“Polis” – Fiction by Gary W. Hartley

City – Olga Rozanova, 1914

“Polis” is Gary W. Hartley‘s droll yet haunting flash fiction from our Winter 2018 issue.

{ X }

THIS IS A CITY OF THE LOST. They all dry washed up here, quicker than you’d imagine. Quicker than you can say the word cliché. Quicker than you could utter ascertain, dichotomy or paradigm. Quicker than you can say Ken Dodd’s Dad’s dog’s eaten Russell Brand’s dog and now Ken Dodd’s Dad’s dog’s dead. The lost. The lost have been known to try decisiveness from time to time. It wasn’t anything resembling a city before they rocked up, and they did rock up, sure enough. The lost, they washed up and rocked up and just arrived. It was akin to a shed before, some well-tended grass around the perimeter, space for expansion and hope of something better. The lost hope of something better. There are lots of them, the lost, and they swing from one day to the next knowing they’re lost and starting to come to terms with it. The knowing lost. Lost and swung. Rejecting those terms and coming around to the thought that they might well be liberated, actually. They are very mobile. The lost and mobile. The mobile lost. Moving around seeking to un-lose themselves, blaming the latest geographic circumstance while feeling completely static as they quest without mission from spot to spot. Cities of the lost are transient places where the population can always be replenished, losses of the lost are less. The transient static lost. New blood, and lots of it. The fresh blood of the lost. Old blood, unremembered. The forgotten blood of the lost. There were lovers – lost lovers – who had other lovers but none of them had much belief in love any more, they prefer buildings and hiding in them. There is changeable uniform in three-year cycles. The lost are not very good at finding each other and though this is a city they all say they’re alone and watch series after series occasionally uttering a laugh – the laughing lost – or letting a tear drop softly, tasting for salt content.  They see themselves in minor fictional drama characters, newsreaders and reflections in electronics store windows. The lost electronic generation. Vaporise vaporising vaping vapid poison poison poison is coming this way. All the stats and pundits agree. The lost pundits. They will live their lost lives as normal right up until then. Very few see their lives as normal even though they are as pie crust as anything when viewed against anyone else in this hall of mirrors. The normal lost looking at their reflections in the faces of the found, when they can be found, which is rarely. The urge to stampede, lost losing themselves. Normality or lack of it is rendered irrelevant when stampedes happen. In disaster they will in a way be found but will not be present in the moment long enough to appreciate it. This togetherness thing can be found in all sorts, brilliant to absolutely awful. The awful and the brilliant lost shoulder to shoulder, cheek by jowl. This story is going to keep focusing on the awful from now on. The reportage of the deaths and gore will be kept to a necessary minimum. They will say it was a mistake, all a bad mistake and there will be an enquiry to make sure it never happens again. The enquiring lost. Enquiries never say anything and this one will be no different. No-one will care too much because cities are in a ranking system that everyone knows by instinct but is not written down anywhere. The rank lost. What’s gone is gone, the last biscuit in the tin you were warned about as a child.  It won’t have been appreciated quite enough when it was there and will be mourned only by a niche crowd. Niche crowds are always less niche than they think. The city of the lost. Every city may well be a city of the lost yet no-one’s checked the stats and everyone’s stockpiling weapons and saying it’s purely defensive, so they don’t have time anyway. It may sound like a cliché but this is the end.

{ X }

GARY W. HARTLEY is from Leeds, but has voluntarily exiled himself to Athens for the time being. He used to co-edit The Alarmist magazine, and has a book of poems out on Listen Softly London Press. He communicates into the digital void via Twitter: @garyfromleeds

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