As a part of this week’s writing challenge, I have decided to share a short story written in the style of Nam Le, author of the short story collection The Boat. Not only does my story, titled Twin Towers, include Le’s language techniques such as the use of metaphors and strong context but it is also fitting for today’s 11 year anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York City.
The tower begins to collapse. My left leg is trapped beneath the weight of a grey filing cabinet that toppled onto me when the foundations of the building started to give way. You will be okay, Thomas says. We will make it out of here. Thomas is my work experience employer. It is unusual how much he seems to care about our welfare because in the office he always bosses people around this way and that. Now he is like a parent reassuring a nervous child and a part of me believes that help will arrive in time to rescue us. I see a man climb onto the window ledge. In a single swift movement his body slips over the edge, almost as if he were attempting a bungee jump, and falls one hundred stories down to the street. I hear myself gasp but do not know if it was a gasp of pain or shock or both. I will not jump to my death, I tell myself. I will see my family again.
Smoke creeps in through the vents and clouds my vision like a blanket of fog on an ice cold winter’s morning. I can hear people coughing, trying to stop the black smoke from chocking their lungs. As each minute passes it becomes more and more difficult to breathe normally. I feel weak. My leg is numb. My eyelids begin to close over my blue eyes. Stay with me, he says. We will make it out of here. I want to believe him but I am quickly losing faith in my chances of survival, like a deer in the lights of a speeding car.
I am walking briskly through a sea of people on Wall Street on my way to Tower One of the World Trade Centre. I glance at my watch. It is 8.15am , half an hour before my official start time as a Work Experience student at Goldman Sacs where my mom used to work. The sky is blue and the bright yellow sun casts long, dark shadows between the skyscrapers and the sidewalk. I decide to buy a hot chocolate from a nearby van. I recognise the barista as Corey, another student from my school. I grab my drink and turn around quickly to avoid conversing with him but he catches my attention before I can make my escape. Hey Ash, he says. Hi Corey, I say. Silence fills the air like a show on Broadway is about to start. I check the time on my cell. I should be going.
I arrive in the massive foyer of Tower One. Men and women are dressed in black or grey pin stripe suits, ties and blouses. I too am wearing black business attire that was handed down to me by my mom. She passed away from cancer two months ago. I walk to the grey elevators and ride in its gold-railed, brown-tiled interior to the one-hundred and fifth floor. I look at the clock above the doorway leading into the grey-carpeted office. It is 8.43am. I am right on time. A tall, lean figure rounds the corner and greets me formally. Good morning Miss Parker, he says. He shakes my hand roughly. Good morning Mr Fisher, I say. I have organised a desk in accounting for you. I follow Mr Fisher to my designated workspace. I notice a white airplane flying below the clouds in the distance but I think nothing of it. My office is just over there if you need anything. Mr Fisher points to a polished timber door on my right. Thank you Sir, I say.
There is a loud crash. The floor moves below me. The building shakes. The lights flicker. Everything turns black. Everybody looks away from their computer screens. My heart is racing faster than a NASCAR. I can no longer see the white airplane out the window. Shit, I say. The fire alarm sounds and pierces my ears. My clothes are wet with water from the sprinklers. Mr Fisher bursts out of his office. People hide and scream and run to the emergency stairways. The entire office is panicking. I take my cell phone out of my pocket and dial my dad’s number. He is a fire-fighter with the FDNY rescue unit. If anyone could save us, it was him. God damn it! I say. My phone call went straight to message bank. Ashleigh? Is everything okay? Mr Fisher says. I think I will be okay, Sir. Please, call me Thomas. I promise I’ll get you out of here safely. For your father’s sake.
I nod, too scared to speak. If only I had stayed on 44th St for another minute. Hey Ash, he says. Hi Corey. How is your Work Experience going? I should have said.
I see a woman lying on the grey carpet a few feet away from me. Her face is purple and soaked with sweat and tears. Her bottom lip and chin are stained with blood. I run to her aid and lift a water filter off her neck. She can breathe easier now. You’re my hero, she says. You are a good Samaritan, says Thomas.
There is another airplane in the blue sky. I can feel my heart palpitating furiously inside my chest like a boxer punching a boxing bag. Thomas sees it too. He grabs my wrist and heads toward the stairway. He kicks open the grey door. The railing is broken but the concrete stairs are still intact. Don’t let go of my hand, says Thomas. I won’t, I say.
Don’t let go of my hand, said mom. I won’t, I said. The sky was blue and the bright yellow sun was casting a long, dark shadow behind the Washington Monument over the Reflection Pool. I was fourteen years old and mom was about to start chemotherapy. Isn’t that beautiful honey, she said. Yes, it is very beautiful. We looked at our faces reflected in the blue water. Mom knew I was worried about her. We will be okay Ash, she said. Trust me.
We manage to move three floors down to level 102. There is a window opposite the desk I hide under with Thomas. I hear the roar of another airplane. I see it fly past and crash into the South Tower. Smoke and fire erupt from the building. My heart skips a beat. Son of a bitch, says Thomas.
Fifty-six anxious minutes pass by. I can hear the wail of the sirens of police cars and fire trucks rising upward from the street below. I look out the window. The South Tower is still ablaze. I watch in horror as it crumples to the ground, black smoke and red flames engulfing its grey exterior and turning it into a pile of dust and debris. The Twin Towers are no longer. I spare a thought for all the innocent civilians and emergency personnel who remained inside the building. I pray for their families and I pray for my survival. I am losing hope after witnessing what I just saw.
I stretch my legs out from under the desk and roll my neck. Thomas does the same. Hang in there, he says. Help is on the way. I know he is right but I fear that it will not arrive in time. I fear that this tower will endure the same fate as its sister. I fear that I will never see my father again.
The building shudders. A section of the ceiling caves in and knocks a grey filing cabinet onto my outstretched leg. I scream in pain. Thomas squeezes my hand. You will be okay, he says. We will make it out of here. He attempts to lift the cabinet but it is too heavy. I see an anonymous figure topple gracefully over the side of the building. The room is black with smoke. My throat feels like a green python is wrapped tightly around it. I think I can make out the yellow stripes of a FDNY uniform. I feel myself slip into unconsciousness. A weight is lifted off my leg. I will get you out of here sweetie. Someone clasps my hand for a moment. I am holding mom’s hand in the hospital. Its okay mom, I say. Its okay Ash, says the fireman. His voice sounds like my father’s. My limp body is lifted off the hot floor. More smoke fills my lungs like a cigarette. My face is burning. The floor gives way. It feels like I am falling down a deep black hole. You will be okay says mom. Trust me.
In remembrance of all the men and women who perished on 11 September, 2001