on the street in Viriconium

Balker came down from the north and lived on the street.

He was young for his age. He started in the station where the train emptied him out, then moved into a doorway near a bus stop. It was all right for a while. Then he met Verdigris and they went up to the High City together. Verdigris wasn’t that much older than Balker. They were about the same height, but Verdigris knew more. He came from somewhere in the city, he had always lived in Viriconium. He had bright red hair, an alcohol tan and a personalised way of walking. He could get a laugh out of anything. For a while Balker and Veridigris did well out of the tourists in the High City. But Verdigris’ lifestyle-choices moved him along quickly and he started to limp up and down the Terrace of the Fallen Leaves saying, “’I’m in bits, me!’” and showing people the big sore on his neck.

“Hey, look mate, I’m in bits!”

After Verdigris died, Balker stayed away from the other street people. They had a language all their own he never learned to speak, but he knew the same thing was happening to them as to him.

He knew the same thing was happening to everyone.

There were new rules in. New rules had come in, and everyone in Viriconium was in the same position. If you couldn’t look after yourself there was a new way to pay.

Sleeping on the street is hard, all the reasons for that are obvious. It’s never quiet. The police move you about, the mutual associations won’t leave you alone: everyone thinks the boroughs belong to them. You’re hungry, you’ve got a cough, there’s other stuff, it’s an endless list. No one sleeps well in a doorway. You get fragments of sleep, you get the little enticing flakes of it that fall off the big warm central mass. Wake up, and everything seems to have fallen sideways. You guess it’s four in the morning in November, somewhere at the foot of the Ghabelline Stair; but you could be wrong. Are you awake ? Are you asleep ? Rain swirls in the doorway. You’ve got a bit of fever and you can’t quite remember who you are. It’s your own fault of course. You wake up and he’s there in front of you, with his nice overcoat, or sometimes a nice leather jacket, to protect him from the weather. You never really hear his name, though he tells you more than once. He seems to know yours from the beginning.

“Your health’s going,” he says. “You want to start now, before it goes too far.”

So he leaned into Balker’s doorway–maybe it was the night, maybe it wasn’t–and took Balker’s chin in his hand. He turned Balker’s face one way then the other. He was gentle, he even looked a bit puzzled, as if he was wondering why anyone would choose to live that way, what bad choices they must have made made to find themselves in a doorway at the foot of the Ghabelline Stair.

“You want to start now,” he repeated.

So Balker started. They took him to the place in the maze of streets below Mynned Saba. You’d get a meal afterwards, they said. You could expect your head to swim a bit, but come on: somebody in Balker’s condition was going to notice that ? In the end it was easy and it was a bit of money in your hand. It was a way of being responsible for yourself. It could be a beginning, they told him; or you could just leave it at that. But what Balker liked most was the warmth and the calm of the place. It was worth it just to lie down and not think about what to do next. Balker looked around and fell asleep. That was how it started for him, really. That was how his whole life started.

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “on the street in Viriconium

  1. Love it. Makes me want to read “The New Rays” again, which I can’t, I haven’t a copy here.

    Is there more? Please?

    I think there should be more.

  2. uzwi

    Hi Colin, nice to hear from you. There’s a bit more, & there could be more than that. An experiment, really. But who knows, maybe someone’ll make me an offer I can’t refuse.

  3. Laura

    I love the last two lines. It would be wonderful if it kept going!

  4. alex nootronic

    Dreamy. Palpable and lucid. Please, more!
    So, a return to Viriconium is actually possible..

    In anticipation of Empty Space I got everything Amazon had for Kindle, and Viriconium is luckily there, so I’ve been re-reading it. Re-dreaming it, again.

    I’m curious, have you ever thought of exploring interactive fiction as a medium? The likes of which is unfolding the text as the reader chooses.

  5. uzwi

    Thanx Alex. I always thought fiction was already interactive enough. The author writes it into existence for a year or so; thereafter it’s a game with two players, the reader & the text. There’s a re-dreaming, as you say, for every act of reading. But on the kind of interactive fiction you describe: I’ve always wanted to do something that would be a kit for a book. Not that the reader could choose different outcomes at different plot-points, but that without the reader’s input there wouldn’t be any story at all.

  6. Interesting to read this now while I am in Viriconium. Last year I read The Pastel City in stand-alone. Shortly after I spotted a Viriconium (Fantasy Masterworks) in a used bookstore, but wasn’t ready. I thought of it occasionally and came back on the same day one year later and it was still there, and now I have it. In the last few weeks I’ve read Viriconium Knights three times, Lords of Misrule twice, part of Strange Great Sins, the opening pages of A Storm of Wings and parts of The Pastel City again. And now this new bit. A third, for “more”.

  7. alex nootronic

    That kind of ‘kit’ would only be possible as electronic text, I presume. Something like http://gimcrackd.com/ is using as an engine.

    There’s another thing I’ve been long wanting to ask you, sir. At the start of ‘Der Weisse Dominikaner’ Gustav Meyrink claims it was not he who’d written the whole book but an invisible source that sort of moved his hand. He felt as if someone writes it for him, so, you know, the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ kind of writing. ‘Automated’ or whatever they call it.

    I remember once experiencing a thing like that, when after several days of deliberate emptying my mind (using some DsogTchen excercise to track and release mental verbalisms) I sat down at a computer and without much thinking delivered a couple of pages that sort of came out of nothing, and laid a foundation of a very interesting story. And they were good, those pages. Inspiration? Maybe.

    Have you used such a state for writing? When the text is writing itself? Why I’m asking this, is because you are a very rare writer whose texts feel always inspired, never forced or painstakingly word-crafted, and yet, at the same time they all feel like a result of MUCH work. So I can’t place them as something either. Instead of reading another person’s writing I usually feel like I’m reading a reflection of my own hidden world. That’s the case with your books, and maybe one or two Balkan writers I know.

    But only if you feel like telling. I’ll be allright if I never know, just having your texts suffices. )

  8. uzwi

    Hi Alex. I don’t believe in Meyrink’s “invisible sources” although I’m keen on the unconscious as a provider of charged imagery & emotional connections that might not be open to the writer’s conscious mind. Otherwise it’s just a lot of hard work to make a surface which leads down to lots of interpretable levels in the text. No image or event is there by accident & they always point to a way of reading the whole story. It takes a long time to web that up–& also to avoid a lot of locks & keys which can be systematically used to gain entrance to a rational solution. I don’t want to write puzzle stories which can be decoded to the correct answer. As I said above, I’ve always thought of reading as massively interactive.

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  10. alex nootronic

    Thanks. It’s just that the ‘sub-‘ and the ‘un-‘ in consciousness-related words always seemed to estrange and distance me from the thing in question, therefore the notion of ‘invisible source’ is personally more appealing. But your words are very educative, thank you.

  11. A fourth call for another harrowing journey to Viriconium…

    And that insight into your writing process is fascinating. Is that disconcerting affect your texts produce – that they open up on as divers possible meanings as there are potential encounters with them – the result of the slog that produces the complex patterning of the surface? Do you avoid trying to anticipate what readers’ responses to those patterns might be?

  12. uzwi

    Always a problem with terminology, alex: especially if the text itself is aiming for a level of estrangement. But as long as you’re comfortable with your terminology & I’m comfortable with mine…

  13. uzwi

    Hi Timothy, you write–

    Is that disconcerting affect your texts produce … the result of the slog that produces the complex patterning of the surface?

    Yes, I hope so.

  14. mirst

    Fascinating stuff. And lucky me: I’ve yet to wander through the streets of Viriconium for the first time.

    “what bad choices they must have made made to find themselves in a doorway at the foot of the Ghabelline Stair.”

    Looks like there’s an extra “made” in there.

  15. uzwi

    Thanx, mirst. I’ll fix that. Hope you enjoy Viriconium.

  16. Love this voice overlaying (my imaginings, of course, of) those places. Looking forward to wherever this may lead, and to Empty Space. All best!