Thu, 25 December 2008 - 11:38 am

Getting up again

There was no Christmas magic to draw us from slumber today.  No filled stockings, no presents, no angel smiling down from the top of a tree.

I was woken up by an earthquake this morning.  Sunlight was bleeding through the dustcloud, so it must have been a little after dawn.  The people around me woke up shouting, ready to panic.  The building above us moaned, its joints creaked, and what few windows were left shattered – someone shouted for us to take cover.  I think it might have been me.

The thunder of it was deafening.  By the time it had rolled itself out and over us, the dust was thicker, the day grown darker.  We picked our way out again; it was like deja vu.  It feels like I’ve been clambering over broken shards of steel and concrete forever; my feet have forgotten what a flat surface feels like.

 

The wind picked up today; it helped to clear the dust load.  Those of us who had taken shelter in the department store gathered in the street and stared as the layers were peeled away from the air.  It looked like the city was sloughing skin.

There was a gap in the skyline.  Not far off, but right here, right next door to where we were sleeping.  One of the skyscrapers had come down – the home of one of the big banks.  The thunder and the shaking were its death-knell.  The restaurant at its base was gone, obliterated – there wasn’t a scrap of it left. 

Some of the injured had been in there.  I remember helping to lie them on the tables.  I remember using torn-up tablecloths as bandages.  Others had stayed there to look after them.  Now thirty storeys of building was piled up on the place where they were sleeping, and it barely came up to my chest.

 

I don’t know what to feel any more.  Standing there, staring at the rubble, numbness crept over me.  I could feel it rising up from my stomach, right up through my chest, and I thought it would choke me if it got as far as my throat.  I thought then that I might just break.

Then someone asked what we should do.  I looked around; it was my shadow from yesterday.  He was covered in dust – we all were – and the dirt was streaked across his face as if he was playing soldiers and this was his camouflage.  He was looking at me for answers.  Me, of all people.  What the hell do I know?  But I could see it in his eyes.  I could see me, I could see that rising feeling, I could see him looking for a way not to break.

I told him the first thing that came to mind: go find us something to eat.  I had hardly eaten a thing yesterday and the dust seemed to be sucking us all dry.  Food and drink; that’s what we needed.  I told him to go check the department store’s café.

He ran off and suddenly I wished that I’d gone with him.  The last thing I needed to do was stop and think about everything too much.  It’s hard enough now, when I’m too exhausted to feel much of anything. 

Then I noticed that other people were looking at me as well, in the same way the boy had.  What was I supposed to do?  It’s not like I have a plan.  I fell back on yesterday – I told them to start looking for survivors.  So we started that all over again.

 

The kid came back with food and bottled water.  Dillon – his name is Dillon.  I stopped and asked him.  When he asked what mine was, I didn’t know what to tell him.  The only person who calls me ‘Faith’ is my dad – everyone else calls me Mac.  I haven’t liked my name since I was a kid, since my mother went on about how beautiful it was, since it became a burden, and an imperative.

I didn’t know what to tell him.  Mac feels like a different person to me right now.  Faith MacIntyre, I said.  My name’s Faith MacIntyre.  What he does with it from there is up to him.

 

Everyone has a face like his, teartracks streaking dust into grey camouflage.  Everyone except me.  I haven’t cried yet.  I can’t feel anything.

I think there’s something wrong with me.

 

I can hear them calling – they’ve found another survivor.  I have to go.

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Thu, 25 December 2008 - 4:03 pm

Hope in a fluorescent jacket

It wasn’t a survivor they found.  It was men, in uniforms.  Blessed official uniforms, chased to us by the flashing lights of fire engines through the fog of dust and smoke.

Oh, the relief.  I didn’t have to be in charge any more, I didn’t have to try to come up with answers to all of this.  The wounded would be able to get real help.  Finally, finally some help, for all of us.

The poor firefighters looked as tired and strung out as I felt.  They’d had to dig out the roads to get in to us, and there still wasn’t room for them to come far into the CBD.  Mostly, they were just trying to get people out and to damp down the worst of the fires.  There were ambulances running their tyres bald trying to transport the injured to the hospital.

So we carried and crutched everyone we had found over to where the roads were clearer, where they could line up for a ride out of here.  A paramedic gave me a few lungfuls from an oxygen tank, and that was heaven; I hadn’t realised how much the dust and smoke had made it difficult to breathe.

I’m not really injured, so I wasn’t going to get a ride out of the city for some time.  Some people started walking, but more were still being found trapped in the rubble.  The firefighters asked for volunteers to stay and lend a hand, and I couldn’t say no.  Maybe the oxygen had gone to my head; I don’t know.  It didn’t feel right to leave when I could help.  Maybe I’m just a sucker for punishment.

 

It felt so good to have a purpose, to have somewhere to take the people we found, to know that they had a real chance now.  To know that we had a way out of this hellish place.  To have someone in charge who knew what we should be doing.

They didn’t have any spare equipment, but one fireman did encourage me to steal a new shirt and better shoes from a store.  They’ll never know, he said.  It still felt wrong, and I hid the labels I tore off, but it was good to have something sturdier on my feet than those silly slipper-shoes.  He helped me make a mask to stop me breathing in so much smoke, too.

He asked me if I’d hurt myself.  It took me a moment to realise that he had seen the dressings on my back, poking out from under my vest.  I’d forgotten completely about the tattoo.  I couldn’t feel it any more, not with everything else that was happening.  Then I felt guilty, because I caught myself hoping that it hadn’t been damaged in all of this.  The city is falling down on top of us, burning itself away in patches, and I was worried about what my tattoo might look like.  What kind of person does that make me?

 

The more time I spent with the firemen, the weirder things got.  There’s something not right about it all.  I can’t put my finger on it – I haven’t ever been in a situation like this before, but there was just… something.  It was nothing they did, nothing they said.

Now that I think about it, it was what they didn’t say.  I don’t know – there just seemed to be something missing.  I need to grab one of these guys and ask.  I have a feeling that I probably don’t want to know whatever it is, but I have to.

Maybe it’s something to do with the losing battle they’re fighting with these fires.  Their hoses only reach so far and the flames just keep popping up, like a disease.

I need to ask someone about it.  But the questions will have to wait.  Right now, it’s time to head up the next street and see who we can find.  Break’s over.  

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Thu, 25 December 2008 - 10:05 pm

The angel

Everything looks so strange; it’s like walking in another world.  I have no idea where I am most of the time.  Going down one street after another, stepping in through what was once a business frontage and right through into the bowels of places that were once private, looking for the signs and sounds of someone still alive.  It’s not the city I knew.  It’s not the city I grew up in.  I used to say that I could walk around here blindfolded; now, my eyes are wide open, but there’s nothing familiar about it at all.

I stepped on the face of an angel today, fallen from its place atop a tree.  Its beautiful wings cracked.  It almost made me cry.

I didn’t recognise the bookstore at first.  I was up ahead of the others, scouting, stretching my legs a bit, and all of a sudden there was a gap in the line of buildings.  The gap was filled with a messy pile of remains, like a pudding that had collapsed in on itself, with the body of a helicopter puncturing the middle of it.  The chopper was crumpled up, like a child’s toy dropped carelessly.  I could just see the radio network logo on its side – it must have been one of those traffic ones that were always buzzing around.

It wasn’t until I saw the shard of the big, un-glowing logo by my toes that I realised what I was looking at.  There was no mistaking that logo – I saw it every day.  It was emblazoned across the shirt that I tore up for bandages yesterday. 

The bookstore’s gone.  All of it, crushed into a scrappy heap.  I knew every person working in that building; I said goodbye to them yesterday, on my way out to lunch.  It had had never occurred to me that they might have been gone.  Everything I’ve seen over the past day has been so alien and strange; I guess I hadn’t thought it could get so personal.  It had never occurred to me that a single stroke could have smote a part of my life so thoroughly. 

And now it’s gone: my job, my future.  And all of those faces are dead, ones I had resented and laughed with and joked with and respected.  All of them, wiped out like condensation on a mirror.

 

I don’t know how long I stood there staring at it.  Dillon appeared at my elbow and said something to me – it was him who saw the hand up there in the rubble.  I saw it move and told him to go get help.  Then I was scrabbling up onto the heap, ignoring the way it slithered under me.  The firemen had told me it was dangerous when it did that.  But someone was still alive in there and I had to get to them.

It was Harry.  I had to heave a chunk of masonry away to get to him, but all I could get free was his head and shoulders.  He was awake, though, and he smiled when he looked at me.  I tried to shift the lump lying on his chest, but it was bigger than a horse; there was no way I was going to move it on my own.

But Dillon was getting help.  The firemen would be here soon, and they’d get him free.  Harry was so pale, though.  So pale and quiet.

I gave him some water and held his hand while he talked to me.  I’ve always liked Harry; he’s gotta be about sixty and only works at the bookstore because he loves books so much.  The managers often complained because he worked so slow, but no-one had the heart to fire him.  He’s the one who talked about having a little store, who infected me with that notion until I wanted to make it my own.  He talked about books as if they were alive and gave me my dream.

He’d come to work at the store after his wife died, made himself at home, and became a fixture.  He was the one who always came to you when you were upset and asked what was wrong.  He was the hand on your shoulder, the good advice and the sage stories when you needed them.  He was everyone’s grandfather, though he’d never had kids of his own. 

Today, he died there in the ruins of the books he loved so much.  We talked while we waited for the others to come, and his voice got thinner and thinner.  He smiled at me and he said that he was old and not strong enough.  He held my hand so tightly.  I tried to be strong enough for him, but I couldn’t help it; I begged him to hold on, to stay with me. 

I cried when he told me that it was all right and sighed and stopped.  He let go of my hand and I couldn’t get him to hold it again.  I curled up over him, but there was no protecting him any more; there was just me, and I couldn’t do anything except cry over him.

 

A fire had blown up between the bookstore and the emergency workers; that’s why they took so long to get to me.  They were way too late.  It wasn’t their fault.  I guess I was too late to help him, too.

I was useless.  One of the firemen had to put his arm around me and help me off the store’s remains.  He stayed with me until I calmed down, and Dillon was there, patting my hand.  They were so patient with me, even though there was so much to do.  So many other people to help, and save.  So many who could still be saved.

I’m ashamed that I broke down.  At least it means I’m not made of stone, right?  It wasn’t until the calls came over, asking for extra hands to get some people out of an upper floor, that I managed to pull myself together again and be of any use.

Now, I’m crying again, as if something broke in me and won’t heal up. 

 

I can’t get that trodden-on angel out of my head.  I can’t believe that it’s Christmas today.  Christmas is a dream that someone else had, a long time ago.

I wish Dad was here.  I wish I knew if he was okay. Matt – I have to see Matt again.  And Amber – she wasn’t working yesterday, she wasn’t in the store when it came down, she has to be all right.  Even Cody – I hope Cody is okay.  He tore my heart out, but I don’t wish him dead.  And Bree and Tarisha.  I hope they made it.  I hope somewhere they’re making it through this.

Peace on Earth is a distant illusion today.  Maybe I’ll just wish peace to Harry, and hope that I see those faces alive again. 

Goodbye, Harry, sleep well.  Merry Christmas.

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Fri, 26 December 2008 - 12:31 pm

Faces

Things are still getting stranger.  I’d like to say ‘better’, but I’m not sure that’s entirely true.  Yesterday’s spurt of hope is tarnishing.

I’m surrounded by drained faces, brushed grey by the dust and smoke, punctuated by coughs.  Rest is something we snatch when we can – it’s dangerous to stop for too long.  Stopping leads to looking and thinking and that’s all too much. 

I have this.  I have my journal, my blog cluttering up on the laptop, waiting for that day when it can finally be uploaded and tell the world what happened here.  I don’t have to sit and look at the ruins around me, at the streak of blood across a shard of masonry, at the hand hopelessly reaching out, or the fire charring up the pages of a book.  I can do this instead.

I don’t know what I’ll do when the battery runs out. 

 

This morning, the faces of the firefighters were familiar.  I’m pretty sure that they didn’t go home.  They’re as faded as the rest of us; sometimes I think it’s only the bright, heavy jackets that make them seem to walk with authority and purpose.

We’re finding fewer and fewer people now.  Not so many under the rubble, but a few more stuck up on higher floors unable to get down.  We keep looking, though.  We can’t not, we can’t leave anyone behind here.

The queue to get to the hospital is only getting longer.  I don’t know when the ambulances last came to pick up – I’ve been so busy helping recover the injured that I haven’t been keeping an eye on where they were going.  When I saw the area this morning, some of the wounded were covered with sheets.  I didn’t look too closely.  I didn’t want to dwell on it, or try to recognise who they were. 

I keep identifying people by how we found them: the guy we peeled out of the back of a bus; the woman whose arm had been trapped under a checkout counter; the kid who got pinned under the big city Christmas tree.  As if all of this has stripped away our names and reduced us to our circumstances.  Somehow, people seem to know mine, though; they call me by it frequently.  It’s almost enough to make me hate it all over again.

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Fri, 26 December 2008 - 3:12 pm

River wrong, fire black

We made it to the river this morning.  It doesn’t look right.  It’s as thick and fast-flowing as ever, but the water… it’s not right.  It used to run beautiful and blue; now it’s heavy with mud.  More than that – the mud seems luminous.  A weird, luminous tanned-shit colour.  It looks sick, and sickening.

I asked one woman what was wrong with it, and she shrugged.  Maybe something broke upriver and spilt unpleasantness into it.  And does it really matter?  It’s not like we can do anything about it from here.

I haven’t washed in almost three days.  I’d do anything for a hot shower and fresh clothes.  I’d do anything to wash my hair.  But I wasn’t going to touch that river water.  Skin crawls uncomfortably over my muscles at the thought.

No-one else seemed inclined to take a splash in it either.  I guess I’ll just have to put up with being disgusting for a little while yet.

 

The fires are getting worse.  The firefighters are trying to control them, but there are too many, too deep into the buildings for them to handle.

Yesterday, the wind was a good thing.  It had mostly stripped the dust out of the city, but smoke has rapidly replaced it.  Today, the breeze is moving the smoke around the city; sometimes we have to duck and wait for great black clouds to pass by, or we can’t breathe.  Worse, the wind is whipping up the flames.

We’ve had to move the injured closer to the bridge, to keep them safe from the roving fires.

 

Wait, something’s happening.  Gotta go.

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Fri, 26 December 2008 - 5:09 pm

Exodus

There’s no water.  The whole system has stopped pumping.  The firefighters spent an hour trying to find an outlet that would work, but it looks like we’re cut off completely.  Even the broken lines have stopped leaking all over the streets.  They don’t have enough hose to use the disgusting river water; there’s nothing left to fight the fires with.

They’re telling everyone to leave the city.  To pick up the wounded (again) and carry them across the bridge.  There’s still no sign of the ambulances.  Everyone’s so tired, but we can’t stop.

My chest feels like it’s going to burst.  There’s so much smoke around, and even the firemen’s air tanks are empty, used up by giving us clean breaths every now and then.  Before this, I never knew how precious just being able to breathe was.

 

I think there are just a few of us left here now.  Me and Dillon (he wouldn’t leave even when I told him to), a few other volunteers, and a handful of firefighters.  Everyone else has been sent out in groups across the bridge, towards the hospital.  We’re taking a break before we do some final sweeps of the CBD, to make sure that we haven’t missed any stragglers.

 

There’s Carter, the fire crew chief.  I’ve been meaning to grab him for ages; there just hasn’t been the time.  Might as well try my luck now.

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Fri, 26 December 2008 - 10:42 pm

The assumption of hope

It’s full dark now, and we’re taking shelter upwind of the fires for the night.  We found four more people as we swept the streets.  Four people and one small, scraggly dog. 

I caught myself thinking that it wouldn’t be a proper disaster movie without a canine companion.  Because the damn dog always survives.

 

This is kinda extreme, though, even for a disaster movie.  I talked to Carter; I made him talk to me.  He didn’t want to.  A part of me wishes that I hadn’t been so insistent.

I asked him why the ambulances hadn’t come back.  They had run out of gas, he said, and they couldn’t refuel because there was no power to run the pumps.  The power is out all over the city – not just the CBD, but everywhere, all the suburbs, everything.

His face wasn’t telling me everything, so I pushed him.  I asked him for what he was trying not to say.  I asked him what had happened, what was going on, how bad it was.

No-one knows.  There was truth in his eyes when he said that; there was no faking that edge of despair that he was desperately trying to stay away from.  They lost contact with the system when the bomb went off; all they have for communication is radios.  Word on the radiowaves is that it’s the same everywhere, even as far as the next cities, passed back in Chinese whispers.

Carter was called away then and he seemed relieved.  He didn’t want to tell me any more.  I wasn’t done, I still have questions, and I almost went after him.  But Dillon appeared with a bottle of water for me and I couldn’t.  The kid shouldn’t hear bad news like that.

 

So we went back to pulling people out of the rubble – people and a stupid damn dog.  Even though we’re not sure if there’s anywhere to take them.  We do it because it’s what we’re supposed to do.  We work on the assumption of hope.

Now we’re bedding down on stolen blankets and broken buildings.  The delusion is crumbling down around us, eaten up by the flames that are crawling through the city’s belly, but we’re going to sleep like trusting children anyway.  I’m too numb to mind.

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Sat, 27 December 2008 - 11:07 am

Power

We still haven’t left the city.  We found a couple of executives trying to climb out of a building – I’m fairly sure it used to be a law firm.  Like the one that Cody works for.  Worked for.  He might still be alive, but the law firm isn’t.  I don’t think he was at work that day, though.  I hope not.  I really hope not.

Anyway, there were these two in suits.  It took us ages to get them out of there.  The woman still had her high heels on, trying to slither over the rubble that had choked up the access to the ground.  The fella had at least got rid of his tie, though he wouldn’t relinquish his briefcase.  He hugged it to his chest as he struggled down, much like the woman was doing with her handbag.

I can’t blame him.  I’ve been carting my laptop around in my bag in much the same protective way, though mine at least slings to my back and doesn’t get in the way.  I have no intention of giving it up for anyone. Writing all of this down helps me, even if it doesn’t help me make sense of any of it.  But it’s more than that. It seems necessary to hold onto it, and I couldn’t say why.

He’s looking at me now, the guy with the briefcase, as if he wants the laptop.  What’s he going to do with it, play solitaire until the battery runs down?  Doesn’t he know that there’s nothing beyond its plastic case for it to connect to any more?

 

There was a strange thump just now.  Something’s humming.  Oh god, I think a light just came on.  The power’s back!  Someone turned the power back on.

 

The ground is shaking.  I can hear metal tearing– oh god, it’s so close.

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Sat, 27 December 2008 - 12:48 pm

Time to go

It was the big hotel.  The one with the shiny glass sides and the huge penthouses.  The blast two days ago put out its eyes.  Today, its guts blew out and the rest of it fell down, toppling sideways and taking out two or three more buildings in the process.

I saw it go.  It was a block away, but so loud that it seemed to be on top of us.  There was so much grace in the way its back broke and bent, swaying its great length down to the ground.  Structures peeled out of its path like petals.  It seemed like something from a dream, or a movie.  A movie with really good bass; I could feel the impact through my shoes.

Then, of course, the great rolls of dust swept on us, all over again.  We ducked and huddled, but there was more than just dust in the air.  We were close enough to catch some of the debris that had been thrown up.

We were lucky not to lose anyone to the concrete hail.  There wasn’t time or anywhere to hide, and it was over so quickly.  It took me  almost a whole minute to realise that I’d been hit.  I don’t even know what struck me. 

I think my arm might be broken.  It hurts so much.  The bruises were awful to look at; they didn’t seem like a part of me.  It’s strapped up now, pinned to my chest.  I don’t want to think about it.  There are others so much worse off – one guy we picked up yesterday lost most of his face to a  fire, and we’re sure that another lady will lose her leg when we get her to the hospital.  There aren’t any more painkillers for anyone.  I can’t complain, really.

 

Can’t type much with one hand.  We just paused to regroup; the others are tending to the injured.  It feels strange to be classed as one of them.

The fires are worse.  Broken wires are sparking and setting things off.  The firefighters think it was gas piping in the hotel.  The blocks northeast of us are a wall of flames; that’s where the bookstore was.  Helicopter fuel, maybe.

More explosions.  Time to go.  We have to get out of here.

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Sun, 28 December 2008 - 9:21 am

The flight

Yesterday feels like a dream.  If there wasn’t an ache radiating out from the bones in my arm, I might wonder if it was real.  I should have written this last night, kept it fresh, but I was so tired when we finally stopped.  We just found a place we could all fit inside, slid down onto the floor, and stopped for the night.  Dillon used my lap for a pillow.  I don’t even remember him settling down there; I was asleep so quickly.

 

After the hotel came down, we only had a little time to recover.  We patched up what injuries we could, but the explosions were getting worse, and closer.  Broken gas lines turned into fire spouts, angry dragons at every turn.  We had to pick each other up – literally in some cases – and run for it.

Another building came down.  Or two; it was hard to keep track.  Carter shouted at us to just keep going, not to stop.  The impacts were so close, though – I was knocked off my feet by one of them.  It was hard to see, and we had to keep calling out to make sure we didn’t lose anyone.  Ripples of coughing voices calling out names in sequence.  Sometimes the sequence faltered.

I kept seeing pictures of the First World War in my head, of men going up and over the top and just running towards the enemy.  It’s so crazy, but they did it anyway, because they were told to, because they had to.  They just ran through the bombs and the projectiles whizzing around them, through the smoke and the fog.

There was no enemy for us – just the city falling in on itself and trying to take us with it.  The enemy was the skyscrapers teetering over us, the ground under our feet, the muzzles of broken pipes, the choking air.  All we could do was run, clambering over debris and broken city.  Those of us who could clung to someone else on the way.

We didn’t stop until we got to the bridge, and then it was only to fall to a walk.  The great glowing beast was at our backs, flinging structures at the ground and glaring fire at us.  We could feel the bridge trembling under the pressure and that made us hurry on.  I’ve never been shaking and running at the same time before; I was so tired.  The firemen chivvied us on right to the other side, and I joined in when they ran out of breath. 

 

We lost four people getting out of there.  No-one’s sure when or where.  A couple of the guys wanted to go back, but none of us were in any state to do that.  Not even them. 

Of course, the fucking dog was fine.

 

There’s shouting outside; I better see what’s going on.  What do they mean, there’s something wrong with the sky?

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