Coat Tails in the City

October 9, 2008
By Sara Oakley, Abington, MA

Sitting at the top of this ferris wheel with him, having never once considered that it would end like this, I wonder how this all began. I wonder when the end started to begin. The sun is almost set, and the sky is a fiery scarlet shade of red. I feel like I’m on top of the world, knowing that it’s all about to crumble beneath me. The thought of my last breath being spent with him breaks my heart although it’s what we always hoped for. We always said we would grow old and die together. However tonight we are not so old as we thought we would be. We haven’t even married or started a family and we know we’ll never get the chance. We’re still kids in high school. I feel my heart sink further into my stomach as he grabs my hand and squeezes it tightly in an attempt to comfort me as the flames of our ordinary old town reach for us.

It all started this afternoon when a strange man strode into the village. Being in a small town, everyone knew that he was a newcomer and most of the time people here are friendly to new neighbors. He was different though. He dressed himself in an old black jacket with coat tails and a top hat. He walked with a cane that he did not seem to need, and he carried it with white gloves on his hands to match his white shirt. His jet-black hair was so ragged that it was probably seen offensively to the older townspeople. I cannot describe his face to you because I never really got a good look at it. In all honesty, I didn’t want to either. He brought an overall strange feeling to the crowd as he stood in front of the Town Hall and everyone seemed to gather around him. I don’t even think that we noticed we were surrounding him at first. Everyone was dead silent as we watched this man stare straight back at us with none of the fear that we had suddenly been experiencing.

“Hello Mr.!” A young boy said cheerfully. “What’s your name?”

The boy’s mother was calling for him to come back to her but she didn’t seem to care as much about her son being beside her as she did about the man’s response. We all waited to hear what he said but he didn’t speak at all. The only signal we got from the man was the electricity generating from his body. Standing twenty feet away in a crowd of people I could still feel this surge coming from him and so did everyone else around him. Without speaking he forced us to see him for who he really was, and he was a dangerous man.

Suddenly he took off his top hat and dropped it on the ground. In that instant, all of the children ran into the Town Hall building. Their mothers tried to follow, but something was stopping them. The women screamed at the top of their lungs, urging their children to come back to them, but the kids wouldn’t listen. They kept running up staircases and ramps, through the doors of the huge building. Soon, no one could see them anymore. Then someone pointed to the third floor and shouted, “Look at the windows!” They were all opening, and the crowd began screaming louder than before. This time, everyone was trying to fight their way through this awful barrier that the mysterious man had wedged between us and the children but no one could make their way through. It was too late anyway. The kids began jumping through the windows and our screams grew louder and louder as we watched in horror but they still couldn’t drown out the sound of their bodies smacking against the pavement. It was as if they wanted to die, pushing each other before the person before them got the chance to jump themselves.

I couldn’t scream anymore. I couldn’t watch it either, but for some reason I kept staring. Soon the kids were done jumping, and the screaming died down a bit. I stared at the bodies lying behind the newcomer, and then looked to him. I’m not quite sure why, because it’s not like he could have possibly heard me over the remaining shrieks of terror around us, but I asked him why he did this. Suddenly I heard a man’s voice inside my head, his voice inside my head, telling me that he could make anyone else do exactly what he wanted us to do as well. I knew in that moment that this wasn’t the last of his games.

People began running in all directions and the screaming grew louder once again. Those who went within a foot of the stranger dropped dead in an instant before they could have reached him. There was no chance of us killing him. I couldn’t move, I could only watch as everyone flew past me, people dying, and blood everywhere. The town I had grown up and spent my entire life in had gone mad. I was startled at the feeling of a hand grabbing my arm until I heard a familiar voice in my ear say, “Come on, let’s get out of here.” In that second we started running away from all of the chaos. We were trying to escape from all of the death and insanity. I turned to look at the man as we left and I saw him watching me, causing that electrical shock to burn inside my veins again, and I almost fell down.

Ahead of us, about a half a mile away, I could see the old fair grounds that we used to sneak off to in the middle of the night to see each other. Behind us there was an explosion that caused the ground to shake under our feet and I felt his hand squeeze my arm a little harder as he picked up his speed. I could still feel the electricity in my body as we were running and, in fact, it still hasn’t left me. I turned my head slightly to the side and I could see the fire out of the corner of my eye. When I looked forward again I saw that we were coming up to the bottom of the ferris wheel and we began to slow down. We walked up the stairs and jumped the gait and then began climbing up the side of the structure. Once we finally reached the top we jumped into the seat but didn’t bother buckling in because we were already trapped enough as it was.

My mind had finally stopped racing with fear as I took a couple of deep breaths, and this is where my story catches up with my current situation. I can smell the smoke underneath us and I can feel the heat of the flames inching closer and closer toward our dangling sneakers. I smile at him with tears streaming down my cheeks and I tell him that I love him as I stand up and jump out of the seat. I hear him scream for me to stay and try to catch me as I’m falling faster and further away. However I am not feeling or seeing any flames anymore. I cannot smell the smoke or hear the faint screams in the distance. I look towards my town and I can see all of the people going about their business like any other ordinary day. There is no man in a top hat and coat tails standing in front of Town Hall anymore. Just before I hit the ground I look back up to the love of my life shouting for someone to come help him save me but it’s too late. Even if I do live, no one would believe why I jumped anyway. Then I feel my back smack against the ground just like the bodies of all the children that seemed so real to me. In an instant, everything goes black and the only thing I can hear is a strange man’s voice inside my head say, “I told you I can make you do whatever I want.” The electrical surge has returned to my body, shaking my bones, and right before I exhale my last breath, I smile.

The author's comments:
I wrote this poem in my junior year of high school and I am really proud of it. It was a class assignment after we studied Edgar Allen Poe. This was my favorite assignment ever given inside school. Thank you, Mr. Regalbuto, for being an excellent teacher.

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