Yet, I tune into the people screaming, the cars crashing into buildings and exploding into great balls of fire. The children cry as their parents rip them from their car seats and run somewhere, anywhere, they think might be safe. Policemen yell at the civilians to find shelter wherever they can. Some try to think ahead, and rob convenience stores of water bottles, sunflower seeds, and cigarettes. An old woman a few feet away tears up and tries her best to run across the street, and a man blindly plows into her, but does not stop to help her up or ask if she is alright. Even the pigeons and rats know something is wrong.
“Attention, citizens: please find shelter immediately. New York City and nearby areas are under attack. This is not a drill. Attention, citizens: please find shelter immediately. New York City and nearby-“
The announcement repeats itself over and over again on a loop, but almost no one is listening. As soon as we heard the sirens, most of us knew something was very, very wrong. Everyone in America had heard these sirens before, but because it was only a test, or they learned about it in history class, just like me. Except this time, it’s real. It’s coming.
A nuclear bomb.
Full blown panic has settled into the Big Apple, and everyone hearing the sirens knows we only have limited time until the city is obliterated. Tourists and residents alike flood into the gleaming skyscrapers like moths to a flame. Taxis are left in the middle of the street, and off in the distance I see a jet crash. It reminds me of a child playing with a toy airplane.
Like everyone else, I am terrified. My feet are glued to the ground, and I do not intend on peeling them off the sidewalk. They will stay here until the bomb explodes and I am wiped out by the heat wave or radiation, whatever God has planned for me first. It’s almost humorous. A nuclear bomb, in this day and age? The Cold War ended years ago! What were the intentions behind the destruction of this city? To catch us off guard? Where did it come from? How much time do we have left? Will anyone survive? Can-
No. I cannot let fear grip me now. That is the possibly the worst thing I can do at this moment. When fear takes over, that’s when hope is forever lost. I truly must do something.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath, feeling people rush past me as I stand like a statue on a curb the moment before the nuclear bomb detonates. In my head, I picture my history classroom, and the white board that I faced every day for 9 months just a few days ago. At the top of the board was an Eleanor Roosevelt quote written in blue marker, and since the first day I read it, it has been burned into my brain...
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’”
Opening my eyes, I take a shaky breath. I am here. I have stopped, and I am looking fear in the face. It is staring at me, stalking me. Like it is a hawk and I am the prey. And I know I might not be able to live through this horror, but if I do, I am most certain that I will be able to take the next thing that comes along.
Courage. That’s what I need. That is what will get others, if not me, through this.
After an eternal two minutes since the sirens began to wail, I peel my feet from the ground and sprint to the old lady, who is lying on the ground. People dodge us as I kneel to speak to her. “I can help you!”
Her watery eyes blink back at me before she shakes her head. “No dear, but you can help yourself.”
“But-“ I begin to protest, yet she cuts me off.
“There is a bomb shelter in the basement of the old bank on Fourth Street.” She explains. “Go, save yourself. God bless you.”
All I can manage to do is smile. Even if I were to attempt to thank her, I would choke on my words. Besides, I have little time to mess around. There’s no time to carry her to the shelter. So I just smile, and she knows I’m thankful, and then I leave that old woman in the middle of the street to die.
My sneakers slap the pavement as I bolt down the street, dodging abandoned cars and garbage littering the asphalt. My breaths are short and ragged when suddenly I trip and use my hands to catch myself before slamming my face into the ground. I scramble to get up, realizing it was only a shoe I fell over, when I notice it’s not just a shoe. It’s a person.
Crouching down, I see a middle-aged women with red hair clinging to her toddler under a bus. On her face is the look of true terror, and I know that if we hurry, I can get her to the shelter with her baby and they will be safe. I reach my hand out for her to grab. “Come with me! I know a place!”
She doesn’t hesitate one second. My muscles strain to drag her out, but within a matter of seconds she’s on her feet and running with me towards the bank, her child bouncing in her arms. As we sprint along the chaos running its rampage throughout the city, I gather people up to follow me. “The bank!” I yell to them. “Bomb shelter in the bank!”
We reach the bank soon, and the mass of people I have collected swarm into the doors and look for the basement stairs. My instinct is to follow, but my head stops my feet. No, I tell myself. There is still time. I can save more people. I have to be brave. I need to have courage.
Executing a one-eighty, I turn around and run back out into the city. The sirens are still blaring, and the announcement is still screaming, all while the pedestrians run around frantically. Some are unsure of what to do, and some even seem like they don’t believe this is real. “It’s a scam!” A man yells from the other side of the street. “The government is testing us!”
Ignoring him, knowing he will not believe what I have to say, I track down the anxious people and tell them where to go. Some are strangers, some I know. I even see one of my teachers with his family, but when I tell them to go the bank, he turns away from me. The realization that I can’t even persuade everyone to go find the shelter hurts, but I must keep going.
Time is running out. In fact...
How much longer do we have?
Doing my best to keep that thought locked away in the corner of my mind, I keep directing people towards the bank.
Keep going. Have courage.
Spilled grocery bags clump up near a storm drain, and I collect them and pass them down to the bank with the help of a few teenagers.
Keep going. Have courage.
An older girl stands in the shadows, sobbing. My hand latches onto hers and I quickly drag her to the bank and order her to go into the basement.
Keep going. Have courage.
My eyes spot a baby in the backseat of a cab, somehow still sleeping throughout all this catastrophe that awaits us. Swiftly, I jerk the car door open and grab him, trying to be as gentle as I possibly can. He jolts awake and begins to cry, but suddenly, I cannot see. I almost trip as I'm in the middle of running down a crowded street blind, and it takes me a moment to regain my sight.
The bomb. It is here.
I have gone too far, I realize. There's no way I can get back to the bank now.
Keep going. Have courage...
Holding a tight grip on the baby, I do my best to keep running, to keep going. The baby is wailing and so are the sirens still, but all I hear is the blood pumping through my ears. My heartbeat is so rapid that it might as well stop at this point. The adrenaline in my veins floods through like a tsunami.
The bank is a block away. I can see it, but I'm too late. The heat from the bomb does not creep up on me, but rather hits me like the strongest wind possible. The bomb is here, and the bank is a block away, and there are still people running rampant in the street, and I am too late.
The bomb is here.
Maybe the city that never sleeps will finally get some rest.