Her long brown hair danced as she bounced her head to the beat of the song; ear bud cords met the hair in a tango and her handbag swung with the rhythm of her step. Car horns were blaring in the street, and people were shouting all around her, but she didn’t care – she couldn’t hear them. Her world of sound was filled with music as she made her way through the crowd, letting it roll off her back as she hummed with the tune.
Nothing could spoil this day; after all, it was such a glorious day! Everyone hated the overcast sky and the cruel autumn wind – they said it ruined the holiday spirit – but she didn’t think so. She didn’t see it that way at all. Where everyone else just saw dark and gloomy clouds, she saw tiny pinpricks of light, little beams of sun that made the glass buildings sparkle like towers of gold. When everyone else pulled the coats tighter from the bite of the wind, she unbuttoned hers all the way and loosened her scarf, letting the breeze seize her in its brisk embrace. She found herself smiling at the thought of it. Today was a beautiful day.
Nothing could spoil this day. She was on her way to see a dear friend, a friend she hadn’t seen in years. She wondered what he would think of her. She pulled out her phone to check the time – 2:00pm – she still had time; half an hour ‘til his train arrived. 30 minutes ‘til he was there.
Vibrations pulsed in her palm.
Surprised, she almost dropped it, fumbling it in both hands – “Watch it, lady!” – “Sorry!” – before seizing it in one. It was a text.
A text from him.
The crowd surged forward around her.
She had stopped.
Would he be happy to see her? Would he think she was still pretty? Three years was a long time, after all. She wasn’t even dressed decently –she was still wearing her scrubs! School had just let out for the holiday and she had run straight from there to here. Her hair was a mess too (she tried fixing it before she left, but there really was no hope – and the wind wasn’t helping either). What was she thinking? He couldn’t see her like this – she looked like trash! But she didn’t have time to get ready. Surely he’d understand. She was rushing to see him, after all. She hoped he would still think she was pretty.
The autumn breeze kissed her face.
Stop it! Happy thoughts, Emily, positive thoughts! She took a deep breath. You look great, you are great, and he’ll still think you’re pretty. He is amazing, and he’ll think you are too. Let’s just get to the subway. Everything will be fine.
She unlocked the phone.
“Almost there! Can’t wait to see you!!! :D”
She nearly squealed with joy! Invigorated by his text, she pushed her way through the freezing mob, trotting out of sync with her music. But she didn’t notice. She was marching to the pounding of her heart.
“Finally!” she exclaimed when she saw the subway entrance approaching; it looked like a drain and the crowd was water getting sucked down. Clutching her bag, she held her breath before making the plunge. The sun blinked away, replaced by fluorescent light bulbs in the descending staircase. The flow of the crowd pushed ever downward, never slowing until they reached their destination.
At last she stopped. She was here. Now she just had to wait. 2:15 – fifteen minutes!
Fifteen minutes and she’d finally get to see him again. Fifteen minutes and she’d have her arms around him, holding him tight, and his would be wrapped around her. Fifteen minutes, and today was going to be the best day ever.
2:30. No train. No worries, sometimes they run a bit late.
2:40. Maybe they’re doing some maintenance.
2:45. Something is wrong. Maybe I should text him. She pulled out her phone.
Dangit! Stupid AT&T. She never got service in the subway, but she had hoped it would work this time. Something was wrong, she could feel it. The crowd was getting antsy – they must have felt it too. People were beginning to shout at the non-existent train, complaining at its absence. She turned around and headed back to the stairs. She needed to get out of here. She needed to get out and call him, to see if he was okay. Pushing her way back through the increasingly agitated mob, she climbed her way back to the surface. The sky had grown darker. The clouds cramped out all the little pinpricks of light, and the wind had picked up. A storm was coming. She felt herself shiver in the cold.
Her phone vibrated in her pocket. Please let it be him!
2:25 – “The train stopped. Not sure why. Must be having tech problems. Text you when we move.”
2:35 – “Still not moving, but the guy who checks the tickets said everything is fine. Should be moving in five minutes.”
2:45 – “And we’re finally moving! People are pretty upset, but we should be there soon. :)”
Emily glanced at the time – 2:55. Where was he? And how soon was soon? Frustrated, she turned around and started back down the stairs when she heard the sound.
The whole ground shook from the force – she had to grab onto the rail to keep from falling down. Piercing screams shot up the stairway. Oh, God, what was that?! She felt the adrenaline surge through her body. Fight or flight, fight or flight, fight or flight. Ignoring her panic, she stormed down the stairs, pushing past the screaming people as they ran to safety. She had to get to him. She had to see if he was okay. He had to be okay. God, let him be okay! She jumped down the last few steps and froze.
Hell had ruptured on Earth.
Overloaded, her senses raced to take everything in, swimming in a sea of chaos. The first thing she noticed was the train. It had arrived at the station. That meant he could have got off the train – he could be safe! And then she noticed the giant gaping hole that was blown out the middle of it. The metal was melted and curled back, ripped away by the concussive blast; black smoke billowed out from the raging fire inside, an acrid fountain of burning flesh and plastic. She gagged at the smell.
And then she saw the bodies: arms, legs, torsos – they were all blown to pieces, littered with shards of glass and metal. They had painted the pillars a shining crimson that glistened in the firelight. Looking up, she saw bits of flesh and bone sticking to the ceiling like sprayed on texture. The sight made her stomach flip.
Then she heard the screams. She had ventured further into the station, and screaming people were still running past her, but these screams were different. They were the screams of those on the verge of death, crying out of sheer terror, trying to hold on to their last shreds of life, the pain driving them mad. Walking in a daze, she tripped over something and fell onto the floor, splashing in a pool of blood. Holding back the vomit, she scrambled to her feet and turned to see what she had tripped over, and wished she hadn’t the instant she saw him.
It was a man with no legs.
She never thought she’d see amputees outside of her medical books. It was horrifying. She stood there, staring at him, when she noticed that his chest was moving, just slightly. Up and down, up and down. My God, he’s still alive! Adrenaline flooding her veins once more, she jumped into action. She couldn’t just leave him to die. She was a medical student. This is what she was training for.
“Hey, hey, hey,” she called to him, bending down next to him. “Stay with me.” She pulled of her scarf and stretched it out. “What’s your name, huh? What’s your name?”
The man muttered a single word.
“Roger? Your name’s Roger?” She tied it around each of his bloody stumps.
He nodded his head yes.
“That’s a great name! I love that name! Stay with me, Roger.” She pulled the scarf tight, and was relieved to hear him groan. She crouched over him, her face right above his. “That should slow the blood-flow,” she told him, putting her hands on his cheeks. He gripped one of them in his own. “Listen to me, Roger. Roger? I have to go.” He squeezed tighter. “I’m sorry, but I need to go find my friend. He could be hurt, like you, and I need to help him. Okay?” He didn’t let go of her hand. “Roger, I promise, paramedics are on their way right now. You’re going to be okay. But I have to go. Please, let me go.” She felt his grip loosen. She pulled her hand free. Crouching lower, she kissed him on the forehead. “You’ll be okay,” she whispered. He nodded his head. Nodding back, she stood up and smiled, and then she walked away, leaving him to his fate.
“Lord, be with him,” she whispered, “and help me find Jeremy!” Calling out his name, she wandered around the station, praying he would answer back. People all around her were moaning and crying for help; none of them were Jeremy, but still she cried out his name. She didn’t know how long she’d been down there, in Hell, but she knew time was running out. With all her might, she screamed his name: “Jeremy!!!”
Emily froze. Nobody called her Em but him. “Jeremy?”
“Jeremy, I’m here, where are you!”
“I’m… train… help…”
She ran as fast as she could toward the train.
She stopped in her tracks. Turning around, she saw him. “Oh my God, Jeremy!” She collapsed on her knees and combed back his bloodied hair with her fingers. “Jeremy…” He was sitting next to one of the pillars nearest the train. The sight made her cry.
One of his legs was twisted backwards at a grotesque angle, and one of his arms hung limp next to him, broken; his clothes were tattered shreds and his face and hands were badly burned, but that wasn’t even the worst of it. A giant hunk of metal was lodged in his abdomen, pinning him to the pillar. He was losing a lot of blood.
His ice blue eyes pierced her as he tried to roll his head over, his voice ragged and worn. “Em…”
“Don’t move, Jeremy,” she cautioned, cradling his head in her hand; his burned flesh felt raw against it. He moaned with protest, but he didn’t try to turn his head again. “Don’t worry, I’m right here,” she choked out the words between sobs. “Everything’s going to be okay, okay? I’m going to help you.”
Mind racing, she flipped through the mental pages of her medical books, remembering what to do. “We’ve got to stop the bleeding,” she told him, her head darting back and forth, surveying her surroundings, “but I don’t have anything to…” His good arm reached up, and his hand grazed her cheek.
She went numb. For what seemed like an eternity, he stared into her eyes, her quavering, tear-filled eyes. And then he smiled. She expected him to be sad, or angry, or upset, but he just smiled. His ice blue eyes danced with joy.
Tears rolling down his ruined face, he moved her head closer to his and whispered, “You are so… beautiful.”
Smiling through tears, she reached up to hold his hand, but before she could reach it, it slid off her face. She picked it back up.
It was cold.
Heart pounding with fear, she gripped his hand, praying he would answer, but he never did. He just sat there, his ice blue eyes looking into another world, smiling at how beautiful she was.