The Crowd by Melanie Browne

The snow crunches under their feet as they make their way to the arena. The lights from the stadium reflect off the mud colored slush that seeps into their boots. They appreciate the ironic and so they wear flannel and blue jeans and refuse to wash their hair. It is one of the last shows their favorite band will ever give and so they walk faster to get to their seats and bypass the concession stands with the giant styrofoam cups filled to the brim with warm-ish overpriced beer. They stare around at the crowd and wonder about who they are and what their lives might be like.

“That guy over there, he smells like he sleeps in a cave,” one of them says.

“A cave? I think that might be nice, we could make cave art, and get a black light…”

Kali’s friend stops listening and has a strange look on her face with her mouth sort of hanging halfway open, a look of horror in her eyes.

“Hey! Hey, Earth to Sarah, come in Sarah.”

“Sorry,” Sarah says, a look of humanity coming back into her face, but now with big tears dropping down her cheeks. Kali watches as one of the tears seemed to defy gravity and starts to move upwards back towards her eye.

“I felt like I couldn’t breathe all of a sudden, like I was suffocating.”

“Well, it’s no wonder, look at all the smoke. Santa’s going to get confused and think this arena is a chimney,” says Sarah.

“You are never funny. I mean none of your jokes are ever funny, still, I like you.”

“Gee Thanks,” Sarah says, wiping her eyes with the bottom of her blue Pepsi T-shirt.

“Maybe you’re just feeling the spirits in this place or something. Man, the stories these walls could tell…”

Sarah looks at Kali strangely for a minute. “What are you talking about?”

“The stampede? all of those people killed trying to watch that band, I can’t even remember the name, some old people band, my parents listened to it,” Kali’s voice trails off.

“It happened here? Are you sure?”

“I’m sure. Google it.”

Sarah stares at her phone for a good twenty minutes, missing a couple of songs from the opening band.

“Get off your phone,” Kali screams.

“You told me to Google.”

“Not for twenty minutes.”

The opening band wraps up and leaves and after a brief intermission the band they are there to see takes the stage amid strobe lights and screams from the audience.

Kali grooves to the music, but Sarah is distracted. Her mind is elsewhere.

Kali’s brother finds them and shoves a beer into Sarah’s hands.

“Thanks!” Sarah screams over the music.

The beer is warm, but it is her first taste, and it tastes nasty, like cardboard that had a crate of rotting tomatoes sitting in the hot sun for several hours.

Kali’s brother looks at her, watching her sip the beer, his head slowly nodding to the music.

*

Sarah is sipping the beer, but her mind is wandering now. She is thinking about last night’s strange dream. She was sitting at a diner eating a bowl of soup. The soup was clear, like broth, but had a bunch of half-crushed crackers floating in it. She couldn’t get enough of it. When she finished eating the soup, she recognized her friends outside the front windows and started waving at them. She got up and grabbed her backpack and was waving at her friends to wait for her, she remembers feeling anxious, but just as she opened the door of the diner to leave she woke up.

“They’re about to come on,” Kali says somewhere in the obscurity that is this arena, which has become glacial to Sarah, who stands shivering inexplicably. “Sarah, you look cold, it’s not cold, people are sweating, look at the gross stains near everyone’s armpits.”

Kali is suddenly worried about Sarah.

*

Sarah is no longer sitting in the arena. She is no longer sipping warm beer and looking at her phone. She feels  as if she is being sucked into a sort of tornado that has just now spit her out into a crowd of people that are laughing. Someone elbows her, but when she turns around there is no one there. There are lots of kids wearing sneakers that look exactly the same, with white stripes and it looks like they are all wearing clothes they bought at a thrift store.

She tries to walk back into the arena, but the crowd is too thick.

A young woman walks up to Sarah and whispers in her ear.

“What?” Sarah says, unable to make out what the young woman says.

“I said, watch out, the crowd can get kind of intense here.” Her face is pale and her hair pulled back into a thick braid.

Sarah feels cold, but no one is wearing a coat. The girl is still standing there, looking at Sarah intently.

“Come on, we need to get out of here, I told you, the crowd can get intense.”

The way she says intense makes Sarah’s heart skip a beat which in turn makes her feel a bit dizzy.

It is at this moment that Sarah hears screaming and feels the tug of the crowd swarming around her like bees. She can hear rock music thundering through the walls and the applause of the fans.

Sarah looks around desperately for the girl. She doesn’t know anyone and seems to have lost her friends and can’t get her bearings. The girl seems to have vanished, but now there are the sirens, the flashing ambulance lights and the crowd has thinned.

*

“What?” Sarah hears herself saying to no one in particular.

“I said you look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”

“I feel really tired all of a sudden.”

“How was your cigarette?” asks Kali.

“What? Cigarette?”

“You said you were going outside to smoke a cigarette. How was it?”

“Good, I think.”

“Well, that’s encouraging. Where do you want to hang out after the concert?”

“I probably have to get home to finish up a biology project.”

“Party pooper.”

“Sarah, hey, did you see that creepy girl walking around a minute ago?”

Sarah’s eyes widen with fear.

“You saw her too?”

“Yeah, Tim saw her too. He’s out there trying to pick somebody up, what a loser.”

“Are we talking about the same person? How is that even possible at a concert with mammoth amounts of people and chaos and shit.”

“Pale face, long thick braid, coming up to everyone talking about crowds, telling everyone to leave before it’s too late, sound familiar? TOTAL NUTCASE! Must be on bad acid trip. I’m tired of these acid chicks spreading all kinds of crazy around nice church going concert goers, damn!”

“That’s who I saw too.”

Kali starts to play air guitar.

“I’m afraid I’m afraid I’m afraid I’m afraid I’m afraid of a…ghost.”

“Shut your mouth. Shut it.”

“We could have a house we could have a tree…”

“Nirvana sucks.”

“Don’t say that, blasphemer!”

At that moment they both see her, the girl with the braid and the pale face. She is walking with a slight limp now, sort of dragging her left leg in a really bizarre way. The auditorium seems strangely silent for a few seconds, which seems especially odd during an encore.

She is walking towards Kali. She leans in toward Kali and whispers, “Tragedies happen. The thing about tragedies is you can’t predict them.”

“What?” Kali screams. “What the fuck are you saying to me, psycho?”

Kali squirms her way out of the seat and starts to follow the clearly unhinged girl to a crowd that is gathered in the doorway of the stadium. There is an ominous fog that doesn’t seem related to the band and the air smells thick like army blankets tossed in a fire.

“Kali!” Sarah screams, “Don’t follow her.”

But Kali is already lost in the crowd. Kali’s brother takes Sarah by the hand and tries to maneuver through the people when Sarah starts to hear sirens and screams.

Now Kali’s brother is worried. He looks for a signal on his cell phone, but it is dead even though he could have sworn it was fully charged when he left the house a few hours ago.

They are stuck behind an anxious crowd with no solid plan for finding Kali. They walk in circles looking for another exit, but can’t find one.

*

It is hours before they are able to leave the stadium, the police blocked most of the exits and they were starting to get thirsty and tired. Kali’s brother was having an anxiety attack and Kali was patting him on the back, reassuring him.

“I don’t understand where she could have gone.”

“It’s ok, everything will be alright.”

*

Kali follows the girl into the crowd. She did not expect to die that night, death was not something that she spent much time thinking about. After a little while, she decided to let go and the crowd merged with her body until her body was no more.

The girl with the braid walked slowly around the arena, her feet crunching the snow lightly like a deer.

She is singing softly. “Let the tide in, rush over me.

No one was behind her to see whether she left tracks or not.

*

Melanie Browne can be found : HERE

2 thoughts on “The Crowd by Melanie Browne”

  1. This is a great story. It’s intelligent, interesting, clever, and quirky, and the dialogue is tight, edgy, and witty. I love the relaxed writing style too. It was a pleasure to read. Nice work.

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