tsunami,” Groper corrected. “The entire basin of those inland seas will be emptied in one massive explosion. Forget Fukushima. When those thirty-seven aging reactors go up when the lake water hits the exposed rods, you’ll have a bird’s-eye view from the inside of an inferno the Earth hasn’t experienced since the Late Heavy Bombardment. Even if you aren’t vaporized on the spot, you’d have to be standing in a wheat field in Kansas to avoid the waves.”
. . . will be emptied. Not could be emptied—
He thought he’d give him a call in a few days. See if he could make sense of what Groper was talking about—or avoiding talking about. All that end-of-days hyperbole was giving him the heebie-jeebies.
* * *
Wyandotte Club, Northtown, Ohio
“Hey, Barry, the catch that hyena?”
“The hyena that took a dump in your mouth,” the bartender said. “Man, do something about your breath, will you?”
His name was Cody—or Dakota. Barry couldn’t remember.
“I am, smartass, if you’d be so kind as to go back down there and fix my drink,” Barry said. Jesus, his hangover was brutal.
The bartender returned with Barry’s drink and set it in front of him. Barry’s chubby fingers surrounded it like a priest holding his wine chalice at high mass, which was what he was thinking of, in fact. Water into wine, bread into body of Christ. Transubstantiation—the big word came crawling back to him through the black tunnel of memory.
Those Hopi. John finally cracked open a few tidbits last night when he was thinking about his exit without falling flat on his face. The place was jammed with Northtown youth and the Indians. People who never drank here were coming in to see the Indians like animals at a zoo. Word in town was out. Barry felt sorry for them, but they ignored the stares and giggles and kept to themselves as always.
That’s when John Ho-Toto decided to lay it all on him—when he was past caring and no longer curious about their crazy legends and wild stories about blue and red stars, star children, and kachina spirits.
“The Day of Purification is coming, Pahana,” John said. His face was a rigid mask. “Cobwebs will be spun back and forth across the sky. The blue star kachina is rising in the sky, and the world will be destroyed.”
“How much time do we have, John?”
“You’ll know soon enough, Yöngösona.”
* * *
Northtown Elementary, Northtown, Ohio, September 13
Jimmy Palomino had to be carried, still screaming out of Robin’s class. She did her best to calm the other children. One moment he was quietly drawing at his desk, the next he was screaming his lungs out. She walked over to his desk and turned over the paper on which he’d been working. All in black crayon. Circles within circles . . .
Kent State University, Geology Department, Kent, Ohio
“Mark, I’ve done the calculations! Get out now! Leave, go—anywhere!”
“Dan, is that you? The connection’s bad. What are you saying? Go where? What are you talking about?”
The connection died. Tobin felt a deep, low rumble from beneath McGilvrey Hall. His office wasn’t near a window, but he heard glass breaking from somewhere down the hall. He left to see what was going on.
Two students were standing at a broken window staring out. He saw a feathered mess on the floor. Just a bird—poor dumb thing smashed itself against a window. It happened from time to time when the sun’s reflection camouflaged the glass. He was about to comment on the bird’s bad luck when he recognized the students, both were enrolled in his plate tectonics course. Their stony expressions halted him before he uttered a word.
“What is it?”
“Look,” the girl said.
Tobin moved to the window. Huge numbers of birds were flying past, thousands of them, all species, everything at once from the disciplined vees of Canada geese to the ragged clusters of yardbirds, the starlings and slow-flying blue jays. They were blotting out the sun like massive clouds. He’d never seen so many in his life.
“Where do you think they’re going, Professor?”
Tobin stared, mesmerized, but thought: The better question, I think, is, What are they escaping from?
* * *
Wyandotte Club, Northtown, Ohio
Barry heard the shrieking outside. It sounded like a riot on Bridge Street. He slid off his stool and hustled to the door, a big, windowless, red-vinyl-covered monstrosity lined with brass tacks that looked like something stolen from a blind pig in the days of John Dillinger.
Girls in shorts ran past, their long legs flying. He thought at first it might be the 5K race scheduled to start at the Farmer’s Market. Wait, no, that’s next week, Barry recalled. More people ran past, only this time the runners were middle-aged; a few veterans with white hair ambled behind them, their knobby limbs going in all directions.
Barry smelled the lake—not the familiar odor of diesel and rotted fish, however. It was different, more like a funky seaweed smell.
A man in Bermuda shorts came abreast of the Wyandotte.
“What’s going on?” Barry asked him.
He turned his head sideways but kept moving, wheezing from the effort. Fear was etched on his face. Bridge Street was jammed with people going in all directions, cars started to peel out of the lot beside the Club.
Breakwall, the guy said. What about the—
Barry stepped onto the sidewalk for a better view. The bascule bridge over the Northtown River was a hundred yards down the street. He could see a few taller masts of sailboats waiting to enter the marina. The bridge whistle erupted, and it seemed to trigger a cacophony of horns from all over the harbor. Beyond the gravel piles unloaded from the steamships lay the inner harbor, the lighthouse, and the breakwall not visible from where he stood.
The sidewalk shimmered under his feet. It was moving—earthquake! Then an ear-splitting BOOM from deep underground somewhere near Lake Shore Park. Hissing like a million snakes let loose at once.
He was beginning to panic now. Thank God, he wasn’t drunk. He’d barely started on his first martini of the night when the noise from the street drew him off his bar stool.
Barry loped across the street and headed for the intersection of Hubbard and Bridge. He always parked there in case any cop cruisers were lurking in the shadows like lions on the Serengeti waiting to pick off the weakest of the herd.
He huffed up the brick street to the lot situated behind the bars and boutiques of Bridge Street below. He was fishing for his keys when the rattle of trees and the mad cawing of crows caused him to look up.
He never did put the keys into the lock. The sound of throbbing engines dinned in his ear. The air pressure had dropped so suddenly it felt as if someone were poking his eardrums with a stick. He was mesmerized by the “gray-green bump” looming high above the harbor’s 90-foot coal belt spanning the river. It didn’t curl like a wave. It was just there—high as a skyscraper, looming above him like a thundercloud, moving like a jetliner.
Barry Schumaker’s last thought before the massive wave blasted him into a vortex blacker and deeper than sleep was that he was going to die drawing a sober breath.
Washington State, Geology Department, Pullman, Washington
Dan Groper shut off the television. CNN was still reporting on the Ohio earthquake. The death toll was already 65,000 and going up fast with every report. The Pacific Northwest Seismic Network was recording earthquakes of magnitudes 3.2 and up being recorded coming in every thirty seconds from all over the Northwestern United States. Talk of the Big one was on everyone’s lips because of the succession of temblors rippling out from the New Madras Fault quake. It wasn’t going to stop.
Groper started to pick up his attaché case stuffed with his research papers and stopped himself in time. I’m a trained monkey, he thought; what’s the point now? He took a final look at his office and walked out without bothering to lock the door behind him.
“Hey, Doctor Groper, we havin’ that test on Thursday?”
One of his research grad assistants, a bright one who had—Correction, he told himself, who used to have a good future—stood outside in the hallway looking at him with that same deadpan stare of all students asking that same question a million times.
“I’m canceling classes—forever,” Groper said. “I’m going to get drunk.”
Groper didn’t turn around; he could imagine the pear-shaped O of surprise on his assistant’s face well enough without doing it.