What happened? She hurt all over. Belle opened her mouth to moan. Debris coated her tongue. The coppery taste of blood turned her stomach. She coughed and spit. The slight movement shot pain through her entire body.
Earthquake! There’s been an earthquake and she was buried in the rubble. Her racing pulse sent blood pounding through her. Panic grabbed her by the throat and she screamed. A loud creaking from overhead turned her shriek to a whimper. Gradually her pulse slowed. Matt’s smiling face filled her mind. She remembered the touch of Matt’s hand and his reassurance. “Don’t be afraid.”
Hiccupping a watery sigh she relaxed. Matt. He’d been heading to the fire station down the street. A prayer for his safety quivered from her lips.
She eased her head from the floor and squinted into the dust-filled dark. There wasn’t much she could see. Her nose was clogged, but she smelled oil and a trace of gasoline. Pain lanced up her neck. This time her groan escaped.
A broken laugh caught her by surprise. It looked like she had the bad luck to be in the wrong place when the big one had hit.
Inches of grit covered her hand. Slowly she became aware she still clutched her keys in her fist. Pressing her other hand to her cheek, she felt tears. She hadn’t been aware she cried. Her arm was held fast and she tried to pull it free. She couldn’t move it.
For a horrifying moment she feared she was paralyzed. Panic grabbed at her, but this time she managed to keep control. She could feel every inch of her aching body. The entire parking garage must have come down. She was trapped under four stories of concrete. Shivers racked her chilled muscles. Thank goodness Matt hadn’t walked her to her car.
How long would it take for someone to look for her? Had the quake been large enough to hit the church where her parents waited? Or the fire station where Matt worked as a fireman? Her thoughts scrambled like a rat on a wheel. She prayed everyone was unhurt, than snuck in a short plea for herself. Deafening noise jolted her. It was impossible to know what all the creaks, bangs and clangs meant, but she feared the entire place would fall.
The ground hitched under her like a caterpillar. Overhead the slabs shifted, the grating noise filling her ears as her fingers clawed for purchase.
When the motion halted, her clothes were soaked with sweat and dust coated her wet face. Her heart stuttered with fear. Unless she got free, she’d eventually be buried.
Time had taken on a weird elastic shape. There was no way to tell how long she’d been trapped. After a long moment she wanted to slap her forehead. Her wristwatch. She eased her hand forward, keeping her grip on the keys. The tiny luminous numbers read twelve fifteen.
It was Christmas day.
Belle pressed her face to her forearm and cried. This wasn’t what she meant when she wished to spend the day alone. She wished she’d agreed to Matt’s invitation. Her heart ached with regret. He had to be safe. He was trained for all kinds of emergencies.
She pictured her family kneeling in church. Maybe they were trapped, too. The thought she might never see her family again tore at her soul. She loved her parents, her irritating older brother and younger sister. All the in-laws and outlaws too. If any of them had been hurt or worse, she’d never get over the grief.
After a long session of uncontrollable weeping, Belle sniffed and tried to remember if she had tissues in her handbag. Following the straps with her hand she realized the strong leather was what held her arm in place. She slipped it free and traced the straps over the concrete pinning her bag. The bottom was crushed but a she found a sample tissue wrapper near the opening.
She blew her nose and for some reason the homey action cleared her mind. Except for bruises and scrapes she was unhurt. Maybe she could get out of here. Biting her lip, she pressed the car opener.
A tiny slit of light appeared at floor level to her right and the horn honked. The little vehicle had somehow been undamaged. She blinked as her eyes adjusted. A concrete slab had come down between her and her car. When she stretched out her arm to the left, her fingers banged against another rough surface. She could barely make out the jagged edge of broken cement and steel rebar poised overhead.
More shivers wracked her body. If that piece fell, she’d be a goner. She’d never get the chance to kiss Matt again or go on that dinner date. Longing to see him welled from deep inside, bringing determination with it. Her hands fisted.
That lighted slit didn’t offer a way out. She frowned. She couldn’t wait for help. She had to find a way.
She inched forward. Every muscle in her bruised body protested and she groaned. Too bad her aspirin was in the crushed bottom of her bag. Pausing, she pawed through what she could reach. The crushed pieces of her cell phone scratched her fingers. Her Mom’s box of chocolates spilled into her hand. She stuffed them into her pocket. Who knew how long she’d be in here.
The light blinked off. It was an automatic action and she licked her dry lips. What should she do? The battery might not last long, but honking the horn would alert rescuers to her exact location. Matt and the rest of his buddies were probably searching for trapped people as she crept forward.
Pressing the opener, she crept further. Rebar tangled in her hair and she winced. She couldn’t move fast. Her clothes caught on the rough surface and she had to keep jerking free. The light went off and she repeated the light and honk again. The next hour dragged like her body through the tight space.
She realized by crawling forward she was leaving the light behind. Her bruised fingers bumped into a wall and she frantically felt around for an opening. Her heart stuttered. Solid cement blocked the way.
Okay, she’d try going back. Unable to turn in the narrow slot she wiggled and squirmed until she returned to where her purse lay. Her body felt heavy with fatigue. It must be daylight by now, but no-one had found her. Dirt had sifted under her clothes and irritated her skin. Her fingers were bleeding from a dozen cuts. Fatigue swamped her body and she longed to surrender.
A loud banging filled the air. For a second she wondered if the supports were failing.
“Belle? Annabelle? Can you hear me?”
“Matt? Matt? I’m here!” She shrieked with relief and pressed the opener. The beeping blared.
“Stay still. I’ll find you,” he called. “I can see the car lights.”
Belle pressed her hand to the cement. “But I’m not there,” she whispered.
Chapter Three tomorrow
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A really special holiday was posted on the Roses of Prose blog and will be part of our Just One Wish Anthology