I wrote this short piece based on a dream I had early this morning. I hope you like it. I guess it’s kind of dystopian and post-apocalyptic. But it doesn’t have to be . . .
THE CITY OF NOWHERE
By Set Sytes
The city was black and burnt around me. There was a leathery smell, together with a not entirely unpleasant scent like factory grease. Hollowed out skulls of buildings grinned and gaped at me as I picked my way through. The crunch under my feet sounded like gravel or bones. The sky was wet. The air was white.
‘It’s just a town now,’ an old woman wrapped up in a big jacket said as I passed. She was talking to a hunched man who was all wrinkles; there wasn’t an inch of smoothness on him. ‘It’ll be a village soon,’ the woman said.
They were talking about my home.
Everything was black and dripping. I found a cluster of people in raincoats milling together, and I joined them. They stood around for a while, mumbling to each other but ignoring me. That was okay, I was ignoring them too. I could see I was the youngest by some measure. Eventually one of them opened a door in the only building that couldn’t be seen through, and one by one they entered and were swallowed up. I followed.
I looked about, suddenly confused and uncertain. It was a classroom. Clean floors and walls, shiny wood and windows with glass in them. A whiteboard, a half-patient teacher.
I followed the others on autopilot and sat down at a desk by the window. There were huge tomes on every one, and they were all titled ScanQuick Learning. I opened mine up and flicked through. Walls of text. It was dense gibberish, entirely meaningless to me.
I stood up and walked back to the door as the others settled in their seats.
I turned around. The teacher was looking at me and smiling. ‘Were you not wanting to have a walk around the town afterwards?’ The teacher pointed at a man sitting next to the seat I had taken. He had his hand up and facing me, and he was smiling broadly, like an old acquaintance reunited. ‘Mr Farsdale will walk with you,’ the teacher said. ‘He’ll be your partner.’
‘I’ve got the wrong place,’ I answered. ‘I thought this was a, uh, a train. But it doesn’t look like a train at all.’ I said it expecting laughter, but there only a few tired smiles.
‘It’s okay, ‘the teacher said. ‘Why don’t you have a sit back down? There’ll be a test in an hour.’
I saw out the window with surprise that there was a lot of motion, a noiseless blur. ‘Is this a classroom or a train?’ I asked.
‘It’s both,’ the teacher said. ‘Go on, sit down. You’ll be with us for a long while, and we’ve got a lot of ground to cover.’
‘Where is it going?’
‘Somewhere green. Sit down.’ The teacher was no longer smiling.
‘Green?’ I murmured, but I went back to my seat. Mr Farsdale grinned at me and nodded. I nodded back and looked out the window. For a second I thought I saw the green the teacher had spoken of. There were hills and valleys, trees and meadows. They were glowing like they would in a dream, and rushing past at a tremendous speed. Then I blinked and they were gone, and there was only black ruination.
‘Do you know where we’re going?’ I asked Mr Farsdale.
‘Of course,’ he said. ‘I think we all do. Maybe. I think maybe we all do. Don’t you?’
He looked quizzically at me. ‘I know you’re young, but I would’ve thought . . . still . . . surely you’ve been here before?’
‘I may have. I forget things. I have trouble remembering the past.’
Mr Farsdale nodded, understanding. ‘Of course, of course. I think most of us are like that.’
‘So where are we going?’
‘Back to where we got on, of course.’ He pointed out the window. ‘You can’t really tell, but the track’s at a curve. See, it’s a big, big circle.’
I stared at him. ‘But what’s the point in that?’
He sniffed and looked down at his ScanQuick. ‘It’s the journey, not the destination,’ he said.
‘Can I get off? There’s stops, right?’
‘No stops.’ He spread his arms around his huge book and hunched his shoulders, as though to block me out.
I put my face and hands to the window. The glass was so cold, colder than the air outside, colder than the wetness that dripped from everything. In here it was warm and dry. But the glass was still cold.
By the look of the blur of outside, we were approaching full speed, going faster and faster towards Nowhere.