They say there is a mirror city that lies beneath London’s streets. A replica, the same in every regard; the buildings look just the same, the people execute the same actions, follow the same routines. The difference is in its animus, the city’s will: above ground, intricate lattices of stonework burst forth with light and energy, while their subterranean counterparts swill in the depths with glue-like lethargy and indifference. There, the doppelgangers of London’s inhabitants plod through their day to day lives as if each action they perform has no more meaning than any other. Their feet stumble on the cracked paving stones. Their tongues, blackened through lack of nutrients, loll in their mouths like river barges jammed into an inlet of the Thames. Their reproductive organs fulfill their duties with apathy, despair, hatred; new lives squirm out into the hands of midwives with the reluctance of the condemned, the rusted forceps that hauled them screaming towards the light already crumbling into entropic sediment.
No one has ever crossed the divide between the two domains, and no one ever will. The denizens of the upper city turn their faces from their sunken brothers and sisters, fearing to acknowledge them lest they themselves begin to subside into the cloying earth, there to merge with that which they despise the most. Instead, they bustle about their business, laughing, striving, hastening their way towards a brighter future. Around them, vast skyscrapers spring up, ghost shards of the abyssal demarcation zone elevated from the clay strata by sheer force of will, or so it seems. Their foundations lie poised on the brink of a great crossing, ceremonial cornerstones penetrating almost to the grimed, desultory alleyways beneath. The surface of the glass bends, and comes this close to snapping altogether. The dwellers of the lower city cower, hands clasped to their ears, the shearing rent that sings out as the two facades collide sending shockwaves of horror past the flower vendors and landlords and fugitives that populate this darkened realm. But the borders hold, and the citizens of both kingdoms – energized, motivated go-getters above, sad, hope-forsaken scoundrels below – breathe a sigh of relief, and return to their affairs.
For who would wish to shatter the equilibrium that has held, steadfast, since time immemorial? What purpose would be served by swiveling the natural order of earth and sky, exposing the shadowed world underfoot to the merciless power of the sun, condemning the animated hubbub overhead to an existence that would favor only the feeble, the lost, the defeated? Some things are best left unsaid, for questions demand answers, and answers there are none.
So they carry on, these two sides of the silvered glass trestle, neither one knowing or caring about the other. Sometimes, on a quiet night, when the last of the evening revelers have taken to their beds and the pigeons have yet to flap their feathers into the dawn, you can cock an ear to the ground and possibly, just possibly, discern the thrum of water, the subsurface generators of the corollary metropolis that shudders beneath your feet. And then, when your mind is in that vulnerable stasis between reverie and corporeality, when the daemons of perception are given leave to enter and wreak whatever havoc they see fit, you may know, without a shadow of a doubt, which city it is that you truly live in.
And if it turns out you have a foot in both places then think yourself in good company, for London may devour those who seek to turn their heads from the truth. The mirror reveals its secret, obtuse angles to those straddlers of the void between the worlds, the ones who close their eyes and dream their dreams together while the city fills and empties its lungs around them, a spectral zone of the inbetween.
|Matt Thompson is a London-based writer of fantastical fiction and player of fantastical music. His stories have been published at Unsung Stories, Perihelion and Metaphorosis, among others. He can be found online at matt-thompson.com, and on Twitter at @24wordLoop.|