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I am there on the day of the Street-People.
I have a baguette from the expensive restaurant on the High Street, and I’m outside at one of their small tables. It’s a fine day. A Gucci sunglasses kind of day. At another table, a businesswoman nibbles a panini as she taps away at her laptop. Her hair is tied back so tight it looks painful. Her suit is more expensive than mine.
It starts with a rumble and a crack, like an earthquake. The ground trembles faintly and people look around. Then the world shudders, really rocks, like that footage of Japanese office workers during an earthquake. Flipped tables and smashed plates. People falling off their seats. The businesswoman’s laptop shatters as it hits the ground. I wince at the sound and stagger inside the restaurant.
There’s a small group of us. About six. We clutch the counter, the tables, the seats. We crouch so we don’t have so far to fall.
The rumbling stops. The world is still. Outside, car alarms wail. Around me, everyone is all questions. I straighten my tie and go to the wide front window. In the street, people are running around and screaming, hysterical. I think their reaction is disproportionate. I’m okay.
Then I see why.
A macadam man walks down the street. Stiff, staccato steps. He has stones for eyes and his mouth is a dark, twisted crack. The crack moves but I cannot hear what he says. There is a cat’s eye embedded in his lower back. I wonder if it’s uncomfortable.
Then the woman in the expensive suit slams against the glass. I yelp. Her eyes are stretched wide and her mouth is a yanked-down grimace. There is a gash to her forehead. She presses her hand to it and blood trickles through her fingers, staining the sleeve of her suit.
She slams the window pane, shrieks to be let in.
I shout for her to go to the door. It isn’t locked.
She tumbles in and leans against the counter. A young waiter with bad skin goes out back and returns with a bandage for the woman’s head. The rest of us close in with questions.
She says they just came up out of the ground. No, that’s not right. The ground fractured, and the different pieces stood up and started walking and talking. That’s closer to what happened.
I tell her she’s full of it and she screams at me, tells me to go look for myself. So I go to the window. I have trouble accepting what I see.
The street is full of people. Running. Shouting. Crying.
Amongst it all, dozens of macadam people are walking around like they own the place. There are males and females – you can tell from the body shapes. Even children. Small rubble-people toddling around. One of the little ones squats down and passes a couple of small rocks.
I watch a stony figure with a fire hydrant jutting from his shoulder. He uproots a street sign. A yellow diamond with a jet-black figure walking, slightly stooped as if it has been stuck forever in that position, never moving until now.
A macadam man grabs an old man and shakes him like a rag doll. The macadam man is tall, hulking, with broad shoulders. The old man is spindly and frail.
The macadam man tosses the limp body aside. And that’s when I realise that the street is full of bodies. My mouth hangs open. The businesswoman and a couple of others peer through the window, too. None of us speak.
And then they all turn and see us in the restaurant window. Stony eyes stare. It is very quiet. We are animals in a zoo. I turn from the window. We need to leave.
A rock with legs slams through the wall in a burst of rubble, plaster and dust. The rock man roars loud enough to leave a ringing in my ears. His head nearly scrapes the ceiling. His body is all jagged edges and angles, lined with veins of cement. Oversized rock-fists, round pebble eyes and a mouth full of grit.
The businesswoman strides forward and shrieks something about her laptop. I don’t blame her. It looked top of the range. She screams at the rock-man-thing. Calls him stupid. Points a finger at him. Her thin red lips are drawn back. Veneered teeth.
The hulk of rock studies her. His dusty mouth turns downward. Blank eyes.
A thick arm jabs out. The woman slams into the wall behind the counter. She leaves a dent, doesn’t get up.
Everyone is screaming.
I run, leap over the counter. Nearly trip over the woman’s twitching body. I’ll go through the kitchen, out the back door, I’ll make it to the Jag, I’ll –
Break my nose against a paving slab.
I hit the floor hard. The tiles are cold against my face. Rough hands grab me by the lapels, pick me up. My suit tears. The smell of soil and stone and warm tarmac fills my nostrils. I am reminded of roadworks on a hot day.
The rock man drops me in the middle of the others. No one helps me, just like none of us helped the businesswoman. I get to my feet, blood pouring from my nose.
The rock man speaks. His voice is deep and rough, like there’s gravel in his throat. “We are the Street-People.”
We stare. Wide-eyed, fearful, awe-struck.
“You have walked over us for too long.”
I speak up through blood and snot, say we never knew. My voice is a whine.
The rock man stamps his foot. Dust puffs out from the knee. The room trembles.
“Things will change!”
Another tremor shakes the ground.
He herds us outside.
Across the street, police turn up in a riot van. It shudders over the uneven road, and officers tumble out with shields and batons. The macadam people throw debris, swing signs, use their jagged fists. The officers are overwhelmed in a flurry of moving rubble, a landslide, an avalanche.
We obediently trail out into the middle of the road. Some of us are sobbing.
The sun beats down, bright and hot. No Gucci sunglasses now. There are other clusters of people. I look at the rock man in charge of my group. His pebble eyes seem narrowed. Maybe it’s my imagination.
We lie down, contort, fit ourselves together. A living jigsaw. It takes a while for everyone to settle. I shut my eyes and try to think of nice things. Maybe I’ll wake up now. That would be good.
Somewhere, there’s a snap. It sounds like a twig breaking. Someone screams. I think about how fragile we are, when it all comes down to it.
There is another muffled crunch. More screaming. Closer now.
We are the Street-People.
Jack Westlake lives in Wales. His short stories have appeared in print and online, and he is currently working on a novel. To find out more, go to jackwestlake.wordpress.com