Eli felt it all coming down around him. The cinder blocks, the glass, wood and dust fell about his feet as he hid beneath his desk. The desk was surprisingly supportive and provided Eli with good cover. He was a little ashamed of himself for being so hard on his desk in the past. It had strong metal sides and a top material that seemed to be taking all the falling debris like a champion.
Eli tried to look out at all the chaos around him but couldn’t see much due to the dust and papers drifting and swirling in front of him. He’d been wishing for years that the damn building would fall down but never thought it would actually happen. It was one of those childhood pipe dreams, like a tornado hitting school the Sunday before that big Monday exam that he didn’t study for. He knew it was impossible but still sort of wished for it. Just like his building. He didn’t want to be there.
The debris fall started slowing and Eli could hear the sound of electrical lines crackling and sparking in the distance. He was sure something toxic was burning and filling the air with something terrible. The freight train sound of the falling building gave way to the distant wails of ambulances and emergency vehicles. Eli kicked some debris away from the back of his life-saving desk and tried to poke his head out.
The first thing that got Eli’s attention was how bright it was. The sun was shining brightly filtered by the dust still swirling in the air. Eli thought to himself that it was odd that this event would happen on such a nice day. He started to lift himself off the ground and stand up amid the destruction around him. He turned back to look at his faithful desk. The left side had been pretty solidly crushed by a huge chunk of concrete but where he managed to crawl under, toward the middle right, was completely unscathed. He knew it was a damn miracle.
He felt something on his right arm and found a decent scratch on his bicep. It was bleeding lightly but certainly wasn’t a mortal wound. He tried to move forward but the ground beneath him was littered with so much building debris that he couldn’t get a good foothold. He called out to the violence around him if anybody was there. There was no reply, or at least, there wasn’t one he could hear. Eli was quite sure the noise of the collapse had temporarily caused him to lose his hearing. He stumbled up and over his old desk and tried to move toward where he thought the staircase might be.
There was a small fire blocking his path and Eli didn’t like the color of it. The flames were sort of a sickly green color and smelled like sulfur. Eli’s imagination conjured up images of hell and his likely damnation for all that teenage masturbation. Who knew God was so serious about that? Eli turned back toward his desk and thought maybe he could get a better vantage point if he stood on top of it. Maybe the view would be better. It was still pretty hazy from the smoke and the particles in the air.
Eli stood on his desk and looked about. He coughed a little as he tried to catch his breath. He started thinking about surviving this only to die of black lung later. He put the crook of his elbow up over his mouth and then strained his eyes as he scanned the world around him. He felt that his equilibrium was coming back and then realized he was probably in shock and that’s why it was so difficult to move about. He blinked hard to clear his mind and then looked back out over the wreckage.
There was a huge swath of destruction before him. It looked as if the whole block had been obliterated. Fires and sparks exploded out from the husks of the other buildings in the area. Eli could make out the strobes of emergency vehicles in the distance but he couldn’t see any people. He suddenly felt an urgency he hadn’t noticed before. He had to find people; to see if they were okay.
He climbed down and started stumbling his way toward the emergency vehicles; all the while checking the ground around him for any signs of life. He thought of Molly from reception who had finally expressed some interest in going on a date. He thought about Craig who had joked with Eli that morning about all the cocaine that was probably in their coffee. He thought about Connie who was just a little too fat for the outfits she would wear to work. He then remembered Robert, his boss, who had told him something about a news report.
Eli suddenly couldn’t remember what Robert had told him. He could remember walking past Robert’s office door and seeing Robert staring up out the window. Robert had said something out loud but Eli couldn’t remember what it was. In fact, there was a lot Eli realized he couldn’t remember. He stopped walking and looked up at the sky. He squinted against the sunlight. The sky was clear, deep and blue. The only clouds were the columns of smoke billowing up from the carnage on the streets below.
A voice called out from Eli’s left side. It was weak but Eli was pretty sure he heard it.
“Hello”, called Eli.
“Help”, responded the voice.
Eli hurried toward the voice and saw an arm flailing about from a pile of rubble.
“Hang on”, shouted Eli as he started throwing debris off and away from around the arm. Eli pulled the rubble away and found a young woman face down. Eli moved quickly to move the debris away and turn her over. She was bleeding from her forehead and might have lost an eye. She reached up to him and touched his cheek with her free hand.
“What happened”, she asked.
“I don’t know”, said Eli.
“Did we win”, she asked.
“I didn’t know we were playing”, said Eli.
The woman tried to sit up but she was too weak so Eli pulled her up close to him and tried to stand her up. She finally came free from the remainder of the debris around her and she collapsed. Eli lifted her up over his shoulder. He didn’t know if she had just died or had passed out. He didn’t know if he’d just killed her by hefting her up. He did know he was glad to find another person and that he wasn’t completely alone.
Eli continued to trudge closer to the emergency vehicles flickering in the distance. They hadn’t seemed so far away when he started walking, and now with the added weight of this girl on his shoulder they seemed like a million miles away. He crunched and tripped his way forward, stopping every so often to catch his breath. He was certainly not in the best of shape and maybe the adrenaline was wearing off. He knew from all the National Geographic shows he’d watched that the most dangerous time after an accident was when the adrenaline started to wear off. The body would get tired and burn out quickly. But he knew he couldn’t rest for too long. He checked his shoulder passenger and she seemed to be breathing. That was enough to reinvigorate his purpose and continue moving forward.
The ruins around him were staggering. The buildings Eli knew and had worked around for years were now piles of dust or sagging half-buildings. The streets were cluttered with mangled cars and I-beams and large sections of destroyed buildings. Eli imagined it must have been like Warsaw looked like in WWII. It certainly did look like a war zone. But Eli didn’t remember if they were at war or not.
Eli arrived at the remnants of an intersection and saw an ambulance. Its lights were flashing but it was silent. There were no paramedics around that Eli could find. He worked his way toward the rear and tried the back doors. They opened and Eli suddenly realized it was probably the third or fourth miracle he’d experienced that day. He stepped up in to the ambulance and was able to lay his unconscious passenger on the gurney. He started checking the drawers and cabinets for water. He was terribly thirsty and was sure his female friend was as well. He found two small bottles of water and greedily chugged one down. He then poured a little over the forehead of his companion and washed away some of the dirt and blood.
He eye wasn’t gone but it was badly damaged. Eli wasn’t sure if she lived it would ever work right again. As he continued to clean her face she started to come to. He breathing was ragged and sharp and it worried Eli that he’d broken her ribs or maybe punctured her lung while she was on his shoulder. She turned her head and hacked up a huge phlegm wad and spit it onto the floor. She then took a deep breath and the rattle Eli heard was gone.
“Can you hear me”, he asked her.
She nodded slightly and tried to reach up toward her face. Eli held her arm back and calmly held it down.
“My name is Eli and I’m not going to hurt you. You’ve been hurt but were in an ambulance and I’m trying to help you, so I just need you to stay calm and still”.
The woman nodded again and relaxed her arm. Eli continued washing her face.
“Water”, she said.
Eli helped her sit up a little and gave her a sip of water. She continued to drink for as long as Eli would hold up the bottle to her lips. She apparently was just as thirsty as Eli.
“Can you tell me your name”, asked Eli.
She nodded again as she continued to drink. She looked up at Eli with her right eye and Eli fell in love with it. It was a one of the bluest eyes he’d ever seen.
“I’m Carrie”, she said.
“Nice to meet you Carrie”, said Eli.
He helped her lay back down and she closed her beautiful eye. He found a gauze pad some bandages in a box near his feet.
“Carrie, I’m going to put a bandage on your head. You have a pretty decent head injury and I think the bandage will help”, said Eli.
“If you think so Eli. Thank you”.
Eli gently placed the gauze pad over the wound on her left eye and wrapped it as carefully as he could. Carrie hardly made a sound. When he finished he found himself admiring her bravery. He put the first aid box down and glanced out the dusty ambulance window.
“I’ll be right back Carrie. I have to look around and see if I can find out where everybody went”, said Eli.
“Where they went”, she asked dreamily.
“Yes, I can’t find any paramedics or anybody around. I won’t go far. I promise”, said Eli.
Eli opened the back door and the landscape from hell re-entered his focus.