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The 20th floor began their evacuation calmly and quietly. There was some murmuring among them, mostly speculation as to whether or not this was a drill. They'd just had a drill three weeks ago, hadn't they? This had just been the braying noise of the alarm - usually there was a computerized voice that came over the loudspeaker as well. No matter, it seemed. The evacuation, drill or not, carried out as normal. Some had left their coats at their desk, others their purses. She'd grabbed hers, mostly so she had her phone on her to bide the time once they got to the rally point. Four floors down, then wait for the all-clear. She always thought that was a little ridiculous - if this were a real emergency, wouldn't they evacuate all the way outside?

The 20th floor fire warden was two people behind her on the stairs as they reached the 19th floor. They merged with the employees there that were streaming out the door.

"Did you know about this, Larry?" someone asked him.

He shook his head under the orange floor warden hat he was supposed to wear during these exercises. "Nope. If it's a drill, it's not a scheduled one."

"That happen often?"

"Sometimes. They want to see how we'd do in a real emergency."

"Hey, it got me out of a conference call with those assholes in L.A., so I don't care!"

There was some lighthearted snickering as the man brayed in laughter. She poked her co-worker in front of her. They were halfway between the 19th and 18th floors.

"Hey, what's your plan for lunch?"

Her co-worker didn't look back. "I don't know. Did you bring anything?"

"Naw," she replied. "I meant to, but I got up late. I was thinking about heading to the teriyaki place downstairs."

"I brought some leftovers from last night's dinner, but I don't think I want to eat them. Maybe I'll go with you."

They had reached the 18th floor, where they merged again with others that were streaming out of that exit door. From somewhere down the stairwell, they heard shouting. Not loud, kind of muffled, but loud noises nonetheless.

"What the hell do you think that is?" someone from the 18th floor asked. She shrugged. Larry, the 20th floor warden, raised his hands in the air unknowingly.

Halfway between the 18th and the 17th floors, the shouting below them got louder. The people around her became louder, everyone wondering if there really was an emergency somewhere. She felt her heart speed up a notch. They were one floor away from their rally point. She wanted to get there faster, but the crowd in the stairs had swelled and it was hard to go too quickly.

She never did think it was a good idea evacuating everyone down only one of the stairwells. Why didn't they use the other one also?

At the 17th floor, they merged again with other employees leaving their desks for the stairs. "Something's happening," someone from the 17th said. "The alarm wouldn't turn off. It just kept going."

She poked her co-worker again. "What do you think that means?" she asked.

"I don't know, but it sounds weird. Probably just a malfunction."

She fished her cell out of her purse as they descended from the 17th floor to the 16th, their destination. There was no signal in the stairwell, but there would be in the hallway. She was eight people back from the first 20th floor employee that tried the door at 16.

"It's locked!" she shouted, a hint of panic in her voice.

"Did you swipe your badge?" someone further back asked.

"Of course!"

She got closer and tried her own badge on the same door. It beeped once, but the color did not change from red to green. The door remained electronically locked.

Larry passed by her as he continued down the stairs. "Continue down to the 15th, folks! We'll congregate there!"

The shouting became louder still, seemingly getting louder. It was compounded by someone below them that had reached the 15th floor early.

"This one's locked, too! What the hell, man?!"

"Down to 14!" Larry barked.

That's where she was, between the 15th and the 14th, when chaos ripped through the group.

The screaming horde was pushing their way up the stairs while they were trying to make their way down. She was shoved to against the wall, one stair below the landing. Her co-worker ahead of her was struggling to keep her footing. She reached an arm out and they held onto each other, their arms straining against the surge of people.

"Go!" she heard. "They're coming!" "Run!" "Get out of the way!"

"Stop! Stop!" she heard Larry shout. "We can all go the ways we want, just everyone stay calm!"

"Don't go down there!" someone shouted as they stepped on her foot and jabbing an elbow into her side. "They're coming!"

"The doors are locked!" she heard from some that had made it up to the higher floors. "Why are all the doors locked?!"

"Who's coming?!" someone shouted from a floor below her. The stream of people didn't stop. She saw some from her floor start to drop below the horizon of bodies streaming up the stairs. It was getting harder to hold onto her co-workers arm.

The lights flickered and a scream rose. She wasn't sure where it began, but it seemed to roll across the entire group. She remembered a time on an airplane when some heavy turbulence had caused people to scream - she knew instinctively that she was okay, but her anxiety level had risen based on the crowd's reaction. She felt the same thing happening now.

A strange sound came from below them. A moaning? Screams and shouts mingled in with the sound, the din of a few hundred people trying to go up or go down this damned stairwell. She shook her head to try to clear the haze. Which way should she go?

A heavy body hit her own, knocking the breath from her chest. She instinctively let go of her co-worker's arm as the heavy-framed man crushed her against the wall. She heard her co-worker scream her name first and then she just began to scream. The man pressed against her was sweaty and hot. He breathed heavily. She wondered if he was having a heart attack.

She wondered if she'd die here.

Another surge pushed upwards against her and the body crushing her released and fell. He took down a few of the evacuees on his way. She watched blankly as people began to stream forward over them.

They made odd crunching noises, she would remember later.

Her co-worker was gone.

Larry was gone.

The screams were louder.

And the moaning sound, it had gotten louder.

Up or down? The daze back, she looked each way.

There was something coming up the stairs.

There were people coming up the stairs.

The exits above them were locked.

Trying not to think too hard about her decision, she launched herself off the wall and in the opposite direction of the sea of humanity that was making its way towards...towards what? She didn't believe that any of the floors they'd just left from were accessible anymore, unless someone had left one of the doors open on their way into the stairwell. There might've been enough time for that to happen, but she didn't want to chance the possibility that it hadn't happened.

She tried not to think about the things that crunched under feet.

And she tried not to look at the teeth that flashed when she reached the 11th floor.



Uh, oh! What happened?! Where are Travesty and Alice, you ask? Well, I couldn't make their story fit into this week's topic, "Crabs in a Barrel". So I didn't try to cram them into it. Instead, I elaborated a bit more on the story I started fleshing (ha! get it? ) out earlier in LCI, There's a Title Here Somewhere. So, you know, enjoy.
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