Unfortunately I almost forgot all the details.

I remember a scene with a train. Main character arrives somewhere (a city I guess), and starts to realize that everyone around are somewhat in a zombie state, meaning that even though they walk and talk and look normal, there is something wrong with them, like they're all sleeping/dreaming (don't know how to put it correctly, as I've read it in russian).

And it goes like that, the more people he meets the more he realizes that there is something wrong.

I think there was a scene in a restaurant. He met someone, they've talked, but he couldn't stop noticing that they're "sleeping".

Also main character was an "important" person of some kind. He had an audience with the mayor of the city he arrived at.

Edit: A few more details, the story is really short, I've read it online but it would probably take 10-20 pages in the book.

There were no names mentioned.

Edit 2: Main character kept saying same phrase about "sleeping" after each person he met.

Also this story probably had an open ending. If I remember correctly "hows" and "whys" were never explained.

  • We have a specially crafted checklist that I suggest you check out to see if you can edit in any more details. It would help us help you if you took a quick look. Adding details like when you read it, whether it may have been published in English as well, etc.
    – Edlothiad
    Feb 18, 2018 at 19:26
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    Sounds a bit like this question, which turned out to be Stanislaw Lem's The Futurological Congress. scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/171860/… Feb 18, 2018 at 19:26
  • @Vanguard3000 good guess, but it's not. It was much shorter and 99% not Lem's story.
    – alxers
    Feb 18, 2018 at 19:29
  • While it does sound like "The Futurological Congress" it probably is not - in Lem's book people were awaken but seen altered reality thanks to drugs - i.e. they were thinking that they are riding in an elevator and in fact they were climbing the ladder
    – Yasskier
    Feb 18, 2018 at 19:34
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    Could it be "You're All Alone" by Fritz Leiber? The answer to this old question among others; you can read it at the Internet Archive.
    – user14111
    Feb 18, 2018 at 20:37

1 Answer 1


This is a long shot, but your description is vaguely reminiscent of "It Could Be Anything" (a.k.a. "A Trip to the City"), a novelette by Keith Laumer, the answer to this old question. Laumer's story is available at Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive.

It begins with a train trip:

A clatter ran down the line of cars. Brett kissed Aunt Haicey's dry cheek, shook Mr. Phillips' hand, and swung aboard. His suitcase was on one of the seats. He put it up above in the rack, and sat down, turned to wave back at the two old people.

It was a summer morning. Brett leaned back and watched the country slide by. It was nice country, Brett thought; mostly in corn, some cattle, and away in the distance the hazy blue hills. Now he would see what was on the other side of them: the cities, the mountains, and the ocean. Up until now all he knew about anything outside of Casperton was what he'd read or seen pictures of. As far as he was concerned, chopping wood and milking cows back in Casperton, they might as well not have existed. They were just words and pictures printed on paper. But he didn't want to just read about them. He wanted to see for himself.

He comes to some sort of town:

He moved closer, edged up behind the grey-backed crowd. A phalanx of yellow-tuniced men approached, walking stiffly, fez tassels swinging. A small boy darted out into the street, loped along at their side. The music screeched and wheezed. Brett tapped the man before him.

"What's it all about...?"

He couldn't hear his own voice. The man ignored him. Brett moved along behind the crowd, looking for a vantage point or a thinning in the ranks. There seemed to be fewer people ahead. He came to the end of the crowd, moved on a few yards, stood at the curb. The yellow-jackets had passed now, and a group of round-thighed girls in satin blouses and black boots and white fur caps glided into view, silent, expressionless. As they reached a point fifty feet from Brett, they broke abruptly into a strutting prance, knees high, hips flirting, tossing shining batons high, catching them, twirling them, and up again ...

Brett craned his neck, looking for TV cameras. The crowd lining the opposite side of the street stood in solid ranks, drably clad, eyes following the procession, mouths working. A fat man in a rumpled suit and a panama hat squeezed to the front, stood picking his teeth. Somehow, he seemed out of place among the others. Behind the spectators, the store fronts looked normal, dowdy brick and mismatched glass and oxidizing aluminum, dusty windows and cluttered displays of cardboard, a faded sign that read TODAY ONLY—PRICES SLASHED. To Brett's left the sidewalk stretched, empty. To his right the crowd was packed close, the shout rising and falling. Now a rank of blue-suited policemen followed the majorettes, swinging along silently. Behind them, over them, a piece of paper blew along the street. Brett turned to the man on his right.

"Pardon me. Can you tell me the name of this town?"

The man ignored him. Brett tapped the man's shoulder. "Hey! What town is this?"

The man took off his hat, whirled it overhead, then threw it up. It sailed away over the crowd, lost. Brett wondered briefly how people who threw their hats ever recovered them. But then, nobody he knew would throw his hat ...

"You mind telling me the name of this place?" Brett said, as he took the man's arm, pulled. The man rotated toward Brett, leaning heavily against him. Brett stepped back. The man fell, lay stiffly, his arms moving, his eyes and mouth open.

"Ahhhhh," he said. "Whum-whum-whum. Awww, jawww ..."

Brett stooped quickly. "I'm sorry," he cried. He looked around. "Help! This man ..."

Nobody was watching. The next man, a few feet away, stood close against his neighbor, hatless, his jaw moving.

"This man's sick," said Brett, tugging at the man's arm. "He fell."

The man's eyes moved reluctantly to Brett. "None of my business," he muttered.

"Won't anybody give me a hand?"

"Probably a drunk."

There is a scene in a restaurant:

Brett followed him. They turned down a side street, pushed through the door of a dingy cafe. It banged behind them. There were tables, stools at a bar, a dusty juke box. They took seats at a table. The red-head groped under the table, pulled off a shoe, hammered it against the wall. He cocked his head, listening. The silence was absolute. He hammered again. There was a clash of crockery from beyond the kitchen door. "Now don't say anything," the red-head said. He eyed the door behind the counter expectantly. It flew open. A girl with red cheeks and untidy hair, dressed in a green waitress' uniform appeared, swept up to the table, pad and pencil in hand.

"Coffee and a ham sandwich," said the red-head. Brett said nothing. The girl glanced at him briefly, jotted hastily, whisked away.

"I saw them here the first day," the red-head said. "It was a piece of luck. I saw how the Gels started it up. They were big ones—not like the tidiers-up. As soon as they were finished, I came in and tried the same thing. It worked. I used the golem's lines—"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Brett said. "I'm going to ask that girl—"

"Don't say anything to her; it might spoil everything. The whole sequence might collapse; or it might call the Gels. I'm not sure. You can have the food when it comes back with it."

"Why do you say 'when "it" comes back'?"

"Ah." He looked at Brett strangely. "I'll show you."

Brett could smell food now. His mouth watered. He hadn't eaten for twenty-four hours.

"Care, that's the thing," the red-head said. "Move quiet, and stay out of sight, and you can live like a County Duke. Food's the hardest, but here—"

The red-cheeked girl reappeared, a tray balanced on one arm, a heavy cup and saucer in the other hand. She clattered them down on the table.

"Took you long enough," the red-head said. The girl sniffed, opened her mouth to speak—and the red-head darted out a stiff finger, jabbed her under the ribs. She stood, mouth open, frozen.

Brett half rose. "He's crazy, miss," he said. "Please accept—"
<br?"Don't waste your breath." Brett's host was looking at him triumphantly. "Why do I call it 'it'?" He stood up, reached out and undid the top buttons of the green uniform. The waitress stood, leaning slightly forward, unmoving. The blouse fell open, exposing round white breasts—unadorned, blind.

"A doll," said the red-head. "A puppet; a golem."

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    Unfortunately it's not. I feel like the story I'm looking for is much "simpler". Almost no details except what I've mentioned. Also I think the were no names mentioned, but not 100% sure.
    – alxers
    Feb 19, 2018 at 15:31

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