I am suffocating in a tunnel of complete, utter darkness created by the unexpected power outage in the storage unit I’ve been digging through in hopes of finding clues to Rebecca’s whereabouts. I have been thrust into the middle of a dreaded horror movie, the kind I hate watching, and I instantly picture myself as the girl who makes all the wrong moves and ends up bloody and lifeless. I, Sara McMillan, am a logical person, and I tell myself to reject my fear as irrational. This is simply one of the random power outages San Francisco has experienced in the past few months, and a mouse at my feet is the worst of my worries.
But then, isn’t that what the girl who gets killed in the horror movie always thinks, too? It’s just a power outage. It’s just a mouse. I was stupid to come here alone at night as it is and I try not to be stupid. I knew from a prior encounter that the attendant of this place was creepy but I dismissed him as a concern. I’d just been too darn desperate to feel I was doing something to find Rebecca, and desperate to take my mind off Chris’s silence since our text exchange this morning, when I’d confessed to missing him. I fear his trip out of town for a charity event has given him time to decide he doesn’t miss me. After all, he’d dared to show me one of his darkest secrets the night before and I’d done exactly what he’d said I would, and I’d sworn I wouldn’t, by pushing him away. Running away, I add silently, thinking of the words Chris had used quite often to predict my behavior.
Another popping sound permeates the eerie silence and I am officially freaking out about more than Chris’s silence. My mind struggles to identify the sound, with no results. Oh yes, indeed, I am so flipping stupid for coming here alone. And while I like to think I’m not stupid often, tonight proves that when I am, I do it in a big way.
I don’t dare move, let alone breathe, yet I can hear low, raspy pants and I know they are mine. I will myself to silence but it doesn’t work. My chest is tight, and air becomes harder to draw into my lungs. I need air. I need it desperately. I’m hyperventilating, I think. Yes. That’s it. I remember this same, almost out-of-body sensation, from the moment a doctor exited my mother’s hospital room five years ago and told me she was dead. Even knowing what is happening to me, I continue the damnable shallow gasps certain to give away my location. I do not understand how I can know what is happening to me and still not be capable of controlling it.
Somehow, I am standing and I don’t remember standing. Papers fall from my hands that I don’t remember holding. Panic rises inside me and tells me to scream and run. So right and real is this “fight or flight” sensation that I take a step forward, but another popping sound freezes me in place. My gaze jerks to the door, where I see nothing but more darkness. Nothing but this deep, black hole threatening to gobble me up. Another pop. What is that sound? Another noise—a shuffle of a foot, I think—sounds closer to the doorway. Adrenaline races through me, and I don’t consciously think, I just act.
I launch myself across the room, in a direction I think is free of obstacles. Door, door, door! I need the door. Where is the damn door? My fingers find empty space and more empty space until, finally, I hit cold steel and relief washes over me as I slam the door shut. I hold my palms against the surface. Now what? Now what?! Lock the door. But I can’t. Reality hits hard. The lock is outside and—oh, God—whoever is outside could lock me inside. Or . . . what if the person I sensed in the hallway had made it inside with me before I shut the door?
I whirl around at the terrifying thought and flatten myself against the door. I remember my phone in my jacket pocket and dig for it. I can’t see anything. I clearly cannot even think straight. How had I not thought of my phone before now? I grab it but it slips from my hand and drops to the ground. Frantically, I fall to my knees on the ground to scrabble for it, relieved when my hand closes around the slick plastic, but I struggle without success to get the lock button off.
As I dart to my feet, afraid I’ll be slashed to death while trying to dial—and this time nothing is stopping my escape. Running might be another stupid move, but at this point not running feels pretty darn stupid, too. I yank the door open and more darkness greets me, but I don’t care. I run and pray that I don’t charge into whoever is inside with me or trip over my own feet in the black hole that is everything around me. I just want out. Out. Out. Out. It is all I can think of. It’s what drives me forward in the direct line to the exit. I am an explosion of fear and adrenaline that has dissolved the logic I’d had moments before.
I search for the exit, for light, but the exterior door that had been open is closed, and I hit it with a force that rattles my teeth. The iron taste of blood spills into my mouth where my teeth have ground into my tongue, but I don’t let it shake my resolve to escape in one piece. I feel for the handle and let out a breath of relief when it gives and the door opens.
Within a split second I am out of the building, the dim streetlights and cold San Francisco night air a welcome escape from the suffocating darkness of the building as I bolt for my car. My muscles flex and burn as I fear someone is at my back but I do not dare waste precious seconds to confirm or deny this possibility. The delicate skin of my palm is pinched between my keys where I have squeezed the metal into the flesh, and I struggle to find the electronic clicker to unlock my car door. Time seems to stand still as I fight the urge to look behind me again and, instead, I tug the door open.
Certain someone is about to grab me from behind, I throw myself into my seat and yank the handle, sealing myself inside and clicking the locks into place. Frantically I look out my window and see no one, but I expect shattered glass any second. My hands shake with such fierceness I have to steady one with the other to get the key in the ignition. The instant it’s in, I start the engine and throw the vehicle into reverse. Tires squeal and my heart thunders. I shift the gear into drive and instantly stomp on the brake, jerking myself forward with the impact. The sound of my heavy breathing fills the eerily silent car as I stare at the open door of the building and see nothing spectacular or scary. It’s just . . . there. And I’m here and no one else seems to be around.