Gloomy, menacing, like a prehistoric monster, the old German casemate still stands on the cliff. A homeless young man who lived in the tunnels, which are said to lead to the sea, is found dead on the turret of the casemate, his body lacerated. Three workers on the building site of a block of flats that is going to be built on top of the casemate vanish one after the other. Inspector Adamescu is sent to the scene to investigate the strange events undercover. Beneath the squalid surface of a small housing estate by the seashore, the young policeman discovers a fantastic world, peopled by the likes of Olube, Borhot, Litoi, Baban, the Turkish Woman, the ageless woman, and Coco, the pimp without lips. Their bizarre stories gradually lend shape to the history of the old fortification, over which there hovers a curse and whose influence on the world around it is far from coming to an end.
The green eyed young man leapt from a tetrapod into the sea. He pierced the water with the tips of his feet and began to glide into the depths. As he sank, he released all the air in his lungs, descending to the bottom in the posture of one crucified. He kept his eyes closed and in a short while he felt the pressure of the water in his ears and sinuses. The soles of his feet touched the thick layer of shells on the water’s bottom and he dug his heels into them, raking, pressing, twisting his body like a corkscrew. As he screwed his ankles into the shell stratum, the swell swayed his body and limp arms, which danced like seaweed in the current. From time to time a minuscule air bubble—glittering like a bead of mercury—popped out of the corner of his mouth and rose swiftly. The young man opened his eyes and looked up at the surface, where the moon formed a puddle of light on the waves. When he felt spasms in his lungs, he flexed his knees and propelled himself to the surface, frightening the gobies that had been circling him. He emerged on the surface and took a deep breath. For a time he stayed in the same place, at the end of the sea wall, treading water and moving his arms to keep himself on the surface.
After looking for a few seconds at the semi circular beach flanked by the clayey slope of the cliff, he dived and swum underwater. Reaching the seabed once more, he dug his fingers into the sand mingled with shells and dragged himself forward, propelling himself along the bottom. Whenever he slowed down, his other hand clasped a rock or dug into the sand to provide the leverage to thrust him forward again at speed. The shells growing on the rocks that jutted from the sand and against which he hit his body scratched his skin at first, and then they sliced it, laying open his chest, belly, legs, with the cleanness of a scalpel, leaving behind long streaks of blood that spread through the water in the moonlight.
Without stopping, he periodically returned to the surface, took a breath, and then dived once more, dragging his body past the sharp edges of hundreds and thousands of shells on the water’s bottom, which ripped open his flesh, covering him in wounds from his eyebrows to his knees and tibias. His body broke through a bank of jellyfish, which then reformed in the streak of blood left in the wake of the young man who furrowed the depths of the bay like a torpedo.
With his lips in tatters and with blood flowing down his chin and neck, he finally reached shallow water and stood up. He walked to the beach, and for a few seconds the waves laved the blood that trickled onto the wet sand from the thin wounds on his ankles.
He crossed the beach and reached the steep slope of clay. The red prints left by his feet bore witness to his passing on the path that wound up the cliff side, which the young man climbed panting, and when his hands—with deep cuts on the palms—grabbed onto the thick stems of the tall briers for support or clutched at the bushes, the wild cucumbers ripe beneath their foliage burst with a crack and sprayed him with moist seed.
He finally reached the top of the cliff, where the fine dust raised by his footsteps settled in the furrows in his raw flesh, through which rivers of salty sweat now flowed. Limping, he crossed the building site of the unfinished housing blocks, which were like a row of rotten teeth protruding from the gum of the clayey cliff, and around which the excavators stood guard, their shovels gaping menacingly at the moon. Then he crossed the car park on the waste ground between the housing blocks and came to the casemate.
The wrought iron chairs rested on the tables with their legs in the air, and in the bar inside the bunker, whose door was wide open, there did not appear to be anybody. Going up to a table, the young man planted his foot on it, held on to the wooden pergola above, and dragged himself up with difficulty. From the pergola he immediately reached the roof and then climbed the cylindrical turret of the casemate, in whose concrete there were slots for machineguns. On top, in the circle of the turret roof, he squatted down, exhausted, and from the small pyre of planks and dry rushes, which appeared to have been readied in advance, he took a lighter and kindled a fire. As the flame crackled among the dry rushes, the young man knelt down.
With his back to the now leaping fire, he began to move his right hand quickly up and down in the area of his groin. With his left hand he leaned on the concrete parapet of the circular roof. When the flame behind him was high enough to redden the walls of the surrounding buildings, the young man saw his shadow, now grown tall, flickering against the four storey housing block in front of the casemate. All of a sudden, the shadow began to tremble tensely, it jerked, in spasms, and the young man threw his head back, with his eyes tightly closed. The movement of his hand slowly relaxed and finally stopped.
With his head thrown back, without looking down, he dipped his fingertips in the warm, viscous liquid that had spurted from him and then raised his hand, splaying the fingers. The shadow of his slobbery fingers now pulsated on the floating plaster of the housing block in front of him. He held his hand motionless, like a conductor about to signal the opening of a symphony. And then the shadows began to move : first the fingers, like creatures awakening, bent slowly and crawled along the wall of the block, timidly at first, then more and more aggressively, like huge anacondas in search of their prey, entering windows, slithering through rooms sultry in the summer night, swooping on beds with damp sheets, crawling over sleeping girls, who started in their sleep and spread their legs when the shadow of the young man’s fingers elongated over their ceilings, the shadow glided down walls, slid over throats, over perspiring breasts, and vanished between burning thighs.
Then the shadows came back out of the windows, withdrew to windowsills, descended walls blotched with damp, oozing like the menacing tentacles of a giant octopus, they slid over the cobbles and came to a rest once more in the small sticky puddle between the young man’s bleeding thighs. The young man was breathing more and more heavily. Having dipped his fingers in the translucent gel, he cast them over the peeling walls once more, slipping them through dusty velvet curtains, through the gaps under moth eaten Venetian blinds, through half open windows, sliding them across ceilings or making them leap from the floor into yet other beds, pausing between the thighs of yet other women, who in that instant sighed in their sleep and arched their backs beneath their crumpled sheets.
As the fire died down, the shadows of his hands gradually grew shorter and retracted from the surrounding walls like the horns of a snail, they became smaller and smaller, thinner and thinner, until the smouldering flame behind them vanished and the red glow was quenched, plunging the housing blocks in darkness once more.
When, as a witness to the dead fire, all that remained was a slender thread of smoke rising to the starless sky, the tired hands slid down beside his body and fell off his knees to one side, and then slumped backward. Exhausted, breathing with greater and greater difficulty, with rivulets of blood and sweat collecting in a pool that cooled his burning back, he barely had the strength to turn to look at the sea. With his eyes on the distant streaks of lightning and the first drops of rain lashing his lacerated skin, the young man counted the final two beats of his heart : “One, two...”
Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth
“Tudor Ganea is the master of a domain. He has constructed a fantastical world, but one that is palpable and recognisable, up to the point where mystery muddies the waters. There he roams, without perceiving the surrounding reality and without liberating dark secrets, memorable characters. Each has a precise identity, each has a story that has to be told, although you will never know the real truth. The critics ought to take note of this literary debut. He is a great talent.”
“Tudor Ganea is surprising in that although this is his first book, he has a perfect mastery of narrative techniques, he has tension, rhythm, he is a strong storyteller, and above all he knows how to slip fantastical elements into the real (and vice versa) in the most natural way, in a world of books that has been increasingly invaded by suffocating neorealism. A book that richly deserves to be read, an author who I think will have a fine literary career.”