A Glass, and Darkly - Cover

A Glass, and Darkly

Copyright© 2018 by The Outsider

Chapter 1: The End of Innocence

So as through a glass, and darkly
The age long strife I see
Where I fought in many guises,
Many names, but always me.

- General George S. Patton, Jr.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
- 1 Corinthians 13:12-13

11 September 2001 – Hilltop Road, Lancaster, Massachusetts

Jeff Knox sat at his kitchen table looking out across his back yard. Outside the sun shined bright on this late summer morning in Lancaster, Massachusetts, but that could change in a moment in New England. He hoped the good weather would hold for his shift later that night.

With one supervisor out on bereavement and another two on vacation, Jeff would fill in as tonight’s shift commander for Devens Medical Defense. A non-transporting ambulance service, DMD provided paramedic coverage to eight towns surrounding Fort Devens and the base itself. Working an overnight shift was unusual for him these days now that he was the division operations manager. Since DMD was part of the Brophy Ambulance Group, Jeff’s seniority in the original Brophy EMS division transferred to the new division with him last year. He’d been working for Seamus Brophy since 1993, over eight years now.

The laughter from his wife and children brought him back from his musings. Keiko taught English at Devens Regional High School in neighboring Shirley. Normally she was already at work by this time of the day. Today, however, she sat at the table having breakfast with him and their three kids. She took today off for a doctor’s appointment. Her presence while unusual was welcome.

The coffee maker gurgled behind him signaling that it was done. With Keiko home for the morning, he made a full pot. Jeff rose and retrieved his mug which read ‘World’s Greatest Dad.’ The kids each signed it with different colored permanent paint markers and gave it to him for his birthday in August. He used it every day since opening it and it was his favorite.

He filled the mug with the dark brown elixir of life known as coffee. He would not defile it by adding cream or sugar. He drank his coffee black and never iced. His wife drank her coffee with cream and sugar, though without the ridiculous amounts of both his younger sister Kara used. Jeff filled Keiko’s cup and brought it to her. She smiled up at him while listening to something their middle child, Ryan, was telling her. Jeff stood near his chair sipping cautiously at his brew, not wanting to burn his mouth. He was tough, not stupid.

Jeff turned on the television in the living room during family meal time, an unusual occurrence. He wanted to check the weather forecast. The local news stations ran their weather segments during the last five or ten minutes of the eight o’clock hour, right before they switched to their national network’s morning news shows at nine.

Instead of a local newsroom on the screen he saw a national network broadcast already on-screen. It showed an image of one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. A large hole in one side of the tower streamed smoke into the clear blue sky.

“As you can see,” a reporter said, “a small plane has crashed into the side of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. At this time we’re not sure what happened to cause the crash.”

Jeff paused while about to take another sip of his coffee. The news reported a small plane crash but something about the image on the screen didn’t seem right to him. Jeff knew that a bomber crashed into the Empire State Building in 1945. That seemed more in line with the image he now saw. The size of the jagged scar on the side of the skyscraper seemed out of proportion for the reported light aircraft.

Rather than sit at the table with his family, Jeff remained on his feet and watched the images on the screen. The video feed came from an orbiting helicopter. The building’s image slowly rotated clockwise while he watched. Alex, their oldest child, was the only other family member who could see the TV without turning around in their chairs. Keiko, Ryan, and Sabrina, their youngest, continued talking unaware of the image.

The network news show continued uninterrupted through nine o’clock. The news ticker at the bottom of the screen continued to scroll text while the anchors tried to sound knowledgeable about the incident they were reporting. The truth was that news anchors rarely sounded knowledgeable to him when they went off-script. The news ticker told him more than the talking heads.

The South Tower began to slip from view behind the burning North Tower as the helicopter continued its orbit. It was like watching a solar eclipse in a time-lapse film. Jeff started to raise his mug for another sip of coffee just before the South Tower slipped completely out of view.

A jetliner streaked in from the right side of the television frame toward the towers. He didn’t see the moment of impact but Jeff saw the inevitable result: a huge fireball that blossomed out of the opposite side of the almost invisible tower.

“Whoa!” Alex exclaimed upon seeing the explosion. “Cool!” The heads of the others at the table swiveled to look at him.

Jeff’s mug slipped from his nerveless fingers.

’Oh, shit!’

The coffee mug fell, as one would expect. The coffee it held rose above the rim. Inertia fought to keep it in place as its container dropped. The mug shattered with a crash, mimicking the explosion he just witnessed.

Keiko and the kids turned to Jeff. He stared at the television in shock. The legs of his pajamas and his slippers were soaked with coffee. Steam rose from both. Jeff didn’t notice. The image of both Twin Towers burning captured his whole attention.

Keiko followed his gaze and gasped when her mind processed what the image meant: terrorism. She turned back in time to see the look on her husband’s face shift from shock to rage. He came to the same realization in that moment. Tears fell from her eyes. The tears were for those who just lost their lives and for those who would surely die in the minutes and years to come.

Keiko was an American of Japanese descent, Jeff a history major with a concentration in military history. They both thought the same thought: this was their generation’s Pearl Harbor. With that thought Jeff remembered a quote from Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, architect and commander of the December 7, 1941 attack: ‘I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.’

Their children were all under five years old and didn’t need to see the horror displayed on every network by that time. Jeff scooped the remote off the table before the kids saw too much and shut the television off. Without looking, he tossed the remote in a negligent arc onto the counter behind him. It landed with a sharp <crack> and the battery cover flew off in a different direction. He walked to the basement door to retrieve the mop and broom behind it.

Jeff swept the remains of his ‘Dad’ mug into a dustpan. He hesitated before dumping the porcelain shards in the trash. He stared down at his kids’ colorful writing on the pieces wondering, Is this a harbinger of things to come? He prayed it wouldn’t be. The United States would soon hurl its military might at whoever did this. Jeff hoped the American people had the stomach for the long fight that was coming. He set the pan aside. He would try to glue the mug back together.

Jeff helped Keiko carry the kids from the kitchen to the living room so they wouldn’t cut their feet on any small pieces of the mug he overlooked. He’d mop the floor in the kitchen twice to catch anything the broom might have missed. Jeff didn’t remember actually mopping the floor. He found himself loading the dishwasher some minutes later with no recollection of when he started.

When Jeff returned to the living room the kids weren’t there but Keiko was. He could hear the kids playing upstairs. Keiko sat on the couch watching a muted television. The video of the second airliner’s impact played, again and again, slowed to a sickening frame-by-frame replay. Even at that speed the plane sped across the open space from the edge of the scene with a fireball erupting behind the already burning North Tower.

He stepped around the couch to join Keiko and froze. Tears streaked down her face more than before, her face reflecting abject horror. He shut the television off again, sat down beside her, and gathered her in his strong arms. She turned her face into his chest and cried. He’d never seen her look so out of control, so helpless, not even after her brother Ken was killed.

“My God, Jeffrey!” she whispered. “What is happening?” Having learned Japanese first while growing up, Keiko’s speech pattern was more formal than most people’s.

“We’re under attack, Keiko. I know you were thinking ‘Pearl Harbor’ at the same time I was. That’s exactly what this will be for our generation and our country. I wonder what our nation’s response will be?”

“What if they come to Massachusetts? What if they come here?”

“Then I’ll make it rain lead,” he said in a cold voice, one she’d never heard him use around her or the kids. “‘And I looked, and beheld a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him,’” he quoted. “Whoever did this will curse the day they were born if they come here and try to harm my family. I will become that rider and Hell will seem like a vacation spot.”

Soft thumping sounds came from outside. They grew louder while Jeff and Keiko listened. Jeff recognized the sounds: they were those of UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from Moore Army Airfield at nearby Fort Devens. He released Keiko, rose and peered out the window. As the pair of helicopters passed over the house a flight of F-15s raced across the sky much lower than he would have expected, moving from east to west. Jeff watched while they curled south. The noise of their engines increased as the exhaust faced the house, then faded again when the jets pulled away.

“I recognized the sound of Black Hawks before, but what was that, Jeffrey?”

“F-15s,” he told her while still peering out the window, “a flight of four. They’re probably out of Otis, not Westover, given their flight path. I’m guessing they came up from the Cape to check Boston’s airspace, then the air over Hanscom and Devens. They’re on their way to Worcester now.”

“MY PARENTS!” she gasped before diving for the phone.

Hiro and Mayumi Takahashi were supposed to fly back to Spokane, Washington today to correct an issue with the deed to their former home. His in-laws’ new home sat about one hundred and fifty yards from his front door.

Keiko jabbed at the buttons on their phone and waited. She grumbled in disgust, hung up, and redialed. And redialed. And redialed again. Disgust turned to frustration then fear while Jeff watched. Tears fell from Keiko’s eyes again when she was unable to reach her parents. Jeff sat next to her, placing his hands over hers.

“They weren’t supposed to even be in the air yet, Keiko,” he reminded her. Their flight wasn’t scheduled to lift off until ten. “They were probably headed out to the runway and they told everyone to turn off their electronics. We’ll give it a minute.”

Keiko began sobbing again, the worry overwhelming her. Jeff took the phone from her and wrapped her in his arms again. He rocked her and rubbed her back in an attempt to calm his wife. When her sobs stopped he carried her up to their bedroom and laid her on the bed. Jeff covered her with a blanket, and then closed the door when he left the bedroom.

“Daddy? Is Mommy okay?” Alex asked in the hallway. Jeff could hear Alex’s twin brother Ryan and younger sister Sabrina playing in the boys’ bedroom.

“Come into the guest room for a second, Alex.”

He closed the bedroom door most of the way and lifted his son onto the bed. At four and a half, Alex weighed less than fifty pounds. Since the boy’s last birthday Jeff often described his oldest’s demeanor as ‘four going on forty.’

“Alex, what did you see on the television during breakfast?”

“A movie. Saw that ‘splosion.”

“Alex,” Jeff said gently to his son, knowing he had to be careful here, “that wasn’t a movie. That was the morning news.”

“Not a movie?” Alex looked confused.

“No, Alex.”

“That was real?” Jeff nodded. “Is that why Mommy’s upset?”

“Alex, what were Sobo and Sofu doing today?”

“Sobo and Sofu...?” Tears welled up in Alex’s eyes. “Are they...?”

“No, Alex,” Jeff said quickly. “No. Their flight wasn’t supposed to take off until ten this morning. They wouldn’t have been on the runway until well after what we saw happen. Mommy’s upset because we haven’t been able to talk to them yet. I think their phones are off and they’re stuck in their plane right now. Come on downstairs with me and we’ll try to call them again, okay?”

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