You could feel sorry for someone who had tripped, especially if they couldn’t get up because people kept knocking them over again and trampling them to death. But the slow ones were different. I felt no compunction about knocking them out of the way…”
by mel fawcett
It was hot, unbelievably hot; it had been for months. It hadn’t rained for nearly a year. The earth had turned to dust and there were forest fires raging in the south. Some people said it was the end of the world.
I was sitting on the veranda with my feet up and a glass of cold lemonade in my hand, wondering what I would do if it really was the end of the world. That was when I saw people running down the street towards me. There was a surprising number of them. More than surprising – frightening. And as they got closer, I realized a lot of them were shouting and screaming. I stepped to the edge of the veranda so I could hear better.
‘Run, run for your life!’ they were shouting. ‘Run, run for you life!’ They were shouting other things as well but that was the one I picked up on. Even in that heat, it made my blood run cold. When people shout stuff like that, especially when they are running for their own lives and when there are hundreds and hundreds of them and more every second, it gives you cause for serious concern. You think I was going to stand there smiling while all those people were running past screaming and shouting? Not a chance. I’m telling you, possessions don’t mean shit when people are screaming stuff like that. Call it panic if you will, but without a second thought I was up and running along with everyone else.
Once I was running, I asked other runners what we were running away from. They pointed behind and I looked and I saw the cloud of whatever it was way back there. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before, except maybe in the movies. There was this red cloud billowing up from the ground, blocking out the sky and coming towards us. It was chasing us! I didn’t know what the hell it was but like everyone else I knew I didn’t want to be caught by it. So I kept running right along with everyone else. In fact I was running in front of most of them. That was the safest place, I figured that one out when I saw people falling over and becoming human obstacles that runners left on their feet had to jump over, or not. Then there were the slow ones; they were just plain irritating. You could feel sorry for someone who had tripped, especially if they couldn’t get up because people kept knocking them over again and trampling them to death. But the slow ones were different. I felt no compunction about knocking them out of the way.
It was by showing no mercy and running like the devil himself was chasing me that I got to be up front. And because I was then leading the way, people on the sidewalks shouted to ask me what we were all running from. I pointed behind at the red cloud. I told them I didn’t know what it was but I said I didn’t think it was a good idea to stand around and wait to be enveloped by it. So all the time, on every street, more and more people joined the mad rush. They were pouring out of houses, shops and bars to join us. God only knows how many thousands of people there were running behind me.
I must have been running for over an hour. My feet were on fire. That got me thinking about the hot dry ground we were running on. We were running on baked earth, churning it up, just like in a stampede of cattle. That’s exactly what it was, a panic-stricken stampede, running from we knew not what – out of fear of the unknown, creating yet more dust. Yes, that’s right, we were creating a dust cloud by running. And the dust cloud was following us.
So maybe we should all have simply stopped running, you say? It’s easy for you to talk – you try telling hundreds of thousands of stampeding people to stop running, especially when you’re up there in front. Maybe there was nothing to be afraid of except the demons that we were creating, but what could we do about it? I certainly wasn’t about to stop and get trampled to death. There was no choice but to keep running, so that’s what I did.
(illustration: brandon freels)
Mel Fawcett, based in London, is a carpenter, biker, father, writer; his stories have recently appeared in 34th Parallel, APT, Staple and Litro.