by m. james moore

  "What good is a super hero without anyone to save?" he thought. He wasn't exactly a super hero, but he did have reign for a very large city on a major continent, completely bent to his power. He wasn't the mayor, he wasn't an oppressive counsel member, he wasn't the pope. In fact, he was the only one in the entire city.

  A vast forest of concrete all to himself. Yes, he was alone--or so he thought. He didn't know how, he just knew. It was creepy at first, but now it doesn't seem so bad. He'd actually secretly daydreamed being a super hero for some time, particularly at the office, but he could never decide on what the best power would be for him. Not that most super heroes got to choose--most became super heroes BEACUSE of some weird power. Perhaps it was his sheer desire to escape that landed him in his predicament then. Perhaps God was toying with him. Perhaps this was his own personal 21st Century Eden, he thought.

  He had, really, all he needed to survive. Food supplies everywhere, running water, shelter, and closets of clothes. But at first it was really creepy, especially for a pint-sized fellow like him. You don't see too many people of his stature around in the business world, and one rather stout person of the same height greeted him in his office that morning. She must have been new or something, because he didn't recognize her, but she knew his name. She greeted him and gave him a postcard, that had a beach photo on the front, and on the written side, was some sort of slogan, saying "Choose Waikiki." The little lady had disappeared, and he thought nothing much of it and stuck it in his briefcase, as it was time to go home.

  He was coming down the elevator, but when the doors opened at the bottom, the usual hustle and bustle was nowhere to be seen. He thought perhaps he'd left later than he thought and everyone'd already gone home--especially since he was alone on the ride down the elevator, which, after a Friday workday in a tall bank building in a huge downtown gauntlet of giant concrete warriors, was a miracle in itself.

  What was even more odd was that there was no traffic, either. Not one vehicle, not even parked. He immediately guessed that his super power was either the ability to stop time or immunity to whatever to whatever took away all of the people. He decided against the time theory, since cars would be still in the street, and people would be in mid-stride. Yet, it was so intensely quite--and frankly a bit unnerving.

  So, he stood there about 15 minutes waiting for perhaps some cab to roll around the corner as usual, but nothing. Not even pigeons. He kept a small pocketwatch in his briefcase, so he opened the case up. The click-click echoed more than he'd liked it to, but there was nothing inside it. Not even papers he could have sworn he'd just put in there not 25 minutes ago.

  It was still fairly light out, almost as if it were just the afternoon, and at a comfortable temperature, so he decided to stroll to his high-rise apartment, which really wasn't that far away. Along the whole way there, he marveled at the landscape of the once bustling metropolis, now as silent as a frozen pond. Still no cars, no people never looking up at you as you pass, no tenants yelling at their landlords, no squad cars twirling their lights.

  Before he got home, he stopped at a nearby parking garage. Not a single car in sight. Had he missed some mass evacuation? That certainly would have taken a bit longer than his elevator ride down a 40-story bank. He saw a TV on inside the key-holding booth, and turned it on when he entered the unlocked door thereof. Static. Flipped channels, static. At least the power was still on. Of course it was, the traffic lights were still turning red to green in their predetermined sequences, now directing only wind, which didn't mind signals anyway. He went home.

  The front door of the apartment was unlocked, which was highly unusual, but by now not much else could surprise him, so he thought. He walked up the creaky stairs, put the key up in the apartment doorknob, but instead of going in the hole, the key simply pushed the door open. Shrugging, he pulled off his tie and wondered if the cute chick next door's door was open, too. It was, but his Eve wasn't there. He took a seat in one of her fluffy chairs, almost too tall for his short body and began flipping channels on her TV. He thought he saw something, but it went to static right away and going back didn't do anything. He went back to his place, changed into some jeans and a "I [heart] NT" T-shirt, strapped on his belt, and went downstairs to hunt some grub.

  The Pasta Shop across the street was vacant, like everything else, so he went inside and made himself some noodles. They weren’t too shabby for his first try, and they did the job.

  Now he needed to explore, and the office building across the street looked just fine. On his way over, using the crosswalks out of habit, he noticed the sky hadn't changed any, as if the earth had just stopped moving. Like everything else but him.

  The office building lobby, like any other, looked just like he'd guessed it would, minus the people. Waiting area with magazines, teller windows and customer service assistance desks, all way too tall for him to look over--he guessed an insurance office. He sat down at someone's desk--Franklin Mortimer, the name plate said-- and flipped on the computer. He opened drawers, looked through files, ate the candy on the desk, and dilly-dallied on the computer. He did notice a postcard in the middle drawer, though, strikingly similar to the one the lady had given him earlier. After thinking about it, he went to pull it out of the desk again, but when he opened the drawer, it was gone. Nowhere.

  He was getting rather bored with this, so he went back across the street and back home to his second floor apartment and went to bed, because he was starting to feel a bit droopy. So ended day one.

  He woke up with a startle the next day, so he thought, from the sound of a door slamming. He wasn't sure if he'd dreamt it or was just really hoping to hear something, but he DID remember dreaming of running really fast, carry about ten too many boxes, and suddenly tripping on something, causing him to wake up so suddenly. He wasn't really sure he'd heard a door slam at all. What we was also sure about that the silence in the room -- and everywhere -- was just too odd. The fact that there were no people or birds or cars or honks or bustle or spiders (thank God) wasn't the creepiest thing. The silence.. it seemed to have a noise of its own. He could almost make out a pitch but then suddenly couldn't. He decided to try and forget the silence and explore again. He figured the movie theatre a few blocks down would be open, and it was. So was a music shop along the way, where he picked up a CD he'd been meaning to get. When he also passed an electronics store, he gave up on the movie theatre on the premise he probably couldn't operate the projector either, so went for some speakers he saw in the window of the electronics store. It wasn't stealing, he decided, because no one was around -- or even existed for all he knew -- so he was the only person he could commit an offense against and he didn't mind.

  Lugging the big box home did wear down his sneakers a bit, and his fingers had to practically be pried out of their long-held L-shaped position. He still needed another side, though, so he went and got another speaker of the same size, this time having to make stops and rest before continuing. He'd never thought he could walk down the 89th's street in broad daylight carrying a huge box with an ultra quality speaker and not get mugged, and that brought up another thing he noticed that day.

  All during his walk up and down 89th to his apartment, never once did the clouds move, or did he see the sun. It was somewhat breezy, but still deathly silent, so he could tell some sort of weather still operated. It looked the same as it had the day before, and frankly he couldn't ever really noticing a nighttime. Anyhow, he got the speakers home and propped them up into the screened window facing out, and after an hour or so of wire-tinkering, managed to get the audio to work on his stereo. He put in the new CD, set it on infinite repeat and turned it up enough not to blow the speakers. Now he had some sort of beacon in case he got lost in the gigantic maze of stone-walled structures. It also broke up the silence.

  He'd never quite been to the area around 34th street before, and since it was such a long was down, after recovering from his trek for speakers, he packaged up some fruit and water in a backpack he found in the cute chick's living room, and set off. He got probably 10 or 12 blocks before he had to strain to hear the music. He was chewing on an apple bite before he realized the music was starting to get louder. Had he just become disoriented after resting a few times and had inadvertently turned back by mistake? He concluded not when he saw the next street sign: 33rd. He kept walking toward the music, which was indistinguishable from the CD he'd picked. The next street sign: 144th. Pardon? He didn't recall there ever being more than 112 numbered streets. The what blew into his mind was so bizarre he'd almost discarded it as nonsense before actually pondering over it for more than a second. Maybe he'd actually come to the border of whatever city this was that only looked like his, minus noise, people, cats, and cars, and had ended up into some crazy PAC-man oriented universe. He decided to test the theory, and put an apple right there on the sidewalk, and would walk back in the other direction to go home then keep going and see if he found an apple way down at the other end.

  The trip back seemed a lot further, even though he made sure to count each street number on the way back down. He made it back okay, went to his apartment and shut off the music, and after telling himself that he'd take a short nap., he fell asleep. He'd definitely had his exercise for that day, and so ended day two.

  Fortunately no startling wakes this time, but when he got up, despite being a bit sore from walking such distances, he noticed he hadn't shut the door. Not the door to his bedroom, but the front door to the apartment. Thinking for a moment, he couldn't remember shutting it, much less locking or bolting it as usual. Maybe he was becoming too comfortable with that place, whatever it was.

  It was still as bright as usual, and he packed up his things, including some extra items he didn't really need but could use as markers. Not too often you see a rubber ducky waiting at a bus stop. He took the rubber ducky, a can of green beans, a bright yellow raincoat, and a neon orange bowling towel. He'd seen some great binoculars in the electronics store the other day, if there even were days in this place, and, leaving the backpack at the door of his building, went and retrieved them.

  They didn't really turn out all that handy for what he had in mind. He figured he might be able to see himself down the way or something along those lines, but no luck. So, he ventured off to 144ths street, if there was such a place.

  After taking a few rests and such, particularly to stop and read signs of restaurants and shops he'd never heard of and were peculiarly misspelled, he eventually made it to 143rd, where he took a longer than normal rest, as he was getting a bit weak. A fruit and water diet wasn't so uncommon for him, but walking though a city with no cars or people or birds or signs of intelligent life except massive pillars of concrete designed for those very things was indeed uncommon.

  He stooped to the curb to rest, out of breath. He couldn’t quite see if the apple was there or not, being a whole block back away,, but didn't recognize the canopy sign above him. It wasn’t really a restaurant looking place, but more of an office, with one incredibly long hallway that went too far back. It seemed to end up on the other side of the skyscraper. He took out his binoculars and focusing them down to the end of the hallway, he saw a door there, with a beat-up looking coating-chipped brassy doorknob. . Upon better focusing, he took the binoculars from his eyes and for the first time in the barren city-world, spoke something. It was more like a yelp, thought, because what he saw spooked him beyond anything he'd encountered there. The doorknob was jiggling, as if someone on the other side was trying to open it unsuccessfully, being locked. He hesitated to put the binoculars back up to his eyes to confirm what he though he'd seen, hoping he didn't. He did.

  As if separated from himself and in shock of someone being there with him, he was both excited and frightened.

  Hope that it was that cute chick from across the way quickly turned to worry that it might be someone responsible for this strange place. He became filled with anxiety, as it appeared the jiggling became more intense, as if the door was about to open, or as if whatever or whoever was on the other side was becoming frustrated with the lock.

  In a panic, he wanted to run grab the apple, the reason he'd come so far to star, but decided against it, in case whatever it was might be just around the corner, but out of the corner of the view saw what looked like a man's shoe peeping around the corner of the block. He would have seen that shoe had it been there before as the streets had been remarkably unlittered of anything, even running water or blowing ATM receipts or whatever. A puddle of something red oozed next to the shoe, soon, which is when he decided to bolt in the other direction. Mind racing, he knew no matter which direction he ran, he'd be both running toward and away from whatever it was behind him, or in front. All he wanted to do was get back inside his apartment, but what really could he do there? Quite suddenly the deathly silent and comfortable place was a completely different place to him. The pack on his back still open, things kept rustling out as he ran. He heard the squeak of the ducky as it landed on the pavement, which made him run even faster--he wasn't sure why.

  He eventually made it to the apartment building, which looked the same as it ever did. Instead of the elevator, he went for the stairs, which he dashed up so fast he didn't even know if anything was behind him, but it seemed so. His breathing catching up to him, his carelessness in his footing and his terror-ravaged mind didn't even realize he'd tripped on the door jam in his bedroom. He hit his head on the edge of the wooden bed-post, and blacked out.

  He woke up with a huge knot on his head and still dizzy. He didn't feel like going to work that day, then remembered where he was. He looked to the bedroom door, which was wide open, but the front door was clearly locked. He started to get up, and got some fruit from the refrigerator when he heard something. He was still dizzy, and had a massive throbbing in his head, but the sound was clear. It was an elevator chime, and the doors of one such contraption opening. What was even more bizarre was that it came from his own room. He stammered in, wearily looking around, and there it was, standing wide open, right there where his window was. He went to look out the second window, to see if an elevator shaft had sprouted up from nowhere, but couldn't see any. But sure enough, it was standing there wide open, waiting for him, or whomever, to go inside. He thought about it, and asked himself whether he really should. He got his answer soon enough.

  The doorknob of the locked front door of his apartment suddenly began jiggling furiously without warning, and without thinking he dashed inside the elevator and pushed the CLOSE DOORS button. Then he saw the area where the floor buttons should have been--there were only two large buttons. One said DOOM, the other said Waikiki. He would have imagined the DOOM button being on the bottom, but it was on the top, as if Waikiki was a lower floor than DOOM, then also wondered if someone had switched the button covers to fool him into going to DOOM when he actually wanted to go to Waikiki. Nonetheless, he still punched the button marked Waikiki and waited.

  Sure enough, the elevator began to move. Down, he thought. Perhaps DOOM is where I was, he reasoned. He looked up to the floor counter light, which was a digital readout instead of a simple light up panel, and for a good reason. "Candy Shop," "Taj Mahal," "Atlantis," and "Ganymede" passed by before abruptly stopping at "Waikiki." The elevator took a moment to adjust leveling as most elevators did, and the doors opened.

  He got out, and trod, still a bit dizzy, onto sand. He heard the doors close behind him as he looked around. It was exactly like the photo on the postcard. He turned back to the elevator, but it was gone. He felt for it, but found nothing. However, once his vision came back, he did see three figures nearby some sort of railroad vehicle with a big sail on the top. He rubbed his eyes to focus better. There were two boys tending the vehicle, and a short stout figure nearby. Believing he was far away from whatever jiggled doorknobs, he strode up and looked her square in the eye, and sure it enough, it was her. He didn't recognize the two boys, but they nodded and continued their work, at what looked like preparing the small transport for use. The lady never said a thing, and nor did he, for he knew the four of them would be leaving in it, himself included. He just knew.

  The two boys finished whatever they were doing, the lady sat on the front bench and patted the seat on the wooden seat she was on nearby to her for him to sit, and he did. The two boys sat on the back bench, completing the capacity of the device, and the unit began to move, across the railroad tracks built up over the shore and across the water into the thick mist. In the distance he could see a tall blue-hued city, but they weren't headed that particular direction. Somehow, he knew whatever was out there would give him some answers.