So many stories begin with an ordinary day until… and indeed, Henry Spark began his day fully expecting it to be like most other days. His alarm woke him up at the same time as the day before, and in the same rude manner—intruding into his dreams with its angry ringing. He drowsily muddled through his morning routine, and before long, he was ready to leave his apartment and begin his regular trek through the city to the fluorescent-flooded cubicle in which he spent most of his waking hours working. It was all very dull and alike every other weekday morning, and… well, just ordinary… until, having descended the steps in front of his apartment building, his left foot landed on the sidewalk. Something happened at that very moment. A young lady who happened to be passing by stopped and gasped right in front of Henry. She looked at him and quickly turned away, but not before Henry noticed how wide her eyes were and how her cheeks were blossoming into a deepening red. Her knees seemed to weaken, and her gasp became a moan. Somewhere in the distance, Henry heard a terrible scream. He rushed forward, fearing the lady might collapse, but as he approached, a change came over her. It seemed like what ever had so quickly affected her, just as quickly disappeared.
“Are you OK Miss?”
She stood upright and, with a look that Henry couldn’t quite discern (but seemed like embarrassment), blurted out, “Fine! I’m fine. Nothing’s wrong… Pardon me.” And with that, she hurried past and continued on her way.
Henry stood still for a moment. It seemed a little odd, but it was easy to rationalize. Perhaps, she had just suffered from a brief moment of lightheadedness… but that scream, “Where did that come from?” he wondered. Henry didn’t give it much thought because he had five and a half blocks to walk to get to work, and Henry hated being late. So he continued on his way until he reached the second block.
The light was red at the intersection, and a woman in a very posh business suit was standing on the corner, waiting for the signal to change. When Henry was just about two paces behind her, he heard her let out a small scream, and from somewhere far off, he heard a very loud scream. Henry stopped dead still. The lady began to moan. He thought he heard her mumble, “Oh God.” She dropped her purse and briefcase, and she squatted, her head bent forward. “Oh God.” This time he clearly heard it.
“Miss?” He took a step forward, “Miss, are you OK? Do you need me to call someone?”
She stood straight up and turned quickly to face him, “Get back!”
“What the hell was that?”
“I’m sorry, what was what?” Henry was beginning to find this disconcerting.
She raised a hand, “Just… just stay back.”
A large fellow in overalls crossed the street, “Hey! Hey! Is this guy botherin’ you?”
She turned to look at him. “What? No… Just… Everyone leave me alone!” She grabbed her purse and case and quickly crossed the street.
The large fellow gave Henry a dirty look as he passed, and Henry raised his hands in a gesture of confusion and submission. Henry decided to wait for the crossing signal to go through another cycle before crossing the street himself. “What,” he wondered, “is going on?”
He made it half way to work, before almost the exact same thing happened again. A woman nearby seemed to almost faint, while off in the distance there was a horrific scream. This time Henry didn’t stop. He just kept right on walking, leaving whatever craziness was going on behind him, but he didn’t make it fifteen steps before it happened again. This time, it happened to a lady that he was just passing—she went straight to her knees, and someone screamed from a nearby apartment. Henry started to run. He made it to work in record time, but not before hearing two more blood-curdling screams. He ran up the steps, two at a time, and rushed into the office building.
As he stepped in, his face was blasted with cool air. They always kept the building so cold—usually a point of contention with Henry, but this morning, it felt good as he had become quite flush from the running and all of the excitement.
Thankfully, it seemed that all the craziness was reserved for the sidewalk outside. Once inside, Henry’s day reverted to being perfectly ordinary, and he was glad for it. He sat in his cubicle for four hours straight, and he was more productive than he had ever been before. The morning’s excitement had clearly gotten his adrenalin up. In fact, he was working so quickly and with such focus that he didn’t even notice the hunger growing in his belly. He only stopped because his friend Elaine, from two cubicles over, stopped by.
“Hey, Henry, are you going out for lunch today?”
“Lunch? Oh, wow, it’s already time for lunch… Yes! Yes, I was going to head over to the salad bar in the bodega on 28th.”
“Oh, that sounds good. Mind if I join?”
“No, that’d be great!” Henry said this with a little more enthusiasm than he would have liked. He had been harboring a crush on Elaine for several months now, but had yet to screw up the courage to do anything about it.
They headed straight out, and Henry, so pleased to have been asked to lunch by Elaine, completely forgot about the morning’s crazy commute. However, it wasn’t long before the craziness came rushing back. They had made it half way up the block when Elaine stopped suddenly, and someone screamed in the distance. Henry didn’t notice at first and took another step before stopping to look over at Elaine.
She had a somewhat confused look on her face. “Are you OK?” Henry asked as he took a step back towards her, and just as his foot landed, he saw her eyes widen, her heard a terrifying scream in the distance, and he watched as Elaine shoved her hands deep into her pockets and grabbed at her groin as she doubled over.
She looked up at him and her eyes rolled up. She gasped and began to shudder. “Ooooh!”
Henry was frozen. He didn’t know what to do. Elaine dropped to the sidewalk on her knees. She arched her body and tossed her head back, as she hissed, “Yesssss!”
A nearby police officer rushed to Elaine’s side, pushing Henry as he did so, and Elaine quickly pulled her hands out of her pockets, looked up at Henry with obvious shame, and began to cry.
Henry, completely terrified, bolted from the scene, taking one long step off the sidewalk and onto the open bike lane, and he ran for several blocks in the street until his lungs burned and he was less than a block from his apartment. When he stopped, he approached the sidewalk and sat on the curb. His mind began to race over the events of the day, trying to make some kind of sense out of it. He went over each event, trying to remember every detail. It was beyond strange. The screams that he had heard in the distance were all terrible screams filled with pain, but the women on the sidewalk with him seemed to be in a different kind of pain… a good pain… they seemed… they seemed… Henry wouldn’t let himself think it. He leaned back and placed his hands behind him onto the sidewalk to support his leaning torso. The sidewalk felt warm under his palms. They also felt… cracked. Henry quickly sat upright and twisted to look at the sidewalk. “The first young lady,” he recalled, “the first scream… it happened as soon as I stepped onto the sidewalk.”
He stood up in the bike lane. He watched and waited. Shortly, a woman approached from down the block. Just as she was about to pass him, he lightly touched his toe to the crack in the sidewalk. She stopped immediately, a look of surprise on her face, and pressed her hands over her… Then he heard the scream. He jumped back off the sidewalk into the bike lane, and looked all around. “The screams,” he thought, “where were they coming from? What was going on?”
The lady on the sidewalk hurried past, and Henry, now terrified of the sidewalk, stayed in the bike lane to run the rest of the way home, and once there, gingerly tip-toed across the sidewalk to the apartment building stairs, careful to not step on a single crack. Once inside his apartment, Henry decided to calm his nerves with some gin, but his nerves were really shot, so he kept drinking gin, straight from the bottle, until he fell asleep on the couch.
Sometime shortly after five, Henry’s phone rang and woke him up. He recognized the office number on his caller ID. He decided against picking up. Instead, he went over to the TV and turned on the news. The screen was full of images of ambulances, and they all seemed to be on streets that he recognized. He turned up the volume.
“… an unprecedented rash of bizarre injuries, nine women seem to have suffered spontaneous broken backs. While there is no clear connection between them, they all live within six blocks of each other, and they were all at home with their children when their backs, again, just seemed to spontaneously break. We will cut in with updates as we…”
Henry turned off the TV. “Oh God,” he thought, “what has happened?” He cradled his head in his hands and whispered, “What have I done?”