Flash Fiction: 'The Passages' by Thomas Trang




Nobody knows when the passages first appeared, that nest of narrow lanes zigzagging across town like shadows of the streets we knew so well. Some said it was the recent influx of people from the city that had birthed them, as if our town had reacted to these new residents by growing extra limbs. Those that had lived here for years claimed the passages had always been there, and it was easy to defer to our elders and their cosy wisdom. But as events unfolded this became an impossibility, and in retrospect seems absurd, for ours is a town of casual yet keen observance. We had long spent our days wandering its tree-lined streets, perusing the dusty antique shops around the main square or negotiating the friendly bustle of the market on the weekends. It was a town of well-known resonances. The distant whistle of trains passing along the outskirts, the rich smell of hops from the brewery, the muted grinding sounds that came from the sawmill out by the lake. All these things familiar yet elusive, like the fondest memories of our childhood.


*


At first the passages were welcomed as an extension of our curiosity. We would explore them alone and in groups. They carved up the streets anew, snaking through our town like the cobblestoned spines of long dormant beasts. Private gardens along the back of Warwick Avenue were opened up to us in all their manicured splendour. We observed the stately Tudor mansions on Claridge Road from altered perspectives. We rediscovered the town at fresh angles, like an old portrait seen in new light.


*


The passages defied all logic. They would appear and vanish at will, opening and closing like the valves on some unseen cosmic organ. At times they would unfold into a labyrinth of secret courtyards and further alleyways. Passages that ran from east to west would suddenly deposit us at the southernmost edges of our town. Some would follow a straight path yet circle back on themselves. We never knew where the passages would take us, and of course this was part of their allure.


*


The passages grew more ornate in their magic. There were those who claimed to have travelled down blind alleys to gilded and gas-lit streets of Belle Époque flamboyance. Some said the passages would morph into sand-strewn desert, while elsewhere they unfurled into arctic tundras. Others saw Tokyo at night, twisting their way through neon and noise before ending up back on Osbourne Road. Several of us took paths through Roman ruins, cracked and weathered marble set upon horizons bathed in unending dusk.


*


Familiarity breeds contempt, as they say, or at least a certain dulling to the facts no matter how fantastic. We soon became resigned to the passages, and perhaps sensing our growing inertia they turned on us with malice. The first to go missing was the butcher’s son. A torn and discarded jacket was all that was left of the boy. Several others would vanish before a town meeting was called. We were forbidden by decree to walk down the passages, but of course it proved impossible to legislate against such enigmas. Entrances would be cordoned

off only to appear elsewhere, leaving lengths of barrier tape behind, strewn across the ground like the remnants of a long-forgotten party.

*


The passages themselves began to vanish. Their departure was gradual not swift, the same way colour fades from an ageing photograph. Many years have passed since then. Those of us that were young then have since grown old, and most deny they ever existed. Those that went missing were described as fugitives or runaways. Some believe the passages were the symptom of a hysteria that once plagued our town, one we grew immune to with the steady march of time.


*


On occasion there are rumours of new passages. An alleyway sprouting up behind the church, or an undiscovered path that loops around the marshes to the east and ends up at North Hill. But invariably these are the stories of children, dealing in old myths to frighten each other. They are never seen by anyone who remembers when they first emerged.  We are only a handful who yearn for them still, their landscapes and mysteries, our walks along these familiar streets punctuated by glances to where they once lay.






Thomas Trang is a French/Vietnamese writer currently living in the UK. His stories have appeared in FutureQuake (2000AD) and the Revolutions 2 anthology (under the pen name Thomas Trang), and he is currently working on a SF/cyberpunk trilogy series for Aethon Books. Twitter: @heyThomasTrang