The Event

Right, well this one is a little different from the other story posts thus far seeing as this story is neither fantasy nor Sci-Fi. Quite simply its just fiction, set in the modern day, and follows two peoples very different paths after a traumatic event. The story is about 3600 words long, so lets begin!

“I saw the flash before I felt the wave of impact, invisible but present. It knocked me off my feet. The concussive blast that knocked me to the floor made it feel like a sledgehammer had hit me square in the chest. My lungs were empty as I gasped down air to try and re-inflate them. The air burned as I sucked it down, as did my chest, even as the gasps slowly began to subside and my breathing came under control once more. My body ached, I could feel every muscle consciously and it felt so alien to behold. But it ebbed away until it was subconscious once more. I still felt stiff even as I sat up, my eyes still blurred and full of moisture. I attempted to wipe it away, but that only seemed to make my vision worse, more out of focus. Finally though I cleared them. It was a simple remedy really. I just kept blinking until finally my eyes could refocus and it is then that I saw the devastation. The once green grass was ash, the soil baked to a solid crisp, the concrete square cratered. Debris floated in the air, raining down, mixing with the rain. I was soaked, but slowly rose to my feet, feeling the bruises beginning to form below my body armour. I’d been lucky I realised as the remains of people were littering the ground around me. Motionless forms, or half-forms to be more accurate, caked in dark crimson or black ash. As my hearing began to return I could hear the mayhem. Screams, sirens and shouts coming from all around, as I staggered forward. This wasn’t a warzone, though it looked like one. This had been a simple award ceremony, that is, until the explosion, the bomb, detonated at the centre of the crowd. I’d been lucky, I’d been near the edge; countless others hadn’t been. There were no remains of those closest to the detonation, that’s what I was told later. Those closest had simply been vaporised. The word vaporised feels so wrong to say in the context of people. This wasn’t some movie or game, this was real life, but it was the only word that could be used fittingly, I suppose. It was a word used to explain what couldn’t properly be explained. But that isn’t why we’re here. You want to know the details of what I saw. Not my own mental meanderings, just the facts.”

“I stumbled forward, my feet shifting on the broken, ash and water as it mixed below my boots until I felt like I ‘d regained my balance. Thing is I almost fall as I go to check on a nearby body. They were dead. It had been a young woman, maybe mid-twenties, but her chest was caved in and her neck sat at an unnatural angel. The force of the detonation had crushed her ribs and snapped her neck. I heaved as I turned away, not wanting to make her final resting place any worse as I clambered to my feet, sickened and dizzy. Still, I pushed forward, half stumbling as my boots slipped on the mud as I checked another body, a man, missing his left arm, he’d bled out from a cut to his neck, shrapnel I guess.”

“I don’t know how long I spent going from body to body, but each one was already gone. There was no one to save, but I’d known that as soon as I’d seen the carnage. I checked because it was the right thing to do, not because I thought there was anyone that could be helped. It was like being on autopilot. No, it was like I was watching as someone else did it, even though I knew it was me. I was detached from myself even as another officer grabbed me, to shake me loose, his right leg missing. The remains of the officers right leg spewing blood, his face pale and soaked by the rain. I didn’t recognise him and didn’t know where he’d come from, but I hauled him up and with him in my arms ran forward. I blocked out the other bodies around me. I should have checked them, I know that, but I focused on saving this one man. My vision tunnelled as I slid across the slick concrete to an enormous bank of flashing lights, where all the emergency services were gathered. People raced back and forth, shouting, crying, pleading, but I hauled this officer onto an empty stretcher, the white immediately becoming stained crimson by the blood oozing from where his lower right leg had been. The paramedic said nothing as she whipped into a frenzy of activity, trying to stabilise him. All while I stood several paces back staring, watching, frozen in place. Another paramedic joined her, a male; the pair shot back and forth, trying to save him. Injecting him with drugs, trying to stem the flow of blood from the wound, ragged and sickening to see, but he went into cardiac arrest. He’d lost too much blood they told me afterwards. They couldn’t bring him back. He was dead, soaked and bloody and left as the paramedics rushed off to deal with other cases, while I stood. No one assessed me, they didn’t need to. I was standing and I was in one piece. The sound dropped out again, so I couldn’t hear a thing, as I continued to stand staring at the now lifeless body of that young officer on the stretcher, being hammered by the pouring rain. I felt empty, I know you want the facts, but it’s a fact to me. I don’t know how long I stood there, I still don’t. I don’t even remember what happened next. It’s like I switched off only to spark back to life when bright lights were being shone in my eyes by a doctor, in the hospital. I didn’t even know which hospital I was at or how I’d got there.”

“And how long ago was that?” A tall slender man dressed in an expensive charcoal suit asks with an encouraging tone.

“Four months.”

“Have you returned to active duty?” The same man asks now.

“No.”

“That’s all the questions we have, your honour.” The tall slender man says with remorse filled finality.

“You may now leave the stand.” A woman says as she looks down from her elevated seating position with a comforting, encouraging and appreciative look.

“Yes, your honour.” Officer Billy Stahl says as he slowly and carefully rises to his feet, feeling only grief and panic as he steps down from the stand and shuffles, breathing deeply, out of the courtroom.

Outside, reporters from all over the world are gathered reciting pieces to the cameras pointed directly at them in whatever their native tongue happens to be. Their words and tone convey sadness, anger, despair and grief, but none of them had personally lost anyone in the attack. This had been a local catastrophe and no one local was represented here. The press never saw the horror or had to witness it, so somehow that made it worse for Anthony Briggs. He’d seen the aftermath. He’d been on scene. He’d lost his partner to the attack. He’d been the cameraman that survived when the reporter had not.

Its why all he can see when he closes his eyes is the shredded body of Frank Porter, the other half of their duo. The half that spent all his days in front of the camera. That’s gone now and Anthony feels lost. On medical leave until further notice, with full pay. He doesn’t care about any of that though. It doesn’t matter without Frank, his best friend and colleague, here. Instead he feels contempt for the reporters, they don’t know how it feels. So to him it feels like they are doing nothing but pretending. Whether that be pretending to feel or pretending to understand, it doesn’t matter to Anthony. Pretending is pretending. Which itself feels like an affront to those, whether they are living or dead, who were affected by the atrocity.

Anthony can’t watch anymore of it. He has too much anger within him, all of which he wishes to direct at the monsters responsible. Though being here seeing the press it makes him want to direct his anger toward them as well, so he turns and heads the other way down the street, the sounds from the reporters growing steadily quieter and quieter. He’d been like them once, he knew that. But it was something that he’d never considered before as being a part of the problem. He knows now how wrong they had been when they had reported and said that they understood the despair and pain others felt from violent actions that affected their lives. Unless you experienced it, felt it, you would never be able to understand it. Compassion is not the same as sympathy and empathy.

Bill wishes he could do something. He’s spent four months at home, alone, surrounded only by the waking nightmare of that night. The medication isn’t helping and his visits to the police appointed psychiatrist were getting him nowhere. They just seemed to serve as reminders of what had happened, not help him work past it. In fact, the psychiatrist seemed more focused on what other issues may be contributing to his feelings. To Bill it was obvious, he’d experienced a massacre, that was it. That was the trigger for him. He’d seen a level of violence that he couldn’t comprehend. Sure, as a police officer he’d seen lots of violence, gang killings, murders, so on and so on. But he’d never experienced a massacre before, especially not on such a scale. Two hundred lives lost in all. It was, and still is, a number he can barely fathom. He doesn’t understand how anyone can hold so much hatred that they could then go and end that many lives. And that’s without including the countless thousands of others that were also affected by the death toll. It’s why Bill barely leaves his apartment since.

In fact, his attendance in court is one of the only times he’s left, but it’s not because he fears the outside world. No, it’s because he just doesn’t feel ready to be a part of it again yet. The world just doesn’t make sense to him anymore. Violent acts have been increasing year on year, no matter what the official figures say, and the world Bill looks at now just isn’t the same. From the windows of his apartment the world makes sense, it still looks like it always has, but being in it has become alien. People are so angry now, so wound up, violent, miserable and uncaring. He hadn’t noticed it before. He’d gone through his days without paying any notice to the world around him, but that night, that massacre had changed all that. He saw the world differently now, he actually took notice instead of blindly pushing through on autopilot. He felt better for taking in the world, but worse for seeing its reality. Behind the glass of his apartment windows he saw the beauty of the world. On the streets he saw only what humanity had become, a mass of selfish, self-contained, uncaring, false entities paying no mind to the vast beauty, or the achievements that have got them to this point.

Bill knows he needs to do something, anything really. He also knows they will never let him return to active duty. Not until he’s completed his mandatory psychiatric visits and been deemed, however long after, fit for active duty. That will be too long. Full pay or not, it wouldn’t be a life. He had to live. He’d survived, rightly or not, and sitting, waiting to be delivered your fate isn’t the way he wishes to live. He refuses to do it anymore. It’s time for action, for a change, however scary, and he’d start by leaving this city. He has no roots or strong ties here. His wife had divorced and left him more than a decade ago and all he’d had since was the job. But he didn’t have that now and maybe never would again. So he decides he’ll take what matters to him, shove it in suitcases and leave. Start a new life; find a new purpose, a new goal, a new world. This wasn’t an end, it was a beginning. He’d been a police officer for more than twenty years, his pension was secure, not that he’d thought about it, so he begins drafting his resignation. No one would argue, question or even dismiss him for being too rash. It was his choice and his decision and it had been made. Many would, no doubt, understand. Hell yeah’d even likely think it a result of the massacre, the event, but that isn’t the reason, at least not entirely. Sure, it was the catalyst that had started this thinking, which in turn has ultimately led him to this conclusion, but he isn’t running away. He’d faced the courtroom and answered the questions, told his story. That was done. This was rebuilding, forging something new from the ashes of the old. It was what he needed to do, because doing the same job again here, or anywhere else for that matter, would never be the same. So Bill is sure he needs change, to change, that is his choice, his decision.

Bill can’t even remember getting to the station, but he feels the eyes on him as he walks through. They know why he’s here. It doesn’t take a genius to work it out, especially as he makes a b-line for the Captain’s office, knocking and then entering before closing the door gently behind him.

The Captain doesn’t look surprised either; in fact he has an accepting expression on his face. In truth, the Captain had been expecting it and as Bill hands him his resignation along with his badge. Bill lost his gun when he’d been pulled from active duty, so with the formalities done the Captain offers his hand. It isn’t a forced gesture, it’s one born out of respect and Bill takes it as such as he shakes the grey haired man’s hand, thanks him, and then turns and leaves. He says nothing to anyone else as he crosses the precinct floor, even as a round of applause breaks out. Bill knows it to be a sign of support. Its thanks for his dedication and he takes it as such as he leaves the precinct for what will be the last time. In fact, he can still hear the clapping as his slides into the seat of his car. That is until he closes his car door, which silences the applause as he starts the engine, puts the car into gear and then drives off, heading out of the city. It’s sad for Bill to be leaving and scary, but he feels some sense of joy as well as anticipation for the future. It’s something he hasn’t felt in years and that makes him smile.

Anthony can’t do it. He simply can’t sit and watch anymore. The longer he watches the more the feelings of anger eat away at him. He returned to work a few days ago, but feels nothing but rage and disdain. It’s barely controlled and he’s snapped several times at several colleagues. They’ve been understanding and conciliatory, but that has only made Anthony angrier. He wants a fight, he almost begs for it. It never comes. He doesn’t understand how people have become so zombified. So willing to pretend they understand the pain of disaster and loss after a savage attack, but can’t display real emotion when someone tries to bait them into a confrontation.

Anthony slides out of the news van, slamming the door moments before he slides the side open, all while his new partner, Elaine, carefully closes her own door and begins to cautiously walk round. Elaine doesn’t like Anthony. He is nothing like she’d been told he was. He’s so angry and confrontational. Everyone justifies his behaviour by saying it’s a result of the loss of his best friend Frank, but she just feels unsafe. She keeps her distance and says very little, until the camera is on. In fact, she feels so uncomfortable that she has even requested a transfer from her boss. But the response she got was that she should just bare with Anthony for another week. Though her boss did say that if she still feels the same way after the week is up, he will get her a transfer immediately. She’d accepted it, begrudgingly, but knows that Peter pulled Anthony in. From what she has heard though that conversation didn’t go well. Anthony flew off the handle into an incandescent rage, throwing chairs as well as the coffee table in Peter’s office, all while screaming obscenities. She hadn’t managed to get the details of how Anthony was calmed down or how he didn’t get canned, or at the very least suspended for his actions though. Not that any of that matters now, because she is here with Anthony, who is wearing a face ribbed with rage, scowling and darkened, as he hauls the camera onto his shoulder and steps from the van saying they are all set. The man strides away from her showing none of the qualities that she’d been so feverishly told about him, like he’s a calm, light-hearted guy who loves his job. That isn’t the man she’s experienced. This man is one that is filled with anger and rage, ready to snap at any second, and for any reason.

Elaine stands before the camera and before Anthony as she composes herself. She tries to calm her nerves ready to deliver her piece to camera when someone nudges Anthony’s arm. Though the culprit, another cameraman, apologises immediately. But the apology makes no difference; Anthony explodes as his camera is left to slam to the floor. All his rage directed at the apologetic man responsible for the nudge, who continues apologising. But the apologies only fuel Anthony’s rage as others join the fray, in hopes of easing and calming the situation. It doesn’t work as all the acts  and attempts of placation just make him angrier and angrier, as he spits vitriol and venom at the crowd around him until finally his ultimate break. He pulls a handgun; he’s been carrying it for weeks, illegally, and points it at the man who accidentally nudged him. Everyone around Anthony at first recoils in terror, especially with the events that claimed so many lives still fresh in their minds, before they then quickly drop to the floor, encircling Anthony as they do, creating a ring of fear around him. But their fear only helps to further fuel his anger, as he sees each and every one of them as little more than pathetic cowards.

Elaine however, is the one person that doesn’t drop to the floor. Instead she approaches him, slowly until she is stood right beside him. Her hand coming to rest on the slide of the handgun. She says nothing as she tries to encourage Anthony to lower the weapon, to bring peace. Anthony though, feels only venom toward her actions and wrenches the gun away as he turns to confront her. But as he does so an enormous bang rings out, echoing all around. The sound of the gunshot reverberates off the towering buildings as the people scream in the moments before everything falls to a sudden deafening silence, the echo of the gunshot having dissipated now.

At first Anthony doesn’t even realise what he’s looking at and then it hits him. He’s watching Elaine’s body fall backward in slow motion, a spray of blood coming from her body. His eyes go wide as time returns to its normal speed and her body slams to the hard asphalt. Panic tears through him as it dawns on him what he’s done and then he runs. He doesn’t even know why he runs, but he runs. He wonders why he didn’t just check on her, but it’s too late now. Now he’s a fugitive, a criminal, a murderer. He’d become so consumed by his anger, by his rage, that he’d become exactly what he hated most.

Elaine, lying splayed out on the asphalt, pants heavily as the other reporters and cameramen, as well as some passersby, surround her. They’re all in a panic, but one man orders them to move aside, claiming he’s a medic. Several of the people move to allow him passage as he comes to kneel at Elaine’s side. He asks her questions, but even as he talks she can’t remember the words, though she can hear herself answer. She takes that as a good sign, but she could be wrong. She’s never been shot before, so has no idea if she’s dying or not. Then the man, the medic, having checked her over declares it’s a non-fatal wound. That the round, has in fact, hit her in the shoulder. That, Elaine tells herself, explains why it feels like her shoulder is on fire. She smiles as the medic demands everyone step back to give her room. He uses her name she realises and wonders how he knows it as her eyelids grow heavy and flutter in the moments before everything goes black.

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