WILL SEE – THE PARTY
New Jersey, USA
December 31, 1999 – 11:50pm
On the 12th storey of the Kings Green apartment building in New Jersey, not far from the Hudson River, Fiona and Robert Peirce are holding a private party for their closest friends and relatives. Typical of working professionals in their age group, their spartan apartment emits that youthful glow thanks to lightweight modern furniture, wall hung pastels and a sunny pine floor. Silver high-tech equipment and gadgets are placed strategically to enhance their existence.
The atmosphere is one of expectation and excitement. That feeling you have at every new year’s eve party, but with a little more concern in the air this time. It was easy to tell that everyone in the room was thinking the same thought. What will the new millennium bring? It is going to be a continuation of the status quo? How long will the economy remain stable? Will my dreams come true?
Most people were too tipsy to discuss much of interest in a cohesive manner, but for those hoping to drive home in the early hours, the common topic was what everyone was going to do after the arrival of the new millennium, or how they thought the world would change. Fulfill a lifelong ambition to sail across an ocean? Start a business? Take an evening class? Emigrate? Get married? Divorced? A total collapse of the world economy? Space trips to the moon, etc. Occasionally someone would mention the religious significance of the date (albeit one year short of the genuine millennium), or the fact it was simply a moment in time, and that once everyone had got used to the hipness of writing 2000 in the date space on a check, it would become passé.
The comfort of the cozy apartment with all its aesthetic attachments, plus the host’s and guest’s cavalier acceptance of a continuation of a their fairly secure upper middle-class lifestyle lay in stark contrast to the events that would begin to unfold minutes from now.
The Peirces stood near a large closed window in the living room while the rest of the guests energetically danced in anticipation of the approaching festivities. Robert’s recently purchased wall hanging digital flat panel HDTV displayed live images from Times Square. The quality of the picture coupled with the huge size of the screen almost created an impression of being there. Smaller inset images showed similar public events in other cities in the same time zone. Thousands of people stood watching huge digital timers count down the last minutes and seconds of the twentieth Century.
Fiona opened one of the windows to let in some cool air and share the same atmosphere as those a few miles across the Hudson in Times Square. With Robert at her side, they sat on the window ledge gazing at the Manhattan skyline that shared its reflection with the moon in the water between them and that huge eternally living city. “I am so happy we’re here and not down there.” Fiona whispered loudly. “I would hate to be in the crowds being pushed around, we would probably lose each other.”
“Mmm. Me too. I am so happy we can share this moment together and in the company of so many of our closest,” said Robert.
“Hey everyone, there are just 15 seconds to go!” shouted a male voice from within the party. “OK, you guys just party! OK!?” shouted Robert above the rising noise within the apartment and from the crowd on the TV. The atmosphere was ecstatic, like being on the verge of witnessing your team win a major sports event, but with ten times the energy.
Everyone’s eyes focused on the huge TV in the apartment. An inset ‘PIP’ image in the corner of the picture showed the countdown timer, while the main image was now pointing at the brightly lit faces in the Times Square crowd. Hands in the air, most were jumping up for each second that passed;
“Yehhh!….” roared from the TV speakers as hundreds of thousands welcomed in the third millennium across the Eastern time zone. The sounds picked up by microphones placed in each major city were now all mixed together like lots of rock concert crowds cheering in unison. Everyone could share in the moment. As Fiona and Robert embraced and kissed, the screen glowed bright white throwing a surreal glow across the partygoers in the apartment. To the more observant, it could be seen that it was not just the image on the TV throwing the incredible light into the apartment. It appeared to come from everywhere. The initial flash was followed by a comforting warmth. The same pleasant sensation that comes over one’s body if outside on an overcast day when the sun’s rays poke through a break in the cloud cover. An experience many would pay a month’s salary to enjoy for two or three weeks a long way from home.
To the newly wed couple on the window ledge, the effect was exaggerated due to the cool air outside drifting around their entwined bodies. For Fiona, who was now looking directly at Robert, the flash seemed fairly bright, even for a new year’s eve light show or fireworks display. Before she had time to open her mouth, something hit the top half of her body with such a force that she felt widespread pain in places she had never felt pain before. The next moment she was in the air for a split second — her legs swiping the heads of collapsing guests before she slammed into the far wall so hard that her last conscious thought was just how much she hurt as her skull impacted the brick surface at 150 miles per hour and her skin and clothing was ignited by temperatures exceeding 1000 degrees.
Outside, the roofs of taller buildings were torn off like paper, while the windows in any building facing Manhattan Island were blown in — each pane shattering into hundreds of knife like glass shards traveling at the speed of a bullet. For those close to any window, after the flash and instant blindness, the first sensation was a stinging all over the body, followed by the warmth as blood flowed from the glass wounds. Incredible pain when a shard embedded itself in a bone or organ. Then the secondary shockwave would pound the victim like a huge leather hammer. Fires erupted immediately as gas pipes were broken and any flammable materials were ignited by the blast flash.
Moored ships in the rivers and ocean around Manhattan island caught fire or exploded as their cargo and fuel ignited. Smaller craft were simply blown to pieces, just their hulls remaining. The twin towers of the World Trade Center literally bent and disintegrated like a flower shedding its petals in the wind. Thousands of pieces of steel, concrete and glass blew outward away from the center of the financial district towards the southern end of the island. The Empire State Building and other tall landmarks were blasted in the reverse direction, distorting and disintegrating northwards. It sounded like all of catastrophe rolled into one. Huge rumbles, smaller explosions, the muted sound of glass being shattered, and once in a while, a scream or cry nearby.
To those distant or in high flying aircraft above, a massive circular shock wave could be seen racing outwards from downtown, causing anything solid in its path to be blown outwards, with the exception of trees and lamp posts whose flexibility and relative thinness meant they somehow survived the incredible force.
Those in Times Square were spared that few milliseconds of pain. There was a brief moment of pure adrenaline as the countdown timer reached 00:00:05 and the Waterford ball finished its drop. Then half a second later as people finished embracing a loved one, it was if the moon had exploded. For one split second, a white glow overhead so bright and so hot. A bang, then black, then nothing. Peace.
Continue to Chapter 2
CHAPTER 1 OF 4 – A PARTY