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3. The Enchanted Village
Some of the houses up and down the road from ours are hardly ever visited. Some have seen the effects of sun and saltwater spray and the passing of long decades. To me they seem to hint of forgotten stories inscrutable and lost in the persistent amnesia of the years gone by. I could say that those old houses make up something of an “enchanted village,” but when the logbook uses the term, it refers to only one place. —TC
From inside the Enchanted Village
I don’t know exactly why my brother and I always called it “The Enchanted Village.” Oh, I know that the name itself comes from a favorite and mysterious 1950 A.E. Van Vogt science fiction story with the same name, but why we thought the title would aptly fit the old cistern on the dunes is not as easy to say.
Perhaps it was because it seemed somehow steeped in mystery. Was it really a cistern? Who had ever used it? How many endless hours had gone into its meticulous fashioning? Thus, the mysterious aspect of the story at least fit the place, and by the same token, the structure’s seeming abandonment in the sands of time paralleled Van Vogt’s vision of a deserted Martian city.
In the actual story, a lost spaceman stumbles across a shining village on the desert sands of Mars where incomprehensible alien music perpetually plays beneath the towering diamond spires and along the tree-lined lanes. Its inhabitants are extinct yet the village itself is sentient and lives on. When the earthling provides samples of food, the village reproduces them for him on the stone floor of the plaza. Yet the effort is too much for the village, and the stone soon begins to crumble as the village tries unsuccessfully to adjust itself and provide an earth-like environment for the human castaway. The village is dying in the effort to save him. In the end, it switches strategy and instead of changing itself, the village alters the man who awakes from slumber and says, “‘I’ve won! The village has found a way!’
“He wiggled his four-foot tail... Then he waddled out to bask in the sun and listen to the timeless music.”
An illustration from a comic book version of “The Enchanted Village” that I bought in London in 1975.
The logbook is filled with references to visits to the Enchanted Village. We liked it there—especially at night when we needed a respite from our sitting places beneath the battery-powered neon lights above the kitchen table and when the customary walk down to the water had grown stale from having already been done the previous three nights. Then, we’d take our flashlights and rum and head out across the dunes for the short walk to the cistern.
The sides were made of good solid concrete. No seawater had been slopped into that mix. The top was made of long two-by-fours nailed solidly in place. The Kiva-style entrance was covered by a boxy wooden lid which we would take off to reveal the black interior.
Flying buttresses of concrete and the pathway to the Enchanted Village.
Our flashlights would illuminate the floor of the dry cistern. It was sandy, clean, and uniform except for the scattered bones of mysterious animals that had found their way in—but not out—and had died on the sand as our hero on Mars might have done.
Logbook: August 4, 1983—There were rib and leg bones lying on the floor. Also black widow webs...
We found it an easy drop, in those days, to the underground floor where we would all stay for a time surrounded by cinderblock in the dark, Tut-like enclosure.
Thinner, a little stronger than today, we would then each make a leap to grab the two-by four timbers of the opening above and pull ourselves out. Next was a return walk across the dunes, our flashlights’ beams moving back and forth to avoid a stumble or a step on some foraging diamondback.
Later years have found the cistern aging. Its top, once so perfectly constructed, has dried and deteriorated. The shrunken boards that remain are studded with the jutting heads of nails that had once been hammered flush to the rooftop.
The aging Enchanted Village November 9, 2003
But age is part of the feel and charm of our Estero Morúa settlement. I don’t begrudge the Enchanted Village’s growing old. I’m doing that myself.
My latest clear memory of the place takes some of its charm away, however. I made a 2003 daytime visit to the Enchanted Village and found instead of the clean and even sandy floor, a jumble of rubble.
There was also a somewhat unsettling scene of an interest and a fetish that are foreign to me. I would think it was only kids, yet still I have to say that I much preferred the bleached bones of hapless animals to the dismembered, burned, and firecrackered doll bodies that I found on the floor of the cistern that day.
Weird scene inside the Enchanted Village November 9, 2003