Chapter 1: Waking Up
Suddenly an abrupt burst of air flies into my lungs as my eyes jolt open. I gasp as I shoot up and hold my chest. It hurts, it feels like my lungs are on fire. The pain goes all the way through the little tiny air-sacs in my lungs. Breathing is painful and it cripples me over. My cough is a deep, ripping cough. Black saliva drips from my lips as I cough over and over. The coughing is compulsory and I can't control it. I try to gain some composure and look at the ground for a short second between my coughs. Lazily my eyes move from left to right looking at the ground which is covered in rubble and broken wood. I start to look a little further out and I bring my hands up. My hands are filthy. They are covered in black soot and they feel greasy. I try to move but realize my leg is being pinned down by something I can't comprehend at the moment. Between my continuing coughs, I look at my shaking hands. I try to wipe away some of the filthy shit that cakes them and it seems like I'm only making matters worse. I try my shirt. It is covered in the same stuff but seems to help a little bit so I continue to wipe.
As I wipe away the dirt and carbon my hands are slowly revealed. I study them. My hands are rough, they have callouses on the top of my palms where the first joint of each of my appendages is. My fingers are also calloused heavily, the kind of callouses you get from not just doing some heavy lifting but years of dirty work or manual labor. There are some cuts which are so characteristic with my hands that they are basically a part of my palm or fingerprints. I look down at my shirt, it is a plain white t-shirt but it is filthy. At my waist is a folded down coverall which is tied. I was wearing it at my waist, tied with the arms of my coveralls. The coveralls too, themselves are dirty. I look at the sky, it is covered in these massive, thick billowing clouds. I find it hard to lift my head. I drop back down with another heavy cough. I wish this burning in my lungs would stop.
Everything is shaky, nothing is in focus, and I can't concentrate. What is happening to me? Wait, everything is burnt. A fire. My house burned down while I was sleeping and came back from work. I need to get up, so I can check on everyone else and call the fire department, or a paramedic. Why didn't my fire alarm go off? I'm definitely going to be suing over the medical bills for this. FUCK! My leg hurts like hell. I hope it isn't broken, that would be just the thing I need. I can't take time off of work, you think they give a shit about my troubles? Hell no. You think they will give me paid sick time? Hell no. This is America. Paid sick time is reserved for corporate pussies who sit behind a desk, biding their time to get to their next 15-minute break every two hours. What a damn joke.
I move my hands over to the piece of collapsed wood pinning my legs down. I try to push it up and strain heavily. The direction I am pushing is more lateral and perpendicular. I realize that in order to get the leverage I need to gain any lift on this object I will need to be parallel and pushing more in an upward motion. I take three deep breaths, gaining a small amount of recovery after each breath. My body is worn down and I have pain in places and muscles I didn't know existed. My palms resting on the wood, shaking, I move them under the debris. I flex my biceps and hip flexors as much as I can to move the item off of me. My foot comes free and I can move my toes. It's not broken! It is definitely asleep and really numb but I can tell it isn't broken. I am going to be able to walk again, that is the best news yet! As I slide the wood over I see a concrete slab holding it down a bit. I move the wood over, it tilts as the weight of the concrete shifts. SLAM!
I scream at the top of my lungs before I cough and cringe at the same time. The concrete slab has tipped over and crushed my foot. The crushing pain zings all the way up my legs and buzzes viciously through that region of my body. I feel a sharp sting go up my back as well. I know this isn't good. I look down at my foot. My shoe is hanging backward off of my leg, there is a white bone protruding from the top of my foot. Blood rushes from the area and I can feel myself getting light headed looking at it. I pull my leg towards me and bite my shirt. I need to examine the wound the discover what needs to be done next. I pull it towards me. It is a gruesome sight, the steel toe on my boot has collapsed, severing the toes and my metatarsals. The ankle is definitely shattered as it is holding no solid shape at all and the foot is just flinging around as it if were only connected by some thick, bloody, latex rubber.
Focus. I need to remain focused and awake. This was my house so I need to find something that is useful. I start to climb over the rubble. I grab a piece of derelict wood, which I think may use to be a part of a middle-class dining room. I don't recognize it so maybe there was an earthquake. Oh man, how bad is this fire? I pull myself over the debris and pop my left knee over. My right knee is a little slower and weaker since my foot is smashed to hell. When my knee comes over the wood I can feel the kneecap slide over to the side which gives me that queasy feeling of your bones moving around inside of your body. I rotate my body over to try and lift my foot upward and to my chest instead of pulling it over the debris. A futile effort, the heavy foot just slams right into a somehow standing record player. The pain is excruciating, my eyes water and I pull my leg to my chest. As I do the foot dangles and swings. As it swings forward and it pulls tendons all the way up my leg and flings blood onto my face. I turn my body over and see a destroyed kitchen. Parts of the appliances still stand, the rest of the house and walls are gone.
Beginning my crawl towards the kitchen I try to keep myself awake as everything seems to fade. My right leg I have at an L hanging right above my lower back. This is slowing the bleeding while I use my left toes and forearms to drag myself through the dirt and rubble of what I assume is still my home. My fingernails and worn down hands that have seen at least a lifetime of punishment already drag my desperate body foot by foot. My teeth grit as I focus on one thing, just making it another two feet. I crawl closer to the appliances that are still partially standing. A fire nearby to my right warms the side of my face, still burning something in a small pit with hot coals.
I prop my back up against the appliances which I now can tell is a stove and a dishwasher. I look to my left to the fire I had just crawled past. I check to the right and see a tilted drawer with its contents spilled everywhere. I scooch over there. It takes about 14 butt lengths to get there. After inventing a new unit of measurement and looking at the spilled silverware, I see a cleaver. I look down at my foot which is still bleeding. I grab the cleaver. I put it on my ankle. I take a deep breath, lift the cleaver and drop slowly to my ankle. I take a deep breath. Lift the cleaver and slowly drop it as I exhale. Lift. Drop. Exhale. Lift. Drop. Exhale. I am psyching myself out thinking about it.
SLAM! Holy shit. Blood sprays all over my hands and face. I made it a quarter of the way through the ankle. I scream and slam it again. I hear the crunching and tearing of flesh and bone compliment the spraying of blood onto the surroundings. I continue to crush and slam my foot with this cleaver over and over. Screaming in agony I move my other foot to hold the loose foot still. I pull with my leg and I can feel everything stretching and give it the one last chop. I scoot over to the fire and shove my stub into it. It sizzles loudly and smells putrid. This hurts even worse than cutting it off. After only a few seconds in the fire, I pull my foot to my waist and hold it as I shake the pain away.
I look to the sky and with increasing adrenaline, I have more clarity. I sit up and look out at the city and beyond my house. What I saw I had only ever seen in images, old videos or movies. I never thought I would actually see it myself. I slowly get up, prop myself up so I do not fall over on my burnt stub. Horrified I gaze out at the reality of the whole situation. I hop forward a little with my right foot elevated. I reach down to grab a piece of wood I use to prop myself up as I make my way over to the street. The street is cleared out, houses tore to the bones. Barely the base of most of the buildings stands. Scattered belongings and debris are everywhere. It looks as if a giant tornado came through and took everything with it.
The sky tells a different story. The giant clouds, blocking out the sun. The orange-tinted sky, the cloud starting upwards skinny and all the way into the sky billowing out. Into the shape, of a mushroom. I drop to my knees. Oh my god.... what happened? I look down at my hands. Then it hits me, I don't know where I am. I can't recognize anything. I pick up some broken glass and look at myself in the mirror. I see a stranger looking back. The dropping feeling in my gut as I realize what is happening...
"Who am I?" I said.