today is the 11th September, the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I’m publishing here the first part of a short story about 9/11. I still don’t know how many parts there will be, possibly three. I’m still working on the second right now. I hope you’ll like it. Stay tuned for the other parts.
New York, 11th September 2001
Paul finished his breakfast and turned off the TV. It was a very nice day but he didn’t feel like going out yet. He sat on the armchair and went through a few documents he needed to look at before going to work. He lived and worked in New York.
He had worked at the Pentagon for many years, then in 2000 he came to work in New York, at the WTC 7. He did not even have to take the train to go to work, he lived a few blocks away and he loved to have a walk in the morning.
On that fateful day it was about 8:30 when he left his flat. He looked up to the sky: a wonderful day. He loved this weather: warm, clear sunny sky. He started walking towards the World Trade Centre, greeting the people he knew and met every morning: shop owners, postmen, cleaners, etc. Just as he was walking into the newsagent’s to buy a newspaper, he heard a sound coming from the sky.
What the hell…
Having worked for the Pentagon for years, he recognized that sound immediately: that was a plane flying low over New York. He knew very well that no plane may fly so low over the city. Then, the explosion, from just around the corner.
He almost felt the earth shaking. And suddenly, he knew. He remembered all the conversations, all the documents he had had to copy, all the words he had overheard, all the reports he had gone through. In that specific moment, everything came back to him and he knew.
This is it. They have made it.
He went over to the next crossroads and he looked up for the World Trade Centre towers. Here they were. One of them was on fire.
He did not know what to do. People were in shock, some were crying, some others were running away, others were just looking up. He stopped for a while, looking up at the gaping hole in the North Tower. Then he turned around and went into the first cafè he could find. As soon as he went in, he saw a group of people watching CNN. He joined them and listened to the first reports: it seemed a plane had hit the North Tower. Probably a twin-engine jet. That was exactly what he thought he had heard a few moments earlier. He listened to the news for a couple of minutes, then he decided to go to the World Trade Centre. He went out again and saw a colleague coming up the street towards him. It was Anne, one of the many secretaries in the WTC 7 building. She was walking slowly, tears in her eyes.
“Paul!” she ran to him and hugged him. “Have you seen that? How terrible! Think of all the people there!”
“I know. It’s unbelievable. I was coming to work when I heard the sound of a plane coming. Then, the explosion. What are you doing here? Were you at work when it happened?” Paul asked.
She nodded. “Yes, I was at my desk when I heard the explosion. A the beginning I thought it was a bomb, but then somebody came into the office and told me that a plane had crashed into the North Tower. Most people immediately thought that it was a terrorist attack. Then they said that soon they’re going to evacuate the building. Most of the management is still there but they want everybody to leave.”
“I see. Well, maybe it’s the right thing to do. Our building is just next to the two towers and debris may be falling. Well, Anne, now get out of here. I’ll go and see if…”
He didn’t manage to finish his sentence. He heard that sound again, louder this time. He looked up just in time to see the crash and the big explosion. People started screaming, crying, running away. Paul and Anne sat down on a bench along the pavement.
“Oh my God! Oh my God!” Anne screamed in shock. “Who the hell could do that? What the hell is going on?”
I know who.
“I don’t know, Anne. Terrorists, I guess. Listen, I’ll go and see if there’s anyone at the office, there must still be someone there. You just…”
“No! Don’t go, Paul!” Anne begged him. “You never know, maybe they’ll attack again, it’s not safe here…”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be right back. You just go and see your family. They’ll surely be worried about you. I’m sure this is on every channel on TV, probably they’ve even seen the second plane crash live.”
“Yes, you’re probably right. Ok then, I’ll go, but be careful! You should go home as well.” She started walking down the road, turning round two or three times to him. “Take care!”
Paul waved her goodbye and then started to walk fast towards the World Trade Centre. While walking, he took his mobile phone and started calling all the people he knew that were in the towers to tell them one thing: get out of there! He managed to reach just a few of them while walking towards the WTC complex. Most of them had already got out. At a certain point, police stopped him.
“I’m sorry, sir, but you have to get out of here. We’re evacuating the whole area…”
The policeman didn’t manage to finish the sentence because Paul had taken out his ID card.
“Paul Winters, I work for the Pentagon, national security.”
“Well, sir, be very careful, debris is falling from the building.”
“Ok, thank you.”
Paul went on towards the World Trade Centre. Now and again, he looked up to the towers. Debris was falling, people were jumping to their deaths.
Oh my God!
When he reached WTC 7 he noticed that they were evacuating the building. He saw some people he knew at the main entrance. One was Tom, one of his colleagues.
“Hey Paul, they were looking for you. Have you seen what happened? They’re trying to…”
Paul was not really listening to him.
“Who’s still up there?”
“Well, I don’t know exactly, a few have left but other people have arrived. I guess they were CIA.”
“Listen, Tom. I want you to help evacuate, tell everybody to get the hell out of here.”
Tom looked confused at first. “Why, what’s going on? You think it was a terrorist attack?”
Paul looked at Tom. He lowered his voice. “It IS a terrorist attack. It’s not over yet. I’ll go and see who is upstairs, they’re already waiting for me, I guess.”
Tom did not have time to reply because Paul had already left. He chose to take the lift. After all, this building was safe, at least as long as they were inside. He reached the 25th floor and went straight to the conference room. He knew they would be there. He got in and looked around. It looked like a control room: in one corner, one group were listening to some kind of radio, probably emergency services. On the main table a meeting was being held by one of his superiors. They were looking at some maps and plans. In another corner, two men were watching the news while working on the computer. Next to them, two or three people were destroying documents and papers. John Perry, one of the people sitting at the table turned round and saw him. He stood up and walked over to Paul, taking him out of the room.
“Hi Paul. Listen, there’s no need for you to stay here, we are evacuating the building, soon we will get out as well. They’re setting up another control room somewhere else. We’ll need you there later at some point.”
Paul tried to look calm and relaxed. “Why, what are you doing now?”
“Well, monitoring everything. It was a terrorist attack, the planes had been hijacked and flown into the two towers. We’re in contact with the oval office and the defense, waiting for orders.”
Well, exactly what he had expected to hear.
“Ok, I’ll pick up a few things from the office. Let me know if and where you need me”, he said.
“Sure, I will, I’ll send you a message on your mobile phone. See you later then.”
John turned round and disappeared inside the room again. Paul went over to his office and went straight to his desk and sat down. He needed to think carefully: what was he supposed to do now? It was too late to do anything now, the only thing he could do is tell people to get away from the WTC. He made some phone calls to people he knew would be in the towers or in the other WTC buildings. Fortunately, most of them had already got out. One or two were trapped on the higher floors.
He noticed that most of the documents he had copied or forwarded had been taken away. Probably, they had already been destroyed. He looked around: most desks were emtpy, everything had already been taken and destroyed. He sighed and stood up.
“Ok, let’s get out of here”, he said to himself.
He took the lift downstairs and got out of the building. His colleague Tom was not there anymore. Actually, nobody was there anymore, only a few policemen who were helping people evacuate. He started to walk away towards his flat, thinking back to the time when everything had started…