Altaplana, world of Francois Schuiten and Benoit Peeters

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Shipwrecked on the Mersey

(Translation by Andrew Fentem)

In a harbour town in northwest England, a man was trying to escape the rain. He had been strolling nonchalantly through a light drizzle since he arrived a few hours earlier but, as the rain started to come down heavier, he upped his pace a bit. He had to find shelter as soon as possible, otherwise he would be soaked.

Spotting a church at the end of a street, he quickened his pace even more, thinking he could hide there. A few seconds later, he was inside looking around. Overgrown with plants and devoid of a roof or windows, there was little chance of shelter here: wherever he went, the rain just seeped through his clothes more and more. Finally, by standing under a tree just outside the building, he found a way of dodging some of the rain.

From his place of refuge he noticed a stone statue just behind him with a short inscription in English and Gaelic. Apparently one hundred and fifty years ago more than a million Irish people had fled here from the famine. Ahead of him, he could see the town sloping downwards towards the river and his eyes stopped for a moment on a huge white building by the water with two towers, each crowned with a bird for decoration. His eyes followed the course of the river until it joined the Irish Sea and for a while he stood transfixed. Rubbing the mist and the rain from his glasses, he stared at the estuary again before wiping his glasses a second time and then taking a final look at the river. In spite of the distance, he could make out some people hanging onto a raft and even managed to pick up part of a conversation between a man and a woman.

“I'm telling you, you've got to leave the City of Books.” It was a question of life or death, the man went on.
“Yes, but what about Sylvia…” the woman answered.
“Sylvia is mad staying there. Getting out was the only solution.”
“But where can we go? If only you could tell me that.”
“Do you think I know any more than you? We have to leave this river, get back onto the sea…
“And?”
“We have to go north, towards the Lake District.”
“But what for? Please tell me.”
“There's a book there which is set into the top of a hill. It's the Last Book. The Ultimate Book. Finding it is our only hope…”

As soon as the chance witness heard these words, he looked up again and noticed a puddle a short distance from his feet. The heavy rain continued unabated but he left his temporary refuge and the dilapidated church anyway and followed the path of the river. Before long he came across a bookshop. Going inside, he went up to the top floor and started searching for the Ultimate Book himself.

Vincent Fransolet