Jacob stood on the hill, looking down at the city. Did he dare enter? A faint breeze picked up, rustling the nearby trees. There was no other movement. He wasn’t the first to visit the city, though few returned. Those that did refused to talk about it. That more than anything interested Jacob. What could be so awful about such a place? Despite their silence, or perhaps because of it, those who returned seemed to become wealthy or exceedingly successful. He was surprised by how normal it looked, he had thought that perhaps there would be corpses outside the walls, piled at the bottom or perhaps they would be hung from them, a warning to those who might enter, but there was nothing. The large door in the centre of the wall was wide open. The city was officially empty and had been for at least fifty years, when everyone inside just disappeared. One day it was a thriving, happy city, the next it was empty. None of the people living there were ever seen again. Occasionally someone would claim to have been born there, or be a descendent, but they were always proved to be liars.
He moved closer to the city, expecting to feel some kind of unnatural dread or fear, but though he felt fear, it wasn’t overpowering, there was no urge to turn and flee. He stopped outside the gates, breathing slowly and steadily. Would it be worth it? Riches or success in exchange for a chance of him just disappearing. After all there was no evidence of death. There were no corpses outside and none on the road into the city, not as far as he could see anyway. What ever happened to those who lived in the city could be happening to those who enter. Unless something was attacking those who entered and hiding the bodies. He bent over and grabbed a small rock, then he threw it through the entrance. It bounced once, twice, then rolled before finally stopping. Nothing happened. Jacob took another breath, then stepped through the doorway. He released it slowly on the other side, waiting for something to happen, nothing did. He waited a moment, then he started to walk, looking all around himself.
The city seemed to be in good repair. There was no rubbish or leaves on the ground, the paths were in good condition, there were no broken windows or doors hanging open. As he walked he felt as though he was being watched, though he could see nothing. He came across a small shop with a display of food. It was a bakery. The door opened easily and a bell rung faintly as he stepped inside. The shop smelled of fresh baking. He studied the display of cakes for a moment before gently touching one. It was soft and faintly warm as though it had been only taken from the oven a short time before. He wiped his hand on his trousers and moved outside. His stomach was rumbling faintly, but he did not trust any of the food.
He stood outside, breathing the air. It smelt fresh, not stale as he expected. Dust hadn’t covered any of the surfaces inside the bakery, did that mean that there was someone still here, looking after things? He moved from the bakery and made his way deeper into the town.
Jacob was in the centre of a large square, beside a fountain that splashed and gurgled merrily. Coins at the bottom of the fountain glinted in the sunlight. Though tempted, he didn’t reach in for any. Feeling slightly disappointed, he turned and started to make his way back towards the entrance. Surely what ever happened to people should have happened by now. He could explore the city more, after if the bakery was anything to go by, there would be many valuables left lying around. Perhaps that was the difference? Those who tried to steal were punished and those who didn’t were rewarded. At the beginning he followed the path he had used while travelling through the city, but before long he found himself turned around. Roads curved back on themselves or had dead ends. He tried to follow sign posts, but they lead him in circles. As the sun was starting to set, he sat against a wall. He had been walking for hours now and he decided a little rest would do him some good. As he rested he ate and drank a little water.
Jacob realised that though the sun had set, he could still see. He looked around for a light source, but there appeared to be none, it was as though the walls and the ground were faintly glowing. After packing everything away, he stood and started walking again.
He didn’t know how long he had been walking through the streets of the city, his legs were beginning to ache and he was shivering with the cold. He stopped outside a house and tested the door, it was unlocked. Shivering, he went inside. The house was warm. He moved through it carefully, listening for the noise of another occupant, but the house was silent. He made his way to the bedroom and grabbed the blankets from the bed, then he made himself a bed on the floor and slept.
When he woke it was morning, his legs were stiff and sore. Outside he could hear the rumble of a cart going past. He got up slowly and stumbled to the window, outside people walked the streets, talking and laughing. He watched them for a few minutes, studying their movements. Everyone appeared normal. Outside he stood for a moment, just listening, surprised at how loud everything was after the quiet. One or two people frowned at him slightly as they passed, but for the most part he was ignored. He stopped one of them, a young woman, “what’s going on?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why is everyone here?”
“…because they live here?”
He grabbed her arm, “No, they don’t, no one does.”
“Get off me” she pulled her arm out of his grip, “another one of you eh?” She shook her head then started to walk away. “Wait!”
She didn’t look back. A few people had paused to look at the altercation, but now they moved off. Behind him someone started to laugh. An old man stumbled from between two of the houses, “You’re trapped here now lad. Won’t be able to get out. No one can. No point in telling that lot though. They can’t see it. Or wont. Been here for years, decades and I still haven’t gotten any of them to listen. Tell me, what year was it when you entered?”
Frowning, Jacob told him the year, the mans eyes widened, “What month?”
“it’s been three months? That’s all?”