Martin woke up with a large yawn followed by a long sigh. He was already thinking about the day ahead. He often felt a thirty-year-old man with a masters degree in music should be doing something more important than doing construction work at some smelly gym, and this conclusion weighed on him everyday. As he pulled on his ragged, stained work pants and bright orange vest, he already began to feel self conscious. Since the crew moved to working on a fitness-enthusiast-filled gym, Martin’s self esteem hit rock bottom. Being around extremely fit men and women caused Martin to constantly look at himself in scorn. Even as he quietly ate his breakfast he felt uncomfortable and nervous that the calories he was ingesting would make him look heavier. As Martin finished up eating and grabbed his keys and work gloves, Emily, Martin’s wife, padded down the stairs and into the room. She glanced at Martin who was now staring into their hallway mirror studying his 6 foot 200 pound body and glared at him. She hated how hard he was on himself. When Martin caught her looking, he quickly turned around and kissed her before she could say anything about the way he was looking at himself. They pulled back from each other for a moment so Emily could say, “I love you. Be safe today,” Martin smiled then grasped the brass door handle, pulling the door closed behind him.
Martin eased his beat-up, old Honda into a parking space near the back entrance of the gym. The owners of the gym had hired Martin and the other construction workers to build an addition onto the left side of the long rectangular building and install a swimming pool so members could now take water aerobic classes and swim laps. Martin walked towards the mostly completed addition and studied the crew’s hard work while buckling his heavy tool belt to his waist. As Martin entered the gym, he gazed at the muscular men and women that were inside and felt himself shrink in their intimidating presence. Martin thought to himself how glad he was that today they would be working underneath the gym instead of underneath the haughty stares of the gym members. Walking over to a group of men in orange vests much like the one Martin himself was wearing, “Morning boys,” he said grinning. They all laughed, slapping him on the back and asking him what crazy things he would have them do today. “Carl, Nathan I want you to make sure the area being dug out for the pool is the right measurements. Don’t let the people operating the backhoes out of your sight. They’ve been screwing us over lately,” Martin ordered. Carl and Nathan nodded then began to work their way to the muddy hole that was the soon-to-be pool. Martin turned to the rest of the crew, “Alright, I’m sorry but you all have the tough job,” he said with a sheepish smile. “Today we have to head under the building to rearrange some water pipes so the building can accommodate the pool. I know it’s not going to be a fun job, but at least we’re not dealing with those nut-cases digging the hole for the pool,” he said with a big grin. The men smiled and began to follow Martin to the basement door and down the steps into the dark room.
The steps leading down to the basement were covered in a slimy black moss and the room smelled dank and dreary. They all looked around silently and quickly got to work finding the pipelines that needed rearranging. With Martin in the lead, they found their way into a large sewer pipe that contained smaller copper pipes that fed water through the building. “Alright, let’s get to work,” Martin said, his face now serious. The men nodded and began pulling out their tools. They had only been working for a few minutes when the ground rumbled beneath them. Confused, they looked to one another for an explanation, and eventually they looked to Martin for an answer. “Probably just those idiots with the backhoes,” he reassured them. They continued to work in silence; only the sound of dripping water rang through the lonely pipe. “James--,” Martin began when suddenly a roaring noise cut him off. The pipes rattled and the ground shook, knocking many of the men over and sloshing green sewer water all over their clothes.
“Earthquake!” shouted Evan.
“Everyone out of the basement!” Martin boomed.
They all ran, stumbling over the shaking ground while pieces of rubble fell from the ceiling. Martin could practically see the end of the pipe, their way out, when a loud creaking noise rang through the tunnel. Martin stopped and looked up, a large crack was forming in the pipe above the exit. “Back! Back! The ceiling!” Martin shouted motioning for the men to retreat back into the man-made wormhole. They all turned realizing what Martin was screaming to them about. The cement foundation above them was about to come crashing down. They ran for their lives, the panic glinting in their eyes making them look almost mad. The last man was still scrambling to evade the growing crack above them when the tunnel shook and the gray blocks of cement came falling, crushing the exit of the pipe. “My God,” Martin said, frozen with fear as the pipe above him began crashing down. The last thing he thought of was Emily telling him to be safe just that very morning. Then everything went black.
Emily was driving to work when the earthquake hit. She barely felt it, only knowing that it happened because she was listening to the radio. When she pulled up at her office building, people were standing outside chattering, some were shaking in fear from the 7.5 magnitude earthquake that had just taken place. Emily quickly pulled out her cell phone and had already begun to dial Martin’s number when she realized there was no cell service. “The earthquake must’ve messed with the cell towers,” she thought anxiously. She hesitated only a moment before leaving her office building, speeding towards Martin’s work site. She didn’t care if it cost her her job, she needed to know if Martin was safe.
Martin’s eyes opened slowly. His body felt heavy and weak and he briefly noticed the coppery taste in his mouth. He groaned as he struggled to remember where he was. He looked around slowly, and the events that had taken place minutes before came back to him in a sudden wave and he bolted up instantly, or at least he would have if there wasn’t large amounts of debris holding him down. Wide awake now, Martin looked around and felt the panic rising in his throat. All he could see was cement chunks trapping him in his own little cell, making him a prisoner to the very structure he was building up. He was marveling he was even still alive when he realized he had not come into the pipe alone. “The crew!” he thought wildly. “John!.. James!.. Peter!” he screamed, the emotions building in his voice. He felt the tears coming when a minute had gone by and there was no response from anyone. “I’ve killed them,” he whispered to himself as a tear fell to his cheek.
Emily whipped into the parking lot, not even bothering to park the car in a designated space. She hopped out of the little car and looked around. Her anxiety rose when she didn’t see Martin anywhere. A large group of construction workers were gathered outside the building milling around, calling wives, and recalling how they had narrowly escaped disaster. Emily franticly ran up to the group, they all fell silent and stared at the ground when she arrive. “Where is he?” she said in a small, scared voice, “Where is Martin?” No one spoke for a moment as she looked desperately at each face in the crowd. “Where is he?” she said again, a tear spilling over her eyelid and onto her smooth cheek.
An older worker, Alvin, stepped forward, “He was down under the building working on water pipes when the earthquake hit...,” he looked behind him as if for support, “the pipe is crushed. I’m sorry.” When those words hit Emily’s ears, it was as though the world had come crashing down.
She stared at him in utter disbelief, “He can’t be….No...hasn’t anyone checked down there? They could still be under there...he couldn’t have…” she managed, begging them to tell her something different.
Alvin looked at her with pity and sorrow, “The fire department is on their way,” he began but stopped when he noticed the hope in her eyes, “but, Emily, there’s no way anyone could survive that. The whole foundation to the building collapsed.”
She glared at him with red-rimmed eyes, wiping her tears, “Well I know Martin, and I know he wouldn’t just sit there and wait to die. He has to be alive,” she said stubbornly. Alvin sighed as she turned and walked towards the road to wait for the fire department to arrive.
Martin laid there mulling over the thought of leading his crew members to their deaths, trapped in his thoughts for what felt like an eternity. His legs were cut, and he was fairly certain several of his ribs were broken, but he knew he would be in much worse shape if he didn’t attempt to free himself. “I can’t sit here forever,” he thought as he worked to free his arm. He wiggled and pulled and struggled for a few minutes before he realized a large piece of metal was lying inches from him. “I could use that as leverage to get my arm out of here,” he thought with renewed hope. He reached out with his legs as far as he could while still having his arm stuck under the blocks of cement and managed to scoot the metal rod closer to him until he was able to grab it with his free arm. Grasping the rod for dear life, Martin maneuvered the piece of metal and began pushing down on it wildly, hoping to lift the heavy debris off his arm. After straining and grunting, Martin was able to free his arm and exit his concrete cell. Dusting himself off, Martin sat up. He saw nothing but rubble surrounding him, and began to panic. “Hello?” he called out weakly. His heart fell when he heard nothing at first, but moments later he heard,
“Martin? Is that you?” echo down the tunnel.
“Yes! Where are you, Peter?” Martin scrambled to reply. He was overcome with emotion at the thought of the crew still being alive, and tears ran down his dusty face.
“I’m here!” Peter shouted, “Follow the sound of my voice. The other men are here too.” Martin, with overwhelming relief, began to climb over the large rocks towards the sound of his friends voices.
Meanwhile, Emily followed the firemen everywhere they went. She asked to help in any way she could, and prayed to God they would find Martin under the heaps of fallen building. The firemen examined the remains of the structure and dug in areas most likely to have humans trapped underneath. Throughout the day Emily and the remaining workers from the construction site helped rescue many of the gym members, but as the sun began to get lower in the sky there was still no sign of Martin. Emily looked up and sighed, “Martin, where are you?”
Martin and the other three men hugged and cried when they finally reached each other. They had all thought one another dead after the earthquake, and praised God that none of them had perished in the disaster. “Now we’ve got to get out of here,” Martin said solemnly. The pipe had held up remarkably well despite the debris that came crashing down. The problem was, they didn’t know how well the people on the surface would be able to hear their cries for help. “We’re just going to have to climb up on the highest piece of rubble we can find, make as much noise as possible, and pray they hear us.”
Emily was the first one to notice the quiet roar. She motioned to the firemen near by, “Do you hear that?” she said with a confused look. The firemen paused and listened.
“Sound’s comin’ from over there I think,” said the chief fireman in his gruff voice as he pointed to the group’s left. “Boys we may have some more survivors over here!” the chief yelled to the other firemen walking around in the wreckage. Emily and the other men crouched down to the ground and followed the sound to one spot.
“Please let Martin be down there,” Emily prayed silently as they began to get the tools ready to remove the cement encasing the people below them. It took 2 hours for the firemen to remove enough of the debris to be able to understand the noise coming from the ground.
“We’re pretty close to where they are now,” the chief told Emily, “We’ve confirmed there are 3 survivors down there.” Emily nodded and continued to watch as they moved concrete slab after concrete slab.
Finally, a total of 3 and a half hours later, the small room the survivors were hiding in was breached. Firemen were sent down into the hole attached to cords and holding harnesses to help lift the people under the ground out of their prison. As they lifted the first man out of the ground Emily’s heart stopped. It was James, one of Martin’s crew mates. “Here’s the next guy,” the firefighter on attached to the cord said. Emily could feel her heartbeat ringing in her head as she awaited the identity of the next person to emerge from the hole. She screamed and ran towards the ragged figure when the firefighter lifted Martin out of the ground. Martin grinned at her and held her tightly when she reached him. “I love you,” she sobbed into his blood and dust stained shirt.
“I love you, too,” he whispered as they continued to embrace, forgetting everything but each other.