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Black Hole

Short Story by Les Furnanz  October 1, 2009

Page 1 - Heritage
                   Click here for the "story behind the story" and references to the Célé Valley  

David pushed harder. The timber gate groaned, then budged. He slipped into the field and pocketed the key. Cliffs beamed in the morning light over pines climbing the hill. Somewhere at the cliff base would be the lost cave. David followed the rock wall until it met the corner of the barn. Its red tile roof and grey stones displayed their centuries. He entered, leaving the door open for light, and creaked open the sole window's shutters. Mustiness of grain and animals ran strong. Amazing, he thought, that Dad owned this property for years without our knowledge.

When David arrived yesterday in the village of Marcilhac he had searched out the leasing sheepherder, Raphael. He told David that his father also passed away recently and acknowledged that his family always felt blessed by the arrangement. His herds grazed both on his own plateau land above the cliffs as well as on this rich leased valley plot.

David had been raised as much French as American in his home state, Oregon. Dad and Mom often spoke their native language and taught it to their children. They told of the land that time forgot, the Célé valley where they had grown up, hidden in the plateau descending from central France's Grand Massif. David was born there only months before his parents left after the war for the United States. He often wished his parents had physically introduced him to their roots, but they never returned. He had wanted to explore the medieval villages, meet local craftsmen, walk fields bordering the river, hike trails that climb to the plateau, talk to sheepherders, visit the grotto Pech Merle and view firsthand Europe's oldest artwork, murals scratched and burnt onto walls 25,000 years ago.

David's course had included Oregon State University, marriage, Willamette Valley farming, and raising a family. Mom had died unexpectedly when he was in his thirties. Even when their youngest daughter left home five years ago, France still seemed unreachable to David and his wife, Francine. Nor had his siblings made the voyage... always too much responsibility, too little money and time. Now finally in France at age sixty, he still felt unable to be a tourist.

Only three weeks earlier Dad had handed him a map and the key with his dying wish. He told David of this family property. Then he described its cave with prehistoric art, its lost opening now covered with scree. His eyes misted as he pleaded David's promise to pursue his dream and legacy. It seemed long ago, but only three weeks had passed since Dad's death and David's pledge. He still felt like he was spinning in a free fall.

David unfolded the map with care and oriented it to the barn layout. The X on the tattered page indicated a spot on the long windowless wall near the corner. He spied the targeted stone, smaller and paler than surrounding ones, and mounted a ladder with a hammer and chisel. He tapped and scraped until the stone dislodged. Carefully he chipped mortar away to reveal a small drilled hole. It was there, curled into the hole, a tightly folded sheet...

"Alors!" came a gruff utterance.

Startled, David turned to see two men staring, an older man with a hat over thick white locks and a younger man, black-haired with a similar reddish-faced look. "Who are you?" David demanded in French, descending the ladder.

"We're neighbors," said the younger man. "We should ask who you are. We live on the next property toward Marcilhac. We've never seen you. My father here," clasping the older man's shoulder, "knew the owner sixty years ago. He never returned, but we know he's leased out the property for decades. We keep our eyes out for intruders."

David's thoughts raced. How well had the old man known his father? Had he learned or suspected the lost cave? Had they seen him removing the stone from the wall?

David quickly decided on reserved friendliness. Looking at the older man he said, "I'm sorry to say that the young man you knew sixty years ago passed on this past month... quite unexpectedly at the age of eighty-five. I'm his oldest son, David, and I'm here to check the property. It is still being leased to Raphael. You must be Monsieur Renard. My father has told me of you and the games you played as young ruffians."

The old man chuckled, "Yes, ruffians... many villagers could tell you a story or two about Jean and Jules. Well I, Jules, am still a ruffian, as is my son Arnaud here." Jules smiled wryly at his companion. "We can see you are busy researching your inherited property." He gazed at the stone in David's hand and at the ladder. "We'll let you be. We wanted to introduce ourselves, offer our assistance. We live in those two houses on your left as you walk towards Marcilhac."

"That's very kind of you," replied David. He purposely paused, looking at them straight on, hoping they would feel induced to leave.

"Being good neighbors has always been important," said Arnaud. "By the way, did your father ever mention anything about a cave on his property?"

David stared and then feigned bewilderment.

Jules added, "Your father and I used to explore a grotto that ran beneath both our properties. We would enter from your property. But then one day a large landslide from the cliffs covered the opening. Did he ever mention that?"

David widened his eyes and said, "I've never heard of any cave; news to me. Why is this important?"

Jules and Arnaud looked at each other. "Not really important," said Jules. "I have wonderful memories... just... just interested."

"Well, I'll let you know if I come across it," said David, again pausing.

Jules nodded, "When you get to be my age it's hard to remember everything, but I recall your father saying he'd discovered a grotto chamber with caveman paintings. Sure he didn't mention that?"

"I would remember that myself... No, he mentioned no cave, no paintings. Have you been searching our property?"

Jules and Arnaud both shifted their weight and looked away before looking again at him. "We would not take such privilege on a neighbor's property," stated Jules. He looked again at the ladder and the stone in David's hand.

"It was good to meet you," said Arnaud. "I'm sure we'll see you again. Raphael has always been an excellent neighbor and we hope you continue with the leasing arrangement." He and Jules nodded as they turned to leave. Arnaud made an obvious display of the large hunting knife at his belt.




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