01 Feb Has anyone heard of the lost City Korona?
Apparently, there was once a city in the north of Sweden called Korona, but somehow we’ve all forgotten about it. I’m a police officer working in Kalix, a municipality close to where the lost city of Korona is supposed to have been. At that place, there are no signs of the city – only a dense forest – but certain details related to my own family makes me certain this place was indeed real.
The entire world just forgot about it… I can’t imagine how or why, but it’s the only conclusion I’ve been able to reach. For me, this all started when two Romanian blueberry pickers came into my small office to report something they had found deep in the dense forest. They didn’t know enough Swedish or English to explain exactly what it was that they had found, but it was immediately clear to me that it had terrified them completely. From what I understood, it seemed to involve a human corpse. Eventually, after having brought in an interpreter from the town next to mine, it was revealed that they had stumble upon a dead child, no more than ten years old.
They led me and two of my colleagues – followed by an ambulance – to the location where they had found the child. The sun was setting behind a thick mist when we got there. I lit a cigarette while we left the main road and walked into the forest, to where the child was supposed to be. I felt a bit uncomfortable having to deal with a dead child, but I had handled cases like this before – some car accidents – and didn’t feel too affected by it now. It was just another job, or so I thought.
The Romanians stopped when we got close and refused to go any further. There was panic in their eyes, more than I expected even given these extreme circumstances. One of my colleagues stayed with them while the rest of us continued. We soon came upon a huge boulder that had been placed there by the ice sheet that covered Europe during the ice age. My colleague walked around it and a few moments later he came running back, pale as if he had seen the Devil himself. He bent down and puked right in front of me.
“It…” he said. “It’s on the other side… Holy shit.”
I didn’t ask him any questions, I only proceeded to check it out for myself with the medics following behind me. What we found on the other side of the boulder… It wasn’t natural. Half the child – a blond little girl – was fused with the boulder just as if she had been passing through it as a ghost and then suddenly turned into a human before she had time to exit the rock. Or, as my colleague later remarked, it was as if she had been teleported into the rock. The girls sorrowful, dead gaze into the forest seemed to tell a story of a tragedy unknown to the living. The medics quickly shied away from her eyes in silence, horrified by the fate she must have suffered, but I couldn’t look away. I’ve never been a religious man, but this experience made me doubt everything I’d believed before.
And I don’t just mean the bizarre way the poor girl had lost her life, half engulfed by the boulder… There was something else about the girl as well. Something that made me feel completely empty inside, just as if a piece of my own soul was ripped out of me leaving an empty hole in my heart that quickly filled up with a sorrow I had never felt before. It was a dreadful feeling, only made worse by the strange fact that a small part of me recognized the girl. I couldn’t tell from where… Her face was like the vague memory of a dream recently forgotten.
We collected ourselves and started talking, trying to make sense of the situation without any success, while the medics approached the body. I tried to focus on the hard facts while we investigated the scene. The girl was wearing a pink jacket. In one of the pockets, we found an odd looking flower – it’s colors were exotic and resembled the wings of a beetle – and a yellow library card with a text that puzzled us. “The library of Korona,” it said.
The girl had written her name on the card as well. When I saw it, my world started spinning. “Isabella Lexelius”, it said in the girls childish handwriting.
“Isn’t that your last name, sir?” my colleague said.
“It… it is…” I didn’t know what to say or think.
“Well, do you know her?”
“I… I don’t know… No… No, I’ve never seen her before in my entire life. It must be a coincidence.”
“That’s a pretty big coincidence, sir.”
I didn’t respond to that.
“There’s something on the ground as well”, one of the medics said.
On the bloodstained moss beneath the girl, there was a notebook. It must have fallen out of her hand, the one that was hanging limply above the book. I picked it up and opened it. The pages were covered with small text, written with a different handwriting than the girl’s.
“Sir!” one of the medics said. “We will have to bring some tools to cut her down.”
“Yes”, I said absently.
“There’s one more thing”, the medic said.
I put the book in a plastic evidence bag. “What?”
“There’s too much blood.” The medic pointed at the ground.
“What do you mean there’s too much blood?” I asked.
“Beneath the boulder, sir”, the medic explained. “It’s impossible for all that blood to come from a child.”
A moment of silence, then I said:
“We will have to come back here with better tools.”
A day later, we successfully removed the upper body of the girl and brought it back to the morgue where it was examined. We also tried to lift the boulder with the help of a crane, but it wouldn’t budge. Instead, we dug a hole under it but we didn’t find any new body parts. All we could do this day was to sample as much of the blood as possible.
During the examination of the body, I read the notebook. It contained the story of the city of Korona. I was convinced it was fiction – a deranged story written by the man I thought must have killed the girl – until a few weeks ago when the forensic lab called me.
I still have a hard time believing it, but they told me there’s no other way. They had tested the DNA of the girl and compared it to mine because of her last name. It was my idea, since I didn’t want anyone to suspect anything. We didn’t think it would reveal anything, but it did… The ten or so years old girl, Isabella, was my daughter. I was sure it wasn’t possible. Ten years earlier I lived with my ex-wife and I never cheated on her and certainly didn’t have any children with her. We stayed together for five more years, so I would’ve known if she had a baby during that time. And yet, there was nothing wrong with the test.
Below is a transcript of the notebook. I’ve typed it out here in the hopes that someone will remember the city of Korona or someone who might have lived in it. Please contact me if you have any information.
This is what was inside the notebook:
My name is Helena Fredriksson. Five years ago I was a different person. I was younger back then, not just in the ordinary sense but in spirit too. There was joy in my life and I had hopes and dreams. That’s all gone now… I don’t have that much time to write this down, but I will try and explain what happened to us – to our entire community – as well as I can.
The event, as we have come to call it, occurred on July 9, 2013. I was only visiting Korona over the day to take my niece – Isabella – to the grand opening of The Red Grove, the cities new amusement park. It was supposed to be the biggest one in Sweden and Isabella had begged her parents to go to the grand opening, but neither of them had been able to due to work. So they called me and asked me to do it for them. I was their go-to person for when they needed help with Isabella, the only one they trusted. How I wish that hadn’t been the case now, considering what happened.
We arrived pretty early, a few hours before the opening, so that we wouldn’t need to stay in line the whole day to get inside. The weather was amazing. It had rained earlier in the morning, so we had been a bit worried, but when we got to the city there wasn’t a cloud in sight.
Isabella couldn’t stop talking about how much fun we would have, and it warmed my heart to see her so happy. It took us a bit longer than expected to get to the amusement park since one of the main streets had been closed off for a military parade. This didn’t bother us that much, it rather increased the feeling of celebration in the air. To avoid the parade, we had to take a bus to the city center, the Freyja square, and from there we had to take the subway to the Yellow Neutral business cluster – the tallest skyscrapers in Sweden. It was possible for us to walk to The Red Grove from there.
There were people everywhere. It turned out that a lot of them had taken a ferry down the river that I didn’t know about. This meant we had to stand in line after all. Isabella didn’t mind, but I knew she would get hungry soon, and I worried that it would ruin her mood. Luckily, there was a man selling hot dogs from a cart that he was pushing down the line. I bought a hot dog and a soda for Isabella. Her parents didn’t really like when I bought her junk food, but a day like this I thought they would understand. The man was also selling red balloons to the children. Isabella said she wanted one. I tried to tell her that she would have to carry it around all day and that there would be more balloons inside the amusement park, but she wouldn’t listen. Reluctantly, I bought her a balloon as well.
At this point, no one knew that their entire lives were about to change in a matter of minutes.
Isabella accidentally let go of the balloon. I feared it would make her sad, but it didn’t seem to bother her that much. We looked at the balloon as it rose up into the air and drifted away. Soon, it was but a red dot against the vast blue sky. Then, suddenly, it vanished.
“Where did it go?” Isabella said.
I couldn’t explain it. It had just disappeared.
“I don’t know”, I said. “Maybe it popped?”
But something – an uneasy feeling I couldn’t rationalize – made me doubt that. Then, only a few minutes later, strong winds came from every direction. It carried a smell with it that reminded me of something rotten.
“Ew”, Isabella said as her long white hair was blowing in the wind. “What’s that smell?”
I held her hand harder. “I don’t know,” I said.
People looked around, confused, and their joyful voices became concerned. Something was happening, but no one knew what it was. Sirens echoed in the distance, seemingly coming from the business cluster.
“Oh my god,” a woman said and pointed towards the skyscrapers. “The top of the building is gone!”
It wasn’t that easy to see, but she was right. The top of the tallest building was gone as if it had been cut off with a knife. Isabella was too short to see it, but she picked up that something wasn’t right on everyone’s faces and she became worried herself.
“I think we need to get away from here,” I said, acting completely on instinct. “I don’t think it’s safe.”
Isabella teared up. “But the opening, aren’t we…”
“We will come back later sweetheart,” I said as I walked away from the crowd with her. One of the ferries were just about to leave. We quickly stepped aboard. A few others joined us, but most of the people stayed behind in the hopes that everything would be sorted out. Isabella cried, but she wasn’t mad. As the ferry slowly drove away from the riverside promenade a commotion of some kind erupted among the crowd back on land. I couldn’t see what was going on, but suddenly everyone screamed in terror and tried to run towards the water. They were clearly escaping from something, but I couldn’t see what it was. All I saw was people stepping on each other while they tried to jump into the river and swim away. It was a horrible sight, and I’m glad Isabella wasn’t tall enough to see over the railing.
Next, the sirens from the emergency alert system began blasting its eerie sound of imminent catastrophe. Everyone asked questions no one had any answers to. Most people I heard thought we were under attack, either by terrorists or the Russians.
I picked up my phone to call my sister, but there was no signal. I tried with Isabella’s phone as well without any luck. I soon discovered that no one had any signal. At the sides of the river that passed through the city, people were looking out of their windows trying to get a glimpse of what was going on but the only thing they could see that was out of the ordinary was the cut off building in the Yellow Neutral business cluster.
“Look”, Isabella said and pointed at the sky. “I’ve never seen such a big bird before!”
An enormous bird-like creature soared high above us. It was pitch black. Although it was impossible to say for sure, it seemed to be just as confused about seeing us as we were seeing it. It circled the city center a few times and then flew away again. The sight of the giant bird, or whatever it truly was, turned our anxious confusion into terror. We still didn’t know what had happened, but now we knew it didn’t have anything to do with terrorists or some foreign power. This was something else, something impossible to believe and yet at the same time impossible to deny.
The ferry let us off a bit further down the river, close to Freyja square. People seemed to be in a state of panic, although no one knew what was wrong. Some were packing their cars to escape the city, others were running somewhere – perhaps to their loved ones – but most people clustered around police officers, city workers or military personnel from the parade to try and get some information. But they only got the same answer over and over again, yelled at them so that it could be heard over the sirens from the emergency alert system: that nothing was known and that they needed to return to their homes and listen to the radio for more information.
“How are we suppose to listen to the radio when the power is out?!” The voice came from an old woman. “Look around, there’s no power!”
She was right.
“Go home and close your windows and wait for the power to come back,” a policeman said. “We don’t know what is going on, but the safest thing to do is to follow the procedure…”
He was interrupted by something happening a few meters away. The first person who had tried to leave the city – a man on a loud motorcycle – had come back. I was carrying Isabella, comforting her at the same time as I tried to hear what the man on the bike was trying to tell everyone. I pushed through to get closer to him. He walked to the center of the square and climbed up on the foot of the statue of Freyja. Few people believed him, but everyone that had seen the creature in the sky had no doubt he was telling the truth however impossible it seemed.
“There’s no way out!” the man yelled. “The main road cuts of at the edge of the city and… There’s only jungle. I can’t explain it. I’m sorry. But it’s true. We are surrounded by a dense, thick, jungle and there’s no way around it.”
“Then it’s true,” a policeman whispered to himself next to me. “For the love of God, it was all true.”
I asked him what he meant. First, he didn’t want to acknowledge my question, but when he saw my confusion and tears in my niece’s innocent eyes he turned to me and said quietly:
“Before we lost contact with the helicopter that was surveilling the parade, the pilot said something that simply didn’t make sense. He… He was crashing. Something had cut off his rotor blades. And he said that it all had changed somehow… The view had changed. Before he hit the ground he yelled that he had seen a jungle to the west and an ocean to the east.”
More and more reports came in and even though it was impossible to tell rumors from facts they were all telling the same story: the entire world around the city had been replaced in an instance. The city was the same, but the sky above it wasn’t. Eventually, the screaming sirens went silent, the cars stopped beeping their horns and the cacophony of voices died out. An uncanny silence fell over the city. The feeling was beyond unreal.
I didn’t know what any of this meant. I tried to explain it to my niece, but she was only five years old and she couldn’t understand. She wanted to go home to her parents and I didn’t know what to tell her. She was tired and needed rest, so I went to a hostel nearby and paid for a room. Soon, the economy of the city would collapse but for the first few days in this new unknown world, people still accepted money as payment.
What followed was five years of unending trials and hardships, a continuous battle for survival with no hope for help or rescue. It started during the first night. The sun, identical to our own yet new and strange, sat due north instead of west and was replaced by unrecognizable stars covering the entire sky. As I looked up at them from the small window in our room, I didn’t feel awe, but rather I felt completely lost. The strangest feeling during all these years must have been the paradoxical sensation of familiarity on the streets mixed with the awareness of total displacement. I think this was partly why people kept close to the city center, to drown themselves in the illusion of being home even though they knew, deep down, that they couldn’t escape their fate as stranded in the unknown.
Then, as I leaned out the window, I heard the sounds. People screaming, gunshots, cars driving madly through the streets without anywhere to go and the occasional odd howling that made my blood run cold. I never saw anything of what happened that night, but it changed the population – more than two million people – forever.
I closed the window and hid behind the bed with Isabella. She wanted to cry for her mother, but I kept my hand over her trembling mouth.
The next night was calmer, probably because no one dared venture outside. During the days, I soon realized, the threat didn’t come from the unknown jungle outside of the city but from the people within it. It was impossible to tell how much crimes were committed, but given what I saw with my own eyes – looting, robberies, and even murders – I figured the rate of crime must have gone up by a lot. However, it wasn’t total anarchy. The police and the few military units that had been in town for the parade kept some vital order to the community. Since ordinary people didn’t have guns, the police and the military wasn’t threatened by the average citizen.
A leader stepped forward – the man on the motorcycle – and after a few weeks, everyone seemed to cooperate peacefully. The food that was left in the stores were mostly distributed fairly and everyone that could work seemed to do it without hesitation, even I.
The scientists that had been working at the university at the time of the event couldn’t figure out what had happened, but with the help of hundreds of citizens, they managed to build a small nuclear power plant that could return electricity to the city. I mostly helped out with that project. I didn’t know anything about nuclear physics, but I did what little I could. It was amazing what we were capable of as a people and in all my dreadfulness a feeling of pride grew in my chest. Although, our time in this world wasn’t simple. Far from it.
Aside from my personal problem with keeping Isabella healthy and safe – which I succeeded with although she never felt safe – there were three major problems that kept growing larger for every week.
The first one was the food and water situation. Some people had managed to grow wheat and potatoes in parks and on soccer fields, but it wasn’t enough. We were running out of food and water. It did rain from time to time, but very few people felt safe drinking the rainwater. To battle this problem – and to find solutions to some other problems as well – expeditions were sent out to explore the jungle. These typically ended the same way, that is with no one coming back. Only once or twice did someone manage to return to the city, but they weren’t themselves anymore. It was as if something in the jungle had captured their souls and let their bodies walk back unscratched.
The second problem was nature. It seemed to have spared us the first couple of months, but soon after we got the electricity back it turned on us. It took a while before I saw it with my own eyes, but – seemingly at random – mysterious creatures entered the city. Sometimes they just walked right through it, never to return again. A policewoman – one of the new recruits – told me that she had followed a naked blue child as it solemnly walked into the city and then back out of it again.
At other times indescribable monsters wreaked havoc on the streets, killing as many people as they could before returning to wherever they came from.
At one point – and this I actually saw for myself – an enormous centipede, pure white with hundreds of red eyes, suddenly appeared from a manhole. It quickly climbed up against a building – as if it knew exactly what it was doing – and entered one of the windows on the top floor. Next came the screams from the people inside the building. A few escaped, but everyone else inside were ripped to shreds. Only after about five minutes did the centipede exit the building from the entrance, it’s white segmented body stained with blood, and returned down the manhole.
These attacks, as they were called, aroused fear and panic in all of us. Although it didn’t happen that often, it happened often enough for everyone to be on edge all the time.
The third problem also didn’t become noticeable until later. It was a problem of health. There was no pattern to who was affected or not, but some people – probably no more than 1% – got sick. It started out like a fever and slowly progressed with nightmarish mutations randomly hitting the body. Most of these mutations made the victims handicapped and disfigured, but sometimes – very rarely – the victims developed properties that were seemingly beneficial to them. The most extreme case of this that I saw was a young girl who grew a third eye in the middle of her forehead. The iris of the new eye glittered with amazing colors and the girl claimed that she could use the eye to see other peoples emotions.
At the beginning of the health crisis, the sick people were treated badly, just as if they had been monsters from the jungle. This treatment only got worse when it was revealed that the creatures from outside never attacked the sick. At one point, a mob gathered at Freyja square, set on chasing the sick people out of the city. Luckily, this was stopped by the military.
In the end, however, the sick people were sent into the jungle. Not to be away with them, though, but to make use of their immunity to the nature of this world. This turned into a huge success that eventually solved the food and water problem. They could venture out and explore the surrounding area and return with edible fruits, vegetables, and small mammal-like animals that they hunted.
This was a turning point for us. And then luck stroke again. All attempts at fishing had failed so far, but all of a sudden there were fish everywhere in the river. We soon learned that there were different periods for when the fish was out to sea or close to land. However, as soon as they came close to land mysterious purple thunderstorms that lasted weeks tormented the city. And yet, we survived. Many people didn’t, of course, but life was possible. In the end, we prevailed.
During the five years that followed there weren’t that many catastrophes and our focus on survival kept most of our thoughts of home away. Even Isabella thought less and less of her parents as she grew older. Over time, most people got used to the bizarre situation they had found themselves in back in July 2013. Many people did commit suicide, yes, but most people choose to live on in this unknown land.
Two events, however, changed things. First, it was what happened to a planned expedition at sea. Hundreds of people, mostly men, decided to venture out into the ocean with one of the luxury cruisers that had been moored next to the city. This was going to be a great adventure and, perhaps, a way to find some answers to where we had ended up. It inspired all of us. Thousands of people – Isabella and I included – had gathered to watch as the huge boat slowly sailed out. It all felt similar to that day five years earlier when we had waited for the amusement park to open. We all stared at the horizon as the boat – named Birdo de Espero – turned into a small dot against the setting sun. We imagined the amazing adventures they would be on and looked forward to their return. But then something that must have been larger than anything we had seen so far came out of the water and swallowed Birdo de Espero whole.
Some people screamed and others cried. This was a hard blow to the city. Just knowing that a being like that – a being able to eat an entire luxury cruiser in one bite – could exist deprived many people their hopes of a future.
The next event was different. It was a miracle, to say the least. It happened only a month after the destruction of Birdo de Espero. A military guard, a young man who had only been fifteen at the time of our disappearance from Earth, discovered that when he stood at a certain place at Freyja square he could tune into to a specific radio station from our old world. The station’s name was Synthwave Mix and dedicated most of its broadcasting to that kind of music. Hope returned immediately, but this time the hope was different from the one we had spent five years building up within ourselves. This was the hope of seeing our loved ones again. The hope to return home. The people at the university investigated the area to try and determine where the radio signals were coming from. They didn’t have much success but soon realized that they emanated from the ground beneath Freyja square.
While the area was investigated by the scientists, ordinary people showed up en masse. They all had radios of different kinds with them, like children carrying stuffed animals to feel safe, hoping to tune in to Synthwave Mix and get a taste of their lost home. Of course, the area where the radio station could be heard was too small and the police had to chase everyone away to give the scientists the room they needed. A few days later, though, the scientists placed a set of large speakers at the foot of the statue of Freyja and connected them to the receiver they were using to listen in on the radio station.
Day and night the relaxed, somewhat melancholic, synthetic music played non-stop to the entire city. People congregated around the statue. They even defied the dangers of the night. This became our cities new tradition. Ending the day by going to the statue and sitting down around it, as if in prayer, became our pilgrimage. It wasn’t exactly the music that drew people to the square, but rather it’s origin. Still, the electronic melodies soon turned into a symbol of all of our hopes and desires. From time to time, people got up and danced – sometimes while crying from a bittersweet joy difficult to explain. Although, the thing that made us all go silent and become totally focused was when the hosts said something. Usually, they only spoke about the music they were broadcasting – completely unaware that an entire city full of people were listening to them almost religiously – but on rare occasions, they talked about the world outside. At those times it felt like our hearts collectively stopped in anticipation. Would they say something about us, about their efforts to figure out where we all had gone and how they would bring us back? But there was never any news about us, just as if they had already forgotten about us or never known about us at all. The tragic fate of the city of Korona never came up. Yet, we never lost fate.
It took a long time – and now I’m getting closer to the present day – but eventually, the scientists decided that it would be worthwhile digging a large hole right where the radio waves seemed to sip out of the ground. This was no easy task and neither was it safe. The work took weeks. Again we all helped. No one really knew what exactly we were looking for, we only knew that it was something.
When we reached the bottom, where the rock was too hard to dig through, a mountain of dirt covered the entire square. Our efforts hadn’t been in vain, we discovered. Right beneath the place where the radio waves had been picked up, there was a small hole in the bedrock. People were asked to back away from it while the scientists investigated it. First, they tried to measure how deep it was. This took some time since it was hard to find a long enough rope. In the end, it was estimated to be about 700 meters deep. Next, some equipment was sent down tied to the end of the rope, and to everyone’s surprise everything that was sent down was swallowed by the hole. Of course, no one knew where it went but we all thought the same thing. That, somehow, it had returned home. It was a reasonable assumption given that the only thing coming out of the hole – the radio waves – came from Earth. We all rejoiced in this discovery. More experiments were done and although some questions remained unanswered the consensus – even among the scientists – was that the hole really was a portal back to our own world.
There were two large problems that needed to be solved though. The first was the safety. Every time something tied to the rope disappeared at the bottom of the hole, the rope was cut off just like the skyscraper five years earlier. This meant that it was possible that whoever entered the hole would be cut off as well. However, this problem was solved pretty soon. By tying a camera to the rope, connected to a screen above ground, it was discovered that the rope was only cut off when pulled back. As long as it wasn’t pulled back, the screen still received signals from the camera. The camera never recorded anything other than darkness on what was assumed to be the other side, but since it continued to work until the rope was pulled back this didn’t seem to be such a big problem. After all, some technical issues were expected under the circumstances.
The second problem was that the hole was too small for anyone to fit into. Many attempts were made to widen the hole, but the bedrock seemed to be made out of a stronger material than any of our machines could tear into. This was extremely frustrating. It made us feel like we had reached the finish line only to discover that we were unable to cross it. In the end, one of the scientists said she wanted to send her ten-year-old son down the hole. He was small enough to fit into it. This was widely debated for quite some time before it was approved. The mother argued that the city of Korona was no place for her son and that all the evidence suggested the hole was the only way home.
The boy was brave. He knew he would probably never see his poor mother again but still went through with it. He was given a walkie-talkie and after a tear-filled goodbye to his mother, he was sent down the 700 meters deep, pitch black hole. He was instructed to radio in after he reached the other side, confirming he was safe. After the rope was pulled back, the mother waited and waited for her son to report. However, he never did. For weeks, the mother sat at the edge of the hole – under merciless heat and under pouring rain – calling her son over and over again with her walkie-talkie. No one knew what, if anything, had gone wrong. Since no other radio waves had been picked up other than Synthwave Mix, it was possible that other radio waves simply couldn’t enter into our world for some reason. Still, the authority deemed the hole too unsafe for anyone else to enter.
This didn’t change peoples minds though. The hole represented the only true hope we had felt in years. And given all the horrible things in our world that could destroy us at any moment as easily as it is for us to blow out a candle, the small risk of going through the hole seemed to be more than acceptable. The hole was guarded by the police, but most of the police shared the cities collective opinion that the hole was the only way out… not for any of the adults, but for our children.
And now I’m sitting here, in the room I payed for five years ago, writing this down. During the last few weeks, many parents have been sending their children down the hole at night. This world is truly no place for them. Although they could survive, they deserve better. Hence, like many others, I’ve decided to send Isabella home. When I told her about it, she looked at me with a happiness in her eyes I hadn’t seen since we were transported to this dreadful, godforsaken world.
I’ve been writing this all day now. It’s my testimony to what happened to Korona. I will give this notebook to Isabella. I’m sure she will be able to give it to her father. Somehow, I know it in my heart that she will find her way home to her parents. Soon it will be dark and I will bring Isabella to Freyja square one last time.
I’m sorry it took so long,