The ashes fall around me like snow falling on a Christmas night. The sky is a cool grey and the only sound I can hear is the urgency in my sister’s voice as she counts; One, Two, three, four, five, her voice comes out louder as she pushes down on mom’s chest, “Breath goddamnit” she yells. Behind me is the candy store I used to go to, I look inside the window that read Penny Candy in bright red letters now shattered with only small wrappers of candy left behind. I was there about a week ago, or a month ago, I’m not sure anymore we’ve lost track of the days since it all happened. There’s a crushing sound beneath my feet as I walk through the hole in the door way. I stand inside looking at the wall frozen, the sound of my sister’s voice fades into the background, “Hey kid how about some candy?” Old Willie yells from the back wall where he’s restocking Hostess snacks, “We got in you’re favorite this week Swedish fish, isn’t it?” I look up at the old man’s wrinkled face, his cheeks more sunken in then the last time, his tee shirt hanging underneath the apron he wears. “I have to be home soon Mom’s making my favorite tonight and if she knows I’m eating candy I’m in for it.” I yell back at him, “I’ll take five Swedish fish please.” Willie comes over to me rubs his hand over my hair that mom always complained was too long and says, “How abouts we make it ten for the price of five, but don’t tell the other kids then they’ll want extra candy and I’ll go out of business” he laughed, winks his eye. As I reach over to grab the bag of candy I hear the sound of my sisters voice again, “Jake come on I need you’re help, help me get mom up!” I look over to my sister and my mother, who is sitting up now holding her throat with one hand and my sisters face with the other, I look back towards Old man Willie and he’s gone, “Jake come on!” “I’m coming I yell.” I run outside of the door towards my sister and my mother. Her arms reach out for me as I get close enough to hold her again.
When I was younger my father used to tell me stories, each of them had their own moral I guess and Mom said that she learned these stories when she was a kid too. One story was about this chicken who ran around talking about the sky falling, “he’d run around like some big idiot”, dad’d say, “making a fool out of himself screaming about the sky falling.” He pointed up at the sky, “you see that?” “the sky?” I asked, “Yeah, the sky and it aint ever going to fall, wanna know why?” “how come?” “’cause God’s up there holding it up and if it did fall none of us would be alive to tell the tale.” He laughs as he inhales his white cigarette and blows the smoke above his head forming his own clouds, “So don’t you run around telling people the sky’s fallin ‘cause not me, you, or the chicken, not none of us except God are ever going to be able to predict that day.”
I remember that story now more than ever. Mom always said dad had a weird way of telling stories, but I believed every word he said. That chicken kid was silly for thinking the sky was falling and he could just run around telling everyone about it before it even happened. Like Dad said none of us could tell when that day would come and I believed it. I believed it until one day on the news. That’s when I heard a story that sounded almost the same, only it wasn’t a chicken who told it, it was an old guy in a suit sitting on t.v.
“Put the news on quick.” Mom rushed in from the kitchen as I laid out on the couch flipping through the channels, “come on, I said put the news on, give me the remote” she grabbed for the remote and snatched it out of my hand quicker than I could change the channel.
On the T.V there was a movie about some planes flying into the towers. One plane smashed into a tall building and black smoke rose into the sky, minutes later another plane did the same thing to the next building. “Jesus Christ” my mom said softly as her hand cupped her mouth, “What Mom it’s just a movie, change the channel put something good on.” I reached up for the remote as she continued to stare at the screen then looked down at me, “No, this isn’t a movie, this is real, two planes just flew into the twin towers.” The man on the television said something about it being a terrorist attack on the United States of America. They showed these bars about levels of security and we were somewhere in the red now, red always meant something bad was happening, I knew that much, but the planes still seemed like a movie in my head, like a scene from independence day or one of those actiony movies. When my mom left the room I could hear her dialing the numbers on the phone. “Can you believe it?” “I know, what do you think happened?” “I hope this is the end of it.” “Well let’s just pray to God it doesn’t happen again.” those were the main things she kept saying over and over again. I tried blocking her out, but she got louder and louder with each phone call. I wasn’t scared when I saw the red bars, I wasn’t scared when I watched repeats of the planes flying into the buildings or when mom came into the room with tears in her eyes as the guy on T.V continued to tell us that planes were falling from the sky. I just sat there staring at the screen some days and other days i’d walk into my room and play video games until the news was over.
The weeks after that really weren’t the same. There were more planes flying into buildings, more people dying, and when everything seemed so far away and only able to touch us on television the guy on the news with the white hair, funny voice and black suit mentioned a full invasion of both the east and west coasts. This made Mom really nervous. She cried as she held me and my sister, “It’s going to be alright” she told us as her voice cracked and tears fell down her cheeks, “everything is going to be okay,” looking back on it I’m not sure who she was talking to, us or herself. Anyways a few weeks later the T.V didn’t work anymore and the phones didn’t work, I don’t think any of us knew what to do. Mom went out daily to grab some cans of food, “these will last us if we need to leave” she told me and my sister as she packed some Cambells soup, creamed corn, spaghetti o’s and other snacks into our school bags.
“Wake up” a voice whispered into my ear one night I jumped at the sound and saw my sister sitting over me with her jacket and her Ipod in her hand, “Mom says we have to leave now and to take some things that keep you warm and some clothes” I looked around me grabbed my favorite ninja turtles blanket, a scarf, a book, and my jacket I had just gotten for my birthday. “where are we going?” I asked whispering like everyone else, “I’m not sure, mom said something about Granny’s house” my sister reached out for my shoulder and made me walk ahead of her down the stairs where our mother was waiting. The sky was still dark and that’s the night it began to fall.
“Run! Run! Run!” people were all around us yelling at us to run, pushing us. Buildings around us caught fire, crashes followed by loud banging sounds came from behind us, “Look ahead of you, don’t turn around!” mom yelled at me and my sister as we ran arms locked so we wouldn’t get lost in the smoke, ash, and school of people.
As the smoke filled the air my eyes began to water a little, I couldn’t see what was in front of me anymore as my sister dragged me into an alley away from the people, mom was behind me, we were all coughing. Mom pressed us against a dumpster and observed us for any cuts or bruises, “Put this over your mouth when you run, it will help you breath better,” she handed us both a piece of her shirt she ripped and soaked in water. “What’s happening?” I asked “is the sky falling?” I couldn’t see the stars or the sun anymore, there were only clouds and smoke around us, “it sure looks that way doesn’t it?” mom looked up and then shook her head coughing a little, “No baby the sky isn’t falling, bad people came because they didn’t like where we lived and now we have to go somewhere safer okay?” “What bad people?” my sister asked, “why don’t they like where we live? What’d we do?” question after question came pouring out of her mouth, “I’m not sure why, but we just have to keep moving, try to stay low and in the alleys, it seems like everyone is on the main streets. We can stay a few blocks away for the night and then we have to leave the city okay?” we both looked at her, her hazel eyes strong her curly hair sat around her face, she smiled as she wiped our cheeks, “okay come on follow me.” We walked for a little while in between the brick buildings. We hugged the walls and watched both our fronts and our backs while keeping an eye on our sides. We didn’t talk to anyone who ran passed us, we didn’t stop to help anyone who was crying, we just kept walking and sometimes even running when we had to get into the big crowd of people again. We locked our arms tight like a chain and kept moving together. My sister fell infront of us tripping over people who had already fallen and weren’t moving anymore, but We never looked back. At some points we tried to not look down either.
The city quieted after a long time of running and walking. We kept the pieces of shirt over our faces that were dirty from the smoke and it stopped us from coughing as much. “Can we stop now? My feet hurt, I don’t feel too good,” my sister put her back against one of the doors in an alleyway and looked down at her fingers picking at them. Mom stopped, looked at her, then at me and around us. The loud sounds stopped, all around us was darkness, you could hear people’s feet moving in the darkness, but you couldn’t see any of them. Mom searched her bag and pulled out a flashlight. She walked towards the opening in the alley and looked for a street sign, “Do you think you can walk three more blocks to your father’s? We will need a place to stay tonight, the streets aren’t safe anymore.” My sister sighed, pulled her backpack close to her shoulders and began to walk, I wrapped my arm around hers and mom did the same to me. We walked a little further, by the time we got to dad’s the sky turned from black to grey.
We walked up the cement stairs into the hallway of his building where we all used to live as a family until mom and dad got a divorce. We tiptoed past some people who laid on the floor eyes closed and snoring. I was never so happy to see my father in my whole life, I don’t think my mom and sister ever were either. When I saw him I looked up into his eyes that hid behind his glasses, he seemed tired and confused, his breath smelled a little funny and his voice was messier than usual, “hey dad,” “wha’s up?” “the sky is falling.” he pulled me close to his body kissed my forehead as he put a piece of wood over the door. He let us file into the living room that was lit by candles, sat on his recliner tapping his fingers on his bible as mom stared into the darkness. My sister and I finally fell asleep leaning against one another. That was Tuesday, that was the day we stopped keeping track of the days and even the time. “We all have to keep each other safe,” mom said as she tucked us in a few nights in a row, “we look out for each other and we never leave anyone side, okay?” my sister and I nodded. My father sat there silently, dazed and confused, she kissed us on our foreheads I knew we wouldn’t stay much longer. We had to head to Granny’s soon, mom kept yelling at dad nights she thought we were asleep. It was just like it used to be, it was like things never changed, yet so much was different. I closed my eyes tight pulled the blanket over my face and tried my hardest to sleep again.