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A Strange Place

    by Patrick Martinez

     Sometimes a simple word or gesture can influence the course of your life. In his case, it was a gesture of the foot: a step too far; the one he made into the void and which threw him as suddenly as brutally into this new universe. 

     The place where he regained consciousness can be summarily described thus: a huge crater, totally enclosed, whose steep walls stood vertically, along a curve as vertiginous as it was irremediable. This vast geological pit, perfectly rotund as it was, could only be the product of an ancient phenomenon, cataclysmic in its amplitude: explosion, collapse, collision with a cosmic object traveling at great speed; of the order of disorder. It was also marked by the absolute quietness which characterizes the most inhospitable places. Not a movement, not a rustling. Neither insects nor birds. The man knew it would be very difficult for him to get out of there. Feeling dizzy, he turned his back to the vertical impasse.

      In the middle of the cirque, a small hill clothed with the same flawless short grass that covered the entire site rose gently upwards. On the summit, a modest house. He was surprised that it could have been built it in such a remote place and even more so that one could live there. He hoped nonetheless that there might be someone who could help him. So he began to climb the hill and felt his moral gently follow the same slope.

     When he reached it, the man walked around the foot of the building. A simple cuboid with a front door and a shuttered window. The whole thing surmounted by a two-sloped roof. Rather mundane. Yet he walked around it again, touching it so he could better see it. The smooth walls of the shack intrigued him. They had the brilliance, luster and softness of a baby tooth. The joints between the various components of the structure – door, window, roof, and walls – were so finely adjusted that the whole thing seemed to have been molded in one piece.

     He knocked on the door, softly at first, then louder, because the sound, instead of reverberating, seemed absorbed by the density and thickness of the material. Taking hold of the handle then, he lowered it and pushed the heavy door, which, once the first push had been given, opened up, carried in by its own weight. A flood of light penetrated inside, framing his own shadow, which, so exposed, took him by surprise. "Anybody home?" he ventured for reassurance. Nothing. He walked in.

     In one glance, he surveyed the only room that made up most of the dwelling. This was fitted with a care as meticulous as that afforded a boat cabin, and the same concern for an optimal use of space. Every square meter was counted and given a very specific function corresponding to the most basic needs. The only furniture the room contained consisted in a table and a bench anchored to the floor, a hammock suspended from each of its extremities to two pegs firmly planted in the walls, a large metal basin, a big tank fitted with a faucet, which seemed to be used to recover rainwater. In one corner, a composting toilet. No heating system. Maybe it was never cold around here or the house might be equipped with a special insulation system, as the thick rubber seal around the front door and the window seemed to indicate. Closets of various shapes and capacities occupied most of the available wall space and, strangely enough, small locks had been methodically placed on each door. He opened the first one, the second one, and then all the others, with increasing joy. The compartments were jam-packed: dishes, utensils, tools, blankets, sawdust bags, water bottles, kerosene lamps, kerosene, a camping gas cooker, gas cylinders, matches, cord, pasta, rice, instant mashed potato pouches, dehydrated soup mixes, powdered milk and chocolate, tea, coffee, melba toast, oil, vinegar, mustard, flour, sugar, pickles, salt, pepper, canned mixed vegetables, canned corn, sauerkraut, lentils and sausage, peas, carrots, and cassoulet, toiletries, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, first aid kit, pens, pencils, notepads, and even a small guitar and a bottle of rum. . . His survival, perhaps even a little more than that seemed to be guaranteed for several months. Very soon, however, he realized that something wasn’t quite right.


     One morning, he woke up at night, then two days flashed by at midday, and again night fell in a wink and lasted for days and days. The man lost his sense of time and gave up referring to the succession of night and day to get his bearings. But even scarier phenomena added to this. . .

     One day, shutters half-closed, the man swung gently in his hammock, as he usually did after the meal, when the earth began to shake. The tremor was brief and very violent. At that moment, he understood the reason for locks on the cupboards. From now on, he would make sure they were always closed. He rushed to the window. The valley had been invaded by all sorts of strange creatures: an inextricable tangle of huge headless and tailless, smooth and pale-bodied worms. At one and the same time, they all stirred once more and then stopped moving, as though on the lookout. For his part, the man waited, motionless and drenched in sweat. The atmosphere had warmed quite a bit. Then two gigantic ramps of shiny metal flew into the middle of the watchful assembly. There was a screech of thunder and they began to spin, reflecting the daylight in blinding lightning bolts. Responding to the signal, in small cohesive groups, the first detachments of worms took advantage of this swirling motion to latch on. Finally, the sparkling ramps stopped their strident dancing. They left the ground, slowly at first, before they disappeared, taking away with them, huddled at their base, their peculiar passengers. The operation was repeated several times. In a trice, there remained of the invasion but a few greasy puddles, scattered about, presumably secreted by the creatures. Still completely stunned, the man hoped that was the end of it. For dessert, he was nevertheless entitled to an even more violent and much longer earthquake than the previous one. Outside, a downpour. He only had time to jump in his hammock, the one place where he could feel relatively safe.

     Another time, he thought he was losing his life. After the opening shock (he was getting used to it but always feared what it foreshadowed), the temperature increased in a truly abnormal way: a steamy heat, humid and suffocating, which would have killed any asthmatics. He really felt out of sorts. He regained his observation post. Despite the mist now covering the windows, he could watch through the gaps of the half-open shutters the indisputable rise of a new kind of tide. A thick greenish liquid had submerged the bottom of the valley and, steaming and bubbling, was now making an assault on the hill, shattering the record of a galloping horse. Already, it licked the doorway. . . the windowsill. . . In an instant, the house was engulfed. The man swallowed hard to get his eardrums accustomed to this unprecedented pressure. Without having moved from where he stood, he felt as though he had traveled several feet deep. In an expectant anxiety, he waited for the moment when the house, yielding to the enormous liquid mass, would throw in the towel. A supernatural disaster would thus put an end to his story.

     Meanwhile, he was a prisoner in his air bubble house. He knew neither the origin, nor nature, nor the intentions of the invader. Had this liquid and slithering form fallen from the sky? Was it gushing out of the earth? Was it a vegetable species? A mineral fusion? An intelligent organism? Friendly? Hostile? Indifferent?

      In the end, he figured it must be a plant species, because of the strong smell, both heavy and acrid, which permeated the room. Somewhat like the sweat of a cabbage. The house resisted. A ray of light filtered through and soberly informed him that the liquid element had disappeared. That day, he welcomed the downpour with unalloyed joy.


     Thereafter, other events occurred, under similar conditions. The man sometimes came to wonder whether he had not landed very precisely at the preferred meeting place of the most bizarre phenomena. He got into the habit of scrupulously recording in a diary all his observations regarding these. There must be a logic to all of this somewhere, and most certainly a way to get out of there. Some of the information could undoubtedly be crosschecked. The cataclysms, for instance, the severe thunderstorms, the worms, and all the other monsters, more often than not. Always by day. . .

     Meanwhile, the man was determined to relativize as much as possible the discomfort of his situation, and even to let himself be amused by it. After all, it wasn’t that bad. Over time, he had learned to protect himself from these extreme events by staying indoors, the little house seeming designed to withstand the most violent storms. Above all, he had managed to control his fear of the unknown. Moreover, any new phenomenon was another opportunity for him to stimulate his curiosity. He had gotten into the habit of going out at night, under a black starless sky, which strange and distant lights sometimes washed out. The nights were always quiet. He knew, for instance, that when night fell (suddenly, as always) without being preceded by heavy rains, it was possible that he might still find in the valley remnants of the daytime invader. Armed with his hurricane lamp, a hammer, a chisel and a good knife, he went out and cautiously explored the area to harvest some samples. These explorations, short-lived, for he did not take unnecessary risk, were a source of wonder and fascinating discoveries. Although he had observed a certain recurrence in the apparitions, the catalog of forms he had put together revealed an astonishing diversity. The monumental and inert objects (he was sure about that by now) he discovered offered great variations in shapes, colors, textures, odors and even temperature. Recently, he had ascertained that some of them were not only edible but very pleasant for consumption. . .

     Perfect happiness being out of reach (anyhow, he found it suspicious that some could seek permanence of this state of blissful fullness), the man adjusted better than he would have expected to this quirky universe. He also spent much time writing, drawing, learning to play the guitar and singing. This allowed him to endure his loneliness and avoid sinking into melancholy. And so he remained hopeful. His absence must have been noticed and caused some concern.

     Someone, for sure, would be able to find him. . .