Before It Disappears

This story was shortlisted for the Sheffield Short Story Competition 2020. The brief was to write a story in just 500 words with a "true Sheffield flavour."

The competition was run jointly by Sheffield Authors and Sheffield Libraries.

The mist rolled in off the moors. Down the Porter Valley into Fulwood. Over Totley. It swallowed Forge Dam, crept up Abbeydale Road. Dore succumbed in a single, damp bite.

When it lifted, those areas of the city were gone.

Not flattened, nor flooded, nor burned. They stopped existing. Try to walk from one end of Millhouses Park to the other and you found yourself doing a full circuit of the boating lake and heading north again, looking for the heron in the river and wondering what you fancied for tea.

If you tried to drive a car into the missing area, let’s just say that didn’t end well. Waking up in the Northern General, drivers couldn’t remember what’d caused them to crash. “I spun around,” they said. “It was like the car had a mind of its own.”

Something was messing with us. And it was not on.

I stared at the departure boards in the station. Manchester was no good; the train would dump me back on the platform fifteen minutes later, twenty-two pounds poorer and none the wiser. The Leeds line had engineering work, tickets to London were a rip-off, and even in a crisis I couldn’t face Doncaster.

In the end, I went home. Maybe it didn’t matter all that much. How often did I get out of Sheffield anyway? Most weekends I sat in front of the TV, thinking about going for a walk but never quite getting around to it.

Outside my flat, people were carrying on as normal, although some had donned head-to-toe body bags as “protection” from the mist. The hills that should have formed the horizon, red roofs patchworked with trees, weren’t there.

We’d just about adapted to our shrunken city when the mist came again. This time it descended from the east, curving around to swallow Oughtibridge and Gleadless, sucking in the Parkway like a noodle. Meadowhall became nothing but a bad dream.

Sick of staring at the empty sky, I scrolled through photos on my phone. Stanage Edge at sunset. My ex-girlfriend standing crucifix-style on the Win Hill trig point. Feeding lemurs at Doncaster Zoo.

My phone rang. Had I seen Gaz? My mates had tried to cycle to his flat but got turned around in the mist, which left them skidding out of control down Granville Road.

We met in the Peace Gardens, about the only place we felt safe. It was a damp sort of day, threatening to rain. We sat on a stone slab, cold radiating through our jeans.

“I wish I’d gotten out more,” I said.

“I wish I’d hung out more with Gaz,” Matt said. “He was sound.”

We nodded. A man in scuffed leather shoes begged from bench to bench. “My home’s gone,” he pleaded, his tie dangling like the lead of a dog that’s lost its owner. “I’ve nothing left.”

“I wish someone would help him,” said Tim, but none of us moved.

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