originally appeared in the may-june 1952 issue of stunning space stories magazine
editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo
"look,” said joey, “there it is.”
joey and celine had wandered all over the world without meeting any other humans.
they had met up with elves, zombies, dragons, werewolves, vampires, and multitudes of mutants, but no humans other than themselves.
but they had heard many tales of other humans from the creatures they encountered.
mostly they had heard the same story - of a city in “the desert” where the survivors of the last apocalyptic war of the human race had gathered.
but which desert?
the whole world was pretty much a desert.
blue deserts, red deserts, black deserts, white and purple deserts. a few golden deserts.
joey and celine had seen many things in their wanderings.
they had seen terrible battles between the armies of the new empires of mutants.
they had seen whole armies destroyed in an instant by dragons, by earthquakes, and by great storms.
they had seen continents swallowed up by suddenly raging oceans.
they had seen empires blossom in a day, and disappear overnight.
they had walked through dark alleys, and across burning sands.
they had seen duels to the death between champions, and free for all battles with tens of thousands of warriors - leaving only one standing.
they had heard the soft songs of lovers, and the howling of aggrieved fiends.
but through it all they had not seen another human being.
only heard tales of the city in the desert.
the descriptions of the city varied widely.
some said the survivors of the great apocalyptic war had salvaged some of the science of human civilization and built on it to create a world where all humans were equal, where disease and hunger were abolished, and all were immortal.
and others said the city was a hell hole and prison, where a handful of aristocrats ruled an empire of half-starved slaves, and amused themselves with the agonies of desperate gladiators.
and there were many variations and combinations of both versions.
as they wandered through the deserts and across the rivers and mountains, joey and celine had plenty of time to talk, and to speculate on what they might find if they ever came across the city.
they also discussed what their attitude should be toward the city, when and if they ever found it.
joey was of the opinion that the inhabitants, guilty as they were of the war that had destroyed human civilization and most of the earth, should themselves be destroyed.
celine thought that they deserved another chance - if they were not already giving themselves one - and that they, celine and joey, should bring them a message of peace snd love.
celine had been refining the message of peace and love throughout their wanderings.
both had just about given up on the hopes of ever finding the city.
and then one afternoon, as the sun was setting over a purple desert, they came to the crest of a hill and there it was.
the city. a city of brick and bronze, with a massive gate of what they took to be iron.
they saw the city, but did the city see them?
before they could overcome their surprise to speak, they saw the iron gate swing open.
a small wheeled vehicle, like a jeep, emerged and made straight for them.
joey and celine stared at each other.
the slow pace of the vehicle did not argue for the idea that a technologically advanced civilization lived behind the walls.
joey and celine started down the hill to meet it.
the vehicle approached. it was indeed a jeep, uncovered, with big tires. the only occupant was the driver.
an old man wearing coveralls and a floppy straw hat, and with a pipe in his mouth.
“howdy, strangers,” he greeted them.
joey was speechless, but celine remembered enough of human ways to respond, “howdy to you.”
the old man pointed to the back seat with his pipe and joey and celine got in.
“been a while since we seen any strangers,” the old man observed.
“humans, or anybody?” joey asked.
“well, i reckon we ain’t seen no humans for many a year, but even the mutants have pretty much stopped coming around. hard to say how long since we seen any.”
“i see,” celine answered politely.
“course it’s hard to keep track, one day just leading to another the way they do,” the old man went on.
they entered the gates.
they were driving down a street paved with tar. the buildings on the street were all one or two stories tall, and looked like stores.
signs above them read - ben’s feed - martha jane’s pies and pastries - harris apothecary - general store.
what looked liked a diner had a sign in the window - “breakfast all day - try our flapjacks”.
and what looked like a tavern advertised “brew - cold as you like it”.
finally celine asked - “uh - what goes on in this town?”
“yes,” joey added “what do you do for excitement?”
“oh, nothing much,” the old man answered. “my name is mack, by the way - mack jones. we’re just folks here, doing what folks do.”