WHEN BOSTON CAME ALIVE
They say Boston is the city that never sleeps.
No wait – that’s New York.
I had just woken up, and was halfway through my morning routine, when everything went nuts.
On the days when I don’t work, what usually happens is I roll out of bed (literally – falling on the floor helps wake me up), then I go use the bathroom. Sometimes I miss the toilet. I’m only human.
After that, while I’m still in my PJs, I usually brew a pot of coffee. Sometimes I knock the container off the counter and the grounds spill all over the floor. Again, I’m only human.
While the coffee brews, I start breakfast. Sometimes – if I had a rough night before bed – I just grab a quick bowl of cereal. But usually I scramble up some eggs and throw in a cup of chopped bacon. You know, like the kind my mom used to make?
Today was a usual day.
I had just cracked the eggs into the frying pan – that one I got for a buck at the flea market – when everything went nuts.
I knew everything was going nuts cause I heard people screaming outside. Now usually there’s some morning craziness outside my North End apartment, but most of it involves kids doing kid things and cranky old people doing cranky old people things. Today was different. I knew because the yelling was scared yelling.
Setting down my frying pan with its uncooked eggs, I stepped over to the window and looked down at the street.
A group of people was standing on the opposite sidewalk – you know, right outside that old folks’ home? – and they were all screaming about something. I couldn’t make out any words, but I could tell they were scared.
Even though I really wanted those eggs, I decided I’d better go down and check out what was going on. So I grabbed my bathrobe and pulled it on while I made my way downstairs.
At some point, it occurred to me that I hadn’t even grabbed my keys. That was too bad. If I wanted to get back into my apartment at some point, I would have to call up my landlord – you know, the really angry Italian one? – and ask him to come let me in with that master key he always keeps in his sock.
I opened the front door of the apartment building and stepped out onto the sidewalk. The tail of my bathrobe got stuck in the door, but I yanked it free. I think I might’ve ripped the fabric.
Across the street, those people were still yelling about something or other. I noticed that there were people on my side of the street doing the same thing. I stepped up to one old fella and asked him what he was screaming about. He looked me dead in the eyes and kept screaming.
I couldn’t tell what the commotion was about, so I started walking towards the city. I was glad I had been wearing my slippers when this all started. You know, the brown pair with the rubber soles my mom bought me a few Christmases ago?
As I walked down Winnipeg Street, I noticed that there were actually a lot of people hanging around – more than there usually was in the morning. They weren’t all screaming, but a lot of them did seem pretty freaked out. Instead of asking any of them what was wrong, I kept walking. My slippers made weird flip-flop sounds on the pavement.
I rounded the corner onto Cross Street, and that was when I first saw something weird. Something un-ordinary. Do you know what I’m saying?
Right on the corner was a black street lamp. That was nothing new – it had been there at least as long as I had. What was weird was that the pole seemed to be wiggling back and forth, like it was doing some kind of a jig. I didn’t think hard metal was supposed to move like that, but I know there’s lots of things about the world I don’t understand, so I shrugged and kept walking.
I crossed over to to the park, noticing that every street lamp and fire hydrant I passed was also wiggling around. Some problem with the water pressure, I thought.
The park was full of people, but most of them were staring at the skyscrapers across the way, looking like they were shocked about something, and not screaming.
One guy with bulging muscles was standing there holding his hand over his mouth like a lady in an old black and white movie.
“Excuse me,” I said, stepping over to him and wrapping my bathrobe further around my body.
When he didn’t answer, I tried again.
The muscular man turned to look at me.
“Will you please tell me what everybody’s yelling about?” I asked. I wasn’t annoyed by him, you understand; I was annoyed that everybody except me seemed to know about something that everybody except me knew about.
He didn’t answer me. Instead, he just pointed across Haymarket Square, to where all the skyscrapers usually stood still like big cement trees.
Today they weren’t standing still. Today, they were moving back and forth like rubber.
Like the fire hydrants.
“Why are they doing that?” I asked the muscular man, but he had started biting into his hand and didn’t seem ready to answer.
I shrugged and headed over to Haymarket Square.
You know that one crosswalk with all the trash on it? Not real trash, I mean. It’s made of metal, and someone put it in the ground cause they thought they were funny. Metal banana peels, metal shopping bags, metal everything. It’s supposed to be art I guess, but I think it’s just weird.
Anyways, I took that crosswalk towards Haymarket. But today, something weird happened. When the bottom of my slipper hit one of the metal banana peels, I heard a high-pitched sound, like a cartoon character screaming when an anvil falls on his head.
I picked up my foot, and the banana peel unstuck itself from the pavement.
“Oh, excuse me,” I said, before stopping to wonder what business a metal banana peel had moving by itself.
The tiny sculpture ballooned itself out until it was the proper shape of a banana, then used its peel as legs to stroll off down the sidewalk.
I blinked. That definitely wasn’t ordinary.
But I kept moving.
Most of the people in Haymarket Square were gathered around either the fire hydrants or the columns that supported the Haymarket Station building. Those were also wiggling and grooving around.
I took a left on Congress Street and kept walking. The six towers of the glass memorial remained still and straight; but when I squinted real hard I could see that the numbers printed on the glass walls were all shifting around and rearranging themselves like alphabet soup.
There weren’t any cars on the road, probably cause everybody was too confused to drive. I would be too, so I guess I was glad I didn’t have my license.
I crossed the crosswalk without waiting for the orange hand to turn into the white person. I usually don’t jaywalk; but like I said, this wasn’t an ordinary day.
When I got to the other side – y’know, the area outside of Faneuil Hall – I saw the first really unusual thing. I mean, fire hydrants and buildings jiggling around is weird enough, but this was really weird. And a little scary too.
You know that big statue of Mayor White that’s always standing outside Faneuil Hall in his suit and tie, with his coat flung over his left shoulder? Well today, he was in a totally different position than usual. He was actually standing there with his legs apart and his arms crossed on his chest. His metal coat was in a heap on the ground.
For a few seconds, I just frowned up at him. He’s a pretty big guy, right? I was pretty scared. I also thought I understood why there was really no one else in the area.
I was even more scared when Mayor White started moving. His huge metal arms unfolded themselves and he reached down towards me.
I couldn’t move. I was so scared, it was like I was – darn it, what’s that word? The one that means you can’t move.
Doesn’t matter. I was so scared, I couldn’t move. Mayor White actually looked like a pretty nice guy, but he was really big and made of metal, and I wasn’t used to that.
He leaned down with one hand stretched out towards me. It was a huge hand, but it was open and it didn’t look like it was going to hurt me.
I looked up. Mayor White was smiling at me, and he looked friendly enough.
I stuck my meat hand into the big metal hand. The fingers wrapped around my wrist and we shook.
I nodded goodbye to Mayor White and turned the corner into the Quincy Market walkway.
There were a few people in the marketplace, but they were all talking and laughing. A couple of them were trying to ride the lampposts. You know those lampposts that are just like a straight metal pole, but then they have a whole bunch of round lights on top? Yeah, those were wiggling around even more than the buildings were, slithering like snakes whose tails were stuck in the ground. And some people were trying to ride them. I think one of the people fell off and hit her head on the bricks.
I looked up and saw the windows of a clothing store. Inside each window was a plain white mannequin wearing fancy clothes. They were all moving around: some were dancing, a few looked like they were talking, and one was waving to me. I waved back.
As I left Quincy Market and headed towards the Aquarium, I passed another clothing store. This one had life-size photos of pretty models showing off the fashions of the day. One of them blew me a kiss. I could feel myself blush.
I took a left and ended up on John F. Fitzgerald road. Across from me was that ramp leading down into the tunnel. And on the gate next to the ramp were those huge, yellow, lowercase letters that usually spell out a cheerful message that says
nothing’s for keeps. except that we must keep going. you’ll spend your entire life searching, ok? we all want to belong. so let’s all get along. make the most, and hope. may this never end.
Today, the letters were switching around and rearranging themselves to form new words. One word that kept showing up over and over again was Boston. For a second, I thought I saw the yellow letters spell out my name.
For the first time, I noticed that there was music playing. At first I couldn’t tell where it was coming from, but I knew that the buildings were dancing in time.
As I kept walking, I passed a bunch of other people. These ones didn’t seem too scared; they actually looked like they were enjoying themselves. Especially when I got to the merry-go-round.
You know that merry-go-round that’s right next to the welcome center? Instead of horses, it has a bunch of different weird animals, like grasshoppers, and squirrels, and badgers, and seals with red eyes, and even those things that look like bugs that they eat up in Maine.
Today, the merry-go-round was spinning way too fast. Some people were standing around watching it, and I saw that some people had already gotten on. Not kids, but grownups. That was good, I thought, since a kid wouldn’t be able to hold on with how fast the ride was going.
The music was louder now, and I recognized it, except I couldn't remember the name. It was the one they played in that movie where Mickey Mouse was a wizard.
The plastic animals were doing more than just going around the carrousel. Some of them were moving up and down on their poles, and some of them were turning around in circles. As I watched, one of the owls broke free and flew away into the sky.
I stepped through the information center. The big plastic signs that stood around were moving now: I could see the map of Boston twisting and changing. I wondered if the real Boston was changing with the map.
Beneath my feet, the cement tiles were covered in little kids’ chalk drawings. I saw doodles, cartoon characters, big bubble letters, and other stuff. Except now the chalk was moving, and the different shapes spun across the ground, colliding with other drawings and the edge of the pavement.
Suddenly, there was a roar over the music. I jumped and looked up. I was scared again.
What I hadn’t realized before was that, if all the buildings in Boston were coming alive, that meant that everything in the buildings were probably coming alive too. And that included the Science Museum, apparently.
Right across the street, two huge monsters and one smaller monster were pushing their way towards the merry-go-round – and right towards me.
The two big monsters were standing on their hind legs. They had big heads and tiny arms. Any kindergartener would have been able to tell you what they were: they were T-rexes. One of them was standing up straight like a person, and the other one was crouched over like a hunchback.
The third monster was a lot smaller, but still pretty big. It was walking on four feet, and it had three horns sticking out of its head. This one was also a dinosaur, but I couldn’t remember what it was called. Then I noticed that there was a fourth monster sitting on the third one’s back. This one I knew. It was a giant plastic grasshopper that usually lived in the Blue Wing of the science museum, right near the dinosaurs.
I could tell the big, fake monsters were coming right towards me, so I ran.
I ran right across State Street to where those tall, rectangular sculptures with the glowing lights inside were wiggling all over the place, snapping back and forth, hitting the street one second, and the next second hitting the grass. I didn’t want to get hit by one of them, so I walked on the other side of the park.
Across the street I could see that pretty painted window with the colorful fish. Today, instead of sitting still and glaring at the world, the fish were swimming back and forth, gulping at the air and making glass bubbles.
Finally I made it to the edge of the park, and I saw something that made me freeze up.
You know that red-and-black spiral of pavement that’s supposed to be a fountain, except that it’s always out of order? Well today, it was spitting water high into the air, then in every other direction. I got soaked.
But that wasn’t what scared me. What scared me were the statues.
All around the red-and-black spiral are thin, twisted metal poles. Twelve of them. I know cause I counted before. But on the tops of all the poles are these big, metal animals heads that scare the bejeezus out of me, especially at night when they stare down at me.
Today, they were doing more than staring. They were moving.
Kinda like the lampposts in Quincy Market, the animal heads were whipping around in every direction, sometimes slamming into each other, making these horrible noises. There was a ram, a snake, a rooster, even a dragon. Their jaws were snapping open and closed. I think I even saw the dog pick up some poor person in its mouth and whip him around.
Somewhere behind me, the dinosaurs and their grasshopper friend were getting close to the merry-go-round, which was now playing scared music. I could hear the soft blub blub of the painted fish. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see all the boats down at the harbor sailing around and smashing into each other.
When the rooster head broke out of the ground, I wanted to run away. But I couldn’t move.
The metal pole bent to the ground like a snake, and the rooster went slithering away, making people scream and run. I don’t think it saw me. The monkey went next, slinking off towards the harbor.
All the snake-animals were pulling at their roots now. They were trying to break out of the ground and follow their friends. Maybe they were trying to eat people, I don’t know. I don’t think they had stomachs.
I heard a groaning sound and I looked to see where it was coming from. My heart started beating even faster when I saw a small group of people walking towards me. They had very dark skin and I could see all their bones. As they walked towards me with their arms stretched out in front of them, I thought I could see one of them actually falling apart.
That’s when I realized the art museum had come to life too. Including the Egypt exhibit.
As the mummies walked towards me, someone else came and joined them: a very white man who was only the size of a little kid.
Chris Columbus! I thought. I had seen him standing on his pedestal by the harbor on many occasions.
On the other side of the fountain, I saw the dog break out of its roots and go slithering away. I wondered when the snake was going to free itself, since it was the only one who looked like it fit on the long, slithery body.
I still couldn’t move. I was so scared and so surprised that I just couldn’t make my feet work. I felt like I was stuck in the cement, like the nine snake-animals in front of me.
There was a huge noise from somewhere off in the distance. I looked up – over the heads of the mummies, who were still coming towards me – and saw that the giant clocktower in the middle of the city had somehow unlatched itself from the ground, just like the snake-animals were doing. The entire building was moving towards me, slowly, staying upright but pushing itself along the street.
Then I heard my name being called, like a question. Someone was asking if I was who they thought I was.
I looked around. A big, black van – you know, like the kind that the president’s men drive – was sitting next to the sidewalk. A man was leaning out the window and staring at me. I decided he must have been the one who called my name.
“That’s me,” I called back, over the noises of the snake-animals, the sound of music, and the roar of the clocktower that was making its way across the city.
“Get in!” the man shouted.
I looked around. My mom always told me not to get in cars with strangers, but I don’t think she was talking about when the entire city comes alive, and there and metal snake-animals, living mummies, plastic dinosaurs, and moving buildings going around everywhere.
I decided to get in the car.
“Where are we going?” I asked, as a second man slid the door shut. There were four men in the car, including me. Actually, one of them was a lady. I felt embarrassed that she was seeing me in my PJs.
“We’re going to put an end to this shit,” the driver said. He was really muscly, and he had an orange mustache. I almost told him to watch his language.
“Here,” said the man in the passenger’s seat. “Drink this.” He handed me a small plastic bottle, like a pill bottle. It was filled with pink stuff.
“I’m not really thirsty,” I said.
“You’re gonna want to drink this,” the driver said. I suddenly felt threatened.
I took the bottle and glanced at the lady. She was watching me expectantly. I didn’t want her to think I was a chicken, so I drank what was in the bottle. It tasted like death.
I handed the bottle back to the passenger’s seat guy.
“Can I smoke in here?” I asked.
The driver shrugged. “Do whatever you want,” he replied, taking a sharp turn and heading down a tunnel. “Doesn’t really matter at this point.”
I glanced at the lady. She was looking out the window.
"I was just wondering," I said. "I don't smoke."
After a moment, the driver asked how I was feeling.
“I feel okay,” I replied. “I’m really hungry, since I didn’t get to eat my eggs this morning. I always make them with a cup of chopped bacon. Y'know, the way my mom used to make them?”
“Uh huh.” He nodded. “So you’re not feeling sick or anything?”
“I’m a little sleepy,” I admitted. The big car pulled out of the tunnel and back into daylight. Through the window, I could see subways running back and forth, too fast. “But that’s probably just cause I didn’t get my morning coffee either.”
“Uh huh,” the driver said again. “Well maybe you should take a nap.”
“But don’t you need my help?” I asked, yawning. I suddenly was really tired.
“We will eventually,” the driver told me. “But we have a long drive ahead of us, so you might as well sleep now.”
“Okay,” I yawned. I didn’t want to argue. I was pretty tired.
I laid my head against the headrest and fell fast asleep.
I woke up in my apartment.
My bathrobe hung on its hook. My slippers sat neatly on the floor.
I wondered what had happened.
When had I gotten out of that big, black car? And was everything still alive?
I stood up and stepped into the kitchen.
My mom was at the sink, a frying pan in her hand and an egg in the other.
“Mom?” I said.
“Good morning, sweety,” she said cheerily.
I rubbed my eyes. Was that it, then? Had it all been a dream?
It must have been. Right?
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“I thought I’d just pop in for a visit,” my mom replied. “See how you’re doing.”
I yawned. Then something occurred to me.
“Mom,” I said. “You’ve been dead for six years.”
She just shrugged. “Can I make you some eggs?”