Crushing Future Plans
Any minute I’m going to wake up and all of this… this madness, and pain, and smoke… it will all just have been one really fucked up dream. Any minute now. Any minute.
“Barbara! Over here I think I’ve found Damian!” I drag my eyes off of the North tower, the tower that I know holds three of my sibling’s captive, and turn to Dick who is crouched by the smoldering remains of the South tower. I jog over, weaving my way in and out of ash encased people. Dick crouches, with a tear stained face, by what used to be the entrance. Making my way to his side I squat down, my eyes meeting his, hungry for answers. “A few minutes ago I heard some sort of yelling from this direction and I think it came from down here.” He points to a specifically menacing pile of rubble, one that looks like it shouldn’t be touched.
I open my mouth to respond but I’m seized yet again by the ash that has invaded my lungs. My eyes still sting from the South Tower collapse, when the cloud seemed to appear out of nowhere and the whole thing just, it just went down! It disappeared into a cloud- no into a wave of debris that enveloped the streets like a fucking tsunami. “Babs? Are you even listening to me?” I look back to him, halfheartedly dragging my palm across the dirt on my face.
There’s this small figure that is lying about 30 feet away from me, blanketed in both dust and someone’s disregarded sweater. From the size, it’s probably a young woman, mid-twenties most likely… my age. I wonder what her name is. I wonder if she has a family, I wonder if she also has 6 crazy not-technically-siblings siblings, 5 of which might actually be dead right now. I wonder what her fears were. Did she ever get a chance to fall in love, or was the only falling she did off this building? How long have I been staring?
“It’s not safe, I need you to step back, the other tower is still extremely unstable.” I snap my head away from the faded green sweater, and the person beneath it. A very bedraggled police officer is trying to pull Dick away from that monster of fallen rock. “No, no you don’t understand, you see my brothers are actually down there and if you don’t mind I just- I just need to get them out. I ne- I need to get them out!” The police officer shakes his head sadly as he continues to drag Dick away. “No, no, no, no stop! Let go of me! They’re down there! They’re down there!” I can’t bring myself to help him, I can’t even bring myself to wipe at the tears on my face.
It’s then when I hear something else. Something faint and far away, someone small and scared and angry, words cloaked in rage. I would recognize the voice anywhere. “I hear something.” I absently hold my hand up behind me, in a reaching gesture. I lean into the rubble that radiates heat and smoke, and asbestos. I lean my ear to the rock, supporting my weight on my knees, repeatedly pushing my hair away in frustration. I turn back to Dick, some small bead of energy that was hiding deep within me, unearthing itself. The police officer is standing inert, his head hanging in exhaustion while Dick, who is puddled on the ground, struggles to catch his breath in the abrasive, air.
I say it again, louder this time. “I hear something.” Suddenly he’s beside me, his ear were mine had previously been. His eyes light up, yet they darken, and I can’t expel the energy it will take to decipher its meaning. The voice in the rubble stops abruptly and we lean in closer, tuning all of the other sounds of the world out, focusing all of our energy on the small sound buried deep under what used to be a building.
“What’s he saying? Can you hear it?” Dick was closer to the building when it collapsed than I was, effectively damaging his hearing. I hold up a hand to him in answer. He sits down on his heels and waits anxiously, rocking back and forth on his knees, chewing on the dry skin of his lips, drawing blood. And then I hear it, a small whimper hundreds of pounds of rock away, it keeps saying the same thing, over and over and over again. I sit back, acutely aware of how exhausted I am. “It’s Damian, I know it is.” Dick leans forward to me, his eyes hopeful. “How do you know Babs? What’s he saying?” I really don’t want to repeat the words, because I feel the same longing deep in my heart too, I don’t want to say it because it hurts. “He’s saying, I want my Dad.”
Both of us seem frozen in time for a minute, mouths slightly agape, minds racing to formulate some sort of logical plan. Nothing. The North tower makes an angry growl as the supports groan and we’re shocked out of our daze. “Okay, let’s dig him out!” I almost seem to leap at the words. Dick pauses and it’s then I realize the way he holds his right hand. I feel the frown forming on my face before I have the mind to stop it. “What happened to your hand?” he doesn’t resist when I reach out and snag his wrist, pulling his hand not quite gently enough out of his shadow. It’s not pretty that’s for sure, and I feel my stomach churn unpleasantly as I gaze down at the mess in my grasp.
The skin itself is swollen, and inflamed, red and angry to the touch. The fingers are all pointed and twisted in different directions, some of them merely hanging on by their ligaments. There is what I assume used to be window glass, wedged into his metacarpals effectively rendering his hand useless. A clear and putrid smelling fluid boils up from under the skin and oozes down the length of his sausage sized fingers. Blood creeps curiously along every inch of what used to be his hand. “Dick what the hell happened?” I whisper absently as I take off my sweatshirt. I put the fabric between my teeth and rip it into long strips. “When the tower collapsed I tripped and fell and caught some falling debris by accident. It doesn’t hurt though, the glass must have severed my nerves…” His voice trails off, and I can tell he’s trying to hide how scared he is. I wrap the hand tightly, scooping up his fingers and folding them gently into the fabric. With that dealt with I turn once again to the rubble.
I lean as far as I can without putting any weight on the building’s skeleton. I muster all the strength I have and shout as loud as I can. “Damian? Buddy are you down there?” It’s quiet for a while, and even though the air sends spikes of ice through my skin, sweat drips from my face and down my back. “Gordon?” The voice is so broken, but despite this my face bursts into a radiant smile and I release the breath I wasn’t aware I was holding. “Yeah Dami it’s me! It’s me Dami! We’re gonna get you out okay?” “Is...Is Father there?” I look to Dick whose smile falls off his face as if made of ice. We speak silently between us for a moment, panicked words cutting through the static of the day. “Are you still there?” There are tears in his young voice, tears I’ve never seen before. “Yeah buddy we’re still here.” Dick answers sweetly.
“That’s it I’m digging him out right now.” I turn back to the rock when Dick puts his good hand on my shoulder. “Not until we know about Tim. If you go in right now and Tim is buried somewhere else you could cause the rubble to shift and…” His eyes finish the sentence for him. Okay… Okay. I can do this! I can stay calm. Just one step at a time Babs. You got this. “Damian, what about Tim?” “Tim’s… he’s gone.”
You know that feeling when you’re just sitting in bed and then all of the sudden you remember something you have to do, and there’s this weird jolt of adrenaline that tingles through your whole body and you start to freak out? Imagine that, but instead of a jolt of electricity, it’s a fucking wrecking ball and you go flying around a hamster ball made of barbed wire. Except - Except it’s all in slow motion, like watching wax melt and your mind can’t process the information so you just try to run away but, nope! You can’t run away because you’re trapped in that hamster ball of barbed wire and you just keep getting knocked down every time you try to escape.
I look up to find that I’ve fallen onto my back, my ears ring and I’m not sure why. I feel something wet on my face. Is it raining? Dick sits a few paces away, clutching his chest as his heart shatters beneath the surface. I feel the pain lurking in the back of my mind, giving me a second to process. No. No. No. Push it away Barbara we need to get Damian out, we need to get Damian out… We need to get Damian… and Tim. Yes. Both of them. I push myself up, numb. Uncomfortably numb, but better than the alternative. I crawl past Dick, ignoring him, blocking him out. Numb.
I reach out to the pile, dragging off the smaller pieces, dragging off whatever I can. If he’s close enough to hear me then he’s close enough for me to dig him out. There’s no sounds, no pain, no smoke invading my lungs. Just a mound of rock, separating me from my little brother. “Barbara?” Bruce? I turn my head to find Bruce kneeling beside me. His clothes are dirty and torn, blood travels slowly down his temple. Anger prickles beneath my skin, it races up my spine and it’s all I can do not to beat him to the ground.
I stand harshly, a low growl escaping my lips “Where and the hell have you been.” His expression changes rapidly, 100 different emotions I don’t have the time to analyze. “I got trapped in the surge of people.” He says the words fast, breathlessly, something I’ve never heard out of Bruce’s mouth before. “Where’s everyone else?” He looks around anxiously. Dick pipes up from my left, speaking as calmly as he can manage. “All we know about Stephanie, Cassandra and Jason is that they went into the North tower before the collapse, we haven’t seen them yet. Damian and- and Tim- um… are under there.”
I don’t have the time or the patience to listen to them, I block them out again and resume digging, I’m making some serious progress. I’m about waist deep, head first when I reach a cavernous space. Dick and Bruce have been yelling at each other and me for the past 5 minutes but I’m doing my best to ignore them both. “Dami?” I reach out, pushing more rocks out of my way, the mound shakes slightly and I freeze. Someone is trying to pull me out by my feet, but I kick back hard, from the sound I assume it hit whoever it was squarely in the chest. “Damian?” I reach out again, wiggling deeper into the fallen beast.
I find someone’s hand, it’s warm, and squeezes me back. “Dami?” I ask as softly as I can, I only get a squeeze in response. I pull the hand closer to me trying to back my way out of the rubble, then I put my hand in the wrong spot, I push on the wrong thing, I do something differently. The concrete quivers above me and I try to pull back, to calm whatever I have disturbed, but it’s too late. A large slab loses its balance and falls towards me. My eyes widen, no sound will escape my vocal chords, someone above me screams my name.
The crack, the sound, it’s indescribable. It landed squarely on my back, crushing something when it did so. I can still feel the hand on mine, squeezing me back hard out of fear. I evict tears from my eyes and they fall into the dust below. It’s not about the pain I feel, it’s about the pain I don’t feel. Any minute I’m going to wake up and all of this… this madness, and pain, and smoke… it will all just have been one really fucked up dream. Any minute now. Any minute.