From the 27th floor window, through glasses he hadn't cleaned since the morning, Greg tried to see what was destroying Queens and Brooklyn. He and Becky were the last ones in the Manhattan office. It was Friday at 4 pm, when no one at Five Borough Press stuck around, especially in Sales, where potential clients weren't there to schmooze. From what they could see, smoke extended from Long Island City to the Manhattan Bridge in what resembled a still tornado. Helicopters flew back and forth along the East River. Below, sirens overlapped and howls of panic joined the already noisy November wind.
"...the whole damn LIE and BQE are closed and we don't even know why...” Becky rambled into her iPhone, to an unknown listener.
They'd gotten vague emergency alerts on their phones just minutes before, about a natural disaster warning. Greg had checked the web right away, finding a shaky video on 1010 Wins of something large emerging from the waters off of Staten Island. It looked like a B movie with A list effects. Halfway through the viewing it’d been yanked from the site.
Becky came to the window, still shouting into her phone. "Smoke! That's all I see!" She dashed into the hallway, almost silently in her tennis sneakers.
Then Greg saw an outline in smoke-covered Long Island City. Something symmetrical. And large. It must've been 300 feet tall, its movements slight at this distance. Whatever it was, it moved toward the East River.
"Shit!" said Greg, his throat tired, having exhausted it after nearly 80 sales calls since 10am.
He ran back to his cubicle and grabbed his shoulder bag. He peered into the hallway, looking for Becky. Should he check the ladies room? He was a fire and emergency searcher for the floor, after all (the fire warden and CEO, Pete Rosello, had given his usual "y'all don't have me to kick around anymore" and split for Mamaroneck around 1.)
"Becky!" he yelled, into the quiet office, his voice sounding desperate. No answer came. He tried.
He burst through the door of Stairwell B, the enclosed staircase, and bolted down. Doors were swinging open on the floors above and below him, with employees from all levels of all hierarchies flying out of them. There was something frightening about the sound of fast, stomping feet on the stairs all around him.
Evacuees started to push their way past him. It reminded Greg of high school cross country track, when prep school boys would elbow each other out of the way in the hope of being one of the first 30 to cross the finish line.
Greg pressed his body against the wall of the 16th floor, as a group whooshed past him. He was privy to a number of snippets from the hopeful survivors as they ran by.
"The army it's the army..."
"We're supposed to meet at the park..."
"...Josh I can't reach him..."
A woman in her mid-50s bolted past him, somehow managing to both write a text message and carry a confused looking Pekingese as she ran.
A young dude with fake blonde hair and a cornfed complexion clopped past him in knockoff cowboy boots. The guy did well down the next flight until his body flew forward, looking like he'd jumped. Greg didn't actually see his facial bones break, but the sound alone gave him a spell of nausea that made him cry out. The crowd behind wasted no time stepping around, and on, the poor guy.
Trying not to faint, Greg moved partway down the staircase and saw what had sent the young man flying. It was Becky. She was on her side, twisted, her head in a position that no one living could ever emulate. Her phone sat in the corner of the stairwell in several pieces, its glittery back sparkling. From where he stood, Greg could still smell her citrusy perfume.
Greg heard himself crying as more evacuees shoved him out of the way. He craved his solitude. His quiet studio in Gramercy. His beloved vinyls. Netflix. Sitting down to that nightly rotisserie chicken from D'Agostino.
Greg headed up the stairs, opposite the growing crowds. With little ease he weaved and elbowed his way back to the 27th floor, which thankfully allowed re-entry.
Back inside the office, with thighs that throbbed and burned, and breathing he couldn't control, Greg collapsed onto the floor. He pulled off his shoulder bag, forgetting he'd had it.
Greg was hungry. Sickeningly so. He moved toward the pantry on legs that felt like pudding. He found a box of fancy shortbread cookies in the fridge, a gift from a customer who he'd sold an ad to. But he needed meat. He pushed aside Becky's three different kinds of low fat yogurt, all marked by sharpie with her name and a smiley face.
He found an unopened pack of Oscar Mayer ham and cheese and tore it open. With no regard for the expiration date, he dined on the processed meal and followed up with a long sip of bottled water.
A distant rumble echoed through the empty office, sounding like a demolition. He hobbled back to the east window, catching a whiff of his own sweat as he went.
The beast was now up to its ankles in the East River, headed this way. Its physique was more visible but lacked detail, the minimal movements stiff but menacing. It moved like a Roman statue come to life.
A chorus of screams that sounded damned and hopeless erupted from the street below. There'd be mass evacuations from every office building, apartment, and crevice of the borough. Greg pictured the crowds fighting for the cars, for whatever last trains were leaving Grand Central and Penn Station. If he tried to flee now he'd be squashed even before the beast stepped onto Manhattan Island.
Which was now only seconds away. Its face was slightly more visible, looking abstract, almost rock like. Its arms hung by its sides. Its head was bulbous, yet somehow proportionally smaller than it should be. Helicopters kept their distance from it, like hungry but cautious mosquitoes.
Either the beast would topple this building to the ground and crush him, or perhaps it would detour north and pass him by, preferring Grand Central or the UN. Perhaps.
"Oh my god," Greg said, still tasting his last supper of ham and cheese. And if God was there, watching the boroughs get stomped in the name of free will, Greg was sorry. To Mom and Dad in Massachusetts ("Maybe you could drive up this weekend?" Mom would always ask on the phone, her voice always sounding older and frailer when asking that question).
For Paul, his only friend. The high school buddy from Broad Channel who was now a car mechanic, who he never called, Paul always called him. For the times he was Mister Slick on the phone, not exactly lying to the clients, but telling half truths about the press' effectiveness and visibility, or that he was going to "hold the special rate" for his renewing customers if they sent back the precious contracts ASAP, all to make that monthly commission.
For Becky, who raced ahead of him and was now being stepped over like refuse in the stairwell.
The beast got taller as it stepped onto the FDR Drive, from which the cars had already cleared. The step was a dull one that vibrated through Greg's body. All of the sirens and noise from the street ceased, as if that one step had hushed it all. With all else silent, its head turned in his direction.
Greg was pretty sure it was looking at him.
BIO: Brendan Wilhelm is an aspiring horror writer who lives in New York City.