Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Cellar Collapses

There was only a moment like this: laughter, the tinkle-tinkle of glasses being gently tipped against one another, the murmur of chatting, the gentle knocking sound of hard-soled shoes against wood floors. Very quickly these happier sounds fell away. The tinkling and murmuring seemed to dissolve into the air; the laughter and the footsteps stopped outright.

Cat-tee? What are you doing?” Leaning on the toppled table and still holding her weapon, Cati threw a look over her shoulder. Only a few yards behind her, Emma was sitting up in her seat, no longer resting her hand in her hands. “You were just . . . what are you doing with a gun?” Something like understanding – but it couldn’t have been – came over Emma’s face as she looked at the patrons around her. Cati lowered her weapon a little and, following her friend's lead, took in the scene.

To Emma’s right, a man laid on the floor with his knees curled into his chest. A pool of blood was quickly spreading beneath him and he started to rock slightly on his side. Cati threw her gaze to her left, to the man who had been knocked onto the floor when Rashfal had thrown her. The joints in his legs had been strangely locked at right angles as if he had been sitting in a chair, but he was spread out flat now. His eyes were wide open but insensible; his pupils seemed as wide as pennies. There was another pool of blood just beginning to form underneath the back of his head.

Now there was sobbing. At the bottom of the staircase, the woman Cati had bumped into in her flight from Rashfal was pulling herself onto her hands and knees with the help of her companion. As she rose, her lips seemed to fall away in a torrent – blood poured from her broken nose and her smashed teeth. She clutched her ruined face. Her sobs came out as sputters and gurgles. She didn’t want to, but Cati could not help looking to the bathroom attendant. He was on the floor, leaning against the wall and pawing at his shoulder with a senseless look on his face. He was alive, but flabbergasted. None of these people could know what had happened in their midst. One second, they had been dining and drinking, laughing and enjoying the company of their peers; and in the next, they were a broken, ghastly mass of injury and pain.

Cati’s sense of responsibility had been lifted from her during her first moments among the be-stilled scenery. As the disastrous melee had worn on, it had slowly began to settle back into place on her narrow shoulders. Now, as the normal flow of events abruptly resumed, responsibility crashed down on her with staggering weight. She let her gun arm drop and she fell to her knees. Cati began to cry. “I did it . . .”

Emma rushed to her side and began to comfort her friend. “It’s alri–” Emma began, but it wasn’t.

The ragged crowd erupted into motion. The moment of collective astonishment at the suddenness of the carnage gave way into a cacophony of panicked screams, pleas for help, and alarmed outbursts. Some parts of the crowd began an uncoordinated shift to the stairway. Other individuals ran to the bar, or began lifting overturned furniture.
“He’s been shot!” someone screamed.
“My hands!”
“I can’t see! Call the police!”
“She needs water!”
“Everybody stay calm!” someone commanded, but no one obeyed.

Shocks of the grey-dressed man’s blonde hair protruded from between Thelonius’s knuckles. His eyes rolled up to meet Thel’s. “Okay. Let me go now,” he hissed.

The bathroom door swung open. “Mister White! Are you okay!” The second bathroom attendant, the one who had accepted the wizard’s sizable tip just minutes ago, had abandoned his post and his basket of towels. “Oh my God! What happened?” he asked Thelonius. “Here, let me help you with him,” he said as he knelt and moved to slip his hands under the wizard’s shoulders. “Was there some kind of earthquake?”

Clutching the saber in his hand, Henri looked to Thelonius, who had not yet released Mister White’s hair from his clutches. A fresh burden of responsibility had fallen upon their shoulders as well.

Mister White meant to snicker, but it came out a cough.