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Mystery Fiction

That's the thing about this city… although it looks and feels like any other city you might have visited—there are homes and shops and streets and parks—it's what isn’t there that makes it stand out.

There are no people.

Not a soul.

But—and this is a pretty big but—there are—how shall I put this?—traces of people. 

For example, there are cars parked everywhere, but each day some of them have moved, or there are different ones in different places. There are some streets marked with “No Parking This Side On Mondays,” and sure enough, on Mondays, there are no cars on that side of the street, but I never see anyone move them.

There are shops, in particular, a bakery I pass by every morning that has fresh baked bread and scones and muffins, a different assortment for each day of the week. But there is no one behind the counter or in the massive kitchen in the back. I help myself to a muffin each morning—I like the ones with berries in them—and no one is there to mind or complain that I don’t pay for it.

There is a house across from the park where I like to walk that has a magnificent flower garden that is well tended—weeded, pruned, and watered daily as far as I can tell—yet there is no gardener.

Occasionally I’ll come across a small pile of dog poop in the grass next to the sidewalk, but I’ve yet to hear the bark of a single dog. Similarly, a statue that stands in the middle of the park is daily painted with pigeon droppings, but never have I seen a bird either perched on the statue, pecking around on the ground, or flying through the air.

There is an old-fashioned newsstand across from the train station. I can’t remember the last time I held an actual newspaper in my hands or even flipped through a magazine, but evidently, someone in this city does. There is a fresh headline displayed in a stand visible to the passersby—if there were any—and each week or month, the various periodicals displayed in closely packed racks change. I stopped trying to read them, they don’t have any words in them, and no pictures of people—just things and places where people might be.

From time to time, I’ll walk inside of an office building. The doors are all unlocked, and I can wander through the maze of low-walled cubicles and see the various knick-knacks whoever works there has accumulated to make their space more personal. 

But there is no person there.

I’ve even entered some of the houses. It seems like there's someone living there, but I never encounter any residents. The refrigerators are freshly stocked, everything tidy, there is no accumulation of dust on anything (except some obvious bachelor pads) and all of the utilities work—water, electricity, gas. 

Another odd thing is that when I turn on the television, there are no people there as well. The news shows are just empty anchor desks, the soap operas alternating shots of vacant sets, as are the sitcoms and even movies—all of them completely silent as well. It’s as if someone has gone through it all and erased all people and animals.

I vaguely remember what it was like to see other people, interacting with them, going to work, hanging out in bars, nodding friendly hellos to people I passed in the park, but I don’t have any memory of this particular city.

Or even of who I am.

Looking in mirrors, I can see that I’m a middle-aged man, reasonably fit, but with one feature that makes what would normally have been an attractive male almost hideous.

There is a large portion of my skull missing, and in its place is a “patch.” It’s white and smooth, some sort of plastic as far as I can tell, and it is anchored to my skull with screws that sit recessed in its surface. If I knock on it, it makes a hollow sound, as if the space behind it was empty.

What happened to me?

I wondered if that was why I sometimes found myself falling to the ground for no apparent reason. One second I would be strolling across the street, and the next I’d be sprawled out on the sidewalk. 

Other times, I might be sitting in the kitchen of a house, for example, and pull a beer out of the fridge. I can remember feeling the cold can in my hand, flipping open the pop-top, and lifting it to my lips—but then it would disappear into thin air. Then I would go to grab another one from the fridge and the remaining six-pack that I could swear was on the shelf moments before would be gone.

It was as if the city didn’t want me to do certain things. That there was some sort of a force or entity that was keeping me away from different places or items like one would do when training a puppy.

It occurred to me that perhaps I had been abducted by aliens, and they had built this city for me. Why I was so special, I couldn’t guess.

My other theory was that I was a glitch in a simulation like in those Matrix movies (why could I remember that?) That all of this was just a virtual world built for humans being used as batteries for some dystopian machine-driven future, and for some reason, I couldn’t interact with the others. There was a bug in the software.

I end my day as I started it. 


I fall asleep in a bed in an apartment that I’ve come to think of as my own. I had tried sleeping elsewhere, somewhere nicer or bigger, but every morning I woke up here, so here is where I drift off till morning.

“Is he asleep?”

“Looks like it.”

“You were right, that is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. What did you call it?”

“Hyper-populagnosia. They say he’s the first documented case of it. It’s similar to a condition where people can’t recognize faces, prosopagnosia, but he blocks out the whole person. He can’t see or hear us or anything that we’re doing around him.”

“So that’s why we have to follow him around all the time?”

“Right, make sure he doesn’t step in front of a speeding car, or something like that.”

“Was he in some kind of accident?”

“He tried to commit suicide. Blew away half of his head with a gun, but somehow survived.”

“Don’t people freak out when he just walks in someplace and takes whatever he wants?”

“They’re used to it. He’s kind of a celebrity. They had a special on one of the local channels about him. You can find it on YouTube. And of course, he has his own hashtag. Some people like to make videos of some of the weirder stuff he does or try bizarre things to get his attention and post them online. It’s like those soldiers in front of Buckingham Palace. People like to test him, see if he really doesn’t see them.”

“We don’t stop them?”

“It’s not like they can offend him. And his family has money, if he does damage anyone’s property, or take something we can’t pay for, they take care of it. So, what do you think? Are you interested?”

“Sure, it’s not bad as jobs go. It’s not like I have to feed him or wipe his butt or anything.”

“Nope, just make sure he doesn’t hurt himself or anyone else. We’ll start you off on the evening shift. Not much happens then.”

“Do we watch him while he sleeps?”

“Every minute of every day. You have to be vigilant every moment. That’s why we prefer hiring ex-prison guards like yourself. I’ll be with you the first couple of weeks, but it can get lonely sometimes.”

“I don’t mind that.”


I don’t remember my dreams, or even if I have any. But sometimes I wake up thinking someone was talking about me. Another glitch in the simulation, I assume.

I shake it off and head off to see what’s new at the bakery today.

March 12, 2021 19:34

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1 comment

Cynthia Haltom
21:20 Mar 24, 2021

I like the concept of this story but the tenses were kinda hard to follow. Good job.


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