Out of Electricopolis

Written and illustrated by Pauli Kohberger

Bob sat down on the subway seats opposite Percy, looking out the window. There was blackness outside the train, lit up every so often by dim and flickering bulbs. Occasionally he would see a door, but even those began to disappear after a while. The tunnel they were in seemed to stretch for hours.

"How far away is this exit?" Bob murmured.

"Several hundred miles," Percy replied. "It'll take a while. Maybe you should get some sleep."

"Maybe you should mind your own business."

"There's no sense being a brat about it." Percy leaned back in the seat and closed his eyes.

Bob waited, expecting him to say something else, and after a moment, he grudgingly laid down on the subway seats and admitted to himself that the other man was right. He was tired, extremely so, and it wasn't long before the heaviness of sleep settled on his body.


Bob's brow furrowed in his sleep as he fidgeted back and forth. He blinked his eyes open, slowly, holding up a hand over his face. Something felt warm on his face, like an incandescent lightbulb held too close.

He moved his hand away and squeezed his eyes tight. Whatever it was, it was a lot brighter than any lightbulb he'd ever seen…

He shook his head and sat up. Percy was still asleep on the other side of the train. The electric lights in the subway were off, but shafts of dappled light shone in through the windows from outside. The doors were open. Distantly, he could hear the sound of…something. Insects, maybe? Birds?

Bob stood up and peered cautiously out the door. The train had pulled up to a platform, but it wasn't in the middle of a city or a tunnel. It didn't even seem to be in the dust bowl of the valley. It was in a clearing in the middle of a forest, with densely clustered trees. But the trees weren't anything like the stunted, carefully manicured types that were installed in the top tier. These were large and verdant enough to block out most of the sky…and there were hundreds of them, as far as he could see.

He held out a hand to touch a shaft of light, turning his hand back and forth, seeing how it played over his pale skin. "Is that…" he whispered, his mouth dry. "Is that the sun?"

He'd heard tales of it, of course, and in the back of his mind he must have realized that the sun still existed, somewhere; but it just never seemed to matter in the city of Electricopolis, stuck beneath inky-black clouds, his brain concerned only with the limelight of the stage. For a moment, he felt ashamed--and then, excited. What else had he been missing?

Bob sat upright, swung his legs off the subway bench, and then paused. Across from him, Percy King twitched and snored gently. Should he wake him up? The temptation to leave him here was strong, but…there was a good chance Percy knew more about this area than he did.

Bob walked over, bent down next to his boss, and tapped him on the shoulder. "Mr. King," he said, and then added, hesitantly: "Percy."

Percy snorted a little, blinked, and looked over his shoulder at Bob. "Oh…we've reached the end, then?"


"Well." Percy sat up, stretched, and yawned. "I suppose we'd better start walking."

"Walking? Where to?"

"Good question," Percy sighed. "I hadn't the time to send out surveyors in this area. Let's hope there's a settlement or something beyond this forest."

With no other alternative, they began to walk, leaving the subway station in the middle of the clearing.

"So tell me something," Bob said, lifting his shoes up gingerly over a patch of mud and tree roots. "What was your big plan, anyway, staging that blackout?"

"Oh, it wasn't staged," Percy groaned, pushing a branch out of the way and passing underneath it. "The town's energy reserves are totally shot, and your silly little festival was the final straw. I simply bent the truth a little to make it seem like I didn't know beforehand. Petty, I admit, but…"

"That's not the word I'd use," Bob grunted. "But how were you going to fix the energy crisis?"

"I wasn't. That's what the subway was for." Percy stopped to catch his breath, then continued following Bob through the woods. "The town couldn't have sustained itself for more than a few decades, even if we'd cut power down to its most minimal usage. I began the subway project to devise an escape route from the city to someplace beyond. The forest station was as far as I got, however. It was barely completed before the blackout."

"You're not telling me you made that whole thing yourself. You must have had workers," Bob pointed out. "So there are still people who know about the subway, right?"

"Of course there are. But it seems to only have had the power to make that one trip…I don't see how it'll be of much use to the general populace if it can't run anymore." Percy shook his head.

Bob glared at him. "Fantastic," he sighed. "Just fantastic." He glanced back over his shoulder, towards the subway station clearing, but couldn't see it through the thickness of the trees. "Well, so much for best-laid plans. Now I'm stuck in the woods with a guy who tried to throw me to the wolves."

"Better the wolves in town than the wolves without," Percy remarked. He walked past Bob, ducking underneath another branch. "In Electricopolis, they're just a metaphor, after all. Who knows what's out here?"

Bob looked after him, blinking.

Hour after hour stretched before them. More than once they had to stop to rest, and their stomachs growled with hunger. Eventually, however, they saw a yellow light through the trees, and they made their way towards it to reveal the edge of the forest.

"Whoa…we made it." Bob squinted into the late afternoon sun as he looked around. The forest opened up onto a large meadow. Not too far away was a cabin with a pile of chopped wood against one side and a tendril of smoke curling from the chimney. "Check it out. Someone lives all the way out here."

"Well, I suppose we'd better make ourselves known, don't you think?" Percy said, walking towards the cabin. "Maybe we'll at least get something to eat."

"Is that a good idea?" Bob asked, nervously. "I mean, we don't know who's out here…a creepy cabin near the woods…what if it's like one of those horror movies?"

"Really, we just came from the woods," Percy said, raising a hand to knock at the door. "I think they'd be more scared of us than we are of--"

The door swung open, revealing two large, dark shotgun barrels pointed directly at Percy's face. It took a moment for him to register what it was, and then he slowly, fearfully, raised his hands, open-palmed.

"Came from the woods, huh?" drawled a voice. Bob and Percy's gazes followed the length of the shotgun to the figure behind it--a tall and dark-haired man, his skin leathery and hands calloused from a lifetime of hard work under the sun. "Gimme a good reason why I oughtn't just blow your heads off right here."

"U-uh, um," Percy stammered. "Well."

Bob quickly stepped in front of him, holding his hands up. "Wait, wait," he protested. "You wouldn't kill two guys for no reason, would you? Imagine the cleanup! The bodies!"

The woodsman thought about this, cocked his head, and lowered his gun. "You make a compelling point," he remarked. "You boys look a mess, but you're no threat. Too bad for you," he chuckled. "C'mon in. Sit a spell."

Percy gave the man a wary, sidelong glance, then edged his way into the cabin. It was one neatly-kept room, with a fireplace at one end, a stove, a bed, table, and chest of drawers, among other things. Slowly he sat down at the table. His body was tense, but the warmth of the fire made him gradually start to relax. Bob followed, sitting across from him.

"That's better. Now, who are you folks?" asked the woodsman. "And where the hell did you come from?"

"It's a bit of a long story," Percy said. "We're from the city of Electricopolis. Do you know it? The city in the valley?"

"Oh, the cursed city, like those folks in town call it?" replied the woodsman. "Never put much stock in it, myself. I think they're all a mite superstitious."

"Cursed?" Bob asked. "Why would they say that?"

"Hell, just look at the thing! Juttin' out above the mountains, all those thick black clouds roilin' above. Nobody ever goes in, nobody ever comes out." The woodsman set the shotgun up against the wall and busied himself with ladling some soup into a couple of bowls. "They say it's got a hex on it. I say it's none of my damn business. You say you're from there?"

Bob and Percy exchanged glances, trying to figure out exactly how much they should reveal. "Yes," Percy said slowly. "Until things went south. The town ran out of power, you see, and we were…forced to leave."

"Bad luck." The man set the bowls of soup down in front of his guests, and handed them each a carved wooden spoon. "Well, let's hope there aren't any more of you folks comin' in. I don't have enough soup for all of you."

"Just this much is enough. Thanks." Bob accepted the meal gratefully. "Say, you mentioned a town earlier..."

The woodsman jerked his head, indicating a direction away from the cabin. "Junk Town. That's what they call it. It's not far--a mile or two down the road, maybe. The people aren't bad, they're just..." He thought for a moment. "Like I said, superstitious. They might not take too kindly to a couple folks from the cursed city."

"Is there...anywhere else you'd recommend?" Percy asked, extremely politely. "A place called 'Junk Town' is a bit, well..."

"Hah! Awfully picky, aren't ya?" laughed the woodsman, jabbing in Percy's direction with his spoon. "Nope, you're out of luck. Junk Town's up against the coast, and there's nothing else but woods and mountains around it. Too bad," he said. "How'd you get across the mountains, anyway?"

"We went underneath," Percy explained. "On the subway. Well--an underground train."

"An underground train. Too bad you didn't build it in the opposite direction!"

Bob shot Percy a sharp glare. The other man looked away.

In the end, the woodsman was able to provide soup and directions, but not a place to stay the night. With the sun beginning to dip low in the sky, Bob and Percy, reluctant companions though they were, headed off together for the town down the road.

The first thing they noticed was the dust. The woods had been dark and dappled with sunlight, and the meadow open and pleasant, but the road they were traveling on now was dusty, and the dust gave everything a somewhat muted quality--not unlike the dust of the valley they'd just left. Still, the environs weren't nearly as barren as the valley had been: for one thing, the plains were lined with neatly-kept crops, which Bob insisted on stopping and looking at.

"This is incredible!" he gushed, crouching down to take a look at a head of lettuce. "Look, it's vegetables! There's so many!"

"They don't grow them with hydroponics out here," Percy mused, looking back and forth. "I guess because they have so much land to spare."

Bob reached out a hand towards the head of lettuce, only to be interrupted by a sharp yell. "Hey!" said a voice. "Get your hands off that!"

Bob scrambled backwards and up to his feet. The farmer came over, walking between the rows of vegetables. He looked to be in his late thirties, maybe early forties perhaps, and sported a five o'clock shadow, a receding hairline, and a round, red nose. He was muscular in a sinewy kind of way, and looked as if he'd spent all his life in the fields. His clothes, a long-sleeved shirt and jeans, were plain and patched from long-term wear.

"Sorry," Bob said, holding his hands up in apology. Thankfully, this man only had a hoe in his hands and not another shotgun. "I didn't know they belonged to anyone."

"You didn't know?" asked the farmer, raising an eyebrow suspiciously. He looked the two men up and down. "...Where did you two come from, dressed like that?"

Bob and Percy exchanged another should we tell him?-type glance. "We've come from the city in the valley," Percy ventured carefully. "But we don't mean any harm, and it's just the two of us--"

"The cursed city?" the farmer said, recoiling. He looked around for a moment, then, seeing nobody else around, leaned in. "So people really do live there?"

Bob nodded. "Plenty of 'em. We left because...well, it's a long story..."

"Never mind that." The farmer waved a hand. "I shouldn't even be talking to you right now, but I'll give you a piece of advice. Go down the road into town proper." He pointed down the road that snaked into town. "Go see the folk down there. They'll figure out what to do with you."

"I'm starting to think that'll involve burning us at the stake," Percy groused.

The farmer considered this, then tilted his head. "No, they wouldn't burn you," he declared. "They might breathe in the smoke and get cursed themselves. Anyway, get outta here," he said, halfheartedly jabbing his hoe in the men's direction. "Get!"

The second thing they noticed, walking into town, was that the buildings were a ramshackle construction of debris. Planks of wood were nailed to old signs, corrugated sheet metal and tin roofing, and a thousand other things besides. Piping extended from some of the houses, puffing wood smoke into the air as a makeshift chimney. The buildings were clustered together in rows down each street. However, the two visitors barely had time to marvel at the construction before the villagers began to notice them, whispering among each other and casting fearful, yet fascinated, glances at the two.

"Excuse me," Bob said, raising his voice a little. "We're new in town, and, uh--"

"We're looking for a place to spend the night," Percy finished. "Anything will do."

The crowd turned away as the people talked amongst themselves for a moment. Then it parted, revealing a single old man who walked, with swaggering back-and-forth motions, up to the two newcomers.

The old man had a great bushy beard and unkempt hair, and walked with a staff that reached high above his head. The end of the staff was curved in an O shape, and rings of what looked like tin or aluminum jangled from it. He wore an old, faded robe with zigzag markings on the trim, and around his neck hung several odd pieces of board that appeared to be talismans or amulets.

"That's enough, that's enough," the old man said, motioning for the villagers to quiet down with a wave of his hand. He turned to Bob and Percy. "Now, who are you two, exactly?"

"We're travelers," Bob sighed, already weary of explaining. "We're from the city in the valley--but we're not cursed, and it's just the two of us, and--"

The crowd gasped. The old man motioned, again, for them to be calm. "All right, all right, settle down, you lot." He turned back to the two men, extended two fingers, and made the motion of a zigzag arrow to Percy, and then to Bob. "There. You may enter our town now."

"Breaking a curse is that easy, huh?" Bob joked.

The old man laughed. "Well, that remains to be seen. But I'll not have anyone turned away from Junk Town if I can help it. Come," he said, jerking his head towards a direction down the road. "Follow me."

They walked, and walked, and walked some more, until they reached a tent on the outskirts of the town. "I figured you were the mayor or something," Bob remarked, stepping inside. "You don't live in the middle of town?"

"Oh, no," laughed the old man, sitting across from Bob and Percy at a low, round table. "You overestimate my importance. They call me the Cursebreaker," he explained. "Kind of pompous, but I can't argue with it. That is my job, and I do it well."

"A cursebreaker?" Percy said. "Then I suppose you're just the man we need to see. Is there any way we can convince these people to let us stay the night?"

"Oh, well, don't worry about them." The Cursebreaker waved a hand. "You can stay here for the night. They won't kick up a fuss if it's my place." He looked Bob and Percy up and down slyly. "Judging by your finery, I think it won't be up to your usual standards, but..."

"Anything is fine," Bob said tiredly. "Just as long as we can get a break from all this walking. I've never walked so much in my life."

"Then take your time," said the Cursebreaker. He reached down beneath the table and pulled out three drinking glasses and a bottle of what looked like clear alcohol. "You boys want a drink?"

The two men nodded vigorously. The Cursebreaker poured the clear alcohol and offered two of the glasses to them. "What are your names, anyway? Don't think we've been introduced."

"Bob Sparker," said Bob. "Well, it's not my real name, but it's my stage name. I used to be a game show host, so..."

"And I myself am Percy King, ex-president of the Top Tier Electric Company," Percy said.

The Cursebreaker laughed, then held up his own glass. "Well, well! Welcome to Junk Town," he declared. "Bob Sparker and Percy King, may you find rest and recuperation from your long journey."

"Thank you," Bob said politely. Percy simply nodded. The two downed their drinks, then recoiled. "Whoa," Bob said, coughing. "That--that's strong stuff."

"Just the way I like it!" The Cursebreaker barked out a laugh. "Now that you've been properly welcomed, you can rest here for the night. Tomorrow I'll take you to your new dwelling."

"New dwelling?" Bob asked. "What'll that be?"

"Oh, nothing fancy," said the Cursebreaker. "Just an abandoned house near the shore, but it's better than nothing. I'll explain how things work around here, too. But for now, you rest," he said firmly. "Tomorrow's another day."

The tent was barely big enough for two people, let alone three, but Bob scrunched himself up as best he could while Percy laid along one side of the tent and the Cursebreaker snored a foot or so away.

Now that Bob had some time to think, the combined emotions of the past few days were hitting him hard. The exhilaration of his great creative project, the Electric Festival, barely completed before he was blamed for the blackout and run out of town...the despair of being separated from his friends...his anger at the man he now had as a traveling companion...

It was almost too much. Bob buried his head in his hands, trying to stifle a sob, but it wasn't long before he simply fell deep, deep asleep.

The End