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Hard Times in Nuovo Genova, or How I Lost My Way
by Chris Barnham
I see them occasionally, wandering through Columbus Plaza or hanging around the
lakefront. Always alone.
They're obvious, if you know what to look for: something a bit off about their clothing;
maybe the material or style sticks out--buttons on the shirt when everyone here has those tiny
hook and eye things; blue denim worn tight when the men of Nuovo Genova favor baggy cotton
It's how they act, too. They drift up behind market traders on a cigarillo break and
eavesdrop while pretending to tie a shoelace. They sit alone outside a café, pretending to read a
newspaper. But they never turn a page as they listen to the talk at the table behind.
They're passing through and they need to learn about the place fast. It's not as if they can
ask: Excuse me, what country is this? Was Roosevelt president in 1940, or was it Lindbergh?
I spot them easily because that was once me. Before I lost the Way.
Sian is waiting when I appear. She puts a finger to her lips and leads me off the beach. We
sit with our backs against a tree, facing the lake.
The air is cold, with no sound except our breathing and the murmur of waves. I sniff the
air. There's something odd about the smell: metallic and smoky, like ash washed by rain. I look
south toward Chicago, but there are no lights.
"It doesn't feel good," Sian whispers.
"How can you tell?"
"You develop an instinct. We should stay here until light."
It's hard to sleep on a cold beach when you have just arrived somewhere completely
unknown. Several times, I am close to dozing off when a noise from the trees makes me stiffen
and pull Sian close. There's a screech like an animal in pain, followed by a low scraping sound,
moving away inland. Another time, an eerie howling, like a pack of wolves a mile away.
"Maybe it's a werewolf," I say. "Full moon, after all."
"You think you're joking."
Somehow, we sleep and wake to daylight the color of dirty dishwater. A bloated, rusty sun
emerges from the lake. Oily cords of cloud paint stripes across the sky.
"Look at the city," Sian says.
At first glance, the skyline is comforting in its familiarity. Then it comes into focus: stunted
towers, like broken teeth; a wall of dark buildings, lit in places by sunlight on jagged remnants
of windows. A rusted hulk of a ship half-submerged in the lake two miles south.
We stay on the beach all day, watching the dead city, but we see no movement. We leave
with the moon.