About The Death of the American Dream:
This is a short story of 5300 words or approximately 20 print pages.
It was just an ordinary day, almost deceptively ordinary like the moments just before the world irrevocably changes so often are.
Like every other day, I arrived at the office at half past eight. I sat at my desk, dreamed up an ad for lipstick and another for diet soda, drank five whiskeys, smoked ten cigarettes and took two Aspirin to deal with the side effects. I also spent my lunch hour fucking my current mistress. And then, at half past six, I took the train back upstate for dinner with my family, a good-night kiss for the kids and maybe a bit of dull married sex with my wife.
In short, it was just an ordinary day, like a thousand others before it. And yet it was the day that everything changed.
I’d just reached my stop and got off the commuter train. After a long day at the office, my briefcase felt heavy in my hand, my tie was too tight around my throat and I sweated in my grey flannel suit. But nonetheless I did not resent the business uniform I wore, for it was the badge of my success, proof that I’d finally overcome my humble origins and joined the great American middle class.
Like every evening, I walked across the concrete wasteland that was the combined parking lot of Shady Acres Mall and the commuter train station that adjoined it, separated from each other only by a mesh fence. I was headed towards the second greatest achievement of my life to date (next to my perfect blonde wife and my adorable children, that was), my silver blue Cadillac Eldorado.
No, scratch that. The Cadillac was my greatest achievement. Cause any halfway handsome and competent man could acquire a wife and father some children, though acquiring a respectable wife of quality took a bit more effort. But a Cadillac, now that was something you had to earn, had to earn with hard work and clever strategising on the job. And I had certainly earned mine. I bought it the day I made partner at the advertising agency, an outward reflection of my new status, a sign that I’d finally made it, that I was one of them, one of the great American middle class.
I didn’t pay much attention to my surroundings. I was tired, not to mention a little hung-over from the whiskey, the cigarettes and the Aspirin. And since I always parked my Cadillac in the same spot, I could have found the car in my sleep.
The screams were my first indication that something was wrong. Cries of pure panic, echoing across the parking lot, followed by the shrill wailing of a dozen car alarms going off all at once.
At first, I thought there was some kind of crime in progress. A mugging or a carjacking, probably due to the street gang that had started hanging out around the mall of late.
When I first moved here with my family, Shady Acres had been a good place to live, a nice middle class suburb with nice middle class people. But of late, the place had gone downhill. The wrong sort of people started moving in, if you know what I mean. And once the wrong sort of people moved in, crime swiftly followed, as it always did.
But I wasn’t like the other husbands of Shady Acres, those soft insurance brokers and office workers who bent and broke when faced with even the slightest hint of adversity. No, I was strong, tough. After all, I’d started my life on the wrong side of the tracks, far on the wrong side. I’d been in the Army, I’d fought the Reds, fought America’s sworn enemies. And I sure could handle a couple of youths bent on causing trouble.
A businessman ran towards me, his tie askew, briefcase and one shoe missing.
“Help,” he cried, “Help. They’re coming!”
I looked after him, puzzled. He seemed vaguely familiar, like someone I’d met on the train before, probably even exchanged a few words with. I often talked to the other passengers on the train. It was a good way of connecting with the great American public, of gauging their dreams and hopes, their likes and dislikes. And I needed to connect to the great American public in order to do my job and sell them whatever my bosses wanted me to sell.
Another businessman ran past, screaming incoherently, his clothing in disarray. This man I definitely knew. He was an insurance salesman who often tried to recruit new customers on the commuter train. Most of the passengers had learned to avoid him or at least avoid his sales pitch.
He also tended to be utterly unfazed by any but the rudest of rebuffs. Hell, I’d even seen this man get up after being punched in the face, only to promptly to inform his opponent that given his anger management issues, he might want to purchase legal expenses insurance and that Mutual Society Insurance had just the right policy.
Annoying as the insurances salesman was, I could only admire his tenacity. So if something had him terrified, it had to be really bad. Not to mention absolutely immune to any sort of insurance sales pitches.
My gaze followed the life insurance salesman as he ran away in panic. I watched him trip over a pothole in the parking lot and fall flat on his face and tried not to smile. Besides, he probably had accident insurance anyway.
Behind me, I heard a strange, scuttling sound, followed by the screech of tearing metal. My head whipped around and then I saw it.
It was a crab, with a red shell and a white belly and two claws and eight legs, just like those my children had chased across the beach during our family vacations in the Hamptons or on the Jersey Shore.
However, this crab was not a small thing barely the size of my hand like those I’d seen on the beach. No, this specimen was enormous, towering above Shady Acres Mall as it came strutting towards the parking lot.
It had almost reached the edge of the mall grounds by now, tearing through a billboard advertising nylons — coincidentally a campaign I had created, starring a model I had slept with — like the plywood and cardboard that it was.
More people ran past me, businessmen and mall shoppers, men and women, whites and blacks, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, all united in screaming panic.
It vaguely occurred to me that I should run, too, but for some reason I stood rooted in place, watching the monstrous creature before me in wonderment. I watched claws the size of cars clicking menacingly. The creature’s black eyes darted across the parking lot, looking for prey, and its mouth, twice the size of a manhole maybe, steadily moved in an insatiable hunger.
I watched and wondered and marvelled where this creature had come from, how something like that could even exist. I’d heard the stories, of course, silly rumours and conspiracy theories about how radiation leaks from the new nuclear power plant at Indian Point had caused the local wildlife to change and mutate.
There had been sightings, too. Stories of giant tentacles or claws suddenly shooting out of the water to grab a playing child or a couple strolling along the beach. Late night motorists speaking of creatures the size of a house that suddenly crossed the street just before them and caused them to drive their cars into a ditch. But those were just stories, lies told to turn the gullible against the scientific marvel that was nuclear power. I should know. After all, telling lies was my business.
Yet here it was, the evidence to back up all of those tall tales and lies, strutting through the mall grounds and chasing people across the parking lot, ripping through fences and billboards and power lines as it went.