Where? That was the first fragment of a thought that came to my mind as my eyes flickered uselessly through the abstract dark.
More specifically, where was I? The world beyond my face seemed to be devoid of structure or even substance. There was nothing but the solid tar of night. I looked for any sign of a light source. This attempt was futile as there seemed to be no light around me. For all I knew, I was currently in some dark void, beyond the realms of human comprehension.
However, the sensation of concrete rough against my skin, an invisible weight in the dark, told me otherwise. Just beyond my fingertips was a heavy chunk, pressed against my leg. The skin was warm, and slick with my own blood. I was sure that at some later date my body would be ripe with bruises, but right now the only pain was the immediate searing of lacerations.
Wherever I was, be it this world or the next, my eyes ached for light. My mind, clouded by a cocktail of adrenaline and a dozen other natural chemicals, ran like an out of control freight train. It was impossible to keep a steady line of thought with the thunderous beating of my panicked heart reverberating through every cell of my body. I tried to steady my breathing, to settle my mind, but it did little good. Fear was in control. Suddenly it came to me, a lighting flash in my brain; my phone. Of course, of course my cell phone. I slid a hand instinctively down to my pocket, praying that the device would still be there.
I was in luck. I could feel the cold of metal and glass in the depths of my pocket, and I tightened my fingers around it in relief. The screen was ridged with strange patterns, and as I ran my fingertips across them, I realized it was the spiderweb of cracks. It hadn’t been damaged before, had it? I couldn’t remember. It seemed so trivial, like trying to remember what you ate for lunch while in the throes of a nightmare. Hopefully, despite the damage, it would still work. I urged it to, as I thumbed the button to turn it on. For a terrifying second, it seemed as if it wasn’t going to react, but to my massive relief a moment later the screen flashed on, unveiling for the first time the scale of the catastrophe that had entangled me. The feeble light fell upon familiar furniture, on wallpaper patterns that were forever seared into my memory, and onto the shattered frames of photographs depicting my friends and loved ones; I was in my own flat.
I looked around with the area with my phone. The once organized room was now completely destroyed. All of my personal items and belongings were now scattered over my living room. The wall separating the living room from the kitchen had crumbled into nothing but rubble. After a couple minutes of assessing the situation and rethinking my options, I hesitantly decided to move around. I could almost stand, as I pulled myself to my feet. The ceiling had dropped a few feet, and I had to stoop my back. It was like exploring some deep cave system that had been adorned with the trappings of my life. Once straight lines were bitten into chaotic zigzags, a house of cards made up of loose concrete and brick.
How had this happened? A single word echoed in my mind; earthquake. It seemed impossible. Of course, it was entirely possible, but it didn’t feel like it. It couldn’t have happened to me. These things always happened to other people far, far away.
I faintly heard a variety of car alarms blaring beyond the ceiling, slowing and rising in sound as a rescue team presumably arrived. Unfortunately, they sounded somewhat distant meaning that my flat was probably one or two dozen feet below the earth. It may well have been a whole other universe. For now, my horizons were the few dusty feet in this tiny chasm of existence.
Before I had time to dwell on the matter, I heard a noise from the previously mentioned remains of the wall. It sounded like some sort of moaning noise; a survivor! When I crawled over to the figure beneath the rubble, I got a weird vibe, like I should have just left and tried to find another way out. The inherent twinge of altruism overpowered my misgivings however, so I extended a shaking hand out to the shape, more a solid shadow than man, and gently shook.
The howl he gave was unlike anything I have ever heard; a terrified outpouring of noise from wet lungs, animistic and base. He jolted upright, as if he had been hit by lightning. I tore my hand back in shock, to find my palm sticky with blood. In shock, I stumbled back, onto all fours.
“What?! Who are you? Where are we? What happened?!” He shouted vehemently.
His breathing was fast and heavy, and he looked like he was about to have a heart attack from all of the immediate commotion. I made a few wordless motions with my mouth, trying to form some kind of response faster than my brain would allow.
“There was...” I trailed off, examining the crags of his face under the flickering light of my cell phone. The shadows flickered and danced across the bones and skin as he shook. In his eyes, just for a moment, a fraction of a second, I caught a reflection of myself, my face froze into pure animal terror.
He wasn’t listening to me now. I heard curses slipping out from under his ragged breathing, the filthiest words mixed with desperate pleading to the nebulous forces of the cosmos, refrains begging any God or deity he could summon for mercy.
“There was an earthquake. I think.” I managed eventually, the words catching in my throat. The air was hot and stale, and choked with plaster dust, so talking was a new strain on my lungs. As soon as I spoke, he stopped, silent once more. Slowly, he looked up at me, the glint of his pupils betraying the fact that he was now staring directly into my eyes.
“An earthquake?” He repeated, disbelieving. “Here?”
I simply nodded dumbly, imagining how he was feeling right now.
“What’s your name?”
“I’m Laurance.” I offered.
“Laurance. Hey Laurance.”
“I think I heard sirens.” I realized he wasn’t in any state to be giving out his name, so I changed track. “Maybe there’s a rescue team on the way.”
I looked closely at him for the first time, trying to fix my eyes on his face. In the half-light, it was impossible to guess his age, although by the sound of his voice, he was significantly older than me, and had the lungs of a lifetime smoker. He was probably better experienced to handle the stinking air than I was. I watched as his limbs uncoiled, and he pulled himself upright into a more comfortable sitting position.
“Are you hurt?”
“I think you’re bleeding.”
He didn’t reply, instead choosing to inspect his body for the blood I was talking about. He extended his hands in the dark, and I could see the shuddering of crimson coating them. I wondered how badly he had been cut. My knees had been shredded, and there was a large welt on my temple, so I would expect something similar. Hopefully nothing too bad; I didn’t want to be trapped in the dark with a dying man.
“Do you think we should look for a way out?”
“No. This place isn’t stable.”
“So we just wait here?”
“You said you heard a rescue team.”
“It could be hours until they get here.”
Truth be told, I was just as aware of the danger of a collapse as he was. It seemed like a miracle that the space had even stayed as intact as it had, but it was balanced on a razor's edge. But, as dangerous as it was, I didn’t think I could stand possibly three or four more hours down here. The unease that swelled in my heart was a product of many things; the heat, the dust, the tar like shadows, and the stranger. All this pushed to breaking point by the pressure cooker of our cramped pocket of air.
I didn’t argue however, instead letting the conversation die out into the shadows. I crawled back into my corner, leaving the phone lying on the floor in between the both of us, providing what little light it could. I didn’t ask if he had a phone of his own. Instead, I resolved just to wait it out. I could take the heavy silence.
To keep myself occupied, I looked up at the ceiling, looking for any crack to escape through. Nothing. Nothing but the damp stained desert of plaster and paint. Crawling to my feet with a wince, I began to probe the surface with my fingers, leaving long bloody stains across the white paint. I ignored the mess I was leaving; it wasn’t as if I’d be living there any longer. When they found nothing but solid structure, I pressed my ear against the roof, straining to hear the reassuring sounds of the rescue teams.
Silence. There was only silence. Wait, no, there was something else too. Not sirens, but a definite noise. Pushing myself against the surface, I held my breath, trying to catch the tiny sound. It was a scuttling, perhaps. Or a scrabbling. Close by, indeed, it seemed like it was just beyond the roof, in the remains of what I presumed was the room above mine.
“The rubble settling.”
“You can hear that?”
“It’s the rubble settling. There’s bound to be lots of loose debris.”
I nodded in false agreement, and sat back down, not taking my eyes off the ceiling. Whatever it was, it didn’t help my unease, and as I returned to my position by the cell phone, I was forced to quell an uprising of claustrophobia. It was as if, all of a sudden, our little pocket was significantly smaller, and the shadows were much, much darker.
It was then I put the pieces together of the gut feeling I had. All of the exits had been cut off that day, and no one else lived in my specific; it was just me. Which had finally brought up the decisive and cringe-worthy question:
“How the hell was this man even here in my room?”
There was no other way he could have been unless he somehow snuck into my room before the earthquake started. A large chill immediately raced up my spine as I attempted to question this person, this intruder’s reasoning. I slowly crawled across my room. It was then that my luck had run out. My phone flashed on and off, until it was finally gone. The battery dead. Darkness had finally consumed the room completely, boosting my anxiety and lowering my confidence.
I had to resort to calling out to the man from where I was.
“You know, something has been bothering me about this.”
“Yeah, I know. I don’t think we'll ever get out here alive.”
It was time I questioned him.
“Do you live here?”
“Do you live in this building.”
“What kind of a question is that?”
“I want to know what you were doing here before the earthquake. What were you doing in my room?!” I tried to keep my voice calm, even though I was rapidly losing my nerve. It sounded pathetic against the massive dark, and when he spoke next, it echoed from all around me, as if the blackness itself was speaking.
“I was hungry.”
I let the words sink in for a few seconds, every nerve in my body screaming. However, I was trapped in shocked silence, a prisoner in my own skin. Dumbly, I stumbled backwards, away from where I assumed he was. Every sound I made was painfully loud, even the panicked kicking of my heart and the rasping of my lungs. Blind panic began to set in, as I gasped for oxygen in the heavy air, dust catching in my lungs. He was simply silent. I couldn’t even hear breathing, it was if had melted into the dark itself.
I did the first thing that came into my mind, a combination of animal instinct and extremely rational terror; I stood shakily to my feet, and began to tear at the ceiling, letting out a ferocious cry for help, praying whoever was above would hear it.
Finally a part of my ceiling had given in, and it fell towards the entrance. Sweet light spilled in through the chinks in the rubble, a beacon of freedom against the void. I quickly crawled towards it. I crawled and crawled away from the madman, hoping to never see him again. I kept crawling and realized that it still looked really far away. I reluctantly looked back, hoping I had gained distance from him. Suddenly, a hand firmly grabbed my leg, and he squeezed it as he tried to bite my leg. In retaliation, I kicked him in the face. I could see the blur of his smile amongst the shadows, the flash of his white teeth.
Suddenly, I was free, and worming my way upwards, through the narrow slit and into the passage beyond. I could hear his hands tearing at the rubble behind me, trying to widen the gap. As I pulled myself higher and higher upwards, like some kind of Victorian chimney sweep, realized just how loose the whole place was. Huge slabs of concrete were held back from crushing me by only a piece of bent rebar, or a dusty wood pile. Instinctively, I kicked away the supports below me, dislodging rubble, and sending masonry tumbling down the tunnel behind me.
There it was, just above me. The source of the light; a gap in the concrete sea, that revealed a glimpse of beautiful sky. I kept climbing upward until I was almost in the bright outdoor paradise. I grabbed a ledge and ascended my body.
I immediately glanced back and saw a large gaping hole in the structure, and an arm shot up towards me. He held onto my hip, squeezing it in pain. I tried lifting myself up but it was too much to bear. I fell swiftly, immediately reacting to attempt to climb into the new adjacent room. Fortunately, he let go during the fall, but stuck himself towards the wall. I looked around to throw anything against the monster. I saw a large, oak desk. I decided to use this to stop him. I heaved the desk towards the hole, and slammed it against the wall. I saw a hand get hold of the top of the desk and slammed as hard as I could. I fell back and heard a loud, crashing sound and a faint yet bone chilling scream as the desk and a lot of debris fell down the large chimney. I climbed up and finally regained my composure.
I looked back to large pile of debris and knew that it would be nearly impossible for that thing to get out now. It was then that I heard a distant shout from above and saw several firemen, waving at me and yelling for a response. After a bit, I was finally pulled out of the deep hole, and was rushed to an ambulance for my cuts. After my injuries were dressed, a news reporter started talking to me about the experience. I wanted to tell him everything that happened truthfully and honestly, but I knew that he and those who viewed it would never believe it. So, I had to lie about most of my incident.
As I waited for the police to speak to me, I caught a snippet of the spine chilling conversation that two nearby officers were having amongst the confusion of the disaster zone.
“I still can’t believe it. Only one survivor was found, and we couldn’t find anything else. No survivor, no bodies, nothing.”
“Didn’t they confirm that there were 24 people in the apartment just before the earthquake started?”
“Yes, and after checking every floor and room, nothing. It’s like they all just disappeared out of thin air. This is one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen.”
That was when I stepped in. I had to know if all of this was true. He showed me a detailed document and a list of pictures, showing the rooms of my fellow neighbours and friends. I couldn’t see a single soul in any of the pictures. That was when I found mine. I looked around what used to be my room. I wanted to keep my photo as a little memento of the past. They were fine with it, and said that they actually took several other photos just in case. I took a closer look, and spotted the true horror. I noticed that the door at the entrance to my apartment was cracked open in the photo. Strange, I thought every door in my room had either been closed off or destroyed when I escaped. I looked as deep into the photograph as remotely possible. This was when I caught something the rescuers fatally missed. A bloody, inhuman hand and that same evil toothy grin in the background. That monster must have got to them then. I felt bad and angry but I couldn’t help but feel lucky, which I really hated admitting. My experience feels so abrupt and I don’t know if it would be plausible enough to explain to authorities. I just hope that they see what I saw in that photo eventually, so no one else has to deal with this ridiculous, putrid scenario again.