The Day the World Caught Fire (9/11)

May 2, 2008
By Faith Stein, Puyallup, WA

The sirens blare in our ears, we were told only two minute ago a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Centers and we are still unsure why. They are shipping us off now, with heavy fire-proof suits and thick hoses. As it stands, we are unsure of what we shall find, and we are frightened.

The fire truck pulls over and we unload quickly. We look up at the clear, blue
September morning and are almost rocked off our feet by what we see. There is a great, gaping wound that scars the top of one of the impressive buildings, smoke poisons the sky, flames lick up the side of the structure. There are people screaming and waling in the distance, some stand in groups speaking quickly in hushed whispers, while some simply stand with hands clapped to their mouths and stare as those in shock often do.

Our captain briefs us on what we are to do, our responsibility is to travel as high up as is possible, put out the fire, rescue those that are trapped and be careful not to destroy anymore then is necessary so as to keep the building stable. We grab the remainder of our equipment and head for the door.

“What a lovely morning to die,” I hear the nearest fireman state grimly. His brow is furrowed, his eyes distant. It’s as though he’s not quite there. “There may still be hope,” but there is no feeling behind my words.

We would have to push our way up the stairs, the tangle of people moving in the opposite direction is almost impenetrable. The stair case seems to go on forever, as we wined our way upward a vague thought hits me: What of the people in the elevators? I turn to speak this concern to my captain who is only a few steps in front of me when I feel a light tap on my shoulder.

“Excuse me sir, could you tell me what’s going on?” An elderly woman with a thick frock of graying hair asks, her voice quivers.

“It was a plane Ma’am, a plane has crashed into the world trade center.”
“But why would they do that?” She looks and sounds like a baffled child who was just told his dog was hit by car.

“I don’t know Ma’am, you really should keep moving.” By this time I have already lost my party and I would have to run to catch up but, as I reach the next landing a cloud of smoke envelopes me and I must stop to pull the gas mask over my head. I tare off up the stairs only to become even more hopelessly lost in the blinding smoke. I hear a
muffed cry for help and forget all about catching up and begin to scramble toward it.

I force open a door and stubble wildly into a disserted office room, curled in the back corner behind the very last cubical whimpers a young girl who could not have been more ten or eleven. She continues to wail as I approach.

I pass one of the many windows in time to witness a second plane crash into the second tower, the whole world shakes on its hinges and I fall to my knees. “God! What is the world coming to?” Swearing loudly I stand and continue toward the girl.

I kneel beside her and gently take her arm, “Please miss, I need to get you out.”
She stares at me with tearful eyes.

“Please!” she moaned, “I’m here with my mama but now I’m lost! Please, I need to find her!” She looks so young and helpless sitting there on that burning floor of a building that is so near collapse I can feel the floor fall from under me. Who could kill so many innocent people? How could such a horrific tragedy be a mire accident?

“We’ll look for her on our way out, now please hurry!” I realized very quickly there was no hope that I could simply lead her out, no I would have to carry her. As I begin to pick her up the door bursts open and my captain storms in. “The building’s going to collapse!” He screams it to all the world, as if I hadn’t already figured that one out for myself. No, this was not the time for ridicule and harsh words.

All I say is, “I’ll be along in only a moment.” He scowls and leaves. I lift the girl into my arms and carry her out. As I reach the landing I see my captain run into the next room. I hear the roof give a momentous grown of pain. “Captain!” The roof collapses in an enveloping cloud with a great sigh of relief and I flee down the stairs.

My mind races and my only thought is escape, I trip over my heavy boots and fall face first down the steps. The girl struggles up with a squeal and presses herself against the side wall. The building gives another great heave. We’re never going to get out of this. I force the thought from my head and turn to the girl. Her eyes are large and blood shot, her face dirty and tear streaked, she trembles there in the corner. Another wave of hopelessness threatens to over take me before the girl says something that forces my body into action.

“I don’t want to die.” Five very simple words. I don’t want to die. I pick her up again and continue on, repeating her words over in my head. Soon, I’m mouthing them and then I’m yelling them as load as my mask will allow me. “I DON’T WANT TO

We are in the lobby now. The building gives another great moan, there is no time, the first of the twin towers is coming down NOW! I drop the girl. “RUN!” I cry and my last fleeting glimpse in this world is a little girl’s shoe as she makes it out the door before the World Trade Center comes down and I am buried in hundreds of stories of cement and sheet rock. But as I die, I have only one request to make of you: remember us, remember what we gave.


“RUN!” It’s the last word I hear before I throw myself out the front door of one of the World Trade Centers as it fall behind me. My last view is of a terror filled street as the people flee away from me before a deafening noise cracks the air and I am swallowed in a wall of ash.

My lungs burn, I am unable to breathe as I lay face down on the hot ground. I am unsure how I came to be here, lying on the street. I faintly remember a man in a smoke mask; he words are quite and rushed. No, he is yelling something and I have the strangest sensation he is dead. His stifled words had followed me out the front door, what were they. I grabble wildly, deep in the crevasses of my mind but they still evade me. I erupt in a fit of coughing and such thoughts are wiped from my head.

I have no idea how long I have been lying here, it feels a very long time but then, maybe not. The cloud is clearing now, I still can’t breathe but I lift my head and rub my stinging eyes to find a world that is certainly not mine. The streets, houses and buildings are all covered in ash the once blue shy is now a soot gray, and there is an earsplitting silence.

I stubble painfully to my feet, there is no color to this new world and everything has the same texture. I began to trudge forward, every once in a while emitting a short yelped “help.” But there is no one to hear me, to be honest, it seems that this new world is completely empty of life. But I continued, on a street that no longer exists.
I have been walking quite some time now, I think, I am having difficulty judging time. There is a ditch bordering the right side of the road and I look down and see a very odd looking statue of a young man lying on its back, I have lived in New York City all my life but never have I seen such a strange statue. As I come nearer I realize with a start that this was not a toppled stone monument but a man, barley recognizable by the sharp upward and downward motion of his heaving chest.

I stand and look at him for a long moment, again searching vainly for the lost words of the man in the gas mask. The man in the ditch gives a shudder, a man made of stone, the stone man. But as I watch him I think how terrible a thing it would be to die alone in the ditch on the hot street of New York City.

I am kneeling by him now. I do not touch him but after a while, I begin to speak. I tell him how this morning my mama brought me to work with her, the planes crashing into the towers, of the man in the gas mask and his last words I can’t seem to remember. My whole body and soul spill out in a slur of uncontrollable words there in the ditch. The stone man’s breathing has slowed since my approach and he seems less tensed. His heart beat gradually grows quite; his body begins to melt into the smoldering soil of the road side ditch. I sit with the stone man as he dies.

They find me some time later, still glued in the same spot, still chanting my half story. Their voices are loud with excitement and celebration that they have found a survivor, for this is the only hope that kept them on their feet. They speak and praise me, reassuring me that all is well, that I will live. But I do not hear them as they strapped an oxygen mask to my face. I have just remembered the dieing words of the man in the building. Yes, that’s it. He had said, “Remember us, remember what we gave.”

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