They were in absolute awe, staggered and stammering, “Who is this, anyway? He calls out to the winds and sea, and they do what he tells them!”
Friday, July 20, 10:57 am
A face emerges from the gloom. It’s dust-caked, with sweat and – is that blood? He is young, at least 10 years younger than me, maybe more, and he’s wearing some kind of heavy jacket, a backpack, and leather work gloves; he can’t be much taller than me, although I am rather tall for a woman, 5’9”, and despite all the clothes he looks slender and fit. His short, curly hair sticks out in all directions, also covered in dust and spiking in strange directions, so coated in filth I can’t even make out what color is. It looks dirty blond, but everything looks dirty right now. His eyes are hard to see in the light but they’re definitely not dark, and what I can see of his face, which is mostly covered with some piece of fabric, has this firm, resolved, set look that barely hides some other emotion: Fatigue? Anger? I can’t read him.
My first feeling is disappointment. This isn’t the cavalry charging in to save the day; it’s just one guy here on his own, probably having no idea what to do and making this up as he goes, and he’s way too dirty to be a white knight. For just a fleeing moment I’m sorry I even said anything when I heard him calling, but then I remember that I need him to get me out of here, and once he’s done that, I can always make my own decisions, call Michael, call Shane, call 911, and generally get back to real life.
“I’m Daniel,” the man says, and his voice sounds dry and kind of croaky through the dark cloth.
“I’m Rachel.” I don’t bother with any other pleasantries but get straight to the point. “Can you get me out of here?”
The man, Daniel, has been examining the exterior of my car. “There’s a fucking Hummer on top of your car, partly up on the roof,” he tells me, looking up and off to the right. “It’s bent your car frame all out of shape, and it’s going to be damn hard to get you out of there. Let me look at this…” He starts to walk away.
“Hey, don’t go anywhere,” I call, or try to call, but I’m thwarted by more coughing and dust.
Daniel reappears, peers closer at me. Whatever he sees seems to alarm him, because for a second I see the lines around his eyes tighten and he draws in a hissing breath. “OK, Rachel, how about if we get you cleaned up a little bit, and I’ll make you a filter, so you can breathe without sucking in too much more dust.”
“Fine, but I really need to get out first.” He doesn’t seem to understand that I’m on the verge of passing out from being so squished in place. “You don’t get it, I can hardly breathe, I’m – I’m –” suddenly my chest is heaving, as much as it can, and then it’s dark.
Rachel’s passing out is probably the best option for her at the moment. I can clearly see she’s pretty well crushed between the driver’s seat and steering column, certainly has multiple broken ribs and god only knows what kind of internal injuries. The shit she’s been spitting out doesn’t look bloody yet, although it’s hard to tell color with all the dust and filth everywhere, but her eyes had a glazed look, her pupils weren’t the same size, and half her face is obscured by a flow of drying blood that has been coming from some kind of head wound I can’t make out through all her hair.
Getting her out of here isn’t going to be a walk in the park, but I’m wondering if we can somehow cut away part of the driver’s seat to make enough room for her to wiggle out. Other options include manhandling the driver’s side door open to let her slide out sideways – not an easy option – or…I’m not sure what else at the moment.
But first, I’m more concerned about this Hummer sitting there idling on top of Rachel’s remarkably stout little Honda. I cautiously clamber up towards the Hummer’s driver-side door.
“Hey, anybody up there in that Hummer?”
No reply. I can’t imagine what could have happened to whoever’s driving this monstrosity; they’re almost literally in a tank, even if it is one of those H3s that pussies drive, and they’re on top of nearly everything. I can’t really make out the other side of the car, my view is almost all the bottom and undercarriage, so something may have happened up top that I can’t make out from this angle. Whatever, it looks like I’m going to have to try to get up there and turn it off myself. I don’t fancy clambering on top of Rachel’s car, which is already in pretty bad shape and I am astonished that she’s alive at all. My adding another 151 lbs probably won’t help anything.
I’m standing there, puzzling about exactly the best way to go about this, when I hear an old man calling from up the tunnel: “Hello, where are you? Anybody around here?”
I also hear the sound of movement over the debris, somebody banging into car parts and generally trying to do the same thing I did, which is get through this shitfield without breaking, lacerating, or otherwise additionally injuring himself.
“Over here,” I call, “Look for the Hummer, its headlights are pointing off toward the ceiling, keep coming over this way…” I keep up a steady patter and cautiously move around Rachel’s car in the general direction of the other guy’s voice.
A few minutes go by and we’re still talking, the guy’s still coming my way and I’ve started moving his direction too, but keeping a bead on the Hummer and Rachel’s car so we can get back to extricate her somehow. I still haven’t totally figured that plan out, but with another guy to help me, I’m pretty sure we’ll come up with some workable, if questionably safe, solution.
I’m reminded of boot camp. We always had to do these crazy things like try to crawl under barbed wire through six inches of mud, fully loaded, of course. Back then it was hard. Now, lugging 279 lbs around on joints that are a good 60+ years older than when I was in boot camp, this is nearly impossible. I need a little encouragement, so I call out, “Hello, where are you? Anybody around here?”
Immediately a man’s voice replies, “Over here. Look for the Hummer. Its headlights are pointing off toward the ceiling. Keep coming over this way.” I pause from my scrutiny of the area immediately around my legs and look up and around, my neck cracking as I do so. I’ve been hunched over for a long time, trying to peer through the interminable dusty air to see hazards right in front of me. It’s been: Get over this pile of debris, now get around this car – yes, the driver is inert, you can’t help, keep going around, all right, now between these two cars… I’m feeling every minute of my years, but I keep going, because there’s nothing else to do.
The man keeps up a running patter that helps me know where to look. When I locate the headlights streaming off into the darkness, I realize I’m not that far from him. Thank goodness. Those headlights are like beacons and I can get there from here.
“I’m not far from you,” I say. “I’m coming from the east, near the south wall.” I keep talking, and he keeps talking, and suddenly a figure looms out of the mist – I mean dust. It’s so like fog, except my eyes haves started burning and tearing up, and that never happened in real fog.
I can’t make anything out beyond his silhouette and a bright point of light that must be a flashlight. Thank goodness he’s better prepared than I am – my little Maglight will work for a long time, but it’s inadequate for these conditions.
“I’m Paul,” I say, stretching out my hand. We shake. His hand is gloved in gardening gloves, and I envy him. My hands have stopped stinging from the gasoline, but they’re covered in dust and grit, which has worked its way into some of the cuts, and they’ve been bleeding pretty constantly as I’ve had to use them for clambering up and over things and feeling my way across shattered glass and sheared metal. His glove comes away with a blood handprint on its palm. He looks at it.
“Hi Paul, I’m Daniel. Your hands aren’t in such good shape.”
“No, when my car crashed they somehow got sliced and diced, and it’s been a challenging journey over here.”
Daniel pulls off his gloves and offers them to me. I hesitate, and then decide not to be stupidly proud, so I take them. They’re too small. I return them reluctantly, disappointed but resigned.
“I’ve got some water and cloths we can use to clean off your hands and wrap them up, at least protect them from here on out.” Daniel begins to take his backpack off.
“Hold on,” I caution. “Let’s not waste water on my hands. I can live with them. Some cloth would be good.”
“OK, well, if you can hold out a little longer –” I snort, rather derisively, and Daniel seems to take this as assent. “Then I suggest we get back to the Hummer. There’s a woman in the car underneath the Hummer who needs help getting out.”
“Sounds good. When we get there I can wipe my hands and wrap them up.” I can just make out the curt nod of Daniel’s head and then he turns around, heading towards the beacon in the dust.
We make our way back over the rubble, me following Daniel because he’s moving with surety that comes from having covered this ground before.
Well, fuck. This guy is old and fat and flabby looking, and I really wanted – I really need – a fit young guy to help me out. But he seems tough, he’s not complaining about his hands, which look sliced to hell and are bleeding all over the place, and come to think of it he made it here from wherever his car was, so that’s not bad. He made it out of his car at all, that’s good too.
The guy, he says his name is Paul, gotta remember that, Paul. Anyway, Paul’s looking pretty battered. He’s moving slowly, favoring his left arm, but he also has some kind of bundle with him, and he’s wrapped his mouth and nose up to protect himself from the dust, so he’s thought about this a bit. I just don’t see what he’ll be able to do when it comes to the kind of physical exertion we’re going to have getting Rachel out.
The upshot is that, I clearly won’t be standing on his shoulders and he won’t be much help wrenching the door off of Rachel’s car.
The trip back to the Hummer is easier than the trip out there. I know what worked and what didn’t work, and now I can avoid all the big chunks. On our way back, I think about what I could make out of Paul, besides the fact that he’s old, well overweight, and beaten up.
He looked like he was maybe in his 80s, sparse white hair, couldn’t see much of his face and his eyes were all squinted up and watering, much like mine, but his face looked like it would be saggy and jowly. This dust is caustic. He had some kind of light windbreaker on, but it was pretty cut up and tattered; lightweight slacks, equally filthy and tattered; and he was kind of stopped over. I glance behind me and sure enough, he’s hobbling along using his hands to steady himself as we go over obstacles.
Well, what’re you gonna do? He’s what I get, so gotta make the best of it. Have to find some way to protect his hands.
We’re almost back to Rachel’s car, in a gap between two vehicles that lets us actually take a couple of normal-sized steps, when Rachel’s voice pierces the gloom. “Daniel? Where are you? Oh, I knew this would happen, now I’m on my own, you can’t trust kids these days…”
“Right here,” I call, squashing a surge of irritation. Kids? I’m fucking 37 years old, and if she wants to get out… Well. You don’t have to like civilians you’re helping; you just have to help them.
“I thought you left,” came her voice, squeaky and breathless but at the same time roughened by all that filth she keeps inhaling. We have to get her mouth covered, or this dust is going to do real damage. I hear her coughing and spitting out gobs of dusty shit. “I just have to get out of here, Daniel, you don’t understand. I can’t breathe.”
“I know, I understand,” I try to soothe, but I’ve never been that good at reassuring women. They seem to sense that I’m not really that trustworthy, their feminine intuition or some such gives them a warning to steer well clear of me. “I brought help,” I add, glancing back at Paul. He’s bent over double, leaning on his elbows against the side of a mostly-smashed car, breathing hard. Great reinforcements.
“Oh thank goodness,” Rachel says, as we approach. “I was afraid that you weren’t actually part of the first responders for this thing, whatever’s happened, I don’t actually know – but if I can just speak to the man in charge, I’m sure…” I’m standing next to her car now, leaning one forearm against the partly-crushed roof, and Paul comes up next to me, leaning on the other side of the window. Rachel’s voice peters out and she coughs again. “…oh.”
The disappointment in her voice is perfectly clear. I understand that feeling, all too well, but here we are, and we’re going to damn well make the best of this situation.
“Rachel, this is Paul,” I tell her. “Paul, Rachel.” Paul nods, almost a bow, and says, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Rachel,” and for his trouble receives an extremely skeptical, suspicious look from Rachel. She isn’t the pleasantest woman.
The woman trapped in the car looks terrible. Her face is covered in blood and dust, and tear tracks have made little clean channels down her cheeks. Her eyes are crusted with filth and she’s continually blinking, an action we’re actually all doing because this dust is simply awful. She looks alarmingly flattened against the steering column, and I wonder what Daniel’s thinking.
“Sure could use some heavy tools,” I comment dryly.
Daniel glances at me, and for a second doesn’t catch that I’m joking. I feel that if you can’t joke during an emergency, you’re doomed to a life of misery and darkness. Then his eyes crinkle around the edges in a way I associate with a smile, and he nods shortly. “Damn straight. But what we’ve got is –” and he makes a sweeping motion around us. “I also have a knife.”
I purse my lips thoughtfully, and then realize he can’t see that beneath my filter, so I say, “Hmmmm.” Looking around, I see some rebar that has been wrenched from somewhere. “We could try to use this as a lever,” I say, indicating the rebar.
“Yeah, it might be heavy, but actually I was thinking we should get that Hummer turned off before it kills us.” I glance up and finally internalize that the deep, loud rumbling noise is coming from the monstrous vehicle perched atop, and partially crushing, Rachel’s little sedan.
“Goodness,” I say, not having any other better response at the moment. “Yes, that definitely seems like a good idea. I imagine if you went up the other side, maybe through the passenger side door…”
Daniel glances at me sharply. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” he replies, and his tone is also sharp. “The whole thing could roll right off Rachel’s car and squash me in there.”
“Fine, what’s your better idea?” I ask, yielding to a momentary surge of irritation. If I was younger, you can bet I’d be up there in no time flat. This isn’t advanced rocket science or something; we just have to turn off an engine.
Daniel is looking around, clearly trying to come up with something. This is when I realize that somebody’s going to have to be in charge here, and I’m the best qualified for that post. Otherwise we’ll waste all sorts of time with committee meetings trying to reach decisions by consensus.
“Listen, Daniel,” I say, stepping up to him as he’s still looking around at the “tools” at hand. “I think I have a pretty good idea of what to do in an emergency. How about if you let me take point, here? That way we’ll make decisions much more quickly.”