September 11, 2001. 10:50 a.m.
The air was heavy with blood, panic and death. It sparked around me, tingling my senses and intriguing my mind. I felt it spread down my throat with every breath I took, gripping my bones and trailing to my heart. With every gasp that swept my mouth, the more panic stricken I became. With every shattered door I climbed through, the more blood seeped from my veins. The more tired my legs became, I felt like I was coming closer to death.
I jumped over various obstacles. Broken desks, demented chairs, unrepairable technology. I never jumped over a body; not that I had been paying attention. My mind protected itself by distorting anything that resembled a body into a burning fern plant, or food that will never feed the hungry.
It was chaos. Every paper was ash, every phone line burning, every pen, every printer, every white board. Everything. The fire was all around me, inside my mind and body. It burnt through my veins and clung to every drop of sweat. It pushed me harder, further away from the war, anger and hate. Further away from my death.
I remember seeing the aircraft before it hit. The large windows on the thirtieth floor usually occupied with the scenic view of the outside world. But this time it played host to our nightmares and future screams. I remember hearing everyone stop talking, laughing, debating. Breathing. You could have heard a pin drop. I wish we had. Instead, we all listened in our terrified bubble, waiting for it to be burst by one of the most violent pressures.
And burst it did.
The building that I had worked in for seven years shook with our violent screams, which were louder to my ears than anything else. I felt all the blood drop to my toes, and my mind slowly fold in on itself. The building shook. Windows exploded in a thunderstorm of glass and noise. The force of the impact threw men and women through the shattered glass, out into the air and then down towards their death.
The tower was rocking, shuddering with pain. Siren music filled the halls and water joined the rain of glass, pounding to the rapid beating of our hearts. Burning our gaunt skin into consciousness. The water roused everyone from our tragic sleep long enough to realise that the building was swaying, burning and decaying quickly.
That one thought raved through everyone's mind, giving us the push that we needed to move the cinderblocks that had become our feet. It felt like I was being hung over a bridge, every possible weight hanging from my body, with nothing but one of my hands to try and pull myself up. My eyes stung from being for too long, and I shut them with the quiver of my muscles.
I breathed in, and then bent over, retching out the McDonalds I had indulged myself with for breakfast. It seemed like such a trivial thing now; awarding myself for my success for completing one of the hardest projects I had ever been assigned. I had been so proud. I'd been many things three hours ago.
Now? Now I'm just running.
Running and sweating. Running and jumping. Running and dying.
Run, run as fast as you can.
I've managed to get down four floors with little trouble. A cracked step here, a hurdle there. I persevered through the anger, cursing and blood. But the only thing that really kept me going was the adrenaline. What will I do when that runs out? I balked and stumbled a bit with that last thought, falling to my knees.
I laid my stinging palms out before me, and rested my weight on top of them, letting out a small cry when I felt the sting run up my arms. I felt a weight on the right of my chest and looked down to see my name tag still hanging from my shirt. I ripped off the offending material, trying to be as weightless and light as possible. It landed a few feet from me, and began to burn.
I watched my name bubble as the hot element burnt the plastic. Artemas LeFold slowly burnt into the ground, leaving nothing but another putrid smell behind.
My mind raced back to when I had asked my mother about my name. I had been curious as to why she had given me a name that would surely get me beaten up in high school. She had just smiled when I voiced my thoughts, brought her hand to my cheek and gaze at me with her grey eyes, full of knowledge and love.
"Artemas Ballard LeFold. You should be proud of the name you received."
"I know… I am! I just… Why that name?"
My mother smiled through her cracked lipstick. "Artemas means safety. Ballard stands for bravery. And LeFold is the name that graced your forefathers. I want you to be safe when I'm not there to hold you. And I want you to be brave when I finally leave this world."
Shame swept through my body, rattling my taunt muscles. My Mother gave me that name because she had faith in her aged heart that I would live up to it. She put thought and love into every part of my life. She had worked two jobs to get my through high school and build up a proper fund for college. She protected me from the horror that my older brother had become, a mouthy drug dealer who stole money from her.
But she always loved us. She loved us through all our crap. She loved me when I was fourteen, angst ridden and annoying. She loved me when I was seventeen, stressed and experimental. She loved me when I blew up in my brothers face, in front of his prison peers. She loved me through it all.
And by running away, jumping over the helpless bodies of my co workers, doing nothing to help anyone around me, I had shamed her. I didn't deserve the name she gave me, I didn't deserve her.
When was the last time I had even called her?
And then I was running again.
My eyes were sharper now. I could make out the little cracks on the wall tiles, the blood spatter on a cubicle wall, and the very limp, loudly sobbing body of a woman laying in front of the door that would take me down another couple of floors.
I never slowed as I made my way towards her and swiftly crouched at her side.
Her words were sewn together with an unknown language as she frequently rolled words off her foreign tongue. The woman's skin was olive toned, and her raven black hair wore a crown of blood. She had multiple cuts and abrasions on her arms but they didn't look like they'd kill her. What I was more worried about was the odd angle her left leg had taken. Do they usually bend that way? Was she double jointed? A circus act? She clawed at her thigh in pain.
The woman's sobbing continued, and she kept speaking in her birth language. She kept repeating the words "Mi pierna!" over and over again. I guessed that she was mourning over the broken bone of her olive toned leg, though I couldn't be certain. Checking the front of her body, I saw that she didn't have her name tag on.
I heard a crash behind me, and turned to see that one of the once mahogany over head fans has lost its last lingering life, and had crashed to the ground roughly. Before I could turn back to the broken woman at my feet, a heard a deep voice grumble out a curse word. A large man tumbled out of the dusty hall way to my left, coughing into his arm whilst trying to remove his flaming jacket.
He stomped roughly on the ashy velvet, still coughing into his sweaty arm. His eyes went wide when he saw me and the woman, the obsidian depths of his eyes swirling with emotions no one could describe. They sparked like fireworks, flaming along with the jacket at his feet. His eyes flashed to me, hands hovering over the broken leg of the dark haired woman. If I hadn't already been on my feet, I would have surely fallen to them with the sneer he sent me.
"Did you do this?!" He roared in his deep gravelly voice.
My eyes grew wide at his deadly suspicion. "What? No!"
"Get away from my sister you son of a--,"
I was over the broken body before he could finish his expletive.
I heard wild sobs all around me, and I felt my chest thumping harder and harder. The sobs were getting louder, and no matter how much I covered my ears, they wouldn't go away. It was only when I felt the salt water leak through my eyes that I realised the sobbing was coming from me.
Hysteria swept into my mouth as I breathed in the debris all around me, choking my oesophagus and straining the tendons in my neck. The weight of what had happened was crashing all around me, every brick wall I had built to keep my emotions at bay crumbled to my feet. Tears were streaking down my cheeks as I pushed my legs harder and faster.
I needed to get out of here. I needed to. No matter how much I wanted to stop and help every person I saw, every person with a broken limb, every person that I knew and worked with. But more than anything, I wanted to survive.
I wanted to get out of this swaying building. I wanted to see my mother again. I wanted to reconcile with my father, and I wanted to start a family. None of those wants could be achieved if I wasted my time worrying about people who don't even know my name.
The colours around me blurred into a rainbow as I focused my eyes on nothing but the doors that would lead me down a flight of stairs and take me down another level. Closer to the ground, further away from demise.
I could feel my legs bash against multiple objects, but I never stopped long enough to feel the pain caused by my careless footing. My knuckles were white and my veins pulsing. The white hot fire of adrenaline burnt through my body, racing around in my sweat, hormones and blood. It was my fuel, my drug. It kept me going. It was the only thing I cared about.
It was what pushed me down the final flight of stairs. Through the thick smoke of fire, over the bodies broken under the beating fire, through the shattered glass doors and down the cement steps.
In the past, I usually protected my eyes from the blinding sunlight, but now I bathed in it. I let the heat wrap around my limbs, soaking into my pores. It was like a tight blanket, protecting me from a harsh winter storm.
There were bodies everywhere, debris littering the sidewalk. Cinderblocks and beams blocked medics passage. The smoke veiled most of the beautiful sunlight, choking my euphoric hysteria and swirling down my throat. The once smooth road was now crunching under my pounding feet, and I nearly collapsed into several potholes.
The world had never looked more beautiful.
I could hear voices around me now, and it was only when I felt the stinging in my knees that I realized I had collapsed. A flashing red light caught my eye before I let the black veil of unconsciousness creeping into my mind.
Only one thought raced around my mind, the only thought that had the ability to bring a smile to my face in such a terror filled scenario. The thought I'm going to keep with me for the rest of my life. It's what I'm going to share with my mother, and family with pride.