The blizzard had passed, but the city remained still. A fleet of yellow plows, crusted white with salt, worked through the day, clearing out downtown’s clogged arteries. And now, with the grey skies deepening into black, the streets were bare, free from both snow and traffic.
MacLaren wasn’t in the mood for a night out. He’d spent most of the morning rescheduling meetings, then followed it up with an afternoon troubleshooting remote access settings for his work computer. As he walked deliberately along the river to the new sushi place, MacLaren was giving serious thought to moving south.
But it was her birthday, and he’d had to make the reservations months in advance. That manufactured exclusivity seemed especially foolish now, as his leather Bluchers echoed crisply along the riverwalk path. The city was still, its trendiest patrons all temporary shut-ins, at least until brunch-time tomorrow.
As he arrived at the restaurant’s entrance, MacLaren heard the synthetic TA-DA! of an incoming text message. He pulled his sleek white smartphone from an overcoat pocket. It was Sharon.
Stuck on hwy, it read. Where r u?
Already here, he typed. I’ll be at the bar.
Before he could press SEND, MacLaren’s attention was captured by an odd noise. At first, he thought it was the rhythm of a flat tire in the distance, maybe from a car on the bridge a few blocks north. His ears strained in that direction, but he could see no headlights or taillights in the distance.
Stepping closer to the river’s edge, he realized the sound was much closer than he’d imagined. As MacLaren peered over the walkway’s ornamental guardrail, the sound grew louder and more insistent. The river glinted like chiseled onyx in the moonlight, its current slowed by a delicate sheet of ice barely visible in the darkness.
Phone in hand, he leaned over the railing, turning its screen toward the void in the hopes of making out the source of the tapping. It was too deliberate to be a piece of debris, too repetitive to be the cracking of melting ice. It had to be something intentional.
My god, thought MacLaren, as his blood pumped frigid. Is there a PERSON down there?
Reeling with fear and adrenaline, MacLaren lost his grip on the phone. He lunged for it reflexively, and immediately felt his body shift too far forward. As he clutched the cold steel railing, he watched helplessly as the screen’s pale white glow was engulfed by the blackness. He heard the clatter of flimsy plastic skitter across the surface of the wet ice, then nothing. The tapping had stopped. The river was still. The moment was over.
“God…dammit…” he managed.
MacLaren exhaled slowly, easing himself back onto solid footing. As the winter air chilled his damp forehead, he shivered. He was fairly certain it wasn’t from the cold. Bracing against the railing, he peered down to the river, trying to make sense of what had just happened.
The TA-DA! of the phone shrieked from below, echoing against the concrete banks and the highrise condominiums, into the overcast night sky. He leaned in, trying desperately to pinpoint the phone’s bearings within the river’s inky blackness.
And the next thing he knew was an icy blast of mind-numbing cold that consumed him, attacking his every nerve ending. MacLaren did not feel the crushing force of the mammoth tentacle as it enveloped his stunned form and lifted it swiftly from the ground. He did not feel the speed of the beast’s movement, nor the arctic cold of the water as it flooded his lungs.
The only thing MacLaren knew was that he should’ve stayed home, reservations be damned.