This story is by Sam Vale and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
The first thing Audrey knew when she woke up was a slow, steady beeping sound. She gazed up at the gray ceiling with blurred vision and sat up slowly, clutching her forehead against the ache that echoed under her skull. She felt heavy and strange, like she had been asleep for weeks. She scanned the ceiling for a source of the beeping noise but saw nothing. She inspected the rest of the room—just a small rectangular space with a wooden door, a large desk, a closet with empty hangers and another twin bed to her right. She started when she saw the lanky boy lying on it and rushed to his bedside.
“Adam?” she said loudly. ”Adam!”
Her brother rolled over onto his other side. She tugged at the bottom of the sheet and flipped him over onto the floor. He landed with a painful thud. He groaned and sat up, rubbing the back of his head.
“What the hell, Audrey?” He griped. He was readying to give her a dirty look when he noticed the unfamiliar room. “Where are we? Why is that noise going off?”
He struggled to stand up as he studied the ceiling.
“I don’t know.” She looked at him concernedly. “Are your legs okay?”
“Yeah, don’t worry about it,” he mumbled. Adam had always worn leg braces, and suddenly she felt guilty for making him fall. She opened her mouth to apologize but he nodded at the door before she had a chance. “Let’s just get out of here.”
They both made their way to the door in silence, Audrey reaching it first. She went to turn the doorknob and froze when she saw that it was gone. It looked like it had been torn off. She could see through to the other side; that knob must have been removed also. A pale light shone through the hole, obstructed a little by the brass, horizontal lock.
“Hello?” she called, knocking loudly on the door. She thought she could hear soft voices on the other side. “Hello! We’re locked in here!”
Adam tried too, but no one came to get them. They were trapped. The pounding in her head grew thicker and a weight settled in her chest. A strong hand gripped her upper abdomen and twisted it cruelly as she stood on the edge of panic. At the same time she noticed that the beep had grown louder and quicker. It almost sounded like two beeps now, a pulsating synchronicity.
She saw the fear on her brother’s face and her nervous energy shifted to a powerful need to protect him. If she panicked, he panicked, and she couldn’t let that happen.
Audrey was older than Adam; only by three minutes, but that didn’t matter to her. She had been born perfectly healthy, and he with complications that kept him in the NICU for two weeks. Those complications never left. She had always blamed herself for his illnesses, sure that she had taken all of the good things from him before they were born. She tried to make up for that by protecting him against any and all attackers, whether that be person or disease. If he was picked on at school, she got suspended for fighting the bullies. If he needed blood or tissue, she insisted he take hers. His most recent issue was his kidneys, and of course the metal leg braces he had worn since he was a child.
“We can find another way out,” she said calmly. Something in her mind’s eye flashed—it was a memory from childhood. She and Adam were five years old and their mother was showing them how to change a tire. Of course, neither of them paid any attention to her at the time, but as they grew older they took a serious interest in the survival tactics their parents taught them. ”We never want you to feel helpless,” they would say. By the time they were ten they knew how to make shelter out of snow, hotwire a car, and get inside some place if they were locked out. The opposite would work too of course. “If we can fine a bobby pin or something we can pick the lock.”
“Do you have any in your hair?”
They looked at each other and started laughing. Audrey didn’t even run a brush through her hair, much less wear an accessory.
“Okay, okay. Let’s be serious,” she said.
“What about the hanger?”
“It’s plastic.” She quickly searched the files in her brain and snapped her fingers when she found something relevant. “The hanger. And there might be a book in one of those desk drawers. I don’t know about a thick cord or floss, but we could at least look. Do you know what I’m talking about, that trick dad showed us where you attach a piece of floss to a sheet of paper and—“
Adam shook his head. “That only works if there’s a knob on the other side. Both of these are gone, remember?”
“Oh yeah.” Her heart sank. “Damn it.”
The beep sped up a little as something cold and wet landed on the back of her neck. She flinched and wiped the water away with her hand. Her gaze traveled to the ominous shadow above them—water damage, and a lot of it. The ceiling was drooping there, and Audrey blinked away another droplet of water that fell into her eye.
Adam wiped the drops from his pale arm. “Why is the ceiling leaking?”
“I don’t know. But I don’t want to find out. Come on, let’s just look for something small to pick the lock with.”
Abruptly the beep rose to a painful pitch three times its previous pace and the twins winced, covering their ears against the sound. Audrey could tell for sure now that it was two identical sounds overlapping. The ceiling creaked and cracked above them and she heard herself scream as gallons of water pushed their way through, throwing her and Adam apart. She crashed against the wall and stood up, breathless. The monstrous on flow drowned out the beep’s wicked pitch and she waded back to her brother, avoiding the waterfall. The water rose quickly, her ankles already soaked.
“We’re going to die here.” Adam choked on the words, his pupils dilated in terror.
Audrey took him by the shoulders and looked into his dark eyes, the same shade as hers.
“We can find a way out of this,” she said, trying to mask her own terror. “We won’t drown if we work together. Look around, we might still be able to find something small to pick the lock.”
But they didn’t. Audrey searched the closet while Adam dragged himself to the desk, his legs growing heavy in their braces. He heatedly pulled out the heavy wooden drawers, yanking on one angrily as it got stuck on its metal railing and throwing it into the water. A splash hit his face and he was struck with another idea, so simple that they hadn’t thought of it.
“Check your pockets for a credit card,” he hollered over the pouring water.
She checked, understanding immediately. Their father had taught them that if it was the right kind of door, a credit card would easily slide between the door and its frame to catch the latch.
“Look for something thin and hard,” he called to her. Audrey nodded, her eyes wide and fearful, and he was struck with the painful remembrance that drowning was her biggest fear. Watching her hopes sink slowly was too much, and something powerful rose inside him, turning his panic into focused adrenaline. He would not let her die this way. He rummaged through the drawers again but he knew that they were barren, useless, one of them floating sadly beside him in the water. He didn’t know what he had expected to find. Liquid encompassed his knees.
“Anything?” he called to Audrey.
“No.” Her voice shook and she pulled herself through the water toward him and wrapped him in a tight hug, sobbing. “I’m so sorry, Adam.”
“You’re not the one who should be sorry.”
They jumped when they heard another loud creak and the hole in the ceiling widened, flooding the room with even more water. The beep once again asserted itself.
“Adam…” Audrey gripped his shirt, her voice small and frightened like a child’s.
’Come on Adam. Think outside the box.’
Box. The word stung his brain and he looked down at the floating drawer that was level with his waist now. Some desks were built with simple sliding drawers but this one had railings to help it pull out smoothly. The tips of these rails were thin and metallic, exactly what they needed.
“We need to break this,” he said, grabbing the drawer.
“We need something heavy.” As he shifted his weight to relieve the pain in his legs he knew what to do. He reached down and undid the straps on top of his left brace, then slid out his leg. It took longer in the water. “Here, break it with this. Hurry!”
Audrey gave him a worried look but did as he said, mounting the overflowing desk. She braced the drawer with her foot and smashed it with the brace. After six hits the wood split from the railing and she yanked it off, shaking with exhaustion.
“Ready?” he asked her.
She nodded and they dove into the water. Adam kicked as hard as he could with his free leg, his weight unbalanced now. He was halfway to the door when something strange happened. There was a shift in the beep. One of them stayed the same, while the other sped up, quicker than it had ever been. He knew something was wrong. Fearfully he turned around and saw that his was stuck. He swam to her, his ears ringing. She shook her head and pointed at the door. He ignored her and swam around to free her shoelace from a large splinter.
“Go!” she yelled into the water. He watched her eyes widen in panic as she lost her breath and fell unconscious.
’No!’ he screamed in his head, struggling to hold his breath. He wrapped one arm around her waist and swam one-armed toward the door, kicking like hell. There was only one beep now; the other one had flatlined. His lungs burned and he knew he was only milliseconds away from running out of breath himself. He held onto his sister and slipped the metal railing onto the latch, unlocking the door and pouring them into the white light.
When Adam came to, the first thing he heard was the low, steady beep of the pulse-rate monitor. He opened his eyes to see a doctor standing over him. Memories of that morning came flooding back. He and Audrey had been admitted that morning for his kidney transplant; she was giving him one of hers. He noticed her sleeping in the bed beside him and craned his neck to get a better look. He felt very sore.
“Is she okay?” he asked.
The doctor nodded. “She’s okay now. Your sister went into cardiac arrest on the operating table and flatlined. She was dead for about a minute. Luckily, we were able to bring her back.You’ll both make a full recovery. I’ll go tell your parents that you’re awake.”
The doctor left and he glanced over at his sister again. She stirred as she woke up and looked over at him, a faint smile appearing on her face. She looked tired, but she looked alive. They reached out and took each other’s hand.
“Thanks,” Audrey said, squeezing his hand.
Adam smiled. “This time, I got to save you.”