Dark City Fanfiction

In honor of the 20th anniversary of one of my all-time favorite films, Dark City, here is a coda I wrote for it in March 2005. I don’t write much fanfic, and this was never revised, published, or posted anywhere–it was written only as an exercise for an old writing group. I don’t remember what they said about it, but looking back on it, some of it makes me cringe now, and some of it still makes me smile. Be gentle, dear readers. If anything, this is a testament to how much the Clarion West Workshop I attended a few months after I wrote it helped me improve, and also that writers shouldn’t be embarrassed by their early work.


Dark City: “Time for Romance”

John opened the door and was greeted by sunlight. He shut his eyes for a moment against the sudden brightness, felt the warmth of a sun against his face. An afterimage danced across his retinas and he could see an orange glow behind his closed eyelids. The warm light felt good, familiar…like a long forgotten memory. A fresh sea breeze fluttered over him and he breathed in deeply. Shell Beach. He had finally made it–quite literally.

Then God said “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.

John opened his eyes, squinting in the glare of early dawn, the first dawn of this new world. The wide sky was blue and clear, and as an afterthought he added some clouds dotting the horizon. Better. There was a long wooden pier stretching before him, blue waves lapping against it, and at the end of it… Yes, there she was, as he knew she would be. Emma.

“She is not Emma anymore, John,” Dr. Schreber’s voice echoed in his mind.

Emma, the woman John loved, no longer existed. He knew that she had never really existed, that everything he knew about her, everything they had been together had just been false memories planted by the Strangers, the creatures that had imprisoned and studied them in this city. And now this woman had new memories, a new life–a life that no longer included him in it.

John began walking toward the woman, allowing the edifice behind him to melt into the sand. He wished it away as easily as letting a thought escape, repressing it like a bad memory. As he walked he shielded the sun from his eyes with an upraised hand, focused on the woman waiting for him. He heard the cry of sea gulls overhead, the crashing of the surf around him, the hollow thud of his shoes against the wet wooden slats of the pier.

He still loved her. Even if his memories of her were as fabricated of his memories of this place, he still loved her. He had made this place real, hadn’t he? He had built the beach, the ocean, introduced the sun to this dark city that he had carefully made into what he wanted it to be. Just by concentrating, by using his power and the machine the Strangers had left behind.

His love for her was already real, as much as any person could genuinely love another. That had nothing to do with his memories; it went much deeper. And he hoped that she still loved him too, or that this new woman would love him again.

“I love you, John,” Emma had told him. “You can’t fake something like that.” He hoped she was right.

He drew closer to her, his hands in his pockets to check his urge to sneak up behind her like he used to, enfold her in his arms and kiss her gently along the nape of her neck. She was staring out at the ocean, the wind whipping her long dark hair out from her. Standing there alone, she looked sad, thoughtful. She wore a close-fitting black dress with a floral print—strangely, he remembered that dress, she had worn it on their six-month anniversary, when he had proposed to her—with a red coat slung over an arm. There was a suitcase at her feet.

He sidled up to the left of her and leaned on the railing as she was, looking out at the impossible horizon. He was nervous. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the sun and the sea, anything but the warmth of the body beside him.

“It’s so beautiful here,” she said.

Thanks, he thought, but he only smiled. Her voice was beautiful. His last memory of her was hearing her shout his name as he succumbed to the Stranger’s power and allowed himself to fall unconscious. All to save her, a woman he had thought he didn’t really care about. It was then that he knew he loved her.

He turned and opened his eyes. She was still looking out at the ocean. Standing beside her it reminded him of the time they had first met, on the bench by the canal. He had bought her a rose and they had kissed–or nearly kissed. In his new set of memories Dr. Schreber had interrupted them with his lectures on using his abilities. “There is no time for romance, John. The world can be what you make it.” Only the world was empty to him if he couldn’t be with her.

John was annoyed to have lost the memory of that perfect moment with her, to have lost so much of his childhood, but it only reminded him that those memories were false. This was real. This moment mattered, and they would make real memories together, if she would have him.

“So… bright,” she said. She glanced at him and he had to suppress the impulse to lean over and kiss her. He wanted nothing more than to feel her lips pressed softly against his. They would be slightly salty, from the sea. It was difficult knowing he could so easily make her love him, but he wanted…needed…to do this without the use of any kind of powers. Was it a test to see if the feelings were real? To see if anything could be real in this place? If so, he didn’t know if he was testing her or him.

“Do you know if Shell Beach is around here?” he asked casually. Stupid question, but he didn’t know what else to say and he wanted to hear her say something, anything. He had so much to say to her, to ask her, but all of that would have to wait.

She turned and pointed behind him with a perfectly manicured finger of a delicate hand. No nail polish, so that much hadn’t changed. “I think that’s it, just over there.” He tore his eyes away from her and followed the direction she had indicated. There it was: Shell Beach, just on the other side of the bay. There was the lighthouse on the rock cliff, with the small collection of houses around it. Paradise.

After a moment she picked up her suitcase and started up the pier. John froze, cursing silently as she walked away from him, and out of his life. He could make her stay, but instead he would simply let her go and make whatever life she could for herself in this new world. He hoped she could find happiness here. He had made the world for her.

“I’m headed that way myself,” she said behind him, hesitantly. She had stopped walking. He turned and saw her watching him, frowning slightly with the sun on her face. “Would you like to join me?” she asked. He saw hope in her face, perhaps a slight bit of confusion. The woman he knew was rarely so forward except when she wanted something. Then she would do whatever was necessary to get it. A fragment of memory—concerning an adulterous affair that hadn’t happened—flickered uncomfortably in the back of his mind.

“Sure,” he said, when he really wanted to whoop with joy. It was at least a beginning, the beginning he had wanted. She was interested, without him saying or doing anything unnatural to sway her.  Perhaps things would work out after all and she would love him again.

He started walking with her. He almost put an arm around her shoulder, almost reached for her hand. He stuffed his hands back into his pockets as he ambled alongside her. “I’m Anna, by the way.” Anna. That would take some getting used to. “What’s your name?”

“John,” he said. “John Murdoch.” No recognition registered on her face.

They walked for a while and soon he took her suitcase from her. As they made their way along the beach he watched her from the corner of his eye. “So where do you work…Anna?”

She glanced at him and smiled self-consciously. “I work at the Fremont, in East City. At the ticket counter.” She was embarrassed.

John’s heart sank. Emma was a wonderful singer. Like true love, you couldn’t fake a talent like that. It upset him that she had been dealt such a low card in this life. He could fix it, but it was too late. He had vowed not to interfere in her life anymore, not abuse his power. But it felt mean somehow, knowing that he could make things better for her and choosing not to. This was harder than he had thought it would be.

He nodded. “I love that theater,” he said. Never mind that it was the only theater. Maybe we can see a movie there sometime. When you aren’t working. John’s palms were clammy in his pockets and his heart was racing. He was new at this. He had the incredible power to change reality, but at the moment he wished someone had given him twenty-eight years of dating skills in his memories. He needed to say something to have an excuse to see her again. But the moment was lost.

“What about you, John? What do you do?”

“Construction,” he said without thinking. He frowned. “But I think I need a change. I’m not sure where I fit in anymore.” I fit with you, he thought.

Anna nodded. “I know how you feel. Lately I have the sense that I’m missing out on something. That this isn’t the life I was meant to have.” She shrugged. “Everyone thinks that, I suppose. I don’t know what I need to change it.” She looked at him and something in her face made John hope that she thought that he might be what was missing in her life.

“Sometimes it’s like I don’t know who I am. I don’t know where I’ve been, and I don’t know where I’m going.” At least he had a name. He had become John Murdoch. He was John Murdoch. He had to hold onto that, and onto Anna.

“Exactly. I dream about other lives, faces I don’t know, places I’ve never seen.” John saw a faraway look in her eyes, a reflection of the yearning he felt for roots he might never discover. She looked at John intensely. “I feel like I know you.” Her eyes darted away.

“Me too,” he agreed. And he did know her, possibly better than she knew herself. He knew that she liked toast with runny eggs on it for breakfast. Her favorite food was spaghetti in meat sauce. She preferred to sleep in on Sundays and spend the rest of the day in bed with the newspaper. He knew the smell of her hair after a bath, where she liked to be touched as they made love, the taste of her tongue. But that had been Emma. Maybe Anna was nothing like that, but he knew that deep down she was the same person, and he couldn’t wait to discover what she was like. “Perhaps we’ve met…in another life.”

They entered the small town of Shell Beach and John paused to look at a white house close to the outskirts. It was Uncle Carl’s house, though he didn’t know if Carl still lived there.

“Do you know someone there?” Anna asked when she saw his interest.

“I used to. I used to live here. I moved away a long time ago, but I’d like to come back. I miss this place.”

“It’s never quite the way you remember it, is it?”

“Actually, it is.”

He looked around wistfully and in the corner of his mind began changing it, building a small house for himself on the other side of town. A house he might one day share with Anna.

“Do you live around here?” he asked as they continued their walk.

“No…” She shook her head. “I can’t afford it. I live just in the next town over, but I like to walk through here after work. It relaxes me.”

They passed through the town quickly, passing a few people who were just getting ready to start their day. It was a Sunday, John thought. Time had been so meaningless for so long. It was simply astonishing that it was morning, that night would follow day, the way it was meant to, that tomorrow was going to come and it would be different from today.

“Well?” She looked at him expectantly.

“I’m sorry. I…my thoughts wandered.”

“Oh.” She looked disappointed.

“What was the question?”

“Never mind.”

Damn. Pay attention, John. Concentrate, he thought. She’s the only thing that matters to you and you’re going to lose her.

“So…what do you want to do?” he asked, picking up the thread of their earlier conversation.

Her face brightened, and to him it seemed brighter than the sun. “You were listening,” she said.

He nodded. “If you could do anything in the world, what would it be?” He wondered if she would say she wanted to be a singer—she had had the talent for it in her previous life. We might never know where we came from, he thought, but some things just came naturally. His power, her singing. Those things transcended memory and experience. Maybe they were part of the human soul, that elusive essence that the Strangers had been after.

“Dinner, of course. And dancing. I know a night club…the singers there are amazing.”

John suddenly understood. She had been discussing a date.  Emma—Anna—was taking the initiative. He felt relieved.

“I know that club.” I used to date a singer there. “So, I’ll pick you up…”

“Tonight,” she said. “Seven.”  She stopped walking. They stood in front of a small apartment building in a poorer town adjoining Shell Beach, which lay only a few hundred yards away, shining like a beacon in the morning sun. John had to remember that parts of the city were still dark. He wasn’t sure what to do about it. She gestured at the entrance. “This is where I live.” She glanced at the entrance. “Apartment 32.” She looked like she wanted to say something else.

He had gone home with her, that first time they met. He wanted things to be different now. They had all the time in the world and he wanted to do it right. “You must be tired,” John said. “I’ll see you tonight.”

She smiled again and held out a hand for her suitcase. “I’m looking forward to it.” He passed the suitcase to her, feeling a tingle pass through him as her hand brushed his.

John watched as she walked up the steps to the door. It was a joy to see her move. She had a grace and poise that the Strangers hadn’t been able to strip away. That was Anna, whomever she had been. At the top of the steps she turned back.

“Don’t you want my phone number?”

“Sure,” he said. He reached into his pocket, twisted reality just so, and pulled out a scrap of paper and a pencil. He wrote down the number she recited and waited until she entered the building. She glanced back at him, with a tiny frown on her face, before she disappeared inside.

He walked off, back through Shell Beach, ignoring Uncle Carl’s house this time as he passed it. That life was behind him now.


He had something important to do. He could have flown through East City, levitating himself high over the buildings, but he needed to be grounded; he needed an anchor to this reality. He needed to feel normal. So he took the bus.

The office was where it had always been, near the center of the city: 1106 South-East Drive. John stood in front of the door marked “Dr. Daniel P. Schreber, Psychiatrist” and knocked. He heard the shuffling uneven steps as they approached. The door opened.

“John.” Schreber grinned crookedly and gestured him inside. “I’ve been…expecting you.” His breathing was still labored. John wished Schreber would let him fix him, give him the new start they all deserved, but Schreber insisted that he deserved his condition as punishment for his betrayal.

Schreber led John down the hall to a large room. A circular labyrinth occupied the center of the lab, and though cages lined the walls, John could see no animals in sight. Sunlight spilled through wide bay windows overlooking the city. Through the window John spotted the large clock face of the Stranger’s machine. He had mounted it on a tower as a reminder to him and Dr. Schreber of where they had come from.

Schreber hobbled over to the window and looked out. Light flashed from his spectacles as he gazed at the city sprawling before him. “I love what you’ve done with the place,” he said. “I knew you could do it.”

John examined Schreber. This man was even more of a mystery than Anna; the Strangers had left him with no memories, beyond his talents as a psychiatrist. Yet Schreber was more familiar to him than anyone or anything John knew. Schreber was present in every important memory that had been given to John. He was the ice cream man, his grade school teacher, the fireman who had saved his life. He had taught John everything he knew about his powers and the machine, from levitating pencils to using the machine. John wanted him out of his mind.

We did it, Doctor.” He pointed out the window. “This is as much your doing as mine.”

Schreber looked down at his feet before retreating to stand behind the maze.

“Doctor, you said that one day you might be working for me. I need your help with something.”

“I told you, there’s nothing I can do. The memories…were destroyed in the battle.”

“I know that. But you’re still a psychiatrist, aren’t you? You can work with memories without the use of test tubes and syringes.”

“I can’t…help you regain your past, John. Or Emma’s. Without anything to work with—”

John moved opposite Schreber, with the maze between them. “You don’t understand. I want to forget. I want you to take away the memories you’ve given me.”

Schreber looked at him in puzzlement. “What? Why would you want that?” He walked ploddingly around toward John and grabbed at his arm. “I would do anything for what you have. I don’t have anything. Just my work.” He crashed a hand down on the maze, collapsing a section of wall. “And I don’t even have that anymore.”

“You will, Doctor. The memories you gave the people here were never meant to be permanent. You’re going to have a lot of people coming to you for help as their own realities start to break down. They’re going to need you to reassure them, to help them make sense of their feelings of dissatisfaction and the inevitable realization that things aren’t right.”

“You can make them right, John. You have control of the machine.”

John shook his head. “I’ve done everything I can. I don’t want to play God, here in this… hell. I’ve made it as livable, as normal, as I could. It can go on without me.” He looked at Schreber desperately. “I can’t keep this power and have a life of my own.”

Schreber turned and made his way to his desk. “You’ve been to see Emma.”

“Yes. She’s Anna now.” John followed Schreber into the corner of his office. It was darker here. Somehow it felt safer, more comfortable, even though part of him continued to crave the sunlight. “I’m going to see her again tonight.”

Schreber nodded. “Maybe…I can help after all. Perhaps hypnosis…will do the trick.”

“Whatever it takes.”

“It may not work. You have a strong mind.”

“It will work if I want it to.”

“All right.” Schreber stood and gestured to his couch. “Please. Lay down.”

John shrugged out of his rumpled jacket and settled himself into the cushions. Schreber pulled out a gold watch and dangled it on its long chain.

“You won’t lose the power, John. You just won’t know it’s there. And you may not be able to control it. You might…tune without thinking.”

“I can handle that. I’ll keep coming to see you regularly. You can keep me in control.”

“And if we need you…to change something?”

“No.” John looked at Schreber squarely. “No. I’m not in charge anymore. From now on, we’re on our own. All of us.”

Schreber nodded. “I…understand.”

“Take the memories of the power. Nothing else.” Leave me my childhood, and this time stay out of it. He was grateful for everything the doctor had done, but he hadn’t asked for any of this. He just wanted to lead a normal life.

“One last thing, John.” Schreber nodded at the machine visible outside his window. “Shut it down.”

John turned his head and his eyes gleamed for a moment, then a pulsing wave rippled from his forehead. It struck the clock face, which gradually slowed to a halt and grew dark. It was frozen at 10:04.

“I’m ready,” he said.

“Follow the watch with your eyes,” Schreber said. The clock swung like a pendulum before John’s face, spinning slowly on its chain and sending splashes of sunlight across his eyes. His eyelids grew heavy.  Anna, he thought as he felt consciousness slipping away. He was exhausted, more than he knew. Rebuilding had been draining work.

John had set the city spinning on an axis that would keep it situated near the sun and give them normal periods of day and night. The seasons would never change, and eventually people would realize they could not leave the city, but he couldn’t control them forever. They didn’t deserve that. The city was theirs now, even as they belonged to the city. And John was as much a product of this city as it was of him.

“Sleep…now,” Schreber said.

John slept.

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