What If You Had the Whole City to Yourself

year ago

You almost fall down on the floor as you jolt awake at the airport. Surprisingly, it’s the silence that has woken you up. Usually, airports are full of hectic activity. Passengers are in a hurry to catch their flight. Announcements are made every minute. Planes take off and land.

Right now, there’s no movement at all. Duty-free stores are open. But there’s no one inside, neither passengers nor shop assistants. You feel your hair stand on end and cold sweat run down your back. You had an hour till your flight and decided to rest before a long trip back home. Then you woke up half an hour later and see... this!

You get to your feet and start walking through the terminal. Several minutes later, you can’t deny the obvious any longer. The entire building is completely abandoned. You start walking faster and faster, unsettling thoughts running through your head. “Was there an evacuation? Some natural disaster, probably? A tsunami? Or an earthquake? But why didn’t anyone wake you up?” There are more questions than answers.

You start looking around, searching for the nearest exit. Aha, here it is! What makes you even more anxious is that there’s no one at passport control. The customs checkpoint is also deserted. The strangest thing, though, is that it doesn’t look as if people left the place in a hurry. Everything is in order. And you almost expect an airport security officer to appear from around the corner at any second.

You get to the predictably empty arrivals hall. No one is waiting for you there, holding a sheet of paper with your name on it. No taxi drivers are offering their services. You go outside and spot several cabs. Unfortunately, they’re locked, and there’s nobody around. You see a bus in the distance. Phew! You almost run toward it, pulling your large and rather heavy suitcase behind. The bus doors are open — but that’s the only good news. No driver. No other passengers.

You go to check the car rentals. As expected, the offices are empty. You don’t have any other choice but to pick a car and get the key. And who can blame you if you pick a Porsche convertible that you’ve been dreaming to drive? Before starting the car, you try to call your friends. No signal. Messaging apps don’t work — there’s no Internet connection. You switch on the radio in the car and only hear static and crackles.

However scary the situation looks, you’re an optimist. You try to perceive the entire experience as countless opportunities that you’ve never had before. Like, how about staying at the best hotel in the city? There’s no porter to open the door for you or help you with your luggage. But on the bright side, you also don’t need to check in and pay a fortune for a night in this place!

You press the elevator button. It doesn’t light up. The only thing you hear is silence. Duh. You pick up your (extremely heavy!) luggage and start to climb the stairs. You’re sure the best rooms are on the top floor! At that time, you don’t think about the fact that the building has 35 floors. And you aren’t fit enough to get there fast — and with a heavy suitcase, no less!

After loads of breathers, you’re finally there. Phew! Then a thought occurs to you — the rooms must be locked, and you don’t have a key! You experimentally push the first door on the left. It swings open. It can only mean one thing: there’s no electricity! Which, in turn, means you can’t take that shower you started dreaming about when you were on the 14th floor!

Your stomach chooses that moment to complain — it produces a deafening growl. You pick the best room on the floor. It has large panoramic windows. Then you drop your suitcase by the bed and go to find some food. You drive your car to the largest shopping mall in the area.

The whole process turns out to be unexpectedly exciting: you like it, you get it. Stores and supermarkets are completely empty. You pass by restaurants. There’s no one who could cook anything for you inside. And you aren’t that good at making yourself a meal without burning the kitchen down in the process.

You get your favorite food at the supermarket. Then you walk around the mall, picking up some stuff you’ve wanted to have for ages. Some clothes from the latest collections, that watch you’ve had on your wishlist since last year. You hesitate near the electronics store. But why would you need new gadgets if there’s neither electricity nor the Internet?

You’ve already left the mall and are walking toward your car when something makes you freeze in your tracks. A zebra? It’s slowly wandering around the parking lot, coming alarmingly close to your car. You pull out your phone to google how to get away from a wild zebra. Duh — no Internet. You carefully shoo the animal away. It stares at you for a while, then turns around and leaves. You can almost imagine it shrugs its shoulders.

You get into the car and drive back to the hotel where you face another problem. You’ve got too much stuff. There’s no way you can drag it all to your top floor. You store most products in the hotel’s kitchen. There’s a cold basement there where your food won’t go bad for a while. After a nice dinner, your brain apparently starts working more effectively. You recollect that the hotel you’re in is famous for its spa facilities. It has several natural springs — your shower problem is solved!

Several weeks pass without changes. People haven’t returned to the city. There’s still no radio signal or electricity, the TV doesn’t work. You’ve learned to live without your smartphone and the Internet. Your physical condition is amazing. Apparently, an apartment on the 35th floor with no elevator does this to people.

You also visit different swimming pools around the city. Plus, with no electricity, your daily routine is quite nice. You go to bed when it gets dark and wake up at sunrise. Your hair has become stylishly long. You’re still waiting for people to return. You have nothing to do but read books. You found a library and started learning several new languages. But with nothing to distract you, there are too many thoughts in your head.

You feel lonely and bored. One day, you realize there’s nothing to wait for. It’s time to try to get to another city. It’s a complicated process. You start your journey by car. When you run out of gas, you find a bike. Then it’s a car again. You even walk some parts of the way.

Everything looks as if people have just left the place. But the animals you meet during your trip behave strangely. They’re too friendly and don’t seem to be afraid of you. It looks as if they’ve never seen people before!

After a week of traveling, you hit the brakes of your car. It stops in front of a huge fence. It’s made of a strange shiny material. You try driving to the left, but the fence doesn’t end. The same happens when you explore the right side.

You think about your alternatives. Digging under it — definitely not an option. By the look of it, the fence can go deep underground. Breaking through — a bad idea. You don’t know what this material is, but it looks very sturdy. Your only choice you have is to climb over the fence. You return to the nearest town and get soccer shoes with spikes at the bottom, a pair of gloves, and a rope.

After what seems to be hours of hard muscle work, grunting, and sweating, you’re sitting on the top of the fence. Now, you only need to get down, look for another car, get to the nearest town, find out if there are people there...

Finally, you make it to the ground. You turn around... and see a man! He looks terrified and is slowly backing away from you. You’re so excited that you can’t stop the waterfall of questions. The man is listening to you silently. By the time you run out of all your questions, he seems to have calmed down. Then it’s his turn to speak.

“People left that area decades ago. It was 2021 or so... It happened after that accident in the laboratory that had been researching space-time. A barrier appeared around a huge territory. It didn’t let through both people and all kinds of signals. No one from our side knew what was happening on the other side. With time, the barrier became weaker. Several people managed to get through. But everyone who went there never returned. We built this fence to prevent people from risking their lives. You’re the first person from that side who has ever shown up.”


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