Tuesday, 17 April 2018

The city under the Weather of Grey

(repost from G+)

Certain weathers change the city more than just meteorologically. Just as there are lands in the clouds – unbound by the earth and free to roams, with only a glimpse of them can be seen at time – such weather comes and goes mostly unnoticed except of its most obvious aspects. 'It is just some snow' people say, 'It is just some rain. Sleet everywhere, pff, my feet got all wet.' Mostly such weather doesn't stay long enough to cause significant presence but sometimes the weather lingers, and it changes the city, and one of such changes is called the Weather of Grey, and the longer it stays the more prominent it is.

Here is how you know the Weather of Grey:

- Surface loses coherence, all roads become fractalized – at first the distances are just slightly frayed, at the extreme presence they are completely broken, with each building becomes an isolated island. It is the same road. The same measurements of the same road. All landmarks are on it, all correlations are the same, all the buildings are clearly seen where they should be but all by-surface travels are taking longer regardless of how efficient travel methods are. It starts with extra steps on the familiar road but it never ends with just that.

- The city attains depth. Or maybe it remembers it has it: city structures usually have some underground part, but in the city these parts are tamed and mostly shallow, cut off, finite. When the Weather of Grey comes, each structure becomes deeply aware that it has roots, that there are things down there, that things are not supposed to be calm and safe down there. That their pretty painted basements and parking lots are unstable, intrusive upon ancient places and dissolve into depths, into the concept of depths. If a problem can come from down below, it will. Slight at first - a flooding, a mosquito infestation, an interruption of the subway line. But only at first.

- When storm-drains are over capacity and concrete roads flood, they become canals, carved into banks of sidewalks. Under the layer of dull grey water the surface of roads become one-way mirror of glacial glass - uneven, distorted, mostly still. Cars and people keep moving through canals like lake skippers but there also things underneath of all the roads now – things like mirror-whales, things like true reflections, things like inverse rain creatures, things like suns-that-never-happened – looking at us as through the narrow bands of one-way glass fishtank, wondering and waiting. With time passing the canals are becoming deeper, and glacial glass becomes thinner, and thinner, and thinner. At some point neither people nor cars cannot travel the canals anymore, so deep they become, so full of hidden currents. At some point the glacial glass becomes so thin and fluid it breaks.

- Walls of structures become thicker, they grow layers inward. Doors are quickly snapping shut but are more difficult to open. Windows grow dim tint, become misty, become opaque. The spaces inside of structures diminish as the walls absorb things that are left unattended and forgotten – old papers, toys, clothes, photographs, knick-knacks, anything that won't be much missed becomes part of walls, as if walls hurriedly build new fossilized strata. Objects accumulate in corners by the will of walls and vanish one by one as walls grow ever so slightly thicker. Vermins – those who live in the city but don't accept its laws and tend to move within walls – are tested greatly by the Weather of Grey and weak ones die in numbers, but stronger ones take advantage of new sanctuaries; they make holes, read secrets, mishmash discarded and encapsulated things from walls into their own devices. Whole civilizations of vermin can flash-flourish when the Weather of Grey stays too long.

- Time becomes somewhat uncertain. Since sunrise to sunset and since sunset to sunrise there is no definite time. Clocks break more often regardless of complexity. Sense of time betrays. Things are happening too quickly, too slowly, never in proper pace. Nobody who ever accepted the city or was accepted into it really ages even if they think they do.

- People leave less traces upon the world and whatever they leave is mostly washed away, like in ever-wet watercolour painting. Trash, excrements, tracks, deeds, achievements, results, sins are gradually going away and not accumulating anymore. Combined with uncertain time it eventually creates the place where fewer things are resolved or changed, especially if they are not of life-threatening importance or didn't exist before the coming of the Weather. Everything else lingers in a state of permanent process, of upkeep, of maintenance without going away or inviting anything new.

- The War of Dreams starts. It always exist in one form or another, but usually it is more like a cold war, with spies, and agents, and covert operations of sabotage and hostage-taking. But now Slow Sleep and Flash Sleep take off their white gloves: one creates monotonic cyclopean blocks of neithertime, bulwarks and slumber trenches of the colour of glacial glass while another bombards them with layered barrages of vibrancy and wonder so lacking in the waking world. It is the best time to access both Underskin of dreams and Lost Faery, proving you can avoid the battlefields.

- With the city order at its weakest, the elements from outside gain entrance, elements from all kinds of outside. Innocently at first: unusual books in local library, plaques on streets talking about people who never lived here and buildings that never were here, the statue in a park that nobody could previously recall or remember, a small shop with very niche goods. Was it here yesterday? It looks like it was always here and the shop owner greets you as if you were here before. If out of order event might happen, it eventually will. Hidden pathways are gradually open to places that don't usually exist. It isn't called 'freak weather' for nothing.

- Shadows dissipate at streets. With no place to go, these funnels for all-choices-not-taken, all-alternatives-not-experienced go into buildings and built up here, haunting each lightbulb and dimming their light; many of lightbulbs cannot take such pressure and end their existence. Eight-thousand-lights skyscrapers – these beast-altars to Saint of Vanity and the highest and the brightest seats of its light – all diminished vertically. Still huge, still tall, still full of self-importance they are now perceived as less significant, extent less dominance over landscape, are less of an anthill of activity, their vertigo lessens. With shadows myriad near each of their lightbulbs, each of the skyscrapers involuntary slumbers as if deprived of oxygen.

Most unwelcomed by the city of all the weathers, the Weather of Grey rarely lingers and usually its changes are scrubbed clean as soon as it goes away. It threatens the safety, it upsets the order, it is dim, grey and inconvenient with all those frayed roads and accidents in subway. 'It was a terrible couple of days' most people say. But some had heard the silent singing of the air, the cymbals of rain, and they go away, and they don't look back.

The idea for the Weather of Grey is an iteration of the idea from 2016 where certain weather(s) would physically/metaphysically change the environment, up to replacing buildings and people, i.e. next corner pharmacy with indifferent shopkeeper in Under Red city would be a bigger pharmaceutical office with securities, and in Under Black would be an friendly alchemist shop. The places have approximately the same function and are located in mostly the same places but the connections between places/people are different and specifics of the places/people are different. One of the stories I wanted to see in such environment is of people learning when it is better to 'switch' between the state-weathers, to find an easier way to their goal and to pay attention to forecasts.

The Weather of Grey is pretty subtle in comparison (I still like how it turned out, though) but the apex of the idea above would be 6-7 maps of the same city all reconnected and relabeled in different ways.


  1. This is a great idea; it feels very China Mieville to me, though not in a derivative way (have you read Looking for Jake, specifically the story "Reports of Certain Events in London"?).

  2. I've read 'Perdido Street Station' many years ago, which I liked in a confused way, and 'Last Days of New Paris' which I didn't like, nothing more of his. Weathers such as this are built/originated from my personal experience and perception. Glad you liked it.