Destroyed City. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.
Hey guys. This is a short story that I wrote a LONG time ago! I’d love to know what you think or any advice or suggested edits would be appreciated. Thanks!
The Cell Phone
In moments of weakness, most people find their true strength. At least, that’s what I’ve always been told. I never knew it to be true until I experienced it for myself. It was in that moment that I realized just how tough I really was. In that moment, I realized who I really was.
I always thought of myself as a generally good person. I helped those in need, donated to charity, fed the hungry, built houses for the homeless, etc. I felt like I was doing my part to make life better for everyone. I was wrong.
During the summer months I would always go on these mission trips to different countries and build houses or schools for communities in need. This past summer, our group decided to do some work right here in the United States, at home. We traveled to the inner parts of a city formerly known as Memphis, but now we call it the Forsaken City. I think it was renamed in 2149 after the Cleansing War that destroyed most of the major cities in each of the 50 states. Once the bombs started going off, some people fled the city, others tried to wait it out in a bunker. The only survivors were those that fled. The bombs leveled the city almost completely and left a cloud of smoke hovering over the city that, even 166 years later still hasn’t left.
As we entered the city, we all had to put on our rebreathers because ash and soot constantly fell from the cloud that blanketed over the city like snow. A thick layer of dust and smoke made it difficult to see very far in front of us. It was as if the bomb went off yesterday. Skeletons of the buildings that once stood tall and proud were all that was left, yet a few people still managed to survive here.
In the middle of the city there was a small shelter made of large pieces of metal that looked worn and rusted. From the outside, you couldn’t tell that this was a shelter. On the inside, there were people sitting on the ground, wrapped up in blankets in this one room make shift home. There was no sign of sophisticated living here. These people looked as if they had not eaten for days. They had no real place to sleep. This was the worst situation I had ever seen.
“Hey there. Name ‘s Maxx. I’m the keeper here in FC. You must be the HFH mission group. Nice to meet you.” With the room being so dark, I didn’t notice much about Maxx, but I did notice that Maxx was a tall guy. He had to be taller than 6 feet. He had dark hair which he had pulled back into a tight bun on the top of his head and his eyes were a shade of green that seemed so full of life in this city intoxicated by ash and smoke.
“Elthia.” As I state my name, I reach out my hand to shake his and find that his hands are rough. He must do a lot of physical labor here in the city, but by the looks of the outside, he can’t have been doing much here.
“When do we get started?” Maxx asks with bright eyes. He seems so sure that we can fix his city. I can’t stop asking myself if the city can even be saved. Is it even possible to make this place habitable again? I didn’t know for sure but being the good person that I was, I needed to try.
Before heading out into the field with the other HFH members, we all wondered where to start first. There were so many things that needed to be done. Streets needed to have debris cleaned off, buildings needed to be tested to see if the structure could handle a remodel or if it just needed to be torn down completely, and something had to be done about the air quality. So we split into three groups. I volunteered to clean the streets.
Putting on my gloves and rebreather, Maxx walked up and stood beside me. He had on a full set of old combat gear.
“Are you coming with us?” I asked, surprised that he would leave his small shelter.
Maxx leaned in close as if he were trying to tell me a secret and whispered, “Small acts can transform the world when multiplied by millions of people.” Then he pulled away and acted as if nothing had happened. I couldn’t help but think how weird he is, but also how true his words were.
In the streets, I picked a pile of debris and started moving it into a large pile on the corner of the street. I found myself lifting large pieces of old billboards advertising a zoo and shattered remnants of what used to be windows. I even found an old cell phone with an apple symbol on the back. I tried to turn it on, but I had no luck. I decided to keep it anyway just because I thought it looked cool.
After 16 hours of hard labor cleaning up the streets, my group and I made our way back to the shelter with Maxx. It was nice to finally take off my rebreather and rest my aching arms and legs. I laid down on the floor and pulled the old phone out of my jacket pocket. While I was inspecting it Maxx walked over and plopped down right beside me.
“Does it work?” I guess Maxx was as curious as I was.
“No” I replied, “but I thought maybe I could open it up and fix it.”
“The only way to fix it is to give it a new battery. They don’t make ‘em anymore.”
“Have you ever found one?” I looked at Maxx, longing for him to pull a new battery out of his back pocket and tell me he could fix it.
“Umm….I found some once in Chicago. There was an old building that was full of them. New too. Still sealed in the box.” He was definitely bragging right now.
I couldn’t help but wonder what a store like that would look like. Was it big? Did it have different types of phones and accessories? Where there a lot of those types of stores? That’s when a light bulb came on. My eyes lit up at the thought of it.
“Do you think there was one of those stores here?”
“More than likely. They were all over the place, but most of them were looted before the bombs went off. If there is one here, there’s probably not much left of it.” This made me more excited than I should’ve been.
The next morning, my group and I went out to work for the day. I began pulling debris off the main road when Maxx yelled at me from across the street. “Hey!” I spotted him beside the remains of an old building motioning for me to come over.
“What’s up?” I jogged over to meet him wondering what I might be getting myself into.
“I think I might know where to find a battery for your phone.” Trying to hide the fact that I was all too excited about this, I relaxed into one hip and rested my hand on my waist.
“Is that why you called me over?”
“I thought you might want to come check it out with me.” His eyebrows raised and his eyes widened as he waited for me to respond. It took me a minute. I wanted to go but I felt so uneasy around Maxx. I just didn’t know if I could trust him. Ultimately I decided that I would go. If I got into any trouble, I would just pull off his rebreather and make a run for it.
“Sure, let’s go.” Maxx nodded and took off down the alley beside the building. He obviously knew where he was going because he led us through the city with no problem at all. I could barely see a few feet in front of me.
Finally, Maxx stopped in front of a building with charred walls and ceilings. The windows were broken and the ceiling looked like it was about to collapse. The display cases had been smashed open and there was nothing left in them. There were cabinets still intact after the looters and the bomb, which is surprising but, thinking about it, not impossible.
Maxx came in with a metal rod and started beating away at the cabinets. He swung with every ounce of muscle that he had and in the end, it paid off. The cabinet door popped open. Maxx reached his hand in and pulled out a box that was still sealed shut. I pulled the plastic off the box and ripped open the cardboard box to get to the item underneath. The new battery was exactly what I needed to get the phone up and running. I held it tight as we travelled back to the site. This item was too precious to take any real chance of damaging it on the long run back to the site.
That night as everyone around me drifted to sleep I stayed wide awake toying with my phone. I was trying to figure out how to charge the new battery and install it when Maxx walked over.
“Need some help?” He seemed eager to get his hands on the phone, but I didn’t see much harm in it if I stayed close by.
I held out the phone in one hand and the battery in the other. “Sure. You know how to fix this thing?”
“I can try.” Maxx reached out for the items and looked closely at the old battery.
“I think it’s gonna need to be charged,” he said as he glanced at a door near the back of the room.
“How do we do that?”
“Hang on.” Maxx jumped to his feet and made his way to the door, dodging a dozen sleeping bodies on the floor. Once he went into the room, I could hear him shifting things around as if he were searching for something. A moment later, Maxx came walking out the door holding up a thick black device with gray edges. It couldn’t have been much bigger than the phone itself.
“What is that?” I whispered as Maxx sat back down next to me eyeing the phone and battery.
“It’s a solar-powered battery charger.”
“Will it work?”
“Mmm….Probably not tonight, but if we put it outside before working tomorrow, it should hold a strong enough charge to start up the phone.”
As excited as I was about getting the phone on, I knew that I needed to get some rest. After all, rebuilding a city is hard work.
The next morning, as we were all heading out to do our jobs, Maxx placed the solar-powered charging station on the side of the make-shift shelter so that the small amount of sun rays that broke through all the dust and ash could get to it.
All day long I thought about the phone. I wondered what could be on it if I could actually get the thing to work? We learned in school about the young generation of the old times that spent countless hours on their phones, playing games and checking up on social media. I have always wondered what those things were like, as we were taught that they were a waste of time and ought to never have been developed. It seemed like the day dragged on and on but finally, Maxx called for us all to go back in for the night.
Running back to the building, I waited by the door next to Maxx and watched every crew member step inside the shelter. After the last member walked in, I looked at Maxx and said, “Did it charge?”
“I don’t know yet.” He said laughing. “Let’s see.”
Maxx grabbed the charger and walked into the building, all the way back to the small room near the back of the building. I handed him the phone and battery and watched as he began tinkering away at it. He pulled out a tiny screwdriver and unscrewed the two screws at the bottom of the phone. He then put a little suction cup on the back of the phone and asked me to hold it tight. As I held the suction cup attached to the back, Maxx pulled the edges of the phone away so that we could now see the inside of the phone. Then, Maxx had to use the screwdriver again to unscrew the battery cable from the motherboard which let him pop the old battery right out.
Maxx held the new battery and the tiny screwdriver up and asked, “Wanna put it back together?”
I tried to play it cool but my voice squeaked as I tried to respond. “Sure.”
I picked up the battery and gently placed it inside the phone. I screwed the battery cable back down and replaced the back glass of the phone. The only thing left was the two screws at the bottom of the phone which I had trouble putting back in. There was a mixture of nerves and excitement fluttering around like butterflies in my stomach. I couldn’t hold the screwdriver still for very long, but I finally got it all back together.
Maxx grabbed the phone and placed it onto the charger.
“How long do we have to wait?”
“It’ll take a few minutes,” he said, as he was watching the light on the charger blink.
Waiting was the hardest thing to do. It seemed like all I had done today was wait and I was growing weary of it. Maxx could tell and tried to distract me with a game he called Tic-tac-toe he drew in the dirt. Before playing, I remembered that games were considered a waste of time but I was going to waste it anyway waiting on this phone to charge so I played and he won.
“Do you think it’s ready now?” I said after losing for the fifth time.
“Hahaha…..Let’s see.” Maxx smiled.
Maxx grabbed the phone and held the top button down. Nothing happened. He tried again, and sure enough, a bright white screen with a black apple symbol in the middle popped up. It stayed that way for a minute and then a picture of a young girl popped up on the screen. She had bright blue eyes and freckles across her nose and cheeks. Her hair was dark brown and braided loosely to one side. She was very pretty.
Maxx smiled at me, got up, and walked away to give me some privacy as I quickly realized how to use the phone and began searching to see what she kept on it. I went through many apps that were just games and social media sites that had been destroyed in the Cleansing War. People now would not have such nonsense on their phones. It, like most things, would be considered a waste and frowned upon by the entire community. I kept searching and found some pictures and videos that she had taken. I clicked on the very first video clip that I saw and waited as the device loaded the content. After what seemed like forever, the video began to play.
The young girl held the phone close to her face as she began speaking to it.
“My name is Alissa. I’m 19 years old and I’m from Memphis, TN.” The girl was crying hysterically while running down a crowded street. There were screams in the background as you could see other people frantically running alongside her. They did not seem harmful, but instead they seemed devastated. “Today is July 4th, 2149. The bombs have already started going off in some parts of the city. It’s not safe!”
A bomb explosion went off in the background making Alissa turn around and film the explosion. Buildings collapsing on top of hundreds of people, smoke rising into the air as she just stands there recording. Her hands must have been shaking because the camera vibrated while she watched her city being blown to pieces. After a few moments of her watching the explosion, she turns back to the camera. “Please stop them. Help us. Please….”
As she is yelling “Please stop them” into the camera one final time, a bomb explodes right next to her, knocking her down. I see the phone thrown to the ground a few feet away and just watch as the surrounding buildings crumble to the ground. Smoke rolled into the sky with ashes drifting down like snow. Soon the phone was completely covered by smoke and debris leaving nothing but a black screen and after a while finally shut off. The video was over.
I felt a pit in my stomach trying to come to terms with what I had just seen. In school we learned all about the Cleansing War. The Cleansing War happened as a result to human corruption. The fifty states were on the verge of dividing into 5 larger zones. We were taught that the Cleansing War was a good thing. It cleansed the United States of human corruption by destroying the major cities with every wasteful thing in it. We were told that those people who were killed in the Cleansing War refused to do their part to make the United States moral again.
All this time, I had been appreciative of the Cleansing War. Being a descendant of the General that led the War, I thought that it provided me and my generation with the opportunity to create a better world to live in, but this video provides an argument that the Cleansing War was just a way to take full control of a nation. It had nothing to do with cleansing our world. It had nothing to do with saving the nation. The people behind this weren’t trying to keep the nation from being divided. They thought nothing of the planet and the preservation of its natural resources. No thought was given to the people who were killed in these attacks. The people behind this are the reason these cities can barely sustain life of any form. The people behind these attacks were… my ancestors.
Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought about how my great, great, great grandfather could have killed so many innocent people without even batting an eye. My Father always told me that he was such a great man and that he brought honor to our family and to our nation. I couldn’t think of him as honorable. I always assumed that a human life was much more important than political power. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe a human life was disposable, like the battery I had just thrown away. Once their usefulness had ended, they were no longer worth saving.
I couldn’t take sitting in that small shelter so I grabbed my rebreather and ran out the door. I just kept running as fast as my legs would carry me until I couldn’t run any longer. I found a small building still partially standing with booths that had red seats and a black top table. I sat in the booth at the far corner of the building with my back against the remaining wall and just looked out at the city. Everywhere I looked, all I could see was the city in the video with bombs going off every 20 seconds. I finally just put my head down and let my eyes cry. At that point, that’s all I could do. I quickly realized that I couldn’t save the city. It was too far gone and I was only one person. I laid my head down and after my eyes ran dry, I fell asleep.
“Elthia, are you okay?” Maxx woke me as he shouted a question that I did not have an answer to. I just looked up at him and nodded. That was the best I could come up with on the spot.
“What’re you doing out here? I’ve been searching for 2 hours to find you. It’s not safe to be on your own…” His voice trailed off. He wanted to scold me but he stopped once he saw the tears start streaming down my face again.
“Elthia, what’s wrong?” Maxx sat down beside me and put his arm around my shoulders. “You can trust me.” For once, I believed him, so I just held up the phone and showed him the video. I had to close my eyes because seeing it once was hard enough. I couldn’t bear to watch it a second time. Once the video had ended I opened my eyes and looked at Maxx. His eyes were wet with tears. It comforted me knowing that it affected him the same way it had affected me.
“Is this why you left?” Maxx looked me straight in the eye as if he were trying to force an honest answer from me.
“Yes.” I paused for a moment before I told Maxx about how the General that led the War was my ancestor and that I felt betrayed by my own family. That I, somehow, felt responsible for the death and destruction of this girl and everything around her.
“How can anyone think that this okay? I mean, how does someone rationalize this?” I had gone from being hurt to being angry. I wanted revenge for all the innocent lives that were taken. I balled my fists and took in a deep breath. Maxx put his hands on my fists and pushed them down by my sides.
“Am I wrong? I mean, I just feel so betrayed…….by my own family!” I laid my head on the table and covered it with my arms.
“That’s probably the saddest thing.”
“What?” I said as tears were rolling down my face. Maxx reached one hand up and wiped them away as he said, “That betrayal never comes from your enemies.”
I had never thought about that. I never thought I’d be forced to. After a moment, I realized that something in Maxx’s voice sounded painful, like he had first-hand experience of this.
“What happened to you?” I asked as I stared at the pained look on his face.
“My brother…..”, he said as he cleared his throat, “is dead because of me.”
My eyes got big and my mouth dropped open. Maxx must have sensed the horror and shock on my face because he rushed to finish his story.
“No, no! It’s not like that. I didn’t murder him. I’m not a criminal.” Letting out a long sigh, he began again. “My mother told me to watch after him when we were younger and he was getting quite annoying, so I challenged him to see how long he could hide from me before I found him. After a while, I forgot about him. I forgot that I was supposed to be watching him. I forgot that he had gone to hide from me. I just forgot. When I returned home, my mother asked me where he was. I panicked and told her what had happened. She immediately began to scold me and ran off in search of him. As we looked all over the city, all we found was piles of dust and debris. He wasn’t anywhere to be found. Until, I noticed his shoe sticking out from behind a large piece of tinted black window that was leaning against the wall of an old building. I ran to him, but when I got there…..it was too late. His rebreather had shut off and he had inhaled too much of the dust and ash.”
“Oh my gosh. That’s horrible.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“I know. And it was all my fault. I betrayed his trust. I was his big brother and I sent him off to his death. He didn’t know any better. He didn’t know that after a couple of hours, his rebreather would shut off. He didn’t know the safe zones of the city. He didn’t know. He just sat there waiting for me to come find him,” he said as tears streamed down his face uncontrollably.
For a moment, I just let him cry because I was unsure of how to comfort him, but eventually, I thought that saying nothing was not good enough.
“You were young and you couldn’t have known that would happen. It wasn’t your fault.”
“No, it wasn’t. Your brother is one more casualty added to the list of thousands that died becuase of the decisions of a few a couple hundred years ago. If it weren’t for there bombs and their greed, your brother would not have needed a rebreather and would have been safely hiding from you when you came back for him. That was not your fault.”
“I never thought of it like that.” Maxx began to wipe the tears from his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt. He looked up at me and smiled as he said, “Thanks.”
After a while of Maxx and me discussing why this happened and how we couldn’t have stopped it, Maxx and I started our walk back to the site.
“I don’t think it’s right that we are taught that this was a good thing. I think people should know the truth”, I said. Maxx looked at me and smiled.
“You want to change the world.” Maxx laughed as he said it.
“Yeah. I guess I do.” I paused thinking about what it was that I really wanted. “But, it seems so impossible.”
“It can be quite overwhelming to take on the whole world all at once. However, you can change someone’s view of the world by lending a helping hand when you see them in need. Or by being kind to the people around you, like you were for me just a moment ago. Or even speaking out when you know something isn’t right. Stand up for what you believe in and you will have changed your world.”
Maxx seemed all too happy with himself, but I was okay with that because he helped me find my purpose. My purpose wasn’t to come out and pick up debris from the streets. It started that way, but now I have a bigger job to do. It’s my responsibility to share that video with the world. I need to let the citizens of our nation know the truth about the Cleansing War and the people behind its organization, even if that means dishonor for my family.
I will always wonder if what I am doing is really for the greater good, but I think if I do my best to educate myself on the issues at hand, then I can make better choices. If I had taken the time to really dig deep and study the Cleansing War for myself, I wouldn’t have been so naive in thinking that these people weren’t disposed of just because they didn’t agree with the powers at hand. Many people died because of power hungry political figures.
Finding out the truth about the Cleansing War broke me. Maybe not for a long time, but I was still broken. Being broken doesn’t mean that your life is over. It simply gives you the opportunity to build yourself up stronger than you’ve ever been.
In this moment of my own weakness, my strength was found.