by BRYAN MILLER
Fressen & Gefressen Werden by Eden, Janine and Jim | Flickr
The auditor was wrapping up his presentation, a tale of cooked books and mislaid funds—one for which I had no explanation—when the monster emerged from Lake Michigan.
Thank the lord for big-ass, hydra-headed favors.
Specifically the auditor was saying something about turning me over to the Securities Exchange Commission when a woman in a pinstriped power suit interrupted with a hearty “Holy shit!” She must have been the second person in the room to see the thing hoist itself dripping onto Lakeshore Drive. I saw it first. We had a tremendous view from the gleaming window-walled fourteenth floor conference room. Even from here it was hard to distinguish between the monster’s prehensile legs and its multiple tentacular heads.
I kicked the ergonomic office chair from underneath me and sprang onto the heavy mahogany conference table. My dress shoes clapped twice each against the polished surface. I leapt over the shoulder of the scowling CFO. He blurted, “Sanders, what the hell are you—oh mother of Christ!”
My expertise may not be broad, but I know when it’s time to scram.
I sprinted down the beige hallway, past the elevator. Screams bloomed behind closed doors. Men in suits and women in sharp Ann Taylor businesswear exploded out of offices in full flight, trailing wakes of fluttering paper. I’d already beat them to the stairs.
I took the steps two at a time. Right around the eleventh floor the stairwell started to fill with panicked workers dressed business-casual. Intern and middle manager and entrepreneur alike clawed past one another. I threw elbows trying to shove my way to the exit before the crowd choked off the path. A woman next to me got her nose broken. I stepped on something soft and bendable that might have been a neck.
Somewhere outside, the monster roared. I’d never heard anything like it before. It sounded like a freight train screaming from the black booming heart of a thunderhead. The intolerable volume and terrible, resonant thrum of it buckled my knees and squeezed my guts. I caught myself on the handrail just before I fell forward. I wasn’t the only one physically affected by the hellacious screech. All around me people tumbled to their knees and began vomiting. I kept my feet and said a silent little thank-you that I’d been so uneasy about my financial malfeasance that I hadn’t eaten for two days.
Some days a guy just gets lucky.
I surged forward over my shuddering colleagues, doing my level best not to stomp fingers or slip in their pooling sick.
Halfway between floors four and five the whole building shuddered. The concussion dislodged chunks of brick and drywall that crumbled down the stairwell shaft. The lights flickered out, quickly replaced by the emergency bulbs’ red glow. People stopped puking long enough to shout again.
I kept hopping over the fallen until I shoved through the first-floor exit into the shattered lobby. All the windows and glass doors had exploded. Several of those shards had lodged themselves inside a security guard, who flopped on the tile floor amongst bloodied glass like a spray of glimmering rubies. I could feel jagged bits of that same glass poking into the thin leather soles of my shoes as I hustled out the gaping, newly opened face of the building, between the metal struts of the broken windows.
Outside the sun shone incredibly bright. I squinted in either direction as people from neighboring buildings scampered past, right and left. A handful of abandoned cars stalled in the street, doors hanging open, clotting the roadways for drivers so terrified some of them stayed in their honking vehicles.
“Mister, please!” someone shouted behind me. I turned to see a Mexican guy about my height pressed into the sidewalk by a fallen lamppost lying across his bloody lap. “I’m trapped!”
I knelt over him.
“Gracias, sir, gracias, I just need to—” he said before he realized I was pulling the sneakers off his feet. He cursed at me in Spanish while I kicked away my glass-studded dress shoes to slip into his Nikes. They fit like a charm.
The sound of the monster crashing through the streets reverberated through the hollows of the clustered skyscrapers. I couldn’t tell which direction the noise was coming from. My fellow panicked Chicagoans were no help; they ran in all directions, streaked in gore and bile.
I chose west. I sprinted past crashed cars, fallen people. Glass and chunks of concrete rained around me. I made it to the intersection.
Then I saw the monster up close. It loomed two hundred feet over me, maybe almost three hundred, just to the right on the next block, and so near I could smell its ancient reek. The legs shifted like five-knuckled fingers, and in their movement I could discern some strange bone structure bending and rearranging as it lunged forward. The creature’s uncountable heads were lined with round black maws that blinked open like camera lenses. They looked like eyes until the heads dipped to scoop up cars and passersby into their winking darkness.
The monster trodded my way. It crashed down the street, toppling more cars and mashing taxpayers under the flat-end nubs of its spidery gray legs.
I darted to my left, toward an open aisle between the abandoned cars and the sidewalk. Inland, toward Michigan Avenue. No matter. The monster would be upon me in seconds. I ran anyway.
Just as the monster got so close it nearly toppled me with its smell alone, it stopped. I glanced over my right shoulder to see it twine one double-jointed leg around the middle of a yellow school bus and hoist it into the air. A hundred feet up the rear emergency door came unhinged and tiny squirming figures in brightly colored backpacks spilled out. Those many whipping heads slurped them right out of the sky before they could hit the pavement.
This was my chance.
I ran hard down the open aisle in the road to my left. The monster had stepped between me and anyone else who might be heading that way, diverting traffic so I had a clear lane. I pumped the Mexican guy’s sneakers up in high, hard steps. A gust of fresh air blew across my face. The burn in my legs felt good. I hadn’t run this fast since my high school track days, hadn’t felt so free since then either.
The monster roared again behind me. My stomach twisted and my legs trembled, but I kept my feet while the handful of survivors around me sprawled. The noise of it was fading in the other direction. I kept my legs churning. I blocked out the screams and the sirens and the rumble of military jets in formation overhead. All I could hear now was the steady thwap of my feet on pavement as I put more distance between me and my troubles. It occurred to me that this would make a great story someday, assuming there was someone left to tell it to.
People love a happy ending.
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Bryan Miller is a Minneapolis-based writer and standup comedian. He writes mostly funny jokes and mostly scary stories. His work has appeared in the horror anthology Hellfire Crossroads from Midnight Street Press, on the CBS Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and on Sirius/XM radio. Track his every godforsaken move at bryanmillercomedy.com.