"In a New York Minute,
Everything can change,
In a New York Minute,
Things can get a little strange" 1
The leap-in after effects were fading quickly as I became aware of a man standing beside me--a BIG man--his beefy arm slung around my shoulder.
"You've done enough, Richards," he was saying. "Take a break, will ya'?"
"Break?" I asked, uncertainly, still trying to get my bearings. Those first few moments of a new leap are always the worse. My vision was just now clearing enough that I could make out that my friend was a fireman. A BIG fireman.
"Yeah, sit down before you fall down. And that's an order." As if to demonstrate his words, he shoved me towards a nearby rock and pushed me down until I was sitting on it. Satisfied that I was out of the way, he turned and walked over to another small group of very dirty firemen.
I took that moment to look around. My God! This had to have been one helluva fire! Smoke, ash, and dust lingered in the air, burning my eyes, choking me with every breath. Whatever had been standing here was a lost cause; it had been completely demolished--just some metal skeletal structures were still standing. I couldn't even count all the fire trucks, ambulances, police cars parked around the perimeter--untold numbers of personnel were climbing over and through all the rubble. Numerous reporters were milling about, interviewing workers and the dozens upon dozens of other people who were simply standing around in shock--many hugging, all in tears.
I glanced down at my right boot--yes, I had finally pieced it together that I was also a firefighter--and discovered a New York Post laying on the ground. I picked it up, with shaking hands. There, on the front page, was a picture of an explosion ripping through one of the towers of the World Trade Center, the other one already smoking. The date at the top of the paper said September 13, 2001. I looked back up at the crumbling metal ruins reaching into the gray sky--the only parts of the towers still standing.
OH MY GOD!! What the hell had happened here? And why didn't I leap in sooner to stop it? And where was Al?
With a start I realized that the 'rock' I was sitting on was actually a chunk of one of the towers, and I felt a knot in my stomach the size of a fist. This couldn't be happening. It wasn't possible. Those beautiful buildings--gone. Just. . .gone.
I opened the newspaper I was holding, and quickly started scanning the stories inside for information. I read about the terrorist attacks both in New York and at the Pentagon, and I felt the knot grow to the size of a bowling ball at the thought that Al, or any of my friends or colleagues, might have been in Washington on that day. Was that the reason why Al hadn't arrived yet? Did something happen to him on September 11th? What day was this in relation to his timeline? Was I in the past? The future? The present?
Dear God, where ARE you, Al? Please help me!
I let the paper fall from my trembling fingers as I once again took in all the devastation around me. How could anyone do this? The time, the expense, the recruits--the sheer HATRED and evil this entailed. All those planes, used as weapons. All those innocent souls, lost. The people dead and dying in the remains of the buildings. I couldn't just sit here any longer, waiting for Al to show up, or for the burly fireman to return and tell me what to do. I KNEW what I had to do, dammit! I had to get off my ass and help out!
My decision made, I was about to stand and join the rescue effort when a middle-aged woman wearing a jacket with a Red-Cross patch on the sleeve approached me and handed me a small brown bag. She gave me a big smile and said, "God bless you, sir," then walked on, handing out bags to the other workers. Wondering what she had handed me, I opened the bag and discovered it was a lunch. A sudden hunger pang made me realize my host probably hadn't eaten in quite a while, and I knew I was going to need my strength for this leap. A quick bite certainly wouldn't hurt.
Digging into the bag, I pulled out a small bag of chips, a cold can of Coke, an oversized cookie, and a peanut butter & jelly sandwich. Taped to the cellophane wrapper were a Hershey's kiss, and a small, handwritten note. I opened the note, and read the childish scrawl:
"Peanut butter and jelly sticks together--just like we will. You are my hero.
And I started to cry.
"And in these days, when darkness falls early,
And people rush home, to the ones they love,
You better take a fool's advice,
And take care of your own,
One day they're here,
Next day they're gone." 1
At some point, I heard the Imaging Chamber door through my sobs. "Hey ya' Sammy," I heard Al's strained voice say, and while part of me was ecstatic to know he was alive and well, another part of me wanted to curl up in a corner and continue to cry. This was beyond anything I had ever encountered, anything I could have ever imagined.
"Al, I failed," I sobbed.
"Failed?" he asked, puzzled. "You just got here, kid. How could you have failed already?"
I glared at him through red-swollen eyes. "Al, look around you," I snapped, sarcastically. "I was too late to stop it."
"You couldn't have stopped it, kid," he told me, calmly. "This had been building for years, and the attacks were too well orchestrated."
"If I had leaped into one of the pilots, maybe--" I started.
"Four planes from three different airports, Sam," he reminded me, gently. "Even if you had managed to stop one, the others would have still struck."
His words confused me, frustrated me. "But. . .but . . .if I wasn't here to stop this, then what am I here to do?" I cried out, exasperated.
Al's sympathetic eyes bore into my soul, filling me with a serenity that was very out of place in the war-zone setting. "You already did it, Sam--prepare to leap soon."
"LEAP?! Al, I didn't do anything but sit here like a lump!"
"And that's exactly what you were supposed to do," he assured me. "In the original timeline, Lieutenant Joey Richards--that's you, by the way--went against his commanding officer's instructions, and stormed into the wreckage of tower number two, looking for survivors. His rash actions weakened the structure further, and it collapsed on him and three other firefighters who had gone in after him. You saved their lives, Sam."
"That's it?" I exclaimed. "FOUR people?"
"Sammy, every life is precious," he replied, gently. "In this case, a little bit did a lot of good."
By now I was almost hysterical. "But Al--there are hundreds. . .THOUSANDS. . .of people who must've lost their lives here! There has to be SOMETHING else I'm here to do! I can't be here just for this!"
Those beautiful brown eyes filled with tears at my anguish. "Sam, we can only do what we can do. Four men are alive today because of you. You should be proud."
I shook my head, angrily. "That's not good enough, Al."
A single tear slid down his handsome face, his voice soft and soothing. "I know you're hurting, Sammy, but your mission here is over. It's time to let the other heroes do their job."
And with those words, the blue light claimed me, and I leaped.
"What the head makes cloudy,
The heart makes very clear,
The days were so much brighter,
In the time when she was here,
But I know there's somebody somewhere,
To make these dark clouds disappear,
Until that day, I have to believe,
I believe, I believe. . ." 1