Jill hits PAUSE on her smartphone. Her favorite playlist stops. Her earbuds go quiet. Sweat rivulets tickle her bronzed skin. Below, Lake Erie shoves at the breakwall–the collection of car-sized concrete chunks cluttering the shore. Thunder pounds again, as it has through most of her morning run. She holds her hands out. No rain. She looks up. No clouds.
Jets soar overhead, racing toward the city. She steps off the path to look at the Cleveland skyline. Three dark worms of smoke now wiggle upward. She glances both ways down the running path–empty. Maybe all the kids are at home watching their morning cartoons–badly animated plots stitched together by commercials teasing new toys. Do kids still watch Saturday morning cartoons?
Something slams the breakwall. She jumps.
Is it a wrecked sailboat? No. A whale-sized hand juts out of the water. Giant pale fingers clutch the concrete, which grits and grinds.
When her husband Sam first brought her here in the early days of their marriage, she said that the breakwall pieces resembled two corkscrews humping.
Sam disagreed. “They look like children’s jacks.”
“Not everything’s a toy,” she told him.
He reached for. “In the right hands, it is.”
Except he hasn’t played with her in months. Apparently trophy wives are for looking–not touching. He might as well stick her up on a shelf behind a pane of glass or mount her on the wall. Hell, even trophies get dusted every once in awhile.
The giant hand–its flesh all loose and pasty–grabs clumps of the breakwall. Concrete chunks crumble under the massive muscles. The noise slaps Jill out of her head and into action.
She runs up the ramp leading to the parking lot. On the way up, she realizes that the Keybank building–the one Sam’s employees all call the Mother Ship–is missing from the skyline.
Atop the ramp, she sees that one of the waterfront mansions stands torn open like a dollhouse. Jill told Sam often that she wished she could see what this beautiful house looked like on the inside–but not like this. Smoke pours out of the exposed kitchen on the ground floor. Books spill off a falling shelf and into open air from an office on the next floor up. On the third floor, a young woman in a bra hides under a bed covered with bricks, wood, and other debris. She’s screaming into her cell phone, which she eventually starts slamming into the gorgeous hardwood floors. A large squirming shadow falls over the house.
Breakwall pieces explode around Jill. Debris strikes her cheek and shoulder.
She runs across the lot–empty except for her bright red SUV. She calls it Fuck Me Red. Sam calls is Radio Flyer Red.
She slams the door and shoves the electronic key into the ignition. The radio gargles static. She accelerates out of the lot and into the street–before slamming the brakes hard enough knock her forehead into the steering wheel.
Stars sprinkle across her vision. Through the sparkles, a pale giant squats in the street smashing two trucks together. She jumps with each impact. The vehicles belch gasoline and oil onto the street. Seaweed hangs from the creature’s many arms–long things with multiple elbows. Its face resembles a navel.
Rubbing her throbbing forehead, Jill checks herself out in the rearview mirror. She’ll have a bump, for sure. Behind her, another giant crawls this direction. It holds a windmill in one of its hands, resembling a child with a pinwheel. The gleaming metal blades–as long as telephone poles–spin lazily.
“They’re here for our toys,” she says to no one. “All our wonderful toys.”
She should turn around, maybe try to cut through the park or down an alley. Instead, she adjusts her earbuds and fishes her smartphone out of her pocket. The trucks slam together again, and a stray wheel bounces down the street. She opens her door and climbs out from behind the glass.
She hits PLAY.
Rob E. Boley is the author of The Scary Tales, a series of dark fantasy novels published by StoneGate Ink and featuring mash-ups of classic fairy tale characters and horror monsters. His fiction has appeared in several markets, including A cappella Zoo, Pseudopod, Clackamas Literary Review, and Best New Werewolf Tales. His stories have won Best in Show in the Sinclair Community College Creative Writing Contest and the Dayton Daily News/Antioch Writers’ Workshop Short Story Contest. He grew up in Enon, Ohio, a little town with a big Indian mound. He later earned a B.A. and M.A. in English from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. He lives with his daughter in Dayton, where he works for his alma mater. Each morning and most nights, he enjoys making blank pages darker. Visit him on the web at http://www.robboley.com and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/robboley
Image by F Delventhal