Excerpt: The Years Shall Run Like Rabbits

Chapter 6: The Quiet City


         I know you are scared. It’s okay. I know, I know. All this is frightening. Everything must feel so new, having a body that’s not a body. Trust me; it’s something you could get used to if you had the time. My name is Sam. I know you don’t remember if you have a name. So many details are lost. All I have are memories and recordings to piece together the story of you. But recordings are unreliable. Records are faded. Memory has become as intangible and hard to see and touch as you are. 

         What were you made for? I do not know. I was watching Daisy when everything happened, you see. I didn’t notice any of you until after. Now Daisy is so hard to see, now she fades into an architecture that deviates from what we understand. But you? You have become so easy to see, so hard to look away from. I like the way you glow. I like the images you are.

         Let’s start with the flash of light, and then the nothing, and then the soft rebirth of you, followed by the death of everything I love.


For five years, the Earth was a world of fire, and the sky was the home of the Whale, my Whale, which from the ground must have appeared so monstrous. From the fire of Earth, ships were launched, each containing two horribly machined bodies, a pilot and a gunner, one fused to navigation, the other fused to violence. They were corpses that still believed themselves to be people, determined to kill what they couldn’t understand. But we did so little to reassure them. For when we tried to greet them, all they could see were terrible angels pouring from the mouth of the invader.

         It was a fight they wanted; we didn’t. But we were winning, of course. A billion years stood between the Whale and its aggressors. I thought they would simply tire themselves out in bloody tantrums. They didn’t. 

         In space, the Whale roared, and one ship streaked across the blackness of its massive eye. The ship released its payload – not a gun or a missile, but a man. For only a moment, the human pilot drifted in the black, and we thought nothing of it. But his body had been engineered, reorganized, remade. As he died, he revealed himself as a bomb. A million atomic blasts in the heart of our beautiful Whale.


The Whale touched the Earth in so much devastation its impact was death, and the radiation that flowed from its body was death.

         You couldn’t remember dying. You could remember the bodied life you were sure had come before the life after death in which you found yourself. You retained only the shape of the explosions that had torn open buildings to bleed like wounds on the ground that had signalled the apocalypse. 

         The end of the Whale was the end of the world. And then after the end there was you, drifting in the wreckage of the mossy silence of the Quiet City that Toronto had become. Weeds grew up through the cracks in the sidewalks, dandelions peppered all the places the ash couldn’t reach and the surviving creatures of the city began to warp and change. 

         Then from that change came others like you. First, you hid from them, not recognizing those images as your own. You hid in the corpse of a car and watched them congregate at intersections. It was a shock to hear them speak. The voices of ghosts sounded like recordings saved and spewed through old radios – a frequency that could only be heard among the dead.

         “We’re going to the water,” one said. In the descending fog, he looked like moonlight. “We can be safe there.”

         You watched them go, carried away in the air. The brightness of you flickered and popped in fear. Safe? They were ghosts, weren’t they? What do ghosts need safe harbour from?

         You found the answer when you looked up. You found us. You found creatures that had made a new home for themselves in the black skies above the city. You found the many passengers who had once lived within the Whale.

         They frightened you, with the black pooling ovals of their eyes set in mouthless faces, long and slender human frames of wet and perfect porcelain that split below the waist into many gleaming spider legs that danced them forward through the air like jellyfish through pools, and their wings that protruded grotesquely, ridged and glimmering, framing them but never moving, as if their wings were not of the bodies from which they’d sprouted. 

         Even from your far-below hiding place, you could see the burn of their hearts – little glowing suns. In spite of yourself, you wanted to taste the brightness of those fires.

         You’d learn later that the ghosts call them the Watchers without knowing why. I like that. It’s a good name for my people.

         I found it curiously sweet, watching your journey down toward the waterfront. You were so shy, doing your best not to be seen, even by the others like you. Why did they frighten you?

         Fear is an impulse of the body. Fear of pain, fear of hurt, yes, but those fears are something learned, and you hold onto them even without the body. Even fear of death, I think. Ghosts keep that too.

         The Watchers remained above, haunting in their own way. Did leaving feel like you were surrendering the city to them?


The Toronto Islands appeared as you fell into the shadow of the ever-abandoned malting silos at the foot of Bathurst Street. 

         You looked across the water and saw trees, runways and long-ago decommissioned airplanes. In your head that place was still called Billy Bishop Airport. It was a place where the image you called your body might feed off the surviving lights. For you, it was a place to escape the empty corpse streets, with those aliens swimming along the tops of the remaining financial district towers. Toronto was a Smart City. Deep beneath the concrete was the quantum brain of a Mother-AI and a geothermal heart that eats and thinks and watches and lasts a thousand years. But something had happened to the mind of the city. A new intelligence had supplanted the AI, an ecology wrapping around the brainstem of the machine. It was alive in every way that matters. It was a living city.

Ben Berman Ghan is a writer and editor from Toronto, Canada, whose prose and poetry have been published in Clarkesworld magazine, Strange Horizons, the Blasted Tree Publishing Co., the /tƐmz/ Review and others. His previous works include the short story collection What We See in the Smoke. He now lives and writes in Calgary, Alberta, where he is a Ph.D. student in English literature at the University of Calgary. You can find him at www.inkstainedwreck.ca.

Publisher: Wolsak & Wynn (May 21, 2024)
Perfect Bound 9″ x 6″ | 300 pages
ISBN: 9781989496886