A City Waits

A City Waits

 

A short story by Callum Jacobs

It rained as if the sun might never shine again. The sky rolled and quivered with the grey, thudding misery of autumn. The air crackled with static and smelled like a handful of dimes.

The city streets were deserted but for the wretched few who’d been too slow to escape. Those that remained, huddled together in shop doorways and subway exits, peering toward the heavens, spitting empty curses or muttering desperate prayers.

The gates that led down into the transit system were bolted top and bottom, their steel grilles bound with tangled knots of iron. The diners and the coffee shops were silent. Even the bodegas and the Korean nail bars that never seemed to close were dark and still. All along Fifth Avenue blinds were drawn down in the windows of the majestic apartment blocks that overlooked Central Park. From the doorman who worked the sidewalk, to the hedge fund manager in the penthouse suite, everyone had fled or was already dead; power and money could offer no protection.

A lone squad car sidled warily along 72nd Street, crossing Columbus with a timid burst of its siren, cut off barely before it had begun. The officer inside slunk down low in his seat, his eyes darting from side to side, one hand gripping the wheel, the other on the hilt of his weapon.
At first the paramedics had moved the dead to hospitals and mortuaries, following a well-rehearsed protocol practiced in days when the sun had shone. That was before they began to understand the true scale of the slaughter.  Soon they were laying out bodies in the road; in the end, they had to leave them where they’d fallen. The fire crews had done all that they could to evacuate the area before they too had abandoned their posts. No one knew how many people had been left behind but by now they were all surely lost.

The panic had lasted for just two days before the grim realisation of what was to come descended over the city like a dense fog. Those who remained felt only the creeping certainty of death. Anyone who could find a signal made one final, sobbing phone call to their loved ones. As night fell, parents hugged their children tight and laid them gently into their beds as though it might be the last time that they would ever hold them. Everybody waited. Nobody knew when it would come, but everybody knew it would return. And though not a soul would dare utter the words out loud, everybody understood – there was nothing to be done.

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