Read an Excerpt
Central Park Knight
By C. J. Henderson
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 2011 C. J. Henderson
All rights reserved.
Down the Belt Parkway, moving farther east approximately five miles, the scene was quite the same in Brooklyn's world famous Coney Island as it was at the Narrows. That particular stretch of beachfront property had been quite drastically reduced in both size and splendor since the early 1900s, its glory days as an international tourist location when it was considered the "in" place to be seen by movie stars and potentates.
"Okay, this looks as good a spot as any to set up."
Now, once-fabled Luna Park, the "city of a million lights," was only remembered in the recollections of the oldest of grandparents. Gone were the amazing and spectacular rides it had boasted long ago: the glorious madness of the outdoor wooden horse races — oaken thoroughbreds hurtling along stories above the pavement, carrying their seven- and eight-year-old equestrians to steeplechase greatness; the boat rides; the tumble slides; the rolling room and sliding floor and the unforgettable, never-ending hall of mirrors. Now, only one of that fairyland's miracles remained sturdy and sure and in all its original glory.
"You da boss."
Protected from developers by its historic significance, the towering Parachute Ride still stood sentinel watch over the Brooklyn Shore, its shadow looming over the great stretches of boardwalk to be found in both directions. A giant umbrella-like structure of steel and wire, it shouldered its way into the sky, far taller than any building around it, visible for miles in every direction. When first built, it was truly a wonder for the senses — and that was merely for those passing by it. For those brave souls who dared its heights, it was an adventure beyond all others, a moment to be remembered for a lifetime.
Sitting on the smallest of wooden seats, clinging for dear life, its passengers would be hoisted numerous stories into the air until, when they finally reached the top, they would be released and sent hurtling toward the ground. Screams of delighted fear were practically a requirement of their free-fall. But then, mere feet from the ground, their parachute would always open, of course, and they would exit safely back out onto the boardwalk, often quite shaken, many completely terrified, but all of them most assuredly thrilled.
"You sure this is the right day?"
All in all, the fabulous structure produced millions upon millions of happy, unique-to-their- owner memories, until the sorrowful moment in time when the relentless guardians of the public interest shut down the grand lady — to protect the children, you understand. Her usefulness crippled, still the shunned giantess stood as best she could against the elements — decaying bit by bit, decade after decade — until finally the moment came to decide the revered amusement's final destiny.
"Yeah, I thought it was supposed to be rainin', or overcast, or somethin'."
Protected by some wiser-than-average god, the Parachute Ride was finally designated a public landmark, and although she was not reopened for the giving of monumentally spectacular thrills, extensive repairs were nonetheless made. Massive sections of the glorious thrill-giver were rebuilt, and finally the brightest of orange paints was brought in by the truckload to make her a presentable figure in her old age.
"Hey, who cares? If playing here, today, rain, shine or whatever gets us a gig at the Brooklyn Museum, then I say we play."
On that singular, midsummer Thursday, however, the group of young men moving toward her did so with a purpose of their own, one to which no one in all the multiple scores of years the great tower had stood had ever thought to put her. Heaping their burdens on the boardwalk before the antique ride — mostly piles of rain slickers and musical instruments — they then turned to a hurried inspection of their surroundings.
Doing arm and leg stretches, rolling their necks and hips, cracking their knuckles, they surveyed up and down the long wooden walkway, checking to see just how many intruders they might be forced to deal with once they got under way. Finding the number of potential busybodies well within an acceptable range, the group turned toward one of their own. Understanding their questioning looks, the fellow glanced up at the thickening clouds in the sky, then at his watch. Deciding the timing was adequate — meaning that they would not be late — he smiled, giving his compatriots the signal to begin as he said;
"Okay all, let's try to get this right, shall we?"
"Yeah, let's," quipped one of the others. "It's not like you can take a 'do-over' when you're playing the 'End of the World' concerto."
A number of the group chuckled, several quite heartily — but, not the majority. They had good reason.
This band of fellows, along with those down the road from them at the Narrows, were not the only odd gatherings assembling that morning. At numerous other spots surrounding New York City, all of them sites containing specifically a staggeringly large object made chiefly of metal, similar small parties were forming.
At the massive Unisphere still standing in Flushing Meadow's Corona Park in Queens, left over from the city's last World's Fair held decades previous, twenty or so women were taking up positions around the stylized globe. Out of all the costumes the group possessed, they had decided that day to perform dressed as nuns, although considering the unusually high amount of piercings and tattoos one could spot despite their not especially revealing garb, one had to wonder why they bothered.
At the base of Manhattan's Chrysler Building, with its multistoried, breathtaking, art deco metal pinnacle, folks of all kinds, wearing no similar costumes, nor working to create any covering illusion, simply began to gather where they could. As the sky grew darker, the much predicted for that day blue of it slowly filling with an unexpected thick and ugly ebony, more of them emerged from the subways of nearby Grand Central Station, or disembarked from buses and taxis.
Finding their own spots against the building's Lexington Avenue wall, this or that position where they felt somewhat comfortable, the gathering mass all fell into a pattern of checking their timepieces and waiting.
And so it was around the city.
Everywhere there was a bridge of tremendous size, or a stadium more metal than concrete, small bands of people — none larger than forty-five nor smaller than fifteen — continued to congregate, waiting for "the moment." In the Brooklyn Navy Yard, with its massive cranes; at the not-so-well-known Army post in Staten Island where the military stored the veritable battalion of tanks, trucks and rocket launchers they felt they needed to protect the city; at the various subway system work hubs with their fields of metal train cars resting on their miles of support track — people gathered.
Watching the time.
As they did so, quite unexpectedly — as far as the rest of the great city was concerned that is — the sky the nation's various meteorologists had predicted in unprecedented unison would be "clear and sunny" continued to fall further into a starless darkness, a deep and shining black, unbroken in any manner.
This in itself was not so unusual.
What most were finding perplexing about the gathering inky void was that it had no explanation. It was, as far as modern science could determine, not a storm front in any conventional sense of the word. Also, it was not covering the entire hemisphere — nighttime gone wrong, so to speak. It was, instead, a focused singularity of some unexplainable kind or another, an ever-stretching shroud which allowed nothing to penetrate it.
It was also quite terrifying.
Although it had not stretched far beyond the skies of Brooklyn as of yet, still it was beginning to focus the attention of hundreds of thousands. Office buildings began to empty as people went to the roofs, or wandered into the streets, all of them staring upward. Schoolchildren simply walked out of their classrooms, both fascinated and disturbed, followed by their teachers. Traffic ground to a halt across the city. There were too many pedestrians standing in the middle of the street so as to be able to see the darkening sky.
Quickly curiosity began to erode, revealing an all-too-human fear of the unknown beneath. None witnessing the phenomenon had ever experienced a sky so black, so utterly devoid of light or life. It was a darkness thicker than that of the deepest pit, an ebony unimaginable, and the mere sight of its steady spread was driving rationality from those trapped beneath it.
"The altar's aimed at the bridge, honey."
"Then get everyone to the benches," Bob answered his wife. Consulting his watch once more, he shuddered to think of what might happen if things went wrong.
"Of course," his mind whispered, reminding him of all that was at stake, "think of what will happen if nothing is done at all." Then, with a shudder, he announced;
"We only have a couple of minutes, people, so let's get this right."
For those with the capability to measure such phenomenon, the still-widening blackness which had seemed to all concerned to have originated over the skies of Brooklyn had by that time grown extensively, stretching to cover all of New York City. As it continued to spiral outward, the darkening extended its all-consuming reach, crossing the length of New Jersey to the west to reach Pennsylvania, and the width of Connecticut to the east to begin flooding over Rhode Island. The unexplainable phenomenon had increased its dimensions equally to the north and south as well. Those throwing themselves into the study of it were shocked to learn that not only was it spreading, but it had begun doing so exponentially.
"Guys," said the leader of the quiet men, anticipating the storm to come, "I hope you have your parts memorized, because anyone relying on sheet music is, I do believe, going to be, as they say ..."
"Shit out of luck!"
Most of those gathered chuckled, despite the fact they were laughing at their own grim joke. Gallows humor it might have been, but somehow, actually seeing the building darkness which they all had been assured would arrive — despite the predictions of the experts — allowed many to actually find a type of inner comfort, a kind of what-do-you-know, we-were- right smugness.
Some of the quiet men gathered at the Parachute Ride were gamblers, the kinds of fellows who enjoyed throwing the dice against impossible odds. Others were there because they simply loved making music, enough so to play in the rain. Then there were those who were simply tired of feeling alone in the universe — who wanted to stand for something, even if it had to be something they could not mention to others, nor which they quite comprehended themselves.
And as the last minutes ticked down, every group stationed around the city began to put into play their particular puzzle piece. At the Chrysler Building, the assembled a cappella artists began clearing their throats, spraying them or taking lozenges against the weather to come. At the Hell's Gate Bridge in Queens, the Fortelli Family Jugglers unlimbered the last of their duck pins. In the Bronx, in a particularly exposed stand of abandoned sheet metal warehouses, the Bad Boys Bonk Band picked up their drumsticks, hammers and clubs, ready to add their own ringing notes to the coming defiance.
And as minutes reduced to mere seconds, tension of two kinds sprang up throughout the multistate area now graced by the ever-stretching shade. The first, of course, was the panic of the fearful, the dread running through the hearts of those millions staring up into the sky, not understanding what they were seeing but terrified nonetheless. The second, far smaller building tension was that generated by those who did have some idea of what was coming.
"Thirty seconds everybody ..."
Waiting in their small groups — stretching, tuning, flexing, running the scales, testing their ability to do a pirouette, making certain their gloves were tight, their spit valves clear, and so forth —
"Twenty-five be the countdown, you losers ..."
— their tension was not exactly born from their understanding, any kind of exact knowledge of that which was descending —
"T-Twenty, twenty s-seconds ..."
— rather, theirs was a tension created out of their understanding of their own limitations, out of their personal, mounting fear they might not actually possess the goods to deliver all that was necessary.
"Gentlemen, fifteen seconds. That's a 'one' and a 'five' for those of you who came over from Jersey ..."
After all, who were they to stand against an interdimensional fury? Merely people, after all. Nothing more than simple flesh and blood. What, the back of many of their minds asked in those final moments, did any of them have to offer in a battle against a destroyer of worlds?
"Get yo asses ready to drum, you muthas — it be ten seconds from curtain."
The man who had contacted all of the various groups had explained that the coming horror, the possible Armageddon planned by Destiny, would arrive that Thursday morning at 11:18, Eastern Standard Time. That was the moment the stars would align. That was the instant the doorway would be opened.
"Ten seconds — assume your positions, sisters!"
In that singular instance, they had been told, a crack would be formed in space and time, a rent that would allow a vast and terrible presence to filter through from a stark and sterile cosmos it had consumed and left barren long ago, into our own.
The fellow had explained that if this presence was not met head on, if nothing was done to stop it, then it would ooze on through to the first world in its path — theirs — devouring it in quick and massive bites. There would be no notice taken of any aspect of their planet. History, art, culture — none of it would mean anything to the horror lurking behind the darkness.
The billions of human lives contained on the Earth would be counted no higher or in any way more meaningful than those of anything else. Blue whales, sheep, honey bees, pigeons, mice, watermelons, crab grass, paramecium — and people — would all be considered as nothing more than mere fuel to that which was coming.
Professor Piers Knight, the person who had gathered the various groups preparing to perform in the face of the coming fury, was not what any would consider a mythic figure. He was no Beowulf, or Roland, not even a Theodore Roosevelt. He was simply one of the directors of the Brooklyn Museum, a man who came across a scroll in an old and forgotten jar and decided to translate it. What he discovered there did more than shake or discomfort him.
It left him shattered — terrified. It bespoke the end of all things. And, when cross- referenced with other sources, the idea of it became irrefutable. It was the missing key that explained those biblical passages concerned with the end of the world. It was the last fragment needed to allow a clear understanding of the prophecies of Nostradamus and a score of other ancient references all screaming the same, hideous message.
That it was coming.
And so, as Knight's studies and investigations accomplished nothing other than to further strengthen his initial theory, with but weeks to do something, the good professor finally threw himself into action. Although numerous ancient authorities were willing to point toward the coming disaster, none were much on offering any kind of actual alternative to simply waiting to be swallowed and digested.
The problem Knight incurred, however, was that there seemed no way to combat the ever-looming terror. Every reference pointing out the arrival of the coming shambler made extensive mention of its complete and utter invulnerability. There was no use in uniting the nuclear powers of the Earth, forging even a one-time alliance that would focus their destructive powers on the approaching nightmare, for no matter what they might throw against it, the ancients agreed, the destroyer would simply add the power of any attack upon itself to its own.
Excerpted from Central Park Knight by C. J. Henderson. Copyright © 2011 C. J. Henderson. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.