Quentin lay on his stomach and waited until the screaming had stopped. He counted his breaths, tried to slow his heartbeat, but merciless hell, that had been close. He had been within ten meters, maybe less, of a Crack. The woman who had been sucked in had screamed and screamed, but Quentin had never known screaming to have worked, ever, but most people screamed when they were taken. He knew better to move now, and he hoped like hell his cell phone didn’t decide to start working. The concrete driveway wasn’t the most comfortable place to wait, but at least there were no ants, and it seemed like the ants were catching on, too. The screaming seemed to attract those creatures that fed on blood and pieces of people and even the smaller creatures seem to sense it. The feral dogs and raccoons were the worse when someone was trying to be still, but the ants…
Quentin snuck a peek at his watch to time the wait. They usually would wait no more than ten minutes but he always stayed down for at least thirty. A man right in front of him, no more than arm’s length had been Cracked eight minutes deep into waiting, and Quentin knew better than to try to pull the man out. He had seen far too many scenes of people sucked into Cracks if anyone came to help. The first victim would be pulled in instantly and the next would be held there, slowly compressed into the crack, screaming, and then just as suddenly sucked away into thin air, with this very brief and nearly imperceptible upwards flash. There were many religious people who thought this meant those getting Cracked were going to heaven and they lined up for it, in the beginning. But some of those who were caught would scream about the pain, the pain, the burning and terrible pain, and there were fewer and fewer fanatics rushing towards the screams now. But then again, there were fewer people now anyway.
He lay his head down on the concrete and closed his eyes. He had been there in the beginning. He had finally gotten some decent seats at a concert, and there it had begun…
Quentin finally got Deb to go out with him, and he was certain it was only because he scored some great tickets but at the same time, they had to travel there and Deb coyly agreed to making the trip there on the Friday before concert so they could spend the night. But once they were together it had seemed so perfect. She was beautiful but as they sat on the balcony at sunset Quentin realized she had always wanted him to ask her out but she had been scared too. This was the beginning of something greater than he had imagined, and he no longer was blinded by his lust for her. The night had been incredible, something out of a dream, and the concert had been wildly spectacular, and there they were, Deb sitting on his shoulders in the middle of the crowd, up front, just feet from the stage, and there Deb was, on the big screen, laughing and screaming, and looking like an angel, and they froze her image there, for the world to see in 3D, and at that moment, Quentin felt as if the Universe had smiled upon him. How long had he been happy? Five? Ten? Maybe fifteen seconds?
The screaming began. At first he thought it was the fans getting more excited over the next act, but the band was leaving the stage, Deb leaned down and said, “Quint, something is happening!” and it was the last thing he would ever hear her say. He put Deb down and grabbed her hand. Whatever else was going on, he knew better than to wait for the crowd to make decisions for him. But being up front meant being far away from the exits, and that was where everything was happening. People were screaming. People were running. People were knocking each other down and that was what Quentin wanted to keep away from if at all possible.
He was holding onto Deb’s hand when it got her. He felt the force of the pull and it reminded him of diving headfirst into an ocean wave. There was that feel of power, of strength, of unimaginable force, and suddenly Deb was sucked into thin air, her head and one arm caught in an invisible trap. Deb couldn’t scream, and Quentin was still grateful for that, but whatever it was pulled her it slow, peeling the skin off her bones, and forcing the blood from her body. Then there was this tiny flash of light that went upwards, and Deb was gone. Suddenly a dozen more people were caught in a dozen different places near him, and Quentin jumped the fence near the stage, and was knocked down. A man stepped on his gut and his head slammed into a metal rail, and Quentin was nearly knocked out. But Quentin realized the people who were moving the fastest were the people getting caught the quickest.
The big screen was still on, and whoever was operating the cameras was trying to help people get out or at least stay away from the blocked exits. The main entrance looked like a meat grinder; there were hundreds of people trapped, many more trying to help, and no one was getting past the gates. The side entrances led through the tunnels were jammed with people, none of the caught, but all of them stampeding and they were killing themselves. Quentin watched in horror as it began there too, with people trapped under bodies being sucked into thin air, squeezed, and then with a slight flash of light, being zipped upwards. People running were caught and as they tried to escape they screamed. Everyone not caught in a way that covered their mouths screamed and screamed and screamed.
Quentin froze. Partly out of fear, but partly because he was not caught, and didn’t want to be Quentin didn’t move. He waited, and as he waited the screaming grew louder and louder. People were shrieking and even some of those who were not caught just fell down on their knees keening in horror. But the people who were still were not getting caught. The camera men who were still filming seemed safe. Those groups of people huddled together and frozen in fear were safe. Those running back and forth were picked off, one by one, and they were squeezed. The screaming went on for hours and hours and hours and finally it stopped. Terrified people ran out of the stadium, and the police and firemen came in. Someone put a blanket on him, and led him away. Quentin walked very slowly towards the exit.
All new news programs were showing it and every television and internet site was showing videos of it. They began to call it “Cracks” and people were “Cracked” and people were caught in Cracks, but it looked the same everywhere. There was a pattern, and it was as old as time itself, with the Cracks appearing in the middle of a crowd then more showing up at the bottlenecks, the exits, the tight places. People running were caught, and this made others try to move more slowly, and the crowd dispersed less quickly. Computer programs surprised that this wasn’t a random or mindless attack that something out there was herding humans into the Cracks, and they were doing it quite well. But no one knew who or why.
The stars were visible tonight, Quentin thought as he slowly rolled over on his back, and he glanced over at his watch. It had been twenty minutes. It had been a year ago today, and the last time he had seen a working computer the internet site had said sixty percent of the world’s human population was already gone. India and China had been hit the hardest, but there were places on earth the Cracks had shown no mercy. Sub-Sahara Africa had seen terrible events take place were the Cracks simply operated around the clock, sucking up people day and night. For reasons no one could explain, the Cracks seemed to like political figures. Presidents, heads of state, military leaders, no one was safe no matter how deep their bunkers might be. Three American presidents had been killed in one year and now no one wanted the office not that it existed without the people to begin with.
The military might of the world had failed against the Cracks. Bullets and bombs disappeared into thin air. A one hundred megaton missile was launched against the Cracks in the Congo and the blast had leveled an area the size of a small state. Those who were sent in to measure the radiation levels were taken as quickly as they arrived. Cracks appeared in submarines and in airplanes. Pilots arrived at airports with empty planes and their eyes wide and wild. Entire classrooms were devoured. Shopping Malls were emptied. Any building with less than a dozen exits was a deathtrap for all inside. People began to sleep outside in tents, and alone, and that seemed to be the best strategy, but the factories and stores of the world began to close. Yet for every stratagem employed to escape the Cracks a new one appeared to counter it. The Cracks were simply eating people sometimes and not holding them. People had learned not to run towards the screams but there was no way to avoid silence.
Quentin stood up and took a deep breath. The woman who had just been taken had been carrying a bag, and he picked it up and looked inside. There were some canned beans, a bag of rice, and a bottle of water. He would live for another couple of days, at least. He heard someone screaming in the dark and suddenly, Quentin ran, and he ran towards the sound of the screams.