A short story of the Gremlin Anthology
The surrounding street and buildings appeared quite literally the ghost town. The skies overhead were cast with gray, ready to pour. The stone paths were crumbling, laced with weeds and tiny trees already sprouting through its cracks. Steel structures stood bare in the sky, some rusting, all like skeletons of the town itself.
And the last time Luke Seiden and Abby Linne saw Ethaon Haldeir was just when they arrived in this worn-out city. Somehow or another, he’d gone and went on one of his wanderings without telling anyone he had been accompanying.
“I hate this,” groaned Luke Seiden as he stared upwards at the sky. “I want to go home.”
“And abandon Ethaon?” Abby grumbled. “This is a mission that the High Knights told us to figure out.”
“And in the process, we lost one of our companions,” Luke retorted. “Investigating the death of a city called Narr that happened sixty years ago sounds like a rubbish case. I mean, why don’t they have records of what happened in this city back sixty years? It’s not like all the people here disappeared in one day, right?”
“I think Ethaon will find his way back later,” said Abby cheerfully. “He probably got a headstart long before we did. We should go ahead, too.”
“Not in a ghostly city like this,” Luke groaned.
“Oh, beat it. You’re not afraid of ghosts, so let’s get to work. Investigating lost history sounds like an easy task, anyhow.” Abby tightened the grip on her rucksack. “If he doesn’t find us or we don’t run into him before evening, we’ll start searching for him.”
“-which is worse of a pain in the neck.” Luke sighed and cracked his fingers. “Well? Where do we start?”
“Why not the newspaper offices?” Abby suggested. “They might have some details about this place that we can check out. Since that’s what their job is supposed to be.”
“Oh, straight to the people who might have recorded all the most recent events of sixty years ago, eh?” Luke chuckled. “Why not? Also, where is it?”
A quick search around the city of an old map they picked up at a store took them to the where they wanted to go. Upon entering it, though, they felt a wash of hopelessness go over them; the first office they saw showed a room that had been cleared out of all papers and electronic devices. A search deeper into this building soon found a large corner that had been scorched black with untouched remnants of an old, now dusty fire that was intentionally made, but miraculously did not burn down the building. Why the fire was made in that corner instead of the empty fireplace, they couldn’t tell, but there were obvious scraps of paper left with ink writing on it.
It must have been hints of the event that someone didn’t want know, Luke guessed.
That proved correct because several other buildings that they both should have had at least even a file or two about the events that might have happened here were all marked with fireplaces that still had thick ash with a blanket of dust. Perhaps there were fires outdoors as well, but the ash from there had either been washed off by rain that might have passed by, or overgrown and long hidden by weeds and grass.
Just as fruitless as their efforts to find even an answer or at least the hope that someone might still be living in this ruined city was the fact that they still hadn’t found Ethaon since he disappeared.
It was dusk when they finally went through the city and also gave up on hoping to run into Ethaon somewhere there.
Dusk had arrived when they decided grew tired of running around the city. By now, they had come to a large street lined with many shops and boutiques. Compared to the rest of the ghostly city, this corner seemed safer for some reason. But chances that Ethaon would venture here was not that high; Ethaon preferred mischief and danger to safe-looking streets if he was in his best mood.
It divided the major city from the commoners’ homes.
“Think we should check this place?” Abby asked.
“Well, let’s just go look, and that’s for ‘just in case’,” Luke sighed, and they started on.
“Don’t go further!” shouted a voice, but the warning came too late, for suddenly, Abby yelled as she stepped down into a crack in the broken path, which shifted lower under her weight, as deep as if it was a lower step. The ground below Luke gave way below him and he almost disappeared through if Ethaon, who appeared out of nowhere with his trademark – a massive pocket watch that hung around his neck and swung wildly as he moved – didn’t catch his wrist.
Luke gripped hard onto Ethaon’s wrist in surprise and slowly looked down. Heights aren’t a problem, but he let out a sigh of relief when he saw what was below him. Had Ethaon not saved him in time, he could have landed into a hole of spears that most likely would have skewered him.
“Ethaon, don’t let go, don’t let go, don’t let go, or I swear I’ll haunt you if something happens to me!” Averting his eyes from the many skeletons and mummies that lay below him, Luke scrambled out of the hold with Ethaon’s help.
“I’m sorry! I’m really sorry!” Abby gasped, rushing over. With her face pale as she collapsed to her knees on the ground. “I’m so sorry! Are you okay?”
“As far as I know, I’m still fine,” grumbled Luke. “Speaking of which, why are you here? Where’ve you been?”
“Why are you guys here?” asked Ethaon, puzzled. “That’s what I should be asking.”
“Oh, don’t tell me, you forgot that we’re both here with you on a mission? Together!” Luke scoffed.
For a moment, Ethaon looked surprised. Then his face put on a look of recognition. “Oh. I forgot. I thought that I was investigating the city’s silence on my own. I just finished going through the commoners’ houses.”
Now it was Luke and Abby’s turn to stare at him in surprise.
“W-wait, you didn’t get lost?” asked Abby.
“No, I didn’t,” said Ethaon sheepishly. “I went around the town to take a look at the place here…but I – uh – I did forget that you guys were here, though…and then I found your bags and remembered…” He averted his glance as he trailed off.
“You didn’t get lost like we thought you did, but rather, you went about investigating stuff on your own? You moron!” Luke seized Ethaon’s shoulders and rattled him hard. “How dare you forget us! That feels insulting, even though I should already know that you’ve got problems with your short-term memory!” He wanted to say more but stopped when Abby started to laugh in amusement. He released Ethaon.
“Did you find anything?” Abby asked. “The city’s bare, it’s almost as if the people here didn’t want anyone to know what happened. They cleared off a lot of evidence, didn’t they?” She frowned at the hole. “What is that, anyway?”
“A trap to protect some graves,” said Ethaon grimly. “If we could go underground, we’d know, but I think it would be better that we don’t go there. “
“To be exact, mass graves.” Ethaon nodded back to the main street. “I’ve gotten the gist of the story. Let’s camp here. It’ll be a bit safer than sitting out in the open. This street’s laced with a lot of traps that if you’re sleepwalking, you could easily fall into one.”
“I’m not eager to hear that,” muttered Luke.
But they followed him through this new street, following his footsteps as they tread carefully. A short ten minutes later, they reached a plaza at the end where rotting leaves from overgrown trees that surrounded it collected in the corners of the stairs that led down into it. Perhaps had the plaza been well tended, it would have been prettier.
“Are you sure this place is safe?” asked Abby.
“We’ve passed that street, so yeah,” said Ethaon, dropping his pack onto a step on the short stairs. “That street, as well as a few others leading towards the main city of Narr, are apparently widely used as the fastest roads, so anyone on their way there would fall into them. Six decades ago, they were meant to be used as traps against anyone who might still be alive back then.”
“Mass graves, you said before,” Luke mumbled as they sat down. “Well? What happened in this story? Sounds like you figured it out way before we did.”
“It was a plague.”
“What?” Luke stopped laughing and stared at him in surprise. “You mean, fleas? Something like that eradicated an entire city? They should have had the cure at that time.”
“Back then, the cure wasn’t distributed without a price, so a lot couldn’t afford it,” said Ethaon with a chuckle. “Narr’s people called it a curse instead.” He pulled out a large, thick book from his pack and handed it to Abby. “It’s a really dark story, one that caused the city to confine itself and its people.”
The book’s pages were yellowed and brittle, with the only thing keeping it straight being the tough black cover. Abby reluctantly thumbed through the pages as Ethaon said, “That’s an account written by one of the commoners, a diary. Start from page twenty, which is when he starts to document the events; the earlier pages detail the start of his year.”
“Luke and I searched the newspaper company headquarters, but they apparently burned whatever they had about the event,” said Abby as she handed the book to Luke.
“I thought so, though,” chuckled Ethaon. “I always considered the majority’s view; they’re loose with their tongues. Upper-class people and journalists had to be prim and proper with their words, so I think it’s likely I won’t find enough of what the people in this city see.”
“This is too thick,” grumbled Luke, closing the diary. “You’ve already skimmed through this book, right? What’s a brief story of it, then?”
“Aren’t you just lazy to read?” Abby retorted.
Ethaon frowned and sat back against the steps, thoughtfully looking out at the city. Then he replied, “Six decades ago, when that plague – curse, then – broke out, a panic rose in the city where people argued with the city’s mayor to leave to protect themselves. The outside cities, though, refused to have them, and not to mention, their means of travel – airships, carriages, cars – went on shutdown. The people were angered by their treatment, especially of those who are still physically fine, and they started gatherings on plazas, like this place here.”
He pointed out to the center of the plaza, where a large fountain, with only puddles of water from some rain that might have passed recently inside. “A month into the event, a particular gathering found their way to the borders of their town to a road that would take them to another city. This group barely escaped until they were gunned down by Narr’s Enforcers. They tried to keep this a secret, but then it was accidentally exposed. The gatherings changed into riots.
“The riots sickened more people into the curse; where a sick man stands in a crowd, more people get sick, too. Apparently, there were plenty of people ill with the plague who joined the riots of their own accord. Narr’s enforcers were rounded up to gun the riots down as a warning to keep them away.
“Fast forward seven months into that, both plague and riot had killed more than half Narr’s population. By that time, the riots’ intent has changed: from protesting that they weren’t being treated fairly and that their sick families weren’t saved from the illness to pointing out those who are dying of starvation and how unfair the government was. The author of that diary states that people were turning to robbery, attacking civilians’ homes and running wild. The diary ends with the final riot being the largest and emptiest of all that’s happened.”
Luke and Abby stared at him, then Luke said, “What did you think, then, was its death blow? Was that final riot actually it’s end?”
Ethaon frowned at them. “You really want to know?”
“Why not? We’re here, after all,” grumbled Abby. “And, like you, we’re Gremlins. We’ve seen the worst of the world, too.”
“The mayor of this town came down with the plague’s sickness, too. The rioters took the chance to attack his house, stabbed him to death in his sleep, along with his wife and son-in-law. His daughter was the only one who survive, and made to take over his position as mayor. Her final orders were, ‘Kill all and anyone who is still alive in this city. Massacre and leave no traces of the plague behind.’
“Somewhere underground in this city, there is a mass grave. All major buildings like the banks and government offices that have underground basements are now mass graves, and that’s only if you can find the doors to them. I’ve found a few bones of children scattered in a cathedral somewhere in a neighborhood of houses.”
Another moment of silence.
“Well, the truth is even worse, and shouldn’t there be at least one person who would refuse to obey those orders?” asked Luke finally.
“Not when the soldiers have been under a lot of pressure that many have long lost hope of saving their families and themselves,” said Ethaon. He thumbed his Clock, sliding his finger over the rims. “I think that even the people have long forgotten what they wanted to fight for. The new mayor, the aforementioned lady, was the last to die after making sure her enforcers died, too. Revenge and a tragedy. I think that, in its last moments, there was only fear in Narr before its silence.”