For as long as I can remember, there have always been photo albums strewn around our house. Supporting coffee tables and crowding bookshelves, stuffing boxes in the top of our closets, my family held on to their memories long after Walgreens and CVS stopped printing photographs. Our town is small, tucked between Columbus and Cincinnati, with only a few streets of shops and restaurants before fading out into suburbs. The clutter that formed my childhood looked very different than my friends’ homes. Our house is surrounded by blocks of suburban museums, whitewashed modern, or overly decorated to look as though you had stepped into a different place and time far away from rural Ohio. In the never-ending landscape of new developments and crowded complexes, lived-in space that never quite felt lived in, I imagined my room existed in those photo albums, in what had once been downtown New York.

When my grandmother was in her mid-thirties, the yearly flooding events that had plagued coastal cities around the globe finally overtook New York City. In my high school history class, we are told that this collapse was a slow process. A cycle of continual failures by local and national government to build something more than stop-gap measures. My grandmother remembers disagreements between neighborhood boards and the city, but for her the flooding happened in an instant. One day she was walking from her office down Fourteenth Street to the train, and the next day water was splashing against the windows of parked cars. She would tell me stories like that almost every night when I was younger, while my parents were at work and the two of us had nothing to do except watch her favorite livestream. She would make the same wry joke about how much faster her commute would’ve been if she’d been able to swim to work. 

Sometimes I think about her awful jokes on my ride to school, imagining I’m not riding my scooter but flying through water that has washed over our town. The uniform five-floor buildings of the town center are made anew, painted with mold and sprouting weeds, belching every time the tide comes in. I slip alongside one of the commuter shuttles, not having to worry about shooting the gap or passengers staring too long at me as I go by. After all, I’m the only one here and the sluggish shuttles would be the first victims of the flood. All too soon, I pull into the bay of the school parking lot, leaving the water behind as I lock my scooter with the rows of e-bikes and e-boards forbidden to enter campus grounds. 

I sit in my usual spot in the back of first period, tucked against the window. I’m only five-six and the tall sophomore in front of me acts as the perfect screen. From most angles the instructor never even notices me. Occasionally he’ll remind us that we’re lucky, that physics used to be more math intensive. Sometimes the course feels more like gratitude therapy. Our sour-faced instructor never misses a chance to stress how efficient our tools are. On our tablets we run simulations. Calculate and model the forces acting on a transport shuttle moving at sixty miles-per-hour, or the force required for a runner moving at eight miles per hour to stop when an e-bike crosses its path. The guy to my right has given up, now playing with the ringlet snapped around the end of a lock of long, dark hair. I always admire his jewelry. I’ve seen a few streams of local ring makers, there are only a few left in the greater Ohio area, but their work doesn’t compare to my grandmother’s jewelry. His are actually quite nice, they’re old, probably pre-2030 or maybe even earlier. One in particular loops around his index finger twice before ending in a ragged half-medallion, inlaid with a pattern I can’t quite make out. 

Our class is quiet, but there’s always something to watch after I finish the lesson. My temple rests against the cool double-paned glass of the window, palm pressed against my chin. I like to play a game with myself where I focus my eyes on the window, gliding over its small scratches and reflections and then letting them fade away as I focus on the scene directly beyond the pane. I’ll jerk my focus back to the glass and return to the street again, shifting through the wall, out of the classroom, only to be pulled back every time the moment I’m about to clear the window.

The sharp toll of the bell snaps me back to my seat. It rings like an elevator door, I mean, if an elevator was stuck opening and closing on one floor. Sliding my tablet off the desk and into my shoulder bag, I move to the door. I keep my head down, avoiding eye contact, and make an L straight down the column of desks out of the classroom. My next period is art history, then human geography. I always try to get to art history early. The instructor, Ana, is one of the younger staff at the school. She’s my only instructor who doesn’t teach from the module. The past few weeks we’ve been studying community-based art movements in the late twentieth century. When I walk into the classroom, Ana’s putting the finishing touches on today’s material, choosing key images for the discussion workshop at the end of the period. I file in closer to the front of the room, draping my shoulder bag around the chair back while she absently works. A few moments go by and she greets me with a small smile, asking what I think of the discussion images for today. Ana asks for my opinion sometimes, part of the reason I show up early. I like to think that she trusts me with this part of the material, and I feel a flicker of pride and gratitude in moments like this. Today we’re looking at collectives that were able to reconceptualize condemned or empty spaces to build sites of collaboration. I ask her to stop at the last photograph in the slide deck: a side profile of a woman in white looking out into a bed of plants that have overtaken an abandoned lot. Her eyes are partly closed, looking in the direction of younger children tending to flowers bigger than my hand. She admires the small plot of land lovingly, and I wonder what she sees, what’s growing here in her eyes. Ana remarks that the image depicts one of many community gardens started by the woman in the photograph. When lots were abandoned in New York, she and her collaborators threw seed bags over the chain-linked fences, creating parks that ended up lasting for decades as sites of protest, learning, and sanctuary within the city. I run my fingers along the edge of my tablet as my classmates start to file into the room. 

The black-and-white photo remained on my mind for the rest of the day. I kept returning to the image of the woman. On my ride home I stopped at the public park in our town center. Space for trails and gardens had long been encroached by developments. Real-estate agents saw the walking paths as the perfect amenity for residents and my parents stopped frequenting them long ago. They were so crowded you were better off walking into the suburbs. Our park looks nothing like the photograph, two exact rectangular fields with a few trees growing in the corner to my left and an outbuilding with cameras and restrooms to the right. I stared out into the field trying to mirror the pose of the photograph, but I felt nothing, there was nothing to see here. 

That night I found myself lost in a dream. I awoke to light flooding in through the window. My window faces our neighbors and never once showed anything but a sliver of light when the sun is directly over the building. But a radiant glow poured in through the window. A sheer curtain coated the frame of light bleeding in, painting this space that was not quite my own a soft orange. After a moment I moved past the curtain, staring out into the light. A beautiful tree was blooming across the street, with wispy branches falling like locks of hair, dotted with hundreds of pink flowers. Surrounding the tree was a fenced-in lot. Bricks and debris covered the outskirts, but grasses sheltered the tree. The arc of the trunk knelt over these shrubs, shading them. I knew in that moment that my expression was the same as the woman in the photograph. 

I opened my eyes to find the glow had dissipated, leaving only the smooth plaster of my ceiling. I dreamt of New York often, but I never remember seeing that place again. Weeks later I scoured our family photographs, looking for proof that the place in my dream had really existed. On the third page of a small album tucked into the top of the bookcase, was a blurry still of my grandmother. Bathed in the same light I had seen illuminating the tree, she was dancing in a small grass field. A walking path cut across the bottom of the photo, a faded stream of bricks and tiles dotted with moss. The backdrop ends at a black iron fence shrouded in leaves. My grandmother’s figure is turning, and her skirt folds and waves in response. Stuck in motion, wavering in the light, I knew that in my dream and Ana’s photograph all three of us shared the feeling of this space. I wish I had found the photograph years ago, when my grandmother was still alive, and asked her about that feeling. My gut sank with the knowledge that this place had been swept away, absorbed into the river or the harbor. I bit my lip. I wished the city had never flooded, that the three of us could have been together in the garden if only for a moment.


Bone-handled pocket knife reading “JESUS NEVER FAILS”. Uncovered in 2003 as a
part of the Tweed Courthouse, City Hall Park Project
3D model created from composite images of the bone-handled pocket knife.
Bone-handled toothbrush, uncovered in 1987 as a part of the Stadt Huys Block
3D model created from composite images of the bone-handled toothbrush.
Pointed shoe sole uncovered between 2004 and 2005 as a part of the South Ferry
Terminal Project.
3D model created from composite images of the pointed shoe sole.
Copper alloy button with a floral design, uncovered in 2011 as a part of the Seneca
Village Project.
3D model created from composite images of the Copper alloy button.




“Are you OK?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“But I’m beat. I thought I was a goner there”

“So, how’d it go? Did you find a way out?”

“No. not yet. How about you?


I’ve watched Harry have this conversation maybe five times over the past few years, waiting for the pixelated text to roll across the screen. After Kaufman leaves, we explore the pool room. Harry collects items dropped by his friend, as well as some medicine from the bar top. Footsteps resound around the abandoned Norman Hotel. Another door brings us back to the cloudy night of Main Street and the hollow ring of the OST fills the room. Silent Hill is one of the prized titles in my collection. The core fandom and even second wave inheritors of the game have long gone quiet, but I always come back every couple years to explore the game. Despite playing through so many times, every time I open a door my stomach tenses. This will have to be it for my return tonight though. I salute Harry with a quick gunshot into the dark, snowy sky and log off my emulator.  

The fans slowly hum out as my setup shuts down, reminding me how groggy I am. The apartment is quiet except for the swishing of my sweatpants as I walk to the bathroom. Thankfully, my dimmer is on and the lights come on low and soft, just enough for me to see the mirror. I’ll have to shave tomorrow. Tapping the faucet twice for warm water, I scrub my face, letting my hands run up the bridge of my nose and around my eyebrows then back around my chin. I pat my face dry and run my toothbrush around my mouth for a few seconds, before tapping the faucet off. The light fades and I tap the switch on the wall for my bed, which folds out without a sound from the opposite wall from my desk. The apartment is only about thirty square meters, but it’s cozy. Temperature control works well in such a small space, and I hardly have people over. I swipe my alarm from my phone onto the bedside display, ensuring I won’t sleep through my call time at work tomorrow. Wrapped in the cool sheet, head resting on my hand, I let my eyes move out into the night. The outlines of the Central Park Towers are barely visible. In the heavy fog there’s no sense of how tall they are, of how many other windows are just out of reach.

The first ring of the alarm always jolts me awake, and my eyes open on the second ring, by the third or fourth I have the sense to turn it off. Seven thirty-five, just enough time to ready myself for the meeting this morning. I sit up, in one sweeping motion bringing my back upright and my toes to the floor. Slippers soften my steps back toward the bathroom. Warm lights respond, recognizing my morning routine, and my hand moves to the medicine cabinet to retrieve my shaving cream. I soften the coarse hairs on my neck and chin with a hot towel, rubbing the shaving cream in circular motions before quickly removing the subdued hairs and dead skin. The sink rinses out while I start the shower, hanging my sweatpants on the door and then stepping under the shower head. Letting the water wash off the excess shaving cream, I give my body a quick once over with a rough bar of soap. It’s probably almost eight. I quickly pat myself dry with a towel stepping back into my sweatpants. Coffee is already made. I pour a small bowl of grain cereal and some rice milk in a bowl, sitting at the counter that separates the small kitchen from my desk area. In the window above my desk, I can see the airtrain running down Madison Avenue. Even without the fog, the city drops off sharply after 14th Street. Downtown went into disrepair after the first few major flooding events and the city fortified the area around 34th St. Now only a few are left. Another favorite series in my collection is the Tomb Raider games. I’ve played through the last four countless times, searching for ancient cities and artifacts. I wonder what treasures are still buried in the necropolis downtown. 

I pull on a white button-up and slacks. I could stay in my sweatpants, but I don’t leave the apartment often and when I change, I almost forget I’m taking calls in my living room. My setup starts and I quickly check my camera view running a hand through my damp hair, good enough. Today should be a customary project check in. I’ve been building a site and identity for a team working on water filtration products, one of the more common start-ups these days. The buyers just want to ensure I’m making steady progress. I do little demos for them, showing off noteworthy animations and interactions in the UI. I’ve built their site around the idea of a filter: when a user enters, all the web content is dumped into their field of vision before draining quickly into individual directory icons. I refuse to work on copy-paste corporate projects and they refuse to pay my rate, so most of my clients are start-ups looking to stand out or well-funded content creators. Today’s meeting is no different, the client, Enya, pops onto my screen with two other senior members of their team. Enya is always well dressed, and this morning is no different. A simple, spotless black button up, exaggerated on one side by three layers of paneling that drape like stray pages of an open book. This group never wastes time on small talk, and I take them through the optimized interface for mobile devices and augmented reality. We cover the meeting itinerary in about twenty minutes, ending with a quick check-in about our respective timelines. Enya tells me the company is launching a promotional campaign in two weeks, moving my expected deadline for the site up by half a month. I smile, letting them know I always build in a time buffer for myself in-case things like this happen. It won’t be a problem. Their face softens upon hearing this, and the two others noticeably relax their posture. Apparently, this is a hard deadline and everyone is feeling the effects. I smile reassuringly, not breaking eye contact with the camera. If they trust that they can rely on me, the whole process will go much smoother. I thank the team for their time, and we sign off.

Taking in a short deep breath, I fill a glass of water in the kitchen. I’ve had much harsher changes in schedule. As I’m turning back towards the window my screen pings. 

“New Message from rom_com”

Jon and I once worked a job for the city, republishing some of the historical archives lost to flood damage. He worked the data reconstruction, and I designed the front-end graphics. As a long-time favor he’s always kept tabs on game source code recovered from hard-drives and accounts involved in his projects. 

“I know you’ve been hungry, found a new bite to eat, don’t chew too fast frontierparadise.bin.”

“Jon the Beloved, tell your kids the emulator is always open if they want a break from full-immersion.”

“If I can tear them away, I’ll make sure they know.”

I pull the file into my network where it gets handed off to a sub-core. My setup will inspect the file front to back for malware then figure out what parameters need to be met for the game to run. Plenty to do after work today. 

By four o’clock a few ad designs for the campaign are in the final stages of completion, more than enough for today. The sun is starting to dip into the city, another shortened day brought on by the winter. I try to balance out the shift by waking up earlier, making more time for myself after work. Jon’s file has been running in the background, it’s fairly standard designed to run on an old entertainment console, with no outstanding system requirements. I track my cursor to the right corner. “Frontier Paradise” sounds like an RPG or roguelike. When I open a game for the first time, I think back on the thought and effort that goes into my own work, and how much time past designers sunk into these experiences. It’s like discovering a piece of art, a lost memory, and a community all at once. 


Fans hum and the screen goes dark as code begins to run. No opening credits, not even a familiar studio logo. After a moment, the screen lights low showing a smoggy sky, slightly distorted by a fisheye effect. The camera pans down to hands resting on the lap of my character, a whistle of wind plays through the speaker, I move my joystick forward gauging what level of influence I have. The camera straightens up, and we appear to stand, revealing an alley. A fire escape hangs to the left and a stained brick wall to the right. The perspective is disordering, the camera moves are smooth, I can move, but it’s almost as if I’m sharing the joystick. We advance and I can make out a street running perpendicular to the alley. Rustling comes from the debris to my right and a small gray creature appears from the waste. Its striped tail is missing hair and looks a little singed. It’s thin, too big to be a rat but not quite a cat either. I keep moving towards the street. The alley has gotten darker, and I spot spherical lights on the opposite buildings. I push the joystick further and the camera staggers moving faster. My eyebrow twitches, it’s very possible this is a demo, an incomplete, open world style game. The lights begin to move as we get closer, and as we explode out of the alley they take form. The camera slows down. Above us are streetlamps, lighting a paved road. A row of orbs lights the door frame directly across from the alley. Blurs of different shapes and sizes become vehicles, all going one way too fast to pick up in the dark alley. Before I can turn the joystick, the camera speeds up, lights bear down on the perspective view and a sickening thud echoes through the apartment as we’re run over. The screen goes dark. I sit facing the screen, stunned. After a moment, I tap the button next to the joystick. The scene should reset, then I can figure out what’s happening and get a better handle on the game’s controls. 

The camera lights softly once more, opening on the same clouded sky. I look down once again, but my hands are smaller and my clothes are clearly different. Pulling the joystick left and right I can see I’m no longer in the alley but on the edge of a waterfront staring out at choppy waves. I lead the camera down the pier, making out a figure wrapped in a blanket ahead. Once again, the joystick fights me as we totter along. I notice a similar line of vehicles to my left, backed up in an endless traffic even though they appear to take up both sides of the road. Moving back to the water, I reach the figure, an old woman leaning against the rail. Her cheeks have begun to sink, and wrinkles etch around her forehead and mouth. Like the alley, the pier is stylized, distinctly rendered, but my chest twinges at the woman’s face. Her dark eyes cut through the screen and I struggle to meet her gaze. With a low ping, a gray textbox appears in the left-hand corner. A white cursor blinks at me, waiting for my response. No text prompts, but maybe I can learn more about the game. Using the keyboard on my gamepad I type,

“Where am I?”

The woman sighs audibly, tilting her head to the left.

“At the edge of downtown. For now. The water’s getting rougher.”

I follow her gaze. The waves seem to be rising and water has begun to seep onto the pier. 

“Who are you?”

Turning to face me again, the edge of her mouth turns up. 

“Jamie. I lived across the road, but my car’s been stolen and there’s no chance of catching a train now. The whole city wants out.”

 Strands of long hair splay across the fisheye perspective as wind whips along the pier. Puddles have merged into pools, and water is already lapping around Jamie’s shoes. I do a button check, hoping an action will prompt some direction from the game. One press produces a shaky jump splashing water towards Jamie’s ankles. Her face has turned, eyes staring blankly out into the river. The next wave sloshes into my waist vibrating the gamepad. My brow furrows as I quickly type, “Let’s move away from the water.” 

She turns unphased, looking past me. Her head and shoulders are exposed as wind rips away the shelter of the blanket. Her mouth moves slowly: “Where?”

Where? What does she mean where? My hands move to the keys, but a shadow falls across Jamie’s face. I pause, pivoting back towards the water. A wave is bearing down on us, larger than any we’ve seen on the pier. It reaches far above the guard rail, probably close to seven feet high. I try to move, but the camera has slowed, freezing me in place. I turn back towards Jamie as the water crashes down, knocking me to the ground as the screen blacks out again. I breathe quickly out of my nose, frustrated and confused with the turn of events. It must be broken, there’s no other explanation. I push my gamepad to the side, feeling annoyance rise in my chest. The screen lights once again, opening up on the thick, dark clouds tinged red by the setting sun. The camera pans down yet again, this time on a pair of rough calloused hands resting on dark jeans.

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