I don’t want to die. It’s cold, and the snowflakes haven’t stopped falling, and I don’t want to die. Still. It has been so long since I stopped moving and laid down here, under the hole in the roof, with the snow coming down in blurry little molecules and landing on my frost-caked body. So long have I lain here, knees tucked up to my chest like a child, face against the snow-covered metal floor. I don’t think I could move it if I wanted to. And I don’t. I want to lay down and hope it all goes away, and wait until they come and rescue me, and pretend that it never happened.
And I don’t want to die. Not like this, not here. Not alone in the cold.
It pains me so, but as I lie here I try and remember what happened. The pain of memory is so sudden that it shoots through my head like a sprouting plant, branching in so many directions and expelling sharp spikes. Through the pain, I close my watering eyes and try to remember. It’s easier now, after my head has had some time to sit and rest, but I still feel the pain.
I sit down, and spread my hands in a testy way across a console of bright lights and auditory telltales that seem revolted at my very presence, on the verge of exploding and ricocheting around the room like loose corks. I persist, and study the information that they are willing to convey. I am not phased by the words of the machine. It tells me of no troubles, gives me no grievances, and I again run my hands over the keys and levers.
Then I look up, out the small window in front of me, and see into the darkness outside, out into the fields and plains, spotted with yellowing trees and dying bushes, the ground covered in a blanket of snow hugging it tightly like a mother would her child. And this comforts me some, to see the quietude of the night, the slow, calm stillness that watches over all, that not even a knife could cut through. It is a contrast, when compared to the business of the control room, with its flashing lights and cutting beeps and whirs, so fragile an environment it could be shattered by a sneeze.
And somebody is telling me to do something, not in a calm way at all, and I do what they say, simply pressing a few buttons down on the keyboard, and letting the humming machine of the power plant do the rest. So simple these machines are, yet so complex.
The pain of memory begins anew, and I’m forced to come back to the present, the screeching cold forcing my eyes open, the lashes frozen in place and encrusted with snow and ice. I can see blurry icicles hanging down from the roof. One falls to the ground, fracturing as it hits the floor into a million pieces of light, each shining like a million golden suns, and they skid toward me, so fast, and I shut my eyes. I don’t want to get hurt, the light cannot touch me-
I open my eyes again. I haven’t moved my head, and only bits of ice sit next to me, in the dark, in the cold, on the floor, the metal floor. Perhaps my brain has not had enough time to rest. Nevertheless, it wanders still, and I find that thoughts of the past seem most keen to be found.
I’m sweating, sweating hard, the little tears of sweat dribbling down my forehead and getting stuck in my eyebrows. My hands lace across the control panel like dancers, but in vain. It is not with my hands that this problem can be solved. I read the monitor in shock, repeating the data in my head and sweating. And sweating. And sweating.
I’m drowning in a salty sea, letting my stomach drop out of my body on an elevator, as I watch the bright screens that hurt my tired eyes. I feel the room float away from me, the floor and the walls and all the people within them, stretched a million miles away. But I look around me, and they’re all there, and then I start yelling, and pointing, and the entire control room lights up with activity as if a bomb of energy had been released.
My job is simple, I suppose, and as the control room clouds with the buzzing of all the voices, like a swarm of so many flies, I drift away from the action, the words and people moving through molasses, like in a slow motion moving picture.
I don’t want to have had to remember any of this. None of it at all. When I leave here, I’m going to forget every bit of it, and not come back to this place, or any place like it again, and-
The control room is dead silent, nobody speaks or is daring to speak. We’re all balancing on the mirror’s edge, watching, waiting, and the smell of fear permeates it all. It’s like waiting to be shot.
-and, I can’t stop remembering. Will I ever stop remembering?
There’s a massive, immeasurably loud bang. It jolts me so hard I fall from my chair, and in the aftershock, when the whole plant shutters, I scuttle around like a scared spider, grappling with the chair at my console for balance. Suddenly, the shaking ends, and the night is permeated by a silence so deep it is like the darkness of space. But, just on the edge of hearing, there is something else, something tingling, something laughing and roaring, a malicious and evil thing: fire. It licks at the edge of silence like a thirsty dog, eating away at our sanity every second it burns.
Suddenly somebody is yelling and screaming, and I’m hoisted back up into my chair, and I can taste something metallic, and I’m scared, and suddenly the night outside is red.
I can barely see it, my vision is too blurry, and something red is leaking down into my left eye, but there’s fire outside, spreading across the roof of the plant, in an angry red tide. It engulfs whatever it touches, eating it up in a red burst, expelling sparks up into the air. And eventually, my entire field of view is red, my ears full of the angry yelling and roaring of the fire, and its brothers, and I become sick to my stomach, looking away from the small window.
Just as I do, somebody forces something red and cylindrical into my hand. The pain in my head surges like the flames, but I can see that it’s a fire extinguisher. I stumble to my feet and trip out of the control room after the person, who is guiding me with their hands, grabbing my collar and pulling me through the hallways that I only vividly remember once we pass out of them. Finally, we burst from the bottom of the main tower, and the night hits me like a wave of cold air.
I burst back into the present, as if I have suddenly surfaced from a deep lake. I do not want to remember more, and I try to take my mind off my memories. I look up, and see the stars through the hole in the ceiling, concealed almost fully by the thick clouds that produce the snow, but not so much that everything on high is invisible. I stare into the heavens, letting the snow tickle my nose and watering eyes as it alights upon them.
I cannot evade that most savage of hunters for long though, and even if hours seem to pass as I watch the sky, I soon plunge back into my memories.
It is very hot around me, and I stand, teetering on the spot, looking into the raging inferno as it climbs the oil spill like a mountainside up towards the second reactor. And my feet don’t want to move and my eyes won’t look away, and somebody is trying to drag me away, but I cannot move, and they cannot move me.
Suddenly, there is another bang, and the world is filled with bright light.
I’m sitting in a room. There’s a table. I’m sitting at it, and so are my friends, and we’re laughing, and having fun. I have a deck of cards in my hand, and it’s a good one, and with a smile I lay it down, and with a great laugh take all the coins in the center of the table we’ve managed to fish out of our pockets and bet with on our free time.
My friends laugh too, and make jokes and we all laugh more. And the night continues on like this, uninterrupted and pure, and happy. The happiness is like a filter that makes everything blurry, and catches our smiles in slow motion and makes our eyes twinkle even though the light here is dim and muted. The happiness is like ignorance. Ignorance of… of what I cannot say, and the pain is so great now, and-
-And I open my eyes, and the pain rockets through my brain like a bullet, searing my nerves and incapacitating me. I let tears fall from my squinting eyes as the pain slowly lessens, and I come back to be in control of my body. Except I instantly wish I hadn’t. I convulse, twitching onto my stomach, and vomit its contents out onto the floor. I retch again, and slide down onto the floor, lights flashing in front of my eyes.
I know I’m sick and poisoned, with the power plant. It found itself inside me, and I’m trying to get it out. But I cannot seem to get it all out, and I continue to lay there and retch for what seems like the next half hour, until I stop, and try to stand up. The pain in my head almost forces me to stop, but I persevere until I’m essentially upright, and I observe my surroundings. To my left, the wall and ceiling has collapsed, and the rubble crushes a blood soaked wrist, clawing at the ground motionlessly. I do not look for its owner. In front of me I can see the husk of the reactor, like the carcass of some dead animal. I do not dare go near it for perhaps it will poison me more. Instead, I turn around, and there is a hallway, and I follow it, staggering, clutching at the slick walls, stumbling around bends and tripping on bits of rubble strewn upon the scarred metallic floor.
Suddenly, the pain in my head comes back, and I can see the blood dripping down my face, and I fall to the ground, and the agony takes me away.
It took me a while to come to where I am now. But I am here. I had wandered far, until I could not wander any longer, until the radiation poisoning and head injury forced me to lie down and curl up, and wait and rest.
That’s funny. I actually remembered why I can’t walk. Funny. Perhaps my mind has healed, perhaps I can move again, because… because I don’t want to die.
I don’t want to die. How many times do I have to say it to make it come true. How many times do I have to think that I cannot die here in the cold, because, because I must live.
I need to live, need to continue on.
I do, don’t I?
I can’t be like them.
I remember them. As I stumbled through the power plant, as the fire burned around me, I saw them, bodies stuck between bits of horrendously bent pieces of rebar and metal, bodies strewn about corridors, some still twitching and moaning, some in many different pieces, some scorched to the bone. Their faces were almost all the same, though, regardless of the way they died: contorted in horrible, unimaginable pain, and twisted into nightmarish visages by, by fire and radiation, and bits of sharp metal and concrete.
I don’t want to end up like that. I won’t end up like that!
Funny. Funny how it all seems so clear now, because now that it’s over I can remember it all with stunning detail. Funny how it hurts me so much more now than it did then. Funny how I thought I can’t die. Funny how I still think that. I want to stand up-
But somewhere, deep down, I know that all things must come to an end.
If I am to live this night, I have little hope for living many other nights. The cancer will take me in the end, slowly, but surely, it will ebb the life from me, and I will die, having lived through horrible, drawn out pain. Pain. So much pain have I experienced this night, and if I am to live, so much pain I am to experience later.
Yes, deep down I know that all things must end.
Funny how I only realize it now. Funny how I’m going to have to accept this when I know it’s coming.
I shed a tear from my eye. I don’t want to let go. But it’s the right thing to do. I know it. It’s not deep down anymore, but it’s bursting out of me like so many locusts. I know truly now that fate which has been given me.
And I close my eyes, and let the world spiral away from me, my muscles slackening, and my last breath seeps out, a shallow rasp that is carried high into the air and is lost among the snowflakes.