Paradise Falls: Chapter 9
- Paradise Falls: Prologue
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 1
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 2
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 3
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 4
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 5
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 6
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 7
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 8
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 9
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 10
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 11
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 12 (future)
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 13 (pending)
Esme’s vision narrowed, shadows pushing in from all sides. Her heart galloped and flailed at her ribs, almost as if it wanted out. She knew she was hyperventilating, but wasn’t able to catch her breath. She tried to remember the breathing exercises her therapist had taught her so many months ago, but panic drew a veil over the memory.
Pinpricks of light spotted the darkness invading her sight, and she felt consciousness slipping away. Then a small cough pulled her back into awareness.
“Matty?” she gasped.
His coarse voice drove a spike through her middle.
“What happened?” Esme remembered her breathing techniques. She began box-breathing: counting to four on an inhale, and pushing air out through pursed lips for another four.
“A rock fell on my brain,” he pouted.
Esme almost laughed, but then the gravity of their situation settled into her chest once again. “Did you throw up, mijo?” she asked, her nursing training kicking in. He may have a concussion, she worried, forehead wrinkling in concern.
“Ew, Mama. No.”
“Are you dizzy? Sweaty? Nauseous?”
“Mama, stop,” Matty groaned. “I’m okay. I can reach Bella now. The rock fell out of the way.”
Esme sucked in a sharp breath. “You’re with her? She’s okay?”
“Yeah, but she’s really dirty,” Matty answered, disgust painting his voice.
Esme’s body shook with silent, wrenching sobs that pulled at her shattered legs. Matty and Bella were alive. Trapped, but still alive.
After a few moments, Matty shifted, knocking small rocks free as he moved.
“Matty?” she exclaimed in alarm. “Don’t move, mi amor.”
“I can see the kid,” her son called up through the rubble.
“Mama,” Matty said, exasperated, “the boy. From. The. Pool.” He paused between each word as if that would improve her comprehension.
“Oh, that’s right,” Esme said, fighting an eye roll.
“Hey, kid!” Matty yelled.
A muffled groan reached Esme’s ears from somewhere below her.
“He’s awake!” Matty shrieked with excitement. “Are you okay?”
“I thought you said he couldn’t talk,” Esme said.
“I don’t think he can,” Matty confirmed. “But he’s looking at me. And he nodded.”
Esme tried to reposition but dropped back in frustration. She needed to be down there with her children, helping the wounded. She was going to lose her mind trapped here.
“He’s writing something,” Matty shouted. “In some dust. I don’t know what it means.”
Esme frowned. “Can you tell me the letters?”
“Yeah!” Matty sounded excited again. “It’s S – I – M – O – N.”
The corners of Esme’s mouth tipped at this small victory. “Simon,” she said. “I think his name is Simon.”
“Over here!” Marcus shouted, waving his arms in wide arcs and running toward an ambulance as it pulled up. Marcus wanted to get Lexi seen right away. He didn’t like her faraway stare.
A two-person EMT team jogged toward him. The smaller one, a woman with dark hair wrapped in a tight bun, gripped a large medical bag that jostled as they ran.
“Who is injured?” the other partner called out as they approached. He was taller than Marcus, with muscular shoulders straining the fabric of his navy-blue cotton button-up shirt.
“This woman,” Marcus gestured toward Lexi, who remained still on the sand. “I’m an EMT, too,” he added. “She only provided her name, so I can’t confirm her orientation to the place or time. She doesn’t have any obvious injuries other than a large contusion to her left cheekbone.”
The medic team had already kneeled next to Lexi. While one applied a blood pressure cuff to her arm, the other listened through a stethoscope. Marcus left them to it, a little miffed they didn’t want any help. He walked back to Sofia, who rested a few yards away. Her red eyes shone with tears as she stared back toward the empty sky where there used to be a building.
“Excuse, me, sir?”
A police officer shuffled through the sand towards him, and he turned to meet him.
The officer stated, “You were seen by some people leaving the wreckage, sir. Could I get a statement from you?”
Marcus nodded. “Sure,” he said, experiencing a sense of déja vu. When was the accident? He thought. Was that just two days ago?
As he relayed his escape from the pool, Marcus noticed the beach was filling up with first responders. A 20-foot white tent was being set up several yards down the beach. He scanned the growing crowd, his gaze ending at the ocean and the angry black clouds in the distance.
Lexi didn’t sense the rough sand on her skin or the squeeze of the blood pressure cuff. She was oblivious to the wails and moans that swirled over her, and didn’t detect the dust in the air. In front of her stretched a long, dark tunnel. All she could register was the dull throbbing of her pulse that crept into her consciousness like the drip of a leaky faucet.
The tunnel seemed to grow, drawing her in. A blurry shape emerged from the tunnel’s far end. A plump woman walked toward her. She wore too-long sweatpants bunched around green crocs and a short-sleeved shirt with a button missing. As she got closer, Lexi recognized her short, frizzy hair sticking out in all directions and saw an enormous smile illuminating her face.
Without warning, the blackness cleared and Lexi sat slumped in a camping chair outside her trailer, a warming beer in one hand. She blinked, confused.
“Hey kiddo,” the woman said.
“Hey, Jeanie,” Lexi replied. I must be dreaming, she thought. This happened last night.
Jeanie plopped down onto the chair next to her and leaned back. “Tough day?” she guessed.
Lexi drank her beer in silence.
Jeanie studied her through narrowed eyes. “Yup, thought as much.” She sighed and looked ahead. “Sometimes life feels like nothing but one hard day after another.”
They sat in silence for some minutes and Jeanie lit a cigarette, taking a long drag and sighing with contentment. The scent reminded Lexi of her brother Sean, which made the corners of her mouth rise slightly before she could stop herself.
“Simon got kicked out of another school,” she blurted out.
Jeanie peered at her a moment and pulled at her cigarette. Blowing out a lungful of smoke, she said, “Assholes.”
Lexi barked a laugh. “Yeah.” Almost against her will, she kept talking. “I don’t know what to do,” she said, her voice trembling with embarrassment. “I can’t miss any more work. They’ll fire me.” She gulped another mouthful of her drink.
“Well, of course you do,” Jeanie said, “you’ll leave him with me tomorrow.”
Lexi shook her head. “No.”
“You just said you don’t have anyone else–”
“I said no,” Lexi interrupted. She stood, knocking her chair back. She downed the last of her drink, crumpled the can, and tossed it aside. Without another word, she climbed the steps and walked inside, slamming the door behind her. At least that’s what the Lexi of her dream did. The trailer and Jeanie shrunk into the distance as the tunnel returned. But now, instead of darkness, a flickering bright yellow light shone into her pupils.
“Ugh,” she groaned and moved her head to the side to escape the glare.
Lexi squinted toward the voice. “Yeah?”
“Can you tell me your full name, please? And where you are?”
A derisive snort flew from her nose. “Why?”
“I need to establish your orientation level, ma’am.”
“Lexi Jacobs. I’m at…at…the P-Paradise.” The word hit her gut like a sledgehammer. The Paradise. It was gone. In one swift motion, she spun away from the choppy waves. The space in the sky that the Paradise stood so tall was blank, a void.
Everyone inside was erased. The thought attacked her with fury, and a sudden buzz started in her ears. Simon…
Lexi’s breaths came faster. On her hands and knees, she lowered her forehead to the ground, clasping her fingers around the back of her neck. She couldn’t breathe. Her lungs were closed, and she gasped, arching her back, trying to pull in air. The EMTs fussed around her and she could feel straps and monitors being applied to her chest and a finger.
Someone turned her over onto her back and put a clear plastic mask on her face. Lexi smelled silicone and chemicals she couldn’t identify. She heard her name, urgent and commanding, but the tunnel had returned. It reached and stretched until the pinprick of light at the end vanished, leaving only darkness.