My fantasy London and Archivism for No-places11 September 2018
My fantasy London
At night, the streets—unlike any other city—are empty, but the repurposed Victorian gas-lights remain lit. They project onto the neo-classical architecture, the statues of Oxford circus, the garrets made of red brick, exaggerated angles/boundaries of shadow like the cabinet of Dr Caligari, or the fingers in F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, edging around the columns and overly decorated facades like vines. The Thames is quiet, wide and black under the Millennium bridge. You think that so long as you can’t see the bottom, it could be deep as space. It reflects nothing. A homeless man is playing the violin toward the west bank end; it sounds like the theme tune of a Saturday morning show on the BBC about child detectives.
Archivism for No-places
It’s a cold day in the unreal city. Baroque towers with too many spikes for practical use loom over the interior. They disappear into the low-clouds, omnipresent as the sense that eyes somewhere are being hesitantly averted, and unspeakable rites spoken from the corner of your mouths, as if mumbling the words somehow alleviated any damage. The roads to the college of archaeological research and archivism’s main drag are pot-holed, strewn with debris—architectural and otherwise—from last week’s eldritch summoning. Puddles are lethargically filling, like plow-furrows in a ruined field.
A shape in a coat jogs from the south gate, up the 1000 steps of the old faculty, untranslatable runes inscribed on each rung, shimmering, as fresh as the time they were carved. They take the steps two at a time, keeping score in their head, looking down furtively as they ascend. Despite the seemingly finite space, there is always enough room for new names, they think… They wonder what their name might look like translated into that language, before hurrying on, wordless, without looking back. To the left of the main avenue is the dig-site, the rain either evaporating or bending to one side, leaving a perfect dome of dry earth, cordoned off with silver chains that hum slightly. The faculty haven’t determined the full implications of excavating a magical—and therefore ever-changing, refashioning—past… They reach the end of the avenue and enter the central archive, its doors always catching them off-guard with how suddenly they materialise. It’s a ritual at this point; if it didn’t happen you’d be more at risk than not, they think…
There’s a slight jump, and they’re inside the cubicle. When they started out here, it unnerved them how rapid the transition was. Now they sit down automatically at their wooden chair, back erect, a globe of fire on the ceiling, the walls as dark as the inside of a mouth. Their desk is mahogany, splintering, treacherous at the edges, its legs peeling varnish. Small insects—fruit flies, gnats, mosquitos; at the desk, they only look up to annihilate their bodies between their palms—buzz around the desk’s growing detritus; no matter how many are destroyed, they are seemingly limitless. They remove their coat, observe the documents, texts, remains in perforated bags, settling in for another day. They catch sight of a scrap of paper in the dreg-heap. They consider it for a few seconds, almost illegible: It’s a cold day in the unreal city…