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Dogs, cats, mice, horses, rabbits, wolves, lizards, hens, frogs, crickets, fishes, foxes, spiders, crows, monkeys ... Great is the Bestiary. In the stories that make up this collection, animals are protagonists. Common animals, of which an unpublished, sometimes disturbing, often fantastic side is presented. And the children, their human counterpart. Because there is a lot to tie them, to make them similar. The same unconsciousness, courage, thirst for adventure. A symbiotic relationship, sometimes destructive, complicit or antagonist. Victims and executioners at the same time. 21 surprising stories, where suspense dominates. Stories pervaded by a widespread "sense of wonder" that recalls the best short narrative by Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury.
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Illusion Omnibus # 8
22 Short Stories
Original title: Bestiario
© 2018 Illusion
© 2018 Stefano Pastor
Graphics: Angela M.
All rights reserved
Translation by James Arwell
Spike was a special dog and I said it all the time, but nobody really believed me. At least not until…
I was a kid, then, I was ten years old, and Spike had grown up with me. Dad bought him when I was only three, so at that time Spike was no longer so young, at least according to dog age.
I never considered the possibility that one day he would die. However, at ten years certain things seemed impossible.
Spike was special, I have said it, but I haven’t told you how.
Spike was a clever dog. He did not spend his time chasing cats around, he knew their scratches would hurt him.
Like he knew that food served at the table was better than what he found in his bowl.
But Spike particularly liked plums. He swallowed each in full, he sent them down with the kernel and everything.
Have you ever seen anything like that?
All my friends knew him and had fun playing with him. It was funny to see how much they were craving to have him one after another.
If we got caught by my mother, it was tragic. “Unfortunate! Don’t you realize he can be suffocated? Those kernels could puncture his intestine! Never do it again!” Then, one day, Spike tasted a plum from the spinster’s tree and that’s when trouble started.
The spinster was not called so, it’s obvious. She had another name, but everybody called her that. They certainly didn’t say it to her face and there would be no opportunities, since she never talked to anyone.
She was our neighbor and her garden was covered (because she hated children and animals), and we did not have permission to go in there.
But Spike was clever, and he found a way into the garden.
That’s how our story begins. The history. Because this basically, is Spike’s story.
When Spike entered the garden of the spinster, I did not notice. He wasn’t a small dog. One of his ancestors had to be a golden retriever, because Spike looked like them a lot. His size was larger, though, and his hair was not golden, rather prone with stains like a Dalmatian.
At that moment, I didn’t know how he entered, I only saw him inside the garden. I knew we both were in trouble.
It didn’t matter that I was totally innocent, Spike was my responsibility.
He had spotted a plum and he sat in front of it, adoring it. The shrub grew right next to the house, and thus, far from the fence, and it had to be very old, definitely older than me. It was more than three feet tall, but had grown twisted, sacrificed by nearby trees. It had loads of fruits, but they were all out of the reach of Spike.
At least I thought so.
I called and called, but that stupid freak did not even turn to look at me. I asked the spinster to let me in to explain the situation. Without even thinking about it.
When Spike started jumping trying to grasp the lower branches, I was about to turn a little and just scream.
He would have made a mess and the spinster would have noticed it.
I just didn’t want to be punished, so I turned around the fence trying to look for the point through which he passed.
Going through every single plank, convinced that I would find at least one disconnected.
None, there hadn’t been a way to go in. And I started wondering how he passed, as well as what I should do now, if I should try to climb over the fence or not, then I found him right in front of me. As magically as he had crossed to the other side, Spike had been able to return. He still chewed the plums he had stolen, really pleased.
I was also glad that everything was finally resolved, to the point that I did not even scold him. After all, it was over.
Oh, how mistaken I was.
Spike returned to the spinster’s garden practically every day.
She did not notice or at the very least, she never left the house. I don’t know what she did in there all day, I once asked mom and she told me she was sewing for the gentlemen. She also said she was very good, had magical hands, and the outfits she prepared were very sought after. At that moment, I did not understand almost any of that explanation.
Certainly, I had never seen her in the garden. However, given the fact that it was a garden, well-kept, and full of flowers, I concluded that she cleaned it at the times when I was not present. When I was at school maybe or later in the evening. Maybe even at night.
I had to think again, because after a few days the plums really decreased badly, but I did not hear her scream, so she did not notice.
How Spike had succeeded I do not know, but there was almost no more fruit on the tree and many branches had been destroyed.
One afternoon, I personally witnessed an absurd scene.
Yes, absurd. I do not know how else to define it, and you would also think so if only you had known Spike.
I saw Spike attacking the tree.
Yes, it is crazy, it was no more about stealing some plums. I saw him scratching the trunk, trying unnecessarily to bend it, fighting against the already bare branches, tearing them, and then worse, digging into the ground to the bare roots and attempting to bite them.
I was paralyzed, clinging to the edge of the fence, the head just protruding. I had never seen Spike so angry and I was worried he had been affected by some kind of disease.
That was the day, not to mention the time and at that moment when the spinster set foot in the garden.
First of all, for me the plants never had any value, I never understood my mother’s fury when I accidentally broke a jar. It was inconceivable that an adult could give such a great importance to a silly flower. No, I did not understand.
The reaction of the spinster frightened me.
It was not only anger, but despair. She screamed as if they were tearing her up, ripping off her hair, as I had seen it done only in the movies.
She was a dramatic character, that woman, even though I did not know what to say. Her already gray hair gathered at the back of her head, even though she was only forty years old. A masculine and unattractive face, skirts on top of skirts, aprons that reached her feet, and a woolen shawl on her shoulders, which she never left.
They said so much about her in the village. It was said that no man had ever wanted her. There was also some people whispering that she just got involved with one of the ladies who were making fun of her.
Whatever the explanation, she was a lonely woman. She had always been alone and she would remain so.
Her screams also made Spike freeze. The anger with which he had fought against the tree disappeared instantly and he turned around and fled away with his tail between his legs.
The maid threw one stone after another at him, but Spike was too clever and all of them failed to hit him. I found him on my side of the fence. I was happy but I looked away from the woman so as not to make her feel bad.
Flattened against the planks, I did not dare raise my head. The screams and cries continued incessantly, as the threats shouted out in the wind, yet the spinster never approached our garden.
I walked slowly, keeping myself low.
That evening me and Spike had a chat. I explained to him how things were and told him how he was supposed to behave. To this day, I am sure that he understood all my words, even though, in the light of the events that followed, he didn’t listen.
“She is a witch”, I said to my mother, referring to the spinster.
She considered it a joke. “What are you saying? That is the way she is, she is not comfortable with people. But she never bothers anyone.”
Of course, we were the ones at fault, but I persisted in not finding her behavior normal.
From that day, I put Spike on a leash, to make sure he didn’t cause any more trouble. He continued to give me desperate glances, that would make me pity him, but I managed to remain hard.
“You can’t, Spike. You don’t have to go back there ever again.”
He went back that same night.
When I looked up to check before I slept I saw him in the garden next door.
There was a full moon, otherwise I would not have noticed. I was sure I had tied him well to his doghouse, but it certainly was not the case. Plus, my Spike was clever, I told you.
I didn’t even think of going to alert Mom and Dad, the only thought I had was to go and get him back.
In the silence of the night he would have been discovered, I was very sure.
I waited for my parents to retire and then sneak out. I was in my pajamas and I had nothing with me except a rope, I wanted to tie Spike up.
This time I was ruthless and climbed over the fence.
When I reached the house, Spike had already made a mess. At first, I did not realize that the house was spookier at night and it attracted all my interest. The doors were not locked but there was total darkness inside. Those windows seemed to have dead eyes focused on me.
Spike had already dug a deep hole. Not only that, some roots had been extracted from the ground and lay twisted and chewed. The tree itself seemed to hang menacingly to the right. It had almost lost its stability and risked collapsing any moment or the next.
I know better than to call him and make any sound. Instead, I approached gradually to try and sneak in next door.
Spike loved me, I knew it. He almost worshipped me, even though he did not obey me all the time. And yet that night I was afraid of him. I feared he would not recognize me and transfer all the hatred he had for the plant upon me.
Because, it was evident that he hated it with all his strength and he only wanted to uproot it.
I had to enter the hole to reach him. I cautiously passed the rope around his neck.
He continued to shred those roots without even noticing me. When the improvised leash was in place, I tried to soften him and calm his fury. I petted him.
He looked at me and I swear I had never seen so much despair in my life. He recognized me, of course, and that’s why he asked for help. There it was, in his eyes, a silent plea for help.
For a moment, I considered the possibility of freeing him and letting him continue. What I really cared about was him, not the plum tree. What concerned me, was if the spinster would be angry the next day. That destroyed her as well (at the end at least, after the whole story had ended).
I failed, though. It was all too strange and disturbing, I couldn’t leave him there.
Then I picked him up, tried to get him away from the roots.
Spike was much stronger than me and I realized it on this occasion. He continued to dig, increasingly deep, ignoring all my attempts to pull him away. Then it happened, and I screamed. A very short scream and immediately I covered my mouth with my hands, not repeating the error again. To do this I also had to abandon the rope and Spike was free.
Milky under the moonlight, a hand appeared from the black earth. A hand that Spike was licking. The hand of a dead man. Actually, I didn’t notice so many details, it was just a hand. It was buried under the tree and it was possible that there was an arm attached to it and to the arm the rest of the body. Which means, there was a corpse buried in the spinster’s garden, just below her beloved plum tree. And that was what Spike was looking for.
I was only ten years old, yes, but there were some things I understood well. The way Spike licked that hand, cleaning it from the ground with care, without ever biting it really surprised me. It didn’t hurt me so much that there was a corpse buried under the plum, but I was shocked at the way Spike was behaving.
So, I recovered the rope and pulled him, regardless of his protests. I dragged him out of that hole, and then away from the garden, without taking care to try and cover the hole or any other thing.
I just wanted to get out of there.
“But Gigi, it’s absurd. You must have had a dream; such things do not exist. The spinster, then! That comes to mind?”
My parents were still nice to me, although I woke them up in the middle of the night. I was resigned to be treated like a child, even though it annoyed me a lot and I kept repeating my story.
Dad’s voice was reasonable, even patient.
“You realize that it is impossible, Gigi, it makes no sense. A corpse under the plum tree? Do you know for how long that tree has been there? I still remember when the spinster planted it. It was before you were born, long before.”
Mom was in support and helped him. “At least Fifteen years ago.”
“Have you heard? You’re talking about a tree, Gigi. You’re saying there’s a corpse buried under the tree. When was it buried?”
He was perfectly right about this. Spike had to dig for long and destroyed several roots before reaching it. It was directly under the tree, there was no doubt about it. “She might have buried it before”, I said.
Dad frowned. “Was it a skeleton?”
No, that wasn’t a skeleton! I remembered that white hand well and it seemed perfectly preserved. Neither did I know what more to say.
“What could it be?” Daddy asked mom.
“You will not listen to him, I hope! The baby just had a bad dream! There is no corpse, there can’t be!”
“No one has ever disappeared in the village, which I can remember.”
“Exactly! And visitors never come here, you know that. The spinster, then! That poor woman! She won’t even hurt a fly! It’s just absurd to even talk about it!”
And then, the inevitable condemnation: “What were you doing out in the night?”
Life is unfair to children. No one understands them, no one ever believes them. I felt like a prisoner that day in my home and with my Spike, firmly tied to one leg of the bed. We didn’t have permission to stick our noses out of my room.
Dad had gone to the spinster’s house, but I did not know what they were saying. The hole had been filled, I could see it from the window, probably before Dad’s visit. I was scared, but for some other reasons, I felt as adventurous and determined not to let it go.
I just waited for the night to come and in the meantime, I fantasized.
“She has never been very fortunate, Gigi. With her, the good God has always been stingy.”
As she went out in the evening, Mom had allowed me to help her in the kitchen. I was peeling potatoes, but nevertheless I still had the prohibition not to step out of the house.
“She is a good woman, deep down and she has suffered a lot.”
“You would not understand, Gigi. It is not easy for a child to understand.”
“Tell me all the same.”
Mom sighed. I had taken advantage of her weak point. As a righteous and religious person, she had always had a tendency to gossip. “Someone betrayed her. Poor woman. He was rich, you know, a handsome man. She… you’ve seen her, you know how she is. She was delighted, but he just wanted to play. A naughty game. She did not realize it. She had prepared the most beautiful wedding dress she had ever seen and arranged everything for the wedding. But on that day, he did not come to the altar. He left her there alone. A month later he married someone else of his level.”
For me the explanation was obvious. “She killed him! As revenge! She killed him and buried him under the plum tree! When did it happen?”
Mom burst out in laughter. “You still insist? She did not kill anyone. He is still alive and well, he and his beautiful wife. I meet them every day in the village.”
Damn it, what a disappointment! I won’t give up, though. Soon, soon, I would reveal the mystery.
I had to strike by midnight, but before I could move. I needed to be sure they were all asleep.
This time I was dressed up and armed as well, I was armed with a blade and a small torch. There was no need for it, because the moon was still full in the sky, but I had a little bit of fear in me. Deep down I was going to dig into a murderer’s garden.
Spike was not able to free himself this time. The knots were made by my father I could not even break them. I was forced to use the penknife.
I knew I needed him, I would never have had the courage to go out there alone, even less do the digging. Spike was waiting for me in front of his doghouse outside the house and he did not bark even once while I released him. To him the house was forbidden at night. He also showed me his secret passage he used to cross the gate, almost a great honor. He had dug it himself, just behind the bush of blackberries in which I dared not to immerse myself, and I had to toil a lot to crawl into that hole and get out of it unscathed.
Spike was excited and yet he had waited for me.
His eyes glittered as he looked at that poor tree.
I want to remember that. Yes, it will always be imprinted in my mind at that particular moment, it was so magical. He was proud, courageous, full of life, and willing to start new adventures.
It was only for a moment, then we went on.
That night my dog died. I did not cry. I never cried, even once. That night I stopped being a child, forever.
I never thought of death, I did not think it could hurt us. Yet at that moment we went in search for death, that was our goal. Although it was an abstract concept, disguised as an adventure.
I loved Spike, I think I have not loved any other living being with such intensity in all my life, even if I did not know what love was then. And he liked me too. Yes, he loved me.
The house was immersed in total darkness. I was very attentive, scrutinizing every window, because I was afraid it might be a trap.
Although I had not been believed, even though no one had accused her of anything, the spinster knew that I knew. She had seen the hole and covered it. Perhaps there was nothing in there, maybe she had already moved the corpse. Maybe we would never have been able to prove anything.
Spike had a different other opinion, because he immediately started digging. I forgot about the house and went to help him.
We were making too much noise and the night was too quiet.
The earth had been compacted, but the tree had remained crooked. The amputated branches hung already withered, the trunk itself seemed dehydrated, even though it had only been one day. Most of the roots had been cut off.
I dug in silence, concentrated and determined not to be scared. But the fear was the same, equally divided between the spinster and what we would find. That whitish and lifeless hand.
The minutes went by and Spike increasingly tore the already compromised tree roots. There were some cracking and the tree stumbled even more.
Eventually the hand appeared again and I was certain that the body had not been moved. Spike did not waste time licking it and kept digging. Instead, I became paralyzed.
Even though it was dirty on the ground, that hand was different from what I had expected. It was not a skeleton or anything. It did not even look rotten, it was like the corpse had just been buried. Who could it be then?
I saw the nails and it scared me. They were very long and twisted nails, as if they had never been cut off. They looked like claws.
“Come away!” I whispered to Spike. “Come away!”
Fear increased minute by minute.
It was a young, very young hand. Completely smooth. The arm came to light and even it was smooth and hairless, and white like milk.
If the rest of the body was there and I am certain it was, it was concealed out of sight, completely wrapped in the roots of the tree, which Spike was tearing with genuine fury.
I was stunned, I could not understand. Dad’s words echoed in my mind. It was not possible, that tree had been there for fifteen years, whatever was buried under it could only have been buried recently. The very fact that the roots incorporated it was proof. Why then was the body in that condition?
I could not get my eyes off the scene I faced, it was terrible. Spike was biting and snatching at those wooden chains that imprisoned him, with an urgency and a desperation I could not understand.
The upper body appeared in sight, a portion at least. Here and there, we saw pieces of white skin, made blush by the moonlight. But something dark wrapped it almost completely. Roots, which had grown around that body, but not only that.
I had collapsed, unable to do anything. I was holding the torch, but I did not have the courage to turn it on, in fear of what I would see.
Spike continued to release him. Beyond the roots there was a strange dark net and it took me sometime to realize that it was hair. A lot of hair. A thick bundle of mixed hair with the ground wrapped around it almost completely as if they had been cut from all existence.
I wanted to stop Spike, flee away, forget about everything, but I could not. I could not move anymore.
“Leave him alone!” croaked a voice in the night, and my heart stopped for a moment.
Spike continued to bite and tear.
“Leave my son alone!” cried the voice. “Let him rest in peace!”
That dark shadow overwhelming me was the most terrifying thing I’d ever seen. I could not tolerate it. So, I pointed the flashlight and turned it on.
Wrapped in her shawl, dressed in black, with an anguished look, the spinster stood there. “Cursed child! Why are you doing this to me? Why don’t you want to let the dead rest?”
Your son? What was the spinster saying? She had never had children, she was always alone!
I found the voice, buried somewhere, a voice that was not mine “You killed him?”
The woman shook her hands, dried and disgusting like those of a scarecrow. Those hands so skillful that was her only gift.
“He never was born! He was not to be born! I did not want him!”
He frightened me even more because he turned to the corpse.
“Why don’t you die? Why don’t you accept to die? I don’t want you! You don’t want to understand, I don’t want you!”
It seemed to me that he died, and that woman had to be mad. Son? When was he born? Where had she kept him all this time? When did she kill him?
I remembered Dad’s words: That plum had been planted fifteen years ago and whatever was there had to have been buried before then. Perhaps the plum tree had been planted just to hide it.
I also remembered the words of mom, the story of the gentleman who had deceived and abandoned her at the altar. They were waiting for a child, maybe?
“But…but…” I stammered.
That corpse was your son? A son buried fifteen years earlier? A newborn?
The spinster looked completely freaked out, she kept talking to the corpse or perhaps to the plum or maybe even to Spike. She seemed to have forgotten that I was there too.
“Why did you force me to give birth to you? Why didn’t you die before then? I tried to get rid of you in all possible ways. Why did you oblige me to do this horrible thing?”
Did she have to hide to wait for a baby? Had she tried to get rid of him? How so? When was he born, she had buried him? And how, dead or alive?
It was all absurd, that it was not the corpse of a newborn! That it was a boy, far older than me! He must have been at least fifteen years.
“Go, mutt! Go away!” the spinster shouted, making me jump.
Spike had continued digging, unaware of everything. He had ripped off the roots, bringing more and more light to the body. He was now attacking the tree, standing on two legs, he leaned against the trunk and pushed. The plum tree was increasingly bent to the ground, the remaining roots were stretched like violin strings. They broke one after the other, with a creepy noise, releasing the body more and more.
“No!” shouted the spinster, but it was too late.
Spike pushed it with all his weight and desperation, and the tree gave a last cry of death. With a dead blow, the trunk stepped out of the soil and ruined the ground. In an instant, the roots came out of that poor body, making it wince. Now it was free, in full view, a sharpless mass of flesh, earth, and hair. Right before our eyes, we could see this thing prey to strange contractions, we saw him shivering, then become stiff in a fetal position. It was then that the dark cave opened and that was his mouth and it came out like a mush similar to mud and immediately after the breath of life.
He uttered an unmistakable lament slow and tingling. More and more shrunken, his eyes closed, this creep was crying, sharp shrieks, inarticulate, just like those of a newborn.
“No! He must not be born!”, yelled the spinster. “Do not let him be born!”
Born? It seemed absurd, but the crying he was emitting was just like that of a newborn. He shook his hands, shook his head without ever opening his eyes. Yes, he was just born, he had been given birth to. The umbilical cord, which had been the roots of the plum, had just been broken.
“No, curse you!”, yelled the woman. “You do not have to be born! I do not want you! You must die!”
She had forgotten my presence; her face was overwhelmed with hatred towards the creature. Then I realized what she was holding in her hand: a deadly spade.
She walked towards the hole, but she was immediately forced to stop. That helpless body had found someone who was willing to fight for him. Spike stood in front of the boy, his teeth exposed in a growl of pure hatred. Those yellow eyes that seemed to glow in the dark. The deaf rumbling of his voice grew more and more threatening.
“I must kill him! I have to kill him! He can’t live!” cried the woman, almost talking to the dog.
Then it all happened in an instant and I could not do anything to stop it. I almost did not realize it. She took a shot, raised the spade over her head and struck. I saw it penetrate into Spike’s skull, sink in, it almost divided it into two. Spike died instantly, no one even noticing.
I came out of my paralysis and started screaming. I screamed like a little girl and my screams mixed with the tears of the risen corpse.
“Shut up! Be silent!” the spinster screamed, trying to pull the spade out of Spike’s corpse.
She turned me now I knew: she would kill me.
My legs could not carry me, I slipped backwards like a shrimp, moving away from the edge of the hole. With a creepy noise, the woman returned in possession of the weapon.
Despite the hatred she had for that creature, I was the most immediate problem. The boy would not move, he would not run away, he was not able to.
I did not even have a voice to beg her, I realized I had wet my pants. Spike was dead, he was gone, he could not defend me. I do not remember how I felt at that moment, my mind was blinded by pure terror.
I saw her come away from the hole and stand in front of me. I stopped moving totally. She hesitated. I was not a dog neither was I a corpse. I was a child, a child she knew, the son of her neighbors. Maybe at that moment she thought she was wrong, to have pushed herself too far.
Then something happened that changed everything. I was about to be killed and yet I looked away from my assassin. It was not important. What was happening in that hole was far more terrifying.
The creature still blind and prevented from moving had reached for Spike’s body and enclosed him in a hollow embrace, then bent his face on the almost uncovered skull of my poor friend. The noises were unmistakable: as if he was eating him. He was eating Spike’s brain.
They existed. They were not just fictional characters of comics and movies, the zombies actually existed.
The spinster also turned around. She had heard the noise and had seen my horror look. She uttered a heartbreaking groan.
That creep that came out of hell was covered in blood now, he chewed that whitish mush that had been the very essence of my most trusted friend. He had completely uncovered the dog’s skull, breaking it to pieces.
“That’s enough!” the spinster yelled. “Enough! Stop it!”
This was too much for her. If she had not gone mad at all, this scene was enough to give her the ultimate thrust.
She darted towards him, the spade raised, screaming disconnected phrases.
It was then that the creature opened his eyes and they seemed to shine. It was hate, absolute hate. He dropped the dog’s corpse, uncovering his teeth, and growled. A gloomy growl, terrifying and dour. It looked like an animal.
The spinster became paralyzed.
Neither of them looked at me, they were facing: each other, this could be my only chance. So I started moving backwards and tried to stand. However, I must have made a noise, because she noticed.
She turned her head, with a cold look, almost as if she was considering who to deal with first.
I contributed to her decision because I did not want to waste time and started running desperately. I was aiming for the fence, ready to climb it.
I was too agitated, I could not think. I ended up crashing against the fence and then I tried to rise, but I had no strength. I felt her grab my shoulder and rip it. I collapsed to the ground with a scream.
Again, I was overpowered, the spade ready to hit. “Cursed meddler!”
That was when he came. He came with a leap, just between us, growling. Furiously, with hair covering him entirely, it was almost like a fur. Upright on four legs.
The growl grew and it suddenly began to bark. The barks were so acute, so strong that they made her flinch.
It was agile, it was quick, it seemed impossible that it was born just a some few minutes earlier. As the spinster moved, he did so too, so that he would always be between us to protect me.
I do not know what I understood or how I did it. But it happened at that time, because there could be no other explanation. “Spike”, whispered.
The boy did not turn.
Spike was in there, I was sure. In that body. I did not understand how it was possible but I had no doubt about it.
The Spinster retreated again.
I sat down and tried to get up. I reached out and touched it. That fur was disgusting, uncrusted with blood and mud, but I felt the skin beneath it, hot as if it had a fever.
Yes, that body wanted to live. He always wanted it. He wanted to be born. He refused to accept death.
He made a rumbling more subdued as if he recognized me and then I caressed that fur, forgetting about every other thing. That empty newborn brain had welcomed my Spike, all his memories, his essence, as if it was a sponge. Spike was still there with me, protecting me.
“You cannot exist!” the spinster screamed desperately. “You can’t be born! I am not going to allow it!”
When she ran away, I clung to Spike, preventing him from following her, I knew it would not be necessary.
The spinster hung herself that night in her bedroom. It was not a good death.
I buried my dog, right in the hole of the plum tree, then I went home.
I washed Spike, I cut off that terrible hair as well as the nails of the hands and feet. He was very helpful, he let me go about it without complaining. There was love in his eyes as he looked at me.
When I finished, it was no longer a terrifying monster, but a boy of about fifteen years, very pale and a graceful appearance. That night I took him into my room and let him sleep on my bed. He clenched at my feet with great contentment and began to snore away.
I had no idea what I was going to do with him.
The presence of the new Spike went unnoticed. The entire country was in disarray after that inexplicable suicide and for a while they forgot about my existence.
Everyone had something to say and the gossips poured in, one more absurd reason after the other. No one knew how to explain the reasons for her death.
Until in the late afternoon, they remembered me.
Dad came to call me, but he did not see Spike because I had hidden him.
He took me to the living room, where there were many men waiting for me. I knew some of them: the doctor, the pharmacist, the local policeman, the mayor. Others were strangers.
“Tell the gentlemen what you found under the plum tree, Gigi.”
After what had happened, it was undeniable that I had something to do with that death. There was also the uprooted plum tree to prove it.
There, at that instant, I had been give the only opportunity to fix things. To save Spike and myself. I had to be smart, I had to be cunning. For him.
“Wait”, I said. And I ran away, fast, leaving them open-mouthed. I went back to my room to take Spike.
I had dressed him in daddy’s clothes, which were wide and unfortunately there was no way of making him walk like a man. So, I had no choice, I had to try.
When they saw us entering they all fell silent.
I led the boy as if he was a dog: Spike followed me into the room on four legs and curled at my feet.
Dad was the first to agitate. “What does this mean? Who is this? Where did you find him?”
“He is the son of the spinster”, I replied and I repeated the words of Mom: “Of the spinster and the man who had deceived her.”
I could see they were flush, a couple of men so serious men.
“It is not possible!”, Dad said.
“She did not want it. She was hiding it”, I continued. “I do not know why she did it, but she closed it in the house, inside a closet. He cannot speak, he never went to school. I think he never came out of that house. Before last night, probably.”
They were all open-mouthed now.
“He ran away and came and asked for my help. I took him home and hid him in my room. I saw the spinster looking for him in the garden, she looked desperate. She was crying. But I don’t think she loved him. She wasn’t like someone who was devastated. He was so scared, so I did not tell her, he was here. I was wrong?”
I put on my best innocent look, the one for special occasions. Now it was time for them to fill the holes in the story. It was amazing, yes, but there was Spike as evidence of good faith. All eyes were fixed on the little boy, who behaved like a beast.
I did not add anything else so as not to overdo it. I tried to raise Spike and force him to walk on two legs while leaning against me. I took him away and nobody dared say a word.
Dad came to my room two hours later. They had been talking about it all that time.
Spike was crouched at the foot of the bed and slept quietly.
There was a strange look in Dad’s eyes as he observed us.
He sat on the edge of the bed beside me. “You’ve become friends, I see.”
He was very awkward. “The doctor wants to visit him. I’m afraid that poor boy needs help, a lot of help. Specialized help. His life must have been horrible, so far.” There he lowered his head, distraught with remorse.
Such a tragedy had happened under their eyes without them realizing anything. A poor child forced to live like a beast, locked in that house. Yes, the remorse destroyed Dad, and the other inhabitants of the village.
“He has to leave now, he is waiting for him. They will take good care of him, I promise you.”
This time I shook my head, I opposed my father.
“I want him to stay with us”, I said.
“He can stay with us, Dad! He can sleep here with me. We can do it. It’s not right to take him away. It’s not right!”
Dad was confused, yet he was looking at me in a completely different way. The look a man gives another man, not a child.
“I can keep it, can’t I?” I continued. “I can adopt it? Will they permit me to do it?”
“Are you certain you want to?”
It was a useless question, and he knew it.
He did not promise me anything, he just went away silently and that night Spike slept with me.
Spike stayed with us.
I do not know how dad did it, whether he adopted him or any other arrangement, but since then he became my brother. Perhaps it was remorse, because all the inhabitants of the village, wanted to resolve the problem without asking for assistance from the authorities.
In the end, we were in a different time and ours was a small village. Maybe they needed to.
One day Spike’s father also came to see him. He remained silent, standing apart, almost invisible and then later he found out he was his father. But he did not want him, he already had his family. He rejected him and remained with us.
We taught him how to be a man. Dad, mom, educators coming from far, even me. And it was sad, because the more he became like us, the more Spike’s memory within him died within.
They also gave him another name, but I kept calling him Spike when we were alone.
He changed, he became my brother and I loved him as a brother, his mind gradually absorbed what was stored in his memory, while the daily experiences created his new personality.
But the love that binded us was permanent. Absolute fidelity and trust. And while Spike, the true Spike, disappeared day by day from his eyes, something new was created between us.
The boy had wanted to live, he had so intensely wanted to refuse death, Spike wanted him to live and he had fought for that.
Their strength was the same, their tenacity, their courage. I’ve always been proud to have him by my side.
I still am today.
Translation by Alfio Loreti
I still remember how everything started, how our lives suddenly changed and we found you in a nightmare.
It was late, for me at least. I was in my room trying to do my homework, because during the day I’d rather forget them and eventually I was forced to give up on television.
I was not very cheerful, then, and inattentive. Although I had been there for more than an hour, I had almost nothing done, I was lost in other thoughts.
Terry came in like a fury through the door so forcefully, that it slammed against the wall. “I saw it!”, she yelled. “I saw it!”
There were some rules between us, even though she was my sister. One of these, perhaps the most important one, was just about my room. It was off limits to her. At that time, then, it was a thousand times more forbidden.
She did not even realize what she did. “I saw it, I tell you! There’s a wolf in the woods!”
She looked like Little Red Riding Hood. With that sweaty jacket and a hood, she was just like her. “Stop it!” I shouted. “Always lying!”
“It’s true, I tell you. It’s there indeed!”
I didn’t believe her. It became dark hours ago and my parents would never let her go out alone. She had ankle boots, though, and they were muddy; during the day, it was raining.
“There is a wolf! There is a wolf!”
“Leave me alone, idiot. What the hell do you want?”
She insisted. “I swear! The wolf is in the woods! The wolf!”
To be honest there was no woods, it was us, just the kids, to call it that way. It was just a thicket in the cultivated fields, probably planted by peasants themselves (God knows for what reason). But it was in a state of abandonment, and in the midst of the trees had grown lots of shrubs, and now had become a tangle of branches and yellow leaves. It was not easy to get in plus they forbidden it.
“Go and tell dad that the wolf is there. He will believe you and he’ll go and kill him.”
“No!”, Terry shouted. “Why kill? Foulwolfe is good, he’s a friend of mine.”
“Foulwolfe?” I repeated, then I could not hold back and laughed out loud.
Terry got angry. A lot. “You’re bad, bad! I tell Foulwolfe to eat you! You’re bad, I hate you!”
You have no idea how difficult it is to have a younger sister and have to tolerate her too!
“There are no wolves, Terry, and this is not a forest. Do you see a forest somewhere? We’re in town, almost. And it’s a lowland. There are no forests and there are no wolves.” Then I tried to be reasonable. “You’ve seen a dog, surely.”
“It’s there, I tell you. There!”
She dragged me against my will as soon as we left school, without even going home.
The thicket was dark, the sky was cloudy and threatened more rain. Terry struggled to get rid of the backpack, which remained hooked to her blouse. “What do you want to do?” I asked.
“I’ll introduce you to him, so you won’t say again that I’m a liar!”
I felt a bit of anxiety at the idea of getting in there. The trees were so dense that the sun could not even penetrate. It was a strip of green, about twenty meters wide and at least a hundred long, dividing two cultivated fields. There was not even a fence to protect it, because no one with a healthy mind would have ventured in there.
“I can’t step through”, I said, though it was clearly an excuse.
“Just be careful. I’m going in easily.”
“You are smaller.”
And it was true. Terry was only eight, and I was four years older. She was much smaller than me.
I helped her, though, because she was tearing off her dress, and I released her from the backpack she was carrying on her back. I put it on the ground next to mine.
“Then I go alone”, she told me, reasonably. “I tell him to come and meet you. But you don’t mess with me, don’t go away. Wait for me.”
“Terry…” I started, but I didn’t know what to say. Was it frightening to see her going in there? A little bit, but I didn’t want her to know. I had been there a lot of times, but early in the summer, before all those shrubs filled it. Sometimes it really looked like a forest.
“Foulwolfe!” Terry started to shout, disappearing into the vegetation. “Foulwolfe!”
I couldn’t see her anymore and I became afraid. Fear that it was true that she said the truth. Not that there was a wolf, of course, but a stray dog, perhaps angry.
“Terry, come back here, I believe you anyway. They are waiting for us to eat. They will get angry!”
I felt terribly uncomfortable, as if those trees were looking at me. I was even tempted to leave.
The road was a couple hundred meters away, and it was very busy. Not far from there was our house, a beautiful villa. There were not many homes nearby, we were already in the suburbs. In center town, we could not afford a home like that, dad always said it.
“He’s not there!”
I almost screamed. She approached me from behind, she froze me. As she picked up the backpack, she asked me candidly, “What do you think, will he go to school too?”
I swallowed an insult because I couldn’t wait to get out from there. I grabbed her hand and dragged her away as she complained.
I managed to never turn around.
“Foulwolfe doesn’t like cars, He hates them. He says they are dangerous.”
Two days were gone and we were having breakfast. We did, at least, Terry was just playing with cereals.
“Terry has a new friend”, I said to my father, trying to read the newspaper. “It’s a wolf.”
Mom giggled as she cooked the pancakes. That’s how I remember her, with her flowery apron, the perfect mother in a commercial. “There are no more wolves here, they have disappeared for over a century.”
“I told her! But she doesn’t want to believe me.”
Dad folded the newspaper and seemed to return to reality. “Who is your new friend, Teresa? Can we meet him?”
Terry was very serious, maybe she was considering whether we were making fun of her. “He doesn’t like you”, she mumbled.
Our parents exchanged a perplexed look.
Dad was immediately concerned. “He doesn’t like us? Why? Do we know him already? What’s he like?”
I snorted, because it seemed to me to be in a madhouse. “It’s a wolf, did you not hear me?” Then the common sense prevailed again. “There must be some dog that she hides. And in the evening, she brings him something to eat.”
I also considered the idea of talking to him about the woods, but then I changed my mind, because I could get myself in trouble for bringing her there.
Mom was also concerned. “A dog, Teresa? A stray dog? I told you so many times to stay away from it! You have no idea how many diseases they can carry!”
And Dad: “Where is he? Let me see where you hide it. I won’t do anything to him, I promise.”
Terry looked at me with hate, ascribing me the cause of all her troubles, as it was. Too bad, she should have remained silent.
“He has a house!” she shouted. “He comes here only because he’s my friend!”
It did not quiet anyone. Dad stood up. “I’m going to have a look around before I leave to work.”
Mom opted for a more diplomatic solution: she sat next to Terry and found a melodious, silken voice.
“My little girl doesn’t need any dog, she already has us to love her so much. Would you like to have canaries? We can go together to buy them if you want. A couple, wouldn’t that be amazing? You could name them.”
I ran away before throwing up.
Foulwolfe did not come out. Dad didn’t find anything. He even went up to my room to have a conversation, man to man, as he said.
I could only tell him what I knew, and it was not much. Indeed, I had never seen any animal. I talked to him about the woods though, and that Saturday, his day off, he was wearing gloves and shears and went to slaughter the shrubs.
About Foulwolfe, still nothing.
It could have went back to normal, as Terry had stopped talking about it, if I hadn’t had an urgent need. That day it was hot again and I drunk a lot of frozen drinks. At midnight, therefore, I found myself with two choices: either wetting my bed or run to the bathroom. Obviously, I chose the second.
Passing in front of Terry’s room I heard her talking. The door was closed, so it was impossible to understand what she was saying, but she was talking to someone. At times, it seemed to me that the voices were more than one. And I was close to come back to the first choice: wet myself. Terry had been obsessed with her Foulwolfe story, so whoever her interlocutor was, he was a disturbing presence anyway.
In the bathroom, I clung to logic again. How stupid have I been! With Terry there could be none other than mom or dad. She probably woke up from a bad dream and went to call them.
Again, in front of her door, I did not dare lower the handle. Then I went to my parents’ room. I tried to make no noise as I looked into their bedroom.
Unfortunately, they were there, both of them, deep asleep.
I left the door wide open and ran away like a bolt. I slid into my room and even locked the key door (although I was forbidden from doing so).
Then it was a horrible night, filled with nightmares.
“I heard you tonight. Was it him?”
Terry was playing with her doll in the living room. Dad had not returned yet and Mom was preparing dinner. We had to speak quietly, because mom came often to control us.
To tell the truth she came to check Terry. Since they knew about Foulwolfe, they kept an eye on her. No more sneaking out at night! But she found a way to meet him anyway, however, as now she was bringing him at home.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about”, Terry said without looking at me.
“It was in your room last night. I heard you.”
“There was no one.”
Was I wrong? Was Terry talking in her sleep? I didn’t want to get fooled by her.
“Who is it? You can tell me.”
I wasn’t the brother she wanted, but Terry was inclined to forgive easily.
“You don’t have to tell Mom. Not even dad.”
“I will not tell them”, I promised. And I was not lying at all, I was just driven by curiosity and nothing else.
“He’s sick. He’s very sad.”
“I don’t know why. He says a lot of strange things, I don’t always understand. It’s too difficult for me.”
“But is he your friend? Is he really a wolf?”
She remained silent for a few seconds, thoughtful. “I don’t know what it is”, she admitted. Then she added: “If you help me get out, I’ll let you meet him.”
I didn’t like the idea that much. I didn’t really want to know anyone named Foulwolfe, whoever he was. But not knowing and making only guesses was even worse.
“We can try”, I said.
She stopped me with a nod. “Not now. At this time, Foulwolfe can’t go out yet. We have to wait for the darkness.”
“Mom, Terry comes with me in my room!” I screamed from the stairs. “I keep an eye on her!”
“Don’t you want to come and watch television with us?”
“They gave me a new video game, we want to try it.”
I heard her snorting. “All right, but don’t be late. At ten in bed!”
Terry was ready. She had also worn her red raincoat, and I found it unfortunate.
Getting out was a joke.
Outside it was dark, but the street was dotted with lampposts that enlighten the street. “Where do we go now?”
Terry regretted already the idea of making certain confidences, but she was forced to ask for my help and now she couldn’t pull it back.
“Ahead, there is an abandoned shed. We’ll meet there.”
I knew what she was talking about, I had seen it sometimes, passing by. Once it was used to collect wood, but for many years it has been in abandon. It was tiny, a cube of a couple of meters, with a metal sheet roof.
Terry took my hand, but walked slowly, almost in no hurry to get there.
“I didn’t tell you everything.”
She kept her head low, a classic attitude of guilty.
“He doesn’t like you.”
I stopped. “What does it mean?”
“I’m not sure he wants to see you. He told me he didn’t like you. I don’t think he likes anyone.”
Then I frowned. “I told him not to hurt you. In the end, you’re my brother. If he hurts you I won’t talk to him anymore.”
Here, the desire to move forward was suddenly gone. I stopped completely.
“It’s better if I go by myself, you know? I’ll talk to him and see what he says.”
I struggled to answer. Was she teasing me? Was she bugging everyone? No, she wasn’t that kind of girl, she didn’t have enough imagination.
“Aren’t you afraid?”
She laughed. “Of Foulwolfe? He is my friend!”
She let my hand go and ran. “You wait here.”
But my legs moved on their own and walked right behind her. I saw her reaching the shed, opening the porch and slip in.
I imagined terrifying things as I approached. After about ten meters I froze completely. The hut was lower than the road, and the street lamps were too far to illuminate it.
Then I stepped back, even though my sister was inside. I went back step by step, and in the end, I started running.
I found shelter behind a mound, at the edge of a cultivated field. There were at least twenty meters between me and the hut, and the visibility was poor. I was very ashamed, but I was too scared. I repeated to myself that it was a joke, that she was just kidding me.
Five minutes passed by, then ten. Eventually the door opened and Terry came out. She was safe, recognizable with her red raincoat.
She called me. “Where are you? Let me see you!” She was looking everywhere, but I kept hiding. “He said it’s okay! You can come! Don’t be afraid!”
But I was afraid, very much so, though I knew she would never forgive me. She would have condemned me for the rest of my life to be a coward.
I almost decided to go ahead and find an excuse for my escape as an urgent physiologic need when Foulwolfe came out of the hut and stood beside her.
I dropped my jaw. It was actually a dog, as Dad had expected. And he wasn’t so big either. Yes, he looked like a wolf, he was likely to be a German Shepherd or something, but it was too dark to see him properly. He did not seem threatening at all, though it was disturbing to see him next to that Little Red Riding Hood wannabe.
“He’s gone!” Terry shouted. “That coward’s gone! I left him here! I told him…”
Her voice faded as she bent to talk to the dog.
Then I did it. I went on the run. I remained low, just to make sure that I wasn’t seen, and I slipped into cultivated fields until I got home. I forgot to have a sister, to have left her out in the dark. I just ran away.
“She has a dog”, I said to Dad, still out of breath for the run. “She keeps it out, in the old wood hut.”
They were astonished. Mom turned off the TV. “Did you go out?” she asked incredulously.
I knew I was in trouble, that I would remain in punishment for the rest of my life, that Terry would hate me until death, yet I did not feel like Judas.
There was something unhealthy in Terry’s attachment to that animal, and I didn’t want to hide it anymore.
“Where’s your sister?” Daddy asked me.
I lowered my head. “She’s still there.”
Mom cried: “You said she was in the room with you! Why did you go out with her?”
Dad saved me, momentarily. “There is no time now. God, a little girl out there alone! At night! Anything could happen to her!”
He grabbed his jacket and wore it. “With you, we’ll come to terms when I get back!” he threatened me.
“I’m going to take a flashlight”, mom said.
“Don’t waste time!” Daddy snorted, but then waited patiently for her.
Meanwhile he scowled at me. “Immediately in your room, and don’t move!”
I knew I stirred up some trouble there. I got scared for nothing and now everyone would hate me, I knew it. I would have been forced to run away from home and sleep under the bridges. Friggin’ Terry with all the world’s animal species.
As far as I could put my ear on the door, there was no way to hear. I could no longer be prisoner in my room, I wanted to know what happened!
Even opening the door did not help my curiosity, because the voices were too distant.
One hundred or two hundred years of punishment would not make a big difference to me now, so carefully I went down the stairs.
I heard my mother’s voice coming from the living room. “It’s pointless to make a phone call now, it’s ten o’clock in the evening, you won’t find anyone there!”
“This story must come to an end!” my dad mumbled.
My thoughts keep darkening and haunting. In the end, I could not resist and I had to step forward. “How’s Terry?”
I saw her immediately, sitting in a corner of the couch, sullen.
And then again. “Did you find him?”
“No, we didn’t find anything there!” my dad blew. “Your sister let him get away. And now we find ourselves with a stray dog wandering around here.”
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