The city began preparing for the event months in advance. They didn’t know what to expect, but they knew it would be big.
In the weeks leading up to it, I saw porta-potties hauled in by the thousands to line the streets which would soon be filled with people. The city called for street vendors and food trucks to come from everywhere in a 500-mile radius to ensure there would be enough food to feed the masses. Security was assigned and I saw men armed with giant assault rifles sweeping the street days before the event.
In a way, the event began before the scheduled date because so many people had come to the city early. Food trucks opened their side windows and the streets were swarmed. The mayor had instructed people to stay off the street until it officially began, but when police officers tried to enforce this, the masses won. They couldn’t fight the crowd.
The Saturday after the event began (It started on a Friday night) I was in the street enjoying the festivities. Street performers gathered crowds around themselves and smells from the exotic food trucks filled my nostrils. My mother had been sick for many years, so she remained back in our small apartment while I wandered the streets. She once worried about a middle schooler wandering the streets alone, but that was months ago. She doesn’t bat an eye now when I head out the door.
When I came upon the scene, a sea of unfamiliar faces met me. There were so many of them it was nearly impossible to discern one from another without intensely focusing on one at a time. With a general sweep, I just saw thousands of dotted eyes and noses and mouths, moving braille dots, all walking and breathing and looking around at the city streets I’d known my whole life.
They were not all walking in the same direction, however. Some walked toward me from the North, others from the South. None of them seemed to be heading toward one main event, so I wasn’t sure exactly which way to go. I looked up my street and then down to try to see where the event was, but neither direction proved more interesting than the other.
I decided to walk North and see if I could find something unusual happening. As I passed by the blocks, it seemed to neither get more crowded or less crowded, just the same continual sea of people moving with me. Some walked up to food trucks and vendors to make purchases. Some stopped to watch street performers, and others kept on moving at the same steady pace.
As I got further from home, I decided to turn around and see if the South would be more eventful. I walked on the other side of the sidewalk in the opposite direction. I passed our apartment building and kept walking.
The South proved to be the same as the North. People continued walking, looking, stopping, and buying without thinning.
I tapped the arm of a man walking next to me. “Where is the event supposed to be?”
He looked back at me. He was a middle aged man with a white mustache. He smiled and shrugged, “I wish I could tell you. That’s what I’m looking for too! They didn’t do a great job of directing us to it!” He turned and resumed walking and I soon lost him in the crowd.
I walked further South, thinking it surely must be in Hyde Park. Though if this many people tried to fit into that park, it would soon overflow. The mayor had promised that this event would fill the city, so maybe it was bigger than a single park could fit.
I decided to walk to the clearing anyway to see if maybe there was a smaller event happening there, and at the very least to get into more of an opening and feel less walled-in by these buildings.
I continued a half mile to the park, and along the way had a realization. It was odd to me that there were this many people, yet no one was pushing or shoving each other. Everyone moved at a reasonable pace and the number of pedestrian traffic jams was far lower than I would have predicted.
The park came into view and from my slightly elevated position, I could see down into it. It was full of people, just as the sidewalks were, only none of them were moving. The people in the park were all standing still, waiting and watching.
As I got closer though, I noticed that none of them were looking in the same direction. They faced every possible direction and looked, up, down and straight ahead.
When I entered the park, I found some children playing around a tree. I watched them for a second. After a few laps of chasing each other around the tree, they ran over to their mother and tugged on her shirt. “When will it begin?” they cried up to her. “We’re booored.”
The mother looked down and put her hand on their shoulders. “Soon, guys. Keep playing.” The kids ran back to the tree and began to climb its limbs.
I once again surveyed the crowd in the park and tried to find a unified direction when some movement caught my eye. A boy about my own age was passing through the crowd, so I tried to follow him. He wove a dizzying trail through the standing attendees and it was hard to keep up with him.
Eventually I got close enough to call out to him. “Hey,” I called. “Hey, wait up!”
The boy stopped and looked over his shoulder. Seeing I wasn’t a threat, he paused and turned to face me. As I got closer, I saw that he was probably a few years older than me: High school, maybe college.
“Where are you going?” I asked him.
“What do you mean?” he replied.
“The event. Are you going to the main event?”
He chuckled and shook his head. “The event,” he muttered under his breath.
“What?” I asked. “What does that mean?”
“Just…” he looked me up and down, then said, “follow me. And keep up.”
He turned again and continued the same haphazard trail through the standing people. I tried to keep up, but he moved quickly.
From time to time, he glanced back over his shoulder to see if I was keeping up, though I don’t think he would have stopped if I wasn’t.
We came to the far side of the park, and I could see the same stream of people coming and going down all the streets on that side of Hyde as well. He turned left to head East on State and I followed. As we hurried through the streets and sidewalks, people would turn to look at us as we moved faster than the flow of pedestrians. I didn’t know where I was going, who I was with, or what we were up to, but I followed. He seemed to know something no one else did.
A few blocks East on State, we made a right then a left then another left and I soon lost track of where we were. He eventually turned down an alley between buildings and for once I was out of the swarm of humans. My guide finally slowed to a walk and went halfway down the alleyway. Then he stopped and turned toward me.
“How do I know you’re not one of them?” he grilled me.
I was lost. “One of who??”
He reached out and grabbed my jacket with both hands and slammed me against the brick wall. He then barred my neck with one forearm and fished in his pocket with the other. He pulled out a drivers license (it was from out of state but I couldn’t tell if it was his) and jammed it in my mouth. The wide edges of the plastic cut into the corners of my lips. He squeezed my cheeks so I felt blood peek through the broken flesh.
His face was inches from mine.
“Who are you?” he said.
I was shaking, more from fear and confusion than from pain, and said through parted lips, “Riley. M-my name is Riley.”
He kept looking straight into my eyes, breathing heavily through his nose. After what seemed like an hour he pulled the card from my mouth, slicing my lips a bit more, and pulled his forearm away from my throat.
He took three steps backward and said, “You can call me Carr.” He put the license back into his pocket. “What are you doing out here?”
“I live here,” I answered. “A few blocks North of Hyde. I just came out to see what all the buzz for the event was about.” I paused and he was silent, as if to encourage me to keep speaking. “But…it seems like no one is going anywhere specific. No one knows where the event is. Or when it starts, or even…” I trailed off.
“What it is?” he finished my thought.
I guess I had been scared to say that out loud, mainly because I hadn’t wanted to look dumb in front of my friends. But thinking back to it, no one seemed to know anything about the event, they just acted like they did.
“Yes,” I said. “Do you know what it is?”
Carr breathed deeply and didn’t speak for a few seconds.
“No,” he finally said. “But I know whose idea it was.”
The way he said it heightened the enigma behind the event. How could something unknown draw such enormous crowds to my home city? A city whose sidewalks were typically littered with a couple pedestrians, a few pigeons and a bum picking through the trash. How did they get so many people to flock to this town without sharing any details about the event?
“But I can’t say any more here,” he said after another long pause. “I never know who’s listening.” He looked up and down the alley. No one seemed to be paying attention to us as they passed by us on either end of the corridor, an endless flow of humanity.
Carr silently walked back to the street we had come from and I followed. He turned right, back toward Hyde Park (I think) and began running again. I began running too. This time, however, he seemed to maneuver more deftly and quickly than before.
Five feet were between us.
Then ten, then twenty.
Then I lost him in the crowd.
“Carr!” I called out, slowing to a walk. I yelled his name again, but amidst the voracious crowd it seemed hollow and puny. I looked for him in all directions, but it was futile. The sea of faces continued rolling in every direction as people looked for the event, and Carr was gone.
I touched my hand to my and looked at it. The little bit of blood had already dried and sealed the wound. I decided to try to find my way back to my apartment, but didn’t remember all the turns we had taken to get to the alley. I asked a few strangers how to get back to Hyde, but everyone I asked was from out of town and didn’t know, sorry.
I tried asking a few more people where and when the event would begin but got the same confused answers.
I eventually found my way back home and checked on my mother. She asked me why I had dried blood on my face and clothes so I told her, in as few details as possible, about Carr and the myriad people walking about aimlessly. She didn’t let me leave the apartment again until the event had ended.
It took at least two weeks for our city to begin to resemble the one I knew before. Trash was everywhere, and people lingered for days after the event was scheduled to end. When school resumed, we all tried to act like we knew what the event was, but I never really got any solid answers. Eventually the city was back to normal and life floated on as it always had.