Ok, so we’re starting a new series!
I posted a short story a few months ago called New Town and I wanted to see where it was going.
If you don’t feel like following the link and rereading, here’s quick recap:
Doug is the first non-military person to enter New Town since the walls appeared three years before. No one knows where the walls came from or how they appeared instantaneously. There are four doors that allow access to New Town, each is guarded by the army, unauthorised personnel are forbidden entry. The rest of the world only know what the army willingly tell them. The people who were trapped in New Town have changed into something else, things that are no longer strictly human.
It took almost twenty minutes for Doug to stop shaking, in the meantime the secretary from downstairs had brought up some coffee and chocolate bars. Max had thrust one into Doug’s’ hand, commanding him to eat. When he had calmed down, Max smiled at him, “You’ll get used to Benny, he is a bit of a shock to the system, but he really is harmless. He doesn’t eat humans.”
Max turned on the television and handed Doug the remote, “here, put something on for a few minutes, I have to pop out. Don’t worry, you won’t be disturbed. I’ll be back before you know it.” Before Doug could reply Max slipped from the office and closed the door behind him.
Doug flicked around the TV, surprised that he was getting channels from the outside, he had expected there to be some kind of force field disrupting the signals, particularly as phones would not work from the outside to the inside or vice versa. He watched for a moment, but then his attention was caught by the Mac computer sitting on Max’s desk. He glanced at the door, then he stood and went to it. Doug sat down and wiggled the mouse, immediately the screen came to life, It didn’t request a password. He clicked on the internet browser and waited, the page was blank. He checked the Wi-Fi signal, but it seemed to be dead. He closed the browser again and decided to have a quick snoop while he was already here. He quickly scanned through document names, glancing at the door every so often, he didn’t hear anyone approaching, but then again he hadn’t heard Max walking away. One file caught his eye, it was a census. He opened it and checked to see if there was a printer in the office, there wasn’t. Damn. He scanned a few names. Beside the names it had dates which he didn’t understand the significance of, a current address and a final column, listing their status. He scanned through a few then quickly closed the program. Feeling unsteady he went back to the couch, there he half focused on the television while he tried to sort through what he had read. Beside each name there were a few words describing them, some had question marks, but most of them had been filled in. He tried not to shudder. He had spotted words like “Werewolf” “Ghoul” “Faerie” “Goblin.” Before entering New Town, Doug had been given a vague idea of what to expect. He had been told that the wall had changed the people inside, but then everyone knew that. He had been told that they had begun to manifest different abilities, that some were no longer strictly human. A lifetime of sci-fi and horror movies had led him to expect something similar to the zombie, shuffling, half dead creatures, pockets of humanity, mutated creatures that only vaguely resembled the people they once were. He had thought perhaps there was some form of telekinesis, those forms of mental control had been hinted at, without being outright stated. The truth was no one outside the military really knew what was happening in New Town. Max had been right, if the census was telling the truth, there was no way he’d be allowed write about that. He had a vague notion of fairytale creatures, but he knew most of them were supposed to be dangerous and he was unarmed. Sure, Max said that Benny was harmless but that could have been a lie. How did he really know for sure? He had nothing to protect himself, he had been warned that guns sometimes malfunctioned in New Town, that it was safer to go without. What if that was just a lie? What if the plan was to allow them to slaughter him, expose to the world how dangerous the place really was, hell the army guys could have easily been under some sort of mind manipulation. Doug took a sip of coffee, then a deep breath. As he put the coffee down he wondered if maybe it was drugged. Either way it was too late to do anything about it. He tried to slow his racing mind, it was pointless being worried. He had been warned that he could feel some paranoia and fear in the first few hours, that had to be what it was. He wasn’t in danger. They wouldn’t knowingly send him into danger, would they? He took another breath, everyone he had met so far had been nice enough. Though granted that was only really one person. Doug glanced at his watch, almost forty-five minutes had passed, why was Max taking so long?
The door slammed open, Doug managed to contain his shriek this time, Max stalked in, frowning. Feeling more nervous than before, Doug cleared his throat, “uhh, everything ok?”
“What?” Max’s features softened, “yeah, sorry. Just some pointless political bullshit. It’s nothing to worry about. Sorry I left you so long. I thought it would only take a few minutes but then I was blindsided. Idiots.”
“Well, uhh, if you want to talk about it?”
“Nah, not much point, it’s done now. Right. So the plan. I think we should go out, maybe not Rosie’s, but somewhere quieter. We only have a few days to get you around the place, no point in you hiding, right?”
“Great! I know just the place.”
Max brought him a short distance from the office building, the streets, though clean and seemingly well maintained, were empty of any one else. As they walked Doug wondered if perhaps Max had everyone clear out for his benefit, it wouldn’t do to pass out or have another shock, Doug thought it almost certainly wouldn’t endear him to the people of New Town. Max brought him to a small diner, the sign above the door proclaimed it was “Annie’s Place.” Max went in first and sat down at a booth. The walls were painted a bright white, the tables, also white, were rimmed with metal, the seats were bright, bright red. A counter snaked through the room, cutting across the kitchen, stools line the counter. In one corner a large jukebox played music happily. Max waved at a waitress as they entered, she was at their table almost as soon as they sat down, she passed two menus to them, then smiling, asked what drinks they’d like.
“Two cokes please.” She nodded once, then hurried to the kitchen.
“That’s Sarah. She’s a little shy.” Doug stared after her, her hair was bright, neon blue, her skin was pale, her make up light. She wore what he assumed was a uniform of a short red skirt and a tight white shirt. She came back a few seconds later with their drinks, placing them on the table, then retreating. Max took a sip of his drink and after a seconds hesitation, Doug did the same.
“So, what’s good here?”
“Anything really. The burgers are delicious.”
Doug looked over the menu, wondering where they were getting the supplies from, after all, as far as he knew, the army only brought in rations, at least that was what everyone said, and at that, only enough to feed the people inside, not enough for this kind of extravagance.
The waitress returned and took their order, when she smiled at Doug he noted her teeth looked particularly sharp and her gums were a deep blue-black. She shut her lipsticked mouth and, once their orders were taken she seemed to flee the table.
“She’s a little sensitive about the teeth. She doesn’t believe she has a pretty smile anymore.”
Doug had no comment, the only thing he noticed were her teeth and gums, the rest of the smile had been lost on him.
“She’s a nice girl, she really is. She didn’t take the change very well. We only found her a few months ago.”
“I though everyone was accounted for?”
“Not everyone. There’s plenty still missing. We’re still finding people now, three years later. It’s kinda sad. Some of them are happier left alone, others are terrified. They didn’t know what happened to them, they hid and just stayed there, afraid to let people see them like this.”
“I wouldn’t even know there was anything different about her until she smiled, her hair looks like it’s just been dyed or something.”
“That’s her natural colour now. She used to have black hair. She’s taller now too.”
Doug looked around the diner while they waited, it was empty apart from them and the waitress, he occasionally caught glimpses of someone in the back, at the grill, but he couldn’t quite see them. Outside the streets were still empty, it was a beautiful day outside and the lack of people started to creep Doug out. After all, there was potentially eight million in the city, where they hell had they all gone?
When Sarah delivered the food, Doug made sure to meet her eyes, smile and say thank you. Her eyes were a deep, ocean blue, the colour covering almost the entire eye, her pupils were shaped like a cats. She blushed, a faint blue again, and then fled the table once more. Max smiled across at Doug, “I think she might have a crush on you.”
Doug coughed awkwardly, then picked up his burger and took a bite. Max hadn’t lied, it was good. He chewed slowly, enjoying it. Everything just tasted so perfect, like the flavours had been enhanced on everything. He took another sip of his drink, then popped a fry into his mouth, it was perfectly crisp. He finished it, took another drink, then wiped his mouth with a napkin, feeling slightly nauseas.
“Are you finished? I thought you’d be hungrier.”
“Where’d the meat come from?”
“You heard me, where did the meat come from? The army didn’t give it to you and you couldn’t be raising cattle in here. What is it? Rats?….people?” He said the last word quietly, almost afraid of the answer, Max looked at him for a second, then started laughing hysterically. He dropped the fries he’d been holding and used his hands to clutch his stomach, he continued to laugh, occasionally choking out the words “Rats!” and “People he asks”. After a minute or so he calmed down and used a napkin to wipe the tears from his eyes. Sarah was looking at them with a faintly bemused smile.
He took a drink, then took a deep breath, “Oh man, I haven’t laughed like that in a while.”
Doug hadn’t touched his food, “you didn’t answer me though.”
“Come off it, we’re not cannibals, though I don’t know if that word would apply to some of us now, physiologically speaking. Look, we don’t use people, nor do we use rats. Though I don’t really see what would be wrong with eating a rat. They’re kinda similar to guinea pigs and they’re like natures hamburger.”
“So then where are you getting the meat?”
“Look, you were right, we’re not getting this kind of quality meat from the army, but we’re getting enough meat off them, even if it is the worst parts of the animals. We have a few people, they can change it. Make it better. It isn’t an illusion or anything, you’re really eating this food, take it to any lab for testing and they’ll tell you it’s nothing but pure beef with some seasoning thrown on top. We can’t make food from nothing, something has to be the base and that’s where the army comes in. This is the best beef you will ever eat. I guarantee it.”
Doug eyed the burger for a moment, then took another bite, chewing thoughtfully. It did taste like beef after all, and it wasn’t like he’d know what a rat tasted like.
“So, with this food thing, couldn’t you solve world hunger or something?”
“Not quite. It doesn’t last long. It needs to be cooked or prepared within a day or so, otherwise it goes off. Once its cooked the left over’s last a little longer, but not nearly as long as regular food. We’ve tried to send shipments of food out, but it doesn’t really work. Something happens to it when it passes through the door. I don’t know what, but it renders it useless for consumption. We’re farming some food, but we don’t have enough to be completely self sufficient. Not yet at least.”
When he finished eating, Doug wiped his mouth with the napkin, then leaned back into his seat, “that really was the best burger I’ve ever eaten. I don’t even care if it was rat.” Max snorted into his food. Once Max had finished Sarah came back to the table and cleared it away, she returned almost instantly, smiling happily at them, “any desserts?”
“I’m fine, thank you.”
“I’m good too.”
“Yeah, but can we have two cups to go?”
She nodded happily and went behind the counter.
“So where are we going to go next?”
“It depends on how you’re feeling, we can wander for a short while, see a few things, or I can bring you to a few places. I suggest we do the wander thing. It’s a little easier on the system. No offence, it was the same with the army dudes. Out in the open you’ve the option to run, so you don’t feel caged in or anything. Thank god their guns don’t always work, first few times here there were some close calls.”
Sarah appeared a second later with two cups of coffee, she placed them on the table, “Thanks a mill Sarah.” She beamed down at them, “I really hope you enjoy your time here. It’ll be a little strange at first, but once you get used to it, it’s really quite a nice place.” Her cheeks had the faint blue blush the entire time she spoke, then, eyes downcast, she threw a quick smile their way and almost ran into the kitchen. Max took out a wallet and put a few bills onto the table.
“You’re using money? I thought it was a barter system?”
“It was at first. When things settled down we started setting up a currency, we needed something that couldn’t be faked. The government outside were nice enough to help us there. We had a few meetings and they agreed to print money for us. I think they hoped it would help settle things down more, which it has in some ways.”
He picked up one of the bills and tilted it in the light, some parts of it glistened.
Max handed the note to Doug, “feel that coating on it? It protects most of us here, the shiny bits are tiny bits of iron. No one here can touch the stuff, so no one can fake it.”
“What about the steel and iron in buildings?”
“That stuff doesn’t affect us. It changed when the walls went up. I don’t really understand it, scientists have samples and are working on it on the outside. We can test the money if we’re suspicious, all the money is magnetic.” Max took the bill back and left it on the table.
“Any bills that are ripped or torn are taken out of circulation and we’re given fresh ones by the government. In some ways it is handy as we are able to pay the government for goods and services and they’re able to pay us.”
“What kind of services does the government buy?”
“I’m not sure if I’m allowed discuss that. I’ll have to run it by other council members. If it doesn’t go through in time, you can always ask on the outside.”
Doug made a note of it, not bothering to push Max. After all, Max was his guide, if anything went wrong, Max would be the one who knew what to do or where to go.