General Fiction posted September 15, 2022

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A Contest Entry

Not A Cloud In The Sky

by Faith Williams

Stepping out my front door this morning I noticed the cool air on my skin. Emerging from the shade of my house, the warmth of the sun made me smile and take a deep breath and release it. For I knew before I looked. Still, I scanned the vast blueness above me as I walked to the mailbox. Not a cloud in the sky.

A familiar feeling washed over me as I stepped out of the shadows and into the sunlight. Memories of another beautiful day crowded my thoughts. A day when it seemed like Mother Nature smiled upon you. A day when it seemed like the world was full of possibility...

Released from my early morning shift at work, I walked outside to head home. Since I only lived two blocks from work, I walked when the weather was nice. The air temperature was perfect with low humidity. As I walked up the incline to return home, I raised my head to greet the sun and feel its warmth on my face. Spreading out my arms and closing my eyes, I thought, what a gorgeous day! Slowing my pace to soak in the day, I smiled at the brilliant blue that stretched before me. Not a cloud in the sky.

Arriving home and entering the house, I prepared myself some breakfast. Maybe I'll take Drew outside this morning before I need to return to work. The phone rang, and I answered it, "Hello."

"Do you have the TV on?" The voice on the other end belonged to my future father-in-law. I was taken off guard by his lack of greeting.


"Turn it on." His voice had an ominous tone to it causing the hairs on my neck to stand up. Turning on the television, I tried to make sense of what I saw on the screen.

Both World Trade Center towers were already burning when I turned on the television. As I watched the replay of the second plane hit the South Tower, the impact jarred me. Thick, black smoke poured from the towers. A camera shot closed in on survivors hanging out the windows on the upper floors. My heart constricted in my chest wondering if it was possible for them to be saved. The towers were so high, the smoke so thick. Some of the faces of the individuals were so clear I wondered if their family members recognized them. I attempted to shake that thought from my mind.

Ron hung up with me only to call back a few minutes later. He worked as a security guard at an auto auction and did not have access to a television, only a radio. While I was on the phone with him, a reporter in Washington D.C. stopped talking. "The ground just shook here," he said as he began turning his head searching for the source.

"The Pentagon has been hit," came the confirmation. I relayed the information to Ron wondering how many planes 'they' had.

"They hit the Pentagon," he said to his co-worker. Then, "They hit the Pentagon?" in a more subdued voice.

This time he stayed on the line. As more information came in regarding the Pentagon, the FAA announced a total shutdown of the airspace over the United States. All planes needed to land at the nearest airport.

The news now went from New York to D.C. At the time the coverage was in New York, and a large cloud of dust billowed around the South Tower. "They're saying it fell! Did it fall?"

"No, it didn't fall. The tower is still there," I said, exuding confidence in my answer. The camera angle showed only the dust, and I thought the tower was hidden within it. Then they switched camera angles. I inhaled sharply, my eyes widened, "No, it's not there," I whispered.

"What? What did you say?"

"The tower is gone. It's not there." I felt my heart drop to the floor. Unable to say anything else, I stared at the screen in disbelief. Covering my mouth, I wondered, how many people were still in that tower? How likely was it that the other tower will collapse?

"Oh," Ron was quiet on the line.

Then the cameras panned to the view from ground level of the South Tower collapse. People ran as a huge cloud of dust and debris barreled down the street. Only a few minutes passed before an announcement that a plane went down in a field in western Pennsylvania. Because of the location, it took some time for a camera crew to get to the site. When the footage of the area played, it looked like nothing like a plane, only a crater in the ground.

By 10:30 a.m., the North Tower also collapsed. It was not as much of a shock, or maybe I was still in shock. Another huge cloud of dust and debris overtook those people on street level. When the dust dissipated somewhat, everyone looked the same grey color. Sounds of screeching beepers filled the air; later a reporter explained that when a firefighter doesn't move for a set amount of time, a beeper sounds, so that fellow firefighters can locate the one not moving.

From the time the North Tower was hit to the time it collapsed, less than two hours passed. Two hours. I'm not sure at what point I ended the phone call with Ron. Feeling numb and dazed, I recall staring at my three-year old son playing, oblivious to the cataclysmic events that just occurred. I wondered what kind of world he would inherit, one where hatred drove people to fly planes into buildings full of innocent people.

Driving my son to my mother's house, I went back and forth between disbelief and anguish. My mother watched my son so I could attend an in-service for work. With my co-workers, we car-pooled to the in-service, listening to the radio during the drive. I remember nothing about that in-service, I couldn't even tell you what the topic was. All I remember was that I wanted to be home. Attempting to remember the rest of the day following the training, I draw a blank. My mind seems to have erased those memories to make room for the events of the morning.

In the following days, weeks, and months, the timeline of events was filled in. Reporters told us who did it and how they achieved it, but I don't dwell on those facts. My memories are of the stories of lost loved ones. Last conversations and the messages left on answering machines. First responders walking up those stairs. The brave decision of the passengers of Flight 93. Sounds of bagpipes and the numerous funeral processions. Casket upon casket. When stacked atop each other, the number of caskets would be as high as four of the World Trade Center towers. That's staggering. Even when I thought I couldn't bear to hear anything else, I watched story after story because sometimes people simply need you to just listen. So, I honored those who died by listening to their stories.

Today, on this gorgeous day, I continue to honor the memory of the dead. I close my eyes and allow the sunlight to bathe me in all the memories of that day: all the horrific sights, the sounds of anguish, disbelief, and terror, the kindness of strangers and the heroic deeds of everyday people, stories I know and the ones I don't, all the emotions of helplessness, disbelief, horror, anguish, shock, and despair. When I feel overwhelmed by the thoughts of that day, I open my eyes to the beautiful blue stretching above me. Not a cloud in the sky.

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