Ghost City

Ordos

It was the first time I felt I could relax, even for a moment.  I knew that it couldn’t last.  After the three-hour hike down the alien streets where the grass was beginning to push through the cracks, I was back at the building.  The silence permeated every cell of my being but I knew I couldn’t turn the music on.  The fact that I had turned the multi-module in my arm off was the only thing probably keeping me out of harms way.  Still it would have been great to listen to something.  The only solace I had as I came up the leaf strewn parking lot was the sound of birds.  Those crows that always gathered like a gang of spies that had never given up.

The door was left open, which I kind of expected, but at least it wasn’t smashed down in the final riots before we were all shipped east to the fence-line.  It was a little silly being here.  It was hardly like I could take the elevator up, let alone go in, throw my keys down and grab a beer from the fridge.  It would be probably white walls.  Nothing but white walls and dust stains from the scraping of the furniture.

I began my ascent up the stairwell, shafts of light coming in the windows, their frames high above where anyone could reach them.  The walls looked grimier and more battered that I remember.  Minette and I lived on the 5th floor which was I was sort of half thankful for at the moment.  I wasn’t in bad shape but I definitely began to feel it by the third.  I sat on the fading carpet and looked out the window across from the black-railed stairwell.  The orange yolk of the sun was broken by shafts of cloud, the afternoon sky a slight cedar that we always called the Curtain.  The Curtain never lifted where I had spent the last fifteen years since we were gathered.  Out here the effect of the great processors seemed slightly thinned, like when you add more water to a teabag.

I was also looking for movement in the city.  The skyline was grey and quiet like you would expect, but more unkept, with bramble and grasses turning everything into a strange sort of greenhouse solarium with the orange white roof above.  There was so many of us back in the camp that I suspected it would take some time before anyone noticed I was not around, but then all it would take was one idiot to say “Hey, where’s Yun?” and then the reports of a lost worker would set out the whole barrage of Shepherds into their roles as the people’s trackers.  I knew just how invisible I wasn’t, with how my heat register made it’s imprints on everything around me, sticking me out in Westwood like a beacon.  I almost considered staying exactly where I was.  Partly due to the fact that what I was after would have already have been stripped from the room to crush any thoughts of doing exactly this and partially because I didn’t even want to see our home like this.  It was one way to sleep in section twelve.  I mean, I had free Wifix at call and I was really careful about my credit points but that was just the crap they wanted us to see.  If I wasn’t reading what few pdfs were still out of their reach I would think back to when we had our last job, our last day of work, our last meal.  I can even remember my last employer on his knees crying, with his sister Satiyo beside him rubbing his shoulders and cooing to him like a child.  He wasn’t the nicest guy on the planet back then but of the four bosses I had, he was the last and to his credit he had tried to build the company from the ground up.  Now he was just a balding man in a dirty white shirt on the floor, his shoulders shaking with his hand to his face.  I remember I didn’t know what to say.  I just sort of stood there.

Back on my feet I continued up to fifth.

The inside of the room could have been anywhere, in any room all up the coast.  It was better than most I had passed in the halls.  No one had attempted to squat in it before the gatherings.  The walls were still mostly white.  Minette smoked back then, which was the only illegal thing either of us ever did, but we were excruciatingly careful about it.  A friend at the university had given us some Linethen, that blueish grey composite that cleans the air of cigarette smoke almost instantly.  We kept in buried behind the back of the fridge and even now I could see the trails up the wall, fanning out like so many spiders.

Then I heard it, noise from far away like the mewing of a small cat. 

Scrambling onto the counter-top next to the gaping hole where our old stove had been, I opened the cupboard.  The sound outside grew just slightly.  They knew where I was, and they knew that I knew.  I looked for the slight edge upside down in the cupboard, my eyes squinting as bits of old wood unsettled all over my hands and face.  With the other hand I began to punch the top of the stained cupboard wood. 

The sound grew louder, coming from the living room.  In the giant square empty room, the windows remained open with just one frayed curtain remaining, it’s flag swaying just slightly in the wind.  Across the way was the other block of flats, patio rails like bleached bones.

I punched harder and the sound grew.  Finally, the roof of the cupboard cracked and dust and particles spewed out, causing me to look away again.  In the living-room the curtain began to flap more in earnest.  They were very near.  I found what I came for and stashed it into the pocket in my leg where a hole turned the rest of the pants into an accidental deep pocket.  I dropped from the counter just as the sound of the chopper blades became obvious.  The rag by the window flapped violently as the giant glass globe of the Shephard’s vehicle rose with the blades roaring invisibly above their heads.  I walked towards them, looking straight at them in their black silk uniforms and red helmets.  What was there to say or do at the time?  I simply waited with my arms out so they wouldn’t strip the flesh from my bones.

There was noise behind me which I expected.  My leg was kicked out and I fell into darkness.

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