I first came across this intriguing case on a late spring evening in 2013. We received a message requesting assistance as the details of the events were baffling. A number of months ago Pat and Ricky* had taken a holiday to Chile*.
A few days into their first week, they hired a car and set off from their woodland hostel, deeper into the Chilean forest. Pat picked up an old travel guide leaflet in the hostel, which boasted of a beautiful national park just an hour’s drive away. The travel guide was in Spanish, and theirs was poor, but it contained a map so it was enough to get them started. As they drove up the narrow road into the forest it was dark and muggy.
They described it as feeling strangely oppressive. The only sound was that of the car – and even that seemed oddly muted. They had been driving in the dingy silence for what seemed like hours - though it could have only been twenty minutes or so - when they came across a tiny, picturesque stone house set back from the edge of the forest road. It was beautiful. There were pots with pretty flowers cascading from the window sills, colourful patterned clothes hung from a washing line, and, even though the sun couldn’t penetrate the overgrowth of the forest, it felt lighter and brighter. Pat and Ricky climbed out of the car to breathe in the sight. After finding that no-one was around, they took a quick photo of themselves next to the house.
Back on the road again the air seemed even thicker than before. The road began to incline, and even the car seemed to be troubled by the weight of the air, almost pushing it back down the hill. They wanted to turn back. But the travel guide leaflet promised that the national park was just a few minutes away. Suddenly the trees stopped. The car burst into the open, sunlight searing through the windows. The travel guide leaflet said this was the national park, beautiful and full of wildlife. But Pat and Ricky looked out from the car and saw a desolate landscape. The ground was black and hostile, a few scrubby plants clung to the earth like broken bones.
The road they had been following had become a vast plain, with no tracks, opening out both left and right and stretching into the distance for miles. They drove forward, moving further away from the trees and on to the plain. Quite soon it was clear that this was not the national park. There was not a landmark in sight – the map made no sense of where they were.They gave up. Pat reversed the car and turned around to head back on the narrow path.Once again under the trees the heavy air returned, seeming to chase them back down the hill. In the darkness they were looking forward to seeing the little house again.
But it was not as they expected. The tiny house was in ruins.They slowed the car as they passed. Trees were growing out of gaping holes in the windows and roof, vines and weeds gripped the walls, pressing between darkened stone, pulling it apart. Plant pots were smashed and the washing line was frayed and black. The forest seemed to be swallowing it up. Pat accelerated away. They were both confused and afraid. Pat and Ricky couldn’t shake the disturbing image of the aged house and the experience they had in the Chilean landscape, so they contacted us at MRBDA for help.
An intense conversation began between the MRBDA team about the nature of the aged house. How could a solid building, seen and photographed by two people only moments before deteriorate at such a rate into decay and collapse? As this discussion continued one of our team became focused on another seemingly larger transmogrification. "Where did the National park go? Why would a local map specify the location of a national park and then it lead to nothing, to a barren landscape?" The significance of these questions began to sink in, and they lead us to our first line of enquiry. We began by asking Pat and Ricky it they still had their map, and if so, did it have a date on it?
As a matter of fact we do, It's dated September 1992, but I don't see the relevance. 1992 to 2013 a map is still a map isn't it? – Ricky
This evidence opened up two new roads for our investigation. A group of us spent the next morning looking at maps of the area, and just as we had hit on something significant, another team member dropped on the desk a print-out of a front page from a Chilean newspaper, dated from October 2005. "I think that seals the deal don't you?" she said with satisfaction. "So that's it!" I said with satisfaction, "The Case of the Ageing House is solved – through fire!" Our final email read like this:
Dear Pat and Ricky, Thank you for contacting us in the matter of the ageing house. The house itself was not really the core of the mystery, but instead, the map. But let us start with the national park. Chile has suffered with forest fires. From an old Chilean newspaper we found that in October 1995 a fire began from a barbecue, only around 12 miles from the hostel where you stayed. The fire destroyed over 25 miles of forest and along with it one of Chile's prized national parks, leaving behind a vast wasteland. Your map borrowed from the hostel was dated 1992, before the fire, and so was out of date.
This led us on to the next and most crucial part of your mystery, the rapidly ageing house itself. The question that opened up everything was: when is a map not a map? In this case, when it is 18 years out of date. You explained that you turned around to go back down the narrow road from which you had come. The simple solution is, that you didn't. When you turned around to go back, in the disorientation of the open plain and the sun you simply took a different road. A number of houses were built in the same style around the border of the national park, but during the 1995 fire many people abandoned them in fear for their lives.
The first house you saw was a lucky one, not caught in the fire. The second, by the sounds of your description of the dark stone and the blackened washing line, received a lot of smoke damage. Although it wasn't completely burnt down the owner never returned, and it was left to rot. This identical house on an almost identical looking forest road, gave you the impression that the house had aged. All in all, we hope your next holiday will be a little more relaxing and little less mysterious. Best wishes, from the Marmont Road Bespoke Detective Agency