Paradise Falls: Chapter 8
Sobs ripped through Sofia’s chest as she fell back into the hot, white sand. Mama and the babies were inside. Inside. Dad was still at the pool when the concrete mammoth slammed to the ground. The beach was full of people. She couldn’t focus. Wails and shrieks swirled around her, muffled and distant.
The guy she’d been flirting with at the pool dropped onto all fours a few yards away and vomited. His skin was streaked with blood and sweat-dampened dust. An older woman crouched down in front of Sofia, her features crinkled in concern.
“Are you hurt, honey?” she asked.
Sofia shook her head no.
The woman nodded in answer, her gray curls bouncing with the movement. She got up and walked to the vomit guy, probably to ask him the same question.
What if she was the only survivor? What if she was all alone?
Heavy dread settled in Sofia’s stomach. She yearned for the sand to swallow her as she hid her face under clenched arms.
A shard of glass pierced through the sole of Marcus’s bare right foot as he climbed out of the rubble and into the bright sunlight.
“Shit!” he yelled. He leaned against a nearby building chunk and lifted his heel to check the injury. Blood oozed around the glass planted squarely in the center of his foot. He couldn’t see its depth, but he couldn’t walk like this and it wasn’t safe to stay here.
With clenched teeth, he pinched the glistening shrapnel between his thumb and forefinger and yanked it out.
“Shiiiiiiiiiiit,” he growled, dragging in a deep breath and blowing it out through pursed lips. He clamped his hand to the blood pouring from the vacated spot and glanced around for anything he could use as a bandage. All he found was a filthy towel poking up through the debris. Marcus shook his head with a grimace. Time to get creative, he thought
Balancing on one foot, he pulled his shirt over his head, and wrapped it around the cut, tying a sizeable wet knot on top. Not ideal, but adequate. He eyed the obstacle course in front of him. The collapse had shattered glass, stone, and furniture into haphazard piles, with nothing close to an easy exit.
“One step at a time,” he mumbled.
Wincing, he shifted his weight toward the lowest and sturdiest-looking piece of concrete near him. He hobbled, limped, and climbed over an unstable mountain range of ruin until he came upon a sofa. A whole couch atop the destruction, as if placed with care like a cherry on a sundae.
It didn’t look stable enough to climb, so instead Marcus found secure footholds and strained to push it over. With minimal effort, he sent it tumbling down the slope of debris. A soft groan pulled his focus back to where the couch had rested. Lowering to his knees, Marcus searched for the source of the sound, and he saw a dusty pale face staring back at him.
“Mama, he won’t stop screaming!”
Esme forced slow breaths as she fought panic. The screams had echoed for the past 10 minutes, and her head felt like it might split in two.
“What do you see, mijo?” she asked.
“There’s a man! He’s yellin’!”
“I know, baby. What else?”
“He’s, uh…” Matty trailed off. “He’s layin’ on top of something! And there’s a kid down there! The kid I played with in the pool!”
“What kid?” Esme shouted over the yells.
“The kid who can’t talk. He got real mad when I stopped playing ball with him,” Matty replied. “Hey kid!” he called out.
Esme waited with growing impatience. She stared at the mangled mess above, unable to see anything.
“He isn’t moving, Mama.” Fear painted Matty’s quivering voice.
The piercing wail died down to nothing, like a volume knob turned slowly to mute.
“What happened?” Esme called out. The sound of pebbles falling caught her attention as Matty moved to get a better view.
“He’s still just layin’ there. But he’s quiet now.”
Oh, God, Esme thought. She was powerless to act. Now that the loudest victim among them had quieted, other sounds crept up to her. She listened to a woman crying, her wretched sobs fierce and full of pain. Men called out for help in the distance.
A new voice broke the silence. This one was softer, smaller. Esme’s mind spiraled into despair upon hearing the familiar sound.
“Mama! It’s Bella!” Matty shouted. “It’s Bella! I hear her, Mama!”
Tears stung Esme’s eyes, spilling over, carving rivulets through the sweat and grime that covered her skin. “Do you see her?” she forced out.
“No,” Matty said. “But I’ll try to find her!”
By this point, Isabella’s wails had become a steady rhythm, growing in volume, then shrinking back down to whimpers.
Esme strained once more against the stone pinning her. She tried to sit up, but the hot knife of pain stopped her efforts within seconds. Esme had the urge to add her own screams to the orchestra below her, as she gasped from the exertion and agony.
She heard the stone shift and a quick yelp from Matty. Fear sliced through her ribs and she called out, “Matty? Matty! Don’t move too much!” She waited for an answer, but only silence returned. “Matty!” she yelled, her voice hitching as terror flooded her senses.
Where was he?
She whipped her head up and scanned the beach. Marcus limped toward her, soaking. His arm gripped a woman’s waist as he supported her weight. He eased her down to the sand, and with a strangled cry, Sofia launched to her feet and threw herself into her father’s arms. She wept as she let him hold her closer than she had since she was a little girl. They didn’t loosen their grip until the first hint of sirens floated through the humid air.
“I thought you were dead,” Sofia sobbed into her dad’s chest. “I thought you were dead, Dad! Is Mama dead? Matty? Bella?” Her cries intensified as she clung to him.
“I don’t know, hon,” Marcus said, stomach clenching with grief. He held her to him, resting his cheek on top of her head. After a few moments, he pulled her away to look into her eyes. “I’m not going anywhere, Sof, but I have to check on this lady I pulled out.”
Sofia nodded, gulping back more tears.
Marcus swiveled and saw the young woman hadn’t moved a muscle. He kneeled in front of her, sinking into the dry sand.
“Ma’am?” Marcus noticed her dull gaze pointed ahead, through him instead of at him. “Are you injured?” he tried again.
Still no answer.
“I’m going to check for any injuries, okay? I’m a paramedic, let me make sure you’re not hurt,” Marcus said. His ability to quickly adopt his “work voice” astounded him. His kids teased him about it, especially Sofia, but Esme got it. You learn to adjust your tone to what your patients need.
Marcus took in what details he could. She was young-maybe 30, max. Her hair was light. It was possibly blonde, but dust from the wreckage coated it, hiding its hue. A strong pulse pushed against his fingertips, and she was breathing well. He pressed on a baseball-sized bruise on her left cheekbone. Marcus couldn’t detect any fractures, but that meant little. She’d need x-rays to be sure. Probably in shock, he thought, but in no immediate danger. At least none that he could tell with no medical tools on hand.
“Is she okay?” asked Sofia.
“I think so,” Marcus said, “but I’ll feel better once the ambulance gets here.”
“It’s close,” his daughter murmured. “They’re getting louder.”
“I think she might work here,” he said as he noticed her light green apron. He pulled the corner from under her knee and spotted The Paradise was embroidered there.
“Can you tell me your name?” Marcus tried once more.
With her eyes fixed on that awful stare, he didn’t expect an answer. But without moving or looking over, she croaked out a single word.