This story started with a writing group exercise (a timed writing sprint of approx. 8 minutes).
I was asked to write a near death experience, in first person. This is what I came up with:
The music died in an instant, drowned out by a scream of warning; so shrill, it was if the entire world paused to listen.
Turning my head, I saw the panic seize and contort the faces closest to me, and I knew—knew that in this moment, and all the moments to come, everything would change. My heart rate spiked, and then, bizarrely, elongated. I was aware of it happening, aware of time rippling as my consciousness shrank, to a single bubble only big enough for me and my memories.
Regrets and triumphs swamped me, and I saw the people I loved, people I’d lost, and those I felt I could not leave. Husband, Daughter, Parents, Brother, Sister, new friends and old; their faces swam through my mind in a flash that, for me, lasted for minutes. All of them screamed my name, as light and a roar of noise abruptly crashed over me, splintering the rush of emotion and visions into a billion fragments—that danced around me like fragile confetti.
Then came the smell of smoke, stinging the inside of my nose and mouth, slowly sucking away everything I knew, and all I ever was…
WRITING GROUP HOMEWORK: WHAT HAPPENS NEXT IN 500 WORDS
The first thing I remember, aside from confusion and terror, is waking up.
My eyes were crusted, weighed down and sealed-shut. Pain pulsed through my skull, and bile was an instant, distinctive flavour in the back of my throat.
When I retched, I tasted the smoke I was sure lined my lungs and stomach, but the air gulped in afterwards, felt cool, and cleaner than expected.
A bottle of water was thrust into my hand, and a voice I didn’t recognise encouraged me to drink. I was more than willing. I sucked it down, far too fast, and ignored the voice that now urged me to slow. I paid for my rash act; with a second bout of vomiting.
Caught between misery, and the beginnings of relief, I could hear whimpers and tears all around me, interspersed by the occasional screamed name, and hoarse repetitions of: ‘Oh God, this can’t be happening…’
It could, and it had. I still wasn’t sure what ‘it’ was, but violence had taken the world, shredded it, and left…what? I realised my eyes were still tight shut, and rubbed a hand over them. The crusted seal broke, and painful light flooded my vision.
That’s when I saw him—sitting beside me, clutching his own bottle of water. He was a young man, with blood on his face, and eyes deadened by shock. Did I look like that? “Are you okay?” he asked.
Such a stupid question; I nodded a stupid answer. My vocal cords felt sore—useless.
“It was a bomb. We’re lucky to be alive,” he said, and then paused, before asking, “Were you with anyone?”
Suddenly my mind cleared, latching onto his words. I forced my voice to respond. This was important. “My Daughter…Oh God—where’s Fran—she was right next to me. She was…”
I trailed off, as my eyes ignored the tears in his, and scanned the crowd around us. She was out there somewhere—she had to be…
We stay in touch; though some days I wonder if we should. His name’s Adam. He’s Fran’s age. He’d been sitting directly in front of her that night…but he survived and she didn’t. Adam’s Mum and Sister died alongside my daughter…yet here I am.
Ten years later, and we’re still broken people. I sometimes think we always will be—traumatised, and trapped in a building that was blown apart, by someone who believed they were right.
It’s strange, how seeing him helps me to carry on. Maybe Adam feels the same?
Not that we’ll ever forget. The questions, ‘why me?’, ‘why did I survive, and not them?’ are a constant in your mind—no matter how hard you deny it.
And we both know—there’s no easy way out. We have to keep going, for our sake as well as theirs; the ones who lie silent, robbed of future hopes and plans.
It’s up to us to live the life they can’t.
Even on the days when we feel like we’ve been buried alive.