But One Day: Part One
It’s Remembrance Day. Perhaps posting this now makes some sort of sense, since the prologue had some whiny kid ‘remembering’ what happened that day, which is outlined here, in Part One.
In case anybody was wondering about how I wrote this, the number of words I wrote each day are listed here:
October 30th (Prologue): 904
October 31st: 0
November 1st: 0
November 2nd (Start of Part One): 1830
November 3rd: 1173
November 4th: 1739
November 5th: 1459
November 6th: 0
November 7th: 0
November 8th: 2214
November 9th: 649
November 10th: >10
Now, without further ado (also, once again, this is my first fictional work, so DON’T JUDGE ME, and… don’t actually read it)…
“Bang! Bang! Bang!”
The gun shook in his hands, and he prepared to reload yet another round. The aging roofboards creaked over the racket near the entryway of the shop, as he shot again and again and again.
* * *
“What the fuck is he doing?!”
“Fucking insane, ain’t he?!”
“Let’s just get outta here!”
“No. We’ve got to stay.”
Cran peeked out from behind the car. Perfectly round holes of terribly dented grey stood out from the remaining metallic-green coating, a shade of which seemed to indicate that the car did not look terribly beautiful even before this situation. The cheap leather upholstery was tattered and the window glass smashed to bits. At least nobody was inside. The seats probably looked like that before, anyways. He could not say as much about its rear-view mirrors, though.
He looked at the ragged house directly in front of him. Three stories tall and falling apart by the second, it was no doubt ravaged by the massive blast. Combined with the owner’s ludicrous indiscriminate firing, it was a miracle that it was still standing. Or maybe not – houses don’t fall easily, and he noticed the hidden thick concrete supporting it, barely visible under some of the places where the wooden frame fell apart. He could make out a faint greenish hue on some of the intact portions of the house, and the owner’s colouring taste again fell into question. Was the car also his?
The green it would’ve been would’ve complemented wonderfully the gloomy distasteful mess of the street. A narrow alleyway spread behind him, flanked on both sides by rickety brick buildings looming across any soul brave enough to wander through. There was no cover up and down the street, which was deserted and dead, a few intact trees here or there, the only car on the road being in front of Cran. The few other buildings were surrounded by fences that would take a few precious seconds to get through – seconds that could kill.
They numbered four in total, huddling cowardly behind the car. It was foolish, they all knew – one lucky shot and they’d all be up in flames. One unlucky shot, maybe. So they had to move somewhere, and quickly.
“Not in there, it’s gonna collapse! Just look at it!”
“Where else would we go, then?”
“Fuck it, we move in three, two, one…”
* * *
He could feel his lungs burning, his throat dry with desperation, as he darted through the streets. The trees sped past him as his vision alternated between green and black, tree and house, green and black and green and red and black and black and black and he ran on anyways. The grass flew by his feet as if blowing in the wind, sparkling pure white bursts of sunlight like a shimmering lagoon.
Rows on rows of collapsed houses lined the streets. Some still stood, majestically looking over the rest, but the vast majority could not hold the pressure. The streets were cracked in two, and numerous cars were lodged in a massive collision. Shouts filled the air – raging shouts, melancholic shouts, pitiful shouts. He ignored all of them and sprinted onwards.
A massive tree lay in his path, uprooted from all the uproar. It was covered in dirty soil, its leaves glowing so unfittingly in a vibrant green. He had no time to admire its verdant leaves nor its weathered, amber bark, and jumped over the trunk with an outburst of energy.
He was on a hill now, and ran ever faster downwards. Could his feet still take it? He felt like he might trip over at any moment now. The asphalt slanted upwards near the middle of the street, cracking into a mess of detritus piling up for almost half a metre, giving him the comical impression that he was running on the jagged spine of a giant dinosaur. The pale yellow line lay like a dying man, feebly on the ground, hardly the vibrant canary hue it once was. And here, a house had completely collapsed, its dirt-red roof caved in on the unlucky inhabitants inside. It was almost surreal, as if a giant just rampaged through the city, leaving chaos in its wake.
He took deep breaths in and out, but his heart was pounding faster than ever. What would everybody think of him if somebody died? Could he bear to suffer the humiliation, the shame?
At last, he could see them, the entire school assembled out on the school grounds. He did not pause to stop, and scaled the fence to the field in three bounds, stumbling on the fertile grass on one leg. It was oddly undamaged here – compared to the destruction raging around, this field was just brimming with life – and death, and his heart jumped at the sight of several dozen inert bodies lying on the ground.
Green and red, green and red. His art teacher always told him that those were complementary colours, that they looked good together. But when he saw the fire raging on behind the trees, he could not feel anything but disgust for the world. What was wrong with it?!
The school was utterly demolished.
An entire section of the old wing was torn down in debris on the ground, and the gymnasium had likewise caved in on itself. A huge vertical split cleaved the old wing in half almost from top to bottom, and the topmost floor was on fire, burning against the backdrop of the darkening azure sky. He could see a huge crowd of teachers and students and people panicking in the debris, rushing to save as many lives as possible.
He had eyes for nothing else, and rushed over to help, his throat dry with fear.
* * *
“I’ll go too.”
“Father, don’t do it! Your body is far too weak!”
“The grace of God shall guide me. No, He shall guide us. In this time of despair, He shall surely not let us down.”
* * *
“Luis? Where were you?”
He was enveloped in a monstrous hug by several of his classmates.
“We thought you were dead too, you bastard!”
“Help us get them out, May and a bunch of others are still trapped down there.”
“We’re fine!” a voice echoed in from under the collapsed gym. “Just had a bit of a rocky fall!”
Luis took a deep breath, and started removing the smaller rocks from the pile. As small as they were, their density made their removal quite a difficult task, and he struggled with their weight. His arms were pathetically weak, as he preferred to run, and it was tiring. After only a short while, his back started to ache.
The school was old, especially the gym and the (aptly named) old wing, which had not been renovated for some time – and even the centre of the school, recently upgraded, was slowly collapsing, though mostly intact. He could see the new wing still smouldering, defiantly resisting their feeble attempts to extinguish the flame with lame sprays of water.
“What are we going to do with this big block?”
Luis looked at the direction of the speaker, a boy of average height and trim jet-black hair. He was gesturing in the direction of an entire section of wall, which covered the rest of the rubble. “If we don’t get this off, we’ll be leaving everyone there behind. And if we slip, boom – everybody’s dead.”
“How many people do we have?”
“I’d say… six dozen? But we can’t all lift it at once, we’d crush the people underneath with our weight alone.“
“Maybe it’s too risky,” the original speaker warned, “Better to have a person suffer a bit more until help comes than to accidentally be killing them. Let’s just start removing that part.”
“Fuck it, Alvin, we’re removing it.” Luis found his voice raspy and dry, but still continued with passion, “If you want to leave those people alone…”
Voices rang out with approval, and moved carefully up the rubble, walking on the small mountain of rock until they surrounded the fragment of wall. It was slightly damp to the touch. Had it started raining?
“Heave in three, two, one…”
* * *
He slowly got up. His head was hurting and his arms were hurting and he couldn’t feel his right leg. Where was he? Where were his parents? He tried to open his eyes. He couldn’t. He was scared and wanted to go home and eat candy and play with his friends and stay up late but he couldn’t move and everything hurt.
* * *
And they locked the door behind them.
“Locking the door really isn’t gonna do anything when he has a gun, you know… only thing it’s gonna do is block our path when the whole building comes falling down like good ol’ London Bridge.”
“Shut your fucking mouth, dipshit.”
The lobby shone a cool grey. It was dimly lit by a light flickering in the corner, trying feebly to stay alive, but Cran knew that the building would not receive any more electricity, soon enough. The stairs were steep and stone-like, emanating a feeling of stability and endurance in direct contrast to the cracked walls, which were not faring quite as well. Several umbrellas in a dirty plastic bucket lay flung to the side, toppled over in the initial outburst.
They rounded up the stairs, one at a time, paying no heed to the dusty railings. Directly above them lay another flight of stairs, which suddenly did not seem as stable as they first imagined. A wave of unrest crawled over them. Or was it fear?
“So? Now what, smart-ass?”
“How should I know? I didn’t start fucking shooting at some lunatic stranger all of a sudden.”
Cram’s thoughts turned again to Crim and Crow. What would they do in this situation? Undoubtedly, Crim’d start blabbering on about seeing the light in everybody, and Crow would simply restrain the man to bring him to higher justice officials. Could he bring himself to do either of that? He wouldn’t trust anybody with his life, much less the murderous thief downstairs, and he didn’t believe the man deserved to live and be tried, anyways
Cran looked out a small, dusty window, broken shards of glass spilling over the ledge and on to the floor below. He saw the street, dimly lit, as dark and grey as it was when the first clouds rose over, and now with little watery puddles forming on the ground. Was the man still shooting? The car didn’t explode yet. Come to think of it, why would a car explode from gunshots? Maybe he just stopped the assault because he knew they already escaped. Into this building.
“If that guy’s still intent on killing us, we better find another exit,” he offered. “I’ll bet there’s emergency stairs on the other side.”
“Well, we are in a bit of a fucking emergency, aren’t we, Cray? Thanks a whole fucking lot.”
“That man probably didn’t want to kill us, anyways. We should just go out peacefully with our hands up. Nobody just wants to kill random people…”
“Except Cran, of course.”
They reached the top of the first floor and stumbled onto a landing, a door on both sides. One was a fine mahogany, no doubt crafted by a decent carpenter – or some factory machine. The door was shut tight and bolted – the occupants were obviously not in when it happened. The other door fared no better. Although it appeared considerably less stable and worn from years of activity, it was also hinged firmly in place. Two pairs of worn sandals were layered outside in matching hues of faded blue. The despondent mood certainly seemed to match the colour scheme, and the four continued trodding up the stairs.
“The fuck are we doing?”
“Uh… finding the exit?”
“It’s probably at the roof, this building is pretty small.”
“So, we’re going up so that we can go down again?”
They ascended another floor, and upon them, yet two more doors. However, one was slightly ajar, slowly oscillating open and shut.
“Let’s see what’s goin’ on over there.”
“What the fuck are y-“
* * *
A piercing scream rang out from under their feet.
“What did you do?!”
“Fuck, everybody, get it off!”
One final pull and the chunk of wall toppled over on its side, an upright wall once more, before the momentum carried it tumbling down the hill and onto the ground with a satisfying ‘plunk’. It was stable, a solid slate of sombre concrete. The dozen or so people still standing on the hill leapt swiftly off, but the scream did not subside.
“Pull it off! It’s coming from that direction!”
The crowd was in a panic. Nobody could think straight; the voice pierced through into their very bodies and into their souls, sending their minds into disorder. Luis leapt up and kicked a large piece of rock with all the force he could muster in a laughable attempt at heroism, but received nothing but a horribly stubbed toe.
“Just get it off already! Everybody, pull harder!”
This seemed to rally the remaining rescuers into action, and their combined strength easily dislodged several rocks lying on top of the victim, who was now distorted beyond recognition. Her scream gradually died away, leaving the premises eerily quiet. There was no blood, but her mutilated body gave more than a couple people reason to purge their insides of their earlier lunch.
“This is it, huh…”Luis gazed up at the sky. Clouds were now brewing, and little bubbles of water dripped down from the heavens.
* * *
“Come with me!”
A strong, young man lifted his entire body up and into another wheelchair past the wall of junk that had stopped his escape from the collapsing building. He looked back at what had been his home for the past five years, but did not feel a great pang of regret. Rather, he had a strange feeling of contentedness – his family would surely visit him now. Oh, how long it was since he last saw them! His grand-daughter was, what, 26 now? 28? And his grandson, now on his 19th.
The thought that they might not ever see him again did not cross his mind for an instant.
* * *
Luis was of no use here. He was just another person to help. But, in the still-smouldering new wing, he could actually do something…
The south end of the school was stained a deep crimson by the sparks flying off the top. Entangled in a dance of nature, the fire swirled with the water being squirted up from below by small garden hoses. He could see the polished metallic coating melt away, the school’s slick, chromified surface now begrimed with ash and dust. And, of course, the pleas of help coming from the people trapped inside, feeble ants caught in nature’s unforgiving grasp.
“These people here are alright on their own. If we move the rocks like we did last time again, who knows what’ll happen! We better just wait for the emergency services.”
“You think they have time to deal with us right now?!” Alvin said, “There are people dying here, and you’re telling us to leave them alone?”
“No, what I’m saying is that there are people trapped up there in the school, people whose lives we can save, and not just through brute force. How many people do you think are under these rocks? Now, how many do you think are trapped inside?”
Alvin turned to look at the collapsed gym. It stretched on for no more than a few dozen metres, fragmented and sombre, like a craggy granite excavation site. Although it piled up for more than three metres high at places, he seriously doubted there were still many more people trapped inside.
“It’s easier to make mistakes up there than down here. Here, all we have to do is play a giant game of pick-up sticks – it’s easy to see the path to success. Up there,” and Alvin turned his head around to face the school, “who knows what’ll happen? You could send the whole wing crashing down.”
“This is no time to be talking about risks! We have to take the risks that we have to take, and I sure as hell don’t care if my entire body is impaled on a door or whatever. Listen – ” Luis tilted his ear towards the school dramatically, ” – hear that? That’s the cries of the people still trapped inside. Now, are you going to stay and pull rocks, or come and save lives?”
A small flock was now gathering around them, bodies tired and sweaty, but eyes glistening with excitement, ready for adventure.
“Yeah! If we don’t help them get down, nobody will!”
“You expect those poor people to get down by themselves while they’re on fire?”
“If I don’t go, I’ll lose my dignity as a man!”
“Let’s move it!”
Luis snickered at Alvin. “Have fun knowing that you weren’t one of the people who saved hundreds from the school, Mr. Rubble-Searcher.”
“Luis, I’m warning you, be careful out there – and if someone gets killed, don’t say I didn’t warn you… besides, what are you even going to do?”
“Who cares! Let’s just go!”
* * *
“We’ll try going through the rubble from the bottom up. First, we’ll scout around a bit to find any possible paths, and if we don’t find any, then we’ll have to dig around a bit. Everybody OK with that?”
Ten heads nodded assent in the dim light, emanating from small rays of sun seeping through the cracks in the ceiling. The light barely illuminated a ‘Canadian Tire’ sign, which was still stuck on the wall of the store. The door was caved in, and nobody dared enter. So, they tried to find another route to escape from.
“Alright then, let’s get this done.”
They marched past at a brisk pace, miscellaneous hard objects in their hands. The floor seemed oddly broken, its smooth paving sporadically covered by layers of chalky granite.
Where would they start digging? What could they dig with? All they knew was that they had to escape.
* * *
A large, muscled man stepped out from an inside room. His hands were ashen with dust, his face pallid. He was holding a large, dense wrench with both hands, and his face was creased with worry and displeasure.
“O-Oh, we did-we didn’t know that y-someone was h-still here,” Niko stuttered crudely. His act fooled nobody. “W-we’ll go now…”
“Wait right there! What’s that you got in your pocket?”
He gestured malevolently at Niko, whose cheeks turned a profuse pink. Indeed, something was sticking out of the pocket in his pants, something which he’d rather not let the man see.
“Is that a gun I see? You? A gun?” He seemed to grow even more imposing to the four boys, and snatched the gun right out of Niko’s pocket. “What are you? Seventeen? I didn’t have a gun till I was twenty-four, I tell you!”
His expression suddenly darkened. “You… I know what you were doing. You were trying to rob us, weren’t you? Looting from innocent civilians in this time of crisis. Have you no shame?! My daughter is dying, for Pete’s sake, and you’re trying to steal from us?”
They were speechless. What would he do to them? Cray never even considered the thought that somebody would think them thieves. They weren’t trying to steal, they were just searching for an exit… but what they did before they came here was… what?
“W-we’re s-sorry fo-“
“Out. Get out. Don’t let me see you, ever again.”
They continued in silence. Nobody spoke a word. It was eerily quiet – not another soul was in the building, save the four and the man downstairs with his wounded daughter. Not another living soul, at least.
“Great idea, huh.”
“S-Sorry, w-w-we-we were j-just ta-ta-taking a tou-tou-tour!”
Cray nearly burst out laughing, but he just had to feel sorry for Niko. He honestly never knew that he was that bad of an actor.
The stairs curved up on one final platform. The wall fractures were becoming more amplified, and they were now feeling quite queasy. The tap-tap-tap of their footsteps echoed ominously around the building with every step. Tap. Tap. Tap.
“The fuck, bro?”
“What the fuck should I fucking listen t-“
“Somebody’s following us.”
* * *
“Hey! What are you doing?”
Emily turned around to see an anxious woman in full dress and heels shouting at her direction, surrounded by various other people frantically spraying a long jet of water at the wing above. “All of you, stop!”
“We’re alright, Ms. Hutchinson! Don’t worry about us!” Emily was not sure that this was true, but could not suppress her desire to aid the helpless victims upstairs. But could she tell this to Ms. Hutchinson?
It appeared she didn’t need to decide. “We’re out saving lives!” a strong voice projected behind her. She saw a curly, brown-haired teenager in a rumpled shirt and loose pants, cupping his mouth, and felt another overwhelming desire to punch him.
“She’ll just get in the way! Can’t you see how dangerous this is?”
Luis began to have some second thoughts, but the adrenaline still fuelled him. “She’ll know that we’re doing the right thing. She can’t possibly stop us from doing that, right?”
“How do you know this is the right thing? Maybe…” a shaky voice said, “Maybe we’ll even end up being… killed…”
“Don’t say that!” Luis interjected. “Are we here to be killed? No, we’re here to stop other people from being killed! And nothing will stop us!”
He found the morale of his little party increase, little by little. They numbered only two dozen men and women, girls and boys. Nevertheless, Luis had no qualms about this ragtag team’s capability to aid the wounded upstairs, but they had to get upstairs first.
“Hey! Just wait right there, young man!”
Ms. Hutchinson’s voice rang out in the background, and she came scurrying towards their group. “I will not have another student be injured in this devastating event!”
But Luis was already gone.
“What do we do?”
“I’m not sure I still want to go…”
“We’ll only be more of a nuisance if we die, won’t we?”
Emily heard these voices echoing around her, casting doubt and fear into her entire body. Could she go? Would she go? Should she go? This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She could stay like she was, an ordinary girl in an ordinary school in an ordinary city, but this was a chance to prove herself extraordinary! And the people she saved would be grateful to her forever! Wasn’t this the right thing to do?
“I see you’ve come to your senses. Now, let’s just lie down for a bit, shall we? I’m sure many thoughts have been passing through your mind, but just think of it as a bad dream, and it’ll all be alright…” Ms. Hutchinson was escorting a few of the weak-willed back to the grassy field. “And, hey! Hey you! Get back here right this instant!”
Emily wondered who Ms. Hutchinson was calling for, but only after several moments did she realize it was herself. It was now or never…
She took one last look at the serene grass, and her heart skipped for one fleeting moment. To leave this world…
And she leapt up the stairs, two at a time.
* * *
Now, again, and harder. At last, he wrenched his eyes open, his face streaming with tears, and saw to his distaste a blinding light flood his world. His eyes slowly adjusted to his surroundings and he could see again. The sun was shining brilliantly in the sky, but clouds were quickly growing behind and around it. He could feel the soft drop of rain on his cheeks, and stuck out his tongue to catch one.
Where was he? He saw forest all around, trees and trees and trees, taller than he’d ever seen them before. The blazing blue sky was quickly being engulfed by the black haze of storm clouds, and he saw what seemed like a sheer rock face facing towards him. He did a double take and immediately regretted it, for he felt another burning pain in both of his arms. They were stuck against something… or stuck in something.
He turned his head around to examine his situation, but to no avail. What was happening to him?!
* * *
“Clank. Clank. Clank.”
The dull sound of a hard object against rock. What little light they once had was rapidly fading, and with it, their ability to work. They had finally decided upon a location from which to dig out their escape, but their attempts so far had proved futile.
“Maybe we should just take a quick break.”
“Yeah, this is going nowhere, and I can’t see shit.”
“Alright, everybody, we’re going back.” Estelle rallied. She really hoped they would get out before night fell, but… “Wait, what time is it?”
“Around five-thirty. Why?”
“Hmm.” So it must’ve been some clouds covering the sun, then. They could continue working after the clouds dissipated, though the clouds may well stay there until next day – or next week. But it was too dangerous to work when they couldn’t see anything. “Nobody got a flashlight?”
Heads shrugged around her – the few heads that she could see, at least. “Well then, let’s go. Don’t want to hang around here much longer, in case, y’know, these rocks decide to roll.”
Nobody cracked a smile.
* * *
“It is my duty, first and foremost, to protect my students!”
“Grace, I know you mean well, but you just can’t go up there! You were just saying how useless it was to try to rescue the students upstairs!”
“But those students might be dead, or fatally injured. But that bunch of people who just went up the stairs, they were alive, and perfectly healthy! They don’t deserve to die!”
“Are you saying that the ones who were caught in the fire did deserve to die?”
“No, what I mean was that…” Ms. Hutchinson halted in her speech. “Their deaths… weren’t necessary.”
“You take their deaths for granted. They’re not dead yet! They might as well come back down alive!”
“You know those people better than I. They won’t come down ’till every last body is down with them, and that’s never going to happen.”
* * *
The sky was darkening now, but at least everybody seemed safe. Who knew that this short, squat structure could withstand such a mighty force? The water parted around them, giving the illusion that they were rowing a massive boat out towards the ocean. A few last scatters of sunlight bounced gravely off the water before fading away.
A few drops of rain flickered on the raging surface of the sea, blinking in and out of existence before being swept away. Broken buildings lay all around them – some swept away, some barely standing, some bobbing up and down on the surface. The scene was almost like a majestic painting, telling of some prophesied apocalypse in extravagant detail, but paintings didn’t move. Movies didn’t interact. Interactive media didn’t kill.
For for each person huddled in safety were ten more, cast to the mercy of the great wrath of the mighty sea.
And there was nobody to help them, save luck and chance, and the whims of the tides.
* * *
Caleb slowly opened his eyes and came to.
The storm seemed to have lifted, and he saw the last of the clouds drift away. The land was a blazing white that almost blinded his eyes, and he slowly stood up.
Or tried to, at least.
* * *
“Took you some time, eh?” Luis chuckled. “So, how many do we have now?”
Emily counted eight heads. She was actually expecting less, but it was always better to have more people.
“So, how are we going to go about doing this?”
“Let’s just start looking in the other rooms, and wait until the fire’s put out in the science labs.”
“No! We’ve gotta get those people out first! Everybody else is fine because they’re not burning, but the people in those labs could be on fire and we’d just be killing them by leaving them alone! Is that what you want to happen?”
“No, well… “
“So it’s decided! Let’s go.”
They ascended the stairs with rash imprudence. The railing was unhinged from its metal supports at places; at others, oddly cracked straight down the middle, with one side standing utterly erect, and the other hanging limply downwards. The stairs were made of solid plastic and cement, but its original polished cleanness was soiled with wood, filth, and… blood?
“HOLY FUCKING SHIT WATCH OU-”
The stairs could not hold anymore, and a boy tumbled directly downwards amidst a pile of falling rocks, stone, and metal, falling an entire floor before reaching an uncomfortable halt on the cold floor below. Emily heard a perceptible crack of bone, and a gush of dark red blood flowed freely through a wound in his leg.
The others rushed down to his aid, oblivious to any possible risks of further staircase destruction, so fast was their descent. The wound was merely a scratch on a menacingly jagged piece of rock, and his arm was dislocated, but Emily could see nothing else.
“Anyone here a doctor?”
“I took three first aid courses, I can handle this.”
A blonde girl stepped up beside the patient and gripped his arm and shoulder tightly. With a sharp twist and a loud crack, his bone slid seemingly back into place in its shoulder socket, but the victim was left in some distress. Someone took off a ragged undershirt and wrapped it firmly around his still bleeding leg, much to the victim’s discomfort.
* * *
His arm was caught in something hard and cold. His entire body felt cold now, and his arms were beginning to grow numb. What about his feet? He kicked as hard as he could, but found his way blocked by something. At least his legs were free.
He looked out of the corner of his eyes. Something grey and leathery, just at the periphery of his vision. He was inside something. And he was trapped. The sky was darkening and the clouds were pouring rain onto his face, but he could no longer tell whether it was tears of the sky or from himself. The cliff face seemed scarier than ever; the trees seemed to loom over him like giant monsters; and he was cold, and hungry, and scared.
He let out a scream, a scream that pierced the heavens, reaching the ears of the gods above. And then he blacked out.
* * *
“So? Now what?”
He seemed to have calmed down. His eyes were glazed over, and a lone tear dripped out of an eye socket, slowly making its way up to his forehead. His hands were covering his eyes, as if shielding himself from a bright sun outdoors – however, there was no sun, and they were still indoors. His mouth hung open dumbly along with his limp arm, which he seemed afraid to move.
The white makeshift bandage around his leg was now stained a light pink with blood, but the flow seemed to have lessened dramatically. With an imperceptible sigh, he slowly lifted his back up into a sitting position, arm still hung loosely at his side.
“Can you walk?”
“No. But,” he paused to find the right words, “I’m… in better condition than the people upstairs. If you guys move me near some strong wall, I’ll… be fine.”
“Alright. Hey, you two, help him. The rest of us will go upstairs,” Luis then added, “slowly, now.”
He wasn’t expecting such a reaction. No pleas to carry him safely back, no tearful farewells, no recognition as a poor victim of this tragedy? He could be dying right there and they’d care more about saving other people, only noticing him when he actually died. But…
’I’m fine, I guess,’ he thought to himself. ‘I really am.’
* * *
“Better pick up the pace, th-“
“Shut up!” Cray growled. “We can still make him think we’re hiding in some other room. If he gets to the roof, we’re dead.”
“Why are we dead, anyways? How do you know that he’s just going to kill us? If anything, we were the aggressors, he should just be glad we’re not shooting, not chase after us like some madman.”
“Want some fucking proof? Look at the car we were just fucking behind! If he wasn’t a madman he wouldn’t’ve acted like a fucking madman, and he sure as hell wouldn’t be chasing us right now!”
“How do you even know that it’s even him?”
* * *
Estelle saw the rest of them huddled in a group, basking in the light of a few dozen lit candles in the centre of the building.
“Got any luck?”
She set her crowbar on the floor.
“Nope, got dark before we were able to get anywhere.” She paused and glanced around the area. There were a few dozen people here, crouched dangerously around a thick pillar below a possibly unstable ceiling. Yet, there was nowhere else to stay – by far, this was the safest place. Not that she was particularly worried for their overall safety – a rescue team would definitely come by in two days at most. No, she was worried that there might be others trapped beneath the rubble, and every minute spent saving themselves would be another minute that everybody else would have to suffer through. Thankfully, they only needed to find one exit, and they’d all be saved.
She saw several children, surprisingly brave for this situation. They were peacefully sucking on what was left of their milk – she had a feeling it would not be particularly calm tomorrow, as a starving baby was never a quiet baby. Unless it was dead, and a sickening feeling rose up in her chest.
“What about you?”
“Nothin’ there. Where the ceiling isn’t piled up deep are stretches of unbroken wall. I reckon that’s harder to burst through than the loose rocks, so I suppose we’ll have to keep trying from your side.”
“And what about,” she paused for a second to remember his name. Was it Mark? Mike? Or something else? “Mack?”
“If you mean Mick, our route’s completely blocked. Tried to break through, but all we got was a little rock slide.” A pale man with a harrowed face slowly stood up and brushed the dust off his suit and pants. They no doubt cost a pretty penny, but Estelle doubted he could still wear those at work anymore. “Best bet is probably at your side. Everywhere else is either solid wall or rubble, like Miguel said.”
“And this rock slide, what happened?”
“Oh, Tony here stubbed his foot on a rock that shouldn’t have been moved. Got a broken leg now, but thankfully, he was the only one there at the time.”
An embarrassed-looking man with ruffled hair lay on several shirts layered on the ground, and smiled weakly at Estelle. “It was nothing, really. I’ll just rest a while until help arrives.”
“So, now what should we do?” Miguel sat looking concerned. “There’s a chance something like this could happen again, and it might cause some serious damage…”
“Are you saying my injury isn’t serious?”
“No, you were saying that moments earlier.”
Tony looked sheepish.
A soft, yet deep voice now spoke. “It is now the time for rest. We shall continue our excavation once the clouds have parted.”
* * *
The fire burnt bright and furious as it struggled to devour the skyscraper. Like a savage beast, it flickered and shimmered and made one final lunge before being fully extinguished by jets of angry water. The building behind it lay charred and mangled, stained the same colour as the charcoal sky. Grey gusts of wispy smoke drifted away with the wind as the rain continued pattering down.
“We’ve a fire here, and a flood just a couple miles away?”
“God’s idea of a little joke.”
“How many more do we have?”
“Hundreds, at least. It’s going to be a long night…”
* * *
He pushed up with all his might, but his legs could not break free from the densely packed snow. The sun seemed to mock him with its radiant indifference, and the snow was still blinding, but he strained even harder. Finally, he felt his legs start to move, but felt a sickening crack.
* * *
Luis deliberately and cautiously climbed up the stairs, making sure to stay on the side closest to the wall. Would that help? He looked upwards at a flight of stairs directly above them, but couldn’t see how the stairs were attached to the wall. Nevertheless, it had to be more stable closer to the wall, right?
Six others were with him, now. Would that be enough? No, there was no time to ask questions or to have second thoughts. They had to act. And now, they were on the topmost floor. It was time to start.
“Let’s check the classrooms first. You three, go over to the far side.” he gestured at Emily and two other athletic-looking men. “As for us four,” he looked at two weaker-looking boys and the first-aid girl, “we’ll just look here.”
Emily jogged off with her group.
Emily walked off with her group.
“So… should we split up or look together?” Luis asked. He had a feeling that he knew what their reply would be.
“L-let’s stay together. That way, if anybody,” a pale-faced boy gulped, “falls like he did, they’re… safe.”
“Yeah, even though I’d be perfectly fine by myself,” the other boy claimed, “it’ll be bad if any of you get injured.”
Finally, Luis looked towards the blonde girl. “Anything’s fine with me.”
“Alright, let’s go.”
They moved towards two classrooms near the edge of the stairs that seemed to be miraculously intact, its desks stacked in neat little rows, with several little books on each desk. However, the chairs were laid randomly around the classroom, and most of the glass panes were cracked and shattered. Not a soul was there.
“I hardly expect anybody to be in the intact rooms. Everybody’s obviously escaped, since they have such an obvious escape route here. Why not just go to where the fire is?”
“Any trapped person is an equally trapped person. If we’re going to save people, we’re going to save everybody.” Luis shot a guilty glance in the direction of the guy downstairs. Was he really doing the right thing? No second thoughts, he reminded himself.
They scoured three more dented classrooms and a half-open elevator before reaching a heavily damaged room near the middle of a corridor. The door was blasted off its hinges.
“The heck happened here?”
“Talk about science going wrong.”
“Or gone right.”
Were science classrooms even allowed to have such explosive things? The class was obviously in the middle of some sort of experiment. Glassware and metalware littered the floor where it wasn’t-
The pale-faced boy nearly walked into a hole in the floor, and his face was drained of all colour almost immediately, much to the shock of Luis, who could not have imagined a paler face. Knees trembling, he slowly backed away, crunching glass in the process.
“N-nobody’s here, let’s j-just go somewhere else…”
Luis shot a final look around the room. The lights on the ceiling had fallen off, the tables were knocked over on their sides, the shelves were toppled over, and the middle of the room was oddly charred and broken, as if it was the ground zero of a massive explosion. It was the centre of a massive explosion. But everybody seemed to have escaped, somehow.
From there on, the classrooms were more and more devastated by the blast, though none quite compared to that. The majority of classes in the wing were science classes. Although many were the same as regular classes, several of them had science equipment and materials spewed all over the place.
“There’s no way everybody could’ve escaped, right…?”
“There is. We just haven’t gotten to the real devastation yet.”
* * *
With a mixture of frustrated annoyance and intense pain, he dragged himself out of his frozen coffin. The snow shook off easily from his clothes, but his leg was still throbbing from whatever happened. What happened? How did he get stuck in there? He remembered a dull pain, being pushed by something, and then falling… was it an avalanche?
He tried to stand up, but his leg would not budge. And so he lay there, tired and defeated. A nauseated thought crawled up the back of his mind.
Where did Violet go? Was she alright?
“Violet!” he yelled again. The towering mountains echoed back a mournful cry.
This was not a good day.
* * *
Emily stopped at the edge of an abrupt hole in the ground, four or five metres long.
“Don’t look down, you’ll fall.”
“But everybody’s on that side of the hole!”
“But we can’t get over, right now.”
“We’re supposed to be looking over the classrooms anyways, right?”
They retraced their steps back towards the direction from which they came, soon reaching an open classroom. The ravages were catastrophic – tables were strewn all over the place, rammed into all directions; shelves and shelves of supplies were shattered on the ground. She could hardly notice the ubiquitous cracking under her feet, as the glass fragments were concealed by a section of collapsed wall and the fragmented ceiling.
The clouds were parting now, but the sun didn’t shine, its light waning in the background.
“What do we-” the boy’s thoughts were interrupted by a sudden moan.
“You make her sound like Frankenstein.”
They rushed over to the edge of the room, near where the wall had fallen. A girl lay slumped over on her stomach, her entire body immobilized. Her moan was ghastly, unearthly, but rung aloud with muted hope. She was wearing a beautiful red skirt, but Emily stopped in her tracks.
“That’s not a red skirt…” she trailed off.
Someone else finished the sentence in a choking, hoarse voice.
Emily found her voice once again. “Even the more we’ll have to save her! Come, let’s get this wall off, first.”
They worked spontaneously. Nobody had any idea what was going on, and even less what they were to do, so they simply disposed of the rubble on the ground. Emily gazed across the whole in the wall at the downcast sky, and at the ground, where people were still squirting fire at the other end of the school, a fire that never seemed to stop, a glowing light in the darkness. The height was intimidating, an abrupt, almost surreal break between the sturdiness of the classroom and the nothingness outside. She could just walk several steps, and suddenly, fall down, through the sky and the wind and the ground. Perhaps the ground was not so reliable after all. She suddenly felt queasy, but with a final shove, lifted the final bits of rock off the girl’s body.
She was not prepared for the shock. None of them were, and they screamed with the energy of a rabid squirrel. For the girl’s leg was completely crushed into a pile of what looked like hamburger meat, blood oozing from every pore. Thankfully, it was only one leg, but they could hardly imagine what pain she must have had to endure.
“She’s out cold. Must be this weather, huh?”
Nobody broke the ensuing silence, which seemed to last forever, staring into the dark, empty sky. But, there was one spark of gleaming hope that blazed as bright as the fire in the building.
“She’s still alive, isn’t she?”
“…Yeah. She is.”
* * *
“I think it’s getting brighter.”
“Yeah, let’s go see what’s going on.”
“Who’s got the time?”
“Half past six.”
The pain in Tony’s leg was becoming more pronounced. How he wished he had something to eat… but there were no restaurants nearby. The only shops they could reach sold clothes and shoes, and they had to save their food in case nobody came to save them. He chugged half a bottle of bottled water and lay down once more on a makeshift mattress of miscellaneous clothing.
His mother looked at him with a worried face – or would’ve, if he could see in the darkness. But he knew that her thoughts were not to him, for they were relatively safe; but to her daughter, still working in that family restaurant down East, her predicament uncertain. For it was not pain, nor destruction, nor death that they feared. It was the unknown.
He looked up at the ceiling. Where the floor was buried under piles of rubble, he could see a hole leading up into the floor above, the sky not yet completely dark. Drifting away into dreams, he thought of rain… how he wished for rain… just a drop through the roof… a hole… a way out…
* * *
But at least she was safe. There were a few dozen or so people on the roof – everybody else in the building weren’t as lucky. Perhaps they were still inside the building, struggling for that last breath of air if the leading barrage of water didn’t blow them to pieces, crushing every bone in their body to dust. She could just imagine the shock and fear in their faces as the windows ruptured in an explosion of sheer energy, that one split second of notice before they were swept away from the world. She could just imagine the destruction when tables and chairs and beds were flung across rooms, tearing walls and demolishing doors as the floor broke through, sending the water propelling by the massive force of gravity downwards, only to smash against even more water as the stream intensified and sent all in its wake to a watery death.
But she was safe.
She stared long and hard at the dimming sun, and lay down, the rain landing softly on her cheek. It was such a long day…
* * *
Luis stopped in his tracks and faced the door. The destruction was eerily shocking. A section of broken wall smeared with the dye of blood caught their attention, before he noticed two survivors exploring the wreckage.
“Hey, you! Are you alright? How long have you been stuc-”
“We’re not survivors, we’re the rescuers.”
He did recognize that girl, somewhat, with the long, dark brown hair and plain shirt. “Where’s the rest of them?” he asked, unsure of his current sentiment.
“They’re gone. With the girl we saved.”
Luis heart jumped. So this was it. They finally did something. Granted, he didn’t, but at least somebody made something happen! “And the rest of them?”
“There’s a couple more. Not a lot. We’ll need help.”
They went to work, pulling people from under desks and tables, behind shelves and beneath rubble, some wounded, some only slightly injured, some passed out, and others still squirming. Luis hoisted an unconscious boy onto his shoulders and started the long descend down to the ground. His weight was doubled, and he’d have to tread carefully so as not to fall through the floor. However, he paid no heed to his common sense. Adrenaline was flowing through his blood – he was overwhelmed by joy! Turning a corner, he leaped down the stairs and saw a troop of people ascending the stairs energetically.
“Wait, who- what are you doing?”
“Helping, of course!” an animated young man cried. “Everyone’s coming to help!”
“Alright, we checked all of the classrooms already, but there’s one room at the end of the hall where a lot of people are trapped!”
Luis didn’t hear the young man’s response, for he already flew up another flight of stairs. He barely felt the weight on his back – no, rather, he felt much lighter, like he had wings. Bursting through the broken entrance, he let his legs take him all the way across the field to where the injured lay.
Alvin sat treating a girl with a nasty-looking burn on her leg with what looked like a bar of butter. His head was facing downwards in despondency, a black hooded jacket shielding him from the heavy rain. However, he immediately turned a sour face at the sight of Luis.
“See, look at that. How many people did you save from the wreckage, huh?” Luis sneered.
“There were still four more trapped under there, and if we didn’t save them in time, they might well have died!”
Luis laid his rider on the floor and whirled around, staring Alvin squarely in the face.
“This is not some petty game we’re talking about here! You see those people, up there?” he pointed at the burning wing. “No, of course you don’t. They’re either dead or dying, and you’re not doing a single damn thing about it!”
“Is it me that’s treating this like a game?”
Luis couldn’t hold it in any longer, and grabbed Alvin by the collar, as if his stare could bore into his very skull. “You know damn well that you tried to stop me from saving these innocent lives! Do you know what you are?! A murderer, that’s what! You tried to murder these people, people who wouldn’t have been saved otherwise!”
Alvin did not break his gaze, but Luis did not care. He let go of his collar and Alvin dropped awkwardly on the wet grass. “If you really think you’re all that good, come with me and do something meaningful for once, instead of moping around, stopping people from helping others! Get off your fucking high horse already!” Luis ran back towards the burning school, but he now felt Alvin’s penetrating glare at the back of his neck. What did it matter? The fucking kid was nuts! He had never seen such a psychopath before.
“Wait right there, young man!”
Ms. Hutchinson’s voice bellowed crisply and cleanly, carried by the slight breeze that was now flowing across the school. “I’ve had two dozen people run off, and you are not going back into that school!”
“Ms. Hutchinson, look at all the people we saved! Can you possibly just let them die?!”
“No, we cannot, and we cannot let you die, either, like what almost happened to poor Arthur.”
Luis felt a pang of remorse. Was that his wrong? No, Arthur said so himself, that he was fine and that they should continue on without caring about him. “But he’s alright, isn’t he?”
“No, he is not alright! His leg is now horribly infected and requires a doctor to treat him immediately!”
“And you’re saying that the girl whose leg was fucking crushed under a wall doesn’t?!”
“Don’t you try to stop me! Even if I die, as long as I save at least one person, my life was worth it!”
“Luis… she’s dead.”
The shock didn’t reach him, who was now speeding up the stairs, his ears freezing in the biting cold, his hands numb with fury, his eyes watering with pain and remorse. It wasn’t until he got to the place where Arthur fell that his sense kicked back in, and he cautiously hugged the walls in his ascent. Up and up, past the empty classrooms, the broken elevator, the exploded science room, and to the room with the broken wall facing the sky and the clouds and the other wing, the other wing which was no longer glowing, no longer shining, no longer blazing with the light of flames.
He paused to catch his breath, and found himself in a crowd of twenty-odd people. Facing the collapsed hallway, the uncrossable gap in front of him, he heard the whispers of the crowd.
“What do we do?”
“Should we cross?”
“Isn’t this a bit dangerous?”
“Let’s just wait for the actual rescuers.”
Luis broke through to the front of the crowd, standing dangerously at the very edge of the precipice. The sky was almost pitch-black now, and the only light they had were a half-dozen emergency flashlights. But he was fearless now, because he knew that he’d succeeded, that he’d done the right thing.
“Who cares! Let’s just go!”
* * *
“Can’t we just try to go through the roof?”
“We could, but that’s too dangerous – what if it falls under our weight? We’re better just digging away the rubble of the walls. It’s safer, and we’re in no rush.”
And so they dug, with umbrellas and shovels and coat hangers and sticks and pieces of broken pipeline and anything else they could find. Slowly, but surely, they saw more and more cracks in the wall, but the light that once shone through was dimming, dulling. The sweat dripped off their faces and backs and onto the cold, hard floor, the floor which had supported them all, but which caused all of this in the first place. The floor, the single most powerful – and indifferent – being in the world.
The situation seemed positive. Now with thirty capable hands to help, they would definitely dig out by the next day. Their dull metallic equipment seemed to shine with exuberance and energy, as they dug ever faster.
“We can’t finish digging today. There’s just too much, and with this amount of light, the chance of an accident is far too high.” Estelle told the group, receiving mute approval. “Catch some rest, we’ll be out by tomorrow.” She led the group back towards the centre, where everybody else was waiting. Waiting for them, for them to finish digging.
Why couldn’t they just have some more light?
* * *
“Fresh air at last!”
“It’ll be your last fucking breath if we don’t get down soon.”
The roof of the building lay in wreckage all around them. A whole section of railing was cut off by the blast, forming a sheer drop from which no man could fall unscathed. The sky was dark and overcast, and it was raining harder than ever before. Night was falling, slowly but steadily, as the sun dropped just that tiny bit lower, closer to the horizon. What was it now? Six? Seven?
“Hey! Found the stairs!”
“You’d think we’d have more important things to worry about…”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you man, cause I warned you dawg. Warned you ‘bout dem stairs.”
Although they were ahead of their pursuer, one well-aimed shot from the roof of the building and they’d all be dead. The stairs curved downwards, its silver metal railing dangling off to the side, cleaved by some cataclysmic event. They could see where the stairs were adhered to the building, metal meeting brick, only attached by… what? They could not tell. They scampered down the stairs as fast as they could, eventually reaching the corner and rushing around the building and through a dark, damp, narrow alleyway.
They found the car in front of them yet again, still that sickly shade of green.
“We’re going in.” Cray said.
“Fuck you, nobody fucking listens to you anymore.”
“Where are we going?”
He gazed across the street at the only other structure that was there.
* * *
A thick black slime coalesced near the corner of the rubble and around Father Rutledge’s shoe. He shook it off with some distaste, but paused not in his striding around the lightless room.
“What is it, Father?”
“We’ll need all the light we have. These times will certainly be dark…”