by Dave Hangman
The first time I entered the Gaon's greenhouse, I found it completely snowed in. What disturbed me most was that outside, in the garden, it was a splendid summer day. The bees were buzzing and going from flower to flower collecting pollen, the birds were chirping with laughter and the sun was streaming into the greenhouse through the large windows, reflecting brightly on the snow. That day I was accompanying my father on his quarterly payment of the tribute that each hive leader delivered without complaint to that old man. The elder was sitting in a corner in a wicker chair with a blanket over his legs next to an antediluvian ceramic stove. There was another empty chair next to him where his guests sat to shake his hand and give him their gift. That was the only place in the room where the snow had not set. The rest of the room—the floor, the plants and even a small cactus terrarium—were almost buried under a layer of unpolluted snow. Only my father's footprints were imprinted on the white blanket. I wondered in bewilderment how the old man had gotten to his chair or how long he had been sitting there. At first, I thought that the greenhouse must have refrigeration equipment as potent as that of the most powerful cold room, but I found neither ducts nor any machinery. Suspended from the ceiling were only two one-piece glass lamps, also covered with snow. Ice stalactites hung like white daggers from the inner windowsills. The sun strove futilely to warm that strange room in which seasons and time seemed to be reversed. It was cozy to enjoy for a few minutes that icy paradise when one had just endured the inclemency of the hot summer. I noticed how my sweat froze instantly. Now I understood why my father had forced me to wear a long-sleeved shirt and a jacket in the middle of summer. When we left the Gaon's house, my annoyed father told me only one thing, “Don't ask.” I had heard a thousand stories, each one more extravagant. They said that the Gaon had mastered the elements. He had made people burn from the inside and had dried the bodies of those who had dared to defy him until they were mummified. He was able to open invisible doors and disappear, only to return through them when he was least expected. The stove at his feet was actually an athanor furnace designed to separate all substance into its most primordial components. It could also transmute vulgar metal into gold, which is how the old man was believed to have accumulated his fortune. And, of course, he was able to reverse the seasons and time. I dared not discuss any of this with my father. We returned in the fall for the next payment. To my surprise, while outside was a carpet of withered leaves and the garden was dominated by reds, ochres, and yellows, inside the greenhouse was a veritable spring orchard awash with brightly coloured flowers. Now the insects lived inside the room; they had found a new home where they could take refuge. When we left, my father repeated to me again, “Don't ask.” In winter, when the cold and snow raged outside, he welcomed us into his greenhouse in shirtsleeves with tropical warmth. In spring, it had turned into an autumn garden, with a thousand shades from golden through saffron to vermilion. That time, I couldn't hold back and bombarded my father with my questions. “The inverted room is nothing more than a power demonstration,” he explained to me. “It reminds all who visit of his total control over life and natural cycles.” The Gaon’s old Victorian mansion was surrounded by double-helix hive towers, filled with greenery and people. Above the hives we had created a majestic cloud garden. “Why does he live in such an old house?” I wanted to know. “While we make every effort to flee from reality and live in the heights, he stays firmly on the ground. His house is a reminder of what we were,” was his enigmatic answer. “Who is the Gaon, and why is he so respected?” I finally dared to ask. “He will answer you himself. He has asked me that next time you should be the one to give him the tribute.” When I returned in the summer, the greenhouse floor was snowy again. There wasn't a single footprint. The elderly man motioned for me to come over and sit next to him. I heard my footsteps crunching on the snow. I handed him the gift. I expected him to check, but he simply placed it on his lap and stared at me with deep eyes. “Who are you?” I asked at last. “In your tongue my name is Adam Kadmon, something like ‘celestial man.’ I came long ago in my merkabah, or heavenly chariot.” “Why did you come?” “I brought the knowledge that has made it possible to rebuild your world, but only to a degree sufficient to keep you from self-destructing again.” “Are there other worlds?” “And other universes and other lives. I can show them to you.” He gestured, a gelatinous sound was heard, and a door opened between the worlds. “Will you make me disappear?” I asked, frightened. “No, I'm just offering you another life, intelligent and incorporeal in a transcendent sphere. It's your choice.” “But then I will lose the only life I know.” “You will become a 'celestial man'. Are you afraid?” The Gaon saw panic on my face. He wasn't going to repeat his offer. I ran out of there. Like my father, with each season, I don't hesitate for a moment to pay the Gaon his tribute. But I try to stay in that room as little time as possible for fear of ceasing to be who I am and losing the life I love, the one he wanted to take away from me.
David Verdugo is a Spanish writer trying to make his way into the English language market under the pseudonym Dave Hangman. In English, he has already published stories in the anthology, Superstition by Redwood Press, and in the magazines History Through Fiction, Tales from the Moonlit Path, and Bright Flash Literary Review, and has received three honourable mentions in L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future contests for 4Q2021, 1Q2022 and 3Q2022. In Spanish, he has collected four books of short stories that intermingle very different genres: magical realism, crime, horror, historical fiction, epic fantasy, and science fiction.