The following is a fiction piece.
On the twentieth day, of the second month of the year twenty-eleven..I stand in an underground hallway – gazing in each direction. My mind numb from the cold, and cold from the fear. Both – a constant I have lived with the past fourteen days. Would I live? Would I die? Could I withstand? Could I stay strong? Is this the end of time?
Fourteen days ago, I drove through sleeting snow to get to my job. It was a hairy ride, but in North Central Texas, weather changes. Could get worse….could get better. Either way, by the next day – no doubt – the sun would shine, and any snow and ice would melt. People emerge and continue on. By noon, it’s like nothing ever happened. It’s usually a sliver of what the weatherman predicts. So I drove to work, and I made it, like I always did. Snow has never kept me from clocking in.
That was two weeks ago and the snow just stopped. I haven’t seen my family. I haven’t heard a word in ten days. I don’t even know if they are alive……..or if anyone is…….other than the people trapped in this building.
The hallway curves to the left. A skylight covered in white. A connection between two towers. A gathering place for the forty-three
survivors fighters. We discovered the hall as the warmest place. Closest to the ground and insulated. A strong support. The snow stopped at the fourth floor. Four floors.
I am not sure why the building did not (or has not) fallen. It creaked. It moaned. But it held. Both towers held. The cafeteria and parking garages – not so much. It’s still uneasy. You can’t help but wonder how much longer it can take the weight.
Part of me thinks the world is gone. Whatever happened to stop the temperature rise, to create an abomination of snowfall, and an enormity of this scale…well…it has to be the end.
But it’s not.
We are still here, myself and forty-five others. The thought passes too quickly to stop. My heart crimps. I swallow the lump in my throat. Forty-three others. There are only forty-three now and I will never adjust to that, but I can’t think about it. I can’t blame myself, or anyone else. I file it away, because today, the snow stopped. Today, the sun appeared. It’s the day we find out.
Are we the last ones?
A team of three will set out wearing hand-made gloves, hats, scarves, and snow-shoes. None of which we had at the beginning of this journey. You just don’t need it. Most of winter here is upper 50’s with a rare 30 degree thrown in. But now, everything has changed. Our new clothing items are a necessity. And they may not save us. But we have to try. We have to know…..what’s left.
I head to the stairwell to the fourth floor. I have said my good-byes to all but a few. I have promised to return. I’ve looked into every eye with determination. Seeing the desperation for news. Seeing hope, pain, and longing. And seeing the ones who have checked out. Resigned their situation to nothingness. They will not make it much longer. The fire inside that yearns to live, not only feeds your soul, but keeps you warm. Without it, you freeze. From the inside out.
At our window exit, I turn and take the warm hand of Margaret. I look into her liquid brown eyes. I beam every bit of strength I have into her soul. Be well – my eyes tell her. Remember what we went through – know why we are here. Don’t forget the days trapped in the elevator. Don’t forget how we got free. Don’t forget it was no accident. Keep HOPE alive. She is my friend. She is my family. Our short time has been a life-time. Without a word spoken, I turn from her, yet she knows I am with her.
Next, I grip Davey’s hand. The janitor, the rescuer, and the maker of all winter things. He is the oldest of the bunch at a spry seventy-two. But I couldn’t pick a better man to lead the left behind and continue to keep their fires alive. He will use every bit of his experience and know-how to keep the camp going strong, with resources a-plenty. My squeeze tells him everything he needs to know.
Lastly, I bend down and hug Brendan. The only child in our group. He is six and sharp, and now – well, he is wise beyond his years. He knows where to find water. He knows what water is drinkable and what is not. He can fit in the tiniest of spaces. He is lively and bright, and I don’t want to let him go. I don’t want to leave him. I feel his little back shake. I don’t hear his cry, he is too tough for that, but the silent weeping…….does me in.
For a split second, I want to call off the mission. I want to sit on the floor and just be. No worries. No fears. Just be. Just live what days we have left.
But I can’t. Moving toward the window, I look at my iPhone. Battery dead. I remember what I saw on that screen. The last text message I got.
Took shelter in church basement. We R safe. Girls w/me. Battery almost dead. I ❤ U!
That is why I will go. That is why I will venture into the unknown. Because after fourteen days…. I have to know if they are alive. If I will ever hug their neck and feel their warmth again.
Lander, and Gary have stepped out. They await me, packs, and supplies in hand. They squint at the sun. It all seems surreal. I step through the exit and take my first unbalanced step on snow. My feet sink a bit. I hear the whisper crunch. I can’t look back. There is only forward.