(The New American Apocalypse
Mr. Swift drops us off by the bridge crossing Roosevelt Island into Manhattan. I watch as the Blue Whale passes under streetlights, vanishing in the distance. Now it is only Anna, myself, and Mr. Ballard…at least for the time. For a while, we listen to the ululations of the East River, the mumble of its waves. It sounds hungry.
“Well, then,” Mr. Ballard says. “Let’s get moving. Mr. Hughes, if you will…” he gestures for me to begin along the bridge.
“Excuse me?” I scoff.
An uncomfortable beat.
“As our resident Straight White Male, you’ll be in the least danger taking point.”
Son of a bitch, he’s right.
I take a deep breath and plaster a smile on my face that is nowhere near believable. “Great,” I lie. “This is wonderful. Sure. Why not? Ms. Bradbury, would you be so kind?” I offer my arm. “A woman oughtn’t to be walking around alone, at this time of night, after all.”
She wrinkles her nose at my arm. “I’ll walk next to you, then.”
“Fine by me.”
The bridge is dead quiet. There is no traffic, there are no cars. I head toward Roosevelt Island.
Even from here I can see Times Square. It glows at any distance, a sun in miniature, a constant burning engine of advertisement and blind, Azathoth consumerism. It is the only light visible along the Isle of Manhattan. All else is darkness, or something even darker still. All along the edges of Times Square’s glow I can see absence, a great vacuum, darker than dark, impossible, a photo-negative reality. I shiver to look at it. I avert my eyes, bringing my gaze back to the bridge ahead. So far, I see no danger. Well, no immediate danger, at least.
“Do you know how many are left?” I ask.
Behind me, Mr. Ballard’s voice answers: “In Manhattan? Not many.”
“How fast did it all happen?”
“Very,” Anna chimes in. “Over days. The details are still unclear…but something rose up from the sea, something dark and only half-real. Millions heard its call. Everything went to hell pretty quick, after that.”
“It devoured the Statue of Liberty immediately,” Mr. Ballard explains. “The whole of it, gone overnight.”
“Jesus…” I turn my gaze southward but it’s too dark to be sure. Still, I believe him. “And we have no allies left in Manhattan?”
“Anyone with half a brain fled. Brooklyn, Queens, Jersey…and then who knows where else. The monsters fell on them so quickly they didn’t have time to pack. The ones that did got on as many boats as possible and fled to the Atlantic…”
“But no one will take them in.” Anna interrupted.
“Right.” Mr. Ballard cleared his throat. “Assuming the things beneath the waves haven’t devoured them, already, it’s only a matter of time before they have to come back.”
There is no wind, tonight. The very air has died. I’ve never heard the city so quiet…so (and I cringe to use this word to describe my fair city, I cringe to use it to describe any of the five boroughs–cringe, I say!)…so tame.
We pass over Roosevelt Island. I gaze down at the sprawl of it, dozens of buildings all looking alike…a glimpse of the future? Good lord. Imagine it: the same building, cloned, for as far as your eyes can see, each as quiet as the grave. The tombstones of humanity. The death of fun. Zombie eyes watch behind picture windows, dreamless, hypnotized by TV, moving from the rectangles of their offices to the rectangles of their homes.
The bridge slopes down to Manhattan. There is no graffiti, anymore. Murals have been pasted over with advertisements. Street tags have been replaced by brand names. The three of us descend to 3rd Ave with no traffic fighting us. White Jesus smiles down on us from a billboard. The billboard next to him reads: “Could the terrorists be YOUR neighbors? If you see something, say something.”
No birdsong. No rolling tires. No car horns. No pedestrians, no cabbies, no car services, no tourist SUVs. No drunk twenty-somethings stumbling down the boulevard. No bar signs flickering neon.
And a thought that puts my teeth on edge, like I just bit into a hollow copper pipe: …with the exception of my earlier play-acting, my hobo-theatre performances…no homeless people.
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