by Philippe Claudel



by Philippe Claudel
Translated from the French by Euan Cameron

Inspired by Carl de Keyzer’s photographs in Higher Ground

“When I was a child, I was used to be frightened that the mountains would collapse and fall down on me. I was constantly asking the adults around me whether they really were secured properly, whether I was in any danger.”

“Together with a guy I met at the beginning, who was in the same cable car that brought us up here, we rebelled. We reckoned that what had happened to us was unfair. We tried to escape by every means possible. We discovered some pickaxes in an equipment store, crowbars, tools like that. We started to attack the rock face. It was very solid. Exhausting. We took it in turns. We were worn out, but we didn’t stop. We managed to dig a tunnel one metre in diameter and ten metres deep. It took us – I don’t know, we didn’t even bother to count – one year, perhaps two, how could we tell? In the end we gave up. What was the point? I don’t know what became of the fellow. I don’t come across him anymore. I never knew his name. A guy like me.”

“I think that all the people who are here are vaguely aware that nothing exists anymore. At the beginning, I tried to talk about it. No sound came out of my mouth. Nor from the mouth of any of the others either, and yet I could see them trying to pronounce them. The sounds die immediately, they dissolve in the atmosphere. Or else I’ve become deaf. I really don’t know. We are dumbfounded. Before, I was a writer. I wrote novels and plays. There are no books here. Nothing. There’s nothing to read, other than the advertising hoardings, always the same ones, and various notices, here and there. That’s all. We go round in circles. I miss reading more than writing. Well actually, I’m not sure. What I really do miss is talking to someone. I’m unable to speak. And it’s the same for the others. The moment we open our mouths, when we try to utter sounds or words, nothing happens. The words subside, like water, liquid gas, mist. Nothing substantial. You’ll have noticed there’s no noise. It’s the same with the birds. No chirping. No singing. Even their wings are silent. Are you able to read me? I’ve always had lousy writing. Give me back this little scrap of paper when you’ve finished, please: I’ve very little left.”

“I play. All day long. I’m not sad. I don’t know where my parents are. I think they’re also playing. Somewhere. I laugh a lot. The others do too. We’re fine. I love staying in the mountains.”

“What about you, do you know what has happened? Have you been told? Do you think we’ll be able to get out one day?”

“A bloke came up to the sheep. The sheep had done nothing to him. They were there, like us. They were victims too. Well, that’s one way of looking at it. The bloke approached. I recognised him. To begin with, he often used to walk round the small reservoir. He’s got a large tattoo on his back, with wings or something like that. He drew closer. The sheep looked at him. He bent down to pick up a big stone, and he started to kill them. He killed the sheep one by one. The sheep didn’t run away. They stood there calmly. They watched him kill the other sheep and each one awaited his turn. The bloke went on and on hitting. The problem was that when he thought he had just killed one sheep, and the animal fell down, all bloody and with its head smashed in, and he moved on to the next one, the sheep that was dead eventually got to its feet, unscathed, the blood on its coat had vanished, and its skull was intact once more; the bloke continued hitting out and killing, but no sheep died. I think he must still be at it. In the end, we grew tired of watching him. We left him on his own.”

“I don’t know where the trucks that set off are going. Nor even who makes the decisions about these trucks. There are women and men waiting, by the cable-car, the second one, the one that goes up. The other, the one that goes down, doesn’t operate any more. Well, I assume they’re waiting. I don’t actually know.”

“I believe I was asked to do that. They were the boss’s orders, before he went away, when it was still open. To place bottles of wine and pre-packed lunches on all these tables. The room is big, but it’s not huge, and yet I’ve always done my job. Everything takes so long. I don’t understand. It’s as though all this had no ending, or a beginning either.”

“The sight of mountains is very soothing to me. When I look at the view, I no longer think. It’s better that way.”

“I tried to urinate to begin with. I went into the toilets. I was alone. I unzipped the flies on my trousers, I grabbed my cock, and I stood there like that for hours, maybe for days. Nothing. Nothing at all. In the end, I got bored. I put my little tool back in my underpants. I zipped up my flies. That was it. Over. I’ve never wanted to go again.”

“They set us down in front of a glass of beer. Normally, my husband likes beer. But he’s not touching it. And I can’t even ask him why he isn’t touching it. Why he doesn’t taste it. It’s ridiculous. The beer is there. In front of him. He doesn’t try it. I really don’t understand. At times, he looks at me, but he often looks outside, at the peaks and the snow. And when he does look at me again, I have the feeling that he doesn’t recognise me. I might as well be a stone myself or a block of ice. It’s the same thing.”

“I tried to eat, but it doesn’t go down. And in any case, I’m no longer hungry or thirsty. All I feel like is a cigarette. But no one has had any for a long time.”

“I’m dreadfully cold. I’m almost naked. The sun’s not very warm. I don’t know why I’m like this, in my underpants, while all around me other people are dressed warmly. I’m convinced that I fell asleep. And that certain people took the opportunity to steal my clothes. I was stripped. It’s vile. It’s inhuman. Frankly, it’s disgusting. I’m still lying down, on the ground. I can feel the biting cold, the icy wind. I want to die. For it to be over. I feel ridiculous. I’m in pain. I’m all huddled up. Is this supposed to be living? I feel so awful, but I don’t die. I’m not even ill. My nose doesn’t run. I don’t have a sore throat. Not a thing. It’s ghastly. And impossible for me to leave. My body weighs a great deal. I shiver. I have no strength. The others are warm. They’re probably happy. They strut about. Those that robbed me. Shits!  Arse-holes! Bastards! Filth! I can’t pull myself up. What’s to become of me?”

“What’s the point of what you’re doing? What use will it be? You’re in the same boat as well. You’re no cleverer than us.”

“I’ve never been a believer. Beforehand, I mean. But here, the notion of God gradually took hold. I attend services. Not so much from a desire not to be bored as from trying to establish a dialogue. I can’t believe that all this should be meaningless, that we are here, all those of us who are here, because of a wrong turning, because of an alteration in the geographical data and the physical laws of the planet that nobody could have anticipated. I’m now convinced that a superior power has determined this. We are in his hands, at his mercy. We must be humble. The restricted universe in which we are confined suggests as much. Look at the vast size of everything. I see these mountains as an injunction to modesty, an invitation to believe. During my life, I ran a consultancy in scholarship placements.”

“Personally, I didn’t want to come. And then, all of a sudden, here I am, and I don’t know how to get out. It’s no joke.”

“What I regret is not having locked up my house, even though I realise that it’s absurd to think like that. There’s no point. I’ll never see it again. No one has told me this, but I’m not a fool. I’ve realised that we’ll never be able to leave this place. I try to close my eyes. I try to see my house again. I don’t know whether it’s due to the altitude, but I can barely manage to do so. It’s as if my memory was slowly fading away. It’s rather annoying, but I’m surprised that it doesn’t trouble me more than it does.”

“I hurl out into space those who are brought to me. As jobs go, it’s not very complicated. I can’t remember who gave me this task. Someone has to do it, after all. Why not me. I don’t think I’m the only one. There must be others, somewhere. What I enjoy a great deal is shoving off those who are in wheelchairs. It’s like a game. They let it happen. None of them objects.”

“I tried to talk to a group of Japanese, but they’re Koreans. I should really like to have known how they’re still able to laugh. They’re lucky. And then there are quite a few of them. I don’t know a soul. I learned Japanese, but it’s of no use. At university, I deliberated a long time between Japanese and Korean, then I chose Japanese. My first mistake. I made others.”

“The most important thing, it seems to me, is to pretend. To go on pretending. I can’t help thinking that none of this is real. That I’m actually going to wake up one day. In any case, it can only be a dream. I’d never set foot in the mountains before. I loathe mountains. Always have done. I wanted to please my girlfriend. Now we don’t speak to one another. We avoid each other.”
“I see some people laughing. I think they’re paid to do so. To behave as though nothing were the matter, as though life was like this, always the same and that all of us here are really tourists, that there is still a below and an above. So, some people continue laughing, others get ready to set off on a hike, some use their phones and pretend to be having conversations or taking photographs. Even though the phones haven’t been working for a long time, the batteries are flat and we can’t talk on them. It’s a joke, all this. Personally, I’m fed up. It’s gone on long enough. If I had a gun I’d shoot myself.”

“Why would I leave my booth? I can read the time on my till: it’s 16h43. My shift ends at 17h30. I’ve always been conscientious. I arrive on time. I leave on time. Neither earlier nor later. It’s not because there’s nobody in the queues, it’s not because I feel as if I’ve been in my booth for ages, because the day is dragging on, because I should shut the till and leave. And then what would I do? Go home. No one is expecting me. So.”

“I’ve such a longing to fuck. Not to make love. But to fuck. To screw. To be pulled around. Roughed up. Ravaged. Something lasting. For a man to come by. Blond, dark-haired, tall, short, fat, skinny, old, young, no matter. For him to pull up my skirt suddenly, for him to spread my thighs, to pin my back against the window, tear off my knickers. I want it to such a degree that it’s becoming very painful. I think of nothing else. Of a really hard prick in my cunt. A drill bit. A brace. A chisel. But no one comes by. Bloody hell, no one! Not a soul! What’s going to happen to me? I’d taken the cable car just to calm myself down, because I wanted a fuck and I couldn’t find anyone down below. I told myself: ‘The fresh air will do you good, my darling, your arse is too hot, go up there, it will calm you down!’ And this is the result. I’m here. I’ve still got a dreadful longing to fuck! I’m still on fire. Nothing has improved. On the contrary, it’s worse!  I’m pissed off. Please, what about you, wouldn’t you like to screw me, here, now?

“I’m one of a team of ten. We mend the anti-avalanche nets. I really like it. It’s cool. Not too exhausting. There’s work for centuries to come. Even if I haven’t seen any avalanches yet.”

“We had already been here for quite a few days. To begin with, I didn’t take it too seriously. Afterwards I told myself that we were experiencing something amazing. Now I no longer know what to think. I thought that I had left my phone in my tent, down below. I watched the others trying to use theirs and gradually abandon them, because they couldn’t manage to contact anyone, there was no network, and because their batteries had run out. Those whose phones still functioned went on taking selfies, the others took pictures of them, and then after that they stopped. Some of them pretend to be phoning. No one believes them when they say they have succeeded in talking to someone. They cope as best they can. I’m not blaming anyone. Some also pretend to be taking photographs. Why not? It keeps them busy. And then at the end of – I don’t know, we live through one long, endless day, there is no night – at a certain moment, or on a particular day, I found my phone in the inside pocket of my knapsack. It was charged. I don’t know why, I suddenly felt happy. Very happy. Yet I knew that it was impossible to ring anybody and that nothing worked. But I was happy. As if I held a connection in my hand. A connection with the world I come from, and which probably no longer exists anymore, for otherwise how do we explain why nobody comes to look for us. I told myself that I was going to let the others speak. That I was going to register them, with my phone. So that a trace would remain. So that one day, if it were found, people would be able to hear the voices of all those whom I would have managed to get to speak. So that something should remain of all this. There’s also a man who takes photographs with an old camera that uses rolls of film. I didn’t even know that cameras like that still existed. I think he operates as I do. He also accumulates traces.”

“I’m very happy to be wearing a veil. For once. It keeps me warm. I feel cosy. My husband is wearing Bermuda shorts and a t-shirt. The ass! Serves him right. Usually, he’s the only one who feels comfortable. When the weather is hot, I almost faint because of the clothes that I wear, and the veil over my face and my hair, and the gloves on my hands, make the heat unbearable. Now I can laugh my head off underneath my veil. I watch him. He’s shivering. His lips are almost blue. The skin on his legs is pale. I know he’s in pain. Justice at last. Allah is great.”

“I was old, in any case. I wasn’t expecting anything else. So it was either this or something else. I’ve nothing more to say.”

“Things like this shouldn’t be allowed. If it’s a joke, it’s gone on long enough and no one is amused. And if it’s the end of the world, they could have warned us beforehand. I would have preferred to spend the time in the countryside or else in the south of Spain, quietly sipping sangria.”

“At least we’re sitting down. The seats aren’t very comfortable. But it’s always like this. When I see the others, down there, standing up. Always standing. I prefer to be here where I am. I don’t know the people with me. It’s sheer chance that has put me here. I don’t know what we’re waiting for. Whether it’s a show, or something like that. Unless we, ourselves, are the show and someone is watching us from somewhere.”

“I wonder what’s become of my dog. His name is Flight, a Labrador. He’s six years old. He’s a bit stupid, but very affectionate. Does he miss me?”

“I would certainly tell you my name, but I can no longer remember it. I feel as though I’m turning into a rock, that I have the hardness of a rock, and also its lack of feeling. I no longer feel anything. Do you understand what I’m trying to say to you?”

“Sometimes I pretend I’m asleep. It comforts me.”

“I went to a mass. In a grotto. A cave. A man-made one. Like everything else here, actually. With priests, elderly ones, and there was one of them with a hat. I’m not a believer. I’m a tiler.  But well, why not. Since I’ve got no work here. You’ve got to keep yourself busy. There were a lot of people. I didn’t understand everything. I don’t even know whether I listened to everything. What was good was that you forgot the mountains and the glaciers. No windows. You would have thought you were underground. Like moles. I’m fed up with mountains, and with light. During mass, you could have believed that night had fallen at last. That’s what sends me really nuts here, the absence of night. I tried to pray. I thought to myself that it might work. At the same time, I didn’t know how you go about it, and also what I would have asked for. I’m not really unhappy here. And then at least I no longer see my wife, that’s one good thing.”

“What I find hardest to bear is not knowing what has become of everybody else. It’s being here, not knowing, and not being able to leave either. And then there’s time, I miss time. I look at the clocks. Watches, they never move forward. I wait for the night. It never comes. I remain in the daytime, and the daytime is infinite. I look at my face in reflections in windows, on the surface of the lake over there, and I see my face that never alters. What’s the point of saying that it’s been days, weeks, since I can’t count and everything is here, in suspension. And I don’t know whether there are hundreds of us, or thousands, whether there are other places like this one.”

“I was convinced that I was going to have respiratory problems, asthma, or heart trouble, because of the altitude. Well, no. Not a thing. I’m actually better. I feel better. I walk. I stop. I walk some more. I go over there, do you see, as far as the guard-rail, that sort of overhang suspended over the drop. I look into the distance, as far as possible, there where the earth fades into the sky, and then I come back and sit down here. I wait for a while. Then I begin again.”

“Leave me alone.”

“All this reminds me vaguely of something I must have read once, at school, but I wasn’t a good pupil. Books used to send me to sleep. Nonetheless, I’m positive about what I say, but I’m unable to remember. That irritates me.”

“There are people outside, and I am inside this glass trap. I look at the others. I can’t join them. I don’t know what I’ve done. Why is it me behind the pane, just me, and why are the others outside? I put my hands on the glass pane. I try to wave at them. To touch them. None of them ever looks at me. I don’t understand my punishment. I’m a young girl, but I don’t think I’ve done anything naughty.”

“There’s a woman who never stops circling around me. She is wearing thick walking shoes, and an eiderdown. She doesn’t speak to me. She looks at me. I don’t dare invite her to join me at a table in the mountain-top bar. And yet it would be nice for us to be there. I’ve always told myself that, driven by certain circumstances, I would be able to do things I don’t normally do. That’s not true. I’m always the same. In my home town, I run a fruit and vegetable shop. Organic.”

“I was on the point of being arrested. I had robbed the company where I had worked for over twenty years. I was an accountant. Small amounts, but all together I pocketed almost a million. I’ve lived well. It could still be going on. But a new management controller was appointed. He went through everything with a fine toothcomb. He discovered my little trick. I was called into his office. It went very badly. I don’t know what came over me. I panicked. I strangled him with his own tie. I pulled tightly for minutes on end. His feet were kicking against the wooden desk. His face turned crimson. Strange noises were coming from his mouth. From his stomach too. I pulled tight. I didn’t relax my grip. It was unreal. As though I was taking part in what was going on as a spectator, rather than as the participant, do you follow? I thought that his eyeballs were going to pop out of their sockets and drop on to his computer. All of a sudden, I could no longer hear his feet banging on the wooden desk. His arms drooped down the length of his body. He was no longer breathing. I removed the tie. I remember that I smoothed out the creases. Automatically. And I placed it on his desk. I left. I got into my car. I drove aimlessly, straight ahead, for hundreds of kilometres. Night fell. I drove on and on. At dawn, I arrived at a mountain resort. I didn’t know the place. I noticed a cable car. I bought a one-way ticket. I wanted to hurl myself into space. Once up there, I hesitated. I told myself that I would wait for the daylight to fade. That never happened. I had made up my mind. I know now that I’m not going to die. I don’t regret having killed that man. I’m an unpunished murderer. I’m beginning to feel rather proud about it. I’m feeling better.”

“It happens.  Some people, at the edge of the abyss, and who are suddenly enveloped by the rising mist, by clouds. And when the clouds or the mist clear there’s nobody left. They’re no longer there. I swear to you it’s true. I’m not inventing it.”    

“I tell myself that when I feel brave enough, I’ll follow the railway track that looks like a ski-jump, there, at the back, and which leads up into the sky. I’m just waiting for the courage to do it.”

“Many people I come across think that I’m laughing. It’s just a grimace. I was born like that. I know that here, with a face like that, people dislike me more than elsewhere. It’s not my fault, however. Just a trapped nerve.”

“I’m very glad I’m not able to go down again. I’ve no desire to go down again. I used to work in a debt collecting agency. I didn’t care for the life I led, but nobody else could care a damn. Here, it’s a pleasure to encounter people who are more miserable than me because they can’t bear our situation.”

“Have you noticed? No aeroplanes in the sky. Ever. Yet I spend my time gazing at the sky. Never any aeroplane, large or small. Not a single plane. Not even a white trail. The sky has become clear once more.”

“I’m convinced that all this water in the dam is not water. And that this dam is not a dam. That the cars we notice are not cars. That no one cares a damn about us. That none of this really exists. And if you think I’m crazy, you’re rather superficial. And if that’s the case you’re a stupid bastard.”

“I’m a doctor, but no one is ill. I feel useless. I’m bored. I know the shape of the glacier by heart, each of its crevasses. I dream of terminal stage cancers. I’m an oncologist. I had a large practice. An appointment book full to bursting. I used to  work eighty hours a week.”

“Do you see that group of men laughing among themselves? They’ve just raped a young girl. The one over there, who is walking off into the distance. No, not the girl in blue, the one on the right, in pink, the youngest one. How old is she, about ten? They took turns raping her. She cried a bit. Not too much. It’s as though she were a toy. Some of them had huge organs. They penetrated her unhurriedly, openly. They passed her from one to the other. Some hikers glanced over and then looked away. I saw everything. I didn’t miss a thing. I expected the police to turn up. I wanted to give evidence. But nothing happened. Nobody came. The total indifference of other people. And the even greater indifference of the landscape. Not a single police officer. No storm in the sky. No punishment, either divine or human. Nothing. Listen to them laughing. They’re at it again. I’m sure of it. What’s more, look, the girl, she’s coming back.”

“I’m pissed off. I look at the others. I think they’re hideous. I think they’re common. I don’t wish to know them. I want to be bloody well left in peace. I sleep at the far end of the tunnel. I’ve made myself a bed and a door. Please don’t coma and hassle me. It’s my home. I’ve got a home.”

“Three of us tried to get it started. We searched for the engine. There’s bound to be an engine somewhere. I’m aware that all those jerks gathered round us were staring at us and reckon we’re crazy, but I tell you, they can bugger off. They can believe whatever they like. If they think this thing really is what it appears to be, a kind of refuge for mountain climbers, or an equipment store, or whatever, then that’s their problem. I know that it’s a spaceship. It’s just a question of finding the engine and getting it going, and we can at last escape from this place, because I’m sick to death of being here. I’ve got a wife down below and three kids. I came to do maintenance work on the cable cars, it should have lasted two days at the most, and look, we’ve been stuck here like rats for how long? Eh, how fucking long? Bloody hell! I’m going to get out. And since we can’t get away from down there, I’ll do it from higher up. The expressions they’ll all have on their faces when we take off!”

“I’ve been a funicular employee since I was twenty-five years old. My father got me the job. He worked for the company. And my grandfather before him. The funicular was built just before the First World War. I’m fifty-five, even though that doesn’t mean anything anymore. The uniform hasn’t changed. It’s a bit out of date, but people like it, especially the cap with the shiny visor. They often take photographs of me. I would never have thought that the cable car would break down one day. Technically, that’s not possible. I don’t know what happened. And my radio stopped too, at the same moment. I’m staying at my post because I feel it reassures people. They probably tell themselves that if I behave so naturally, then it can’t be serious, that the cable car will soon start working again, and that we shall all return to the valley. I don’t dare tell them that when the mist suddenly cleared, the day before yesterday or six years ago, I can’t remember, there was no longer a valley.”

“Yes, there is one person who tried to seize power. He climbed up to that peak, over there, near the cross. He tried to summon us. We listened to him for a while, but he wasn’t making any very clear suggestions. Everybody went back again into the cable car tunnels. I don’t know what’s become of him. Someone told me that he had fallen on his way down. I don’t know whether that’s true.”

“What I find utterly unreal, is that everybody appears to be adapting to the situation. No one shouts, no one cries out, no one breaks down. I don’t understand.”

“They say that people die, but I need to be persuaded. Ever since we’ve been here, I’ve counted carefully, I’ve counted and recounted, and as soon as I’ve finished, I start counting again, and over and over again, and well, I can swear to you that I always end up with the same number: no one dies and no one is born. The woman whom you see over there by the little lake and who is pregnant, she was already pregnant at the very beginning, when we arrived here. I dare not even imagine the age of the baby in her womb.”

“Through being here, I’ve begun to think about climbers. I knew that this type of sport and pointless occupation existed. But now, with all these mountains that I’m obliged to gaze at, I’ve started to think about them. Inevitably. The climbers. I didn’t understand before. I understand even less now. How can these idiots who might be sitting on the terrace of a restaurant, in shorts, drinking beer and calmly scratching their balls, bear to come here, to these desolate regions? It ought to be forbidden. It’s an insult to common-sense. If I get out, I think I’ll do something. Yes. I’ll start a movement. The death penalty for climbers. No mercy for these shits. I now know what I’m talking about.”

“It’s intolerable. There are few enough shops as it is, but they’re closed as well. My bank card is useless.”

“Please forgive me, but I no longer speak to anyone except God.”

“I’ve made masses of friends. I spend my time swimming. The water’s a bit cold, but it’s all right.”

“We look rather foolish in our bikers gear, even though we don’t have motorbikes anymore, because they’re still down below. And we’re dressed as we are, holding our helmets. The benefit is that they keep in the warmth. Some people take us for extra-terrestrials. There are even three of them, Russians I believe, who have tried to beat us up, probably so as to rob us. We butted them hard in the face with our helmets. They soon gave in. They beat it. Sometimes, with my wife, we mimic the noise of our bikes’ engines, hers is a Kawasaki 900, mine a Triumph Bonneville. With our lips and our tongues. I can do the Kawasaki 900 very well. My wife almost has tears in her eyes when I do that. We hug each other very tight.”

“Do you really think they’re happy or are they just putting it on?”

“Personally, I’m very glad not to have any news of the outside world. I’m at peace. I’m discovering how pleasant it is not to know anything. I used to be constantly listening to radios, watching the news channels, reading newspapers. How did they help me? Could I do anything about what was going on? No. Is the fact that I know a revolution has taken place in such and such a country, an earthquake in another, that a minister was accused of corruption, a pop singer has taken an overdose, or that it will rain tomorrow, going to change anything or affect my life? No. Here, at least, I’ve got time. I can think. I wasn’t thinking anymore. Ever. I was full of words that journalists trotted out at me. They had crammed my head full. I’m happy now. I’ve become myself again.”

“The question I ask myself when I look at us, is to know whether we have been saved, and if we have, from what, or whether we have been punished, and if so, why. Why us? Why the few hundred that we are?”

“I haven’t a single photograph of my husband. He wasn’t able to come with me. It’s too high up. He suffers from vertigo. I only intended to be away for a few hours. I miss him. His face is vanishing. It’s horrible. Horrible. He’s vanishing from my mind. It’s as though someone was dissolving his features in a pool of water. We’ve been married for twenty-eight years. We love one another. And I’m incapable of remembering his face exactly. All I can think of are rocks, mountain pastures, ice and wind. I don’t know what to do anymore. I feel disgusted with myself.”

“My grandparents were deported during the war, and they died in the camps. And now it’s my turn. Why? I can’t help thinking that fate is hounding my family. I took a cable car because I had read in a brochure that the scenery was exceptional, and now here I am forming part of the scenery myself, trapped inside it, and I’m no more important than a moraine, a stream, a rockslide. I’m part of the landscape. I no longer look at it. I turn my back on it.”

“The funniest thing is that my son, who wasn’t awake on the morning I wanted to take this trip - my son whom I’d left sleeping in the hired apartment - do you know what his first name is? Noah! Yes. Noah. I’m not making it up.”

“It’s great. There’s no school. We play all the time. No one pays any attention to us anymore. Our parents don’t scold us. They never tell us to go to bed. All we do is play. I’ve got lots of friends. I never knew the mountains were such fun. Normally, I prefer the sea. I don’t ever want to leave, I never want to go back down again.”

“A man came up to me. He suggested to me that we propagate. He told me there was nothing sexual in his request, that he was doing this for the sake of the species. He told me that I was young and that the shape of my body, of my hips especially, indicated that I would be able to give birth. That it was vital for the human race. I told him that I wasn’t at all interested. That I had no desire to find myself pregnant. Bad enough being trapped here, but then to be pregnant as well! He considered me selfish. He went away. I saw him later hovering around three or four other women. It must have worked once, for there was a woman who followed him. They went behind this large stone block covered in lichen, over there, by the pile of snow. They reappeared a little later. The man was buttoning up his trousers. However, the girl never got pregnant. I saw her again on several occasions. Her belly is as flat as a sole. The species will wait.”

“I try to be rational. I’m a physics teacher. But however much I try to understand, I struggle. There’s no logical reason for any of this. Take Time, for instance. Have you noticed the large clock above the cable car office? If you listen carefully, you’ll hear its mechanism very clearly. It’s working. And if you look at the minute hand, it’s moving too. But the moment you blink, it has gone back to where it was when you first started looking. I do my best to keep my eyelids open as long as possible, but at a certain point I have to close them, it’s only human, and then the hand goes back to its original position. It’s crazy. And how to explain why we’re not dead from hunger, thirst or cold during the time that we’ve been here. It’s incomprehensible. I regret I’m not a teacher of philosophy. Physics is of no use to me, apart from making me despair.”
“I had won a trip to Europe. I never thought that it would end like this. I live in Calcutta. I have a small telephone equipment shop. We are a group of fifteen. The others have paid for their journey. They’re even more resentful than I am. We wonder whether our embassy has been notified.”

“I’ve always liked making silver image photographs. The thought of it, you understand. It’s something different. I came here as part of one of my projects: taking photographs of tourists in various symbolic settings, high up, in grottos, by the seaside, towers or temples. I could not foresee what was going to happen. All of a sudden, my project became something entirely different. I think it’s a bit like you with your recordings: I try to establish footprints. What’s annoying with a mountainous landscape is that it dominates the whole setting. Whereas that’s not what matters to me. It’s the human beings. Who they are. Their attempts to go on existing, to alter the place, to organise it, to penetrate it, to furnish it. I try to only take people. But the landscape is there. It’s everywhere. Even the mist can’t manage to escape it. I hope that whoever finds my reels of film will be able to develop them. I’m reminded of filling amphoras with palm oil, you know, like those found by some archaeologists thousands of years later, at the bottom of the sea. Their contents were intact. They were able to make lots of discoveries about a vanished society, just by analysing the oil. So, why not with photographs.”
“Perhaps I’ll manage to find a husband here? It would be such a lovely setting for a wedding, these high mountains, this sky that’s always blue, and the little cloud above the peak to the west that never moves. It’s my romantic side. I’m still allowed to dream, am I not? I’m only forty-six years old. They often tell me that I’m still desirable, that I’d make a good wife. What do you think?”

“I remain convinced that beneath these huge tarpaulins there are a number of corpses. Otherwise, why cover the surface of this glacier with all these plastic sheets? And those that disappear - for there are some that disappear, let no one say they don’t - they lie underneath them. But no one wants to listen to what I say.”

“I’ve found no one to play chess with. No one. I made a set, with pebbles, that I’d patiently sculpted. I suggested a game to those around me. Most of them shrugged their shoulders. There was one who agreed to play. We started a game. He didn’t even know how the pieces moved. I pointed this out to him. This liar had claimed to be a university champion. He told me that he had agreed to play so as to be less lonely. That he knew nothing about chess. As if I had nothing else to do. I’m not the social services or the Samaritans. I’m a chess player.”

“To begin with, I didn’t dare mix with them, and now I find I can’t do without them. I find them comforting. I love crowds. So, walking in groups as we do, meeting people, jostling them, brushing up against people, sometimes colliding with them, is such a pleasure. Pretending that there are lots of us. We manage to forget where we are, among these horrible snowy slopes, this emptiness everywhere, these frozen backgrounds, this awful smell of mountain pastures. If I close my eyes, it sometimes seems to me that I can once more smell the delicious aroma of exhaust pipes and the din of traffic jams. The roar of a megalopolis. That affects me.”

“In the beginning, I suggested that we talk about it, because, even so, although we may all have become used to it by now, the situation was completely new and extraordinary all the same! We used to meet by the large mass of scree, over there. It didn’t last long. After ten meetings, there were no more than four of us. We decided to stop. Everyone coped. People prefer to pretend in any case. It’s convenient. Facing facts is intolerable to most of us. I’m convinced that there are still some who think they have just arrived five minutes ago!”

“I’ll never relinquish my return ticket. Never. I’d sooner die. Can you imagine, once everything starts to operate again, all these idiots who have got rid of theirs, what are they going to do? Yet I’ve seen so many people throwing them in the dustbin! As if it was too heavy for them! A small rectangle of paper, marked ‘Return’, now that’s really going too far! A few ounces at the very most! They won’t look so clever when everything starts working again and the machine turns them away.”

“Leave me alone, please, you’re spoiling my view, I mean my life!”

Copyright c Euan Cameron, 2016