– All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental, except The Thing, It’s very real. –
The houses are white. You cannot believe how white.
DON’T TOUCH, she says with stern determination as you walk down the stairs. She’s pointing towards the cactus right opposite the staircase you walk down to and from the apartment where you are staying. It looks twisted and a bit topsy-turvy, as if it’s grown out the wrong way, as if this part of it was supposed to be underneath the surface, hiding. It’s slithering tentacles shaped in strange vortexes, sliding to the sides and threatening with their sharpness, their needles and pins. DO NOT TOUCH, she repeats: NO-NO, she says in a childish tone, much younger than her almost six years.
And you can admit that the thought hadn’t occurred to you.
The houses are white. Not just most of them, but all of them. The contrast to the black soil sticks out, tickles you. And the small towers everywhere make you think that they take the concept of being the king of your castle very seriously around here.
It is, for the most part, like coming home to Iceland after Salvador Dali has been there to put all his clocks up. The mountains, the cliffs and the ocean all look the same, yet different – a mirror of what is familiar. But then there are Dromedaries, cactuses and flowers in colors that haven’t even been invented yet on your island.
The hotel is far from being familiar though, except for the fact that you’ve been here before, which of course is a contradiction. It’s a lofty place with large pools, palm trees, countless balconies, pancake breakfasts and it is a heaven for those who like all-inclusive. Though you’re not an all-inclusive kind of person, because the thought of not making some of your food yourself just seems too decadent. And the November hull is all too visible. What is usually hidden under layers of clothes is now visible for the public, woe and behold, and it’s not pleasant. Maybe whatever is lurking underneath the surface of this place has snuck inside you and is already crawling underneath your skin, waiting to take control. It makes you think you should skip Christmas this year, at least the food aspect of it. The kid won’t mind, as long as she gets presents. But the man just ha?’s at you, sounding more Icelandic than a normal swede ever should.
It’s something in the air. Maybe this is the Icelandic heaven, a little exotic, very familiar and all too comfortable. Oh and did I mention surreal? Just the simple act of putting on sunscreen in November is more than you can take and provokes such feelings of bizarreness that it’s hard not to laugh hysterically, all the time. When the Spanish waiter starts to sing Swedish nursery rhymes AT you, the feeling is complete. You can just sit there, waiting for your food, and listen to him go on.
And you become extremely thankful for the sour looking British woman who enters the establishment so he starts paying attention to someone else. The waiter stops singing, turns his head and jollily asks the woman how she is doing on this good day and she says: “fine,” in a way that makes you think that what she really meant to say was: “What the fuck do you care? You don’t want to hear about my clavus or about my bloody headache! Cunt!” The waiter just smiles politely, hands the woman a menu and happily whistles his way back to the kitchen.
And you thank your lucky stars it’s not the Swedish nursery rhyme.
It occurs to you at that moment that this is not traveling. Going to a place that has been transformed into a small, protected cradle for people to hide in for a while, is not traveling, however nice it is. It’s resting, but not really traveling. You don’t see culture, except for the one that you have in common with the other guests at the hotel. The Scandinavians politely ignoring each other, with the occasional chatty Brit who doesn’t quite understand the “ignore me, please” signs. And you wonder if the people who clean the rooms and fix the broken lamps hate you, because you come to the island and all you want is to live the same way as always, in luxurious bliss without seeing too much of the unfamiliar. The dromedaries are okey if they don’t flaunt them too much and “we” love to take volcano walks, now and again (my Icelandic mind boggles over the concept but they do it back home now too, I’m sure. People are Strange, as someone pointed out before he went and died). But to learn about the food and the culture? Well, the kid would starve to death before eating the Spanish cousine, you suspect, and travel food is hard enough as it is. Let’s not complicate it with too much culture.
DO NOT TOUCH, the kid says again as we’re heading back to the apartment, the cactus looks the same, yet different. Maybe some of its tentacles have moved a little to the left? Or perhaps it’s the shadow that seems to be moving, slithering and sliding underneath the still plant. You don’t dare to ask where her words are coming from, the answer might not be as satisfying as you hope. The legless, faceless lego-guys in the apartment are a sign of that. The cacophony when she puts the small box of legos upside down seems overwhelming and when the faceless legos with legs, arms and hair start to appear in front of you, all in a row sitting on a space ship, you get the shivers.
They’re ghosts, she declares and then Frodo, Elsa, Anna, Olof, Papa Smurf, Elrond and a Storm Trooper appear too. A potpourri of characters that don’t seem to belong together at all, except maybe here in this fairyland and you start to wonder if Ligotti’s Alice will show up too or if is she was already here and you got sucked into the land she got morphed into? And you realize that you are smack in the middle of the theme of the story, the looking-glass world and the mess on the other side, the untidiness. And when the man and the kid go to the beach, giving you time to read or write or do whatever it is you do when you’re alone, you spend a little of it tidying up, although that’s against your policy, not just to keep this mirror-image world tidy, but to make sure that the lego minefield will not claim any casualties. The words DO NOT TOUCH echo through your mind as you sit on the balcony drinking San Miguel, scribbling notes. DO NOT TOUCH, in that childlike tone that the kid uses from time to time when she’s being small and a bit frightened and you look over the balcony rail to look at the cactus but instead you see an ocean of octopuses with slithering tentacles trying to grab at you, reaching up with their many sucking-discs, slithering onward, upward, reaching for you.
You sit down again. Wonder if it’s the beer, although it’s still sitting, half full, on the table. The dread, however, is absent. It doesn’t belong in this world, but in the other one, the real one? Or does it? You seem to remember being scared here before. But perhaps there is only so much fear you can experience in one place, perhaps you used it all up that time, that time long ago and yet not so long ago. Perhaps there is no more fear to be felt, just surreal strangeness. This is your land of The Naked Lunch, without the drugs, because whatever you have done in your life you haven’t been there. And it’s not until then that you realize that this place smells like your island, it smells like Iceland in the summer, plus the sunscreen, because Iceland never ever smells of sunscreen.
And when you peek over the rail again all you see is a cactus and a family of four climbing the stairs up to their apartment. They speak British very politely (like most Brits do) and the boys screams seem to be in direct connection to the politeness of the parents. The politer the parents sound, the louder the boys scream.
That’s how life goes. Always.
And that’s when another thing hits you. You are different now. And yet the same. Same as before. But before what? You can’t remember, just same as before. Back to some kind of normal. You are your fearless self again. Fearless the way you were when you were nineteen. Fearless the way you were when you belonged to that island in the north atlantic ocean and nothing else. Same as then, different from moments ago. And you still can’t remember what it was about this place, this particular place, that scared you.
And suddenly you get an overwhelming desire to walk down the stairs and touch the cactus, just to defy it and see what happens. And you just might, because if you used to be anything it was defiant – even in the face of such things. Before you do, however, the man and the kid are back from the beach and plans are made.
DO NOT TOUCH, the kid says again with quiet determination as you pass The Thing on your way to a little excursion. Walking by the ocean, beside the dark, volcanic stones that have been placed as a shield between the pathway and the rumbuscous ocean. There are restaurants and small boutiques facing the ocean and you can walk there amongst the other tourists and buy overpriced kitsch, but you think that these people need to sustain themselves somehow so you buy The Dreamcatcher and a dress for the kid. Strange spaniards come rushing towards your kid, hoping that if they can charm her they charm the whole family. What they don’t know, though, is that she’s as easy to charm as Cthulhu, or the Bulls the Spaniards on the mainland sometimes fight, and she’s a lot shyer.
You walk past a clown, playing a broken saxophone and he looks just as sad as the last time you were here, except his nose has become a bit bleached. Just as the almost full moon looks a bit bleached this evening. The food tastes like it usually does on vacations but the kid ate her nuggets so you’re pleased. On the way back you notice that the enormous hotel beside the one you are staying in has closed down. Maybe it’s just closed for this particular season, maybe it’s being rebuilt, or maybe it’s gone bankrupt, who knows? But it looks enticing and it’s a bit scary to see the giant half circle of balconies empty and the rooms unlit, except for two or three. And you imagine it’s The Overlook Hotel and you imagine Jack Torrence sitting in one of the lit rooms writing his monotone novel and then picking up his axe. The boy on the scary tricycle rampaging through the unlit corridors.
But then you remember that the boy grew up, and fought the demons at the Overlook hotel and he may not have had a grand victory, but it was a victory none the less and you read all about it.
You fight the urge to go ransacking the empty hotel, you won’t run the risk of meeting an axe wielding spaniard with nothing to loose, and you go back to your apartment, where the internet has broken down entirely (it wasn’t very stable to begin with) and The Thing seems to move strangely in the dark. Its tentacles are bigger than before, surely, its strange vortexes circling wildly, and in the darkness they seem to have come alive.
DO NOT TOUCH, she says, yawning and you wonder who made her the guardian of all things good. In the night they seem to peek up over the balcony rail, the needles and pins, but they are silent and whatever is beneath is still biding its time.
And now you are Fearless. What Lovecraftian monster is so grand, that you can not conquer it? It’s the Ligottian monsters that you really need to be on the lookout for though. Those who gnaw at reality, break it by the seams and devour it whole, and you with it, plunging you into a mirror image of some past you are not quite sure you’ve had.
Those are the monsters you really need to be careful of. So DO NOT TOUCH and let the thought, that you have already been devoured, pass you by as easily as breeze.
To Be Continued: Unless The Thing wakes you up in the middle of the night.