Red and blue lights flashed along the glass skyscrapers, brilliant beneath the darkening skies. Cops had their hands full, trying to direct thick herds of panicking vehicles down wide boulevards designed for rush-hour traffic in a major metropolitan center. It seemed as though pedestrians collectively judged themselves immune to traffic law, scrambling over booming car hoods and roofs when the glutted sidewalks pushed them into the street.
Ephraim, newly freed when his office shut down early, stumbled down the avenue. He struggled to grapple with the churning crowds, the cacophony of horns blaring uselessly, announcements canceling each other out as klaxons echoed down alleys and storefronts. He ran his palm over his glossy black hair, looking left and right and getting shoulders out of the way regardless.
“Remain calm,” belted the klaxons. “Follow the instructions of the traffic police and evacuate in an orderly fashion.” Down the shopping mall could be heard similar announcements, sometimes in Spanish to mix things up.
“Calm the fuck down,” a traffic cop underscored. He was screaming into the face of a businessman trying to wedge his Audi in front of a transit bus. The businessman spun fuck around and spat it back at the cop in an altered form. It was a testament to the chaos that the cop found his attention commanded elsewhere.
“Holy crap,” muttered Ephraim to himself. “What do they all think they’re doing…” Something heavy slammed into his shoulder, knocking him over the hood of the Audi. He rolled and recovered on the pavement, watching a bright red hoodie race past.
“Sorry, mister,” the teen called out, struggling to strap his swinging backpack down as he dodged between bumpers and cyclists. No malice, not a mugging: it’s just a kid trying to get home. Ephraim thought there wasn’t likely to be anything there. He looked down the street: a few storefronts had been shattered, but nothing was being stolen. Maybe someone thought this was their chance to hurl a brick through a pristine window. There was no looting because everyone knew there was very little chance of living long enough to enjoy anything they could get their hands on. The only goal was to flee, everyone, in all directions, right now.
“—recommend citizens shelter in place in the metro area.” A wall of TV sets in the window of an electronics retailer glowed within the shadows. A dozen images of an attractive, if dowdy, woman stared back at Ephraim. Her voice cut through the din of the street with a rack of high-end speaker systems. “Evacuations are underway, please cooperate with civic authorities. Residents in the second and third tiers are advised to pack essentials for three days and evacuate at will.”
The picture returned to an older man, salt-and-pepper hair, blue windbreaker, standing before a helicopter on the roof of a nearby building. Ephraim knew the location—he looked down on it when he stepped out on his office’s balcony for smoke breaks. Usually it was full of men and women in suits, seated for lunch, drifting aimlessly over shouty phone calls, but now it held a news reporter and at least one camera tech. The reporter’s voice was harder to make out. He was shouting against the wind up there, and the noise of the street around Ephraim reached up to where the reporter was. It didn’t really matter what he was saying, because he was just repeating what everyone else already knew by this point.
Ephraim’s heart lurched at the images on the screens. The reporter never gave up rasping his way through his message. Behind him, the helicopter’s rotors blurred as it idled. And far, far behind the helicopter, she stood.
It was a gigantic woman, in defiance of all known physics. Reports of her arrived shortly before she did, her long, powerful legs crossing the landscape and giving modern telecommunications a run for its money. She was completely nude, and Ephraim wondered distantly who could possibly make clothes for someone that big or why she’d need them. She was taller than the tower the newscaster had perched on: his camera trained upon her folded arms, pushing her breasts up and out. There was no censorship, no attempt to turn the view demurely to the side. Common wisdom held that their doom was nigh, so social conventions went out the window. It was true that she had only stopped at the edge of the downtown area, surveying the city in her wide, imperious gaze for several minutes.
No one knew what she was thinking, as she studied the glistening buildings. Ephraim thought they must have seemed like a blister of mirrors and steel, arising out of the plane of forests and fields around them. Was she impressed? Was she pondering how best to destroy it all? Was she waiting for someone to establish communication?
“Holy fuck, I’d love to bang that,” said a man beside him. Ephraim hadn’t noticed him, but he turned to see who could’ve said something so stupid. “Am I right? Look at those tiddies. Love to get lost in them.”
“She would kill you,” Ephraim said. “She would kill you without even being aware of you.”
“You kidding? I’d get all up in there with my thick twelve-inch and she’d know who I was.” The man laughed. He was wearing a grimy baseball cap, sipping an extra-large soda.
“No, she wouldn’t. Look at those legs. If she closed them, you’d just pop. You’d be a stain on her skin like…” Ephraim looked up for a second. “Strawberry jelly.”
The man shoved him in the shoulder, knocking him back against the display window. “Hey, fuck you, asshole. Who the fuck are you?” He smelled like old urine, and he had something bound in ratty duct tape stuck inside his belt.
“You’re right. You’d thrill her.” Ephraim stepped back, and as if by magic, two more people from the stream of panicked citizens filled the gap. When the man in the cap lost interest, Ephraim tried to focus on the news reports again.
“So far, communication with the woman has been unsuccessful,” recited the dowdy woman. “It’s unclear whether she speaks another language or if she simply cannot hear us. I’m told all attempts to speak with her have been deprioritized in favor of evacuation. For now, we can only hope she remains inactive, so please continue—”
“She needs love,” said another man.
Ephraim reeled at the notion.
There was a shorter man with thinning hair and thick glasses. He wore a black hoodie beneath a green rain jacket. The front of the hoodie bore a bright, bold logo Ephraim didn’t recognize. It looked like something from a comic book. The man continued: “You can see it in her eyes. She’s lost and misunderstood. She has all this power and we’re treating her like a monster.” He shifted from foot to foot, and Ephraim saw his arm was busy with an activity that he didn’t want to study too closely. “We should be worshipping her. She’s a goddess, she wants to be worshipped. We’re pathetic,” he said, placing his free palm on the window between him and the glowing images.
The woman did not seem lost to Ephraim. She seemed irritated, if he could read a giant woman’s nonverbals at all. Angry, but in a distant way, as though someone had given her a story problem. She turned her head and her nostrils flared; she turned it back and her eyes narrowed. She was clearly thinking about something but it didn’t appear to be where to look for a boyfriend.
Ephraim turned from the broadcast and found himself face-to-face with a young man. Long, curly hair flowed over his white earbuds. He looked pissed about something as the screens glinted in his eyes. “Fuck her,” he growled. “Fuck that bitch. She should bend over and let me crawl in her. That’s what she’s here for. I’ve been waiting for this my entire life. Fucking National Guard better let me through and get at her. I’ll fucking crawl inside her ass and…” He seemed to lose his thought as he looked around him. The man in the grimy baseball cap gave him a thumbs-up.
“No, we have to worship her,” said the short man. “We’re pathetic little bugs and we deserve to be crushed under those big, beautiful soles. Why won’t the camera point at her feet?”
“I’ll worship her, all right.” The man in the grimy cap chuckled and slurped at the last of his soda for too long. “I’ll set up a temple right inside her cunt. I’ll worship her day and night, she’ll love it.”
Overwhelmed, Ephraim shouldered past the angry man in earbuds and rejoined the flow of frightened city-dwellers. He hardly needed to set foot on the ground, swept along in the powerful current. A woman hustling along beside him was dragging her teen son by the upper arm; with his other hand he was watching news reports of the invader on his phone, taking screenshots every time she appeared. One news crew was blatantly focusing up between her thighs.
Ephraim halted, letting them flow past. His back was buffeted by more and more people, screaming into their phones, praying, until he had to ride with them once more. A man, maybe a college student based on his voice, was cackling into his phone.
“Yeah, meet me at the gas station. We’re all getting together there.” His laughter was choppy, like someone was punching his throat. “We’ll take two cars and crash the perimeter, and just fuckin’ climb her leg. What’re they gonna do? They can’t stop us!” He laughed harder and high-fived another man, his friend apparently. They leered as though they were drunk at a strip club, which stopped Ephraim from explaining how they, too, would die beneath her merest gesture. It was simple physics.
He looked up and recognized where he was. The crowd had dragged him back to his place of work. Honestly, he hadn’t worked very hard to put much distance between it and himself, since he hadn’t seen the point of being in one place or another. For the familiarity, he pushed against the shuffling masses and deposited himself upon his building’s entrance. He leaned against the glass double-doors and caught his breath before raising his head. The crowd did not seem to be abating in the least. Where were all these people coming from? Were there so many in the city?
The glass rang out and something splattered behind his head. Flinching, he turned to see a chrysanthemum of milky fluid running down the window. He looked again and saw a man’s arm swipe above the crowd’s heads, flinging a long condom filled with milk. It spun through the air before hitting another building and exploding. Young men laughed about filling “that bitch” up with cum.
“There are children here,” Ephraim said. He meant to shout it, but the ridiculousness of advice got caught in his throat. New voices arose from the crowd, coordinated. They pulsed, finding the tempo and growing stronger: hah-heh, he could make out. Hah-heh, hah-heh! There was more, but it was indefinite until the mass of chanters flowed closer. God-dess! God-dess!
Men were pulling off their shirts and ties, making a show of hurling their jackets and blazers away. Glass shattered not far from him, two or three streams of people away. He could make out the spatter of fluid darkening the sidewalk, and then the smell of cheap vodka. A woman, digging in her bag, stumbled and tripped into Ephraim, and he mostly caught her. She looked up to see who he was, then her face twisted in agony: someone trampled her ankle, and it seemed like an accident until a man’s fist wrapped up in her hair and jerked her head back. Another fist threw a splash of fruit-flavored booze in her face. Ephraim hauled her to the building, but the assailants had melded into the crowd when he looked for them.
All other noise was subsiding beneath the roar of God-dess! God-dess! Ephraim wedged his workplace’s door open and helped slip the woman inside the building. When she was secure, he pulled off his own tie and shouldered his way into the flow, going against the current.
It wasn’t easy. He was grossly outnumbered, but none of them had his rage. None of them had as clear a goal in mind as he did. Mostly he turned sideways and salmoned his way between people who weren’t paying attention. For those who’d seen him and sneered, looking forward to a conflict, Ephraim took the lead with a punch to the throat here or a heel to a kneecap there and worked his way along until he reached the entrance to the building next door.
An elderly security guard approached him immediately. “You can’t come in here,” he started to say, when Ephraim seized his tie and yanked hard. Ephraim reached around and flipped the snap off his holder, slipping the guard’s gun out before booting the hapless man into the crowd.
There was no wait for an elevator going up. As he passed each floor, he heard voices screaming and fading, screaming and fading, all the way to the top. Quickly he found the steel-rung service ladder, hopped up to grab it, and hauled himself through the ceiling.
The reporter was still bellowing at the lone camera operator, who was staring back with his machinery. The helicopter continued to idle with a high whine (which couldn’t have been helping the broadcast), and then there was the woman.
Ephraim froze in his tracks, and he nearly dropped the pistol. She was striking on television, but in person she was gorgeous to a violent, disruptive extreme. The way her muscles shifted smoothly beneath vast tracts of flesh! How those huge orbs rolled in her eye sockets, large irises drinking in the landscape, just above a cruel, assured smile! The swirling mass of long, thick hair, playing about in strata of winds Ephraim couldn’t perceive! Even the long, arcing streaks of fiery sunset glowing upon her imperious curves, her shoulder, her ribs! (A sunset the city couldn’t know, enrobed in her glorious shadow as it was.) He wanted to throw himself off the building in his rapture. His eyes were not worthy to behold her, he did not deserve to exist in the same reality as this… this…
The image of the short man in layered clothing, his fist jerking beneath his workout pants, emerged in his mind. It pained him to do so, but he tore his eyes from the ineffable beauty. He focused instead on the gravel of the rooftop as he charged at he passenger side of the small aircraft.
The pilot was focused on the broadcast, his ears protected from the roar of the winds and the motor with large orange industrial earmuffs. He didn’t notice Ephraim slipping aboard and buckling himself in until he felt the muzzle of the gun burrowing into his neck. The pilot turned, expressionless behind his mirrored aviator shades; Ephraim jerked his thumb upward, through the roof of the chopper. Cursing, the pilot began flipping toggles and the motor’s whine escalated.
Too late, the reporter noticed his camera operator’s frantic gesture. The skids left the roof and the pair of men there appeared to shrink, their clothes flapping in the wind as they peered up. The pilot looked at him again, and he gestured toward the immense head a couple dozen city blocks away. When Ephraim pulled back the hammer on his firearm, the pilot was persuaded to cant the craft toward the giantess.
Ephraim did not take his eyes off the pilot as he fumbled around his seat, searching for the cone he’d spotted when he boarded. His hand wrapped around the grip of a high-powered bullhorn.
The gigantic woman slowly grew larger as the beating blades carried them across the city. Ephraim’s heart pounded in his chest, watching with a thick, frothy mixture of dread and lust as she turned ponderously toward them. He could sense, in her eyes, they were less than a gnat. They were a mote of dust in a sunbeam, these two men in a flying craft. When both her eyes trained upon them, he wondered if they might burst into flames in the intensity of her gaze.
The pilot held in place, signaling that he would go no further, hole in his neck or no. Ephraim nodded and made a stirring motion with the bullhorn; the pilot turned his passenger toward the gigantic woman. Ephraim swallowed hard, drew in two lungs of crisp, rarefied air, and switched the bullhorn on.
“Hey! Hey, you big, ugly idiot!” he screamed. His reedy voice nonetheless pounded through the thumping blades. “I bet you can’t destroy this entire city in under ten minutes!” In a flash, the pilot’s hand wrenched at Ephraim’s harness, and his boot hove Ephraim out of the craft.
For her new friend, the giantess gave it her best shot.
Image by Aphrodite
One thought on “Preservation”
This, as the kids say, slapped. Well-balanced in exposition and action, savory dialogue, excellent pacing. And the punchline paid off supremely.
The Sagan Estate will be in touch.
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