Hidden Place, A

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9780553261035: Hidden Place, A

In the hard years of the Depression, young Travis lives with his uncle and aunt. Upstairs lives the mysterious Anna. Anna says she's going to be "changing," and she needs Travis's help...for purposes she won't explain.

Robert Charles Wilson's A Hidden Place is a science fiction tale of passion, terror, and hope, opening out to a great, dark, and unsuspected universe.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Robert Charles Wilson was born in California and grew up in Canada. He is the author of many acclaimed SF novels, including A Hidden Place, The Divide, Gypsies, Bios, Darwinia, and The Chronoliths. His work has won the John W. Campbell Award, the Aurora Award, and two Philip K. Dick Awards. He lives near Toronto.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:


CHAPTER ONE
 
 
The municipality of Haute Montagne stood at the junction of the Fresnel River and the railway, its water tower and its huge granaries erupting from the prairie like blocks of basalt from an eroded sea floor. Once, not long ago, the town had aspired to be a city.
It still had a little of city in it. There was the main street, Lawson Spur, or simply The Spur, which was blacktopped and lined with concrete sidewalks dazzlingly white in the noonday sun, which boasted the big Bingham's Hardware Store and J. C. Penney's and Times Square Lunch, all fronted in dusty yellow brick; and there was the trolley that ran on embedded rails from the switching yard down The Spur to the granaries farther south. Everyone agreed that those were big-city conveniences. Once they had been accepted as harbingers of greater things.
But Haute Montagne remained a small town in its artful cultivation of box elders and bur oaks, in its side streets on which the pavement gave way quickly to cobbles or pressed dirt, in its gabled clapboard houses with high dormers and big front stoops that looked so invitingly shady when high summer lay on the town like liquid metal. It was a small town by virtue of its silences at noon and midnight, and the distances the big trains traveled before they arrived hissing at the depot. The prairie vastnesses had made of the town an island, isolated, proud in its isolation, set apart from the chaos that had so lately descended on the country at large.
But the town was not in any real way safe, no safer than New York or Los Angeles or Chicago, and perhaps that unacknowledged wisdom made its decline the more galling. Haute Montagne ("where the railroad meets the wheatfield") might once have wanted to be a city, but that ambition had died--or at least had been set aside, like the hope chest of a young woman destined for spinsterhood--in the Depression that had come like a bad cold and stayed to become something worse, some lingering if not fatal disease. The granaries had laid off much of the town's male population; the trains stopped less often; dust and drought had withered too much fertile land. The noon silences became profounder. Midnights were interminable. There was a sense, never explicit, of some even darker eventuality hovering like an army of locusts beyond the indefinite horizon--biding its time.
Travis Fisher had some feeling of that when he stepped off the eastbound train and onto the white-washed boards of the Haute Montagne depot with July like a haze in the air.
He had been tempted to stay on the train all the way to wherever it went--New York, Maine--just sit and watch the miles pass away like unremembered dreams. His ticket was paid up only this far, though, and he had change of a dollar in his pocket for money and no real choice. He climbed off the pullman car into an immense summer silence and withdrew from his shirt pocket the hand-drawn map his Aunt Liza had sent him in the mail. South down The Spur to Lambeth, west on Lambeth to DeVille, number 120. In truth he was a little afraid of this new place, but he was nineteen years old and had carried a grown man's responsibilities since the year he had turned twelve, and so he straightened his shoulders and picked up his bag and began walking. The canvas bag contained a change of clothes and a photograph of his mother. It was not heavy.
There were old men and young men side-by-side on the public benches in front of the train station, and they all looked at Travis with an eloquent incuriosity. His footsteps on the pavement were loud in his ears. At the corner of Lambeth and Spur he should have turned west, but he saw the Times Square Lunch with its wide glass windows and realized at once how hungry he was. He bought a dime western at a newsstand and let himself gratefully into the cool shade of the diner. There were three men at a side table but nobody at the long Formica-topped lunch bar.
He ordered himself a hamburger and a Coke. The hamburger was a slab of broiled beef and the Coke came in a big soda-fountain glass with condensation on it like dew. The waitress was young, dark-haired, small-breasted under her uniform, and she gave him a series of covert glances. When she brought over the side of french fries she said, "You must be Travis Fisher."
"Trav," he said automatically, only then realizing how odd it was that she should know his name. "How did you--?"
"Relax," she said. She put her elbows on the counter. "I'm Nancy. Nancy Wilcox. My mom knows your Aunt Liza through the Baptist Women." She rolled her eyes to demonstrate her attitude toward the Baptist Women. "I guess just about everybody knew you were coming in today."
He was not sure he was pleased to hear that. But she was pretty, so he thanked Nancy Wilcox anyway and said he hoped he'd see her around.
"Probably you will," she said. "Mom and Liza Burack aren't exactly close, but they move in all the same circles. High-minded, you know: church committees, temperance league. Translation: busybodies." She winked and turned away, flipping her long dark hair out of her eyes. Travis gazed at her a moment before directing his attention to the dime western and the hamburger.
The hamburger was satisfying, the magazine less so. He was an attentive reader, but today the heroes seemed too operatic; the violence perversely too affecting. Six-guns blazed, blood poured, justice (except in the "continued" serial) triumphed. But he could not help thinking of his mother and of the ugliness of her death and his impotent rage at it, so after a while he put down his thirty cents on the shiny Formica and left.
* * *
 
Haute montagne was French for "high mountain," his mother had told him, but whatever Frenchman named the place must have been drunk or blind. His aunt's house, 120 DeVille, stood on the highest plot of land in town, where the prairie rose in a kind of swell for thirty or forty feet before sloping away to the bank of the Fresnel River and the railway bed. The house itself was old but had once been fine: two stories plus a small garret with oculus windows overlooking the town; but the wooden siding was textured with paint curls and the weather had got into the dormers. Yellow curtains were drawn against the sunlight.
Travis had not been there since he was six years old.
He knocked three times on the rim of the screen door and then Aunt Liza answered.
Liza was his mother's older sister, in her middle fifties now, respectable in a print sack dress, and she opened the door and looked at Travis with a mixture of pity and suspicion that he recognized instantly over the gulf of years. She had aged some. There were lines in her high pale forehead; she wore a pair of silver-rimmed glasses with a bifocal half. Her figure was undefined, rounded. But she was unmistakably Liza Burack. "Well, Travis," she said. "Well, come on in."
His own reluctance to cross that threshold was surprisingly strong. But he shouldered his bag through the door and into the ticking silence.
Persian rugs. Mantle clocks.
In the whitewashed kitchen, an electric fan purred.
"Creath," Liza said, "Travis is here."
Creath Burack was the man Liza had married ("A steady man," she always told Travis's mother; he operated the Haute Montagne ice plant): immobile in an armchair, overalls riding up his big belly, hair thin, he stood up just long enough to shake Travis's hand. His grip was huge, painful.
"You start work tomorrow," Creath Burack said.
Travis nodded. Liza said, "Well, you probably want to see your room."
She led him up a flight of carpeted stairs to a room with naked floorboards and whitewashed walls, empty but for a narrow brass bed and a pine dresser. Travis raised a yellowing sash and was able to see an arc of the river, the railway trestle, the horizon like a line drawn against the sky.
Something moved, lightly, in the attic room above him.
He looked at Liza. She avoided his eyes. "We have another roomer up there," she said, "but you wouldn't know about that. You'll meet her at supper, I suppose."
"Yes, ma'am," Travis said.
She stood in the doorway and her eyes hardened.
"Travis, I want you to know there was never any question of whether you should come here or not."
"No, ma'am."
"Oh, Creath might have raised a word or two. But he just likes his privacy. No, blood is thicker, I told him. Soon as I heard about your mama's tragedy I said, well, we'll take in Trav, and maybe you can get him a place down at the iceworks. I don't guess it was your fault what happened to Mary-Jane. Her own fault…if any, if any." This last because of the look Travis had given her. "But I want you to know. This is not the kind of household you might be accustomed to. We have standards of conduct. And Creath, he doesn't like a lot of noise. Best you keep quiet around him, Travis, you understand? And not ask too many questions."
Her face was shaded with old pain.
"Yes, ma'am," Travis said.
She closed the door, and he gazed at the cream-colored walls.
* * *
Dusk came, and he had not switched on the single overhead light when Liza Burack called him down for supper.
The dining-room table was heaped high with food. He remembered this, too, about his Aunt Liza, the way she went all out cooking for people, not so much generosity as compensation, as if the sheer weight of food could disguise some hidden inadequacy. Creath was already seated at the table, a massive blank weight, as Liza delivered a white china bowlful of mashed potatoes, a brimming gravy boat.
"Looks fine," Travis said. "Mama always admired your cooking very much, Aunt Liza."
"Just you sit down," Liza said nervously. "The proof's in the eating, Travis."
It was as if he was still six years old.
"Lot of work went into setting this table," Creath said; and Travis thought, yes, her work, but it was obvious he meant the ice plant. "Lot of time, lot of work. Hope you appreciate that."
"Yessir."
"Nothing comes cheap." Creath's eyes were unfocused and Travis guessed he had said these things many times. "You work for what you get i...

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