A leaky toilet might not be the worst problem in the world.
Ask Cody Bateman and he’ll tell you that finding a job, dealing with the apartment manager over late rent, or fending off debt collectors rank as bigger problems than the toilet.
Problems, like time, are relative.
And Cody’s problems just got a whole lot worse!
The funny thing about disasters is that you never expect them to happen to you. Even in the center of tornado alley, it’s always someone else’s trailer that gets shredded in the cosmic blender of fate.
A half-hour ago Cody Bateman never would have pegged his apartment complex in Lacey, Washington, as the site of a disaster. It was easy enough to put aside thoughts of Mt. Rainier erupting in a mega-explosion. He rarely considered the possibility of a major 9.0 quake hitting the region—even though that was a historical reality.
Thirty minutes ago, it was the toilet that had him feeling dizzy and sick.
Not because it was gross or anything, but the damn thing was leaking. He shoved another towel beneath the dripping hose at the back of the toilet — or was it the tank dripping? He couldn’t tell. It was wet. He twisted the shut-off valve, and it spun. The water didn’t stop.
Cody rocked back on his heels. As disasters went, this wasn’t really a big deal. Heck, as a renter all he had to do was go over to the office and tell the manager and it’d get fixed.
It wasn’t about the toilet at all. It was the past due rent. The credit card bills. His student loan late notices. And the silent phone that never rang. No calls for interviews. Nothing in the fridge except a few slices of American cheese and day-old bread that he used for dry-grilled cheese sandwiches.
If he called the manager, the rent would come up, and an eviction notice would probably follow. He shoved the towels back beneath the water, ignoring the faint smell of piss that clung to the toilet no matter how many times he cleaned it. Cleaning it, that had jiggled the tank and started this mini-tsunami of misfortune.
That wasn’t even the real disaster. That didn’t start until fifteen minutes later, after he got the brilliant idea to flush the toilet, drain all the water in the tank and use the handle of the scrub brush to prop up the valve inside the tank so that it wouldn’t refill.
Flooding averted, for now, Cody had taken a break, washed his hands, filled a clean glass with tap water, and had gone out to the living room to read. Library books at least still didn’t cost anything, as long as he got them back on time.
He had five minutes of thrilling space opera courtesy Kevin J. Anderson when there was a loud crash right outside his apartment.
Cody jerked at the bang and sloshed water onto the library book.
“Shit! No, no!” He grabbed a couch pillow and used it to wipe at the book. Shit. Would the library charge for that?
What was that crash? A car accident? He stood the book up on the end table, put the glass on the coffee table, then went and looked out the windows. Across the lawn, past the sidewalk, were the covered carports. The center of the carport was bowed inward, and sunlight streamed through a massive hole in the roof.
“Holy shit,” Cody said to the empty apartment.
He went around to the front door and hurried outside for a closer look.
The carport was all smashed in, the metal twisted and pointing down at the car beneath, and that was also smashed in. Like something from up above had come crashing down and punched right through the carport and the car beneath. All the windows in the car were shattered, and the glass glinted around the car.
Meteor! Or was it an asteroid? Metroid? Cody ran his hands back through his hair. Whatever it was called, something had come crashing down.
Or it could have been a toilet from a passing airplane because apparently those did fall out sometimes.
He looked up, searching the sky and didn’t see any planes but there was a smoke trail that spiraled down right toward the apartment complex! It petered out some distance up, but it was there!
Other people were coming out now too. All of the day-timers that didn’t have jobs or school to get to were coming out and gaping at the carport. Some of them had phones out and were taking pictures, live streaming, and chattering with excitement.
Cody slapped at his pockets. Shit. He’d forgotten his phone. It was still inside. Screw it, he wanted to get a look at the rock or whatever.
The big curly-haired woman that lived in the ground-floor apartment on the other side of the parking lot was out clutching her fat pug in one hand and a phone in the other as she shuffled closer. She had bunny slippers on her feet and a purple bathrobe over pink pajamas.
The pug whimpered and buried its squashed face in the woman’s cleavage.
There were at least half-dozen other people out, getting closer. Someone asked loudly what had happened.
“Meteor,” Cody said, grinning. “Hope that’s not your car.”
The tall guy that had asked shook his head. “Right.”
A warm breeze stirred the trees along the edge of the property. Sirens sounded in the distance. Someone had called 9-1-1.
Cody walked closer, the cool grass tickling his bare feet because he hadn’t stopped to get his shoes before coming out. Which wasn’t really as bad as coming out in bunny slippers.
A guy and a girl from upstairs came down laughing and hanging on each other until the guy saw what everyone was looking at. He pushed the girl off his arm.
“What the hell?” He came forward, fists clenching. “What the fuck?”
The other guy said, “Meteor hit your car, dude. Punched right through it.”
“What the fuck?” The guy said and ran past Cody to the carport.
Cody and everyone else sort of followed him closer. The car was just an old Jetta, nothing in great shape but Cody sympathized given his own financial straight-jacket. Did insurance cover meteors squashing your car? Probably not his basic insurance.
“I just heard a crash,” the woman with the pug said, her voice high-pitched and almost a giggle. “I grabbed Mr. Pugsworth, and we came right out.”
“It left a trail,” Cody said, pointing at the spiral smoke trail still visible in the air above the complex. The breeze hadn’t blown it away yet.
Several people turned phones skyward.
It was right at about that moment when the next one came down, and the disaster picked up steam.
Somebody shouted and pointed at another spot in the sky. Cody looked, and there was another spiral shape forming in the sky with something dark at the center plummeting to the earth. The spiral narrowed as it came until it was just spinning in place. He kept expecting it to slow down or something —
— It smashed right through the roof of Building F! Debris and smoke vomited into the sky, and every window in the building exploded outward in shotgun blasts of broken glass. People screamed. Those closer to the building screamed from pain, the others from fright.
The curly-headed woman screamed. Mr. Pugsworth barked.
“What the fuck?” Repeated the guy with the smashed car, rising from an instinctive crouch.
Cody replayed it in his mind. The dark shape spinning and then slammed right into the roof and punched down inside the building. Somebody in the building was screaming. It was high-pitched, panting screams that just told you some horrible shit had happened.
Some people from the other buildings started running toward Building F, but most of the day-timers that had come out held back. Those that had fallen helping each other up. The sirens grew louder, and so were the worried voices of the crowd.
A couple kids came into the parking lot from the sidewalk on their bikes. One of the kids fixed Cody in his gaze. “Did you see that?”
“Yeah,” Cody said. “It went right through the building.”
He looked up, and he suddenly understood what people meant when they said their hearts stopped. He couldn’t breathe. There were at least six more spiral trails spinning down toward the complex. He pointed up.
One of the kids screamed, whipped his bike around and took off out of the parking lot. He shot straight out into the street. A horn sounded, and brakes squealed as a Ford Expedition skidded to a stop just shy of flattening the kid who never slowed.
Cody looked back up. The meteors fell like a missile barrage toward the complex. Maybe they were missiles — they hardly looked like flaming rocks.
Wham. Wham. Crash. Bang. Wham. Thunk.
One right after another the meteors or whatever they were hit buildings. They hit another car. The mailboxes — which blew apart in a shrapnel haze of shredded boxes and confetti letters. The last one punched right into the dumpster corral and the wood fences flew apart.
People screamed and ran. Mr. Pugsworth took off as fast as his little legs could carry him, chased by his wailing owner.
Cody’s limbs shook. This was crazy. Things like this didn’t happen. Not—
A loud screech of tortured metal came from the first car. The Jetta’s owner stepped back from his car.
“What the fuck?” He said sadly.
The sound quieted a bunch of people. It looked like all of the day-timers were out. Some of them going to the buildings hit to try and help, others still standing around taking pictures and filming. A crowd had gathered around the destroyed mailbox, while others had their cameras pointed upward to film the spiral trails left by the meteors.
Police and fire cars pulled up alongside the complex and came in the drive, whooping sirens, and spilling out first responders.
More twisted metal sounds came from the car as if it was trying to unbend itself. Snap. Snap. Snap. Electric cracking noises, followed by more crunching metal.
Cody watched the guy take a step closer.
A loud crunch made the guy jump back. His girlfriend grabbed his arm and tried to pull him away. He shook her off.
Police officers and the firefighters were trying to get people to move out of the way and find out what was going on and they all had several people talking at them.
Cody was more concerned with what was making the noises in the car. Part of the car dropped, crashing to the ground.
The girl screamed.
That got the attention of several police officers who shouted and ran toward the carport. Cody stayed on the grass, watching, feeling more useless by the minute. This was really happening. Like something weird going on, strange meteors crashing down into his complex and he wasn’t doing anything. Not even filming it to put it up on YouTube.
Thirty minutes ago he was worried about the toilet leaking and now he was on the lawn while something inside the Jetta crunched and cracked and made the whole car shake.
Police officers reached the couple. The girlfriend threw herself into the arms of one of the officers, sobbing into his shoulder. Others tried to pull the guy back, but he pulled free.
“No! That’s my fucking car! What’s in there? What’s doing that?”
“Move back! Move back now!”
With a loud thunk, three spikes burst through the side of the driver’s door. Metal cried as the spikes cut the door into thin strips, crumpling the plastic and metal into bits that were pulled back inside.
There was more crunching, chewing noises coming from the car.
Cody eased closer. He hadn’t done anything, ever. School, graduation, a pile of debt and nothing else to show for it. No job. No girlfriend. This was real, and something was eating that guy’s car. Something that had fallen from above.
Like from space.
It wasn’t just a meteor in there crunching and chewing away. The officers were busy pulling the guy back, but he struggled and cursed them.
No one was paying any attention to Cody.
He came at the car from the passenger side and just walked right up to it even though his mouth was tacky and his heart hammered in his chest like he was running a race instead of crossing the lawn. Small bits of glass pricked at his feet, but he ignored that and moved closer.
Whatever had fallen through the carport had completely caved in the roof of the Jetta. The inside looked like someone had turned on a blender. Shredded car parts rotated around the center. The seats were gutted, along with the console and the lower portion of the steering wheel. A pile of small pieces moved and rotated slowly around the interior, and the chewing and grinding noises continued.
The center funneled down, to something Cody couldn’t make out. Whatever it was, it sat at the bottom of the pile and was moving, spinning, shredding the interior.
“You! Get away from there!”
Cody looked back.
A police officer motioned him away from the car, one hand on his weapon. “Get back!”
The car jerked and shook. Metal screamed. Cody smelled burning plastic and fabric. Electrical crackling noises snapped the air and added an ozone odor.
Yeah, maybe they had a point. Cody moved back from beneath the carport. He backed up until he reached the police officer’s side. Cody brushed bits of glass that were stuck to his feet, but nothing had cut him. His feet were tough enough from going barefoot as much as possible.
“What did you see?” The officer said.
“There’s something in there, chewing it up,” Cody said.
A woman came over, and there were other people with her holding cameras and equipment. “KANA News, I’m Anita Kay. You said chewing?”
“Yes,” Cody said. “These chewers, they fell from the sky, and now one of them is chewing up that guy’s car.”
He pointed out the guy that the officers had pushed back behind their line.
A loud bang and the whole mid-section of the car collapsed as if its spine had been broken. The front of the car lurched and was pulled back into the body. Then the rear followed as if it was all being sucked into the center.
The sides caved in.
The destruction of the car went faster now. Police were keeping everyone back from the carport. More sirens were coming. A helicopter buzzed past overhead.
The reporter had taken a step away and was talking to the camera.
“This is Anita Kay, I’m at the Azure Downs apartment complex where several objects have plummeted from the sky, hitting buildings and vehicles. An eyewitness called these things chewers, and I’m here with him now.”
The reporter moved closer to Cody. “Sir, what was your name?”
Cody realized she was talking to him and glanced away from the disintegrating car. “Cody Bateman.”
“You’re a resident here? You saw what happened?”
“Yes, I did. I thought these were meteors at first. This one —” he pointed at the crumbling car. “— It was the first.”
“You called it a chewer.”
“Right, because it’s chewing up that guy’s car.”
A loud crash and bang made them all jump. It wasn’t the car — a section of the first building hit collapsed. There was a growing noise from the building competing with the car.
It was the same thing. Cody pressed his hands together. The chewers were devouring the building just like the one was eating the car.
“Uh, look,” Cody said to the reporter. “We should get out of here.”
The police and firefighters were moving people back from the buildings, vehicles and the dumpster. It looked like they were moving to evacuate the whole area.
Anita Kay’s lips pressed together. She nodded and motioned at the cameraman to follow.
Cody slipped past and hurried across the lawn. He ignored the reporter’s cry to wait. In the distance, more sirens sounded. He ran. He sprinted across the grass, past his apartment and headed up the stairs between apartments. He pushed past two middle-aged women at the second floor and continued running up.
At the top, on the fourth floor, he leaned against the railing and looked out. It wasn’t only the complex. As far as he could see, spiral trails left smoky paths. Several thick columns of smoke rose skyward from fires.
It wasn’t only here.
He gripped the railing. Forget the toilet. The student loans. Finding a job. None of that mattered now. Maybe it never had.
This story is the 76th short story release, written in April 2014. Eventually, I’ll do a new standalone e-book and print release when I am satisfied that I can create the cover art that I want for the stories. In the meantime, I’m enjoying releasing these on my blog. Stories will remain until I get up the new e-book and print versions and at that point, I’ll decide whether or not to take the story down.
If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Next up is my story, [Love, unpronounceable].