At the Edge of a Riot by David Rawding

The three guys in front of me descend steps four at a time their hands hovering over the railing. At the bottom of each set, they swing their bodies like pendulums and start down the next flight. I trail behind, giving each stair a taste of my rubber soul. I hear the metal door at the bottom crash open. The sounds from outside fill the concrete walls of the stairwell. Men and women chanting amid screams that contain a mix of pain and bliss.

By the time I reach the door and push it open, my friends have blended into a rolling mass of motley colored tee-shirts, blue jeans, and sneakers. The mob of people push down the street, heavy and unstoppable as a tank’s tread. I hold the door open and scan the crowd. Faces of classmates and neighbors appear at once, but when I blink they’re absorbed back into the mob. The protesters all share the same frown. Their hands are balled into fists. Together their voices mix as one magnified sound; booming thunder.

But thunder never shows up alone. Down the street, lightning strikes in the form of flash bang and tear gas grenades. The men and women standing their ground in front of the advancing mob wear dark blue uniforms, reflective vests, polished helmets and boots. Sunlight deflects from their shields and their motorcycles. These heavily armed police aren’t frowning, their expressions are flat, deadpan stares attached to thick bodies.

At first, the mob only throws words, but as they approach the white gas plumes a rock from the center of the crowd sails over the open space and hits a police car window. The glass cracks into a spider web. The mob cheers. Hundreds of voices whirl into a frenzy and soon more rocks, shoes, and bottles strike police shields and vehicles in a steady hail. More tear gas and flash bangs rattle the street and explode. The mob slows, but their onslaught continues.

“The cavalry is coming!” a man wails.

“Riot police” (image via Flickr user Achifaifa)

I watch as a line of men on horseback push through trees and flank the mob. The wide bodies of horses plow into the edge of the crowd. The “clop, clop, clop” sound of horseshoes on the street mixes with furious yelling and broken screams. The mob falls back, and the police motorcycles advance steadily down the street. The crowd is now backtracking, some of the people are sprinting away. Where two roads intersect, the mob slows and tries to regroup, but are chased off by the steady “clop, clop, clop,” and roaring sounds of motorcycle exhaust pipes. The police wedge themselves into what’s left, splitting the mob down two different streets.

I shake my head, take one last look at the now vacant street, turn around, and walk back up the stairs.

David Rawding has a BA in English from The University of New Hampshire and an MFA in Fiction from Southern New Hampshire University where he teaches English as an adjunct professor. David’s Children’s Book, Lucas the Traveling Crab won the New Hampshire Literary Awards’ Reader’s Choice Award for Children’s Literature. David’s short fiction has been published in Barnstorm Literary Journal, The Write Room Literary Magazine, Steel Toe Review, Extract(s) Daily Dose of Lit, Black Lantern Publishing Magazine, and Forty Ounce Bachelors. In addition to being a professor, David works as a fly-fishing guide in Alaska. Visit David at www.davidrawding.com.