The afternoon was warm and sunny. The sleek glass skin of the buildings reflected the sparse cumulus clouds grazing like fluffy white buffalo in the azure. Along the thin seam where one building would meet the sky, clouds pulled apart like a Rorschach cotton kaleidoscope. It is easy to become lost in the simple elegance of this modern architecture. You forget where you are, and all the little people buzzing around the corridors of these colossal mirrors become diminished by the sheer weight and power of the sky.
Transfixed by this majestic ballet, Enderton barely noticed the huffs of disgruntled power suits scurrying about their lunch breaks. The music in his headphones both complemented the power of the scene above and drowned out the rumbling street noise. The buses and limousines, the taxis and motorcycles, powerful men yelling at their cell phones and homeless beggars with outstretched coffee cups; all were defeated by the sonorous swells and triumphant clashes of the third movement of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.
Hector Berlioz was Endy’s favorite Classical composer. A music appreciation class in college had only glossed over his work, but Endy was drawn to Berlioz. The unorthodox method of composing which drew criticism from his peers was a unique gift that allowed Berlioz to create music with an unprecedented voice. A self-taught musician, he drew inspiration for his symphonies and cantatas from life and art, from passion and heartbreak. His themes and movements were manifestations of raw emotion rather than harmonic solubility. He was a rebel—the James Dean of nineteenth century Paris. Endy dug his style.
Listening to music and walking slowly around these midtown blocks was a meditation for Endy. An hour away from his cubicle and the repetitive number crunching was a necessary respite. It was the closest ritual he had to Church, and looking up at the sky’s gentle movements was the closest thing to praying he knew. Endy had given up on organized religions some time ago. He had seen too many good, hard-working people—people who went to church or synagogue or mosque regularly—struggle and suffer repeatedly in spite of their faith and sacrifice. He had witnessed his father’s loneliness draw him back to crippling alcoholism. He had seen his sister, struggling as a single mother, switch religions continuously in a desperate quest for answers and meaning. And he had heard the doubt manifest in his brother’s voice as he attempted to reinforce his own faith in the tumult of a divorce and bankruptcy.
In effect, Heaven and Hell, reduced to abstract poetics, became words used merely to evoke symbolic images. A fluffy cloud Paradise, dark caves rimmed with fire, angels and demons, were only personifications to playfully associate with his daily routine and casual encounters. Right now, eyes angled upward, the idée fixe of the Fantastique pushing into the fourth movement, he was in Heaven, and completely oblivious to the Hell churning around him.
Hands fidgeting in his jacket pockets, he pulled out some small wads of paper: receipts from daily expenses, a small pink bank deposit slip, an obsolete grocery note. Folding them and tearing them up into small pieces, he released a puff of confetti into the space above an overflowing corner trash can. It was time to go back to work—a job he despised yet was grateful for. His debt was no small monster: student loans compounded with an addiction to Nike dunk basketball shoes, plus a habit for dining just slightly out of his price range, had him trapped at the mercy of a fearsome beast.
His temp job as a tax consultant offered him a modest weapon with which to battle this hobgoblin of servitude. Paycheck by paycheck, the monster was being hacked down, smaller and smaller. But the process was not a quick one. Endy would be trapped in this tepid dead-end job for awhile yet; and every morning at 7:15 a.m. the monster, wearing a necklace of fresh kicks and spouting a convolution of sushi-scented Philosophical and Scientific chatter, would bound up from under his bed to taunt him into one of his collection of second-hand suits and ties.
It was the purgatory of his lunch breaks in the canyons between the buildings that kept him sane.
Eyes upward in quixotic repose, ears pricked by the march driving the fourth movement of Fantastique, he turned a corner and crossed the street. Closing his eyes for a moment, he let himself be taken completely by the thunder of the timpani and the crashing of the cymbals, his favorite part of the symphony. He lifted his arms and conducted the symphony. To the outside world he appeared to play puppet master to the whirling crowds. He opened his eyes just in time to avoid a collision with a smart looking woman in a pant-suit, and skirted around her nonchalantly.
People seemed to be rushing past him with more fervor than usual, but before he could think to turn and see what the fuss was about, his attention was caught by an old mongrel of a woman feeding a flock of puffy pigeons. She was garbed in black from top hat to bootstrap and wore, over her long dress, a flowing cloak far too thick for this warm time of day. Her eyes sparkled like emeralds as she glared at him through the rushing crowds. Absentmindedly, she continued to strew hotdog bun crumbles to the pulsating soup of dirty feathers mooring her in place. They almost looked like they were flooding out from under her robes; as if, were she to move from her spot, they would surge and slurp along with her.
She started talking as he drew closer to her, but his headphones protected him from whatever scratchy incantation she was attempting to bewitch him with. She rotated her head to maintain eye contact and raised her arm wearily gesturing back the way he had come. He neither looked back nor removed his headphones as he passed her. He distrusted homeless people. There were too many crooks in the city making more money than him by masquerading as the poor and indigent. And there was always the possibility of falling under a gypsy curse.
He was two blocks from his office building. The fifth movement of Symphonie Fantastique was beginning to build in his headphones, sharp horns and skittering strings. Passing a café where there were always pretty girls sitting outside eating their lunches, he craned his neck to see if a particular brunette was working the counter. She was not. But in the reflection of the glass he saw a giant shadow sweep across the far side of the street. He would have dismissed it for a plane passing overhead except that it jolted to a stop and held its position, dousing the other side of the street in shadow. Instinctively he looked up to see if something was hovering overhead, but above him was only more blue and white ink blot clouds.
He stopped dead in his tracks and turned to look directly across the street. The once-broad shadow was drawing into itself and darkening.
Like a giant puddle being sucked down a drain, the edges of the immense shadow quickly congealed into a two-foot wide slop of glistening black. Endy looked around, but no one seemed to be noticing; The girls sitting at the café were laughing and swallowing bites of panini, a man polishing a chrome railing sneezed, but otherwise continued his tedious polishing. Endy turned his attention back to the puddle across the street; a delivery boy in a white apron swinging several plastic bags of lunch from each hand was heading straight towards it.
“Hey!! Don’t yo—” He stopped mid-sentence. The puddle slid silently out of the delivery boy’s way, and held its new position. It looked like it was shivering. A city bus blew by and, after it passed, the puddle moved into the street and was gliding towards Endy. No one was paying attention. Unnerved now, he began to walk a little faster down the sidewalk advising an elderly couple of French-speaking tourists he passed, “I wouldn’t go that way!” They looked excited. The woman raised her camera and took a picture of an ambulance and a fire truck fording the whitewater scuffle of the interchange.
Running now, he yanked his work ID out of his suit jacket pocket and pushed through the revolving door to the MegaChomp Multinational Building. The lobby was empty aside from the security guard, not much more than a lump himself, sitting behind a large black-granite-topped desk adjacent to a mechanical turnstile. He must have been busy with a Sudoku puzzle; he didn’t even look up as Endy lurched into the lobby, shouting.
“Call the cops! There’s a—” Glancing back at the revolving door, the Slick had maneuvered its way in and was bubbling upwards from the floor taking the form of a slick baby-like creature. Its sleek skin oozed and dribbled as it rose to the size of a small child. When it opened three red eyes with pupils the size of pin-pricks, Endy shrieked and leapt over the turnstile heading for an open elevator. The guard looked up and made a face as if a mouse had farted. The empty lobby gaped back at him and he returned back to his puzzle; disconnected, unconcerned.
In the elevator, Endy found himself tapping the “46” button with the frantic vigor of a cartoon character; the symphony in his headphones matched his rhythm, pounding brass swells and timpani rumbled toward a crescendo. The sloppy steps of the gurgling demon were just outside the doors as they slid shut.
Heart pounding, sweat dripping, knees and hands shaking, Endy slid to the floor gasping.
What the fuck is going on? What was that thing? Am I dreaming? Is this some sort of experiment?
His thoughts were as much a muck as the creature had been before it took form. No one else had taken any notice of it like it was some sort of hallucination. Had he eaten something rotten? His streetcart halaal chicken schwarma had never done him wrong before. His heart hammered nails through his bloodstream.
The floors counted upwards slowly (12), (13), (14), and Endy closed his eyes to try to focus his frantic thoughts. That thing was disgusting looking. Short and stocky, slick and shiny, and those eyes. It seemed like its breath was steaming! … But he was safe now. Wasn’t he? Safe in the elevator and getting closer to the office he usually hated, but right now was overjoyed to be able to escape into.
Suddenly something didn’t feel right. The air had gotten moist and thick. The elevator took on the climate of a tropical rainforest. As his own breathing calmed down he noticed a secondary panting become audible.
Opening his eyes, first he noticed the numbers still climbing, (38), (39), (40), almost to 42. But in the elevator, standing catty corner to him, was the heaving, three-foot, oily creature. Aside from its heavy breathing, it didn’t move, and neither could Endy. He was frozen in terror. The thing could easily have jumped onto him at any second. As far as he could see it didn’t have a mouth though, so there was no threat of being bitten. But its large flared nostrils were definitely emitting little wisps of steam.
They regarded each other for a frozen second. Its strange red eyes locked and focused on his baby browns. The thing’s entire body shifted as it slowly cocked it head. And, again, it shivered.
At this point Endy stopped breathing entirely. He might have suffocated himself if the elevator doors didn’t sweep open with a bing! Trance broken, he leapt from his crouched position and rushed out the elevator door simultaneously taking in a giant gasp of fresh copy-tinged office air, and found himself immediately bounding through empty hallways. The cubicles of “Schitter and Loufa Tax Consulting” were as silent and still as a graveyard. Row after row of desks, in various states of disarray, blurred past him as he ran frantically in search of hiding.
He didn’t know where he was going. He didn’t even have time to wonder why, all of a sudden, no one was here typing, filing, or otherwise attempting to seem proactively occupied. He ran, for no other reason than a desperate search for authority, to the boss’s office. Driven faster by the squishy thumps of his pint-sized pursuers trot, he was screaming, “Help! Anyone! Debra! Scotty! Uva! Mommmmmmyyyyyy!!” when he entered the tragically vacant sanctum of Franko P. Davenport IV, the C.E.O.
Two giant walls of windows washed the office in warm mid-afternoon light. The desk, aside from the open laptop angled toward the empty leather chair, was reminiscent of a mighty wooden altar. Potted trees glowered in the farthest corners of this vast room. Endy tossed off his headphones and went straight for the phone. He dialed the front desk and started counting the rings.
One, – He had left the door open. Too late now. Please pick up.
Two, – Turning around he looked up at the sky. The same sky that held him safe and warm only minutes ago was no closer and offered him no comfort.
Three, – Maybe he had time to run and bar the door with something; anything to keep that thing out.
Four, – Now he looked out behind him and down to the street and saw the firetrucks and ambulances. The same ones that screamed past him on the street, that the French tourists seized as a photo-op. There was a crowd of people milling around trying to get a better look.
Five, – Someone has been hit by a car while crossing the street. A stretcher is being carried to the ambulance.
Six, – The pigeon woman was facing his direction and seemed to be looking up at him and pointing to the stretcher.
Seven, – He drops the phone and turns around backing up to the window.
The tar-monster stands in the doorway heaving lightly.
“Oh no! Please! What are you? What do you want!?” Endy’s legs give out and he slides down, cowering as the demonoid begins advancing on him slow and steady. A mouth opens up from nowhere splitting the sleek skin under its eyes to reveal several rows of razor-like teeth.
The last thing Endy heard was the faint climax on his discarded headphones across the room, and the goblin’s queer voice, like a rough-edged squeal, repeating what sounded like, “Yum. Yum. Yum. Yum. Yum.”