City of Lost People can be found in




ISFDB.org Magazine Entry



Weird Tales, May 1948

Have you ever walked into the streets at rush hour and found no one.... no one, abroad?

City of Lost People

by Allison V. Harding

EDGAR CHADBOURNE laid the last of his office work aside, tidied his small desk and rose in the empty office to put on his coat. It was not the first time he had worked late, well past the time when the others went streaking to their five o'clock buses and subways and trains.

But these things happened to Chadbourne. He was a man more worthy than the humble job he held, and there always seemed to be some office overflow toward the end of the day that inevitably spilled onto his desk, and inevitably he would be sitting there while some of the other assistants went whooping out the door calling back, "You don't mind, Edgar, old boy! It'll keep you out of mischief!"

Edgar was a medium-sized, usual-featured individual, undiscovered in most any crowd, lonely and unsociable because of shyness, but far from stupid. He knew the little office joke about "Workhorse" Chadbourne and "He's a good man to help me make my 5:10 train." It was just that he didn't mind.

He was single, in his middle thirties. All he had in the way of relatives and family were three or four states across the country. He had nothing much to go home to but a furnished room in a walk-up brownstone, and his books. So it was neither a new nor distasteful experience for him to be carefully putting the last lights of the office out, thumbing the door closed behind him, feeling that it was locked and ringing the elevator bell on a now totally empty floor.

And as it did each night, all of his problems fell away from his mind and he thought instead about the interesting psychology book that he was reading. The subject was one of his favorites.

The elevator came then. Chadbourne turned suddenly, feeling the pain in his knee, still cranky after that heavy fall a month ago. He stepped aboard the empty car, preoccupied with his own thoughts. The lobby of the Becker Tower was deserted. Even the elevator starter seemed to have strolled off, perhaps for a cup of coffee. Edgar noted the time automatically on the large wall dial. It was six twenty-five.

He went through the revolving door into the street, and the cold winter air hit him with an impact. His steps automatically took the right direction. His mind was still taken up with the book he'd been reading. He was a block and a half from the Becker Tower before he noticed it. First he was merely curious. Then with a growing wonder as he looked around and every which way. Another half block and he'd reached Main Avenue, one of the big city thoroughfares, and then he stopped completely.

AT THIS hour it was possible but not probable that the street in front of the Becker Tower would be empty. But Main Avenue! Yet instead of the busy, bustling throngs that usually packed the sidewalks so that you had to thread your way carefully through them, there was tonight... no one! No one as far as his eyes could see.

Edgar crossed with the light and walked two blocks further along the avenue. At a corner he came upon a long, red bus. It was lighted, but quite empty. Unconsciously he quickened the tempo of his steps, and for the first time he noticed the loud sound his heels made as they came down on the pavements. Why, he'd walked on Main Avenue at midnight and in the small hours of the morning, and always... always there were at least a few people!

The stores with their garish front-lighting bordered the right of way. The street lights blazed with their double sockets and the traffic signals turned red and green and red and green again with their usual precision. It was then that the curiousness and wonderment were joined by a new feeling. What if... what if something catastrophic had happened! His mind raced at full-time, breakneck speed.

He had been in his office almost an hour and a half after the others had left. Suppose—he was not at all sure just what had occurred. He wondered wildly at the possibilities of atomic action by some enemy force. Gas perhaps, but he smelled nothing. The night air was clean and cold.

His palms and forehead were moist despite the chilliness of the air, and Chadbourne's strides were just short of a run. He came upon his customary news dealer. There was the brown-painted shack, the not-so-neat rows of innumerable magazines vying for public interest, and the frontespiece of the shack flat and open with its three or four evening papers—and he came closer and looked; they were the late-evening editions laid out in rows, a piece of clothesline with a weight at the end across them to keep them from blowing and a handful of pennies and nickels left by hurried purchasers as they reached, grabbed and ran.

But Nick, the old paper-seller who'd just had a piece on himself in the Sunday supplement for having been on1 this very corner for forty-two years—Nick was gone!

Chadbourne hurried on. He turned off Main Avenue, and on the side streets passed several fashionable restaurants usually flush with people at this hour, but their brightly colored glass-paneled doors stood immobile, and once when he stepped close to peer inside at one softly lighted barroom, he saw it was empty, the regimented stools uninhabited.

Next Chadbourne found himself running. It was a delusion, he told himself, but the more he tried to reason, the harder he ran as though by so doing he would finally catch up with the others, be among them again. There must be a logical explanation for all this. His pounding heart and rapid breathing finally slowed him to a fast walk again.

HE PASSED the el structure, looked up the stairs that led to the money-changers' booth. The booth was lit, he could see from here. He could also tell it was empty. He went on, and each new sight turned his stomach into a tighter knot, beat his pounding heart into even greater efforts.

Here was his own block with the barber shop on the corner. Ah! Its striped electrical pole was working! He came abreast of the brightly lighted window and looked in. There were the three chairs, the shelf of. varied-colored bottles of pomades and tonics; the bootblack's stool and the table of last month's magazines. But no one! No one at all!

Edgar fumbled for his key as he broke into a run again. His brownstone was here. It took him three trys to get the door open. He fell inside. He stopped then for a moment inside the door as though here would be some partial sanctuary against this thing he did not understand. He had three flights to go to his top-floor apartment, but Chadbourne had to rest.

And then he noticed something else. The ground-floor door opened past the apartment of a seamstress, and as he came in nights, he'd never failed to hear the whirring of her electric sewing machine. Never... never, that is before tonight, for inside here, it was even quieter Man the great outdoors he'd just fled from, and he felt the quiet all around like a blanket as he mounted the stairs.

No Joplin kids whooping and being shushed by their mother on the second-floorback. No hesitant saxophone player in the front trying to keep on key and off the nerves of the other rooms all at once.

Chadbourne's own and top floor was quiet anyway and that was a little less strange than all the other things that had happened, for it was always still here. He, Edgar, made little noise, and the doctor who occupied the front was likewise no noisemaker.

He let himself into his back room-and-a-half, sat down on the bed and held his head in trembling hands. The room was its customary prosaic self, and that served to make him feel somewhat better. "I've got to hold onto myself," Edgar repeated over and over in his mind. He laughed shakily, sat up, and then stretched out full length. Perhaps a nap would help. This experience had an explanation! Of that he was sure. It had something to do with his fall!

He remembered that night over four weeks ago well. He'd stepped out in the hall, planning to go downstairs and out for a newspaper and a pack of cigarettes. The carpet on the top step was loose. He'd known and forgotten. His. feet went out from under him and he pitched headlong down the long flight, coming to a shuddering stop against the wall of the second floor.

WHEN he'd opened his eyes—for he'd lost consciousness—Mrs. Joplin was holding his battered head in her lap. Her two children, for once speechless, standing wide-eyed beside him, and Dr. Kessler, the aged physician from the third-floor-front was leaning over taking his pulse with one hand and passing a small vial of vapo-aromatics under his nose.

It was certainly nice, he had thought to himself as he lay there, that there was a doctor right in the house when he took his tumble. Mrs. Bessey, the proprietoress of the building, appeared from her basement quarters, and between the three of them, they had gotten Chadbourne back up to his room and into bed.

"No," Dr. Kessler had opined. There was no necessity of calling an ambulance. Kessler was a psychiatrist, you know, and eminently qualified to take care of bumps on the head, even those resulting in a mild concussion, which was what he diagnosed this as. The only other apparent injury was a wrench of the knee.

Edgar got to know Kessler fairly well that night and the next few days. The doctor, waving away his natient's thanks, made a careful examination that evening, gave Chadbourne a sedative and left a note at bedside suggesting that the young man stop in at his room the next morning when he awoke.

Chad...

This is only a preview of this story. The site administrator is evaluating methods to bring it to you.