Somewhere in between this world and the next, lies a city, known by a multitude of names, a place that exist between the now and then, the here and there.
Half a billion humans and monsters living together in an urban purgatory, searching for a way out, a way to find themselves again...
Among them is Conor; freelancer, gun for hire and magician. A man with a gift that some would kill to gain...
Episode One: Welcome back, wayward child.
I stood at the side of the road, an cardboard sign in hand, marked 'Anywhere'. Tt was cold, as it always was in the budding days of winter. The highway was deserted and the darkness engulfed everything that stood more than a few feet away from the lamppost...
I looked at my watch, according to the digital inscription it was only two before midnight. I stretched a little and waited some more. It was then that a struck turned the corner, headlights blaring in the night. I raised my sign and it stopped not too far from me.
I grabbed my heavy khaki duffel bag and jogged toward the cabin, climbing the few steps and opening the door. "Hey kid." The burly driver said, nodding at me.
"Thanks." I said with my own polite nod. "I'm Conor."
"You're welcome, I used to do some hitchhiking myself when I was your age. I'm Robert." He extended a hand and I shook it before letting my bag down next to me. "Going anywhere in particular?"
"No, just drifting." I said with a shrug. "Not to be rude, but you mind if I take a nap, I've been awake for the last two days..."
"No, please do. I know what sleep deprivation does to someone."
I smiled at him and leaned back on the cushioned seat, the heater warming the cabin nicely as he handed me an old handmade wool blanket. I didn't take long before nodding out...
I woke up sometimes later as I felt a small spark come over me, shaking my being. I rubbed my eyes and pushed back the rebellious strand of hair that came down.
"You're awake." He said.
I checked my watch, I'd slept less than one hour, just as I thought. The air felt different, almost alien, filled with a familiar yet alien tingling that filled my head. I could see it ahead; The old city...
Even thought it was December there was no sign of it anymore, time meant very little in the city. The rain played a sad refrain on the window pane of the truck as it cruised lightly among the heavy traffic that clogged that stretch of I-15.
In the distance, the near blinding light of Neopolis shone in the dark of the night, a glaring beacon visible from every nook and cranny of this hellhole, a phantasmal light that never died and invited you to come forward, only to be turned away by the guardians...
"You alright, Kid?" The Driver asked, his eyes peeling away from the traffic just a moment and crossing mine, rugged hands still firmly holding the wheel. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
"It nothing, just some bad memories coming back to mind." I said, a faked smile on my lips.
"I see." He said nodding. "You've been awfully quiet since you woke up, 'this your first time coming here?"
"No, I came, long ago." He seemed a bit amused, maybe he knew that none ever left.
"Where are you from?" He asked. "I'm from Saint Louis"
"I was born here, in a way that is." My eyes wandered to the dashboard, where an old black and white picture of a family of four was pinned, the youngest just a baby.
"That's my family, my wife Emily, that's my daughter Jackie." He then pointed at the youngest "That one's Nicole. She'll be a year old next week." His mouth displayed a grin filled with pride, partly obscured by the thick graying mustache that dwelled on his upper lip. "When I'm done with the delivery, I'll be going home and with luck, I'll be there just in time."
"When was it taken?"
"July 17th." He answered. "' 'Twas Jackie's fourth birthday."
I reached out and passed a finger over the yellowed photograph, the words 'summer 1952' written on it. A wave of feelings and thoughts rushed toward me, I could feel the love he bore for the girls, the anticipation he held toward seeing them again.
"Say, what district are you going to?" I asked him.
"I need to drop this on the north side of town. I'm just looking for an exit."
I leaned back against the seat and set my bag on my laps, unzipping it slightly, and fumbling around it blindly, my eyes still fixed on the road. In front of us, the traffic moved fluidly for once and Robert kept driving forward."
"Sixteen... Seventeen..." I counted, aloud. "Eighteen."
"What are you counting?"
"You've passed eight-- Nineteen now -- exits since I asked you a few minutes ago."
"What are you talking about?" He asked, looking at me like I was mad.
"How long have you been driving?"
"I left Chicago about thirty hours ago." He answered defensively.
"And what day was that?"
"Friday, December 19th!"
"December 19th was a Thursday."
"What year is it?"
"1952 of course!"
I slipped my hand back in my bag and pulled out a small binder full of plastified paper clippings and a news paper. "What's the date you see?"
He grabbed the paper with one hand and read it. Several times by the movement of his eyes. "It can't be!"
I pulled one of the clipping and handed it to him. It was an article that dated from half a century ago. 'Fatal accident on I-80' The headline declared, the victim was Robert Calahan, 38, truck driver...
"What do you want with me?"
"I want to help, listen to me Robert, you haven't been driving for 32 hours, you've been driving this road for over sixty years, every night, you appear on I-80 heading west for an hour before disappearing, coming back here."
The news seemed to be driving him insane.
"What happened to me?"
"You're an echo, stuck in a loop that you couldn't break by yourself. You've been reliving the same day over and over, I can help you move on."
I looked at the dashboard and removed the photo. "This, is your fetter, it's the vessel that contain the emotions that have bound you, here; your desire to come back to your girls, to help your wife."
"What happened to them?"
"Your wife died in '76, she died of a pulmonary cancer. Jackie married a man, she had six children including twins. Nicole, she's married to medicine, she became an oncologist." I put a hand on his shoulder. "Listen to me, they don't need you anymore. They've grown up, became women of their own right."
"Do they... Blamed me, you know for not being there for them?"
"No, when you died, your insurance let them live comfortable, even paid Nicole's college. If there's one thing she always regretted, it was never having met you..."
He drove lightly, parking on the edge of the freeway. "What do I have to do?"
"You've already done it. You broke the cycle, you've stopped." I said. "Now you have two choices, either you stay here, enter the city or you take that picture and you destroy it. If you do that, you'll fade away, I don't know where to. Maybe hell, maybe heaven, maybe something else, maybe nothing. But it's your choice."
"Will I see Emily again?"
"I'm sorry, but I don't know..."
"Thank you." He said, nodding and taking the picture away from me. "Can I ask you a question?" I nodded. "Why are you doing this?"
"I thought I could run away from who, from what I am. I was wrong... A part of me exist within the city, it called me back, reminded me there were things I had to finish..." I opened the door and started climbing down. "Good bye, Robert. Thanks for the lift."
I stepped down on the concrete and I heard a faint, ghostly whisper of thanks, as the photograph was ripped. The truck and it's driver faded away, going back into the flow of aether that filled the city.
"It's time to get to work..." I muttered to myself, pacing toward the nearest exit.