A Serious Storm

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Sarah Spellings & The Followers of The Grove

Sarah Spellings slipped into the world like a harbour seal, floppy and wet, with slick black hair and round, dark, heavily lashed eyes. She was eight weeks old when the first big earthquake struck, toppling high rises, flattening parking garages, starting fires, and wrecking homes, schools and stores. The Highbury Avenue bridge collapsed; majestic arcs of steel and chunks of concrete plummeted into the churning water of the Fraser River. Sarah could picture the bridge because her father, Tony Spellings, kept before-and-after pictures in a thick yellow envelope. On rainy days Sarah would lean her head against her father's shoulder while he shuffled through stacks of photos and clippings.

"Here. This was taken before the second earthquake, before Wailsmouth Street became a dead end. That's Highbury Avenue, right there."

Sarah held a grainy photo and turned it, trying to understand what she saw.

"Your mother and I used to ride our bikes on Highbury, right over the bridge, all the way to downtown Vancouver."

"What would you guys do downtown?" Sarah liked imagining her parents together.

"Oh, nothing much." Tony Spellings closed his eyes, remembering. "We'd buy groceries, I guess. Salt fish from Chinatown, coffee from Commercial Drive."

Sarah's father's eyeballs roamed under his creased eyelids. Was he thinking about her mother? Before she could ask, he opened his eyes, sighed, and chose another photo.

"Ha! This is you, when you were a baby! Picking cherry tomatoes in the community garden."

"Was everyone a Greensta back then?"

Tony Spellings frowned. He ran a hand through wiry, greying hair.

"There was no such thing as Puffers and Greenstas."

A loud wail came from Sammy's bedroom.

"I guess your brother's awake." Tony Spellings yawned widely, and pushed himself up from the couch.

Sammy was born during the second big earthquake, which had coincided with a storm. The earth had fractured, a chasm had opened up, and Highbury Avenue had slid into a muddy abyss. Nothing was left at the end of Wailsmouth Street but some twisted chain-link fencing, and a few clumps of daffodils. From the stack of photos, Sarah picked one of a steep slope of dirt, almost a vertical wall, with a pile of rubble at the bottom. Victoria Spellings couldn't get to a hospital to have Sammy, and Sammy hadn't slid out of his mother like Sarah. He was a bear cub, thick brown thatch of hair, wide bum, and broad, burly shoulders. He'd come out backwards, and everything had gone wrong, and Sarah's mother had died.

Sarah's father returned to the couch with Sammy, tousle-haired, sleepy-eyed, and sucking on a baby bottle. Sarah looked out the window. It faced west, toward Vancouver. The city lay in ruins, full of crime, looting, and riots. Her stomach hardened with anxiety. Somewhere out there, Puffers were organizing under Parleyment, the tattered remains of the country's central government.

Puffers wanted gas-powered cars and trucks, things that choked the air with bad smells and deadly chemicals. Before the earthquakes there had been PPLs, Planet Protection Laws. You needed a special license to burn fossil fuels. But after the second big earthquake, police and fire crews had been busy handling major crimes and emergencies, and there was no one to enforce the PPLs. Roads were blocked by fallen trees, or destroyed like Highbury Avenue, but determined Puffers drove anyway, and looted abandoned warehouses for boxed and canned food.

Mister Nickel, who lived next door to the Spellings, was a Puffer. His hair was combed severely across his forehead, his teeth white and sparkling, and his clothes were always pressed, as if he had an important meeting in an executive boardroom to attend. He had black leather shoes that clicked when he walked. Mister Nickel was grumpy and rude, despised children, and smoked cigarettes, a rare habit after the PPLs had been decreed.

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