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Author's note: This is my entry for Cornconic’s Random Title Contest 2023. My category was “Places”.




Beyond the streets that have names and familiar faces, somewhere in the churning organs of my city, theres a forgotten place. It won’t appear on any maps, and you’ll never hear it spoken of outloud. I’ve seen it only once before, and I’m determined to never see it again. For if I do, I know I’ll have met an untimely end, born from a wound that should’ve vanished with time.

You can get there if you don’t pay attention. Don’t look at your phone, don’t bring up any maps, don’t even look up and watch the people go by. Eventually, you’ll end up outside Tombstone Alley. You’ll notice when the color has drained from even the asphalt, the sky, your fingertips. Be thankful you’re allowed to keep your senses. Its always in the peripherals - just out of reach for the perpetually monotonous and busy. Only those with creative eyes will ever come across it, but it always has to solely be an after thought, a required nuisance among one’s other obligations.

At first, it’ll look a lot like any decrepit project housing: crooked buildings, torn up grass like a bad haircut, windowless facades. It’ll feel very familiar to you; you’ll swear up and down that once upon a time, you lived here. But it always looks different than what you imagined. Theres no people or animals or sounds. Try looking at it from the other side - no parallel streets, see? Thats how it snags your attention, got it? That is to say, there isn’t entirely a reason NOT to visit Tombstone Alley…no, its not without its own reward at the end of the cavernous tunnel that yawns casually amidst the brutalist structures.

The tunnel is always tall enough to allow you and you alone; nobody else can enter while you’re present. Those are the rules. The tunnel extends infinitely, becoming more and more cramped with muddy red bricks of assorted shapes and size. They wriggle with anticipation. At the very core of that extraspatial place is something you’ve forgotten, something you’d do anything to remember. Maybe it was a shiny toy you loved dearly as a child, a familiar scent that brings comfort, a pale face floating in the dark. They moan with longing. Sometimes its a nexus of unspoken anxieties, of fidgeting wet fingers, broken game files and tarnished keepsakes with scratched out initials. Whatever the item may be, always keep it in your peripherals as you move towards it. Thats the only way it’ll exist until you’ve reached it. These things are nebulous and tricky.

And whatever you do, don’t touch the walls or the bricks. I believe its called Tombstone Alley because - littered with masonry as is the outer walls of the tunnel - those bricks represent the grinding, gnashing, empty maw of this city. They are its teeth, its mandibles and blood. They fly like birds and smash into each other, creating more and more piles of forgotten rubble to distract you. Don’t let them touch you. The gravity and guilt of such a place is liable to grind a man into pulp, you feel me? Tombstone-like teeth. Teeth for the forgotten god, Ennui.

You’ll know you’ve reached the end when you extend a hand into the discolored light at the end and wrap your hands around that thing you’ve been looking for, amidst the anxious twirling and mingling of a lifetime of objects, words, screams, whispers, pains and pleasures. They bleed together like art that doesn’t know what it is. Is it exactly what you expected it to be? Do the faces look the same, and did you remember the words they said to you? Do you remember how it felt to be betrayed, or to commit that betrayal? Did that lusty dish still contain the smell you have ached body and soul for? For me, it was a letter from a lover. Their words are the same and the scent still lingers, and it curls my guts to know that whoever meticulously copied their writing was too good at it. I know its not theirs, but its all I have left now.

You’ll turn around and around again, and you’ll be outside the alley. And the alley will be shuttered up, grave-like stone teeth locked up, the dampness escaping between the cracks. You’ll try to explain that feeling of loss, of forgetfulness and nostalgia, but it’ll never make sense to anyone else. Ever. What you’ve gained comes close to what was forgotten, but like all memories, ghosts can be fickle things.

And sometimes, they linger longer than they should. They’ll point their fingers at you for bringing them back from a droning, sleepful place. Sometimes, its better to forget until the blame lifts off your spirit. They weigh on me like tombstones in the mud.

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