Saturday’s writing prompt was invasion of the _________. I had no idea what to write, but I just ran with it, pulling ideas from my head as they came. I ended up taking more than half an hour on this, but it was so much fun.
“They’re coming! They’re coming!” people screamed, racing toward and then past me as I stood on the path, trying to figure out what was going on.
“Who is?” I asked no one, since it was obvious no one would answer me. The yelling, running figures were making Barker berserk. True to his name, he was barking, spinning around in every direction to join in the cries. “Down, Barker, down!” I knew my command was hopeless, and it was.
He kept on twirling and barking, fighting my hold on the leash. I clutched it as tight as I could with both hands and tried to get a good look around. A teenage girl ran past me, hyperventilating as she went: “Omigod omigod omigod!” I cast my eyes in the direction from which she, and most of the crowd, had come. I saw nothing, only the Berkeley hills and the calm grey pinnacle of the Campanile – and more shrieking, fleeing people coming down the path, spilling into downtown.
“Is it coming from campus?” I wondered, and quickly assessed the runners. I wouldn’t have thought there would be this many people around at this hour on a Saturday morning, and these didn’t look like students. An old man shuffled past me, his awkward two-step clearly the top speed he could manage, even with the help of his cane. A young couple zipped past him on a tandem bike, their wheels narrowly avoiding a leaping squirrel. About fifty feet away a tree appeared to burst open with birds, who squawked and flapped away in a tight bunch, heading the same direction as everyone else. Uh oh, animals were fleeing too. It had to be a bad sign.
I felt a sharp tug on my hands and almost went crashing down into the old man. Instead I managed just barely to keep my feet as Barker started jumping up and woofing directly into my face. “All right, all right, boy!” I told him. “We’re going!” He heard the word “go” and tore off down Center Street, right into the pack of escaping bodies, and it was all I could do to keep up. I had to do some quick weaving and inspired hop-skips to get around the crowd, and even so I think I knocked someone over around Bongo Burger, but I couldn’t look back.
I panted after Barker for a few more blocks, surrounded by the panicking mob all the way, until he abruptly veered south. “Wait a second,” I thought, “is he taking us–” and sure enough, he stopped in front of our apartment building and hurled himself at the front door, claws scrabbling, barking madly. I disentangled my hand from the leash and thrust it into my pocket, grappling my key ring out and into the lock. As soon as we were inside, Barker yanked me up the three flights of stairs – thank God I’d been doing those hill intervals, or I probably would have tripped and been pulled up on my face over those pebbly concrete steps – and he wouldn’t calm down until I’d gotten us inside the door of my apartment. Then he collapsed in the hallway, sides heaving.
“What’s out there, boy?” I asked him as soon as I got my own breath. He stood up with a whimper and followed me to the kitchen, where he sank his face into his water dish. I downed a tumblerful myself, gazing out the sliding glass doors over my balcony. Then I caught sight of what looked like a dense, dark, throbbing cloud, off in the distance. More birds?
I crossed the living room, moving toward the balcony, but Barker leapt up with a yelp and ran toward the glass doors, stopping in front of them like a sentry. “Okay then,” I told him, “I won’t go out.” He eyed me as if checking my honesty. “Really,” I said. “I just want to look outside.” I patted his head. It felt hot. He turned then and joined me in looking eastward. The dark cloud came closer, getting bigger and bigger, until it exploded in all directions. The birds scattered – no, how strange, they didn’t look like birds. They looked like – almost –
The sky around us darkened suddenly as the flying objects came hurtling toward my windows. Barker gripped my wrist with his teeth and pulled, but this time I didn’t need his guidance, I was already running, both of us diving instinctively into the dark bedroom with its single small window. I’d always hated the layout of this apartment, the way my bedroom window faced the courtyard, only meager light shining through that tiny opening, but today it meant safety. The apartment shook as the things hit the walls and windows, hammering against the glass, over and over. I jumped up from our huddle and ran to close the door. As I returned to Barker and the bed I heard glass shattering in the living room, more thuds, another shatter, and then a single small thud against my bedroom door that made me and my heartbeat jump. But there was only the one. There was a soft flump, as if the thing had fallen to the carpet outside, and then a faint, slightly familiar flutter.
I don’t know how long I stayed there, cowered near the bed and shaking, but at some point I noticed Barker’s chin on my knee. I looked at him and saw his big brown eyes staring back at me. “Hey,” I mumbled, and he whuffed gently and stood up. “It’s okay to get up?” I asked him, and he trotted toward the door. I stood up and followed him, my limbs stiff and foreign-feeling, but I cringed at the thought of opening that door. I envisioned blood, broken necks, loose feathers. I knew my windows were broken too and my living room was probably full of dead or dying birds. What would have made them act like that, anyway?
Barker was whining at me, pawing the doorknob. “I’ve got to face it,” I thought. “I can’t stay in here forever.” I turned the knob and pulled the door inward just a little, squinting through half-closed eyes. Then I opened them – the door, and my eyes – as wide as they would go.
There, on my carpet, was a book. A small one, a hardcover, blue, its corners bent and its pages folded over and splayed open, its spine cracked. I shuddered to imagine the impact that would savage a hardback spine like that. Barker nosed at it, then threw his head back and howled. I bent over to pick it up, and turned it over to see on the back cover, a white sticker: UC Berkeley Library. I knew now what I would find when I entered the living room.
Still holding the little book, I walked into the other room and stopped short, sticking a leg out to stop Barker from treading on broken glass. I couldn’t see the carpet anymore, could see only bits and corners of my sofa, my coffee table, and the smashed glass of the TV. The entire room was covered in books, some the size of the one I held, most of them bigger, books of all thicknesses and colors, all of them bearing the UC Berkeley sticker. Books were bent and banged and torn all over my living room, the entire pile littered with ripped, yellowing pages. Barker howled again, a long, eerie cry of disaster and devastation.
Without conscious thought, I turned my eyes to the wall where my own bookcases stood. I gasped. My books were all intact.