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The howl persisted an eternal ten minutes, an overpowering wail of wreckage rushing at over a hundred miles per hour. The cloudburst and sleet had ceased, constructing swimming pools in basements where houses had been swept out of existence. Mighty mansions were lowered to the ground, and bricks lay, crumbled and useless. People lay exposed and helpless on the streets. Money had no authority over them-over me. The rich and the poor were one, crying out to each other, desperate for someone’s help, anyone’s help.
Slowly I strived to extricate myself from underneath a tire-size boulder. My vision swam with pinpoints of light and I was covered with bruises, scrapes, and cuts. A small, sharp rock dug into the flesh on the small of my back. I could feel the rubble beneath my head. In my right leg the fibula was shattered beyond repair and my tibia was cracked in multiple places. My already threadbare clothing was ripped and torn.
I drifted in and out of consciousness, sometimes I was stuck somewhere in the middle, able to see, able to hear, but unable to respond. I rarely dreamed, but when I did I dreamed of my life before the tornado, before the wreck. Even the years couldn’t ease the pain that I felt, they couldn’t erase the ever present images in my mind. I should have warned them, I could have saved them, but now they were all gone, Mom, Dad, and Mia. Poor little Mia so small and trusting, but now she was gone. Those were the memories that replayed themselves when I dreamed.
“Mia.” Dad had called “Mia we’re ready to go.”
“But Daddy,” she whined, “I don’t wanna go.”
“There’ll be kids your age to play with.” He replied confidently although he hadn’t been sure who was really going to show up.
“But what if they don’t like me.” She protested.
“Don’t worry everything will be alright,” Dad had reassured her. “Marcus. are you ready?”
“Coming” I mumbled stumbling down the stairs in a rumpled black dress shirt and slacks along with a striped metallic grey tie. “Do I have to go?”
“Yes,” Mom said in a tone that left no room for further discussion. She walked out of her bedroom at the end of the hall in a stunning red dress and her ever present onyx necklace at her throat.
“Whatever Mom.” I grumbled.
Sometimes I awoke crying, at other times I was strangely silent but heedless of my mood the nightmares pressed on.
The small town businesses flashed by us as we sped towards Slumgullion Pass area. Among the businesses were Al’s Cafe and GasCo. I had always loved that name, Al’s Cafe, not that it was particularly famous or anything, but everyone in these parts knew the story of Alfred “Alferd” Packer the cannibal. You couldn’t ever pick out the fact from the fiction in those stories, all that anyone was sure of was that Al Packer was a miner in Slumgullion Pass area a few years after the Civil War and that he was arrested and found guilty of cannibalism. So apparently someone had a sick sense of humor and named their restaurant after him.
It was soon afterwards that it happened, the accident that left my whole family dead save myself. Even today I can’t be one hundred percent sure of what really happened. I remember everything being normal, then the world suddenly turning upside down and then we were rolling and hitting trees. I could feel the car being crushed and saw the glass being shattered. The glass had sprayed everywhere catching Dad full in the face and lacerating Mom’s body. In the back Mia and I were somewhat spared. The airbags had blown, partially protecting us. After what seemed like an eternity the car slowed then stopped, all of its momentum lost.
Dad was crushed and laying limp between the steering column and the leather seat and Mia’s face was frozen in a silent scream. Her little blonde curls were stained with blood. Mom was the only one other than me still alive. She drew in gasping breaths and managed three words “I...love...you...” before her lips brushed my cheek and she let out her final breath. I never found out what had happened to me, for after that I was mercifully saved from this gruesome scene of horror by a wave of unconsciousness.
After these horrid memories I awoke but it made no difference. I still remember Mia’s trusting face and her little blonde curls. I still remember my mom’s parting words and the brush of her lips on my cheek, I still remember...
I pushed with all of my power, summoning every ounce of strength that I could muster but all I received from my efforts was excruciating agony. I knew that no matter how hard I tried, with the last vestiges of strength in my arms and legs combined, I could not budge the rock. All I could hear were the groans of agony and the screams of sick realization as the people found themselves trapped under bricks, rocks, and walls. My voice was among them but, as a wild beast cannot control its blood lust, I could not cut off the screams tearing themselves from out of the bottom of my soul, the screams of utter despair, my death-screams.
Suddenly, I realized the inevitable; I was going to die regardless. A sob was torn from me, but the tears would not, could not come. Pain was no longer a feeling, it was permanent, it didn’t matter anymore if my internal dam broke, the basin inside of me was already empty. Besides, why help me, all I was, was an unknown stranger, an ugly urchin. No one would ever fully understand the story of Mia or for that matter of me, I would die faceless and anonymous.
I heard the roar of an engine. Help had come. Relief flooded through me, then guilt. Who was I to rank my life above the lives of others? A burly African-American ran over to me and leaned over to help. An image of my dead and dying family flashed through my mind and at that moment I knew exactly what to do in order to right my personal wrong. The tears of relief had left tracks on my grimy dirt-stained face but I feebly lifted a finger and pointed to another person, a screaming woman in excruciating pain, and licked my cracked lips. I took a shallow breath and croaked out, in a hoarse voice, two words, the single most painful and selfless words to ever pass from my lips, the whole time remembering my mother’s last words.
“Help…her…” my words were nearly inaudible and I feared that he might not understand me but as I gazed into his eyes I saw something, a look of immense sadness that cannot be put into words. There was a respect there, an unimaginable respect, and I knew that I had done the right thing.
He did as I asked and saved a life, but whether the woman that was saved would know what was done for her or not I did not know, neither did I care. The man came back; and he saw in my eyes that it was too late. So he did what he could, he bowed his head and wept. Never before had I seen anyone cry, really cry. His body was wracked with sobs and the deepest sadness was found in his deep brown eyes. I saw his tears slide down his cheeks, felt them drop to my face, cleansing me, healing me like a magical elixir. Then I saw him stand up shakily and walk over to my leg, and it was there that the greatest act of strength was ever committed. He picked up the boulder as if it were no more than a pebble and threw it away from me, as far as he could, then he watched it shatter into a million pieces.
He cradled my body, holding it carefully as if to shelter it from the world. Then this gentle black giant picked me up and carried me as one carries a child in his arms. He then took me to a stretcher and gently laid me down, his tears still fell to my cheeks like dewdrops from heaven and they remained glistening on my face-a witness to his agony, to his love for someone he had never met. He softly brushed the hair from my forehead and kissed it gently as if I were his son regardless of my color and my grime. That was my last memory and the one imprinted most firmly within me. You see, that was my greatest birthday present. I had just turned 14.