Claude Walker | Bicentennial-By-Buttons

Excerpt from The Eastland Water Spirits:

Alderman Shawn Petacque swung by his City Hall office to tackle some paperwork before his usual weekend firestorm schedule commenced. He strolled the venerated corridor of Chicago’s ornate City Hall and County Building, and stooped over the coldest water fountain in the building - located under the stone lion fountain from a bygone era - for his customary sip.

He saw the customary wad of chewing gum. Why was there always a wad of gum in this fountain every goddamn day, Shawn thought. I’ve been an Alderman for 16 years and can’t get a sip of this fine cold water without lookin’ at that goddamn wad of gum.

“Yo, Alderman Petakyoo! Ya feel the quake yesterday? I think I felt it. Always somethin’, eh?” Shawn turned to see that baby-faced City Council staffer who seemed to live in City Hall. Late nights, dawns, weekends, the back row of every committee hearing. Maybe it’s his gum?

“Yo, Butchie. Nah, I didn’t feel it. I heard it was right under the Loop, though.”

“Yessir, the epicenter was just a few blocks from here, that’s what they say. Whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on! Have good one, Alderman Petakyoo.”

Shawn returned the offered fist for a fist bump. Ignoring the ever-present wad of gum, the Alderman twisted the nozzle on the water fountain. But instead of the usual icy squirt, nothing came out. He stared at the gum.

Goddamn, Shawn thought, parched. He tried again and a whoosh of icy fog burst from the faucet, hitting him square in the face, engulfing him in purple mist. Shawn’s fingers were freezing up, gripping the water fountain nozzle despite trying to let go. His stare was fixed on the kid, Butchie, who seemed to have turned purple. Fog billowed through City Hall’s main floor, engulfing two cops, a janitor and other City Hall denizens. Everyone inhaled it, and felt a rapid, shocking drop in temperature. Shawn lost feeling in his legs. Paralyzed. Cold. Seeing things, hearing things. Echoes. Voices. Distinct images. Tinkling sounds of a piano. Jazz?

Few places in Chicago are as well-protected as this hallowed seat of government. City Hall cops were on-site in an instant, just as all 11 victims spewed neon violet-smelling puke. It glowed on the ancient marble floor, under the gilded chandeliers and mosaic ceiling. The cops figured it was a chemical attack and promptly reported it as such.

The victims regained consciousness at the same time and all felt oddly happy. Sad and happy at the same time. Butchie turned to Shawn. “Hey, Alderman. I think the water fountain’s busted.”

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