July 14, 2008
Dino Buzzati's Wooden Door
"Here we are," whispered Gaspari. "Now I go forward with the plank."
Whereupon, holding the board in his hands, he let himself fall slowly into the middle of the bushes, closely followed by the boys. Without the enemy being aware of them, they succeeded in reaching the desired point.
But here Gaspari stopped short, as if absorbed in thought (the cloud still hung over them and from afar came a plaintive cry like a wail). What a queer turn of events, he thought -- only two hours ago I was in the inn, with my wife and the children, seated at table; and now I am in this unexplored land, thousands of miles away, fighting with savages.
Gaspari looked around him. No longer was there a little valley suitable for boys' games, nor were there ordinary hills like cakes, nor was there the road that led up the valley, or the inn, or the red tennis court. He saw below him huge cliffs, different from any he remembered, that fell away endlessly toward waves of forests; he saw beyond that the quaking reflection of deserts; and still farther on he perceived other lights, confused signs indicating the mystery of the world. And here in front of him, on top of the cliff, was a sinister fortified town; gloomy walls supported it crookedly and the flat roofs were crowned with skulls, gleaming in the sunlight, skulls that seemed to be laughing. The country of curses and myths, of intact solitudes, the ultimate truth granted in our dreams!
A wooden door (which did not exist) stood ajar; it was covered with mysterious signs, and groaned at every puff of wind. Gaspari was the closest to it, perhaps two feet away. He began to raise the plank slowly, so as to let one end of it drop on the opposite bank.
"Treachery!" shouted Sisto at that very moment, perceiving the attack, and jumped to his feet, laughing, armed with a great bow. When he spied Gaspari he stopped for a moment, surprised. Then he drew a wooden arrow out of his pocket, a harmless shaft; he fitted it into the cord of his bow and took aim.
But meanwhile from the half-open door covered with obscure signs (which did not exist) Gaspari saw a wizard come out, all scaly with leprosy and hell. He saw him draw himself up to a great height, his eyes gazing with a soulless stare, a bow in his hand, drawn back with infernal force. Gaspari let go of the plank then, and drew back in alarm. But the other had already shot his arrow.
Struck in the chest, Gaspari fell among the bushes.
--Dino Buzzati, from "The Bewitched Businessman," trans. Sarah Gibbs. Included in an Avon mass-market paperback anthology, The Uncommon Reader, 1965. I love that international literature made it to US readers in countless little paperbacks. I recently found a "horror" anthology which also included a Buzzati story.
Buzzati was also an artist, and the image above is his. Also see these links: one, two, three.
I plan to post often about Buzzati.