A Falling Man, Part 3

Author: Mel Brownlee /


Fuck. The staircase was blocked off by debris – there was no way out. The screams returned and this time they were even more frightening. The screams held in them people’s fears of never seeing their families again, of leaving their children without a mother or a father, of leaving their partner widowed. And of course, the fear of death itself. But we could smell it in the air, sense it all around us.

The lifts were down, the stairs were blocked and that was it.We had exhausted all of the options and were left with nothing. I looked at the faces of the people that I had led to a dead end, they looked defeated and tired and ill. The smoke was getting thick and heavy and my eyes felt like they were burning.

“There must be another way.” A lady said, her voice sounding weak and less than convinced.

I tried to think, I tried to see another way out, but I couldn’t.

The lifts were down, the stairs were blocked. There was no way out.


At that very moment, standing in the park surrounded by screaming, crying people who couldn’t believe what they were witnessing, I thought I myself was going to die. I fell to the floor and watched. It was all I could do. Both buildings were on fire now, smoke was rising up into the sky and I wondered how the long the towers could hold out.

Robbie was in there, he was actually in one of the buildings that had been hit by a plane, I just couldn’t believe it. This couldn’t be happening. My head spun and spun until it came to the point where I had to lie down.

I squeezed my eyes shut and prayed I was going to wake up in my bed and none of this had happened. Rob hadn’t left for work yet, I was still lazing in bed with no intentions of getting up and going for a jog, things were as they should be. Yes, it would all be okay when I opened my eyes. Rob would be snoring away, having a twitching fit like he always did when he had just dropped off and when he was in a deep, heavy sleep. It was so cute, I loved it. I would watched him and laugh to myself, I couldn’t understand why he would twitch. Maybe when he was in a deep sleep he was having a nightmare, but why just as he drifted off? It was so strange, but it was him.

When I woke up I would make him stay at home, chuck a sickie, take a personal day, anything. But he would be at home, there was no way I was letting him go into work today after this nightmare. It was so vivid it scared me. I was a strong believer in fate and all such things, so I didn’t care if I was being over the top, at least I would have some peace of mind.

We would go to the park together, a nice long walk. We would take Rowdy with us, he loved the park but not the other dogs, he was still only a puppy and needed to be trained. Today would be as good a day as any to start integrating him with other dogs. Even if it meant he would terrorise them and their owners, we would apologise profusely of course, but we had to get him used to it somehow.

And, when we were done at the park, we would go bowling or something. Or go out for dinner, and maybe see a movie afterwards. Anything, he just wasn’t going into work and when the planes hit the twin towers, he would be far away and safe with me.

I squeezed my eyes even tighter, begging myself to let me drift off and wake up in bed.

I opened my eyes. People were gathered around, not looking at me but looking at the burning buildings in the distance. It wasn’t a dream. It was all real. I got to my feet again and cried.


I was sitting now. Sitting on the floor staring at nothing. Or maybe I was staring at everything. Everything that was happening around me, people madly looking for a way out, frantically calling their husbands, wives, kids and that’s when the first person jumped.

I saw her prepare herself, I wondered what on earth she was doing. Out of everyone there, she was the most calm, the most composed. It didn’t take her long to build up the courage. The windows had shattered and it was a clear, easy jump. She ran and leapt out, everyone screamed.

It took my breathe away, her jumping like that, I couldn’t believe she had given up hope so quickly. Everyone ran to the window to watch her fall. I didn’t and I couldn’t for the life of me think why anyone else would want to see that.

Elizabeth Dean walked past me, she had been at the window and had seen everything.

“Who was that?” I asked.

“Tori Martin, she was an asthmatic.” That was all Elizabeth needed to say. Tori must have thought there was no hope, and I assumed it would have been her worst nightmare to die in all of this smoke, to be consumed like that. I sure as hell didn’t want to go this way, but I was sure we would be rescued, the entire country must have known what was going on by now. Hell, maybe the entire world knew. Surely there was something that could be done.

Elizabeth spoke up again, “I spoke to my husband, on the phone. He said the south tower has been hit by a plane too, just like us.”

I felt like crying.

“He said it must be terrorists, he said there are rescue teams coming in, firefighters, I think we will be okay y’know.” She didn’t sound too convinced, and I wasn’t too convinced either. Elizabeth always seemed like an overly positive person. I had never once heard her criticise someone or demean someone. She was always happy, always kind to others and tried to make the best out of the worst situation. And this was the worst it could get. I was surprised she was still so optimistic, but the passion just wasn’t there. I did not think that she honestly believed we were going to get out of here.

People were dead – that much was obvious – and we had already seen someone on our floor kill themselves, who knew how many more people were throwing themselves out of the windows? On the floors below the impact zone, people were probably able to escape but for those above, what were we to do? Everything was blocked, there was no way down except to jump, and surely everyone in the building was smart enough to know that if you jumped from the world trade centre you weren’t going to be escaping death.

It all seemed so hopeless, I could sense the desperation in the air and the smoke, constantly getting thicker, was going to start driving more and more people to jump to a quick death.

I fished through my pockets and found my phone. Full bars, how bloody funny. My phone never had full bars but now it did. I took it as a sign. Helen had always believed in signs and fate and karma, it had been one of her most endearing qualities, even though sometimes it pissed me off to no end.

“Hello?” It was good to hear her voice, it was like all of the fright and the worry had vanished.

“Helen, it’s me.”

“Oh my god, Robbie, where are you? Please tell me you’re not in the building, please.” She begged, it killed me.

“I’m sorry baby.”

I could hear her crying. Usually when Helen would cry I would comfort her, telling her things like: she definitely was a bitch about that or quit your job then, find a new one – a better one or the classic your dad will come around, just give it time but rarely ever did I have to comfort her because of me. It was horrible, I didn’t know what to say or how to handle her.

“It’s okay though, I’m fine.” I assured her.

“No, you’re not fine. A plane just flew into your building.” She sobbed, “Wait, did it hit above you or below you? Tell me it hit below you and the only reason you’re still in the building is because you’re being some sort of hero and are saving people.”

“Hel, I’m on the 100th floor. It hit just below me, it’s right underneath me.”

“Jesus Christ.” She breathed.

“Don’t worry okay? Listen to me, do not worry about me. I am going to get out, it will all be fine.”

“Would you stop saying it is going to be fine and your fine? You are not fine, it is not fine. You have been fucking attacked and your standing on the 100th floor of a time bomb, Rob. That building is coming down and you need to get out.”

She was freaking me out now, suddenly all of the fear and panic came back to me and I couldn’t breathe.

“Helen, I’m scared.”

“No,” she started crying again, “don’t be. I’m sorry, I’m sorry for saying that. You will be fine, I know you will.”

“The building is shaking, a lot. You’re right, I don’t know how much longer the building has left – how much longer I have left.”

“Don’t talk like that. I’m trying to stay calm here, can you just humour me?”

“Don’t watch the news.” I stated.


“I suspect this is all over the news, I don’t want you to see it.”

“I can see it Rob, I am at the park, I have seen everything.”

For some reason, it made me feel sick to think of Helen watching all of this, I certainly didn’t want her to be watching when the tower collapsed as it was inevitable now.

“Go home then, please. Go home and get in bed with Rowdy and whatever you do, do not watch the news. Okay?”


“Promise me.” I said, I wasn’t taking no for an answer.

“Rob, please – “

“God damn it Helen, just say yes that is all you have to do is say yes.” I snapped."Okay, yes, I promise.”"Wasn't so hard, was it?"

 Helen laughed, but her laugh was full of despair. She sounded like how I felt.

 "What now?" She asked. I would have given anything to have known the answer to that question, but how could I? We both knew what was going to happen, what was coming next but neither of us wanted to admit it.

 "Go home, and I'll be there as soon as I can. " I lied. She knew I was lying, but what harm would it do? Why couldn't we pretend that the day was going to end like any other and that I would be home after work just like any other day?

 "I have to go now." I said.

 "Okay. I'll see you soon, yeah?"

 "Of course."

 "I love you."

 "You never say that."

 "Well I'm saying it now, so you better say it back otherwise I'll be embarrassed." She laughed and cried all at once.

 "I love you too, very much." I said tenderly. Would this be the last time I would tell Helen that I love her?

 "I'm going to hang up now, Hel, I'll see you soon. Okay?" I continued, wanting to get this over and done with but dreading putting the phone down on her voice.

 "Okay," she said softly, "bye."


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