Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Two Hundred and Fifty-Five : Dirt

Chapter Two Hundred and Fifty-five


Friday afternoon — 4:52 p.m.

Jacob stepped aside so that a police officer with a cadaver dog could get past.

“It’s not stable over there yet.” Jacob used the crowbar in his hand to point to his left. The police officer nodded to him. “You’re all right in that direction.”

Whatever the police officer said was lost in the icy wind. Jacob nodded to encourage the man and the dog moved to his right. Running his hand over his wet face, Jacob felt the remnants of the bruise left from Monday’s scuffle with the rapists. He sighed. For a moment, the weight of the week felt too heavy to bear.

Around him, Lipson Construction owner-employees, police, and National Guardsmen were looking for survivors. More than a few men and women would not go home tonight. The man who had irritated him with his smug superiority, now lay under a blue tarp in a tent morgue currently run by Bambi and Honey. One after another, full ambulances took survivors to overflowing emergency rooms. There were more than a thousand people working this site when the earthquake hit. More than two hours later, they were still missing over a hundred.

Jacob looked down. He was soaked. He couldn’t tell if he was wet from blood or the misting snow. He glanced up at the news helicopter flying overhead and wished he could work the weather. He sighed again and pulled his Carhartt jacket tight around him. Most of his mental energy went toward trying to keep the area stable in the midst of the near-constant vibrations from aftershocks.

“What do you hear?” Sam yelled to Jacob.

That was the worst thing. Jacob could hear people. He heard them weep for their condition, scream in agony, or pray in resignation. He heard them die.

Even with his best efforts to stabilize the area, the ground still shook. When the first Lipson teams got to the site, no one was willing to venture into the wreckage for fear of falling in. By the time Jacob and his team arrived, Jerry and his team had set up a support structure. Everyone on the site wore safety ropes that were clipped to the structure. They hadn’t lost a person. Yet.

Jerry’s team had rescued most of the people caught under equipment and those who were working in trailers when the earthquake hit. When Jacob arrived, Sam had sent Jerry’s team back to the farm for a break. Sam and Jacob’s team had joined forces to rescue people who’d fallen underground.

“Check the map,” Jacob yelled and pointed to an area off to his left. “Sounds like a cavern or maybe a sewer pipe.”

Sam pointed to the map and nodded.

“We’re here,” Sam said. “They poured the pillars for the overpass on Tuesday and the trench shoring was set for a sewer line to run here.”

Sam pointed in a diagonal line to their left. He passed the map to Josie, the backhoe operator.

“They must be caught in the trench shoring,” Jacob said.

“Let’s try to get the concrete up.” Sam pointed to a broken corner of a concrete pillar. “We’ll have a better idea of what we’re dealing with then.”

“Shovels,” Jacob yelled. “If I remember correctly, there are tunnels and drainage all through this area.”

Wanda’s father, Erik La Monde, gave him a shovel and an ironic look. He’d been at the park on Monday too.

“Hell of a week,” he said as he passed.

Jacob took the shovel and followed Erik. Josie, Sam, and his team brought shovels and crowbars. Sam’s team dug a trench next to the concrete pillar. Working efficiently, they moved as much dirt as possible away from the area. Erik, Josie, and Jacob dug out the end of the pillar.

“Everyone!” Jacob yelled.

They caught an edge of the concrete and pressed. Thick steel crowbars bent. Josie’s shovel handle snapped in two.

“Stop!” Jacob said.

“We can’t risk a backhoe,” Sam answered the question on everyone’s faces. “Too heavy.”

“Did you hear that?” Josie asked. “Someone’s right there.”

She dropped down. She pressed her head against the concrete.

“I hear someone . . . a man . . . maybe two. They are yelling for us.”

“On three,” Sam gave Jacob a nod. “Remember when we get this up, we’re going to have to do some quick dirt work. Hombre, Luis, and Francisco — stand ready.”

The three men were the fastest on a shovel. They nodded in agreement.

“One,” Jacob yelled. Josie grabbed Jacob’s shovel from him and stuck it under the lip of the concrete pillar.

“Two,” Jacob yelled. He positioned his crowbar under the buried lip of the concrete.

“Ready,” Sam said. “Get ready!”

“Go!” Jacob yelled.

They pressed with all their might. The concrete pillar had just started to move when the ground shook with an aftershock. The people below them screamed in horror.

“HOLD!” Sam yelled.

The wind suddenly died down. There was a moment of silence before heavy snow started cascading from the clouds above. Their grip on the concrete began to falter.

“It’s slipping!” Josie yelled.

“I can’t hold it!” Erik yelled.

“Jake!” Sam yelled.

Using his psychokinetic capacity, he lifted the concrete pillar. A violent aftershock ripped through the site the moment his attention slipped from keeping the ground stable. Hombre and Luis began digging the dirt away from the pillar. Francisco worked the dirt out from Jacob and Sam’s side.

“Go!” Sam yelled.

The slab inched up at a glacial pace. They strained against their crowbars and shovels. When the slab was two feet off the ground, Erik bent down and got his shoulder under it. Dirt shifted and the ground vibrated.

“Don’t give up!” Sam yelled.

“Push!” Josie yelled.

They were able to lift the concrete pillar. Everyone not holding up the pillar worked to keep the dirt from falling into the hole. The snow fell around them like some jaunty Christmas movie gone bad.

Sam put his fingers to his lips and let out an ear-piercing whistle. He waved to the Lipson sign team. Carrying water and emergency supplies, Christy and another woman from the sign team ran across the vibrating field to them. Christy dropped to her knees and looked under the concrete slab.

“Medic!” Christy jumped to her feet. She and her teammate jumped up and down and waved their arms. “We need a medic.”


Friday evening — 5:48 p.m.

“How are you holding up?” Sandy whispered and hugged Jill.

They were setting the Castle table for dinner. Jill nodded. Hearing someone come in the door to the Castle, Jill and Sandy looked up expectantly. Valerie walked in with Jackie in her car seat.

“Just me,” Valerie said. “Anjelika is coming with Katy, Mack, and Maggie. I guess MJ and Honey are both out at the site.”

Jill took Jackie’s car seat from Valerie. She picked up the sleeping baby and went through the ritual of checking her diaper before settling her in a crib along the wall. Valerie hugged Sandy.

“How did MJ get there?” Valerie asked. “He was supposed to be with Jill.”

“Rodney saw him as we were walking across the street from the hospital,” Jill said. “MJ and Colin went with them. I’m sure it’s better that they’re there. Is Mike with you?”

“He went out to the farm straight from the airport,” Valerie said. “He checked in with Aden, who is fine . . .”

Sandy nodded as if she knew that, but her smile spoke her relief.

“He’s handling resources from the farm,” Sandy repeated what she’d clearly said a number of times. “Machinery, people, stuff like that. Tres is keeping track of who is missing; still more than fifty.”

Jill gave Sandy an open hug.

“Mike says Jake’s up to his elbows in mud,” Valerie said. “He’s going to rotate in so the guys can take a break. You should hear from Jake in an hour or so.”

“Sam too?” Delphie asked from the edge of the room. On her way to her class, she looked worried.

“Dad’s with Jake,” Valerie said. “They’re supposed to rotate out together. Aden, Mike, and Rodney will rotate in for them.”

“We should go . . .,” Jill said for the hundredth time.

“We should stay here,” Heather said as she came into the dining room. “You know that.”

Jill nodded.

“We’re supposed to be the voice of Lipson,” Valerie said. “How’s that going?”

“Blane’s done a couple interviews,” Heather nodded. “He’s on Skype right now with NBC in New York.”

“We should just be grateful Lipson got out of that place,” Sandy repeated what she’d said a hundred times. Jill gave an obligatory nod.

“Why is your mom coming for dinner?” Valerie asked. “And Otis?”

“I have to give Otis something,” Jill shrugged. “Ancient family stuff. We set it up last week and I guess it seemed like we should just . . . you know, get it over with before the boys come. When we set it up, the boys were the big drama in our lives. Now . . .”

Valerie gave Jill a suspicious nod. Jill shrugged. Before Valerie could ask again, Noelle and Nash came into the room.

“Are Charlie and Tink upstairs alone?” Sandy winced.

“They were screwing so we thought we’d come down,” Nash said.

“What?” Sandy started toward the door.

“They’re in the kitchen,” Heather said. “I just left them. So unless they’re screwing in the kitchen . . .”

“We were getting plates.” Charlie’s tone was indignant. “Jeez.”

“You act like we’re horny teenagers.” Tink sniffed in an attempted joke.

While Sandy and Heather winced, Jill and Valerie stifled a laugh. Just then, Scooter, Sarah, and Buster came running in the room. They circled the room and ran to the back door. Scooter let out one demanding bark. Nash went to let them outside.

“The cats get them so hyper.” Jill smiled.

“Jill, those aren’t . . .,” Valerie said in a low tone.

“Hello everyone!” Anjelika said from the side door.

“I’m home!” Sissy came in behind Anjelika and Otis.

“Mommy, Mommy, Mommy,” Mack screamed from the front door.

Heather left the dining room to get him. Sissy brought Maggie into the dining room. Valerie went through the baby ritual and set her in the crib with Jackie. Katy ran in and Jill was able to pick up the small girl

“I’m amazed you can still do that,” Sandy said under her breath.

“Years of carrying full plates,” Jill said. She kissed Katy’s cheeks. “Hello, pretty girl. How was school?”

“Boring,” Katy said. “Can I go help Daddy?”

Jill gave her a stern look and Katy laughed.

“No, Katy,” Katy imitated her voice. “You are a little girl. You have to stay here and entertain the worried guests.”

She fell into gales of giggles. Jill set her down and the little girl ran to get Scooter. While everyone was saying hello, Nash and Sissy moved the television from the kitchen so they could watch what was happening at the site. Sandy had just set a basket of warm rolls next to the soup when Tanesha arrived with her mother, Yvonne.

“She’s too worried to be by herself,” Tanesha whispered to Jill.

Because Yvonne only sort of remembered them, Heather introduced her to everyone. Yvonne’s sweet smile and gracious nature created the first sense of calm since they’d first heard about the earthquake. Otis and his bodyguard, Bruno, seemed to appreciate her company. Blane came in from his interview and they settled down to eat. While everyone tried to keep the conversation light, their attention centered on the construction site.

“Can I ask you something?” Yvonne asked.

“Of course.” Jill smiled at the beautiful woman.

“Why are there gargoyles all over the place?” Yvonne pointed to a black cat in the corner.

“Mom!” Tanesha tried to shush her mother.

“Gargoyles?” Jill couldn’t help but smile at the idea. “They’re just some stray black cats.”

“Mommy,” Katy said. “Those aren’t cats.”

“You can see them too?” Jill asked Katy.

“Of course,” Katy giggled. “I didn’t know you could see them.”

A black cat sauntered behind the chairs to sit between Katy and Jill. Katy held out her hand to pet the black cat. Scooter gave a low warning growl.

“Don’t touch it!” Valerie yanked Katy’s hand back in horror. “That’s not a cat.”

“Of course it’s a cat.” Jill gave Valerie an ironic smile. “What else would it be?”

“That’s not like any cat I’ve ever seen,” Yvonne said. “Cats do not have wings.”

“Or horns,” Katy said.

“They tried to kill Mom,” Valerie said in a terse whisper. “When Jake was being born. It was just me and Mom and Delphie and . . . They speak some crazy language. They screamed at her and . . .”

“The cats tried to kill Celia?” Jill stifled a laugh.

“That is no cat,” Otis, Jill’s grandfather, said in his thick accent.

“It’s a gargoyle,” Yvonne said.

“A gargoyle?” Valerie stared at Yvonne.

“What it looks like to me,” Yvonne said. “It keeps looking at you, Jill, and saying something.”

“It is Latin,” Otis said and took a sip of soup. “This is lovely soup. I’m always amazed at vegetables in winter. I don’t know why, but it surprises me.”

His eyes flicked to his elderly Russian bodyguard, Bruno.

“He says, ‘Why you sit down here in the kholodnyi?” Bruno translated.

“Cold,” Anjelika translated.

“The gagul’ya thinks you should move somewhere warmer,” Bruno shrugged. “You no speak Latin?”

“Bruno was always the scholar,” Otis smiled.

“The cat told you that?” Jill raised her eyebrows in disbelief. She stifled a laugh.

“That’s no cat, honey,” Yvonne smiled. “It’s a gargoyle. I don’t know what it’s saying, Jill, but it’s trying to tell you something.”

“They hurled curses at Mom,” Valerie shivered. “We were terrified, and Dad . . .”

“Did you see that?” Noelle yelled from the end of the table where the kids were eating. “Mom! They fell in!”

“What happened?” Sandy leaned forward to look at Noelle. The girl was pointing at the television. Heather got up to turn up the sound on the television.

“We’re replaying the tape,” the announcer said. They watched Jacob and Sam move across the destroyed construction site. They were almost to the safe zone when another earthquake hit. The ground they were walking on disappeared below them and they dropped in. Dirt fell around them and within seconds, there was no hint of the men. It was as if the earth had swallowed them whole.

Jill and Valerie screamed and the babies began to cry. Blane popped to his feet and Mack fell off his lap. Mack began to cry. They all spoke at once.

“Will you move somewhere warmer now?” Bruno didn’t look up from his soup.

Stunned at his words, they fell silent.

“What?” Jill asked. “What did you say?”

“The gagul’ya,” Bruno said. “That’s what he said.”

Jill reached out and snatched the cat by its neck. She pulled the creature close to her face.

“You’d better undo this,” Jill said. “Now.”

The creature said something and Jill scowled. The creature’s face shifted in a terrifying laugh.

“What did he say?” Sandy whispered.

“Not until the children are born,” Bruno said. “The father must not be near the mother until after the babies are born. Svyaschchennyi zakon.”

“Sacred law,” Anjelika translated.

“Dad was in a bad car crash on the way home,” Valerie whispered. “He was going to take us to the hospital but . . . It was just me and Mom and Delphie when Jake was born.”

“Jake and Sam had better be safe or I will search this world and the next for you,” Jill sneered. “I will destroy everything you love.”

The creature and Jill locked eyes.

“Not one hair out of place on their heads,” Jill said. “They will be comfortable and safe.”

The creature gave a quick nod. Jill dropped it to the ground. Scooter gave a deep growl and chased the gargoyle out of the room.

“Then I will go somewhere warmer,” Jill said. She looked at Sandy and her mother. “Katy?”

Jill held out her hand and Katy took it.

“Mother, will you and Otis come up when you’re done?” Jill asked.

“Of course,” Anjelika said. “I will bring the babies.”

Jill nodded and left the room. Sandy waited a few minutes before making some excuse and following Jill.

“I always knew she had the Bratva spirit in her,” Otis said. Everyone in the room turned to look at Otis. He shrugged. “What? She just threatened a gargoyle.”

Tanesha and Heather laughed.

“Go on,” Yvonne said to them. “We’re just waiting for you to leave.”

Tanesha kissed her mother’s cheek and left the room with Heather and Mack.

“You too,” Anjelika said to Valerie. “I will care for Jackie.”

Valerie nodded and left the room.

“Gee, I hope they’re okay,” Noelle said.

Otis looked at Noelle.

“She made an agreement with one of the oldest creatures on this planet,” Otis laughed. “They will be unharmed.”

“Gargul’ya nahodisya pod knotrolom Dzhillian,” Bruno said.

“Da,” Otis said.

“What was that?” Sissy asked. “What did you say?”

“He said the gargoyle is under Jill’s control,” Anjelika said. “I wonder if she’s aware of that.”

Otis and Bruno shrugged.

“I’m going to tell her,” Sissy said.

When Sissy got up, Noelle followed her. Tink, Charlie, Yvonne, Otis, Bruno, and Anjelika ate in silence.

“I always have the oddest time when I come to this house,” Yvonne said.

“Yes,” Otis said.

Anjelika laughed.


Friday evening — 6:05 p.m.

“Jake!” Sam yelled through the dust. “Jake!”

They had fallen into some type of concrete box. It was pitch black. Sam could feel the dirt in the air with every breath. He coughed.

“Jake!” Sam yelled.

“I’m here, Dad,” Jacob said.

“Are you hurt?” Sam asked. “Jake, where are you? I can’t see a damned thing!”

Sam felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned and hugged Jacob.

“Are you hurt?” Sam repeated.

“I fell on my ass, so I’m bruised,” Jacob said. “You?”

“Landed hard,” Sam said. “I wasn’t wise enough to fall on a padded part of my body.”

Jacob chuckled. Sam felt Jacob’s hand tap his head.

“What . . .?” Sam started, and Jacob turned on Sam’s headlight. Sam hooted with delight. “That was smart, son. Where’s yours?”

“Gave it to Christy when she went down to those guys under the pillar,” Jacob said. “I meant to get another one, but they set up the lights and . . .”

He held up a flashlight.

“This one broke my fall,” Jacob shook the flashlight and it rattled. “I have the little flashlight on my key ring. You know the one I use to pick up after Sarah on my keys.”

He took out his keys and tried the flashlight.

“This will work in a pinch,” Jacob said. “Shall we look around?”

“Son,” Sam said. “What just happened?”

“We fell in,” Jacob shrugged.

“No,” Sam said. “I was looking down. I saw the earth disappear below my feet.”

“What are you saying?” Jacob asked. “We’re down here because of some magic?”

“Jill must be ready to have the babies,” Sam said.

“Then I’d better get out of here,” Jacob said.

Sam shook his head and looked around.

“Where do you think we are?” Jacob asked.

“Looks like the big intersection of Hickenlooper Boulevard,” Sam said. He pointed to the round concrete holes going in four directions. “Sewer, sewer, sewer, sewer. This is the junction of all of that.”

Jacob nodded.

“Why did you say that about the boys?” Jacob asked.

“How much do you know about your birth?” Sam asked.

“Mom almost died,” Jacob shrugged. “That’s it. But we’ve taken every precaution and . . .”

“I was on my way to bring your mother to the hospital when I got lost,” Sam said. “That’s what I told your mother, but I got lost . . . out of time. We told everyone I was in a car accident because I broke my leg and arm trying to get out of the car. I had promised her that I would be there. Her mother had warned her, but . . .”

“What are you saying?” Jacob asked.

“We’re stuck here until the babies come,” Sam said. “It’s up to us to survive this.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Jacob said.

“We’d better settle in,” Sam said. The beam of his headlight flashed around the space. “Look, there’s water.”

Jacob bent down to a pallet of cold water bottles.

“Is that food?” Sam asked.

“It’s those packets of tuna that you like and those special crackers,” Jacob picked up a box. “Look, Cap’n Crunch with Crunch Berries.”

Jacob looked up at the dirt roof of their prison.

“Milk?” Jacob asked. When he looked back down, there was a chilled, glass bottle filled with milk. A white china bowl and a spoon appeared on top of the pallet of water. “Wow.”

“Jill must have some pull.” Sam picked up a water bottle and drank it down. “I did not have this kind of arrangement.”

“What about . . .?” Jacob pointed above them.

“Nothing we can do now,” Sam said. “You can be bright like me and try to get out. But you’ll only hurt yourself.”

Sam went to the edge of the area and lay down.

“We’re here for the long haul,” Sam said. “May as well get some rest.”

“But . . .” Jacob said.

Sam was asleep. Jacob scowled at his father. He tried to use his abilities to get out of the space. Nothing worked. Hoping he’d come up with something, he poured a bowl of cereal and settled in to wait.

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