With the population now well aware of the physical and mental benefits of asceticism (low cholesterol, bradycardia, a delicate sense of happiness, spiritual fulfillment), everyone wants to become a hermit. Children pretend to be Robinson Crusoe, and adolescents (stirred by their own impetus for sacrifice) prepare themselves for a life of solitude.
Men (and women too) abandon their villages (and cities) to search for desert or jungle environments, inhospitable places that have rarely if ever been trod upon, places that in practice are increasingly hard to find. The extreme scarcity of truly solitary places requires that the hermits negotiate and delineate the boundaries of their Isolation Zones, which in some cases are reduced to only a few meters around each hermitage.
This proliferation of hermits, which has ultimately altered the countryside, entices a horde of tourists. Excursions are organized to the forests where, in exchange for a large sum, the tourists can dress up in filthy sheepskins, fortify themselves with mushrooms and berries, and sleep in deliberately uncomfortable caves or huts. Before returning home, they purchase souvenirs—handcrafted objects made of roots and properly authenticated. (Although the poorer tourists, as always, make do with hot dogs and plastic imitations.)
The real hermits aren’t happy about the situation, but the very traits of their vocation preclude them from acting collectively. Unsuccessful and disappointed, many return to their own villages or cities, where they reunite with their families and lead cheerful, ordinary lives until they get old, and with old age they discover the most intense solitude, except now they don’t want it anymore.
From my faucet flows an endless stream of blood. The vision calms me: it’s a classic nightmare that’s still a literary and cinematic cliché. After a few months, however, I get restless. Within two years, I’ve started to make money off it by starting up a blood sausage factory and also by becoming a provider for clinics and hospitals. The escalating anemia of the population is good for business. After ten years, my political influence allows me to beat an investigation ordered by the building consortium. Forty years later, I’m rich, old, and powerful, and I let myself wake up, which will bring back my poverty and my water, but also my youth.
—translated from the Spanish by Steven J. Stewart and Kalli Angel
Ana María Shua is an award-winning Argentinean writer who is often referred to as “the Queen of the Microstory.” Several books of her very short stories have been published in the United States recently, including Microfictions and Without a Net.
Kalli Angel is a writer of short fiction, plays, and experimental digital narratives. She studied at Yale and now lives in Austin, where she teaches creative writing for Austin Bat Cave.
Steven J. Stewart has been awarded two Literature Fellowships for Translation by the National Endowment for the Arts and has published several books, including one containing the translated horror microfictions of Peruvian writer Fernando Iwasaki (Blood Bound Books, 2014).