I am working on a roleplaying game based on my graphic novel Memories of Retrocity (Published in French in 2011), I decided to make the original texts available for you, revised translated in English.
I will drop them here while I go through the translation process.
Those are "pre-translations". They need to be proofread and modified before any official release. Hopefully you can enjoy the raw material!
Welcome to Retrocity.
MEMORIES OF RETROCITY
This book is not a novel. Not a fiction. Do not expect entertainment. Nor a happy ending.
This book is a testimony, unique vestige of a doomed destiny.
While I am writing these lines, William is dead already.
I managed to leave Retrocity. I passed the wall on a rainy night. I think the city let me go. That I have served my sentence.
I lost his child this morning. On the floor of my hotel room, just after breakfast. My mechanical guts could no longer contain this piece of life. I already knew. I always knew it would come to this, and maybe it is better this way.
You hold his journal in your hands. All that remains of William Drum. Of this man that has been trapped.
William wrote these lines in the middle of his stay in the haunted city. I think it's a good introduction to his diary:
Six nights of rain, with no interruption. It calmed down ... The thick mist now engulfs the city. I see the buildings tops piercing the garden of clouds, monoliths of stone and metal without reflection. They stretch out as far as the eye can see, autonomous black towers lost in the foggy sky. Below, the metal, the asphalt, the city ... Retrocity.
I have been walking the dark streets for a while now. Weeks have become months. My stay was not supposed to last, but the city swallowed me in.
I quickly saw it was a trap. I knew my superiors had sent me here for the sole purpose of making me disappear. And I understood, by dint of collecting testimonies and anecdotes: once inside the walls, the outside world forgets you, irremediably. Retrocity is out of this world, moving in is death.
And I am here. Obsessed by the sound of the machine, keys and letters hitting the paper. An attempt to save myself by the act of writing ...
I always botched my police reports. But this is different. There's a moment when we see the end, when the only thing left to do is to stop and … reflect. I would gladly talk to the neighbor but he has just merged with the chandelier of his living room. Only I remain here. Me, and the machine.
"And try to understand what this is all about !!! "... that's what the boss yelled at me just before dropping me here. Today I can say it: it is about nothing at all and it sounds like shit!
I'm just stuck here.
No matter what angle I take to think about it, I do not see what I could have done in my damn life to deserve such a punishment. To finish my days in an apartment too big, built in a building too empty ... in a deserted area of a city in agony. Knocking my anxieties down, hammered by the keys of a machine that seems to smile when I spell a dirty word ... SHIT.
Oh yes the city is beautiful! She is beautiful. Hardly any time to appreciate her monstrous beauty that she already devours you. And now I do what all the others do: I do not live in it ... I haunt it.
Journal of William Drum
Nov 27, 2004
Nobody ends up here randomly, and I was no exception to the rule.
In fact, I did something a bit stupid. A little ugly thing. And rather than having to try to save my ass or stuff the story under a pillow, my superiors decided to send me here. Like all those sick, insane, toxic, murderous and whatnot, who have been dropped here to disappear.
Except that someone gave me a mission, a “reason" that would maybe keep me from sinking too quickly.
After the trial, when the decision was made to transfer me here, a journalist got in touch. Not a small freelancer from the sports section. No, rather a big macaroon a little more curious than average, and director of a big international paper. He wanted to “know". He wanted his pre-retirement scoop, to make some noise before saying bye. Yeah, the dude wanted to know what was going on here ... well I think he’s got his damn scoop.
Not for a moment a guy from the outside world could imagine what is going on inside the city walls. If he was to ever share these notes with the rest of the world, they would take him for a madman ... so I might as well go all the way, and write everything!
I like to write, and I found this old machine in a dark corner of the building.
Writing makes me feel sain, it gives me some distance. When I write I become the memory of the city, her voice, the words she speaks to the outside.
Cop is not an easy job. Often you must deny what the body tells you, just so you can keep on going during your third night without sleep, counting on the help of more or less legal chemicals.
That night I was not in a good state. Nervous. Wasting my time on a disgusting investigation, in the gloomy streets of Chicago, under a rain that would make a dog cry. The reflective uniforms of the coroner guys were giving me a headache. The only thing I could think about was the ass of the boss's wife, that I was messing around with for about six months already. It was not passion, but it was good ... a bit of flesh in the depressive routine.
Like a soaked battery, I traced my way to the motel where we used to meet. Our little nest of dirty love. But that night, the boss was waiting for me in the room, at the side of the confused woman.
He had the look in his eyes. The look of someone who is ready to end it. And so I went, straight for the jaw. Not a warning punch, not a punch to show him who had the biggest. No, rather the kind of strike that brings one back to his own fragility, a punch that comes from the heart of a tired cop who can no longer stand his job and the face of his superior. A blow, hard as a deadline.
It became annoying when I realized that I had demolished the boss for good.
And even more stressful when his wife filled a complain for “abuse”. I do not blame her, she had to save herself. But those damn bruises on her back, I am not the one who painted them.
It became really scary when the investigation revealed that the boss was completely loaded on cocaine that night. After that, the only option was to make me disappear.
Cop is not an easy job.
But let's start from the beginning: my first steps in Retrocity.
On a Thursday night of November, while people were happily gathering all across America around a dead and stuffed turkey, a pumpkin cake and a grumpy granny, I was about pass through the doors of Retrocity, and, as I would learn later, to become the first immigrant in more than fifteen years.
I stepped off the train with my almost-empty suitcase and inspected the surroundings. The platforms were deserted, except for two or three railway workers. Behind me, the gates of the city, through which my train had passed directly.
The gates were just an opening in the gigantic wall that stood there - with a bunch of miradors and barbed wire. The strange train that had dropped me behind the jaws of this titanic structure had already left, back into the mist, squealing and smoking. So I went on, forward, fighting against all my instincts, alone on this empty platform - “do not go, turn back, you still can, you must leave …"
Then everything happened fast. Chains on the gates, heavy harrow thrown to the ground.
Three silhouettes approached on the poorly lit esplanade. Two bright projectors aimed at my face, dazzling me. I could barely distinguish who was talking to me. All three were wearing the same long dark leather coat and a Panama style hat. Anyone else could have worn these clothes and make it look classy. But those guys felt lanky, stiff and uncomfortable.
- "Mr. Drum?" Asks one of them.
- Yeah. William Drum”, I answered, dry. I was trying to use my hand as a cover to hide the light and be able to see his face, but I couldn’t - and I got worried. "So what's the plan? Do you send me directly to the cell or do I have to go meet the warden before?"
- Follow us, Mr. Drum. We are going to take you to your apartment, which is graciously provided by the Housing services of Retrocity, the Corporation and the Hover Company " said the faceless bastard.
I realized that he was not the type of guy I'd be shooting the shit with. His tone was monotonous like a prison door. If I didn’t abuse coffee on the train, I’d be already asleep. I was completely exhausted. Only fear was keeping my body awake.
I was being escorted by the other two guys.
They were walking exactly at the same pace, one to my left, the other to my right.
I began to understand why no one smiled when I mentioned the resemblance of this place to a prison earlier.
I never had any illusions about the true nature of this "transfer of Inspector W. Drum out of the state of Illinois due to annual restructuring of the Services"; but at this instant I was starting to perceive the depth of the crappy pit in which I had just been plunged, face first. I was starting to measure the importance of my “little journalism job" for the Chicago Post. Something unspeakable and dreadful was buried in this city.
Or maybe Retrocity herself was a monster. All I knew at the time was that I had cold sweat running down my spine, goosebumps all over, and the need to run away.
Pride is a real issue with me, and could not afford to pee myself in the presence of strangers, - so I clenched my teeth and walked along.
We got in a nice car, Rolls-Royce style, but a model that I had never seen before. With a metal emblem I could not recognize. An "H" inside an "O". I suspected it was Hover, the company that "graciously gave me my apartment". Bizarre. I thought they were making guns. The more you know…
The cop who spoke to me and another of his colleagues sat up front, leaving me alone with the last one in the back seat. Yes, I say "the cop," because after more than a decade in the police forces, you get to smell that particular mixture of authority and submission. Typical of the guy who is scared of his boss, but happy to have been designated as representative of order, rising above the pleb in the hierarchy of power. I know, I still have leftovers.
But my career, my past, it all feels so distant already.
The car was going fast. The city was unfolding before my eyes. The decorum was sinister. The entirety of the neighborhoods adjoining the wall was deserted. Old buildings with black facades, broken windows letting go of thin veils and curtains, dragged outside by the wind. One street light out of ten was lit, blinking, illuminating old adds painted on the decayed walls, selling products from another time.
After ten minutes, we stopped in front of a large building, gray and dirty, blackened, taller than all those around. A colossus of fifteen or twenty floors made of cracked concrete and metal beams. We had reached the periphery of the abandoned neighborhoods, the ones running along the ramparts.
The driver threw a bunch of keys in my direction.
- "Fifteenth floor, door 09, on the left. Goodbye, Mr. Drum, and welcome to Retrocity" he told me.
And that was all. Like that. I got out of the car, picked up my suitcase and walked up to the building door. The car took off, passing under the red sizzling neon light, advertising for Hover TVs.
At this moment I saw the face of the driver, a face that I have not been able to distinguish until now. A face I was not going to forget. I probably got confused, because otherwise it was to a damn skeleton that I had been trying to speak to for the past hour. The silvery reflections of his metallic skull disappeared at the corner of the street.
And then I was alone.
I walked inside the building. The main hall was better maintained than I could have suspected, given the outside appearance. It was dusty and really dark. The only light was coming from an opening at the top of the stairwell, a canopy of broken glass filtering the moonlight.
I got inside the rusty elevator and closed the gate. It was working. Fifteenth floor, left ... While looking for the keys, already lost in one of my pockets, I heard a muffled sound coming from the door number 14, on the other side of the corridor. It seems I had a neighbor.
The key turned in the lock. Home Sweet Home.
All things considered, it could have been much worse. I think I expected to be buried in some kind of mass grave. Instead I was standing at the door of a gorgeous apartment. It was a spacious place, stinking dry decay and dust, with a lot of character.
I found it lying there, in the middle of the living room, sitting on a wooden table: a typewriter. A forty years old model at least. A pile of blank paper sheets at its side.
I threw my suitcase on the bed, which launched an explosion of dusty particules. I sat on the old leather chair, and I started to write.
That's where I am now.
It's Thursday November 27th, no, wait, it's probably past midnight now.
It's Friday, November 28, my name is William S. Drum, and here's my story. My story, and the one of a place called Retrocity.
Dec 06, 2004
Well, I believe this machine works properly. Great. I would rather watch something on TV, or listen to the radio, but this is not the kind of comfort available around here. I was not sent on a cruise, and every minute I spend here is a reminder of that.
Let me introduce you to the cosy bit of paradise I was sent to. I’ll start by saying that I do not understand half the things I see, that I have no one to talk to, and that I am sincerely starting to freak out. I need to process that shit. I need an interlocutor, even if it has to be myself. So I can put things in perspective, reflect.
My apartment is on the fifteenth floor of an empty building. Almost empty. It is one of the tallest buildings in the area, with an unobstructed view on the ocean of ruins that surrounds me. I was not asking for the Ritz, but damn … everything is so strange here. Destroyed, abandoned, decayed.
There is tap water, but I've seen folks with dysentery once, and no thank you, I’ll pass. Apparently, this urban desert occupies the entire periphery of the city, itself surrounded by a gigantic wall whose gates are permanently closed. My arrival seems to remain an exception.
I tried to visit the neighborhood this morning, and didn’t see anybody. Not a soul. I wish I could tell you that I felt bad about it, that the absence of my human siblings makes me feel sad and that I miss socializing and all that jazz. But in fact I was rather happy to be alone, at least at the time. Given the look of the area, I just happen to have a very bad feeling about the locals.
So yeah ... it's just the story of a lost cop who was sent to the top of a clumsy tower in the most deprived neighborhood of America's grimmest city.
I said I wanted to put things into perspectives… Well here it is: a vertical dive straight into a rusty cage called Retrocity.
Tomorrow, I'll go further. I will walk past the checkpoint at the end of my street, if I am allowed. And I will get closer to downtown.
Right now, it's “night time". The difference between day and night is subtle here. With the opaque black cloud floating permanently above the city and the winter coming, it is almost always dark. Let’s say that the night is just a little brighter between ten in the morning and four in the afternoon.
I lit a candle. I found it on the first floor, in what used to be the concierge's lodge. I can see electric lights farther away, towards downtown Retrocity, towards those tall towers that constantly spew a greyish-black smoke, towards inhabited neighborhoods ...
Because now, finally, I'm starting to feel the need to see, meet, and talk to my fellow Retrocitizens.
Over there in the distance, there is life. I know there is.
December 7th, 2004
I still can not get used to the machine. It works better tonight than it did this morning though. This morning I almost threw the damn thing against the wall. Almost.
I need to watch my temper. That’s the kind of impulse that led me straight to the situation I am in now. The city, the exile. This is all I have left now. Without this journal, without the machine, I do not know what I would do to keep myself busy. To take care of the mind.
So, in order to calm down, I went out for a walk. That was the plan for today anyway. I just did not mean to go out so early. I was in the street by 9:30 in the morning.
Heading toward downtown.
The “watchers”. That’s how I call the guards at the checkpoint. They let me go without asking questions! I guess I am already part of the scenery.
I saw their faces when I passed by. These guys are monsters.
Monsters dressed in long coats and felt hat. Very “thirties” in their clothing style. But that's not what I'm referring to when I say they're monsters. I am talking about their eyes. They shine with a weird dead light, cold and malevolent. I know I am overthinking this. It's nothing but typical electric ocular prostheses. But they look like the batteries are running low. I can not help it, it makes me very uncomfortable.
On some of them, the entire lower jaw has been replaced by a steel equivalent. Bare metal fangs and chromed molars, fleshless, smiling at you with no shame. Bestial, aggressive. Threatening.
Now that I’m in the comfort of my apartment, sitting at the table with a glass of scotch and laying all these things down on paper, I can pretend to be detached and relax about it. Writing is reassuring. But outside, alone in the death-stinking city, it's a whole different ball game. Outside, fear engulfs me. And it only leaves me once I am back in the apartment.
And there is much worse than the “watchers”.
The city streets are filled with people physically altered by biomechanical surgery. A whole section of the population walks with bits of metal grafted on their faces. Inlaid. It's like being in the nightmare of a writer from the 80s: "In the year 2000, everyone will have been transformed into mechanical monsters, robots, with implants and plugs, and the cars will fly over the city". Well, we have the monsters and the robots, but we seem to have forgotten about the flying cars.
The few children I have seen are not spared by the phenomenon. Approaching the downtown, I met a legless kid, dragging herself across the street with her robotic arms. I don’t know what’s going on. Why they are undergoing these operations. I just know that it is the Hover company that performs them ... I saw a huge neon billboard advertising the merits of implants, with no clear arguments other than “it will be great!”.
I decided to go for a drink. This I am familiar with. I stepped in the first sketchy bar I found. I walked through the cloud of cigaret smoke and sat at the counter, in silence. I lit one. And then I started to ask questions.
- "Say, why everyone has ... you know ... on the face …" I told the barman while gesturing weird things with my hands to make him understand what I was referring to. "See, I'm new in the area, and ..."
... he stared at me quietly. For a minute. And he turned around to take care of some other customer. I had been denied, ghosted. And I couldn’t even pretend to be surprised about it.
I tipped anyway and left.
(To be continued!)