Noah ran his finger across the grains of stone, the roughened salt and pepper texture. His father was an architect. Noah knew foundations. Just above the granite sat the pilasters, those half-columns wedded to the surface. They were part of the façade, supporting nothing, but their bottoms looked like feet, elephantine, enormous with the punch of something mighty. They gathered where the earth had split, where the girls and women vanished.
Another crack had opened in the night. It ran the length of Humbolt Street, past the dry cleaners and the library where Amy Feldon worked beneath the glow of lamps. She had barely left the building, heels clicking in staccato bursts, when the pavement ruptured. Like all the rest, she fell into a loamy, root-strewn void. No one saw the bottom.
Noah shivered. His mother was the first to disappear, on an errand to buy mousetraps. Six months gone, and he still could see that chasm burst, a giant’s mouth, voracious. No time to shout or say goodbye.
The sheriff had just rubbed his chin. “Wrong place, wrong time, bad luck.” It became the city’s worn-out mantra. After that, more fissures opened — behind the bank, in the alley by the diner, beside the railroad tracks. A wide zigzag crossed the elementary school playground and gulped down Noah’s little sisters. By then, the earth had eaten all the mothers, the grandmothers, and the aunts.
The cracks grew wild and numerous, the city so divided that some places became islands, entire unto themselves. There were areas that a person could not reach. There were rumors of starvation, of people eating dogs and worse.
On random corners, white-whiskered tobacco spitters gathered. Their eyes were flinty slits, reptilian, as they grumbled, “Them little chits, they aught to know their place. They asked for it, and now we’re paying.” They leaned against the pilasters that looked more and more like feet, ready to step out.
Noah began to think of caryatids. His mother, she had told him stories, legends of stone women holding up the world. “Imagine, boy, if they walked off.” She’d laughed at that, her voice a sparkler in the night. As the neighborhood compressed, Noah watched the masonry. He was sure now. The pilasters were waiting, gathered, marble effigies of caryatids unformed. At night, he listened for the wrench of stone from stone, the thud of granite feet.
He was not sure how it happened, how the women became earth, how the earth consumed and then transformed them into demons, angels, rank avengers in disguise as simple stonework. The pilasters felt warm. They grew hot enough to burn. They smelled of cordite laced with jasmine. At night, they buzzed like hornets. He heard them in his dreams and in his dreams he saw them loosen from the façade. He saw them step across the gaps. He saw them leave the broken city in their wake, and not one of them looked back.
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