For 2022, I’ve been wanting to write more ‘creature features’ and generally improve my short story writing. My partner got me a Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual for my birthday so I came up with the idea of writing a story every week based on a different creature from that – All There in the (Monster) Manual. Hope you enjoy!
This Week’s Inspiration: Gorgon
When Donovan wakes up to find his office, and Manhattan’s entire Financial District, completely abandoned, his first thought is terrorism. But something far stranger is happening, as he discovers when the 7000 pound Charging Bull statue near his building comes to life and tries to stomp him into the ground.
Donovan woke up with his keyboard pressed into the side of his face and drool at the corner of his mouth. He’d fallen asleep or passed out or something, although nothing like that had ever happened to him in the office before. Snorting, he straightened against his chair and looked around. Usually movement filled the office, and it clamoured with keyboards chattering, phones ringing and voices, shouting, demanding, cajoling. He’d never heard the place so quiet.
Ranks of narrow desks filled the office, crowded with computers, papers, and random junk, but no people. Twilight filtered through the floor to ceiling windows that looked out over Manhattan’s Wall Street and the Upper Bay area. Purpling sunlight tinged with red filled the room as the ceiling lights rested on some lowered setting.
“What the hell?”
Donovan wiped the drool from his mouth. A reddened waffle pattern had imprinted on his cheek. Some of his coworkers should have been gathered around, laughing at this embarrassing moment, and Donovan couldn’t figure out where they’d all gone. People in this business didn’t keep to a nine-to-five schedule if they wanted to get ahead. They filled the office from before dawn to well into the night, 11pm, midnight, or even later. Donovan never found himself alone even when he worked crazy hours himself. They worked in markets and with clients from time zones all around the world.
Standing, Donovan stretched and paced the aisle between desks. No matter which direction he looked, he couldn’t see any sign of people. Not in the boardrooms or offices either.
“How long was I asleep? Where is everyone?”
Donovan wondered if it could be some kind of prank, but the people he worked with didn’t have the time or the inclination for that. He fished his phone out of his pocket but the battery was dead. Returning to his desk, Donovan grabbed the mouse of his computer and jiggled it around. The computer screen didn’t turn on. He crossed to one of his coworker’s desks but their computer and phone handset were dead as well. Given how dim the office lights looked, Donovan assumed there was something wrong with the power.
“Okay, okay, this is weird,” Donovan muttered to himself.
Although it wasn’t working, Donovan disconnected his laptop from its desktop dock and folded it into his satchel. Hanging the bag off his shoulder, he made for the elevators. He didn’t bother trying any of the other floors in the building and just headed straight down to the lobby. No one was behind the building’s reception desk or milling around the entry. Everything remained still and silent.
Donovan left via the front doors and felt a frisson of genuine fear. Sidewalks were free of people as well. Nothing moved on the street. Twilight dappled the surrounding buildings and no one moved behind their windows. New York City, the city that never slept, was sleeping now. Donovan had lived his entire life in the boroughs of New York and had never experienced such an utter, total silence. Straining his ears, he could hear no traffic, no people, no hum of the city even in the distance. In the middle of the afternoon, the Financial District should have been teeming with office workers, tourists, delivery people, a thousand others coming and going.
Donovan’s first thought was terrorism. Of course it was, no one who worked practically in the shadow of the Freedom Tower didn’t think about terrorism every once in a while. Maybe there’d been some kind of attack and the Financial District had been evacuated, but Donovan had somehow been left behind. Maybe a chemical attack, something that knocked him out and that’s why he’d been asleep. But then why was no one else lying around, asleep or dead? Nothing made sense.
Donovan’s building fed right out onto Broadway. He wandered blindly down it in the direction of Bowling Green.
“Hello? Is anyone there? Hello?” Donovan’s voice bounced off the surrounding buildings.
Looking up and down the block, Donovan sensed something off besides the fact that no one else was in sight. He couldn’t figure out what it was at first. In one direction, he could see Broadway widen and feed across the city up in the direction of Times Square. Nothing moved, ranks of vehicles parked along the sides of the road. In the other direction he could see the small, well appointed park of Bowling Green, with emerald lawns and flowering gardens around its central fountain. A splash of green amidst the urban canyons.
Wait, Donovan thought. He shouldn’t have been able to see quite so much green from where he was standing. Something was missing. The statue of Charging Bull, he saw it every day when he came to work and when he left. Usually it was swarming with tourists. Ranks of tables selling overpriced souvenirs lined the sidewalks, covered in t-shirts and hats, snow globes, and miniatures of the Statue of Liberty and Charging Bull itself. The tables remained but the guys that worked them were gone. The tourists were gone. And the statue of Charging Bull was gone, that was the other thing that was off along with all the missing people. Donovan could see more of the park than normal because the Bull wasn’t there.
What was going on? Donovan could believe that maybe there’d been some kind of attack. He could believe that he’d been knocked out, and a big section of the city had been evacuated while he was out, but they’d taken Charging Bull with them when they left? The bronze sculpture was as long as a truck and from what Donovan recalled it weighed somewhere in the region of seven thousand pounds. No one was moving that without a major operation.
Something echoed through the empty streets of the silent city. Breaking the stillness.
Donovan twisted in place, trying to pinpoint where the sound came from. In such an overwhelming quiet, the noise bounced off surfaces of glass and steel until he couldn’t tell. There was no breeze, nothing to stir the air or carry sound away. It occurred to Donovan that the quality of light hadn’t changed at all since he’d first woken up in the office. Twilight, the purple of the setting sun taking on a strange reddish quality.
Donovan twisted and turned, and saw movement emerging from one of the side streets. Saw it, but couldn’t believe it. A massive head spouting a pair of giant horns, crafted from bronze, dark but with a honeyed glow, swung from side to side. Bits of the neck made grinding sounds as they rubbed against one another. It was alive. Alive.
Head and shoulders appeared from behind the building, along with Charging Bull’s front legs. It moved like a living thing. Donovan was the only other thing moving on the street. The Bull’s eyes fixed on him, smooth, what should have been unseeing but clearly seeing him. Bronze lips pulled back from straight, thick, bronze teeth. It snorted, like a living creature, and started toward him.
“What is this? What’s happening?”
The bull exploded into motion. The ground literally shook. Hooves the size of a man’s torso struck the ground, kicking up sparks and shattering the sidewalk and asphalt. Sixteen foot long and one and a half times as tall as Donovan at the shoulder. Metal, and impossibly heavy.
Clang! Clang! Clang! Clang!
Donovan broke and ran, sprinting away from the Bull in the direction of Bowling Green. This had to be a dream, a nightmare. He was still in the office, asleep, his keyboard pressed into his cheek and people sniggering around his desk. But it didn’t feel like any dream. He wasn’t wearing shoes suited to running, and he could feel every impact with the ground through the heels of his hard leather soles. His satchel, with his laptop and papers inside, bounced heavily on his shoulder. Maybe a hallucination, maybe he was running through the streets screaming at nothing like a lunatic. He didn’t feel crazy either though. As insane as everything was, he had to assume it was really happening or that statue was going to smash him flat.
Donovan ran and entered Bowling Green from the northern end. The oldest public park in Manhattan, Bowling Green was relatively small and shaped like a guitar pick. The fountain in the centre of the park wasn’t running although water rested in the bottom pool and in the bowls of the fountain itself. Paths led from the entrances and around the fountain, lined with benches. Thick grass padded the lawns. Brilliant colours filled the flowering gardens, although they were muted by the reddish half-light currently cast over everything.
Blindly, Donovan ran toward the fountain and veered around it. Beneath his feet, the ground trembled. Charging Bull left craters behind it as it ran. It didn’t grunt or roar but its body screamed. Metal grated against metal around every single joint, with every movement, squealing and scraping. It was almost deafening. Pavers and the edges of the garden crumbled underhoof. Merely brushing against one of the benches, it shattered the bench to pieces. As Donovan ran for one of the park’s other exits, Charging Bull’s weight and momentum carried it forward. It flattened the fountain, bulldozing through the low wall that surrounded its pool. Water splashed and spilled. The Bull’s weight smashed the central portion of the fountain like porcelain, spraying pieces into the air as it wheeled around to face Donovan.
Donovan left the park, racing back onto the empty street. The strap of his satchel slipped down his arm but he caught it automatically. The laptop and papers inside were doing nothing but weighing him down. Without thinking, he tossed it away behind him. The bag spiralled through the air and hit the ground with a flat slap. The Bull gave chase. One of its hooves came down on Donovan’s bag, completely annihilating it. The hooves clanged and the Bull’s bronze body rubbed against itself and shrieked. One of the Bull’s horns caught on Bowling Green’s historic fence, the oldest fence in the city, erected in 1773, surrounding its oldest park. The Bull’s movements twisted and tore it like tissue paper.
One of the souvenir tables blocked Donovan’s path. He ran right through it, tossing it to the sidewalk. Knickknacks shattered and broke, snow globes with Manhattan skylines, toy taxis, and miniature versions of the same statue chasing him. Donovan tripped and jumped but managed to keep his footing. Another building lay in front of him. He twisted and took off down the sidewalk, heading south.
Charging Bull picked up speed again and ploughed into the folding tables of merchandise. More of it sprayed the air or shattered beneath the Bull. It turned to follow but again failed to compensate for its momentum and hit the building behind the sidewalk, gouging masonry out of the wall with its horns. Scraping along the building, it started down the sidewalk and sent more tables flying. Shirts and hats filled the air like fireworks.
Vehicles lined the side of the street, mostly taxis and what seemed to be carshare vehicles. Pursuing Donovan down the sidewalk, Charging Bull slammed against them. Windows imploded and metal panels were punched in as the cars were knocked sideways. One vehicle flipped onto its side. Donovan ran downhill but pain wracked his heels and ankles from running in his business shoes. The Bull statue gained on him. Donovan jumped and slid across the hood of a police cruiser, left as cold and empty as the other vehicles. Falling to the road, he straightened and kept running. Charging Bull hammered the front of the police cruiser. Horns impaled the hood, tearing through the engine. The vehicle accordioned and shoved backward, a couple of tyres bursting. The Bull staggered to a stop, vehicle wrapped around its head. It wrenched around, spraying wreckage and oil. The cruiser was reduced to a shredded ruin. Pushing the cruiser out of the way, the bronze sculpture kept following.
As insane as this all was, it was happening. Donovan had no idea where all the people had gone and what brought Charging Bull to life, and it didn’t matter. The twilight sky hadn’t changed and that didn’t matter either. Maybe he was dead, and in hell. Maybe he’d slipped sideways into some alternate dimension. From his current position, none of it mattered. He had to get away. If he could get inside one of the buildings, he could find some stairs and get clear of the Bull. None of the nearest doorways looked open to him, however. Donovan thought about getting to the subway. If he got down the entry stairs of one of the stations the Bull wouldn’t be able to follow. But the nearest station was in the other direction, he’d have to get around the sculpture to reach it. Donovan took the next side street instead.
Charging Bull followed, wreckage spilling behind it. Bronze body screaming, hooves pounding holes in the earth. It hadn’t picked up full speed as it followed Donovan around the corner but it still struggled to throw its weight around. Floor to ceiling windows that ran along the side of another building collapsed against its weight, crashing inward.
Ahead of Donovan was The Battery, the green southern tip of the island of Manhattan. Paths webbed between bushy trees, statues, and other touristy attractions. Using the headstart he’d been given, Donovan ignored the pain in his feet and ran with everything he had. One of his shoes caught on the asphalt and was yanked off his foot, bouncing across the street. Limping, Donovan hesitated for a few moments then decided to leave the shoe. Mid-stride, he kicked off the other one and kept running in socks.
The Staten Island Ferry Terminal loomed off to Donovan’s left. He crossed State Street and ran straight at the low wall surrounding The Battery. Donovan vaulted right over the wall and kept running. Behind him, the ground shook. Sticks and stones jabbed Donovan’s feet through his socks but he ignored them.
There was plenty of room between and under the trees but Donovan still had to veer around them. Just like the Financial District and surrounding streets, the park was empty. Hot dog and pretzel carts, makeshift booths for caricaturists and other signs of normalcy littered The Battery but there were no signs of why they’d been suddenly abandoned. No dropped debris or piles of clothing that might suggest everyone had been raptured suddenly away. Sticking with his plan and not thinking too hard about it, Donovan continued toward the other side of the park.
Charging Bull smashed through the boundary wall of The Battery like it wasn’t even there. Its hooves shredded grass and soil. Something kept clanging and Donovan, at the back of his mind, realised it was the Bull’s watermelon-sized testicles, rubbed to a high sheen by millions of tourists, banging between its rear legs. Charging Bull didn’t bother to avoid the trees, it charged right through them. Trunks exploded into splinters. Treetops creaked and tumbled sideways, crashing to the ground. Each hit barely slowed the Bull down. Donovan needed every second, needed every stride he could get to stay ahead of the bronze beast.
Closer to the shoreline was Castle Clinton. A stone antique of a building, oval walls built around a dusty courtyard with two smaller, squat buildings. Originally built on its own separate parcel of land before the gap between it and Manhattan itself was filled in and used to create Battery Park. Donovan avoided it, despite its thick defensive walls. He was pretty sure Charging Bull would smash through the brickwork and keep following, trapping him. Donovan ran instead for the wharves where ferries typically launched across the bay, headed for Governors Island and the Statue of Liberty. The shore offered those famous views across the bay to Lady Liberty herself.
Charging Bull followed, flattening a hot dog cart that got in its way. Foodstuffs and condiments sprayed. The Upper Bay unfolded ahead of Donovan. With no breeze, the water was as utterly and unnaturally still as the surface of a bathtub. The sky’s reddish glow made it look a little like blood. No ferries moored at the wharves, nor were there any out on the water that Donovan could see.
Donovan reached the fence and slammed to a stop, catching the barricade with his chest. He twisted to see Charging Bull following. Through the soles of his feet, he felt the vibrations of Charging Bull’s footfalls. Its head lowered, horns ready to gore.
Waiting until the last second, the Bull bearing down, Donovan threw himself sideways. He sprawled, landing on his stomach, and rolled. Pavers shattered under the Bull’s hooves. In the brief time he’d been running from the sculpture, Donovan had seen again and again how it struggled to stop or turn. As it was, it didn’t even seem to slow down. Fixated on Donovan, Charging Bull carried forward and punched through the fence. Momentum carried it over the shoreline, arcing into the water. It hit with a tremendous sploosh, like a torpedo. Displaced water hosed high into the air. Given the area was where the ferries launched, the shore dropped off immediately into deep water. Charging Bull disappeared, swallowed by the bay. As the water settled not even a glimmer of bronze showed on the surface.
Breathing deeply, Donovan grabbed for an unbroken section of fencing and pulled himself to his feet. He searched for the Bull and couldn’t see anything so he looked out across the water instead. Nothing moved out there. He got a sense of something wrong, something missing. The emptiness, he decided. Everything felt so dead without people or any kind of movement. But now, he could find a car or something, get out of here, and look for other people. Maybe figure out what the hell was going on.
Something rasped like metal drawn across stone. Donovan whipped around and searched. It scraped again. Along one of the pathways, shaded by trees, he saw movement. It looked like people and for a moment Donovan felt elated. Almost as quickly though, that elation turned to fear. Something was wrong, he could tell even before they got close enough for him to see them clearly.
That sense something was missing nagged at Donovan like it had when he’d first, subconsciously, noticed Charging Bull missing. Despite the movement between the trees, Donovan turned back on the water. He scanned the horizon and knew something was missing. It didn’t take long to spot it. The tip of The Battery looked across the bay to Liberty Island. The island was still there but the plinth where Lady Liberty stood, raising her torch, was empty. New York’s most famous symbol, gone.
Donovan heard more scraping and looked around again. The people had moved closer, three men all joined together as if two of them were supporting the middle one. But they couldn’t break apart, they were literally attached. Made of iron, the three of them limped together awkwardly and scraped their feet. Behind them, another awkward statue, an eagle, its wings stiff, much too heavy to fly, hobbled in Donovan’s direction. Across the park, several other statues of heroic figures shambled toward him like zombies, metal joints grinding together and feet falling heavily.
From behind Donovan came the whoosh of displaced water. He looked back. Over the lip of the shoreline, an enormous, impassive face rose and rose. Water ran off riveted and sculpted plates of green copper. A woman, wearing a spiked crown and carrying a tablet in the crook of one arm. Her other hand came down and drove the butt of a tremendous torch into the ground beside Donovan, making the earth shake. Donovan could only stare as, with a groan of fatigued metal, the Statue of Liberty straightened over him like a tower.
Sean: Fun fact about me, every single time I have a character searching for people in a seemingly abandoned area, they always use the same phrasing – “Hello? Is anyone there? Hello?” – and that’s because every single time it’s a reference to the absolutely impeccable opening to the 1985 George Romero classic Day of the Dead. Brilliant movie. The opening was also sampled for the track M1 A1 on the Gorillaz debut album, an album I listened to almost obsessively when it first came out. Jot those ones down, it’ll be on the test.
Sometimes it’s fun to write stories about things happening for no real reason at all! Must admit though, this one was inspired by a similar scene in a book I’ve written, first draft anyway, called The 666. Actually, to be more accurate it’s from the second book in the series, The 666: The Blood Eagle, soon coming to… actually I have no idea what I’m going to do with it and whether I’m going to do it anytime soon, but first drafts do exist of both of them, in handwritten form, sitting in an old cardboard box where many of my first novel drafts go to marinate in their own juices. Point being the living version of Charging Bull in that story comes with a bit more context.
Charging through to the end of the year I have some very different stories coming out over the next couple of weeks. None of them are overly long, all different but they were all written in a kind of spasm one after the other, I’m looking forward to putting them out there!
Next Week’s Inspiration: Lich