Finishing the chapter they marked their progress with a bus ticket and closed the book over. They looked up at the sunlit square to see an old man feeding breadcrumbs to the pigeons, several office workers hurriedly eating sandwiches on an all too brief lunch break and a young couple cuddling up on a bench, oblivious to all around them.
It was pleasant, to be in this place and feel the sun on your back, to witness all these everyday human activities, to feel a part of the world but not be compelled to interact with it, to be present but not involved.
They opened the book again and turned the page to the next chapter, just as a cloud passed over the sun and cast a shade over the square. A sudden gust of wind picked up, compelling them to hold the pages of their book down and spots of rain started to fall from the previously cloudless sky.
Closing the book, they raised their eyes to see the old man already waiting to cross the road, the young couple swiftly following, pulling their light jackets over the heads to shelter from the increasingly heavy rain. However, the square felt busier and they realised that a crowd had been disgorged from the nearby train station. With the good feeling of the quiet sunlit square ruined, they stood up and started to walk in the direction of home. There was a distant rumble that sounded like thunder as the glowering sky seemed to thicken.
The crowd grew denser as they walked, with the majority going in the opposite direction, mostly composed of football fans chanting and being boisterous, with some last minute shoppers embedded in the throng. The atmosphere wasn’t nice as the fans weren’t in the best mood and everyone else was anxious to get to where they were going. It got to the point that it became difficult to make any forward progress and they began to get buffeted and knocked as the crowd pressed forward.
A sudden current of panic seemed to shiver through the crowd and they took a shoulder to the chest as they heard a cry in the direction they were heading. Some in the crowd were starting to run now and they saw an elderly woman knocked to the floor and nobody stopped to pick her up. They turned to help the old woman but was nearly taken off their feet by another blow from an onrushing body.
As they set themselves, they looked over the heads of the crowd to see a vision of horror. A wall of slate grey-green water, flecked with white was rushing down the street, between the tall city centre buildings with darker shapes moving within the approaching wall. Those shapes were cars, people who had been swept up by the all-consuming wave.
Another blow to the shoulder broke the moment of shock and they turned and ran with the crowd, fleeing the onrushing wave, now a part of the panicked stampede rather than struggling against it. Almost carried back to the square, they saw that people were rushing in from the other sides as well, as if the wave was approaching from all directions, and a crush was forming in the middle.
They could hear the screams of people ahead, trapped in the growing press of panicked humanity, but also from behind as the wave swept inexorably closer.
The press of bodies pushed them into one of the benches in the square, trapping their leg and slowly the crush started to pull them down as people tried to push past. They tried frantically to free their leg as they felt the crowd slowly crush the air from their lungs and blot out the muted light from the still darkening sky.
Just as they started to see spots before their eyes and feel the blackness of unconsciousness drawing in, the crowd lurched to one side and suddenly their leg was free and they found footing on the bench that had so nearly killed them. Rising up through the press, they reached upwards and found the ledge of the statue behind the bench and pulled themselves up.
Dragging themselves up onto the plinth and holding onto the statue, they looked around to see a scene of chaos as hundreds of people struggled against each other and the water now washing around the square at knee height.
Looking up, they saw the wave approaching, an incredible wall of water which seemed to rear higher and move more slowly than seemed possible. A roar from the other direction made them turn and see that the wave was coming from all directions, rearing higher than the office blocks and merging together to surround the square like the walls of a castle, slowly collapsing inwards.
Fighting against the pull of desperate hands and the rising water at their feet, they looked at the patch of sky above which was gradually being constricted by the advancing waves, becoming more like a deep well with walls made of water. For a second it seemed like the waves paused, surrounding them not an arms length on either side, a narrow tunnel towards the sky that had seemed darkened before but was now all the light in the world.
Then the waves merged, all light was taken away and the vast weight of icy water crashed down upon and darkness took them.