Standing in the small, old cemetery along the city wall, a group of New Babbagers gathered for a story. Snow had fallen in the city the week before, but in good spirits friends and neighbors laughed and cajoled one another, huddled around burning barrels for warmth, their hands cupped around hot drinks. A cemetery was perhaps not the most likely of places for a story to be told, but it was the only place the teller of the tale would agree to do so.
Percival Gedge, currently the only undertaker working in New Babbage, sat on a crate in the center of the group. A tall, thin man in an overcoat and top hat, he looked younger than his years. At the appointed time, he began.
“As many of you know, about a month ago, an odd box was removed from an otherwise empty grave in this very cemetery. It is quite heavy, and is marked only with the words ‘Terra Fosca.’”
With a roll of her eyes, Junie Ginsburg, who owned the property on which the cemetery was located, interjected, “and now it’s mine.”
Mr. Gedge sighed to himself, annoyed to be interrupted before even really getting started. He hoped it wasn’t an indication of how the rest of the story would proceed.
“Quite so,” he said, in his characteristically even tone. “I’ve been asked to tell you all that I know about those words, which refer to a town.”
He paused to evaluate those around him. When he was certain he had their attention, he continued.
“Very far northwest of New Babbage, past the Dairy Cooperative, past Bump, Falun, and several other small towns, including Ouverberg and Avary, it is said there is a ghost town lying at the foot of the Artell Mountains. Many years ago, perhaps three decades past, it served as a base camp of sorts for various enterprises traveling up into the hills for lumber, mining, trapping, and the like. It was a thriving little burg with all of the businesses and vices one would expect in a town catering to the needs of working men. The town was called Terra Fosca.
“One autumn, the story goes, a mining company stopped in the town for a night before journeying up into the hills the next day. They had come from New Babbage with fresh equipment, prepared to drill for tribemonite, a mineral that, at the time, had been used in hardening alloys.
“Accompanying the miners was a scientist who had brought with him some sort of new device intended to increase the power of the drill, and various dignitaries from the region to observe what promised to be a day of scientific achievement. Neither the workmen nor the foreman said anything about what kind of instrument it was. The townsfolk of Terra Fosca were, for the most part, oblivious to anything out of the ordinary.
“The morning after their arrival the company loaded their equipment onto a double-headed freight train and started up into the mountains, a small party following on horseback. It was a crisp, sunny day when the operation left, and residents of Terra Fosca went about their business as usual. All was as it should be, until the next day.
“Sometime in the late afternoon, it is said, something odd began to happen. From start to finish it only took about six hours for it to take place, starting with a solitary shout until the entire town was overtaken by absolute madness. By midnight, the town was deserted.
“As the story goes, an old woman preparing a boiled dinner of venison and potatoes for the residents of her inn ran into the street screaming.
‘Mercy! Oh, dear gods, have mercy!’ she cried.
“Other residents of the town took notice and a crowd quickly gathered around her. She was beside herself with fright, wailing and pulling at her hair.
‘It’s gone!’ she was screaming. ‘It’s all gone! It just went away like…like smoke!’
“Members of the assembled group murmured and attempted to calm her, but before long another scream was heard from down the street. Another woman came running, this one more coherent than the last.
‘Our food!’ she wailed. ‘Our food – it’s gone! All of it! From supper on our table to pantry stock! Disappeared! Right in front of us, it did! One moment ’twas there, and the next, gone!’
“As the crowd moved to investigate the second woman’s claim, a flurry of shouts was heard, increasing at every moment, until the entire town was yelling, arguing, and carrying on. A brief lull in the furor would occur every so often, but inevitably another round of shouts and chaos would erupt in some other place.
“This continued well into the evening, long after the sun had set and the lamps were lit.
Finally, at some point in the night, in all of Terra Fosca, there was no food. Anywhere.
Some folks had seen the food disappear, before their eyes, plain as day. Some had only seen that where there had been food, there was then nothing. As the event unfolded, families and individuals started to abandon Terra Fosca. Those that remained were convinced that the situation would turn around, that some explanation would be found, or that there was simply no where else to go.
“Canning jars that had once been filled with vegetables and fruit appeared to have moved, instantaneously, from their shelves to other locations, emptied of their contents. The same held true for everything else. There was no salted meat. No potatoes or onions in cellars. No wine, no liquor, no candy. Every garden patch had been stripped. No fruit hung from the trees.
“More disturbing, the animals had disappeared. All animals. There were no chickens, no ducks, sheep or cows. No horses. No dogs. Everything was simply gone.”
(To be continued in Part 2)