The vertigo

AVertigem-01

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this tale is part of the book:

The End Times Survival Guide
Ricardo Kelmer – Miragem Editorial, 2020
fantastic – horror – science fiction

What to do when the unexplainable suddenly barges into our reality and old truths are rendered useless? Where are we to go when the end of the world is upon us? In the nine short stories included in this book, none of them short of mystery and supernatural, people are amazed at events that challenge their understanding of reality and of themselves and trigger crisis situations so intense that people’s own survival is put at stake. This is a book about collective and personal apocalypses.

(script for a movie soon)

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THE VERTIGO

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AVertigem-01The events I will recount now happened a long time ago. But it feels like it was yesterday.

I was in Quixadá on that one Saturday to take care of certain affairs pertaining to a property of my family, the house where we had lived for many years before we moved to the capital which had been rented out since then. I had convinced my parents to sell it and invest the money in the stock market with a view to realizing more profitable gains. But the afternoon was coming to its end and other potential buyers would visit the house on Sunday, so I decided to stay in the city. I checked in at a tiny hotel in the downtown area. The weather wasn’t so hot anymore after I took a shower, so I thought it would be nice to go out for a walk in the neighborhood.

Twenty-one years. That’s how long I had been away from Quixadá. I had been born and lived there until I was fifteen years old, when my family moved to Fortaleza. My childhood friends, the soccer played with a ball made of socks, the kermesses on the town square, everything was suddenly left behind. Determined to be successful in the big city at any cost, I soon adapted to its laws and focused on my studies and work, saving money and spending very little time on girlfriends and amusements. And I convinced myself, day after day, that the big city was my one true city. I soon traded the mindset of a small town boy for the metropolitan behavior, and Quixadá increasingly became no more than a mere hometown name in my government-issued identity documents.

“Edson?”

Somebody had called my name. It was an old lady. She was leaning on the gate of a house on the other side of the street. She was smiling and waving at me. I crossed the street, searching her face in the depths of my memory.

“I can tell you don’t remember me.”

I really didn’t.

“I was your math teacher.”

I finally remembered her. Ms. Celia. She was quite older and heavyset now.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Celia. It’s been so long.”

“I have a good memory. You must be… thirty-five?”

“Thirty-six.”

“You don’t look so different. Are you back to your hometown?”

“No. Just passing.”

She took me by the arm and invited me to go inside a little.

“I just made some cashew sweet,” she said with glee.

I wanted to go right back to the hotel. I had brought my notebook and was planning to spend the night working on company reports. But I couldn’t find the heart to refuse so I let her lead me to the porch.

“Sit down a little, I’m going to get it.”

It was an ample porch in front of the house that stretched fully around to one of the sides. I assessed the area and concluded it was larger than the one-bedroom apartment where I lived. There were two chairs in that part of the porch, both rocking chairs made of iron and lined with colored plastic strands, something you just don’t find in big cities anymore. I sat on one of them and the rocking motion of the chair almost gave me vertigo.

Ms. Celia came back soon and handed me a bowl full of sweet. We talked a little while I ate the sweet, the kind with red sauce, absolutely delicious. I told her my parents were well, we were going to sell the house, I was still single and worked as the financial director of a company. Then she told me she was retired, her sons were all married, and Quixadá still was the same place it was before I left except it was even hotter now. She said that then opened a fan and began to wave it to refresh herself.

“This is delicious sweet, Ms. Celia.”

“Do you want some more? I’ll get it.”

“No, thank you,” I replied, although I did want some more.

“Then I’m going get you some water.”

She took the bowl and went inside towards the kitchen. I thought about this habit of small town people of offering food to guests. They’ll always think you’re too thin and in dire need of putting on a few pounds. I suddenly felt the presence of someone next to me, at the door of the living room. I turned around expecting to see Ms. Celia, but it was an elderly man. He was tall and slender. He was all dressed in white, including pants, jacket, shoes and a felt hat, as if ready to go out. His eyes were black and they stared at me in an odd manner…

“Good afternoon,” I greeted him.

He didn’t answer. He stood on the same spot, looking at me in that strange, expressionless manner. Actually, he did have an expression. He looked absent. But his absence was focused on me and that is difficult to explain. It felt as if he were not there but knew I was. I felt uncomfortable, threatened, as if whoever was staring at me through the eyes of that old man somehow knew who I was. As if he knew a lot about me.

I turned and looked at the street. The sun was setting behind the houses among the blood-red clouds, ushering in the hinterland evening.

“Come on, Pepeo, won’t you talk to the young man?” said Ms. Celia, coming from the kitchen. “It’s Edson, son of Laura’s, you met her. Do you remember her, Pepeo?”

He kept still and quiet, leaning against the door. Ms. Celia handed me the glass of water and sat down. I drank it with gusto. When I turned around to look at Pepeo, the spot was empty. He had gone back into the house and I hadn’t noticed.

“He is mom’s cousin-in-law,” explained Ms. Celia, not minding the sudden disappearance of the old man. “He has a few loose screws.”

“Oh…”

“He used to live with her in Caiçarinha. When she died, we brought him to live with us.”

“Didn’t he get married?”

“No. No children either. He is ninety years old already, but still in good health.”

“Does he cause you any problems?”

“Pepeo is well behaved, he wouldn’t hurt a fly. He has his quirks, but we are used to them. We get used to everything, don’t we?”

Ms. Celia laughed. She was amused by the in-law’s insanity.

“What quirks?”

“Crazy people things. For example, he says he keeps little creatures. But nobody has ever seen them.”

“They must be invisible,” I joked.

“He liked you, I tell you.”

“Me? He gave me such a strange look.”

“He won’t even look at people he doesn’t like.”

I smiled. I was flattered.

“The sweet was great, Ms. Celia, thank you,” I said while standing up.

“Are you sure you don’t want more? I always have plenty of sweet.”

“I have to go back to the hotel.”

I telephoned my parents at night. We talked about the sale of the house then I told Mom I had been with Ms. Celia and Pepeo. She said she knew him.

“Pepeo is good at finding lost objects, did you know that?” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“If you lose anything, just talk to him and he will find it in no time.”

“Only you could believe such a thing, Mom,” I replied, laughing at her small town superstitions.

“Oh, I heard Milena got a divorce. She is very single now. Just like you.”

“Milena who, Mom?”

“The one you used to date.”

Milena was a girl in Quixadá I had dated in my teens. I had completely forgotten about her.

“Thank you for the tip, Mom, but I prefer women of the capital.”

After I hung up, I sat on the bed and turned on the notebook to get started on the tasks that would be awaiting me at the office on Monday, and there were a lot of them. I didn’t really get around to doing them. I fell asleep hard while working with the notebook still on, something that had never happened to me before.

AVertigem-01On Sunday, I showed the house to a married couple who were definitely interested in buying it. We discussed the price and agreed that I would come back on the following weekend to close the deal. I went back to the hotel with my mission accomplished. Soon, the house where I had lived my childhood, my very last connection with the town, would be turned into a good sum of money that I hoped to multiply in the stock market in little time.

I had lunch at the hotel and went to my room to take a shower. While I was getting dressed, I looked at the mirror and thought my image was rather different… I remembered I had read somewhere that every mirror reflects our image in its own way and we get used to seeing the reflex every day so we don’t quite recognize ourselves in other mirrors.

I was thinking about that when suddenly Pepeo came across my mind. And I could almost feel the same unease I had felt in his presence on the previous day. Pepeo and his odd stare. It was expressionless, but it had an effect on me. Pepeo and that stare of someone who seemed to know a lot about me.

I left the room to take care of checkout. I looked at my watch: five o’clock in the afternoon. I walked up to the car parked in front of the hotel and got in. However, instead of driving towards the town exit, I went to Ms. Celia’s house. I parked the car, came out of it and clapped my hands. She soon came out with a smile.

“I came to say good-bye.”

“But it’s still too hot for you to drive on the road,” she said, pulling me inside and closing the gate. “Come in a little. Did you have lunch?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“But you accept a little cashew sweet, don’t you?”

“Yes, thanks. What about Pepeo, is he alright?” I asked. And I felt silly for trying to fool myself about the reason I had come back to Ms. Celia’s house. Obviously, I wasn’t there to say good-bye. I was there to see Pepeo again.

“He asked me today: where is Laura’s son?”

“Really?”

“I told you he had liked you.”

Ms. Celia went in and soon came back with the sweet. Once again, she sat down in her rocking chair, and while she told me something about the cashew harvest, the sound of her words meshed with the almost hypnotic noise of the chair. That’s when he came up at the door in his white attire, impeccable and silent like a cat.

“Look who’s here to see you, Pepeo.”

“Good afternoon, Pepeo. How are you?”

He didn’t answer. He remained still, leaning against the door, the frozen stare fixed on me. Ms. Celia made a gesture with her hand to convey that I shouldn’t mind him and began to talk about the weather, the cost of living, and local politics. She recollected the school times and noted that children today are more interested in computers than playing on the street. Then I heard the deep voice by my side:

“He wants more sweet.”

Pepeo had spoken!

“Do you want more?” asked Ms. Celia, rising from the chair. “Give it to me, I’ll get it.”

She took the bowl from my hands and went inside. And I looked at Pepeo, still surprised. He had spoken.

It was the first time I’d ever heard his voice. And he had spoken in such a natural manner, but there was also this powerful awareness in it… Indeed, I had finished my sweet and wanted more, but had been embarrassed to ask. And he had noticed it.

“Do you also like cashew sweet?” I asked, trying to be nice. He just kept staring at me in his absent way. I felt ridiculous trying to communicate with a loon and had a strong feeling that Pepeo disdained my sane, normal condition.

To my relief, Ms. Celia came back with more sweet and freed me from the awkwardness of making small talk with madness. We talked some more then I remembered what my mother had told me.

“Is it true that he finds lost objects?”

“Did you hear that, Pepeo?” she asked. “Edson wants to know if you can find things. Can you?”

Pepeo didn’t answer. He kept staring at me, silent and stubborn – and absent.

“Haven’t you lost something recently?” Ms. Celia asked me. Yes, I had lost my favorite pen, made of aluminum with my name engraved on it. I had lost it on the day prior, as soon as I arrived at Quixadá.

“Yes, I lost a pen.”

“Ask him to find it.”

“Can you find my pen, Pepeo?” I asked him. And I caught myself wishing hard that his answer would be affirmative.

In the ensuing silence, while we looked at each other and I longed for his positive answer, I felt a vertigo… And I suddenly remembered something that had happened in my childhood… I remembered a well in the neighbor’s backyard, an old well that supplied water. Children were forbidden to go near it. One day, I was so curious I couldn’t stand it anymore and secretly climbed on its edge. Instead of water, instead of my reflection, I saw a horrendous monster. I got so scared I lost my balance and fell into the well. Thank God I was quick and managed to hold on to the edge and hang from it while the monster at the bottom of the well waited for me to fall. With a lot of effort, I climbed the wall and got out of it. I came back running into the house frightened, my heart pumping hard. The experience was so traumatic that whenever I came near any well, I would feel this strong vertigo. I wouldn’t even think about looking into it.

The memory went away, the vertigo subsided slowly, and I felt a lot better. I was on Ms. Celia’s porch again now with my eyes locked into Pepeo’s absent gaze. I moved my body in the chair to shake off the rest of vertigo I still felt, unaware of how long I had been absorbed by the sudden recollection or if someone had noticed anything.

Pepeo moved and walked up to Ms. Celia. He bent forward and whispered something to her ear. Then he went back to his spot leaning against the door.

“Pepeo says he will find your pen if you bring him a chocolate.”

Give him a chocolate? What a childish thing, I thought, disappointed. And for an instant I had thought, almost believed that he actually possessed some magical power, that he could roam other worlds… But now I realized it was a little game between them, some kind of concession Ms. Celia made to the strange logic of madness.

Still bothered for being such a fool, I agreed to play the game. I stood up and went to the grocery store on the corner. I soon came back with the chocolate and handed it to him. But Pepeo didn’t take it and my arm was left stretched out in the air. Ms. Celia laughed, took the chocolate from my hand and gave it to him. I thought he would eat it on the spot, but he put it in his jacket pocket instead and whispered to Ms. Celia’s ear again.

“Now you wait, and the pen will turn up,” she said winking at me, as if we were playing with a child.

I looked at Pepeo and thought I might have detected the hint of a smile, an almost imperceptible glow of happiness in his face… that vanished without a trace one second later. Then we exchanged our good-byes and I left.

On my trip back to Fortaleza, my thoughts on Pepeo kept me company. He really had caused quite an impression on me. And struck me with something difficult to describe, an uneasy feeling combined with fear and… a certain excitement. Why?

While I was driving, I had other memories of my childhood… I remembered a time when I had free transit into other realities which I visited often. A time when I had friends whom grownups could not see and with whom I shared secrets. I remembered I had the power to be invisible and I did it whenever I wanted to steal candy from the store or when I wanted to stay in my cousin’s bedroom inconspicuously while she lay in her bed and touched herself as if she were alone. Those were days full of adventures. Everything was magical and fascinating. A magical time that had simply vanished from my memory but sprung back into my thoughts during those moments on the road like bubbles on the surface of boiling water.

Entering the city, deep in memories, I didn’t see a red light and drove straight through the crossing. I hit hard on the brakes, almost crashing against a truck. I was very close to causing a terrible accident. I could have died… I pulled over scared and at the same time thankful for my good luck. I thought I had better forget the past while I shifted into first gear and moved on. I had better come back to reality.

AVertigem-01On the following days, my mind remained focused on work related tasks that consumed my entire day and sometimes even the night, when I took my work home. On Wednesday, however, in my office at the company, I noticed the light of dusk that came through the window was reflecting on something on the shelf and I couldn’t ascertain what it was. I was intrigued, stood up and found out what was twinkling. It was a pen. An aluminum pen with my name engraved on it.

A chill ran down my spine. It was the pen I had lost! But I had lost it in Quixadá. How could it be there? Could Pepeo be… responsible for that?

No, of course not, I immediately told myself. I had certainly made some mistake. I certainly didn’t realize I had brought the pen with me from Quixadá then…

Then what? I put the pen on the shelf and didn’t remember that either? Of course I hadn’t done that. Then how could I explain it?

I had no answer. There was no explanation. For three days I had forgotten about Pepeo and now he suddenly came back into my life by way of this mystery. Was it really possible that he might have something to do with it?

The image of the old weirdo chased me around for the rest of the day. Those expressionless eyes that I knew were watching me carefully. And it made me torn. On the one hand, gentle breezes from another world blew through the person of Pepeo, breezes that caused me chills and brought me memories of a time of magic and enchantment. On the other hand, his eyes seemed to try to expose me as if I were guilty of something…

On the next Saturday, I went back to Quixadá. I had told the couple who were interested in buying the house that I would meet them again on Sunday, but I was so eager to see Pepeo that I couldn’t wait another day.

I arrived late in the afternoon and Ms. Celia welcomed me with her usual kindness. I told her I had found the pen.

“That’s nice,” she answered. “Pepeo will be glad to know.”

“Does he always do… these things?”

“What things?”

“Finding lost objects.”

She laughed.

“Do you believe that kind of thing?”

“Me? Well… I…”

I stopped talking, embarrassed like a boy caught doing something wrong. I simply could not answer. What did I believe? I didn’t know anymore.

“Young people don’t really care about those things, you know? It’s old people that still do.”

I smiled, ashamed. I saw my embarrassed self on the window glass next to me. I wondered which one I was: young people or old people?

“Is he home?”

“Pepeo? No. He went out for a walk with his little creatures.”

“Can he walk around alone?”

“Oh boy, Pepeo is smart,” she confirmed proudly. “He just won’t go out when his little creatures don’t want to go. In which case nothing in the world will get him out of the house. Don’t you want to sit down a little? I have ice cold cajá juice, I’m going to get it for you.”

“No, thanks, Ms. Celia,” I refused. “But I need to talk to Pepeo.”

“Then go that way over there, you can still reach him.”

I ran on the street until I saw the tall, slender figure with his white suit and white hat walking slowly, seeming to have not a single care in the world. Anyone who saw him would not distinguish him from any regular senior who goes to the town square in the late afternoon.

I slowed down on my feet and got closer. My heart was racing and my back was all wet from sweating. I stretched my arm in his direction and, before I got to touch him, I heard his voice:

“Did you find the pen?”

Pepeo was still walking, looking ahead. For a moment, I thought he had talked to himself.

“Yes… I did. I came here to thank you.”

Then I approached him by the side and walked along his slow step on the sidewalk. I asked him how he had made me find the pen, but had no answer. I began to feel the pressure of being ridiculous. I tried to invite more conversation, but he kept the same attitude, quiet and looking ahead or, I don’t know, looking at nowhere.

When we got to the town square, my initial enthusiasm had faded away from all the embarrassment, and once again I felt like I was being a fool for thinking that I could tame madness. Then I ran out of things to talk about and said something about Milena, my ex-girlfriend from when I was a teenager, and I asked him if he knew her.

Again. The shade of a smile came across his face, fleetingly, almost nothing. But I saw it. Yes, I did. I asked him again if he knew Milena.

“You want to meet the young lady, don’t you?”

My heart jumped. Then I thought that not letting the conversation die out mattered more than anything else. I quickly said “yes” and asked him if he could help me.

“Bring me a chocolate, will you?”

A chocolate. What did he mean by that? What would make me find the young woman in the same way had I found my pen? I didn’t want to risk losing the opportunity so I ran up to a newsstand where I bought a small bar of chocolate and brought it to him.

“You really like chocolate, don’t you, Pepeo?”

He was still putting the bar in the inside pocket of his jacket when he looked at me and… smiled! He actually smiled. Well, it was a brief smile, just for a second and obscured by his rigid mouth, but he certainly smiled. And he said:

“It’s not for me, it’s for the little creatures. You may go now. Go.”

“Where, Pepeo?”

“Come on, go.”

He seemed to be in a hurry. But I didn’t know what to do.

“Go, go,” he insisted, pushing me gently. I looked at him and I really didn’t know what to do. Should I go back to Fortaleza? Would I find Milena there?

“Go now.”

All I could do was comply. I crossed the street and looked at him, and he kept signaling that I should go, go, go…

Suddenly, a woman materialized right in my path, almost running into me. We both stopped, startled.

“I can’t believe it…” she said, surprised. “Edson?!”

“Milena?” I mumbled, even more surprised than she was.

“Are you lost here in Quixadá?”

“I… ahnn…”

I was absolutely confused to the bone. Had that meeting been arranged by Pepeo? No, it wasn’t possible, it couldn’t be. But how could it not be? Of course it was, it had to be. It had to be. I quickly turned around towards the square, but Pepeo wasn’t there anymore.

“I… am taking care of things.”

Milena was different, no longer the girl I remembered, obviously. But she was still beautiful.

“What a coincidence, Edson. I never come this way. But today, God knows why, I chose to.”

We were staring at each other among the people passing by, not knowing what to say. She finally broke the silence and asked if I was alone.

“Me? Yes, I am.”

“Do you want to go out tonight? There is this new bar, it’s quite nice.”

She gave me her telephone number, pecked me on the face and resumed her path. I crossed the street and saw Pepeo on his way home. I ran up to him.

“You made us run into each other, didn’t you?”

He didn’t answer. He didn’t even look at me.

“Please, Pepeo,” I begged. “I need to know.”

Nothing. He remained silent, walking slowly. I stood there on the sidewalk, my heart pounding like a pile driver, almost giving me a stroke. The color gradient in the afternoon sky heralded the sunset, when the afternoon makes way for the evening. A breeze blew and caused goosebumps on my arm.

Later at the bar, I wanted to tell Milena what had happened. But I thought I had better not. How could I tell her that an old nutjob had pulled some strings in the afterworld to make us run into each other on that street in return for a chocolate? How could I explain what I had felt, all the confusion in my head? How could I tell her that another world had been brought back, the magical world of my childhood?

I thought I should stop thinking about that all the time so I talked about many things and we laughed a lot about the old times, reminiscing our dating when we were teens. She told me about her failed marriage and I told her about my life in Fortaleza. She asked me if I was single and I confirmed it. Closing the evening, I dropped her home and we shared a long kiss. A very sweet kiss in fact, which reminded me of an old, cherished feeling: Milena in my arms, we both sitting on the bench in her house garden, promising each other all the stars in the vast sky of Quixadá.

On that night, it took me a long time to sleep. I was absolutely torn. Part of me was ardently willing to believe that Pepeo really had magical powers, that maybe there was more about the world than meets the eye, that maybe there were things beyond common comprehension. Maybe the lunatics had answers. Maybe it was time I looked for them elsewhere than in the cold numbers of financial reports.

Another part of me, however, shook my head disappointed at my own tomfoolery. The real world was not there in that small town in the countryside, and I knew it. Neither was it in the past, among fabrications of a child’s inventiveness. Reality was on the other end of the road, where I would go on the following day.

AVertigem-01I didn’t hear the alarm clock in the morning. When I woke up, it was 2PM already. I was very late for the appointment with the couple who wanted to buy the house. I got dressed in haste and drove to the restaurant where we were supposed to meet up. Fortunately, they still waited for me. I apologized, we had lunch and could finally discuss the final details of the deal.

Back to the hotel, the young man at the reception told me that someone had been waiting for me and pointed to the couch. I turned around certain that I would see Milena. But I saw an old man in a white suit and hat.

I walked up to him. Before I could even say anything, he stood up calmly and left the hotel. I followed him to the street and we walked side by side in silence. He wanted to take a walk with me, I thought, like two friends in a late afternoon. But I was eager to talk about the day before and about the little creatures…

We arrived at Cruzeiro Rock, a rocky formation visited by many tourists in search of a panoramic view of the town. When I was a child, I loved climbing to the top of it, more than three hundred feet high, and be entertained for centuries by the landscape. Pepeo stopped, looked up, adjusted the hat on his head and began to climb through one of the trails. I wanted to protest, I really wasn’t in the mood for getting tired, but didn’t dare say anything. I just followed him.

Pepeo climbed the hill with amazing agility, not taking one single wrong step. I did just the opposite. I slipped many times and was ready to quit. Fortunately, he stopped before we reached the top so I caught up with him soon after and sat on a rock to rest. I hadn’t noticed the landscape until then. The better part of the city was exposed to us from that vantage point. Far beyond, behind the pile of rock that surrounded it, the sunset painted the sky with tons of red, yellow and orange. I had forgotten how magnificent the view was. While the clouds slowly drew patterns and the sky changed color, I felt as if I had been removed from time…

“You’re going to keep them when I’m gone, aren’t you?”

Pepeo’s voice…

“Who are they?” I asked while my gaze surveyed the horizon.

“The little creatures. Look, you can’t be late, you must come on the same day they summon you.”

The little creatures, of course. For an instant–or maybe centuries–I had forgotten about them.

“What are those little creatures, Pepeo?” I asked, looking at him. Pepeo stood by my side, also looking at the horizon.

“I was put in charge of them a long time ago. One of them is the picker creature. It likes to hide and find things, very mischievous.”

“What about the other?”

“It’s the matcher creature. It likes to play with people, makes them get lost and run into each other. They are tiny, but they climb up on everything. And they love chocolate.”

Picker creature and matcher creature. One could find objects and the other could make people meet… That was absolutely incredible. I stood there in the same position sitting on the rock, staring into the distance, beyond the realms of time…

“It was the matcher creature that made your mother marry your father, do you know that?”

“What do you mean?”

“Your father was all about partying when he was young. He had no interest in commitment. So the creature arranged it for him to run into her on the street seven days in a row in seven different places.”

I smiled, stunned. That was news to me.

“And who gave you the little creatures for you to look after, Pepeo?”

“I can’t say. You won’t be allowed to say who passed them on to you either. And they will be with you until your day comes, you hear me? When you’re gone, they’ll tuck themselves back into their little house and they won’t leave it until they’re in the hands of their new master. And it can’t be a woman.”

“They don’t like women?”

“A woman would use them to harm another. And they just want to play, pull pranks on people.”

“Can other people see the little creatures?”

“No. They’re always hiding behind things.”

Pepeo’s voice was coming slowly into my ears and merging with the landscape. Suddenly, all the things were one. The sunset, the rocks, the red sky and Pepeo’s words. The past and the present were finally united. Everything made sense.

“One more thing,” he continued. “The little creatures don’t like cats and priests.”

“Why is that?”

“Cats can see them and they don’t like it. And priests make them sad.”

“And do they talk to you?”

“I know what they think. In time, you will know it, too.”

“And why did you choose me of all people?”

“They choose. When you arrived, they warned me.”

“What if, by chance, I am not fit for the job?”

“When they no longer have a master, everything will stop.”

“What do you mean?”

He didn’t answer.

“What do you mean, everything is going to stop, Pepeo?”

I turned around and saw he was climbing down the rock already and my question was swept away by the wind.

We came back in complete silence. At the foot of the hill, Pepeo went into a street without looking back and I went into another, back to the hotel. I felt peace like I had finally found something I had been looking for without knowing what it was.

AVertigem-01On Monday morning, I called my mother from the office and told her about the pen, how I had met Milena and what Pepeo had told me about her and Dad. She laughed and said it was true, yes. One day, when she was single, she had looked for a man who lived in the woods. He was some sort of hermit and was supposed to have magical powers. She visited him and found him a strange but kind old man. She asked him if he could make my father fall in love with her. The old man said he couldn’t do that, but he would do something close to it.

“He really did,” continued my mother with a jolly laughter. “He made your father run into me several days in a row. He was so intrigued he felt really compelled to pay attention to me. I told your father after we were married, but you know he won’t believe those things.”

“And did you pay for the service?”

“I gave him a chocolate. That’s what Pepeo had asked me in return. It was a bargain.”

What about the little creatures? I wondered what they looked like. All chubby from eating so much chocolate? Maybe not. Pepeo had said they were agile. Could they be carried in the pocket? What was their little house like? I thought about the little creatures and kept coming up with new uses such as finding lost documents, arranging providential chance meetings, checking if someone really was where they were supposed to be…

And their fear of cats, how strange… So cats really could see things? What about priests? I assumed the little creatures didn’t like them because the Catholic Church had a well known history of persecuting other beliefs. Maybe the little creatures had traumatic memories of other times, of cruel persecutions?

Pepeo had said that everything would stop when the little creatures didn’t have a master anymore. What could that mean? A prophecy about the end of the world? He also had said I wouldn’t have them until he was gone. Well, judging by Pepeo’s good health, such day wouldn’t come soon and that was great because I wanted to learn everything I could about the other world.

“Everything, everything,” I told myself. And I laughed like a happy child.

I wasn’t torn anymore. Pepeo was real, the little creatures were real. The magical world was back.

Before leaving for lunch, I called the couple who was supposed to buy the house. Without much clarification, I told them the deal was canceled and I would get back to them in case there were any other changes. I hung up the phone and stretched my legs, relaxed and relieved. Suddenly, selling the house didn’t make sense anymore. Maybe it wasn’t a bad idea to keep it rented out. Maybe, who knows, one day I might not like the capital anymore and decide to live in Quixadá. Yes, why not? I might as well forget that whole stock market business and lead a calmer life, not so worried about profits. Maybe with Milena. Why not?

Then the secretary woke me up from my daydreaming, saying there was a phone call for me. I answered. It was Ms. Celia. She was calling me to let me know that Pepeo had died the night prior. She said he had been feeling well, he had enjoyed his late afternoon walk and had had dinner as usual. He had died while sleeping. The funeral would be in the afternoon.

It took me a few minutes before I could react at all. Pepeo was dead… It didn’t seem real. It couldn’t be real, he had so much to teach me…

I canceled my afternoon appointments, got in the car and drove off to Quixadá. I drove at high speed, but when I arrived at the cemetery, the casket had already been lowered into the grave and two men were covering it with dirt. Few people were present, just Ms. Celia and relatives. I was devastated. I wanted to see Pepeo one last time.

“He liked you,” said Ms. Celia, wiping a tear.

“Me, too.”

“I think Pepeo sensed he was going to die because he asked me to give you something yesterday, before he went to bed.”

Ms. Celia opened her purse, took a tiny wooden chest out of it and gave it to me.

“He used to keep it very carefully, since when he still lived in Caiçarinha.”

I held the tiny chest with both hands, feeling its weight.

“It seems there is something inside, but I don’t know what it is. Pepeo told me to give it to you without opening it.”

“Thank you.”

“Now let’s go home and have some coffee. Come with us.”

“I’m afraid I can’t, Ms. Celia. I have to go back to Fortaleza now.”

We said good-bye and I left. A few minutes later, I was on the road, heading back to the capital. While I drove, I was overpowered by a mixture of sadness, excitement and fear, constantly looking at the tiny wooden chest on the passenger seat out of the corner of my eye.

When I got home, I put the little chest on the bed and sat next to it. My hands were trembling and my heart was beating out of rhythm. A drop of sweat ran down my face. Outside, the afternoon was coming to an end and I could see through the window the sky getting dark, heralding the evening in the big city, so different from the evenings of the countryside. Inside the small chest was proof of the existence of the other world, the magical world that had always existed but I had chosen to forget one day. I just had to open it and free the little creatures.

I picked up the little chest and began to open the lid very slowly. Suddenly, for an instant, I had flashes of that terrible well in my childhood… And I immediately felt the vertigo getting a hold of me. Again, the same vertigo. I cut my motion short, lowered the lid and took a deep breath. I told myself that everything was alright while I waited for the vertigo to go away. Some minutes later, I was getting ready to open it again when a question came up in my mind. What if… there was nothing inside?

At nightfall, the night and its darkness, I was still there sitting on the bed beside the little chest. And I couldn’t get that question out of my mind. What if there was nothing inside?

It was late night now, the quiet late night, and I was still in the same position. The doubt wouldn’t let me sleep. I hadn’t slept and I hadn’t had the courage to open the little chest.

When the day broke, I put it in a drawer in the cabinet and left for work. I tried hard to focus on my job, but I couldn’t. When I got back home, the first thing I did was to take the little chest out of the drawer. I put it on the bed again and swore to myself I would open it this time. I had to open it and put an end to that torture. Yes, I had to do it. But… what if there was nothing inside?

It’s the question I still ask myself fifty years later, when it’s late in the afternoon and I take the little chest out of the same drawer and I sit on the same bed in the same apartment, everything the same. What if there is nothing inside?

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Ricardo Kelmer – blogdokelmer.com

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(script for a movie soon)

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this tale is part of the book:

The End Times Survival Guide
Ricardo Kelmer – Miragem Editorial, 2020
fantastic – horror – science fiction

What to do when the unexplainable suddenly barges into our reality and old truths are rendered useless? Where are we to go when the end of the world is upon us? In the nine short stories included in this book, none of them short of mystery and supernatural, people are amazed at events that challenge their understanding of reality and of themselves and trigger crisis situations so intense that people’s own survival is put at stake. This is a book about collective and personal apocalypses.

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> Amazon (kindle) english/portuguese

> In portuguese – blog 

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