Fog descends. As it falls, obscuring the world you know, you sigh. It has been a long day and you are just trying to return home. Kick back, relax, crack open a beer and forget the nowhere you came from and the nowhere you are headed. Alas, this is not to be. You walk through the mist, totally lost, and knowing that you are transported. The tenor of the air changes, thinner, colder, like you ascend the peak of a high mountain. The street beneath you shifts, from smooth pavement to perfectly set cobblestones. You are disentangled from place.
You have entered the City Time Forgot.
The fog lifts, and you are not surprised to see that the evening you left becomes day. The sun shines bright and blinds you for a moment.
You vision, briefly blurry, reveals only a dark shadow surrounded by burning light. Slowly, regaining your sight, the shade becomes an old man, yellow skin like aged vellum preserved in chalk and lime, fragile but enduring the centuries. His smile, open and white, his eyes, clear and amber, are those of a younger man. Every day is his first, and his last, in this city that time forgot.
You ignore his greeting and, knowing that the only way out is through, that one must spend time to escape the timeless, proceed into the city proper. An arch with a black marble keystone heralds its entrance. Still inward, unchastened by the bright dawn, simmer fog and darkness.
Undaunted by your silence, the old gatekeeper continues. “Or rather I should say, welcome back. The emptiness where memories would be tells me that this will not have been your first time. Or that in the future, you were here already. That somewhen, you will be here again, and I have greeted you before and after. Whether it will happen or has is of little consequence here, as I’m sure you know.”
The same speech, the same nonsense. You leave him behind, and he watches you go with the same bright smile.
“I hope you enjoy your time in our fair city, brief though it may be. Forever though it may yet become, or has always been… Farewell, farewell…”
His voice fades as you cross through the arch, though he cannot be more than a dozen yards behind. You turn, and, as you expected, as has, and does, and will always happen, what was behind you no longer exists. Only fog. The time you spent does not occur, only the now. And here, in what was darkness when it was in the distance, is a bright, bustling thoroughfare. And all around you live and work and thrive the denizens of the City Time Forgot.
They smile as you pass, knowing you, knowing your routine, despite the fact that before this moment they did not exist, and after they will not again. This world is a track that will not change, merely looping through the same melody. It is a song played on repeat, and you are its only listener. Windows throw open as you walk past, their occupiers watching in silence. Young children dance under your feet, playing games of such complexity that they must have history, but they do not. And as you pass, so do they. As you leave, they fade.
The architecture is bizarre in the City. Future innovation and archaic design comingle like old friends, and so hover all about creatures of artificial intelligence and glinting metal, serving blacksmiths at their forges, helping farmers peddle their livestock and crops in the marketplace. Every building is carved from the same black marble as the arch, impossibly smooth. Each a perfect geometric marvel. Each made from a single stone, somehow harvested from a giant’s quarry. Or perhaps where once a quarry was grew this city. It is a mystery you will never solve.
Eventually, after a span you cannot determine, if indeed any time passes at all, you come to the end of the city. Another black arch, another vast expanse of dark and fog beyond. You close your eyes, feeling those of the City’s citizens all on you. You do not turn; you do not speak to them; you never have and, you suppose, never will. For the first time, as you leave, you felt a hint of regret.
Why did I not speak that first time? Why, by that first, is my path always, always set? Is this the same memory? The same experience, over and over? The old man greeted… greets me that first time like I come forever and ever. I wonder, as I leave, do I enter again behind? I wonder, are these moments, for them, all there ever is?
And so you exit, and fog descends, and you cannot see your way but proceed forward nonetheless. Stumbling from cobblestones onto pavement, breathing the heavy, smoggy air of your own city. The world housed interminably in time. The world you return to, always wishing you could escape.
At night you dream of sweet air and sweeter smiles. Of old men, and impossible black wonders. You dream of the City Time Forgot.