Unconscious Harm

The sonic boom shook from one end of the market to the other and across the road. As humans and merchandise alike were flung to the floor brains were racing: what happened, is it an earthquake, has the gas bar finally blown. Some hit close to the mark, but no one got it quite right. Who, in their right mind, would even consider something like that.

Slowly as the debris settled people began to look around: checking in with those around them. The fear and tension in the air was tactile and alive. In a small community everyone is a friend, neighbour, or family. Even if you didn’t like them, you knew them. The whispered questions quickly grew in volume: growing from the soft rustling of wind in the grass to the crash of waves on the shore.

A clearly shaken voice boomed from the PA: “Will everyone please exit to the rear of the store.” As people made their way to the back exits, questions floated above the crowd. “What happened?” was the most heard, but “I wonder if anyone got hurt?” was a close second.

The heart-wrenching cry of sirens pierced the air. The sirens brought the seriousness of the situation home. Before the quiet was shattered none of it had felt real, but if the trucks had been called in then it was real; and it was big.

•••

It would be hours before people got even a hint of what had happened: and days before everyone knew the whole story. Rumours flew, but it wasn’t until official reports were released to the local paper that everyone knew. It turned out to be pure Darwin Awards material. As if locals didn’t already resent the intrusion from the tourists.

The officials reports were all dry clinical language, but the reporter sensationalized to the best of his ability.

“It was a beautiful summer afternoon: children playing under the trees, families buying ice cream, and youthful laughter as friends wandered down to the beach. Little did they know, their happy holidays were shortly going to erupt in mayhem. A blast of heat swept across the carefree vacationers before they felt the rumbles beneath their feet. After a minute of stunned silence screams and cries ripped the peaceful air. Children lying with their faces pressed to the sharp gravel, held there by terrified parents.
As soon as the restless earth had calmed it’s terrifying twitching, people panicked. Racing for exits and shrieking for their babies. Chaos reined and then nothing. The eerie calm in the eye of the storm. The flare of excessive heat ripped across the market again. And once more. Luckily this time the people were sorting themselves out across the road. Petrified children crying with desperate parents trying to find everyone in their families.
Emotional trauma wasn’t the only result on that day. Historic buildings in ruin. The heart of the community was injured almost beyond repair. These buildings were built by residents in a time of need. Over 70 years ago it was decided that a general meeting, shopping, and gathering area was needed for community growth. And now all this loving work has been undone in a single whoosh. Ancient trees singed, the end of visible life in our heart.
All of this could have been avoided so easily. Two empty-headed young ladies caused the devastation of our soul. They had been biking around our beautiful island for the afternoon, but one of them got a soft tire. So, they stopped off at the market to get some air…or so they thought. They saw what they thought was an air hose in front of the gas station so they stopped. Bored while waiting for her friend to fill up, Beth* lit a cigarette. It was not an air hose. She was trying to fill up with propane. Tragedy has ravaged our lives. Every year this small neck of the woods is inundated with outsiders. Unconsciously straining our parks and woods. Residents can shrug off these small problems, the winter months take care of all visible signs, but tolerance can only go so far. How can we protect ourselves in the future? Is the money worth the harming of our beautiful land each year?”
*Name changed to protect identity.

Unconscious Harm

Angeleah Hoeppner

Hornby Island, Canada

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Artist's Description

A small rural community is torn from it’s peaceful summer life

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