Saturday, July 21, 2415 | Sunset Valley, Valverde
A bell screamed, first faint and distant, then louder and closer. Kass moaned, an uncomfortable heat beating down on her back. She must have left the window blinds up overnight. The summer sun sizzled through the glass. She wondered why she stupidly decided to leave her alarm clock across the room again. It was a tactic to force herself out of bed and actually get up for school. She hated mornings. Just five more minutes, Mamma. She reached to pull the pillow from her face, and couldn’t remove it.
Her brow furrowed. A sharp pain formed behind her left eyebrow. Come on. This isn’t funny. Maybe it was Carina who so rudely came in and whipped open the shades, hoping the light would lure her sister out of bed on a weekday morning. Kass groaned. She could hear voices. Unfamiliar voices. Someone was speaking. The words were urgent. Kass. Get up. Get up!
She was up. Gasping, Kass bolted from her sleeping position. Her window faced east, but the mountain usually prevented the sunlight from casting its hot morning rays through the window. But this wasn’t her bedroom. This was her death bed.
Smoke wafted through the elevator. She coughed, the sound echoing as if more than one person had coughed. The cobwebs grew thick, menacing, and she swatted at them, desperate to regain full consciousness. This has to be a nightmare!
No one else was in the dimly lit elevator. She was alone. Her forehead crinkled. No time to think. It didn’t matter who talked to her, just that someone did.
A tear slipped down her cheek. No, this was real. Too real. Madison was dead. Jennifer was dead. Hank Goddard, a man who swore an oath to protect, was a murderer. And she was supposed to be dead too. He wanted her dead.
Her fingers fumbled as she unbuttoned her sweater, coughing and wheezing, ignoring the shooting pain in her chest. Her only hope was to get out of the elevator before she suffocated. She knew the metal walls would protect her from the flames, but the smoke was the real killer. The silent, deadly killer. Kass took a shuddering breath before she tied her sweater around her face, covering her mouth and nose.
It was dark, but not completely. The mirrors reflected what little light was available, the green emergency lighting along the edge of the floor. She could read the sign that said ‘In Case of Fire, use‘… and then an image of a stick figure man running for the stairs. Oh the irony! Hank had disabled the phone after he rewired something in the panel, but he took the wrench or whatever tool he had been using. Just my luck!
No wait… she was lucky. Kass was lucky that he had thrown the match through the doors of the elevator instead of leaving it in the room with her. If she could call that lucky. It was just enough. There had to be a way out. She winced as her side began aching, gently touching her rib cage, enough to notice the swelling. Think Kass. This isn’t how you go.
“I am thinking,” she protested, aloud, muffled by her own sweater.
Wait! The voice again. She whirled, looking all around. Who was talking to her? And why was the voice inside her head? Why was she even worried about this when she could possibly be dying? Or am I dead? Is this the afterlife?
“Shut up!” she bonked the side of her head into submission.
Kass weighed her options. In the movies, people always escaped through the top hatches of the elevators. She had no clue how she would even get up there, and she was pretty sure it was an urban myth. If she could pry the doors open, she could climb out, but she could be facing an inferno. She could wait it out and hope someone would find her. The building’s fire alarm was shrieking so someone was alerted to the fire, and most likely the fire department was called. But the smoke. The smoke was a clear problem. She could hold her breath, but for how long? Could she get the elevator moving again? Kass tried to stand, but found herself on her hands and knees. She grimaced. That’s going to leave a bruise.
“Humor, Kass,” she grunted, pulling herself across the tile. “Interesting tactic.”
Reaching the other side, she gasped, collapsing against the wall. She was pretty sure the pain had increased by a factor of a thousand. It didn’t matter. Her limbs hung limply at her sides, and she forced her arm into action. Groping blindly along the wall, she felt the mess of wires Hank left behind. Why had he messed with them in the first place? Her heart thudded wildly, threatening to leap from her chest. She had no idea how to reconnect the pieces in the dark, and even if she had light, she still wasn’t sure she would know what to do. A dark thought flitted through her mind. He disabled the wiring to prevent the elevator from returning to the ground floor like it was supposed to when the building was on fire. He wanted me to be trapped.
She reached her arm down a little farther into the wall panel, hoping, praying she could find the ends of all the tangled wires. Her fingers recoiled when she felt hot metal. She gasped, removing her hand and staring at her burnt flesh, the pads of her fingertips swelling and reddening. Her vision blurred as she nearly succumbed to the dizziness and discomfort. No… she forced her eyes open, blinking away stinging tears. Yes. It wasn’t normal metal. It wasn’t just the side of the panel. It wasn’t merely the wall. It was the tool. The tool that he had carelessly tossed aside, figuring she’d be dead from the carbon monoxide at the back of the elevator, helpless to save herself.
“I’m… not… help… less…” she yelped as she tore the edge of her skirt.
With a shaky breath, she wrapped the torn fabric around her throbbing fingers and reached back into the wall panel. Her fingers found the wrench, retrieving it from its hiding spot. If the metal weren’t so hot, she could’ve kissed it. Her eyes flung toward the roof of the elevator.
“Thank you, God,” she whispered, managing a sign of the cross, remembering her lessons from Jacoban Sunday school.
Kass balled her fists, preparing to stand. Pushing off the ground, she allowed herself a moment to get her bearings. The air was thicker at the higher position, but she didn’t have a choice. She planted her feet firmly, in a stance she used for martial arts, bending her knees, and bracing as she felt along the elevator doors for the center. Then she jammed the lug wrench as hard as she could and pushed. Nothing. Not even a creak. The doors wouldn’t budge. In fact, the wrench metal seemed to bend, perhaps weakened by exposure to the heat from the flames.
She gasped, stumbling backward in shock. She stared at her hands, her whole body shaking. The cross. She had made that sign earlier… but did she really mean it? Padre meant everything to her kid sister. Her grandparents went to worship every Sunday and on Wednesday evenings. Kass sat in the pew more times than she could remember, but she had never really let the words mean anything to her. But now…
“I’m going to die, aren’t I?” she said, the words spoken aloud leaving a bitter taste in her mouth.
No the cross! Her eyes widened. If she had two tools wedged into the door and could force the weight… she whipped her eyes around the tiny room, refusing to let the panic or pain seize her chest. Every step across the five foot wide space felt as though she walked through a vat of gelatin. When she reached her target, she inhaled again and kicked as hard as she could several times to break one of the legs off the chaise lounge. Then she returned to the doors, the exhaustion overwhelming.
Hold on, Kass. You can do this! She gritted her teeth and shoved the broken leg and the wrench into the tiny gap in a cross formation. It defied reason, but somehow she knew this was her only hope.
“You and I are going to have a long talk when I get outta here, Padre,” she narrowed her eyes, planting her stance once more.
What happened next was nothing short of extraordinary. Kass pushed and pulled and yanked. She pushed harder than she ever had in her life before, yelling as her muscles seemed to rip from her bones. The doors popped open, the blinding light shocking her system. Her arms dropped to her sides, the tools clattering to the floor. The change in air pressure startled her, and the flames shot in her direction. Kass lifted her hands to protect her face.
She knew better than to ignore the voices in her head. It took every ounce of Kass’ remaining strength as she leapt over the flames shooting toward the elevator, a breathtaking ten feet before she collided with another body. Muffled voices said things like she was underwater and couldn’t quite make out full sentences. She blinked, succumbing to the darkness, but not before she saw the face of the man she collapsed against – Detective Eugene Hunter.
Author Notes: Thanks for reading.