With the last of my sanity, I must tell the story. I pray to whatever power that might be out there that there are survivors who might learn from the knowledge that is robbing me of my reason.
Some said that it was hate that started it, or some other basic human failing like greed, as though what happened to them and their city was karmic retribution. Others thought a little deeper and blamed economics. Still others whispered conspiracy theories to each other at parties or insinuating newspaper articles.
But no one living now can remember just how it started, but the citizens of N– were all in agreement that as much of the full history as could be collected be recorded and dispatched throughout the country in the hopes that other people might prove wiser or even, they dared not even say, that a cure could be found.
What was certain, however, was that day by day, year by year, N– became a worse place to live, to work, to play. Some strange gray material spread throughout the city like a noxious fungus growing in a corpse. Beautiful buildings home to movie theaters, department stores, apartments and factories disappeared into the material, leaving only bare patches to become overgrown with vegetarian.
When new buildings were built they were different: dark, forbidding and grandiloquent. They were surrounded by no-man’s lands and some were even built of the gray material. Meanwhile people got fatter and became isolated from one another. They spent vast stretches of time sitting in the streets, sometimes yelling at each other for no reason and became very territorial about particular stretches of street, sometimes even to the point of violence. To combat these issues they retreated even further into isolation and moved away from each other, with more no-man’s lands separating themselves from their “neighbors.” But the problems just got worse and new problems appeared.
At certain times of day, it was like people just disappeared. It was a bonanza for theives and other criminals, especially because many of the problems were causing young people to turn to drugs, but it was a very bad time for anyone else.
Then we noticed that stores and restaurants and even manufacturers that had existed for years had been vanishing, only to be replaced by dozens of copies of some new store with bland products. Some of us noticed that despite many perfectly good sites, the most copies frequently appeared along the streets people sat in the most.
In short, everything that made N– N– was vanishing at an alarming rate; everything that made life in N– worth living was going and it showed. All attempts to halt or reverse what was happening were to no avail and in fact they frequently made things worse.
Somehow N– was dead, yet continued to shuffle along and decay.
And so I was sent forth on my errand, away from this cyclopean nightmare. In a way, we were proud. We thought our city was somehow unique, even in our failure.
Passing through the rural townships and villages that dotted the countryside between N– and the next closest major city, the people were avoiding me. The few who did interact refused to say what they were afraid of.
Finally, in the distance I saw the towers of the city of X– outlined against the sky like the battlements of some ancient fortification. But as I drew closer a dark feeling crept into my heart and soon my worst fears were confirmed: the gray material was taking over in X–, too.
Everywhere I went I saw the same signs — the copycat shops, the grotesque buildings, the indications of violence and substance abuse. I do not know for how long I roamed that dismal place, seeking signs of life, any life, and not finding it. Then sat in the street, sobbing, and chanced upon the sight which has broken my mind.
In one shop window that was neither too damaged nor too dirty from neglect and so was still transparent, the light was caught in such a way that I saw my true self revealed: a car. I was a car. Cars had destroyed the cities. The living thing of the city had been overcome by the dead thing of the cars. I saw, too that the living planet was in danger of being overcome by the dead cars.
Happy Halloween! Beware the dead that rule the streets.