James threw his arms up in front of his face, swiping the papers away with his finger nails like claws and his arms pounding to defend himself.
The papers fell to tatters and were then sucked across the lobby by a heaving gust of air that smelled like rust.
Then James moved cautiously toward the revolving doors to the street. The lights continued to watch him. He paused before the doors. They stood silent and still, waiting for him to enter. Perhaps they would spin like propellers as soon as he stepped within.
But he could not remain within the lobby any longer. He had to evacuate. That's what the papers were telling him. The rest of civilization may be miles ahead, but there was nothing he could do but to catch up. If the city was alive and hostile, then the countryside would be a decent refuge.
James took a step forward and then waved his hand in front of the door. Nothing happened. He took a step forward, and then another. Once he was standing fully within the revolving door, he pushed gently on the glass. It slid smoothly forward like any regular door would. But then, halfway through, the door jammed. He froze momentarily but then spun and pushed with all his might back the way he had come. The door resisted.
And then James heard a sudden crackle that sent a shiver up his spine. The entire sheet of glass behind him had just gone silvery white with a spider web of cracks. He could see it buckling, as if ready to explode. But it miraculously held until the other pane was also prepared to shatter.
James waited with flickering eyes. His gown would do nothing to protect him. He may as well be naked. And then, with a split second to spare, he suddenly realized his only escape route. Spreading his legs in a sudden pose of strength, he shot both fists out in either direction. Both panes shattered outward at the same instant, and James was left standing in shaking adrenaline with two bleeding hands. That was far too close, he reasoned. And then he stepped free out onto the curb.
What a world he had awoken to. James was suspended in that moment of confusion when you first awake in an unfamiliar place. He could not leave the moment, he could not come to a resolution, he could not realize what was happening around him.
He walked a few paces down the sidewalk, gazing carefully at the street lights. They swung and curved about like blades of grass, bowing to the street and then straightening again. James passed each one at a quick run, pausing at the gaps to prepare for another dash. And then one post finally took notice of his fleeting form.
As he ran past, it hooked around and swung full into his chest. He flew back with a gasp and landed harshly on the pavement, his body seizing with breathless pain. But it wasn't over. The lamp bent around and picked him up off the ground like a toy.
He screamed, but the only sound to respond was the whisper of steel on steel and the screech of engine breaks from some distant street. And then the lamp began to wrap around him like a steel snake, slowly squeezing every breath of air from him.
He could feel his bones crackling and his muscles screaming, but he was helpless within the grasp of steel.
And then, from down the street, he heard the coming of an earthquake, sounding like a tremendous drumbeat. The street cracked and was reduced to powder as the pounding galloped toward James.
James wriggled in his pain and saw the comforting grain of stone out of the corner of his eye. And then the newcomer came full into view; it was a valiant knight on horseback wielding a stone sword over its head with silent power.
The stone knight vaulted from the horse, and the sword sheered downward like the plummeting of a god's fist, inevitable and unstoppable. It split the metal spine of the street lamp with a wrenching sound that went off like a gunshot in James' ears, enough to make him scream.
And then came gentle relief as the steel about him slowly loosened its hold as James fell to the ground. The lamp was dead, and James could hardly move.
But then, as the knight leaped to his horse again and made to take off, James brought himself to speak.
"Wait!" he croaked.
The knight stopped, and its head swiveled to place two stone cold eyes on James' soul. "What?" came a voice as deep as the earth and as rich as the soil.
"Thank you," James managed to respond. And then, "Can you tell me what has happened to the city?"
The knight was as still as a statue for a moment, and then he offered a single gloved hand. "Come," he said.
James climbed sorely to his feet, stood modestly before the knight for a moment, and then accepted the hand with a courageous motion. He was pulled effortlessly to the back of the stone horse.