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Bend in the Routine
Sadie Hopkins thrived on routine. Every day she would wake up at 6:30, shower, eat a breakfast of two egg whites and toast and be out the door by 7:30 on the nose. On her way to her job as publisher at Harper Collins she’d stop by the local Starbucks for a large, double-chocolate macchiato. And, at 7:52 she’d be in the lobby. Friday, September 23 was no different than any day before it. Coffee in hand she pressed the elevator up button. The doors opened and she stepped inside.
“One, two, three, exhale. One, two, three, inhale,” she slowly counted to herself, trying to combat her fear of tight spaces. As her office was on the 31st floor, her elevator ride sometimes took several minutes. But she had come a long way; ten years ago it had been impossible for her to even step foot inside anything less than 100 square feet. As the door closed, Sadie began her breathing ritual while they stopped at various floors.
They were nearing her floor when it happened. With a loud clash and a slow, steely noise that reminded Sadie of nails on chalkboard, the elevator slowed to a stop. The man closest to the controls pushed the “help” button, to no avail. They were stuck.
In a daze Sadie pulled out her phone and dialed the number of her office. Instead of the chirpy “Good morning, Harper Collins Office this is Ava” of her secretary, she was greeted by the automated voice of the answering machine. She was beginning to lose it. In a panic she slumped to the floor as the details of that day began to wash over her.
Twenty-six years ago
Balloons and frothy streamers, all a delicate shade of pink, covered the Hopkins’ backyard, in celebration of Sadie’s seventh birthday. It was a day complete with pony rides, cake, and lots of little sticky six and seven year olds. After the obligatory cake cutting and present opening, it was decided that the little ones would play hide-n-seek while the adults began cleaning up from the day’s festivities. So, as one child counted, the rest scurried off in search of the best hiding spot.
Quickly Sadie made her way up the long winding stairs to her attic. As her friend Kate took shelter behind a dusty armoire, Sadie hoped into an old steamer trunk filled with old, moth-eaten bedding. She had just closed the lid when the seeker, clambering, up the steps, had spotted Kate.
“I see you!” he shouted. Kate giggled, and came out from her hiding spot.
If I stay really quiet they won’t know I’m here, Sadie thought to herself. So she lied quietly in her bed of blankets and waited while her friends ran out of the attic.
Ten, twenty, thirty minutes had passed and still no one had come up to the attic. It was getting hot inside the trunk and Sadie was thirsty. She wasn’t having fun anymore; she wanted out. Pushing on the lid of the trunk didn’t work – it was too heavy. She began to scream, and thrash around, but no one came. The rough, splintery walls of the trunk scratched Sadie’s arms and legs as she pounded and kicked, desperately searching for a way out. Finally, after ten minutes of fruitless thrashing, the realization sunk in on her and she began to cry. The stale, overpowering smell of old mothballs and decaying material made her breaths came out in tiny spurts. She laid her head back on the pillow of blankets and drifted off.
Suddenly a blast of cool air shocked her senses. “Sadie!” her father cried, lifting her into his arms. “We’ve been looking all over for you! Don’t ever do that again,” he scolded, tears running down his face.
“Ok,” she whispered quietly, burying her head in her father’s arms.
That frightful and terrifying experience left its mark on Sadie. She avoided the attic as much as possible and tight spaces brought on anxiety attacks. It took years of counseling and reassurance before she could even use her closest again. The escapade had turned her from a carefree, joyful little girl to a serious, high-strung woman overnight. She craved structure and predictability in her life; anything the opposite of that led to havoc.
As the people in the elevator tried to find out the problem, Sadie put her head between her knees and practiced breathing exercises.
“Here,” a kind woman said, handing her a bottle of water.
“Thank you,” she replied graciously taking a sip. The cold water helped a bit, unclogging her senses and allowing her to become more alert. Presently a man came over and sat beside her.
“I wonder why we’re stuck,” he said conversationally. Sadie just shrugged. “I’m Josh by the way,” he added after her non-response.
“Not much for conversation I see.”
“I’m claustrophobic. Elevators make me sick - especially when they’re not moving.”
“So you’ve never been in a bouncy house?” His tone was so incredulous that Sadie had to laugh despite herself.
“When I was younger, I guess. But I’ve shied away from anything too crowded or tight.”
“Man Sadie you don’t know what you’re missing,” Josh told her, a disbelieving look on his face. “So you’ve never been skydiving or surfing or rock climbing.”
“Well no, but-”
Josh cut her off. “Have you ever been to Europe, or gone swimming with dolphins, or zip lining?”
“No! Ok? I haven’t done anything fun or spontaneous or crazy my whole life! I’m boring and unoriginal and just not fun! Are you happy?”
“No,” was his blatant response. “I feel sorry for you. It must be horrible living with that fear.” And Sadie knew that he was sincere.
“It is,” she replied quietly. “I hate that my fear keeps me from doing fun things. Once, when I was twelve my friend had a birthday party at a laser tag place and I had to pretend to hurt my ankle so I didn’t have to play. How pathetic am I?”
“You’re not pathetic,” Josh insisted. “In fact, once this dang elevator starts working again we’re going laser tagging.”
“We can’t,” Sadie laughed, “we have to work.” And, as if by magic, the elevator rumbled, shook its way up, and the doors opened.
The occupants of the elevator burst into cheers, and Josh grabbed Sadie’s hand and pulled her out to the lobby. The smile died on her lips as she surveyed the scene around her. Bodies lay in piles, either moaning or still. Blood pooled in oceans on the checkered lobby floor.
“Over here! At the elevator!” Bullets whizzed by Sadie’s head as she and Josh tried to hurry back to the closing elevator. Josh shielded Sadie with his body as they ducked to avoid the flying bullets. They stepped over the body of the kind old woman who had given Sadie a bottle of water, and Sadie felt her stomach clench up at the sight of it.
They hurried for the elevator, pushing through the throng of survivors. Guns fired continuously and the people towards the back dropped off as the predators met their target. Sadie knew that they only had a few precious seconds before they became the back row.
The elevator was already jammed full by the time they reached the closing doors. With a final push, Josh crammed Sadie into the full carriage. She tried to pull him in with her, but he pulled away, shielding the opening from the gunmen. With a shudder, Josh’s eyes rolled around his head and Sadie could tell that he had been hit. As the metal doors creaked closed, she saw him mouth a final word to her: live.