Wednesday, 3 February 2016

...of apocalypse

The boy crouched down, got hold of the scraper with both hands, lifted it up and held it in the air for two or three seconds. Below, the population of potato-bugs began to swarm in all directions. Some tried to escape, running as fast as their legs would carry them. Some shammed dead, crouching curled up with their legs and feelers drawn in under their bellies. Some lay there crushed or half-crushed, stuck in their pools of blood-red liquid. Several others, trying to run away, got their feet stuck in these pools and stood there feeling the bodies with their antennae, their mouths perhaps sampling the fluid that issued from their brother’s entrails. Chancelade held the scraper poised above the insects a little while longer, without speaking, without thinking. All menace had entered into him, and hatred, and pity, and something that resembled fate. Then he opened his fingers and let the heavy grille fall on the town. The clatter of the metal on the concrete was followed by a dull silence.
Chancelade bent down and looked. He saw that nearly all the potato-bugs had been killed. Most had been sliced in two by the bars of the scraper: tomato sauce had spurted all over the grey metal. Some of them still crawled about, horribly mutilated, with half of their abdomen gone or their back torn away. Others had had their legs severed, and limped about in circles. Everywhere were gashed heads, slashed bellies, crushed thoraxes, broken limbs, wings torn to pieces. One had even been hit on the hindquarters by the corner of the scraper just as it was trying to escape. The heavy metal had pinned it to the ground, but all the free part of its body was still alive, and strained with all its legs to get away. At last it did succeed in freeing itself, but it left half its belly behind under the scraper. It managed to crawl along for a few centimetres, leaving a trail of innards. Then, at the end of the red streak, it died.
No groan, no cry of pain arose from the ravaged town. On the contrary, a strange silence reigned, as if everything were quite normal. But that silence was much more terrible than lamentation: it was an intense, tragic silence that entered into the boy’s ears and slowly chilled him. It was a distant silence, like some extra-terrestrial disaster, when a star explodes suddenly millions of light-years away and disappears into the darkness of space as if it were no more than a lamp switched off.

[Terra Amata, Le Cl├ęzio, J. M. G.]

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