"Liberty"

Author's Note: This is a story I wrote for the "Reflections" contest. I dedicate it in memory to all those effected by the September 11th attacks. - Please be kind and leave a review. -

The air was filled with a hazy veil of dust and falling debris so that it was as dark as a deep midnight sky. Sirens could be heard wailing in the distance, joining an eerie melody of screaming, terrified people as they rushed in a bizarre urgency down the street attempting to avoid the oncoming billow of death. One woman paused only a moment to kick off her high-heeled shoes, uttering a strangled scream as she took up running again, allowing the rocks of the concrete to cut into her bare feet in return for an escape. An elderly man darted in and out of the panicked crowd, hoping to reach the shelter of a nearby coffee shop before the cloud of destruction managed to engulf him. Another man stood in paralyzed awe, his small handheld video camera propped in his palm as he watched the massive building that had once been one of the Twin Towers crumble in a surreal movement before disappearing into the thick, choking curtain of dust.

America had been attacked. No one would ever be able to forget the silhouette outline of the commercial airplane as it slammed full-force into the colossal building, forcing it to its knees. No one would ever be able to forget the gut wrenching feeling they felt when the news that America had fallen under terrorist attack reached them. No one would ever be able to forget the immediate sensation of hopelessness and horror that swept throughout the nation in a matter of hours. No would ever be able to forget September 11, 2001.

The sound of debris falling in a deadly storm ceased a few minutes after the large cloud had claimed its territory and its victims. Everything was perfectly still for awhile as the thick brown-tinted air sifted in and out through the streets in a deadly dance, almost seeming to mock those that had run to escape its presence. The sounds of the sirens were the only things that reached the human ear as, for a simple second, the world stood completely still as though it were holding its breath.

All of a sudden, the sound of a deep cough could be heard. Then a man cried out. A fire truck's door slammed. Booted feet began to crunch along the dirt and grit left behind from the cloud that still clung firmly to the air. Frantic calls were made for assistance. Demands were made for extra cloths to cover the faces of those who had already inhaled a deep lung full of the air. Choked coughs and ragged gasps resounded off the walls of the buildings along the street. Questioning voices came from all sides. Firemen immediately came to the aid of the helpless bystanders who had been trapped in that curtain of death with them.

One man, no one knew quite where he came from, stepped in slow movements through the heavy atmosphere, his deep eyes squinting just a bit as he looked at the destruction all about him. His steps made almost no sound at all, as his long legs carried him in graceful strides across the rubble. A fireman's jacket adorned him, though one could probably not tell due to the thick layer of filth covering his entire body. A handkerchief was firmly held over his nose and mouth, allowing him to breathe a bit easier. He was an older man with disheveled white hair, though he was not to be mistaken in any way as being feeble or frail. As he stood there, amidst all the chaos and mayhem, his eyes took in everything at once.

"Josh, get that oxygen mask over here," cried out one man from where he stooped over a trembling form.

A brave policeman rushed quickly along the street, attempting to reach the site of the accident in order offer whatever assistance might be needed.

Yet another fireman kneeled silently, his head bowed low as he whispered a soft prayer for his wife and children at home, who were probably watching this scene unfold on the television.

Two men stood side by side, calling out orders urgently into their walkie- talkies as they simultaneously handed out strips of cloth to the passing men.

All this the older man watched with a look of pain etched across his face. His stature was rigid as he watched one stretcher being loaded with the pale, limp body of a young man. His heart raced when he caught sight of a uniformed man and woman quickly embrace each other, tears in both their bloodshot eyes, before they tore away to see to their duties. The sound of distant screams and sobs filled his ears when he allowed himself to hear what was happening around him.

Suddenly, a soft voice whimpered directly behind him. "Please...," a deep cough ripped painfully through the air. "Please, help me!"

The man turned to where the voice had come from and beheld the dark silhouette shadow of a young woman lying stretched out on the ground, covered in a blanket of dirt and pieces of debris. Her hand was stretched out to him, beckoning him to come to her. Her entire body racked with an occasional sob or series of coughs, and her eyes were tightly closed.

He moved quickly to where she was and stretched out his hand to touch hers in reassurance that someone was there. "It's okay," he whispered gently, moving the cloth away from his face as he went down onto his knees. "It's okay; I'm right here."

A soft, surprised gasp could be heard coming from her parted lips. "Sam? Sam, is that you?" Her hand reflexively tightened its hold on his.

Sam's eyes widened in shock as he heard her voice, and recognized it. "Yes, yes it's me! Don't worry, it's me."

The young woman gave a sob and brought his hand to her eyes that still remained tightly closed, even though tears streamed down her once porcelain cheeks, tracing a path through the grime. "Oh, why have they done this? Why have they done-?" her cry was broken by a sharp gasp for breath as she doubled over in pain.

"Shh," Sam whispered tenderly in her ear as he brought her body into his arms, cradling her as though she were a child. Carefully he placed the piece of cloth over her mouth and nose so that she would not have to breathe the polluted air. "It's going to be alright, don't you worry." He paused a moment, allowing her to sob against him, looking down upon her with all the tenderness and caring in the world.

Finally, she managed to speak again. "I saw them, Sam. I saw the planes as they hit the towers! I felt every single death course through my body! And I heard-Oh, may God have mercy on us! I heard all the screams of the people as they ran in fear. Oh, Sam, why did they do this to me?"

He pursed his lips, unable to answer that question. He laid his cheek against her forehead, closing his eyes as he took a shallow breath. "Because you are strong. The people who have done this to you fear strength. They fear your splendor and your knowledge. They are afraid of you." His voice became harder as he turned his eyes upward and once more observed the devastation. "But now they shall be more afraid than ever before. The cowards who have done this will soon find themselves being completely repaid. We will prove to them that America is stronger than they shall ever be, and that we stand firmly against any trial."

The two sat there a long moment, both hurting in their own way. They allowed the tears to flow from their eyes and mingle with each others' as all around them men and women rushed about in attempts to save as many lives as could be saved. The dust had not cleared at all, and the distant sirens still wailed on and on. The cries of the people of America had risen in one long chorus of mourning. Even the atmosphere had a numbly painful sensation that coursed its way deep into one's veins and struck the heart of the soul as hard as it could.

After a few moments, Sam pulled back just enough to look down into the woman's angelic face. "Do you think you can stand up?"

She whimpered softly, burying her face against him. "I don't know if I can. I don't have enough will left."

"Now, don't talk like that. America has stayed strong before in times of crises, and this time is going to be no different." With this firm, almost commanding, voice he took the lady into his arms and slowly stood up, cradling her close to his chest. Glancing about with a deadly fire one more time he held his head high and stepped into the cloud, disappearing as mysteriously as he had come.

-*-*-*-

Later, the beautiful young lady was kneeling at the water, splashing it onto her face in order to erase the dirt and debris from where it had begun to stain her skin. Another sweeping upward motion of her hands, and she carefully batted her eyes open, even though they still burned with a painful intensity. Her lovely curls were soaked as well, causing their old color to return to them. The only thing that remained from the traumatic experience were the tears that still rolled down her cheeks, and those would be there for years to come.

"I have to be find my courage once more," she murmured in her soft voice, trying to convince herself of her own thoughts by speaking them aloud. "The people that did this to me may think they have brought me to my knees. But they are more wrong than they have ever been." Her voice was becoming stronger, even though she still felt weak and helpless.

For a long time she watched the once beautiful city of New York, allowing her thoughts and prayers to dwell upon it. Then she turned on a sandaled heel and faced seaward, her eyes blazing with a fiery intensity that came from deep within her soul. Taking up her torch in her right hand, and her tablet in the other, she let a deep breath of the clearing air fill her chest.

"Liberty is ours," she whispered to her unseen enemy and, with a rigid pose of pride and an uplifting of her head, she thrust her torch high into the air . triumphant once again.