I wrote this to work out some ideas and feel through some approaches I’d been wanting to try, and figured I’d throw it up here, see what people think. Read it below and enjoy, lemme know what you think.
“Skies Dance” by Costa Koutsoutis
The wind was strong enough that it was loud, rattling against the window so that it competed with the noise from the one TV with the sound on in the bar. The Gripper, formally known as the Griptown Ale House, was mostly empty, the four TVs that usually played old movies or whatever remained of news and sports these days blank. The one that rattled off music while running lottery numbers and local weather was on, the music some sort of generic Korean or Japanese Pop version of a heavy-metal thrash song, I couldn’t tell off the bat.
Wind was common enough not to really be worried, but with the rain these days, it could become deadly. We weren’t supposed to be out anymore in the rain, not after that month of nonstop rain two years ago that killed a hundred people who’d try to go farther than a block, getting knocked over, swept away in mini-rivers through the streets. It was like a micro-hurricane every time now, so general consensus, as well as whatever amounted to a government, “officially warned” against going out on days with strong rain and wind at the same time. Any public business was supposed to technically let you take shelter if you needed it during rain and wind. I spent most of my time at the Gripper anyway, so it made sense when I’d felt the wind pick up earlier today to just duck into the bar as I’d been doing stuff around the neighborhood. The wifi was good and free, the deli next door could deliver through a window that had been semi-legally constructed between the two, and I got buybacks from Carlos when he was working at the bar.
Carlos wasn’t working that day, Howie was, with Diane alongside.
I knocked my shot back and went back to staring at the weather report, the flash of orange telling me that the rain warning was low but not impossible. After orange is yellow, then red, which was strange, considering how orange is closer to red, but whatever. Howie looked up at the TV too. “Why the fuck is yellow after orange, before red?” I smirked as he continued. “I remember that whole threat level color shit, which made fuck-all sense.” He took my empty glass, replacing it as I looked back at my screen, the little laptop open on the dirty bar top. For some reason, it amused Howie to no end that I was a reporter, and if it was a Friday night with the bar full of the regulars and he’d shared enough shots, he’d point at me and tell everyone that the Gripper was a “writer’s bar” and pull out a tattered copy of my one book to show off, with my fucking face on the back.
I hate that author photo.
The new trend these days seemed to be big names legitimizing the content mills, which were weirdly evolving into multi-media online platforms of multiple voices and concept perspectives…which basically meant that I took my legitimacy from having published a book of personal essays and a few newspaper and magazine pieces and now cranked out columns about whatever I could think about for some fancy website originally founded to share manipulated joke photos and lists of movie trivia. How the mighty have fallen to getting paid regularly for once, apparently. It was the “new media,” whatever that meant these days, an ever-shifting field that seemed to waver back and forth from the Internet and semi-ressurecting print. The old papers and magazines were still around, somehow, and the old websites that used to be the new guard were shoulder-to-shoulder with them in a weird way. I gave a lecture over Skype to a roomful of former newsroom editors who had all been bright-eyed twenty-somethings at one point intent on carving a place for themselves in Silicon Valley, before they realized that startups were killing this country alongside the eldritch-changed air.
The clouds were constantly churning these days, with figures and forms, vast semitransparent masses floating across the horizons and from airmass to airmass. Some days were almost old-fashioned with blue skies peaking out behind it all, the sunlight that shines through warm and nourishing on an almost spiritual level. Some days it was so bad it was like the world was lit in blue and grey, and it was on days like that that we figured they were fighting up there, around us and above us.
Rain started, a fast and hard clatter-clatter against the reinforced glass of the window.
“I saw one, once,” Diane said as she looked out the window and passed me a beer. “At my mother’s house. She kept the basement apartment they used to rent out and moved down there once it all started, figured it’d be safer. My brother told her she was being crazy, and I was over there with him one day to try to help her move some of her furniture down there while we argued. One walked right past the window that faced outside, fully solid.” She was animated now, demonstrating the stride behind the bar, Howie looking on as he wiped down glasses. “I’d only seen the cloud ones, but I’d heard that they come down sometimes, like the one in Canada, and the two that were fighting on the ground in Australia? It was on Facebook, someone was live and filmed it?”
I nodded, of course I’d seen it. Everyone had seen it, even my mother had seen it, and she spent most of her time either playing with my daughter, or on FaceTime with other her granddaughter, my sister’s kid. They lived in LA, where the shitty weather had hardened the inhabitants there a lot sooner than us here in New York.
“The leg came down like, boom! Right outside our window, like a giant elephant leg or something! Except like, it was fatter, like, it jiggled when it came down and then just moved on, WOOSH!” Diane motioned as if the limb was swinging like a pendulum, the giant stride of the titan that descended. They used to descend from the skies often, I remembered, when it the skies first danced and changed for real. It was an event at first, something cool to watch that couldn’t be explained by anyone. It was like a show every night, to watch the clouds surge and suck in, the colors dance from dawn to dusk and sometimes even through the night. Even when the colors shifted into shapes, into arms and legs reaching across the vast spaces of sky over cities like a man reaching across a table to pick up a salt shaker, no one really worried too much.
The two that fought in the middle of nowhere in Australia, and the one in Canada that stood there for a week straight were the first we’d seen in a while. Even the fight wasn’t much, not compared to the ones that shook the ground like earthquakes in those first months we saw them.
It was almost a year of them coming down, fighting and running into each other across the sky, bellowing wind and screams and lightning across the air, sizzling the atmosphere and sinking mountains under their huge semi-visible quivering limbs that stamped down here and there. It wasn’t with every single blow, because they’d fade in and out of tangentiality and visibility at times, lulling us by being giant ghosts, the remnants of squeezing our eyes too hard maybe before a mass would swing back into solidity and sweep sand and dirt like a tidal wave across a mile square.
I saw Ohio turn into a wasteland on TV, where three came down and stayed for two days straight, rolling around and setting off the seismographs as far as the Carolinas. We felt it here through the buffers, the seismic insulation that had been built into the low walls and barriers that had been built up along the edges of the state. New Jersey used them too, after one fell out of the sky, like it’d been knocked over, a mass of shadow and stone-like solid form on the railroad tracks along the turnpike.
After that…that was when we started to see how the world was different. Obviously massive geological shifts like chunks of Portugal breaking off and nonstop winter storms during the spring over the poles is going to change the earth, but it was more than that. The rain came regularly, but it was like a downpour from a firehose. The clouds got more and more prevalent over time, and they’d shift colors, which we noticed was when they’d walk through the clouds, like they affected them. Near as some scientists can guess, Carlos told me one night here at the Gripper, somehow they live in the atmosphere and disrupt it by moving through it, so the reason things are so irregular is because sometimes they practically run laps through it around the planet, and other times they’re just…standing still in the sky, I guess?
The rain was softer now, and I looked up at the TV. The weather warning was at green, just rain, with no more wind. Howie looked at his phone as I got up, tossing bills on the bar. “Nice, the turbine filled up, guess we can afford to turn the lights on tomorrow!” he barked. The Gripper had a turbine that could retract in, built into the roof to help charge a backup battery set for running the bar. Howie actually counted on orange- and yellow-level days to bring business in and to charge the batteries he used to run some of the utilities in the bar, all run through a set of apps on his phone even someone like him, who never cared much for technology, could monitor and manage. “Later,” I waved as I keyed the door open, stepping out as a group of men and women in bus driver uniforms walked in past me, yelling at Howie and Diane in greeting. Probably a shift off of work and wanting to enjoy no one dying in the rain and wind while above us, sky gods grappled in the ionosphere while we scuttled underneath in the ruined remnants of our planet’s weather system like so many ants under a sprinkler system on the lawn. I flipped my hood up and tucked the folded-up laptop into the inner pocket of my coat, and headed towards my apartment. I looked up for a moment as I got to the end of the block.
Against the dark sky the light-grey clouds moved unnaturally fast, like special effects from am movie. A figure strides against them, long legs down to the horizon like it walked across the face of the earth, long arms like flat shadows swaying, before it faded into nothingness, like blinking, temporary animation in a screen on a building that would show ads nonstop in Manhattan or Beijing or some sci-fi city. I continued on, turning the corner to my building and brushing one hand against the sigil painted in paste and spray paint on the outer door.
Good luck against the sky dancers, against our new gods.