100 Themes Challenge, Minot Edition: #3
THEME: 3. "Making History"
STORYLINE: D Is For Damien storyline, Minot spinoff series, pre-Magic City or Magic City prologue (unwritten novel)
RATING: PG-13 (violence)
WORD COUNT: 2000+ words
SUMMARY: The character? Det. Justin Reichert of the NYPD. The setting? A nice, sunny, Tuesday morning in Manhattan, September 2001. I think that's all the plot summary that's needed. Regarding the theme "Making History," here Reich is more like taking part in history, but seeing as how in my storyline, his character gets quite a bit of press afterwards, I guess this is as good an illustration of the theme as anything. This is only a bit of what he did that morning. Please note it's likely rife with inaccuracies. And if you enjoy it, please see "Milk Cartons" for even more of Reich's story, told from the POV of his boyfriend, Matt.
DISCLAIMER: I am not seeking grammar/style/publication critique for this item; I'm not trying to get published, and am content with my writing style, and just wish to entertain others. Feel free to point out errors that aren't just a matter of style preference (e. g., typos). Comments and questions on characters, plot, etc. are more than welcome. All characters, unless otherwise stated, are copyright © tehuti/tehuti_88. If you wish to share this item with others please send them a link.
The cry was so thin, so easily lost amidst the barrage of other noises, that of course it was easy to miss. So when he jerked to a halt, nearly stumbling and falling over what he assumed--hoped--was a piece of concrete, he shoved down the brief flare of indignation that so many people, cops and firefighters included, could be running around and yet nobody else had even heard it. Like so many other random thoughts that morning it was quickly stashed away and forgotten. He craned his neck and started looking around for the source of the cry but it was nearly impossible to see anything by now. So all he could do was start jogging blindly, dodging sideways whenever a shadow loomed out of the dust and ash and flying debris, other people coughing and bleeding and crying and gasping as they stumbled away from the chaos he was heading into.
He had to stop more than once merely to swipe the back of his wrist across his eyes, trying futilely to clear away the gunk that clogged them; his hands were as filthy as the rest of him by now. Nothing was clean anymore. Everything was the same uniform shade of gray, including the air, and as if just realizing this he started hacking violently, suddenly unable to catch his breath. He hated having to pause just to regain it, but it was necessary in order to move on. It finally occurred to him to yell--"Where are you? Shout again!"--but of course, there were various shouts in response, and then shouts in response to those, so he ended up stumbling blindly again.
He'd already helped out several other people. It didn't occur to him to leave, himself. He was still trying to process what he'd seen when the smoke had first cleared enough to look up, the inexplicable void in the sky, the void that made no sense. He filed it away to think about later. The more he ran and stumbled around the more surreal and dreamlike it all seemed, so that he forgot to even be afraid, as if wondering when he might wake up and what would be the first thing he would see. Just as he thought this, he halted, and again started hacking violently into his arm. The noises he let out alarmed him; he'd have to check in with a doctor once this was over. Now that he stopped to think about it, he didn't think he'd locked his apartment door on his hurried way out. And surely his family and Matt would be wondering where he was by now, especially since he'd told all of them he had today off and was going to sleep in. Were they calling him now? Wondering why he wasn't picking up the phone? Had he left the balcony door open, too? And the TV on? He thought he had. So many things he'd neglected to do that morning. It didn't occur to him to ponder how bizarre this stream of thought was, considering his current circumstances; it was merely what flitted through his head, and then was buried under a hundred other things. Something smacked the ground some distance ahead of him and he felt something warm spatter his upraised arm; he jerked back with a hoarse gasp, ignoring the chorus of cries that arose from the people running around him, and started running again himself, holding an arm up over his head even though he knew it would offer not nearly enough protection in case another one of them came tumbling down at him.
His legs felt like they were on fire and could give out at any moment. He couldn't believe how loud his breath was in his own ears, audible even over all this chaos around him. Yes, he'd definitely have to see a doctor. He wondered how difficult it would be to get to a hospital what with the streets as messed up as they were now.
"Help! Please! Over here...!"
The same voice as before. Reichert stumbled to a halt again, pivoted on one heel, and changed direction--just in time to avoid getting hit by a small hunk of something or other that cracked into the littered asphalt before him. "Where?" he shouted as loudly as he could, hoping the right person would answer this time. There didn't seem to be nearly as many people around him anymore--all the yelling and sobbing and screaming was ebbing further and further away--so this time, when just one voice answered, he made for it as fast as he could.
"Over here! Over here! Please!"
"Where--? Keep shouting!"
"Here! You're getting closer, I can hear you! There's something on top of me!" The pitch of the voice--a woman's voice--changed and when it did he abruptly halted and changed direction again. "I see you! I see you! I'm over here! Here!"
He raked his hand at his eyes again, still trying to clear them, still racked with coughs. He was about to yell at her to keep shouting when her voice came from directly in front of and below him--"Oh my God! Thank God! Please help me up! Nobody could hear me!"
Reichert coughed into one dust-caked hand and blinked furiously, eyes streaming, trying to take in the situation. The smoke and dust cleared long enough for him to see her--part of her, at least--and he quickly took in the details that she was lying prone on the ground, her upper body free, but a heap of broken and shattered debris half-burying her legs. Judging by the way the smaller bits shifted when she wriggled, it could easily tumble away if she were to attempt crawling out, but a narrow metal beam or bar of some sort lay atop it and was just heavy enough to prevent her from freeing herself.
"Hold on," he said, his voice barely a croak by now, and kicked several larger chunks of concrete and twisted metal aside. "You hurt at all--? Your neck, your back--?"
"N--no, I don't think so. I think I can walk. I don't hurt much or anything. Just--this thing on my leg--!"
"Hold on. When I lift, you crawl out as fast as you can, okay?"
Reichert took just a half second to cough once more before clambering over the foot of the mound of debris, bracing himself against it for leverage. He reached out and grabbed the bar to pull it up--he doubted he could hold it aloft for long, or toss it loose, so he would have to make this quick--but he hadn't counted on just how hot the thing would be.
He dimly noticed the woman jerk in surprise when he yanked his hands away from the bar, hissing in pain, white-hot tendrils of it promptly shooting through his palms. When he lifted them to look at them, he saw that they were smoking, the skin of his palms seared through almost to the bone. He could see bits of his own skin sticking to the metal bar before him. His stomach felt like it did a somersault; he had to swallow dryly a few times and shake his head to regain his senses. Although it was pure agony to do so, he peeled off his jacket, grimacing the entire time, and managed to wrap it around both hands. He ground his teeth and snorted through his nose to avoid whimpering at the feel of the cloth meeting his scorched flesh, but by now, the pain was so exquisite that it almost didn't even hurt anymore, and his head felt almost as if it were floating, detaching from his body. He grabbed at the bar again before he could lose his senses. This time he was better prepared for its weight, and managed to shove it up and back enough so that the woman, digging her fingers against the pavement, finally dragged herself out, shimmying along the ground like a soldier in training. Reichert let go of the bar and turned his head in time to see her stumble to her feet; she glanced at him, her eyes wide, the only parts of her face that were clearly visible beneath all the ash and grime. He jerked his hands at her--"Go on! That way! Go!"--and without another word she pivoted on one heel and then was gone. Reichert grimaced again, bundling his wounded hands against his chest, and started staggering after her, his strength nearly spent. He allowed one dry sob to escape him--that was all.
He lost sight of her quickly. He didn't care. That meant she was going fast, so he could stop thinking about her. He began coughing afresh, hacking brokenly, his breath heaving so much he nearly lost his balance; something cracked against the ground a few feet beside him and he hissed at the feeling of flakes of concrete embedding themselves in his leg. This was impetus enough for him to pick up his pace, but only for a few more steps, before he had to stop and bend over double, wheezing and rasping at the ground. He didn't know what direction he was headed in anymore, and could barely breathe or see. Maybe he should look for a fireman. A fireman would be able to help him out of here. Then he could sit down, inhale some oxygen, rinse out his eyes, drink some water, have someone see to his hands, get all the most important stuff taken care of before they could take him to the hospital and from there he could contact his family and let them know he was all right, and then call Matt and tell him to stop worrying, which he would surely be doing by now simply because that was just the sort of person he was--
He couldn't have described the sound had he tried. It started out faint, but quickly grew louder, overwhelming, coming from every direction, though he knew, somehow, to look up. The screaming and yelling started again, further away from him, but he barely noticed it above that other sound. It was a racetrack, a subway, a tornado or a hurricane; an enraged roar or a howl of wind or the sound of the world ending, he didn't know, he just knew he'd never heard anything like it before. The smoke and ash and flying papers cleared just enough for him to see again, albeit dimly. There was still that strange void in the sky. He hadn't imagined it. Even stranger was the fact that another void was opening up just beside it. What had been standing and smoking, looming over his head the entire time he'd been running around dragging people out of rubble, was getting shorter, and getting closer. He dimly realized what the smacking-thudding sounds he heard interspersed among all that howling and roaring were. The image of pancakes being stacked on a plate flitted absurdly through his head and then, like every other thought that morning, disappeared in a puff of smoke.
He stared stupidly up at this spectacle for what felt like hours. Gravity seemed reversed; dizziness swirled through his head at the thought of skyscrapers that could bend so, but it wasn't bending, yet it was getting closer. He felt his foot move before his brain could even tell it to do anything. Even as he started to run, he couldn't tear his eyes away from the sight. Some tiny part of him thought that this must be the most amazing thing to see so close, to live through, to tell about, that at first it didn't even occur to him that he might not get the chance if he didn't start moving.
The thought occurred to him at last. He tore his stare away from the descending building and forced his feet to fly over the scattered debris faster than he'd ever run in his life. The burning in his lungs, in his hands, didn't even register anymore; all that mattered was the roaring chaos over his head and at his back, and the promise of safety or shelter somewhere, anywhere, ahead.
He tripped and nearly fell.
It didn't matter anyway. Tons of concrete and steel and glass consumed him and swept him from sight as gray turned to black.