The giant tar ball had been growing steadily since it had pushed its way out of the sewer at eight o’clock that morning. It had pushed against the grating, lifting it up from the bottom; it was too thick to ooze through the slots. That was how it started, as a small mound of thick, heavy tar pushing its way out from the ground in the middle of the intersection. It didn’t stink, it didn’t make any gross noises. By twelve o’clock it had blocked the entire intersection, going from diverting traffic to the sidewalks, then to the lawns and plazas around nearby office buildings, finally stopping the traffic altogether. The police got involved, establishing detours for people to travel on to avoid the giant tar ball, and to keep back the crowds of onlookers and allow room for the firefighters who had been called to rescue some foolhardy folks who had (for some reason) tried driving through the ball and gotten hopelessly stuck not a tenth of the way through. A haz-mat team was called at one point to see what they could make of the tar ball. However there wasn’t anything toxic about it. It was just a very big, very sticky glob of a black, tar-like substance expanding slowly out over the intersection of Jefferson and Wade.
Naturally, this worried a large number of people who realized that if this continued the tar ball would engulf the city in a matter of days. Some chose to leave the city, packing up their cars or renting trailers or moving vans to carry the things they couldn’t do without. They went in all directions, an unofficial evacuation to wherever. More people stayed in their homes, barricading doors and windows and watching the thing expand on the news. Still more, however, decided to picket the Mayor’s office with signs hastily crafted from brooms and poster board, under the misguided assumption that the Good Mayor knew exactly how to stop it and was just choosing not to. By two o’clock there were over a thousand people outside the mayor’s office with signs that read “LESS BLOB, MORE JOBS” and “BAN THE BALL,” scrawled across them in sign marker. The police were called, though none came— they were too busy trying to control the even larger crowds gathered around the still-swelling tar ball. A local environmentalist group, firmly convinced that the pollution they’d been warning everybody about for the past ten years was finally manifesting itself (albeit in a very strange manner), and joined the crowd around the mayor’s office, introducing their own signs, which they had apparently been saving for a moment such as this. They brought with them megaphones and shouted slogans about protesting oil spills. Meanwhile, the mayor was sitting in his office, not knowing what to do besides trying to reassure everyone (via television and radio, because the people outside were certainly not going to listen) that everything was going to be alright. After all, the rest of the city was perfectly normal despite a slight increase in traffic. It was just the intersection of Jefferson and Wade that had been blocked by the giant tar ball. The picketing persisted.
At four o’clock, the tar ball stopped expanding. It had rolled slowly across the signs and sidewalks, the small trees and carefully manicured lawns until it had reached the walls of the buildings that lined the streets. At that point it stopped, and at 4:08 pm precisely it began to recede, and for the next four hours it slipped back into the sewer at twice the rate it had expanded. Back, over the lawns and walkways, pulling up the grass and dirt as it went, stripping leaves and branches off the small trees, uncovering flattened trash cans and street signs and the two or three unlucky vehicles that it had caught and stopped and rolled over. By 8:15 that evening, the tar had completely disappeared, leaving nothing but its wreckage and a ring of very confused onlookers in its wake.