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A hulking drop of sizzling, putrid acid-rain crashed with force into Carew Tower, crumbling thousands of the old khaki bricks, sending them falling weightily downward hundreds of feet to the street below—its Art Deco, classic beauty now destroyed. Another drop fell subsequently, its size and shape similar to that of a Humpback whale. Each drop was filled with chemicals unnatural to normal precipitation. This bucket-like rainstorm hadn’t lasted long, but it was lengthy enough; the structural integrity of the building—along with several other nearby skyscrapers in downtown Cincinnati—was compromised. Carew Tower now stood—its naked interior exposed—like a slouching, decrepit midwestern obelisk glorifying the apocalypse. 

Helena Dryjanski stood leaning outward from what used to be her office window on the 43rd floor. She had read that this was bound to happen soon—the skies were irritated, so the news anchors had said; they were swollen to burst—but she had for some reason dismissed it. She had been too caught up in her work, slaving away in the old, 1930’s-style rooms of the upper floors of Carew Tower, so sheltered from modernity—so isolated from the monetary, gluttonous, capitalistic world she craved. She wanted to work in glamorous Manhattan, not industrial Cincinnati, with its disgusting river. Each day, she looked out the window at the city skyline, trying her best to pretend she was in New York, working some sexy job like Don Draper, from Mad Men, selling advertisements for toasted Lucky Strike cigarettes. It rarely worked, though; Helena didn’t have much of an imagination. 

She stared over the edge of the now open-air building. A gust of wind blew upward from the vertigo-inducing direction of the street below, knocking her to the old, scratchy green carpet of her office floor. 

“Damn,” she said to no one. 

The precipitation had finished—that much was clear. This had only happened once before—back in 2031—this toxic-drench. Back then, it happened on the other side of the river, in Bromley, Kentucky. It had really fucked that town up good, Helena remembered, but she—like most others populating the greater-Cincinnati area—had dismissed it. Bromley was such a small town; most Ohioans were hard-pressed to give a shit it for very long; maybe a weekend, tops. But this was different. This was downtown Cincinnati. Carew Tower, a landmark of the city’s historic economic success, had been annihilated. Frantic with the weight of suddenly onsetting anxiety, Helena crab-walked backward on the carpet, pressing her back against her old, splintery wooden desk. Her breathing was heavy; she was sweating. 

A knock came at her door. It was Jimmy—she was sure of that. She knew by the timid reluctance of the knock.

“Mrs. Dryjanski,” he said from beyond the brittle, hollow wood of her office door. Helena twisted the knob. Jimmy stepped inside, wide-eyed and shaky with adrenaline, fear, and nervousness; emotions with which Jimmy—always such a diligent, polite, loyal worker—was usually so unfamiliar. 

“Are you okay?” He said, “Do you need anything?”

A helicopter flew overhead, shining a light across their bodies, then scanning the rest of the crumbling skyscraper.

“Get me a cup of black coffee,” yelled Helena instinctively over the spinning noise before better collecting herself and continuing, "You're not on the clock, Jimmy. We need to find a way out of here. This building is old, and strong, but who knows how long it’s going to hold up. It feels leaning, as is.”

“Is this the same thing that happened to Bromley?” said Jimmy, “Is this the Giant’s Tears?”

Helena winced at that; she had too rational of a mind to call anything ‘Giant’s Tears’, even if what had happened in Bromley, and what had just happened to Carew Tower certainly appeared that way. This event, however unfortunate, was something climatologists, meteorologists, geologists, and even wildlife biologists had been warning against for years. No one took the threat seriously when Bromley happened; they would however be forced to take it seriously now. Helena was forced to take it seriously, but she still wouldn’t call it Giant’s Tears. She would call it what it was—planetary death happening in a stage objectively damaging to the human species. A metaphorical belch from the filthy Ohio River, which had stretched skyward, contaminating the clouds, which were then forced to dump their collected toxicity upon the city. Why the collected rain dumped in cataclysmic, solidified, lethal proportions, Helena was entirely unsure. She sniffed at its toxicity. The thick, slimy water coating the building emanated the aroma of trash, used cooking oil, dirty catfish, and human shit. 

The building groaned and rumbled, leaning further forward toward the apathetic, eternally flowing Ohio River.

“Here’s your coffee,” said Jimmy, returning from the break room. Helena hadn’t realized he had gone. She took a sip, savoring the robust, comforting heat of its fragrance before setting in on her desk: 

“Fuck the coffee, Jimmy!” she yelled abruptly, “We have to get out of here!”

The helicopter again circled, momentarily stopping in front of what used to be the wall of Helena’s office:

“Stay where you are,” came the voice from a megaphone, “We will fly over to get you.”

“You see?” said Jimmy, “They’re coming to save us!”

The helicopter approached, hovering just outside the windy cavern of Helena’s newly, unintentionally renovated office. 

Someone flipped outward a hanging ladder, which after unfurling itself into the blackness of night sat dangling outside Helena’s former window.

“Okay,” came the voice from the megaphone, “You can go ahead and climb up.”

“What?” said Helena, “I can’t reach! I’ll have to jump!”

“We can’t get any closer,” responded the voice, “You might have to jump. We’ll send someone down the ladder to help. When you jump, they’ll grab you. It’s okay; we know what we’re doing.”

“Holy shit,” said Helena. “You go first, Jimmy.” She shoved him forward, toward the swinging ladder. 

“Oh… Okay,” said Jimmy, “No problem!”

Jimmy waved back and forth at the edge of the building, rocking in the wind with the swing of the ladder, waiting for the right moment. Unexpectedly, A flock of pigeons flew by, cooing as to communicate their displeasure with the chaos of the situation. They frightened Jimmy momentarily, but he regained his composure. He gazed at the departing pigeons with envy—they fled the situation so effortlessly. 

“Don’t worry, Jim,” said Helena, “If you don’t make the jump, they’ll catch you. Look! Someone has already come down. He’s leaning out from the ladder like a pro because he is a pro! All you have to do is jump. He’ll catch you.”

Jimmy kept waving, waiting for his moment. Then he jumped. 

He made it the distance from the building to the ladder. He grabbed one of the rungs with ease, though his sweaty hands prevented him from gripping it tightly. He still may have been able to keep hold, but the helicopter’s rescue crew member—who was now making to reel Jimmy in—slipped his grip. Jimmy, previously tightly gripping the ladder’s rung, also slipped his grip after he felt the squeeze of the rescue squad member’s grip on his bicep. 

Jimmy let go. The rescue squad member also let go. Jimmy fell backward, away from the ladder, away from the helicopter. His legs, which had been planted at one of the bottom rungs, now slipped inward. Jimmy slid in between the ladder’s rungs, falling downward, disappearing into the night. 

Helena saw his body fall, spinning in a counterclockwise frenzy toward the city lights of the concrete street below. 

‘There’s a trampoline down there, or something, right?’ Helena involuntarily thought as Jimmy vanished from view. ‘They’ll catch him’, she mentally concluded. 

The rescue squad was frantic. Helena looked into the eyes of the man still hanging pathetically on the ladder. He looked so afraid, so incompetent. 

“I don’t trust you!” Helena screamed.

He didn’t respond. He knew he wasn’t to be trusted. Based on recent, measurable results, he was terrible at his job. Helena saw him becoming woozy, his arms and legs wobbling like Jell-O; like two snakes—like the untrustworthy ladder itself. He almost fell into the black but didn’t. He was able to catch himself; he was wearing safety gloves. 

“Are you ready?” Helena screamed across the forceful whir of the helicopter.

The rescue squad member, now steeled in his resolve, shook his head in confirmation. 

Helena made ready to jump, but before she did, she looked up, seeing again the clouds splitting ajar. A third toxic bucket of precipitation dumped onto Carew Tower, this time crushing the helicopter. The glass of its windshield cracked. It spun out of control, shaking and wobbling toward the inky blackness of the river, which was now surging with the driving wind, the mouth of its depths ever hungry. Helena shielded herself with her arms, but none of the watery goop contacted her. It did, however, further destroy the structural integrity of Carew Tower. The place was coming down. 

Helena felt a descending rumble, followed by the cracking sound of crumbling infrastructure. She could vaguely hear other people—those few others left behind though still alive—screaming outward through the cutting wind of their now open-air offices out into the apathy of the empty night. 

Helena shrank backward against her desk, shoving herself against it. A splash of still warm coffee fell onto her shoulder. Looking up, she grabbed the Styrofoam cup. 

Helena took a sip, savoring that nostalgic, aromatic flavor. A tear slid from her eye into the cup. The building again buckled. It would collapse at any moment. Helena closed her eyes, readying herself.


Bio: R

Robert Pettus is an English as a Second Language teacher at the University of Cincinnati. Previously, he taught for four years in a combination of rural Thailand and Moscow, Russia. He was most recently accepted for publication at Allegory Magazine, The Horror Tree, White Cat Publications, Suburban Witchcraft, Syncopation, Horror Sleaze Trash, Yellow Mama, Faerie Fire Publications, Night Shift Podcast, Savage Planet,, White-Enso Podcast, Tall Tale TV Podcast, The Corner Bar, A Thin Line of Anxiety, Schlock!, Black Petals, Inscape Literary Journal of Morehead State University, Yellow Mama, Apocalypse-Confidential, Mystery Tribune, Blood Moon Rising, and The Green Shoes Sanctuary. Three Musky Tears is one of the stories he recently wrote.


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