Playing Dead

The ground was shaking, and Jane didn’t quite have any clue as to what she should be doing. Drills of hiding under classroom desks didn’t cover what to do when one was sunbathing in the park. She sat up, furrowing her brow. From the wide-eyed looks on the faces of the other people in the park, Jane wasn’t the only one struggling to break from her surprise.

Then it stopped.  Jane gave a weak smile to a cute jogger who she had happened to make eye contact with.  The jogger smiled back, and raised her eyebrows in a ‘whew-scared-me-for-a-second” look and then was off.  Jane watched as the jogger’s pink cross trainers padded away.  She wondered what type, if any, of underwear the jogger was wearing.

Jane lay back down on her beach blanket, and took the white tank top she had worn to the park and draped it careless over her face.  She could smell suntan lotion and sweat.  She adjusted her new teal bikini top (Amy had said it brought out her eyes) and imagined she was being swallowed by a cloud.

Having the tank top over her face helped.  She didn’t feel feel comfortable being nearly naked in the park, but covering her face made her anonymous.  She wasn’t Plain Jane, as all the kids used to call her in high school, but just another woman sunbathing on a Saturday afternoon.  She wasn’t that young girl who always wore oversized sweatshirts with her school’s stupid crocodile mascot on it, but a grown woman who just wanted to get a decent tan before her vacation to Hawaii, where she knew her friends would force her into a bikini on a daily basis.  

It was then the earth under her feet erupted. As Jane fell ass-first into a giant pile of earth, she saw it.  A writhing mass of black tar, its tendril-like arms writhing around, grabbing people and trees and picnic baskets and dogs all at the same time, and pulling them into its goopy, shapeless body.

Jane figured she should run, but she could only watch on as that nightmarish oil-thing poured itself out of the ground and seemed to swallow everything whole.  She was so close to it, she could hear bones snapping from inside its amorphous mass, and as she lay there frozen, she wondered why it hadn’t picked her up yet.  

Maybe I can just play dead, Jane thought to herself, and let her body go limp.  It was obvious that the people running away weren’t doing much to stop the monster from eating them, so she might as well try something else. Jane focused on the breathing techniques she learned in yoga, and tried to make herself as quiet as possible.  She doubted the monster could hear her breathing over the screams of its victims, and the bone crunching was getting pretty loud too, but as the screams began to fade, she began to worry.  The monster seemed to moving away, seeming oblivious to Jane’s presence, but most of the other people in the park had already been eaten, and the way the monster seemed to pulse and shift made it difficult to determine which direction it was going.

Jane decided to hold her breath. She inhaled slowly, filling up her lungs. Time crept by, and the monster thrashed around.

A memory of when Jane was little came slithering back.  She remember she had to play dead before. That time, she had held her breath for as long as her little lungs could.  Little Jane swallowed hard, trying to fight against the burning in her throat and chest as her body pleaded with her for more air.  When she awoke, her head hurt and the smell of dust and mold crept into her nostrils.  She didn’t dare move, and she realized the bed she was under was still creaking.  As she looked up at the bedsprings moving up and down, she noticed the whimpering, and wished to herself that the bed would collapse and crush her to death.

Adult Jane could feel that same burning in her lungs as her body began to consume the oxygen in her lungs.  She had read somewhere that to hold your breath for a long time, you also had to stay really still so your muscles wouldn’t eat up all the oxygen as quickly.  She fought the urge to breath, and she closed her eyes. She could feel her pulse throughout her body, and she wondered if she would pass out again.  

Jane wondered if the crunching noises were getting fainter because the creature was moving away from her, or if maybe it had just finished eating all of its prey and would be looking for more food. Maybe it was full? Jane slowly half-opened one eye, and it seemed like the creature was slithering away.  She couldn’t be sure with all the tentacles flailing about and the slime shifting around like black taffy folding over itself again and again, but she figured she might be able to breathe again.

So Jane took a very quiet, careful breath.  Then another. Sirens began to wail in the distance.  Jane opened both eyes now, and saw the creature, now closer to the edge of the park than to her, rip off the roof of a car and grab the couple hiding inside.  It quick stuck the two people into its body and then moved on.  

Jane closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and continued to play dead.