“The Rising Cost of Living in the Bay” – the July 2018 short story

Anita strapped her son into the car seat.  He was barely conscious, sliding his tiny arms and legs through the straps his mother held for him out of routine.  Anita smiled. Kevin must have tuckered himself out at the office day care today. He had recently learned how to play tag, and would run himself to exhaustion.

This was, in Anita’s mind, not a bad thing at all.  It would make the trip up to Santa Rosa much easier if he wasn’t constantly needing to be distracted or fed.  Kevin sleeping peacefully all the way through would be a much-needed miracle – Anita was worn out from the work week, and with the characteristically little sleep she had been getting as a working parent of a toddler, the weekend trip to her parent’s place would allow her and Lani to get some well deserved rest. It was a shame Lani still had to work late on a Friday and would have to drive over later that night, but knowing they could have two whole days of sleeping in would be worth it.

The Friday commute traffic from San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge towards Santa Rosa was thick with cars and was beginning to overlap with the weekend tourism.  The double-decker buses of tourists seeking to get a view of the bridge at sunset began their slow merge into traffic, grinding movement to a stop-and-go snail’s pace.

Anita knew things would pick up as soon as they made it past the classic tourist turn-offs, but it would still be painfully slow for a while.  Resigning herself to her fate, she just sighed and tried to relax.

Looking back at Kevin, Anita smiled.  Lani had carried him to term and was such a trooper the entire time.  Even with the sleepless nights and the insurance battles and the expense of the whole processes, creating this little life was so worth it.  Even though Anita’s parents had been shell-shocked when she had told them the final price, the cost was still lower than the amount of pride, joy, and love Kevin brought into their lives over the past two years.  

As Anita turned back to the traffic, she saw a huge shadow cross the bridge.

“Wow, the fog really came in fast,” Anita muttered to herself.  Her brow furrowed as she saw a bunch of people further up start to get out of their cars.  “Ugh, that had better not be an accident up there.” She had been behind an accident on the bridge before, and it had led to a two and a half hour delay.  

Anita craned her neck to see what people were doing.  There was no smoke, which was a good sign, but she realized both lanes of traffic had stopped.  She could see far enough ahead that it wasn’t a car that had smashed through the lane barrier, so why were people on both sides of traffic getting out of their cars?  As Anita watched the cars immediately in front of her go into park, she realized people were all looking out towards the ocean. Realizing traffic wasn’t going to move, she put the car into park and turned her head.  

It was catastrophically immense.  Anita’s mind couldn’t even figure out what she was looking at.  It looked like a living thing, but nothing, dinosaurs and blue whales included, were ever that big.  There was no frame of reference for how something that massive could even be alive. Besides that movie Lani had made her watch with the giant robots and monsters, she had never imagined something that massive and horrific could be real.  She remembered the monsters were called kaiju in the film.

But that was a movie, and this monstrosity was real. It’s massive limbs looked to be the size of a skyscraper, and it was so large its head was completely lost in the iconic fog banks rolling down the hills of Marin and into the Bay.  

“This..this can’t be real.”  Anita’s nails dug into the steering wheel.  More and more people were exiting their cars now, both in front and behind her.  She realized she was completely stuck. Anita looked back behind her. She was roughly a third of the way onto the bridge.  If she got out now and ran with Kevin, she could make it back to SF, call Lani to come pick her up, and they could evacuate as a family.

Anita threw the car into park and grabbed the keys from the ignition.  She threw them in her purse and got out of the hybrid and opened the rear door to crawl into the back seat.

“Hey honey, sorry to wake you, but we have to go now.”  Anita hoped she sounded calm, even though her hands shook.  She thanked muscle memory as her twitching fingers were still able to efficiently undo the car seat buckles, loosen the straps, and snatch Kevin into her arms before he could even fully awaken.  

Not bothering to shut the car door, Anita began to run.  Some people had their phones out to film the giant beast, and others were simply standing here, jaws agape.  Anita ran past them.

The jostling woke Kevin, who immediately began to cry.  Anita didn’t have time nor the breath to comfort him. She had seen the massive creature begin to turn towards the bridge, its body so large that water was still continuing to stream down its segmented, massive, insectoid limbs.  

One swipe of any one of its many appendages would crush a whole section of the bridge.  It was a long fall into the icy, churning waves of the Pacific Ocean, and the likelihood of surviving a trip, especially for a toddler, was next to nothing.  Anita knew if she wanted to survive, she had to get off the bridge.

Other people seemed to slowly come to the same realization as the screaming and running started in full earnest.  The initial shock of the colorful, giant kaiju had worn off, and the clear and present danger was apparent. How or why it had decided to rise up just outside of the San Francisco Bay didn’t matter. If it merely continued walking inland, it would decimate anything in its path.  It would destroy cities, if not the state.

A car door opened suddenly, and Anita spun to protect Kevin.  Her shoulder rammed into the door, bouncing her back on her ass. Her tailbone screamed in pain and she gasped to catch her breath.  She rolled onto her knees, shifting her center of gravity so she could rise while still clutching Kevin to her chest.

“Sorry!”

Anita looked up as some guy, presumably the one who had opened the car door, who was alternating waving back at her while running full speed away from her towards the toll plaza situated on solid land.  

Anita gritted her teeth and started running again.  Her lungs burned and her butt hurt and her shoulder was half numb, but she had to get off the bridge.  She glanced back towards the monster and wished she hadn’t. The monster was turning, and its huge body was displacing the fog.  She could clearly see the finned-head, the many glowing eyes, and the tentacled mandible of its crater-sized mouth. It was a horrific jumble of crab, fish, and insect parts mashed together into a nightmare.  

Then it screamed.  

The monster’s voice alone shattered all the car windows, and pebbles of safety glass exploded around her, pelting her from every side.  Her eardrums ruptured in a moment as the titanic roar shook the entire bridge itself. Anita just hugged Kevin tighter, squeezing his ears to try and protect her son as much as she could from the sonic assault.  

As the roar died down, Anita kept running.  Kevin was crying, but she couldn’t hear him.  She couldn’t really hear anything. She eventually met a sea of people also trying to escape, and Anita saw blood running out of everyone’s ears.  She wondered if her ears were bleeding as well. People were slipping on the broken glass bits and falling. There was panic and fear. And the monster began moving towards them.  

Anita was being shoved from behind.  She pushed back, and tried to surge forward, but the human bottleneck was vast.  She slide between two cars to relieve the pressure. She looked around at the chaos.  People were trampling each other. Her thoughts of meeting up with Lani ever again died and she held Kevin close.  

Anita leaned on the bumper of the van she was behind, wincing as she sat. She looked at the car in front of her and saw an elderly woman still inside the car sitting in the passenger seat.  A disability placard hung from the rear view window.

Anita’s eyes met the woman’s.  The elderly woman forced a smile and gently nodded her head.  Anita’s heart sank as the elderly woman closed her eyes.

Anita turned towards the lumbering giant one last time.  It’s iridescent carapace shimmered as it moved. She watched as it raised a limb out of the water impossibly high.  The shadow of it all covered a majority of the bridge as well as the toll plaza. Water rained down as she held Kevin tight.  

Thoughts of Lani raced through her mind.  All of her friends. Her parents. She looked down at Kevin’s crying face and wiped away his tears, even as her own fell on his cheeks.  She smiled at her son then held him close.

“I love you,” she whispered.

The End.

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