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Monday, July 24, 2017

Fifteen Seconds

By Courtney Pierce


Although I'm a fiction writer, I'll tell our readers a true story. It will also be forever the fireworks that ignited the future course of my life.
Cloudless fall days in downtown San Francisco set off showy evening sunsets. One of them was on October 17th in 1989 at 5:03 P.M. A shaft of sunlight hit the needled tip of the Transamerica pyramid outside my floor-to-ceiling office window. The view resembled the all-seeing eye on the back of a one dollar bill. On this particular day, I was thankful I had driven to work. No rush. No sneakered, blue-suited trek to the train station. The office was empty and quiet. My colleagues had vacated early to enjoy the third game of the World Series in Candlestick Park.
5:04 P.M.
A vibration. A rumble. My knuckles whitened as I held the edge of the desk.
“Huh . . . a tremor?” I said. Not unusual. Sometimes they were fun, exciting.
An invisible force slammed me to the floor. My Mac SE-30 hurled in the opposite direction, its one megabyte of screaming RAM sparking from the outlet. In horror, I scrambled backwards from the window to the doorway. The top of the pyramid tick-tocked in and out of view like a monster-size metronome. Alive. Awakened from an industrial sleep.
I lunged for my purse by the desk. Keys. Money. License. Husband. Home. Family. Cats. The practiced plan: stay alive. I crawled on my hands and knees to the front door of the office, as if riding a ghostly mechanical bull. I reached for the door handle. The earth went still. I froze. Grinding metal moaned from deep within the building’s arthritic skeleton.
“Not over,” I whispered. 
I crept into the lobby. The click of the office door behind me plunged my world to black. No exit sign. “Damn. I’m on the twenty-second floor!” 
Shouting voices in created a path to the stairwell. I reached out to grab a cold metal rail—instead a man’s hand met mine. I held tight through blind visions of devastation to the world outside. Fire. Collapsed freeways. Dead people. Blood.
 Round and round and round. Dizzy. A hand from nowhere
“Hurry! Aftershocks!” the deep voice urged, as if coming from the hand. The cartilage in my knees ached as my pumps pounded down the steps. Legs ready to ignite from the burn.
“What floor?” I shouted, out of breath. “How much further?”
“Ten . . . maybe eleven! Lost count.”
Steel groaned again. My stomach rolled as the railing turned to rubber. Aftershock? The Big One? Feet pounded faster. Puffing. Someone above dry heaved. I focused on the hand to avoid visions of my family, my cats, all trapped and screaming on the peninsula.
A door banged, throwing a shaft of gray light up the stairwell. My irises slammed shut. I squinted and blinked. Who was this man, pulling me to the light?
We poured through the doorway like backed-up human waste from a storm drain. Sirens blared from every direction. A helicopter chopped the air, low enough to see rivets. The brick face of the building across the street had fallen away, the rubble still swirling with smoky dust. Curtains waved and snapped; office supplies and sheets of paper spilled like tears to the asphalt.
“You okay?” he said, letting go. The real man before me was a hand.
“Yeah...I’m okay,” I said, unable to stop shaking. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. You have a car?”
“Be safe. Good luck.” He turned and melted into the sea of suited zombies wandering the street in a daze. I never learned his name or even remembered his face.
My gaze rose to the pyramid. A flash on glass. Fifteen seconds. That’s how long the shaking lasted. Its magnitude would shift the course of my life. 
But one thing remained steady; that man’s hand. I’ll never know who he was. 

Photo: Loma Smith
Courtney Pierce is a fiction writer living in Milwaukie, Oregon, with her new family. She writes for baby boomers. By day, Courtney is an executive in the entertainment industry and uses her time in a theater seat to create stories that are filled with heart, humor and mystery. She has studied craft and storytelling at the Attic Institute and has completed the Hawthorne Fellows Program for writing and publishing. Active in the writing community, she is a board member of the Northwest Independent Writers Association and on the Advisory Council of the Independent Publishing Resource Center. She is a member of Willamette Writers Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and She Writes. The Executrix received the Library Journal Self-E recommendation seal. Check out all of Courtney's books at: and Both print and E-books are available through most major online retailers, including

The Dushane Sisters are back in Indigo LakeMore laughs, more tears...and more trouble. Protecting Mom's reputation might get the sisters killed―or give one of them the story she's been dying to live.
New York Times best-selling author Karen Karbo says, "Courtney Pierce spins a madcap tale of family grudges, sisterly love, unexpected romance, mysterious mobsters and dog love. Reading Indigo Lake is like drinking champagne with a chaser of Mountain Dew. Pure Delight."

Colorful characters come alive in Courtney's trilogy about the Dushane sisters. Beginning with The Executrixthree middle-age sisters find a manuscript for a murder mystery in their mother's safe after her death. Mom’s book gives them a whole new view of their mother and their future. Is it fiction . . . or truth? 

Get out the popcorn as the Dushane Sisters Trilogy comes to a scrumptious conclusion with Indigo Legacy. Due out in late summer, 2017.


Paty Jager said...

Thank goodness for that man! I've never been in an earthquake and hope I never am. So scary! Great post!

Courtney Brooks said...

You never know what will get thrown at you, but I'm convinced we're never given more than we can handle. The bar keeps getting raised. :-)

Shannon said...

Whoa! Your description is so vivid! I was mid peninsula when the quake hit. It was bad, but not anything like what you went through. It's amazing how when you needed it, help appeared.

Judith Ashley said...

I would imagine you hear the newscasters in our area talk about the "Big One" differently than whose of us who've never really experienced a significant quake. Do you still have a safety plan?

Diana McCollum said...

Great post, Courtney! My experience with the 1989 earthquake was minimal. We were living in Applegate, CA and had just turned on the t.v. to watch the baseball game and none of the S.F. stations were operating. At first we didn't know what had happened until we turned on the radio. My sister-in-law at the time worked in Oakland and had just started up the ramp to come home when the freeway collapsed. My boss at MCM Construction in Sacramento, personally found and brought out the man who was trapped between the collapsed freeways for a week I think. Our company built roads and donated a lot of heavy equipment and manpower to help with the clean up. I loved your post it was written so vividly I felt like I was there!!!