Living Locks

The city was trimming itself. It was the only explanation I could come up with. It had grown too wild, too fat. It had to burn away the excess. It wasn’t just biting its fingernails, it was trimming the hedges. Whole buildings, one by one, burning to the ground, only to be replaced by buildings from elsewhere in the city.

I quit my job. I couldn’t trust the other guys anymore–especially the chief. I cared too much. I tried too hard. “Just let it burn,” they kept saying. “Don’t get yourself killed. It can be rebuilt. We’ll just control its spread.”

But why? Not all of them were lost causes. We could have saved them, minimized the damage. It was like they enjoyed watching the smoke and flame. And when I pointed out that buildings were sprouting up in their place mere days after demolition, they chalked it up to efficient carpenters. As though any human team could put up a building that fast. And even if they could, these buildings weren’t new. They were lived-in, familiar. Transplants. They just burrowed under the earth and reappeared in place of the new patches of land.

I didn’t understand it, but it seems like every couple weeks our city map changes. Online, by print. They still say “New Athens 2016,” the designs are the same, but the maps are different. I have a series of them on my coffee table to prove it.

And I would prove it. The city was tightening, closing us in. It was hard enough to leave the islands before, but with a city that can change itself…

I had to show people. Make them pay attention. Look at the patterns, the maps. The people had to know. The people had to–

A slamming sound came from my window. I looked out–saw nothing. No one standing below on the street in front of my apartment. I saw a cab drive by, and I wondered if the driver’s name was Karen. All the taxi drivers’ names were Karen in New Athens. Another oddity. I wondered if…

My window. It was closed. Except I had it open, didn’t I? It was too warm inside, so I opened it… The wind must have…

I pushed my hand against the window to slide it open again. It didn’t budge. The lock was unlatched. I tried again. It gave a little, but only a little…

Then the lock latched itself.

Startled, I stepped back. How could…? Cautiously, I reached forward, flicking at the latch. It remained fixed. I tugged. Still fixed.

A clicking noise from behind. I turned to see the bolt on my front door turned to lock. Then, eerily, the chain latch that dangled from the door lifted up like a snake and tucked itself into the sliding lock, scraping against the metal.

The city. It knew.




Day 226’s three random writing prompt categories were, “The occult,” “Bitten fingernails,” and, “A living city.”

Another continuation of The Odd City. Having a whole city against you would be pretty unfortunate, if you ask me.

– H.

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