Matthew sat alone in the café and sipped his beer from the small pilsner glass that always made him feel so continental. Every weekend he’d find a new, strange haunt in an even stranger part of town to have a few drinks while he read his trashy pulp novels that he got from the library. Matthew delighted in anachronism, and found an exoticism in all things old timey. Some day he hoped to grow into an eccentric. Perhaps he’d buy a cane today.
Matthew turned a page, and the sun seemed to dim momentarily, while a change in pressure clogged his ears. He glanced up, worked his jaw to pop his eardrums, and reaffirmed his certainty that there wasn’t a cloud in the pale sky. Odd, Matthew thought, chalking it up to a passing flock of migratory birds, or maybe a high altitude vapor trail. Matthew liked to create theories to resolve situations that didn’t demand it.
Before he could get back to his book, the ground rumbled slightly beneath him, rattling glassware, followed by a heavy silence quickly broken by anxious laughs and murmurs. This was earthquake country, so the tremor didn’t break anyone’s afternoon stride, even with The Big One in the back of everyone’s mind.
Suddenly very thirsty, Matthew quaffed his beer and grumbled at the inefficiency of drinking anything of import from such a small glass. He looked around for his eternally bored and “over it” waitress, when a commotion further up the lightly trafficked avenue caught his eye. A man crested the hill and was running full speed down the center of the street towards the café, his suit jacket flapping as he pumped his arms wildly.
He ran past Matthew, his face a mask of stark, blank terror, and headed downhill, disappearing around the bend that led to the waterfront, hidden by three blocks of towering cement, glass and steel.
Matthew found this strange, and was formulating a number of salacious theories to explain this man’s frightful locomotion when his waitress decided to saunter outside. Matthew raised his now-limiting pilsner glass like a saloon cowboy when her expression gave him pause. He followed her glassy-eyed stare back to the top of the hill, where another running figure crested the rise. A woman this time, sprinting in that ungraceful way that women often run. She ran past the café, and around the bend toward the water, following the man that had just come seconds before her.
Matthew stood up… just as another, and another, and another person clamored over the hill in terrified silence… Men, women, even several children – no one made a sound, and all wore the same expression of numb, awed dread as they ran past.
Matthew hopped the low café fence and started up the hill, against the grain, toward the crest, dodging the crowd of horrified humanity that rushed past him, heading downhill, toward the water.
Matthew ran faster and faster, and finally disappeared over the hill. Several seconds passed…
Another reverberation shook the ground, this time far more violently.
Then, heavy silence… Everywhere, silence, as if the air was holding its breath, waiting, listening…
Matthew burst over the top of the hill, his eyes bulging and feverish with cold, incomprehensible fright, and ran, as fast as his legs would take him, downhill…
© T.E. Grau
T.E. Grau is an author of speculative and weird fiction, dark and heroic fantasy, and really shitty poetry. He also plays a mean sousaphone. His story “Transmission” will appear in the forthcoming Cthulhu Mythos anthology Dead But Dreaming, from Miskatonic River Press. Follow T.E. Grau at http://cosmicomicon.blogspot.com/.
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