I just had to go calm the girl down. She started wailing, and when I went over, she had a piece of glass in her hands. There was a lot of blood. She can’t be more than fourteen, fifteen. She’s patched up now, and quieter. I made her promises, I told her we’d be okay. I have no idea if I lied to her or not. It just seemed like the thing I should say. It’s so dark here.
I don’t know how long I stayed under that table after the world fell down. Until it had gone quiet, and then a little longer. Just in case, and because I couldn’t quite believe that it was over. The ground was finally steady under me and it was so quiet that I wondered if I’d gone completely deaf.
The air was thick with dust and I had to feel my way around. As luck would have it, I had made it to the hardware store – after a bit of searching, I found a flashlight and a fistful of batteries. That helped a little.
By then, I could hear people calling out. I found one or two, and then realised that I’d stumbled outside. There were patches in the gloom where fires had started up, mixing smoke in with the dust. I couldn’t see more than a few metres in any direction, and honestly, that was too much sometimes. It was enough to see the bodies of those who hadn’t made it to shelter, sticking out from under the buildings’ fallen rain.
It was almost worse when they weren’t dead. When I thought they were and then they moved. I could almost ignore them if they were just dead, skim past them, but after the first one moved, I couldn’t any more. I had to look at them. I had to start checking pulses and breathing. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving someone alive behind. Oh god, their faces. I don’t want to think about their faces.
We dug out everyone we could. Of course we did. Anyone who could still move and function lent a hand. It’s all such a blur now. Scrabbling at glass and rubble, trying to find a way around the fires, checking the injured, trying to stop bleeding. My hands are a mess.
I did a first aid course a year or two ago to get a stupid little certificate, so somehow I ended up in charge of our butchered version of triage. I never wanted that kind of responsibility. I was supposed to just make people still and safe until the real help arrived. But today, I was it – just me and whoever I could rope into helping me out. Applying pressure, tearing up shirts for bandages, lying people down, keeping the guy with the head injury awake, lifting feet above the heart; that’s about as much as I know. I lost my overshirt somewhere in all of it.
I have no idea how long we kept doing that. There was always another person who needed to be helped, always another voice calling for help. At one point, someone came around with bottles of water and packets of potato chips, and told us to take breaks in shifts. I was quite happy to do as I was told – I felt like I was being held up by a thin thread, taut and thrumming.
Once I sat down, I didn’t think I would be able to get up again, but I did, and I carried on. I don’t know how. I just couldn’t not. There was just so much that needed to be done.
Some of the more mobile survivors went off to find help. Only one or two of them came back, and it wasn’t with good news. They said that the smoke and dust were everywhere, thick grey fog for blocks. Each street told the same story – dust and debris, the injured and the shocked. One of them went all the way down to the river, but there was no hope there either.
I kept expecting the shock to set in. It hit people all around – they sat and stared into space, or wept, or wailed. But I wasn’t allowed; people kept expecting me to do stuff. Look at this, help them with that. There’s this one lad who has been on my heels since just after I crawled out of the hardware store; he kept asking me what he should do. So I kept giving him jobs. Look for this, go fetch that, see what that person wants, try to find a high place above the dust to see if there are any lights coming.
I have no idea what his name is. He’s sleeping a little distance away – I can see his feet from here.
There weren’t any lights coming. No sirens, no engines – no sounds at all apart from crying and wailing and groaning and buildings shifting their weight. And the tumble of rocks and glass as we try to find those who are still alive.
The sun went down a while ago; I could only tell because it got even darker. We kept going until it was too dark to do anything. Then we just found somewhere to collapse, somewhere indoors where the air wasn’t so heavy. And now I’m here, writing this. I’m getting blood on the keyboard.
Isn’t anyone coming? Don’t they know what’s happened here? Where are the ambulances and the firemen? Where is the army? Why are we so alone right now?
We need help. I can’t do all this on my own. Why isn’t anyone coming to help us?