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The fourth chapter of Book Three of
|Somewhere Only We Know|
April 1, 2012
Keith struggles to move on after the events of September 11.
Keith wanted to tell him that two members of his family would never return.
Don Rubén slouched on a simple metal stool, stained with motor oil and a layer of dust. He was positioned in the dark storefront. He stared at the door, only blinking when the pain became too much for his tired eyes. The door that captured his attention hung open to the wind, swaying back and forth of its own free will. As the night grew ever deeper, so too did the growing hole in Don Rubén's heart.
Keith almost felt guilty for coming. When he had come to the hidden machine shop, he had unknowingly stirred hope in Don Rubén by stumbling through the door. The look of defeat on Don Rubén's face was absolute misery to watch. Now, it was unbearable. He could stay on the stool forever. Eternally waiting for Humberto and Rubén Jr. to walk in the door and complete his broken family.
Don Rubén's now only son, Rodrigo, came from the workshop and gently grabbed Keith's shoulder. Speaking without words, Rodrigo turned to go back into the workshop, Keith following suit. Rodrigo weakly lifted a hand and pointed to a stool near the window. Keith sat down and stared out the window. The pillars of smoke still rose over the skyline of the New York City. The black echo of the Twin Towers.
"What happened at the airport?" Rodrigo whispered, his voice thick with concealed emotion.
"I was getting ready to board the plane, and I started talking to a man with glasses..." Keith started slowly.
"What man?" Rodrigo interrupted abruptly. Keith's stomach dropped with fear. Rodrigo's eyes were filled with almost wild fury.
"I don't know. I stopped, and the announcement came to board the plane. I started walking towards the gate, but something in my heart told me not to board. I tried to push it aside and keep going, but I couldn't. It was like something physical was barring me from the gate."
Rodrigo took a deep breath, his eyes returning to their normal shade of brown. Keith continued, still wary of Rodrigo's emotions.
"I sat in the boarding area and stared at the gate, debating whether to board the plane or not. Twenty minutes passed, and I watched the plane leave. I decided I would try to catch another plane, and was walking to the lobby when..."
Rodrigo realized where Keith's story ended. He sighed, his stomach aching with the effort. Rodrigo dropped his head and gazed at the floor. Keith looked onward, unsure what to make of Rodrigo. Rodrigo lifted his head and stared at Keith with tears in his eyes.
"You are very lucky that you did not get on that plane," he said, shuddering as the tears rolled down his dusty face.
"Why?" Keith asked, confused.
"That plane was one of the four today that was hijacked. Two crashed into the Twin Towers, one into the Pentagon. Yours went down in Pennsylvania. With no survivors." Rodrigo explained.
Keith stared at Rodrigo. His chest felt constricted as he remembered the forty or so people sitting the boarding area, waiting to get on the plane.
"None?" Keith asked. His stomach continued to plummet as he realized the answer.
"None." Rodrigo reaffirmed, spitting the word out.
Keith let his head down and let the tears fall freely. His body shook with sobs. His chest constricted further as if a snake were preparing him for death. Keith felt a hand gently pat his back, pushing the sobs out of him.
"Have we heard from Leah or Sierra?" Keith whispered, head still down.
At this, Rodrigo's face emptied of any color that it had left. Rodrigo took a deep breath to steady his voice before starting.
"When the first plane hit, we tried to contact Humberto and Rubén. We got a call from Humberto about what was going on. He told us that Neil and Leah were in the North Tower when the plane hit. Sierra went in after Leah, and Humberto went in after her. Rubén entered the North Tower with his ladder company.
Keith said nothing. Rodrigo continued.
"Humberto asked us to take Leah and Sierra to a safer place. We tried to make our way down to the World Trade Center. The streets were clogged with people, and we made little progress. The South Tower was already gone when we arrived. The North Tower collapsed a few minutes later. When the dust cloud cleared, both towers were gone, along with the hotel."
Keith looked up at Rodrigo. He clasped his hands in front of his mouth. Keith's body shook for a moment, and he jostled to the sink. Keith's hands gripped the sink like claws as he heaved into it. Rodrigo said nothing, only bowing his head as he fought back the sickness in his own body.
Rodrigo noticed the first change the most as the days rolled by. He had become the effective father of the house. His own father, wracked by guilt at the loss of his son and brother, stayed in the storefront, still gazing at the door. Rodrigo did his best to attend to his needs, but it was difficult for him to become the caretaker to his once strong father. Matias did his best to help, but he had a job to support his own family, and Rodrigo could not expect him to be there forever.
The one time he had convinced his father to leave the stool, Rodrigo had made the mistake of taking him into the shop. The TV had been left on. A news report detailing the cleanup at "Ground Zero" was airing. His father had taken one look at it before turning to leave. As Rodrigo hurried to turn it off, his father had turned on the spot and blasted the TV off the wall with a fireball. After the fire had died down, he had broken. into sobs that Rodrigo had little power to contain. He simply had to wait for his father to cry it out.
As October quickly came, Rodrigo noticed the change in Keith become ever more prominent. The once bright child had become, like his father, an empty case in which a soul had once lived. Keith resigned himself to Rodrigo's father's room, and had refused to leave. Rodrigo prayed more intently than ever that they would find the strength to move on, but his prayers seemed to have gone unanswered. The house was nothing more than a place for them to wait for their own fate now.
One day, as Rodrigo prepared to retire for the night, he heard footsteps slowly walking down the hallway and into the kitchen. He turned and faced Keith. He was wearing the same clothes as the day he had come. He stunk of sweat and his hair was swamped with oily grease. Keith walked to the table and sat down slowly, deliberately. He took a deep breath and exhaled. His T-shirt showed the outline of his ribs. Keith glanced back into the hallway, into the kitchen, and back again at the hallway. It seemed as if Keith were fighting his own will to be there.
"Can I get you anything?" Rodrigo asked quietly.
"Where's the shower?" Keith asked in a scratchy voice that hadn't been used for weeks.
"Down the hall and to the left." Rodrigo answered, pointing down the hallway.
"Thank you." Keith answered, getting up slowly. Rodrigo watched him stumble to the bathroom and shut the door quietly. Rodrigo let a small sigh of relief free from his lungs. Maybe there's some hope for them after all.
Rodrigo could only half-register the rustle of sheets that accompanied the other body, sliding into his bed. His eyes opened a smidge, half sealed by moisture and sweat. He turned his head around to see who had crawled in beneath the sheets. The body lay on the empty side of the bed, wrapped in a fetal position. Rodrigo sighed and sat up slowly.
"What's wrong, Keith?" Rodrigo groggily asked.
"Bad dream," he mumbled.
"Keith, you're twelve years old," Rodrigo sighed.
Rodrigo rolled his eyes at the pre-teen and rested his head on his hands.
"What happened in the dream?"
"I was back in the hotel with Sierra and Hubert."
"Yeah," Keith responded. "On that day."
"Go on," said Rodrigo, a small note of impatience on his voice.
"I was getting ready to leave, and I asked Sierra where Leah was," Keith continued.
"And where was she?"
"In the same place, watching the sunrise."
"Did she come?"
"No. The plane hit before she could,"
"And what did you do?"
"I stayed with Sierra. We tried to find Leah."
"What happened in the end?" Rodrigo proceeded with caution.
"We took Sierra to your shop, and all of us went to the South Tower and fought. We won."
Rodrigo took his hands and rubbed them over his face, taking a deep breath.
"It was over," Keith finished simply.
Rodrigo waited for Keith to keep talking. When no response came, he straightened his back and watched the lump beneath the blanket.
"Why was it bad then?"
"Because it didn't happen."
Rodrigo let a sigh loose from his body. Keith began to shake beneath the blanket.
"It's my fault." Keith persisted.
"No, it's not."
"Yes it is!" Keith responded, his voice rising in volume.
"No, it's not!" Rodrigo countered.
"Yes it is!" Keith roared, shoving aside the sheets to sit up and glare at Rodrigo. Keith's eyes, bloodshot and angry, were brimming with tears. He glared at Rodrigo for another moment, before something deep inside him collapsed. The tears spilled out of his eyes like a dam had breached. Keith covered his face in his hands and sobbed, echoing through the dark room and into the storefront below.
Rodrigo sighed, eyes full of pity as he surveyed the sobbing boy. Rodrigo lifted a hand and patted the boy's shoulder, only to have it shrugged off.
"I shouldn't have left," Keith mumbled through his fingers. "I should've waited for Leah to come back, so I could say goodbye to her. Then I could've helped. She wouldn't be gone, or Sierra or Hubert or Ruben Jr.! They would all still be here!"
"Keith, you don't know that."
"And how do you know that I'm wrong! You should feel just as guilty as I do!"
Something inside Rodrigo seemed to shatter. Keith realized his mistake and looked up, face streamed with tears.
"I'm sorry, I..."
"Your apology is not needed." Rodrigo said, closing his eyes holding up a hand to stop him.
Keith sniffled and wiped away the tears, staring at Rodrigo. Rodrigo took another deep breath and looked over Keith.
"Keith, I want you to tell me; did you know what would happen?"
"No," Keith responded.
Rodrigo continued. "Do we know that you could've helped if you were there, or I also?"
"Isn't there a possibility that you might've been killed also, or I, or my father?"
"Then isn't it better that you're here now? I know you're sad. We all are. I never thought I would lose my brother and uncle in such a horrific way. But, we're here now, living on in their memory. And we know that we can always remember them, and honor their sacrifice by being here, surviving. You can live on in Leah and Sierra's memory by surviving. Isn't that what Leah wanted in the first place, when she found you at Xylia?"
"Yeah," Keith answered quietly, thinking back on the memory.
"Then we need to forget the past, and move on. I need to, you need to, my father needs to. Can you do that for me?" Rodrigo asked, looking straight into Keith's eyes.
"I think so."
"Where are they now?"
Rodrigo was taken aback at the sudden question. He considered his options carefully, not wanting to say something that would offend or make Keith question him.
"Somewhere. Where do you think?" Rodrigo asked back.
"I don't know. Somewhere better, I hope."
"And do you believe that?"
"Yes," Keith responded, nodding.
"That something, that somewhere, is your belief. Nobody can force or take away your beliefs. That somewhere where Leah, Sierra, Hubert, Ruben, and all the others is a place that only we know-only we believe in. Whether Heaven or Hell, Paradise or Prison, or somewhere unknown to any of us. Can you understand that?"
"I think so."
"And you believe they're somewhere better than here?"
"Then that's where they are."
Keith thought over this for a moment. After a moment of silence had passed, Keith suddenly threw his arms around Rodrigo. Rodrigo paused for a moment before returning the hug.
"Rodrigo?" Keith said.
"I'm sorry about Ruben and Hubert."
Rodrigo smiled for a moment, tears brimming in his brown eyes.
The day was October 24th, 2001, and Rodrigo was preparing food for his father's dinner. As he walked into the storefront, arms laden with a tray of food, he yelled with surprise. His father was not there.
"Papa?" Rodrigo called anxiously.
Rodrigo set down the tray and burst through the door to the workshop. His father stood in the office, clean shaven and in fresh clothes. He clutched a phone to his cheek and muttered into the phone. Rodrigo tiptoed closer, trying to her what his father was saying... Don Rubén put down the phone in a hurry and ran to the storefront. Rodrigo followed, his face blank with confusion. He pushed open the door to find his father locking the front door and peeking through the window, eyes wild.
"Papa, what's going on?" Rodrigo asked, motioning to the door and window. His father checked another window before rushing back into the workshop.
"I got a call from Father Kimble. The CIA has placed the city under martial law. The police are fanning through the city and arresting benders on orders from the BDA." his father yelled.
"What?" Rodrigo said, incredulous.
"We need to get Keith out of here before they come."
"But the BDA thinks he's dead." Rodrigo answered.
"But what will they do when they find out he's not?" Don Rubén countered.
To this, Rodrigo had no answer.
"Where's Matias?" Rodrigo asked.
"Getting Keith." Don Rubén said, watching the door connecting the workshop and the storefront. As footsteps were heard coming down the stairs, so too came the pounding on the front door.
"NYPD, open up!" a voice yelled from the outside.
Rodrigo glanced nervously at Don Rubén. Keith came from the stairs and stared at the source of the noise. Don Rubén ran to Keith and handed him a handful of documents.
"These are tickets for connecting flights to Tower. Go to Mesaba, and tell Jacque what has happened."
Keith stood there quietly, staring at Don Rubén in confusion. Don Rubén tried to push him away, but to no avail. The sound of a crashing door boomed through the building. A stampede of footsteps rushed into the store.
"Keith, run!" Rodrigo yelled.
The door to the workshop opened and a police officer stepped through. Rodrigo thrust his palm above the officer's head, unleashing a burst of flame. The officer covered his face and retreated back into the storefront.
"He's armed!" the officer yelled.
Keith, finally understanding, ran with all his might to the back door. The door to the workshop burst open. An army of officers swarmed through, raising pistols and riot shields. Keith pushed through the back door and into an alley as the sound of gunshots and fire blasts echoed in the dank air.
The small engine plane buzzed through the air over the thick forest. Keith sat alone next to the pilot, staring out the cockpit as the colony drew ever closer.
"Do you remember me?" Keith yelled over the roar of the engine. The pilot did not respond.
"We came here about six months ago? We were with Jacque?" Keith tried.
Still no response. Keith settled back into his chair, disheartened. The plane droned onward over the forest. Keith trained his eyes on the horizon, waiting for the first welcome sight since September. And to see Jacque again, after all that he had been through. Keith sighed in relief at the thought of seeing his greatest mentor again.
Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, Lake Mesaba peeked into the view of the cockpit. On the western peninsula, hidden beneath the sparse oak trees, lay the colony of Mesaba. Keith stood up shakily, trying to keep his balance with the movement of the plane. As Keith walked slowly towards the back, the pilot grabbed his forearm. Keith grimaced at the pincer like grip.
"What?" Keith yelled, trying to relinquish the pilot's grip on him.
The pilot flipped a switch on the console. Suddenly, the pilot jumped from his seat and threw Keith to the floor of the plane. The plane began to shake, quickly losing altitude. Keith's head bounced off of the wall, radiating waves of pain throughout his body. The pilot shuffled past him and opened a compartment near the door of the plane. He emerged a moment later with a parachute. Keith regained his senses and stood up, still holding his now bleeding head.
The pilot strapped on the parachute and opened the door. A whirlwind of air rushed into the plane, drowning out the sound of the roaring engine. Keith ran towards the pilot. As Keith drew near, the pilot thrust his fist toward him. A blast of air pushed Keith to the floor and back towards the cockpit. Keith stared blankly at the pilot. The pilot smiled widely with yellow teeth and jumped out of the plane.
Keith's mouth dropped. He tried to regain control of his eyes, but they seemed to be stuck on the image of the pilot abandoning him. The pitch of the plane became ever more apparent as supplies and boxes began to slide towards the cockpit. As one box hit Keith's foot, he snapped out of his stupor and rushed to the cockpit.
The plane had already passed Mesaba, and was quickly spiraling towards the forest below. Keith dropped into the pilot's seat and yanked the controls, trying to steady the plane. The plane refused to respond. Keith's heart dropped and he pulled harder, the muscles in his arms burning. The forest continued to grow closer. The tops of the trees began to graze the bottom of the plane. A horrible, screeching sound of ripping metal split the air. Keith slid from the seat and hunched below the console, covering his head with his arms.
It had to be over. No one alive could be able to be in such pain. And yet, with a firm instinct and the pounding of his still beating heart, Keith knew he was still alive. Two rough hands yanked on his shoulders, pulling him from the ruins of the cockpit. His body ached and groaned as his shoulders bumped and grazed against the metal of the plane.
As his eyes came back into focus, he saw that he was being dragged by two Enforcers, one of which was the pilot. The other was a male with blonde hair and a square jaw. He took a quick glance at the plane, now resembling a twisted metal sculpture, before the pilot forced him to look forward. Keith looked down and noted that he was bleeding heavily from his right thigh.
They dragged him through the forest towards the edge of Lake Mesaba. Rocks and twigs bit into his knees with every bump and step. With much grunting and the occasional curse, they stopped by the edge of the lake, across the water from the colony. They forced him to his knees and restrained his wrists with plastic zip ties.
"What should we do with him?" the pilot asked his companion.
"What do you mean?" he asked back in a gravelly voice.
"Should we take him back, or...?"
"Is this him?" the pilot wondered, pointing at Keith.
"It looks like him, from the pictures at least."
"But the Leader said he was with Flight 93."
"Who else has a scar like that?" the blonde man countered. Keith knew he referred to the burn scar on the left side of his face and neck, starting at his nose, arcing down his left eye and ear before ending at his shoulder.
"Well, that's definitely Kumara's work."
"Yeah," the blonde man chuckled. "Too bad about her. She was good."
"She was," the pilot observed.
Keith's eyes came together in confusion. What happened to Kumara?
"Well, what should we do with him?" the pilot asked again.
"The Leader won't be happy to see him," said the blonde man, suppressing a shudder from an apparent memory.
"He'll think that if this one survived, the Avatar and her friend might've as well." considered the pilot.
"Should we just finish the job now, and say we found nothing?"
"Yeah..." the pilot finished.
"I'll do it," the blonde man volunteered.
"Be my guest. Just don't take all the credit for it if we're asked. I was the reason we have him,"
"Fine, fine." the blonde man said, shrugging off the pilot.
The blonde man took a step back and faced Keith directly. Keith looked up at him, begging him to reconsider, to spare him. The blonde man stared back, not a single speck of light in his eyes. Keith gulped and tried to relax, but to no avail.
Why can't you spare me? Just take me to Uluru, I'll go, I promise.
The blonde man moved his flat hand behind his head, preparing to strike. Keith took a look back at the colony, drowning in tears and blood.
Jacque, where are you?
As the blonde man thrust his fist forward, to decapitate Keith with an air blade, there came a blast of water from the forest. The blonde man, target to whoever was attacking was sent to his knees, his air blade fading into the wind. Keith moved as far as he could and peered into the forest, trying to find his savior. The pilot turned as well before being impaled by a spear of ice.
The blonde man turned to the forest, to his unknown attacker, and attacked with several air punches, trying to score a lucky hit. The air sailed through the trees without a hit. The blonde man let down his arms and gazed into the forest, waiting. Keith watched as well, hoping for whoever it was to prevail. The blonde man, convinced that the attacker was gone, turned his attention back to Keith.
The second his back was turned, a heart wrenching sound filled the air. Keith and the blonde man turned to the forest in time to see the water being pulled out of several trees along the lakeshore. They withered quickly and exploded, bits of wood shooting through the air like shrapnel. After at least ten trees had been drained of water, a wave of water came through the forest, speeding towards Keith and the blonde man.
The blonde man turned back to Keith and performed an uppercut punch. Keith was lifted up on an air current with the motion of the man's arm. At the arc of his punch, the man shot his fist forward towards the lake. Keith flew forward and dropped into the lake. He hit the surface like it was a sidewalk in New York. His back screamed with pain, and Keith seemed to lay there, held up by the water, before sinking slowly, his breath receding.
With Keith out of the way, the blonde man dove into the lake, trying to escape the oncoming wave. The wave died down immediately, and a woman stepped out of the forest. She wore a green robe that matched her eyes and the ornament in her brown hair. Her skin was almost flawless; only two small wrinkles around her eyes. The woman moved her arms in front of her, towards the lake, and lifted them up.
The water around the blonde man surged skywards, carrying him with it. The man struggled to free himself as the orb of water rose ever higher. With a flick of the wrist, the water froze and dropped to the lake shore. The orb shattered, shards of ice flying in all directions, leaving the man broken on the ground. The man feebly stirred and tried to prop himself up on one arm, shaking visibly.
The woman almost seemed to be sliding on the ground as she moved toward the man. The man, supporting himself on one arm, glanced and the woman and tried to rise, groaning at the effort. The woman extended her arm and tightened her fist. The shards of ice from the orb converged on the man. The man convulsed once as shard after shard entered his body. Though he was dead after three or four, the woman waited until every piece had impaled the man. With the man dead, the woman ran towards the lake and dove into it, swimming towards where Keith had gone under.
His eyes opened slowly, and he immediately began to cough. Keith rose with the force of his hacking, clutching his stomach while water spewed from his throat. After he finished, he sat there for a moment. His clothes were soaked to the bone, and he began to shiver. The zip ties around his wrists and ankles were gone. Keith started to look around at his setting.
He sat in the center of Mesaba, but it didn't seem like the colony he had come to know. The buildings were empty of life, doors open, windows swaying in the wind. A few had been blasted off of their hinges, leaving nothing but splinters. Burn marks were everywhere, from the walls to the ground, the burnt out roofs to the window panes. Keith began to stand.
What happened here?
"Are you okay?" a meek woman's voice called out.
Keith jumped and turned to face a woman in a green robe. She sat just a few feet from him, legs crossed on the dirt. She wore a simple green robe and hair ornament. She scanned over him, as if trying to get her answer without him speaking.
"Yeah," Keith responded warily. The woman nodded, turning her eyes to the ground.
"Who are you?" Keith questioned.
"Natalie. And you?"
"Nice to meet you, Keith." the woman said, holding out her hand. Keith took her hand and shook it, still watching Natalie.
"Were you the one who saved me?"
"Where are the men?"
Natalie pointed her thumb over her shoulder towards the lake, giving no further answer. Keith nodded and returned his attention to the abandoned buildings.
"Here? I don't know. My people came here a few weeks ago and found this. There's no one left."
"Everyone's dead?" Keith repeated.
"Where are they?" Keith asked in a rush of words.
Natalie stayed silent, staring down at the ground. Keith's heartbeat quickened, his mouth dry as a pit of sand. Keith backed into Mesaba and turned away from Natalie.
"Don't. You won't like what you find." Natalie cautioned.
The familiar sickness that had overtaken him when learning of Leah and Sierra returned. . Keith glanced back at the town and back at Natalie. He turned away from her and ran into the town, refusing to believe Natalie's words.
"Jacque!" Keith yelled out, gazing at every door, expecting him to leap out and take him away from the nightmare that had become his life.
"Jacque! Padma! Where are you?" Keith tried again.
He ran through the town, checking every building, every home, every crevice for them. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, he spotted something on the ground near the lakeshore. He ran towards it, heart leaping at the prospect of finding something. He came to the object and surveyed it. His hope turned to fear and disgust when he realized what it was.
A body lay on the sand near the water, but yet it wasn't a body. Laying on the beach was a torso, head and right arm still attached. The rest seemed to have been blasted off, leaving stumps of muscle and bone in their place. The chest had been ruptured open, exposing the ribs and immolated organs. None of this compared in shock to the face, mouth open, eyes empty of life.
Keith fell to his knees beside the corpse. He bowed his head and screamed to the heavens, tears spilling out and dropping on the body. Keith heard footsteps coming towards him, but it didn't matter. Nothing mattered anymore. Everything in his life was gone. Keith's heart seemed to have as little life as the body before him had. He fell to the ground and shook, all of his movements out of his control.
"I tried to tell you. I didn't want you to see this." Natalie whispered.
Keith didn't respond.
"There's nothing left here for you. Come with me. I can give you a new home, a new life, a new purpose. You just have to trust me."
What should I do? I can't just go with her, I barely know her. She could be an Enforcer herself. She could be the one responsible for this. But then why would she kill the others and save me? She could've easily just let me drown in the lake.
"Why did you save me?"
"Everyone is worth saving. Why not you?"
She seems nice. And where else do I have to go?
"You won't regret it," Natalie said quietly.
Keith stepped toward Natalie and grabbed her hand.
Where else do I have to go?
- The overall theme of the chapter was inspired by the Keane single "Somewhere Only We Know", from which the chapter takes its name.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Book One: Glass|
|The Message - Leah - The Glow - BDA - Gone - Uluru - Revealed - The Colonies - Brethren - The Survivors - Joel's Old Friend - Alice Springs - School - Sierra - Discovery - Bracken - Visiting the Past - Goodbyes - Escape Part 1: Shards of Glass - Escape Part 2: Confrontation|
|Book Two: Smoke|
|The Outside - Questions - Flight - The Rogues - Forewarned - Keith - The Exiles - Forfeit - Choice - Consequence - Legacy Part 1: Avatar Joel - Legacy Part 2: Avatar Aang - Open Arms - Father - Learning to Fly, Part 1: The Apprentice - Learning to Fly, Part 2: The Master - A Leap of Faith - Negotiations - Twin Towers, Part 1: Successor - Twin Towers, Part 2: The Black Plume of Smoke - Twin Towers, Part 3: The Burden of Atlas|
|Book Three: Storm|
|His Dark Materials - Wounds - Rest in Peace - Somewhere Only We Know - The Mistress - Smoke and Mirrors|