That's the thing about this city. It might look innocent- well, maybe innocent isn’t the right word. What I meant to say was that it looks like a normal city, all lit up to hide the heavens, all car horns, and drunken shouts.
Sit down! If you flip that crate over, the rusty nails will be on the side, not on the top.
You see, the thing about this city is that we remember. We remember what it was like before, before the terrors, and before everyone forgot the stars.
I’m not making much sense? I don’t suppose I am. Here, have some coffee. We’re going to talk until the sun comes up, because only then can we sleep.
This city’s past haunts it like vengeful ghosts. Yes, that’s a good metaphor. I’m sure it’s been said before, but what can you do?
Oh, and it’s also haunted by the monsters. But I’ll get to that later.
Long ago, this city was a town. And before it was a town, it was a cluster of houses and some farmland. Like most cities once were, of course. Unless the town was called a village. Or unless it wasn’t in an English-speaking country. But I’m sure you know your history.
The cluster of houses and farmland was owned by the family Alesi. The cousins and grandparents and farmhands and wives and husbands all gathered together on that plot of land they owned to make a living. They sold corn, in case you were wondering. Are you still hung up on what I said about the monsters? I told you, I’d get to it later.
Well, great-great-great-great-great-great-great-whatever grandma Alesi owned the land, and it passed down to her daughter when she turned sixty. Instead of inheriting it when their parents died, the children got it when their parents turned sixty. Or sixty-two, in the case of one stubborn man.
They passed it down from generation to generation. Everyone worked on the farm, but the person who owned it got to make the decisions. Usually, if there were multiple contenders for the owner, the family put it to a vote. Who would run the farm best? The oldest child of a generation was often trained for the responsibility from a young age.
A hundred years ago, the houses grew into a town. The Alesi family were the most prominent, wealthy family in the town, and they owned most of the land. The current head of the family, the holder of all the property, was a young man named Arthur. Arthur Alesi had a problem; he gambled and drank. He only developed those unfortunate habits after gaining ownership, since he wouldn’t have been voted on to inherit the town otherwise. He drank himself to death one day, and his daughter was next in line to inherit what Arthur had mostly gambled away.
Oh, the noises? Listen closer to my story. After a while, they’ll fade away to the background.
The daughter was a teenager, but she was mature. The family agreed to let her be next in line, as long as they got veto power over her decisions.
And Robin Alesi took the helm.
She was fifteen, and she had a dog named Butter. She was light-eyed and dark-haired, and her left hand had a freckle on her middle finger. She had a diary, in which she wrote all of these things. It’s still in the town hall if you want to see it.
She was better than her father at managing the town, and the farmland. Although it was unusual for a mayor to be teenaged, the townspeople breathed a sigh of relief when she took over. Her dad was that bad.
Robin had a gift; she was a dreamer. Her night visions were vivid colors that instructed her and helped her and her town prosper. Of course, she chalked it up to her waking mind. Who would believe her? Who would think that it wasn’t insanity that guided her?
At first, her dreams helped improve the town- she dreamed of a large well behind the Merton’s house, and after some grumbling from her elders, the well was dug. It turned out that when a drought struck, that was the only source of water for miles since the other wells had all dried. Her town boomed.
She dreamed of a man with a knife striking in the night, and she and her uncles caught him before he killed Mrs. Colten and her family.
She dreamed of a child in a pond, flailing wildly, and they rescued young Bertram before he drowned.
But there came a time when her dreams no longer warned her of events, even one as large a fire that destroyed the majority of their crops for the year. They turned to dreams of long, tall buildings that towered over hard roads, a sky at night that was blue, not black, and littered with stars as it should have been. She saw the future, buzzing neon signs and glinting glass in parking lots.
And she hated it.
This obsession consumed her until it was all she thought about. Every time a new piece of technology or machinery was introduced to her small village, she banned it. She took them back to the old methods of farming and refused to progress. This, of course, made her townspeople angry, unsure of her abilities to lead them anymore, and they threatened to remove her from her position of leadership if she continued, a condition she agreed to when stepping up, to prevent another Arthur. She refused. She was nearly twenty now, she argued. All control her family had over her was void when she was an adult. They came to uneasy silence after weeks of arguing. Robin wasn’t allowed to refuse anything that might help them, but they wouldn’t topple her from her seat.
Robin dreamt of tall shadows, vaguely humanoid creatures that whispered in her ear. For the first time, she discovered the second part of her power- the ability to pull her dreams into reality. They stepped out of her mind and bowed before her, promising to do anything to prevent the chaotic future she had seen. They surrounded her town, blocking out the sun and moon and stars, creating a barrier between the people inside and those out, between the past and the future.
There was nothing the townspeople could do. Robin was fiercely protected by her dreams, and more were summoned every day. She was queen now, and everyone did what she wanted them to. This was the only way to protect them, she said. She cared for them, that was why she was doing this.
She didn’t realize she was hurting them. They lacked the medicine, the trade from other towns. They snuck in whatever they could, but they faced consequences from Robin’s dreams.
And Robin’s dreams interpreted her wishes differently.
Robin didn’t even notice that half her town was missing until she finally walked out of town hall, something she had been avoiding until things had calmed down. She saw dirty, malnourished, sick people scampering around in fear.
Before her eyes, only of the towering dreams plucked a boy from the ground and breathed into his terrified face. The child stiffened and then relaxed. A wail burst out of the mouth of his mother on the ground below, and the monster picked her up as he set the limp child down on the ground. The same thing happened to the woman. Once he brought her to the ground, she and her child slowly got to their feet.
Robin watched, paralyzed. What had she done? Were they okay?
The pair walked over to her and bowed at the waist. They assured her of their loyalty to her, their loyalty for her vision. She desperately tried to ask them what had happened, but they simply smiled and walked away. Half the people in the streets, she noticed, were dirty and covered with filth, but walking in the middle of the street and smiling. No fear for the monsters above them.
When Robin fell asleep that night, she demanded her dreams tell her what they were doing. They brought her to the boulevard of the future, the burning lights and burnt cigarettes that lined the gutters. They told her they were preventing this. They were going to keep the future from happening any way possible, even if it meant taking away the people’s wills.
She told them to stop, but they didn’t. She took away the barrier, allowing the future world to seep into hers. All that happened was this- this city. Can you see how the shadows move? Can you see how everyone is smiling? They are still here.
She- I messed up.
There’s nothing I can do to get rid of them. I tried for years. I tried to dream up immunity- I tried to dream up warriors to kill them. The only thing I managed to do was keep them contained to this city, and grant myself time to think up something to end this.
I’ve been in this city for over a hundred years, battling them.
That’s the thing about this city- it keeps you in it. You’re stuck here. You can’t leave.
The future lives in the past.
I’m sorry, again. Sorry for telling you that story.
You should’ve had the last hour of your conscious life to yourself.
You see, they can’t control me. But they’ve gotten everyone else in the city. They were bound to find you one time or another.
I just needed someone to talk to.
Someone to listen.
They’re about to be here- if you want to run, I’d do it now.
Hopefully, I see you again.
Hopefully, I save every one.
Hopefully, you can forgive me.