Dusk to Dawn (Interlude)

On occasional history periods, there are times when the potential chaos of the universe surpasses the status quo, and starts manifesting itself as unfolding unexpected events, which are invariably dubious. These situations arise as they leave, without allowing themselves to come up with excuses or to face the innate order of things―without a reason, without a trigger, without a purpose. They caught us unguarded in our sluggish routine, only to abandon us with an empty taste after learning that the existence is much deeper than expected. That was the case, in 2009, when a strange bluish spiral showcased with lazy turns in the firmament painted the Norwegian sky leaving the entire world puzzled. That was also the case when Plato codified Atlantis in his pieces Timaeus and Critias (or not), adding a host of eternal doubts to his will. Now, getting to the point, there was a similar lack of coherence in the case of the thirty-five from Capão Perdido.

The small Gaucho community of Capão Perdido led a peaceful life at the riverbed created by the rivers Uruguay and Quaraí. Although the strategic position in relation to both Argentina and Uruguay provided some economic compensation, it seemed that the evolution had taken a shortcut and contoured the small town. Having a little more than twenty thousand inhabitants, Capão Perdido was far from suited to be among of the cities that would eventually alter the humanity path; nonetheless, that’s what happened despite the odds. All started with two isolated events that had not been immediately connected, would be regarded as some eccentric news suitable to a sensationalist feature.

The first event occurred at a bar. The sun had already set when a well-dressed man wearing a beige jacket entered the popular bar Boteco do Alemão. The guy sat at the counter, took off his panama hat and slicked his glossy hair, immediately drawing the attention of the owner, Mr. Sperb. Although suspicious, the emaciated old man was approachable when the guy ordered a generous dose of cachaça Rabo de Galo. He also did not complain when asked for a second dose; neither seemed upset by the seventh order. In no time, the stranger was so intoxicated that he looked the epitome of a loud prayer to Bacco. He offered to pay for a round for the other customers, cursed everyone’s mother, got into a fistfight, and then offered yet another round. It was already dawn, and the man had lost quite some money playing pool. But the night went on with his drank partners too wasted to notice that bills that the he was handing out were a bunch of notes of cruzeiros, a former local currency. The sun was about to paint the sky blue, and old Sperb was ready to charge the distinguished stranger for the tab, before ditching him together with the others. But then, all of sudden, the man on his now disheveled beige suit fell heavily on the floor. When the ambulance arrived, the stranger was already dead. Feeling really upset about his loss with the binge, Sperb answered the police questioning, omitting the fact that he’d searched the victim’s pockets before dialing 911. It was only late that evening, when he went to the police station in an attempt to find one of the deceased’s relative who could pay for the tab, that he learned the man’s identity: Henrique de Castro Teixeira, a lawyer from the capital who was missing since 1970. So, after realizing that the tab would never be paid, he cried like a baby.

The second event had a major impact on a national level. It was prompted by the discovery of a mass grave at a rural property called Chácara do Remanso, located a few minutes from the city of Capão Perdido. A forensic team and some historicists identified thirty-five bodies, and ruled the case as another wound produced by the years of military dictatorship. But since the forty years of decomposition had spared little evidence, the process of body identification was slow and painful. Even so, they crossed the information with the medical and dental records available at a missing persons database, and eventually succeed in identifying some of the victims.

But then, one day, the police received a disturbing call from the research site. Some of the bones had disappeared, that is to say, the remains of Henrique de Castro Teixeira, a prosecutor from de city of Porto Alegre with inclination for communism. Hence, as soon as the disturbing case of the man who had died twice in Capão Perdido hit the news for the first time, journalists coming from everywhere plagued the city. Lacking lodging infrastructure to accommodate the unexpected demand, in no time, the few inns of the small town were sold out. Finding no vacancy, the last to arrive resorted to renting bedrooms on local homes. The facilities were certainly not as comfortable, but contrary to a popular saying that reproach the late, one of the last professionals to arrive was hit by a struck of luck; and on the following night, he was the first to hear an important piece of news.

It was already dawn when the journalist from Rio de Janeiro was woken up by the sound of the door being forced. The wood showed no resistance and the lock wasn’t properly installed, so the door opened with a loud squeak sound. As the journalist jumped from the bed, he saw a short plus-sized woman under the frame holding a book close to her body. Seeming a little hasty, she skimmed the bedroom and left. Astounded, the journalist was brought back to reality with a few screams and the sound of doors being broken into. He recovered himself, put on an old pair of jeans and sandals, and run after the woman. He found her sitting on a stool at a tiny stable at the back of the house. She was reading a fairy tale to a few piglets. Quietly, he grabbed his phone and started to tape the lady avidly telling the story of a little princess to her oblivious crowd. The battery of his cell was about to die, when the first sunrays shined through his screen, but in the end, the chubby woman was the first one to call it quits. She fell down heavily over the book, pressing the pages against the mud. Later on, the journalist interviewed the couple host, and discovered that the lady originally attempted to read the book beside their son’s bed, but the stranger’s presence frightened the child, who first ran to her parents room, and then, outside. As the journalist noted down the story, he felt sorry for the woman. But his pity rapidly faded out when he learned about the disappearance of some other remains from Remanso.

Not long after, a video about the Rio de Janeiro site became a hit on the Internet, and Capão Perdido gained international popularity. Dozens of professionals and speculators crowded the city, collecting testimonies and soil samples, and elaborating theories. In the following days, only one conclusion proved to be true: every night, one at a time, the dead found in Remanso would be back to life, dressed in flash and bones. The magic would last until the crack of dawn, and at daybreak, the life of the reanimated faded away. Thus, what caused most commotion were the activities in which the deceased engaged during their short period alive. Forget about mending the mistakes from the past. Forget about looking for longing relatives. Forget about sharing epiphanies from the after-life. They merely acted as if nothing had happened, and dedicated their last night to ordinary things. Once, a Jewish doctor spent three hours making clay dolls and writing the word Emet on their forehead, like the Golens in the Jewish folk tales. Laughing a lot, he chose to write on his own forehead and add some drama as he stroke the initial ‘E’, right before his second death. Following no logic or pattern, each morning brought some unusual news.

In a study published in the Journal of Astrofysik, Swedish researcher Dr. Karl Jönsson advocated that the Remanso’s case was a vivid proof of the reverse flow of space expansion. And, as the time showed signs of retrocession with the return of the dead, the space would soon follow the contraction from the famed Big Crush, that is, the stage of maximum energy of the universe that preceded the Big Bang. On the other hand, according to a publication in the Society of Paranormal Research webpage, the reanimations at the south of Brazil were merely “near-life experiences”, or an analogy to the near-death experience, about which people who faced death report a sensation of detachment from their body, or wandering the beyond. In the case of a near-life experience, the wandering souls on the verge of reincarnating have an unusual chance of circulating on the mundane world one more time during a brief period. Nevertheless, the common opinion considered it to be the end of times. The masses generally are willing to accept the simplicity of things.

Well aware that the land of Chácara do Remanso was surrounded by mystery, the giant American firm George & Black Associated put a multimillion-dollar offer for a few hectares that included the mass grave. In a blink of an eye, the former owner signed the contract and moved to Rome. As soon as they got to the Pampas in the south of Brazil, the well-dressed businessmen contracted diggers to clean and level the field. They divided the estate in small plots, and built a sumptuous entrance iron gate with a big sign over it that read: ‘Sacred Cemetery of the Second Chance”. Then, they started to sell graves and promises to American big shots, using a cliché catchphrase as selling argument: ‘There is always a second chance.’ The company sold its first grave to the family of a decadent Californian singer from the 80’s, for an amount that nearly topped their initial investment for the entire estate.

After his funeral on Brazilian soil, the site regained its fame with his newest deceased, leaving fans and media anxious for the idol’s return. Since they opted not to use anything at the burial that could hinder the star’s return, such as a granite cover, his grave received a perfect hard-packed dirt coverture. Even so, six days later the dead singer still had shown no intention to leave the grave. During this period, only dictatorship’s victims woke up to carry on with their routine chores. But, at the seventh day, with the journalists already getting tired of watching the intact grave, an old Native Paraguayan left the reanimated bone-yard with a shovel, and dug until a piece of metal on the wooden coffin ringed.

Alarmed, the star’s manager tried to stop the Indian, because he had paid the family a large sum for the publicity of the singer’s resurrection. But the old Indian shoot him a furious look, and shouted: “Un hombre no merece estar abajo de tierras que no sean suyas”, meaning that a man do not deserve to be buried in a foreign land. As the American nervously retreated, the Paraguayan opened the coffin and tossed the swollen singer’s body over his shoulders. Without further explanation, he left the cemetery without looking back. The next day, they learned that the man had stolen a horse from a neighboring property, and went missing. Only a week later, the Indian’s body was found near the city of Asuncion, in Paraguay. The body of the American singer, in turn, was found only three days later. His smelly corpse was lying on a horse heading north, through the Andes. Desolated, his family rented an airplane and buried the late singer on an obscure LA’s cemetery.

Faced with a huge failure and having its latest initiative ridiculed worldwide by being called ‘Pet Sematary of No Chance’, the George & Black Associated was forced to shut down the gates of the cemetery. After that, they ingenuously managed to resell the state back to the previous owner for ten per cent more than they had paid. The man returned from Rome overwhelmed as if he’d reanimated the goose that laid golden eggs, only to go bankrupt a few days after the contract was signed. After less than three weeks of activity, the people of Capão Perdido became accustomed to the deceased’s return, and it became part of their routine. They no longer avoided the dead, and even engaged in long conversations with one of them. Eventually, they learned that talking about death or the afterlife was a taboo among the deceased. When they were asked about it, they shrugged and answered that it was like to be born, except the other way around. Trying to find out more was unfruitful. They also never gave a firm answer when asked why they chose to spend their few hours in the world doing ordinary tasks. Instead they usually showed some surprise and said something like, ‘But I only do what is best!’

In an attempt to take advantage of the familiarity of the situation and the Brazilian cunningness, the Remanso’s bankrupt owner opened an illegal betting parlor. Backstage, high sums were placed on what deceased would wake up on a given night. Another type of bet, more subjective and yet more lucrative, was to guess what the deceased would do. Thanks to the randomness, rarely someone would guess right, and those who would, were entitled to half of the pool. The bets gained popularity and Capão Perdido became full of intellectuals and curious people debating in several languages until near the 34th day of reanimations. At this point, after a deceased political activist had engaged on a long night of chess playing and debates on Russian literature at the central square, there was only one remaining body at the boneyard.

Endowed with sufficient time to receive a thorough identification, everyone knew that that body belonged to a young author who had been killed after publishing a critique against the regime at a local newspaper. For an obvious reason, the bets regarding who would be the next deceased to rise were cancelled that afternoon. Yet, the bets on what the writer would do were a big hit. And since many had bet that he’d write, the bookmaker decided to adopt more detailed description. Therefore, “writing a short story ” did not make the top three, that is to say, “writing a poem”, “writing a song” and “writing a cake recipe” in that order. What they unanimously agreed on was that the core of the text would be about the meaning of life; oddly enough, even regarding the recipe.

There was still a bit of sun left in the sky when the bone yard door opened up. From there came out a stumbling squalid man, looking actually quite dead and holding a notebook and a pen. Standing afar, the population that anxiously waited held the breath at every unexpected move of the corpse. The late writer wandered calmly through the night gazing at the stars, and even talking to them at times. He picked some flowers, smelled them, was dazzled by them; but eventually, he threw them at the floor claiming that love isn’t worth. He pointed at inanimate objects, embodying them as he wished, so that he would easily run into arguments with ‘Sir Plaza Bench’ or defend ‘Lady Tabebuia tree’s honor’. He described his actions using the third person, and whenever he felt strained from his readers, he became the character narrator. The city’s eyes followed him through the streets, maintaining a respectful distance to not interfere with his abstractions. Almost at the crack of dawn, he felt tired and sat by a tree, at a square plaza. He sat there for a few minutes with a lost look on his face, and then opened his notebook and ran his pen across it. He alternated between looking vaguely at the horizon and staring at his notepad, writing down once and a while. The entire world hardly breathed when all TV channels broadcasted the image of the semi-messianic figure. The hours run fast, and the morning was drawing close, but the pen kept its endless work. The sun was already taking shape in the horizon, when the writer rested his hand over the notepad, and then gently reclined at the tree trunk and closed his eyes.

The crowd’s tension was palpable. Lacking the courage, but pressured by the authority weight, the mayor of Capão Perdido approached the still body, then respectfully draw the dangling hand from the notepad, and took it as if he was carrying the Scriptures written by the holy divinity. While he searched desperately the pages for some sort of enlightenment, reality stroked him as a punch in the stomach. The TV crews put their cameras down and run like a pack of enraged dogs, causing the mayor to drop the notebook on the grass. Television stations all over the planet featured the images drawn on the pages: a bunch of toothpick dolls; random sketches; floral motives; some non non-metrical verses, without rhyme or purpose; names of women and loving hearts, actually, more than the recommended for any man; plus all sorts of things one does on a notepad out of distraction. Little by little, the crowd dispersed, and the place woke up alone. The humanity deluded itself into believing that that was the end of all the magic in the world. But not everyone, for a few people, that was the trigger that posed as an explanation for the whole event, all the trivial activities that the other thirty-four deceased value the most. Some missed, some couldn’t get it, but those who understood that single line left by the writer amid the sketches’ chaos have changed their way of life for good. Written in printing across the page, he’d stated: “In here lies all the beauty in life.”

VITOR DE TOLEDO was born in the State of São Paulo in late August, 1987. From an early age, he became mesmerized by the creational potential of literature, which allowed fantastic worlds and characters to occupy his mind. 

He started to write when he was 16 years old, but says he is wise enough never to let those first manuscripts see the day of light.

He became a surgeon dentist in 2009, but has remained passionate about books. Today he and his friends manage a literary community on Orkut called Contos Fantásticos [Fantastic Tales] and he publishes his writings on Recanto das Letras [Nook of Letters].

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