Anna was exhausted. She had tried in vain to pull herself from her prison. The shelf now rested firmly on her left leg, its sharp edge digging into the soft tissue around her knee. Her toes had begun to tingle, and she feared that she would soon lose feeling in her lower leg.
The woman’s repeated cries for help had gone unanswered and she knew with a certainty that she was alone. She wondered what had happened to the orange-haired clerk and then shuddered as she acknowledged the likely truth. It’s too soon to panic, she calmed herself. She’d read that a person could survive for several days without food or water, so as long as she had enough air to breathe, the rescuers would probably find her. If they know I’m here, she allowed the thought to creep into her consciousness.
"Help! Help! Somebody! I’m in here!" She yelled until she was hoarse.
"Well, this would certainly solve all of my problems, and all of Scott’s too," she sighed. "Worse things could happen." Trapped, and for the moment out of options, Anna closed her eyes and succumbed to the fatigue she felt.
This wasn’t Lily’s first experience at being trapped in a dark space. Time had a merciful way of stealing memories from her early childhood, but one she clearly remembered was being locked in a dark closet on several occasions when her mother went out. To this day, Lily slept with a nightlight.
Fighting back the urge to kick at the walls and scream, Lily gathered herself for what she knew would be her strongest test. I’m going to get out here if I have to bore through the floor and dig a tunnel.
She couldn’t reach the atrium here, so she decided to try to reach it from the adjacent store. Where the floor had fallen, she expected a gap between the wall and the partially collapsed ceiling, or between the wall and the floor. She would crawl or climb, whatever it took.
As she began feeling along the dirt wall to guide her towards the next store, the young woman unknowingly passed within inches of the clerk who had taken her debit card. The total darkness spared Lily the image of her crushed and broken body, and her wide, lifeless eyes.
"We’re back here on the scene at the Endicott Mall with emergency services coordinator Philip Bertram. Mr. Bertram, what’s the situation here?" Art Hanson asked.
"Well," the official began, "we can confirm that part of the second level on the north wing has collapsed onto the lower level. There are about six or seven stores that are affected, and right now, we don’t know how many people were in those stores at the time of the quake."
"Do you have casualties?" Hanson asked eagerly.
"Yes, we do," Bertram replied grimly. "There were over 200 people who were injured, some seriously. We’ve sent about 75 to area hospitals."
"Are there still people inside the mall, or have you gotten everyone out?"
"Our crews have been inside the main areas that we’re able to reach to clear out the survivors. We haven’t started our sweep yet, but we’re talking with people who were in the mall at the time to help us determine how many people might be missing. It’s pretty dangerous to be in there right now, but we’re going to do all we can with some of listening equipment that we have. With a quake of this magnitude, we’re expecting some pretty significant aftershocks. "
"Are there fatalities?" Hanson prodded.
"We have four confirmed fatalities." Bertram paused. "We expect many more."
Two hours and 40 minutes later, Lily had finally found a small opening at the top of the wall and squeezed into what seemed to be a Foot Locker. Athletic shoes, even new ones, had a distinct odor.
If the floor in this new store was even with that of the store she had just left, Lily expected about a seven-foot drop on the other side. Hanging by her fingers, she stretched her toes down to the floor. In truth, she knew that she was still a long way from getting out of this tomb, but even the small progress was exhilarating.
"This would be a good time to change into sensible shoes," she joked aloud. She had lost her own pumps in the fitting room. "My luck, I’d find shoes that fit perfectly, and when I finally crawled out of here with all of America watching my miraculous escape, I’d be wearing two different colors. Mom would be mortified. I can see her now. ‘No, that’s not my daughter!’" She laughed at the image. "Earthquake survivor arrested for shoplifting. Details at eleven."
Lily rested a moment when she reached a pile of what seemed like sweat suits and t-shirts. She was exhausted, but she knew she needed to keep moving. It was a roll of the dice whether the aftershocks would free her or bury her deeper.
Anna became vaguely aware of someone talking…laughing even. "Hello! Help! Is somebody there?" She was hoarse, and knew her voice wasn’t carrying very far. Her left knee was throbbing, and every small movement was met with excruciating pains. She strained to hear a sound, but all was quiet.
Lily groped around the perimeter at the front of the store, finding nothing but earth from the floor to where the ceiling had fallen, a space only four feet high. Crawling along the far wall, she found no gaps between the floor and the wall. Her only hope was that there would be an opening between the wall and the ceiling.
Most likely, the opening would be at the apex of the spot where the floor had fallen so sharply, just as it had been on the opposite wall where she had crawled from the clothing store. To reach the spot, Lily dragged what she imagined was one of those cone-shaped shoe displays to the far wall. It was lightweight, but sturdy, and it had nice little footholds where the shoes usually sat.
Sure enough, the small woman found an opening at the top, but it was going to take all her strength to pull herself up that high. Those hours on the weight machines are going to pay off after all. The wall had cracked neatly in two where the earth below the store had jutted through. The opening Lily managed to find was a small triangle made by the uneven portions of the wall and the straining ceiling. On her third attempt, she managed to get her head and shoulders through the hole. "Finally!" she shouted triumphantly. Pulling herself through, Lily tumbled to the floor in a heap. "Shit!" she said as she clutched her shoulder, which bore the brunt of her fall.
"Please, help me," a woman’s weak voice called.
Shaken by KG MacGregor - 156 pages
Luxury car dealer Anna Kaklis and family attorney Lily Stuart meet by fate and work together to overcome an extraordinary challenge. Can their courage also help them conquer their fears of love?