The Grind

by Michael Carter

It was known as “the wave” at first, but without the forgiving quality of water. Then “moving quake,” “rolling dread,” and “terra cresta.” The world settled on “the Grind,” quite simply, because it ground everything up.

The first tremors started in Eastern Europe. The soil churned, the land lifted and moved forward. It ranged from a few feet high to double overhead. Its crude crest destroyed whatever was in front of it.

We watched our screens in horror as the Eiffel Tower buckled to a twisted heap. When it went underwater and back up to level Big Ben and parliament, we knew we were not safe. Not even the Atlantic was deep or vast enough to halt the rolling terror.

*

Dad had bought a Winnebago Chieftain years ago, saying it was his version of a mobile fallout shelter. He filled it with canned food, survival gear, board games, and maps.

We lived outside of Boston and took it camping in Maine and Vermont during the summers. But, most of the time it sat on the carport next to our house, plugged in and ready to go—“Just in case we gotta bug outta here.”

Dad prepped the coach when the media replayed that scene of the little girl crying at the Eiffel Tower. He shook his head at the TV and said, “We can beat this thing.”

I said goodbye to my friends. Some were flying away, but most flights had booked when the Grind first surfaced. Others were hitting the road, like us. Still other families decided they’d wait it out, thinking it was a hoax, like Armstrong on the moon.

We took I-90 through Albany, Cleveland, and then Chicago. After the Windy City, it was the farthest west we had been. We’d pull in campgrounds or RV parks for the night, and then hit the road in the morning. I didn’t have to ask where Dad was taking us.

Before the internet went down, stories surfaced about a last stand in Bend. Construction companies from the Pacific Northwest to California convened in the Central Oregon city to build a wall. They brought basalt rock in by semis and built a horseshoe-shaped structure, like a giant jetty, higher than the highest reported crests and hundreds of miles long. Thousands of people flocked there, consuming the city and pushing up to the ski lifts of Mount Bachelor.

Nobody knew if it would work.

“It’s our only chance,” Dad said.

*

The 90 merged into the 80. We headed through the farmlands of Iowa, the amber grain of Nebraska, then back up to the 90 and through the Black Hills area. We stopped in Sturgis for food. There was no traffic as the bikers had already evacuated, probably to Bend.

Dad took a twisted route back to the 80 through Wyoming’s plains and the home of the Winter Olympics at the Great Salt Lake.

At a gas station in Centerville, Utah, we heard the first reports of the Grind hitting mainland.

“New York is gone,” the old lady behind the cash register said.

*

The Grind was finally visible as we crossed Idaho into Oregon, where the 84 branches to the U.S. 20. We were far from Bend.

Dad put the pedal to the metal, but the Chieftain was already maxed at 65 going uphill.

“We’re too heavy,” he yelled back to us. “Start throwing stuff out.”

In the passenger side-view mirror, I could see it chewing the road, boulders and trees tossing up front and passing back through.

Mom and I chucked everything out, our suitcases, the microwave, rocks she collected along the way, even food.

“What’ll we eat?” I asked, but Dad didn’t respond. His face was flush and beading with sweat.

I was scared, too, but I tried to calm him: “Before the web went down, I read that if you just believe, you can live on forever, even if the Grind takes you.”

“What you see online isn’t worth a grain of salt. Nothin’ can live through that. Believe in what, anyway?”

“I don’t know, maybe that things will be okay, even if we go in. Dad, it’s worth a shot.”

“Don’t lecture me on hocus-pocus, keep throwing stuff out. Who wants to live in this world after that thing has passed, anyway.”

It was now about a football field behind us.

“Reach under the water-heater area,” he instructed. “I made an access hole to dump the tanks.”

I opened the door to the water heater, and could see the road rushing under our wheels.

“Pull the grey line.” I did, and heard the slush of our sink and shower water dump out the side.

“Now, the black tank.”

“But Dad, that’s our crapola.”

“Do it, dammit. Why do you care what hits that thing? Teach it a lesson.”

I pulled the black line and made sure not to look for a few moments.

When I finally did, the Grind was a bus-length behind us and angry. It spit forward all things terrible, ice blocks and bowling-ball-sized hunks of fire, and ground them up again.

Mom prayed out loud.

Finally, its drumming, crunching noise overcame the scream of our diesel engine.

“Dad . . .”

“I know, son.”

I opened the back blinds to see a rotating wall of dirt and rocks, occasional body parts, what appeared to be the remains of a horse, a mangled car door, then . . .

*

Mom and I stand on the shore, holding hands. We face the soothing crash of the Pacific tide. Pterodactyl-like pelicans fly just above the water, while silhouettes of fish—perhaps the jack I heard the Gloucester captains back home say habit the Left Coast—peek through the uncurling waves.

I look to Mom and she smiles, but there is a sadness in her eyes and a tear track that splits halfway down her cheek, similar to the little girl’s in Paris. My eyes swell.

If only he’d believed.

Michael Carter is a writer from the Western United States. He’s also a Space Camp alum, volcanic-eruption survivor, and wannabe full-time RVer. He can be found online at www.michaelcarter.ink and @mcmichaelcarter.
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