The sky of downtown New York City looked like a dead TV channel as it loomed above the over-crowded streets. William Burdet, a successful man of business, ran his fingers through his dark hair impatiently as he moved through the massive swarm of pedestrians. Checking his watch, he swayed in the cattle-like throng. “Late. Late, late, late!” he muttered, and shouldered a red-haired woman in order to make a crossing light. “It’s only fair,” he justified. “I was cut off myself at the last light. It’s my turn.” Cars - adding to the ridiculous amount of people - roamed behind William’s heels as he stepped onto the curb.
William trudged on the other side of the street. Immediately to the left of him, a man dressed as Santa rang a golden bell for charity. The tinkling of the bell sounded like clanging to William’s agitated and headachy mind. As he passed, he was full of contempt. Suddenly, Santa collapsed. William was caught underneath him and used his shoulder best he could to hoist him up. Stumbling under the man’s substantial weight, he quickly and awkwardly glanced around for help. But the crowd just moved past him in a single body, like a river flowing between the buildings. Looking down at Santa’s face, William’s surprise and embarrassment turned quickly to distress. The man’s milky blue eyes were wide open and dead centered. His face was a greyish and pale blue, as if all blood had suddenly vanished from inside him.
“Help! Someone, this man needs help! Somebody call 911!”
No one responded.
“Sir, can you help me? Can you help him?” he pleaded, grabbing the long black coat of a man passing by. As if William’s hand were a nail the coat had momentarily snagged on, the stranger unhooked it and shoved past. Every human racing past seemed perfectly unaware of William’s continued shouts, or even the man in red, slumped on his resting place of cement. Giving up on the oblivious mass around him, William quickly thrust his hand underneath the plastic white curls of his beard. No pulse.
William cursed the phone he left on the table in his rush to leave the apartment. Who was going to call the police? Anyone? William’s head swam. “There is a man laying dead on the sidewalk next to me...” his dry lips bobbed up and down, unable to make sense of anything. “For no reason at all.” He choked. “And nobody can see him but me.” He stood up, putting his hands behind his head and staring with trepidation into each face as it passed him. “You’re all human, aren’t you?” Without warning, a woman’s face fell from view.
City noises blurred in William’s ears as her body met the pavement. Same bloodless face and wide eyes looking at nothing. Dropping like she was suddenly made of lead. No blood, no wound, no contusions or signs of failure. Nothing but a comatose pile of limbs. Then a small boy, only feet away, fell as well. His sister followed, flopping over like a rag doll. Then another, as if it’s heart and lungs ceased to exist. One head at a time sank in the black sea of coats. One head at a time, William scrambled from human to human, shoving his fingers on warm dead neck after warm dead neck. “How is this happening? How is this possible?” He said over and over, growing increasingly breathless until the words could only be mouthed. He licked his dry lips once again, thinking of nothing and everything all at once. The once tamed curls on his head became mangled by his hands. People walked. They stared right past him, rubbing his sides as they traveled. Some dropped, blue and warm. Some kept walking. William began looking for some sort of pattern telling who would drop next, but it was purely unpredictable. As he peered over the multitude of heads, a man fell dead at his feet. As he looked down, he heard a sickening thud ahead and looked up. Right, left, front, behind, up, down. “This isn’t happening, this isn’t happening, this isn’t happening!” Grabbing a random stranger by the arm, he pleaded with her. ”Please,” he said pointing to the nearest body. “Tell me you see that man right there, on the ground. Right there, see him?” The young lady he had grabbed remained composed in this sudden disruption of her life. Tilting her head, she claimed calm and simple tones.
“There’s nothing there, sir.”
“No, there is a man and he’s dead! Look at his face, he’s dead!”
“I don’t think so.”
William roared and shoved her aside. Grabbing another woman, he yelled “Here!” and pulled her down to meet the corpse on the ground. “This man is dead. He just dropped.” The woman stood right back up, brushing off her skirt and muttering something about psychopathic idiots. William’s eyes followed her in amazement as she walked away, joining the concourses of walking and dropping people. He screamed and pivoted when she dropped too, the freshest corpse.
Taxis began careening as their drivers died as well. One forehead fell flat on the horn in a never-ending note. Then another joined in harmony, until vehicle after vehicle added to the blearing chorus of car horns. William began running in circles. Some people he shook madly in the direction of a body. Others he clung to, begging for help or signs of his sanity. Then be began holding people on the street. He held them until they dropped. Talking to them. Weeping when they suddenly shrugged lifeless in his arms. He got to know a few, if they let him. And when they yelled, “Hey buddy, get offa me! What’s your problem??” he could only hug tighter. “Don’t drop,” He’d sob, “Don’t drop.” One woman tore her pepper spray from her purse before diminishing to the sidewalk beneath them. Another hugged him right back, almost tighter. The car horns didn’t stop.
Hours passed. Numbers of those walking became acutely scarce. The buildings seemed to grow taller and more ominous as night came, like a secret police for New York. Heaps of black and blue bodies rounded the once geometric streets. Sometimes after a person slipped from William’s arms, he would sway in place, catching himself at each angle and staring at where they had been. He was now unable to grasp the sheer number of souls he had watched snatched right out of their cases. How many people no longer existed? No matter whom he followed with his eyes, they would eventually drop and there was nothing he could do. Mountains of coats and human appendages formed what wasgenocide without cause. He closed his eyes. It felt as if he hadn’t closed them in days. He didn’t even know where in New York he was, now and he didn’t care. It was near silent now, apart from a couple car horns left sounding. Traffic had stopped completely and taxis ran idle with their senseless passengers vibrating along with the engine. With his eyes closed, he knew how apocalyptic the scene looked. He had watched it unfold. It looked as if he were in some movie or nightmare: real and unreal at the same time. Most windows were unlit, for pretty much everyone had deceased before it became dark enough to flip lights on. Only a few automatic streetlights illuminated the forsaken roads and barren faces. The January air, once filled with the balmy breath of human life, had gone cold. Imagine: a place ever restless, resting. Like a star that has no more will to pulsate going dark, leaving a wounding and ghastly void.
For the first time in his life, William felt like he belonged with everyone that was dead. Dragging his reddened eyes from the concrete, he set their steady gaze on the equally gray and flat sky. It was beginning to let snowflakes fall. His ears longed for the sound of footsteps. He strained. He searched as he had for a long time. But he knew he was now the only one who hadn’t fallen dead. Was he above everyone else in some way? What was he supposed to do? No one was left. Nobody. He is King of the Dead. Lord of the Dropping Like Flies. He certainly didn’t feel exalted. William sat sagging in his skin on a curb, as if he would decay at any moment; more ready for death than any of the thousands he had watched die in the past 12 hours. His head hung weightily with the burden of living. How lucky everyone else had been to slip so promptly and painlessly into death. They were welcomed by it, while William now had to beg. He stood. He did this without fully recognizing he was the only man on earth who could. But somewhere, he felt it.