Discover more from The Skojec File
Fiction Friday - The Wirrwarr
I’ve been crazy busy for the past month, out searching for a more permanent home for the family and barely at my desk, so I haven’t had the right kind of time for writing Substacks. And although I’ve had to take a hiatus from the novel I’m writing, I’m 32,000 words in and feeling good about actually finishing it some time in the next year. Until then, my mind aches for the descriptive magic of fiction, which works as a soothing balm for the damage wrought by a world that never seems to run out of exhausting nonsense, applied through a firehose.
I was working on some images in Midjourney late last night, trying to make a robot coloring book for kids, when the image below popped out. As soon as I saw it I knew it was something special — it was completely unlike everything else I got with that particular prompt. At about midnight, exhausted and needing sleep, I nevertheless could not resist the allure of creating a little bit of backstory for the curious thing the AI had hallucinated. The text that follows is the result.
Please do let me know if you enjoy these little forays into fiction. I certainly do. Perhaps I’ll dip my pen in this inkwell again.
The Skojec File is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
The Wirrwarr towered high above the city of Hamburg, an impossible abstraction, its hulking mass a strange extrusion of recursive, undulating shapes. Despite its chaos, there was a certain elegance to its structures, strange little counterweighted wohnungen suspended by struts or hanging from cables, their windows like insectile eyes, their roofs bristling with antennae and satellite receivers, their bellies adorned with thick knots of industrial-gauge wire looped beneath them or dangling across the spans between. The whole thing was a kludge; a riotous mismatch of mechanical components, hard-to-reach but much-sought-after living spaces, and impenetrable expanses of bulkhead. The interior of the Wirrwarr held a lone elevator shaft, fastidiously maintained by the grunzende arbeiter, that ingested its residents at street level and disgorged them at the mid-level einkaufspassage, just above the machine-building's colossal, single wheel. That wheel, as legend had it, was gyroscopic, and had once been the Wirrwarr's mode of fast travel, when its ponderous legs would be retracted into its misshapen body and it would roll like a slow-moving avalanche down the vast ribbon of cracked autobahn asphalt that traversed the hinterlands between the few cities that yet remained in Deutschland.
It was the penthouse at the very top of the residential stack that Felix had his eyes on. Its copper roof was kept meticulously free of the characteristic greenish-blue patina of oxidation that afflicted several other local buildings — no doubt at great expense — and it gleamed in the light of the setting sun. It was the personal residence of Baron Von Achterhof, and if the necklace Felix was searching for were anywhere, it must be there, in the Baron’s collection of trinkets, baubles, and treasures, kept safe from the riffraff far above the big wheel and beyond the rounded rotor casing of the starboard servo stack. But there was no way a straßenkind like Felix was ever getting into the elevator. He’d never make it past the guards. It was going to take all of Felix’s not inconsiderable skill and agility to simply reach the penthouse, let alone get him past the security measures he would no doubt encounter within.
First thing’s first, Felix thought. I have to make it up to the top. I’ll worry about the rest when I get there.
The entire jumble of a structure was, despite its many bizarre asymmetries, rooted by heavy, trunk-like pylons that moored it, not merely to the surface, but to the deep city beneath. Segmented limbs the circumference of the ancient oak in Jenisch park pierced straight through the flimsy chipboard and tin of the ramshackle shanties that clung to them like hungry remora, the thick tendrils themselves redolent of the gnarled roots of some even more colossal, alien tree.
Whenever Felix really looked at the Wirrwarr — not just a passing glance, but stopped to take it all in — he was reminded of one of the stories his Opa had told him. He had been just a small boy then, no more than eight summers old, eagerly wolfing down hot, honeyed Acheta cakes and lukewarm milk tea. They had sat huddled together on creaky, antique folding chairs, speaking in low tones of awe and wonder, their elbows pressed onto the rickety card table the old man always kept close to the warmth of the battered pellet stove that squatted in the corner of his drafty, one-room hovel. Opa’s tale was of a youth spent up in the cold north, in a village along the coast, digging in the soft sediment of the tidal flats for bivalves and crabs, as the great oil fires of the Mittelplate choked and darkened the skies above the Wadden Sea. The flames burned hot and wild, pushing away the clutching grip of smoke-black night, springing forth from the backs of the long-abandoned rigs; giant, frozen husks that stood slumped and bestial. They were skeletons of rust and steel, like the petrified bones of some forgotten species of colossal sea-striding pachyderm, having laid down to their eternal rest under the gentle caresses of the brackish, oil-slicked tides. Their long-protracted exsanguination gushed the lifeblood of the old world, set ablaze by the very war that ended it. That world was now gone, and with it, the knowledge of how to cap the wells and stop the fires.
Unlike the old rigs, the Wirrwarr had actually walked, once upon a time. Or so the storytellers said. Truth be told, it was a legend older than even the oldest grayhair who might tell it; a recounting no more preposterous than the structure itself, but also no less. It was almost impossible to believe that the largest building in the city had once lumbered into town all on its own, and then chosen a spot to settle down. It did look like something that could move, but in living memory it never had; it was as solid and implacable as any boulder or building. Felix was grateful for that as he began his free-climb up its surface, his skin slick with the sweat of exertion, his hands and feet finding purchase within the endless nooks and crannies of its weirdly chaotic shapes.
Today was the day. The item that he had been searching for, the key to unlock the mystery of the gone away world, was finally within his reach.
There was no turning back.