142/366 – Frank Smith, Father

“Dad! Check it out! They have sharks in the fish tank,” Jake yelled from across the hotel lobby.
“Hold on, bud. I’ve got to get us checked in,” I called back, shooting a smile to my wife as she looked at a local trail book with Emily, our daughter.
“Checking in, sir?” the front desk clerk asked a fake smile securely in place.
“Yes, please,” I replied, stepping up to the counter. “The reservation should be under Smith.”
“First name?” the clerk asked.
“Frank,” I replied.
“Ah, yes, here it is. Two rooms, one with a king and one with two doubles, is that correct?” the clerk asked.
“Yes, and if they could be on the same floor, that would be great. The kids are sleeping in their own room for the first time, and I don’t want to be too far away from them,” I replied.
“Dad!” Jake called.
“Very well, sir. Please have a seat in the lobby, and as soon as your rooms are ready, I’ll have the bellhop take your bags,” the clerk said.
“Dad, look!” Jake yelled again.
I turned to see a man with tears running down his face, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. He had something in his hand that looked like a buzzer on a game show.
“Jake, look-”
There was the pain. Fire spread everywhere, and I didn’t know where I was anymore. I thought I could hear screaming, but the ringing in my ears drowned out almost everything else. Dust filled my mouth and nose as I shook my head, trying to make sense of what was happening. My arm hurt, and the side of my face too.
My eyes opened slowly, taking in a rubble-filled area. Concrete chunks lay as far as the eys could see, and pieces of furniture that were still visible had charred black marks on them if they weren’t on fire.
A woman passed by, her skin was half pale, half red, and spotted with something black. She looked as though she were dazed and moaning, and as the ringing began to subside, I heard that she was sobbing.
“Oh, God. Oh, God,” she repeated over and over as she stumbled around, her eyes glassy and distant.
As the woman passed, I saw her blonde hair. It reminded me of Emily’s hair.
“Em-” I coughed, unable to breathe well. “Emily? Jake? Rebecca?” I called, pushing myself to my hands and knees.
I looked to where the fish tank and the sharks had been—the spot Jake had been standing when I turned around. A section ceiling had collapsed at a point and hung hinged, blocking any view of where the tank had been. There was water on the floor and a wet sloshing noise beyond.
“Jake!” I yelled, stumbling around the hunk of the ceiling. “Jake?”
“Dad!” I heard his voice. It was distant and far from where I had left him. I looked past the tank and saw that he was rolling over from his back in the driveway just outside.
“Jake! Oh, thank God! Have you seen Emily or your mother?” I asked as I pulled him into me. He looked a little bruised, battered, and dazed, but otherwise okay. He had a few cuts on his arms that seemed to have already stopped bleeding.
“No,” Jake replied, shaking his head. “I’ll help you look.”
“No, it’s too dangerous right now. Go to the car and wait there for me. I’ll be there as soon as I can, okay?” I said, putting my hands up.
“I want to help,” Jake protested.
“I get that, but right now, the best thing you can do is wait at the car, okay?” I said, pointing over his shoulder to the minivan sitting across the lot. “You wait there, and don’t move until an ambulance arrives, okay?”
“Okay, Dad,” Jake said, “Be careful.”
I turned away from him as he began his walk back to the van. The second floor of the building had smoke billowing from one of the windows as I finally heard the alarms in the building going off.
I limped back inside and began looking around the area where the chairs had been. Many of them lay in pieces scattered throughout the area, and only a few of them had survived.
“Emily? Rebecca?” I called out. My heart thumped loudly in my ears as I hear the faint sound of sirens approaching. “Has anyone seen my wife and daughter?” I yelled.
From behind the remaining piece of the front desk, the clerk came into view. He was pulling himself up. He held his hand over his right eyes, and blood ran in a steady stream down his cheek. He looked past me, as though I didn’t exist as he silently mouthed words.
“REBECCA?” I screamed, moving pieces of rubble around the floor, looking for any sign of our luggage or half of my family.
“Dad!” I heard from a collapsed piece of wall nearby.
“Emily?” I asked, running over to it.
“Dad! Help me, dad! I’m scared. My leg hurts-”
“I will, baby. Just hold on. Help is coming. Have you seen mommy?” I asked as I saw her small hand poke through a hole in the stone.
“No, I don’t know where she is,” Emily said. “Please, get me out of here!”
“I’ll get you out, baby. Is there anywhere else you can see the light? Can you move at all?” I asked, trying to break away a little of the concrete to see her better.
I pulled a decent chunk of the wall away, giving me a large enough hole where I could fit my arm through.
“Back up, honey. I’m going to try to break more of it, okay?” I said. My face felt hot, and my eyelids heavy as I pulled more of the stone away. I bent broken rebar toward me. When the hole was large enough, Emily raced forward and squeezed through, falling into my arms.
“Dad, your hands,” Emily said, grabbing my wrists.
I looked down to see blood covering them. Some of my fingernails were missing, and most of the skin was raw, but I couldn’t feel it.
“Emily, I sent your brother to the van,” I said as I heard the sirens getting close. “Go to him and wait for the ambulance to look at you. This is no place for a child.”
“Where’s-”
“Go, baby girl,” I said, pointing. “I’ll be fine. I just have to find your mom. Don’t talk to anyone except the EMT’s, okay?”
“O-Okay,” Emily said as she stumbled away from me.
“Good girl,” I said, turning back to the hole in the wall.
Rebecca had to be here somewhere. I had to find her.
“Rebecca?” I called into the hole in the wall. “Rebecca, where are you, honey? If you can make a noise, I’m coming. Lead me to you, baby.”

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