I admit, I never really gave New Athens a second thought. I lived there. Sure I occasionally wondered why it was never mentioned on TV or the Internet, but I never looked into the reason why. There were a lot of cities in the world. Right? Not every one of them is New York.
And when you live somewhere your whole life, it becomes mundane. The way the buildings loomed, windows watching you like thousands of midnight owls. The statues of Greek deities everywhere. The way every cab driver is always a woman named Karen. Silly things. Quirks of a home city. So why did I feel like I was living in a storybook?
When I saw the way buildings on one side of the city would replace demolished buildings on the other side, I knew there was something wrong. I caught a cab back to my apartment, but I felt like the buildings knew I knew what they were doing. Even though I didn’t. But they watched me, from their roots to their tops, little square fireflies all around me.
The cabbie’s name was Karen, by the way. I almost asked her if she’d seen me before, or if she knew any other cabbies named Karen. I kept quiet, though. She was part of it–she and the Karens of the city. Part of the urban legend that was New Athens.
I got her to drop me off a couple blocks from my place. For some reason I didn’t want her to know where I lived. I had to walk through the foreclosed neighborhood next to mine. Somehow it felt more alive, despite being devoid of people. The street lamps like will o’ the wisps, leading back into the heart of the city, burnt out on the path to my apartment. I had to venture into darkness to get home. I managed not to stray from the path.
I made it. The buildings of New Athens might have had minds of their own, but my apartment was the devil I knew. I rushed to my door, locked it behind me. Then I closed the blinds and put on a Stones record.
Why did I feel such hatred from this city? I tried to save it. I was a firefighter. Then I thought, maybe it didn’t want to be saved. Maybe it wanted to groom itself. Clip its fingernails, trim its hedges. And I was getting in the way of that.
Problem was, there were people here. Good people. Why did it feel like they were morsels for an ever-hungry city?
Today’s three prompt categories were, “A record player,” “The Odd City,” and, “The city as a dark forest.”
To think that your own city would be against you is an unnerving thought. It’s a dark and scary place, vast and empty. Always reaching, growing. Leviathans, all.