Creatures 2 - Stefano Pastor - ebook
Opis

Four fantastic novels:Near DarkAn ancient place, decadent, almost abandoned. Now inhabited by bums and homeless people. All young, dopey looking, wandering without purpose. They vegetate more than living without being able to get away from there. Death awaits them out of the bounds. This is what a journalist finds by chance. It could be the scoop that he waited so long, but it soon will become a nightmare he can no longer escape. There is something inhuman in those beings, though they seem harmless. The darkness has brought them, and it will come back for them very soon. That is the real threat. Thunders out of nowhere announcing its arrival. It was lightning without rain. Then all that black, with no way to escape. It’s coming, and it’s getting closer and closer.Doors of SilenceSilence can be terrible, Maria knows it well. It can hide any danger. It can push you to kill. She can not get rid of it, even now that she has been released. She found a new job, she could lead a normal life, but silence is her obsession. Like the doors, which can conceal horror. The doors surround that cursed silence. In the new house there are many, for how many there are open there are still others. It is an immense palace, once it was called the House of Music, but now the silence has taken possession of it. She knows it could happen again, turn her into a killer again. Only Livia could help her, but she is old and tired, now near the end. Yet she knows her secret, knows what silence is and how it might stop. She knows how to save her.EmeraldThere are those who want to die, but can’t. This is the case of Monica, who moved to the Emerald. There are those who would like to live and manage to, such as Chata, who prefers her miserable existence to nothing. There are those who would just like the pain to end, one way or the other, such as Edoardo. Then there are those who ask for the truth, such as Nicola. To discover why whoever ever lived at the Emerald cannot die anymore. Fleeing is useless, there is no escape. It might seem like a gift, but it’s a curse. It doesn’t treat old age, it doesn’t even cure illnesses, it just prevents from finding peace. Those once elegant palaces now seem abandoned, but who lives there? Four unlikely allies – a secretary, a prostitute, a pensioner and an ex-convict – decide to discover it.Secret IslandWhen she was young, Patrizia made a mistake, and mistakes are always paid. In a moment of weakness she confided with her best friends, revealing her secret. Many years have passed since then: she was married; she divorced; she had a son, but now the time has come. She has to remedy that error at all costs, because they are going there, on the island. Her friends she didn't see for a long time, with which she has no more relationship. They still remember, they need what the island can give them. A gift that is actually the worst curse which can exist. She has to arrive in time before they do something irreparable, because in that damned island no one has to live anymore, but above all - and this is imperative - no one has to die anymore.

Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS
czytnikach certyfikowanych
przez Legimi
Windows
10
Windows
Phone

Liczba stron: 504

Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS

Illusion Omnibus # 3

Near Dark

Original title: Il buio si avvicina

Translated by Manuel Cecconi

Doors of Silence

Original title: Le porte del silenzio

Translated by Gordon Vivace

Emerald

Original title: Emerald

Traslated by Eleonora Passelli

Secret Island

Original title: Isola segreta

Translated by Tiziano S.

© 2018 Illusion

© 2018 Stefano Pastor

Graphics: Angela M.

NEAR DARK

1

The craziest week of my life began on a Monday morning, while I was at Carletti. An area where I usually never had the chance to go, because over there didn’t happen anything interesting.

I’m a freelance journalist, but that means I have to hassle from the morning till the night, or preferably at night, looking for exciting news, which allows me to survive. Moreover, that means being fast, get there before everyone else.

Some would say I’m a paparazzo, but it isn’t like that. What can I do if nothing ever happens in our town and I must settle for the new girlfriend of the football player of the moment?

Well, without wasting too much time explaining how I got there, and be sufficient to say that I was present that Monday morning. I was tired and very drunk. One night around bars and nightclubs, chasing the moments and waiting for hours in the hope of snatching a few tantalizing photos. Finally, at dawn, tired and disillusioned, I stopped in the first bar I’ve found, to fill me with coffee to keep going.

I did not realize where I was when, as soon as I set foot outside the bar, bang! The incident.

He was a bum; there was no doubt. A wretch. With greasy hair and a messy beard. He seemed young too, maybe a drug addict. I saw him running across the street, without even looking around. A car invested him.

Nothing earth-shattering, of course. The vehicle went not so fast, and the driver had the time to brake instantly. The tramp was hit at the side, and I saw him rolling on the ground.

“Are you hurt?” yelled a woman at my side. What a silly question.

There were some peels at most. A wrist dislocated if he had been unlucky. I had now some experience of car incidents. I did not step forward; nobody would be interested in photos of a homeless man hit by a car. I let the other people around take care of it. And a lot came the good Samaritans.

“He’s dead! He’s dead!” said someone behind me.

It was a whisper, but I had heard the same. I was about to turn around and reassure him when one of the rescuers, knelt beside the man invested; he began to yell.

“He’s sick! Call an ambulance!”

“I’ll go!” shouted the bartender. So I turned and saw him running into the bar. Right next to the door there was the man.

It was my first time seeing him. There was only him, so I concluded that he was the man who spoke. He had a shocked look and seemed like he was going to cry.

It was the oddest character I’d ever seen in my life, and I can assure you that I had seen a lot of quirks.

The first impression I had was that he was incredibly fat. Then I realized that it wasn’t like that at all. He wore one above the other, at least four or five coats. He was holding two supermarket plastic bags, the biggest ones, filled so much that they seemed nearly to breaking because of weight.

Another homeless man, I thought, and everybody would see him the same way. Then I realized that the coats were new and seemed well made, at least that much I could see. And even the bags were new, never used before as if he had just been shopping. Only at that point, I looked at him in the face.

He seemed like a distinguished man, in his forties, the same age as me. At another time or situation, I would have imagined him in the role of teacher, or artist. Flawless, neatness, dark hairs without a single one being white and a hint of a mustache.

“Do you know him?” I asked, but he didn’t answer me. Perhaps he did not even notice me.

“He’s bleeding to death!” I heard screaming behind my back, and then I forgot about the strange man, and I went to see.

It was impossible; I had witnessed the incident, he was not hit violently. The driver of the car that had invested him, a typical family mother, seemed desperate and was twisting her hands. They were in four or five trying to help him, but a group of curious people gathered around. The tramp that only at that moment, I saw, was very young was having convulsions, and a line of blood came out of his mouth. They filled him with questions, but he did not say a word. He did not even scream. He was dying: in absolute silence.

It’s not possible, I thought, and there was also who said it out loud.

“I’ve seen everything!” shouted one woman. “He was in that alleyway, seemed asleep, or maybe he was drunk. There was no one else. Suddenly he got up and jumped into the street!”

It didn’t make sense. I moved nearer. Even the homeless guy was wearing two coats, one above the other, but they were dirty and tattered. The trousers were tied with string, and he was bare feet. Maybe he lost his shoes in the accident, but I didn’t see them anywhere.

“I just touched him!” cried the owner of the car, but I couldn’t look away from the body of the young man. A patch of urine was growing on his pants, and I realized that the end has arrived. The body was quivering like a jolt of electricity and then stood utterly still.

They were shocked, everybody. A couple of women started crying. It had been too fast and unexpected. I wondered if that deserved a photo, but even in death the poor guy wasn’t exciting news, so I didn’t pull out the camera.

I turned my gaze, not to watch him, and I found myself in front of that strange man. Now he was crying, but he did not seem willing to come near the bum. Then, suddenly, he turned and started to walk away.

He didn’t run, not at all. He walked slowly and ponderously, dragging those heavy bags.

At that moment I made the choice that would change my life: I followed him.

Why did I do it? Out of curiosity? Because I sensed a scoop? Because his behavior had been strange, and he was even more? Whatever the reason, I followed him, I forgot about the car accident I had just witnessed, and he went deep into the neighborhood, getting lost in the narrow and dark alleys.

It was there that I perceived to be at Carletti.

The Carletti was the oldest district in the city; it was decades before new houses were built there. Even the streets, short and narrow, some even not paved, betrayed its historical origin. The houses were shabby; the few gardens were uncultivated, the shops mostly closed. Here and there, some few small villa resisted, and some building that a long time ago were elegant. The vehicles were rare, usually old and shaky as the buildings.

Almost immediately the man stopped, went into a door wide open and there he stayed for a few minutes. When I went near to look around, I realized that he was still in the hall and was not going up. So I went back and waited.

As soon as he went away, I followed him again. Arrived at the door, I peeked inside. I was perplexed and much more. There were three boys, sitting on the floor, they were eating. Two seemed to be females, though I wasn’t quite sure. One was dressed up as a prostitute, in a miniskirt and a semitransparent shirt. The other one was in male clothing, and both their bums looked like the invested one.

When they saw me, the girl who looked like a prostitute she laid the sandwich on the ground and stood up. She came towards me, meandering like a cat, but with a stupid look, as under the effect of some kind of drugs. She raised her shirt, exposing her breasts.

I hurried to run away and went back to my pursuit.

Half an hour later, I was ready to give up. Now I understood what the man was doing. I thought I did at least. The bags had sandwiches, and he was distributing them to all the bums he encountered. They were all the same, young people, tramps, beggars, prostitutes; many looked like runaways, boys. Some were in terrible conditions.

The aura of mystery had deflated, and the solution was disappointing. A good Samaritan who was distributing food to the homeless. I saw him even give one of his many coats to those in need. It appeared logical that he knew the guy who invested and grieved for him.

For a moment I had the idea of doing an article on the man, but I doubted I’d ever managed to place it in some newspaper. Who might be interested in it?

I almost went away, I said, but I didn’t. There were those words, the first that I had heard from him. He’s dead. How did he know? How could he understand that? To all of us, who witnessed the accident, seemed that nothing happened to him. That death was absurd, impossible, the blow that he received could not have caused a similar damage, and yet he realized how it would end.

So I continued, and I followed him throughout the morning. The bags were gradually thinning the same as the excess coats he wore he had distributed them both. When he gave the last one to a bum so hairy and smelly that looked like a bear, I thought that the distribution would end, but he continued for another half an hour. He gave his scarf, and the jacket he wore, and when there were no more sandwiches, he went into a grocery store and walked out with a new bag.

It was almost one o’clock, and I was exhausted, I dreamed just a bed and wondered what we were doing there. He seemed to know them all, and they were a ton, he searched out every alley for fear to forget someone.

It came to an end, thankfully, he found himself without nothing more to distribute, and then it returned to me the curiosity to see where he was going. I continued the pursuit.

This time he walked fast, directed to the goal. It was a big palace, ancient with peeling plaster and crumbling balconies. All the shutters were closed, except for some on the ground floor. I saw him open the door with an old-fashioned key and disappear inside.

I went over to read the name tag: HOUSE LAMBERTI.

I felt spied, through the closed shutters, and it was an uncomfortable feeling. A stakeout? No way! So I left.

I went home, and I threw myself on the bed, not even a minute later I was already snoring.

2

It ended there, for the time being.

I resumed my life, chasing the moment, I forgot about that strange man and the accident.

It passed a whole day, and I found myself at the police station.

Strange to believe, but the cops didn’t hate me. Maybe because the few times that I wrote about them, I treated them well. Perhaps they also considered I was harmless. They were accustomed to having reporters around looking for shreds of information, and I was one of the least pushy.

During the years, I had made friends with some of them.

That morning I was just chatting with one of these supposed to be fiancées of the soccer player of the moment when I suddenly reminded of the incident I witnessed.

“How did it go with the car accident the other morning on Tacito road?” I asked him.

I saw him raise his forehead. “How did it go? What do you mean?”

“You guys took care of it, right? It is your jurisdiction.”

“I do not have the slightest idea.”

“Someone got killed, someone called you.”

“A dead person?” He was puzzled as if he knew nothing. “Are you sure? How do you know?”

“I was there,” I said. Then I preferred to take the precaution of adding: “When I arrived it was already all over.”

He stood up. “I’m going to see. You stay right there and don’t touch anything.”

I tried to obey, and he returned after a few minutes with a short slip of paper. “What would it mean, how was it over?”

“Well, you know the reason for his death?”

“He was hit, didn’t you say you being there?”

“Yes but…” The discussion started to become risky. “They told me that the machine just touched him lightly.”

“I wouldn’t say that here we talk about multiple fractures.”

“Is the autopsy report?”

“But what an autopsy! There was no need for an autopsy.”

To say I was astonished was saying little. “But it is mandatory in such cases.”

“Which cases? Everyone saw how it happened; there were dozens of witnesses. And then saw you who was the victim?”

“No, who was him?”

“No one. Just a nobody. No id card, no name. And rest assured that no one will mourn his passing.”

Someone had, I still had him before my eyes.

“Was he drugged? Drunk?”

He shrugged. “Why do you care?”

I did not understand. Why did they not make necessary examinations established by law?

“What were you doing there?” he asked.

Strange question on his part.

“At Carletti I mean. What did you go to do?”

“Why?”

He burst out laughing. “It was the first time, right? Otherwise, you wouldn’t do these questions.”

I just couldn’t follow his thoughts. “Is it a bad place?”

He shrugged. “It wasn’t until they started to gather all there.”

“All who?”

“This mob. They sprout like mushrooms, no one knows where they come from, and they are making us all crazy. Complaints from residents keep rolling in.”

“Rabble?” I repeated, and I see again before my eyes a strange man and his distribution of food. “Ah, the bums, you mean.”

“Call them whatever you want, bums, homeless, beggars, there is everything over there, now you cannot take a step without being mobbed.”

“Are they dangerous?”

“No, they are not dangerous. Is…” He broke off. “Why do you care? You don’t want to make an article about them?”

The idea had not gone through my mind until that moment. However, the situation was so odd that my journalist antennas raised up.

“Do they cause a lot of trouble?”

“Not to us. They cause it among themselves.”

Nevertheless, I could not get anything beyond that, despite all my insistence.

3

In the late afternoon, I went to the morgue. With the night shift was on duty Vito, who I knew for years. He was just a nurse, but he had already given me some tips, on certain occasions. For a fee, of course.

Therefore, when the doctors left, I took advantage of the situation to find him.

He was bored to do that job, the dead bodies were not a good company, and he was a person who loved to chat. I let him talk, he told me all of his love affairs, and finally, I told him why I was there.

“A couple of days ago, a poor victim of a car accident was brought here. Can you show me the body?”

He quickly became serious and was torn between answering me or not. This made my antennas more straighten.

“There is not,” he replied at the end.

“How would that be?” Was he kidding me?

“They’ve already buried him.”

It didn’t make any sense, you don’t bury the victim of a car accident, without an autopsy. “Why?”

He heaved a great sigh. “Nobody wants to have to deal with them.”

I was confused more than ever. “Them?”

“Those at Carletti,” he specified.

Now the antennas were crazy twitching. “What do you mean by anybody? The police? The doctors?”

He nodded. “They all refused to do autopsies.”

There was one a jarring note in his words. “Autopsies? There have been others?”

He nodded again.

“Stop, explain! What does all this mean?”

He seemed reluctant to answer.

“Wasn’t it a car accident? Others died in similar circumstances?”

He shook his head. “Of course it was a car accident.”

He did not convince me. “The car has just touched him lightly, I saw it.”

“It doesn’t change anything. He had all the bones broken. They break easily.”

I tried to assimilate his words. “They break? What do you mean?”

“I do not know. I do not care about these things.”

“But something you got to know! You work here!”

“What they write in the reports… nobody wants to know. They say they are wrong; they have to redo the analysis. In the beginning, it was so, at least.”

“And what do they write in the reports?”

Again he was fought, and a lot. “It started almost two years ago. They brought one here. A greengrocer had surprised him stealing apples, he scolded him, and then, seeing that he was not listening to him, he slapped him.”

I immediately understood his strange words made sense. “And he died?”

He nodded. “Broken jaw, his neck broken. Instant death. Moreover, I assure you that that was not a thug but a grocery store chap who had never hurt anyone. He was desperate, you should have seen him, and he couldn’t stop to cry.”

“From the autopsy what was the result?”

“I don’t know. You know I don’t take care of these things.”

“No information reached you at all; I don’t believe that!”

“Well, there was… a different composition of the bones.”

“Some inadequacy?”

He shrugged. “They were different, they said.”

“Different from what?”

“From our own bones composition.”

I would have laughed if I hadn’t seen it myself in that incident. I looked for a logical explanation. “A disease?”

“I don’t know! How should I tell you?”

“And this would be the solution? Do not do more autopsies, to pretend nothing happened?”

“They already know what killed them.”

“How many were arrived in such situation?”

“This is the eighth of them.”

“All from the Carletti?”

“All like that.”

“What does it mean like that? Explain yourself! What were them, drug addicts, alcoholics?” And I added as well: “Prostitutes?”

His eyes glowed a bit. “A couple of them. No, no drugs in any of them. Someone was drunk, but weren’t alcoholics.”

I remembered their faces. “Were they young?”

“They looked like that.”

“What do you mean? How young?”

“They were all less than twenty years old, as they managed to figure out. But… There was something strange in the exams. Don’t ask me what it was; they did not tell me.”

I could not understand. “How do you silence such a story? Why?”

“What do you mean to silence? They were all incidents; no one had been killed deliberately.”

“But …”

“And then they weren’t nobody, I told you.”

“It is not enough.”

“No, you don’t understand. When I say nobody, I mean nobody. They were unable to identify them, none of them, as if they never existed.”

“Yes but…”

He looked tired as if this debate bothered him. “They had never been to a dentist; they hadn’t got medical treatment, no vaccination. They appeared out of nowhere, that’s all. There was no way to identify them.”

“Did you try to interrogate their friends?”

“What friends?”

I remembered those faces again. “Those like them. There are many.”

“They have no friends. They are not friends.” Then, after a long silence: “They don’t speak.”

“They refuse to speak?”

“I don’t know! They don’t speak; they don’t say a word, they seem all idiots. Maybe they blasted out their brain.”

“No drugs, you said.”

“Then it’s something else. I don’t know what.”

“Haven’t they tried…”

He interrupted me. “Stop it, now! We talked too much. I have things to do.”

4

Had I found the scoop of the century? Well, it sure was a significant pain. It smoked me the brain thinking about it. Why close the eyes in front a fact so amazing?

Then I tried to resize the things. I had only the word of Vito, and perhaps he made me a joke.

I spent the next morning to drive around the town. I didn’t do anything, just looked around.

I found two tramps, four beggars, and two junkies. All of them were more than twenty years old. I saw not prostitutes because it was not the appropriate time, but I doubted that they were working down the street. In our puritanical town, at most, they could arrange some discreet encounter at nightclubs.

Six, throughout the entire town, but at Carletti, in the few hours that I had followed that strange man, I had seen at least one hundred of them. What did it mean? Why only at the Carletti, why did not they invade the rest of the town?

Too many questions haunted my mind. Did they break with ease? What could that mean? A new disease, like aids, they were trying to hide? A disease affecting only a narrow range of the population? But where they came from, why did they all gather there?

At the end of so many questions, only one certainty remained. That man, the man with many coats, he knew.

He was the only one who knew the truth.

On the morning of the third day, I searched for him. It was not so hard to find him. Anyway, before I tried to talk about those bums, I ask them if they knew him.

A person was asking for alms. He was terrific; he seemed even younger than the supposed twenty years old. He did not look like a tramp, seen the clothes he was wearing. He also shaved, although not very well. I saw the bare feet, and I understood that the man had given those clothes to him.

He did not speak. He did not listen at all. He tended only that hand, swinging. I wondered if he was somehow disabled.

I never did it before, but that day I did it. Any other time I would tell him to clean up and go looking for a job, but that day I did not dare to do it. I gave him ten euros, they were a lot, but he did not have any reaction. He made money disappear and returned to stretch his hand. He was so young; he could have been my son if I ever had one, a thing that I was not entirely sure. For a moment, I thought of his bones, how fragile they would be, and I shuddered.

Even without their help, I was able to find him, not far away, and I started to follow him.

The task of the man was always the same, and I even recognized some of the people that he helped the previous time. I watched him much more carefully: he did not talk with them, ever. Sometimes he treated them like mannequins, raised them, dressed them, and they were always docile.

He shaved one of them, the one that looked like a bear, and I stood to watch open-mouthed. I was dying to use the camera, but I wondered what would those photos served.

In the end, he had made him presentable, now they boy seemed so young. When he walked away, I realized that the man was crying.

I saw him arguing with a trader, who refused to serve him and to go instead to another shopkeeper in front, who had witnessed the scene and went to help him. I caressed the idea of investigating, but I did not intend to lose sight of him.

In the end, I saw him return home. He seemed exhausted, this time.

Maybe I should investigate him, before making a move, but I felt an urgency, the need to know, to understand. And it was weird because I wasn’t like that. I’d always been a patient man, who doesn’t love risk and I don’t do anything crazy ever.

That day I waited until he had entered the house, then I stepped forward, and I rang the doorbell. The die was cast.

Several minutes passed before he came to open, but I knew he had heard me and he was watching me, so I did not press the bell anymore.

Eventually, the door opened, and there he was. It was very different, now, without those clothes in excess, he seemed skinny.

“Mr. Lamberti?” I asked him.

He nodded. “What do you want?”

It was the crucial point; I was risking he would slam the door. “Call me Dino Landi and I’m a journalist. I’m writing a piece about homeless people circulating in this area.”

The man shook his head.

“Please, just a few questions.”

“They will not publish it,” he replied.

He left me stuck. “What?”

He gestured vaguely. “Nobody cares; they don’t want to talk about them. No newspaper will publish an article on this ever. What newspaper do you work for?”

I was forced to confess that I was a freelance.

“It’s bad. You’re just wasting your time. It’s an unrealizable article.”

Still, I wasn’t able to figure out if he was willing to talk to me. “Couldn’t you… just a few questions?”

“I can’t be of help. Ask the traders; they will surely have more to tell you.”

“I’ve seen them,” I admitted.

The thing left him indifferent, and it was logical since he had never tried to hide.

“What I could say to you would not interest you. You’d better ask the traders.”

“Instead I would be very interested, I assure you.”

I saw him uncomfortable, for the first time. “Would you like to get into the house?”

He didn’t want me, it was apparent, but I pretended to consider those words as an invitation.

I put a foot inside. “Thank you.”

5

He was forced to let me pass.

He was embarrassed. “I don’t think… it is not the right time. My mother…”

The house was noticeable. Although from the outside it won’t be noticed because of lowered shutters, every room in the house was bright, with a light, almost able to blind you. That man had to hate the dark, who knows how much he spent on electricity.

“Only a few minutes,” I repeated.

He winced, but then he preceded me down the hall. “It is not the most suitable moment.”

I knew he hadn’t had lunch yet, but I couldn’t resist further. He made me sit in an old library, with shelves full of books that reached up to the ceiling. With the desk cluttered to the point of not being able to be more usable. He showed me two armchairs separated by a small table.

“One minute only.”

“Who’s there?” I heard a woman’s voice, far away. “Domenico, is there anyone?”

“No, mom, don’t worry,” shouted the man, and hurried to get out.

I heard them arguing in the hallway. “Did you bring another one?” asked the woman.

“No, mom, don’t worry.”

“You swore that you would not have done it anymore!”

“He is not one of them, I swear to you. He’s a… journalist.”

“What does he want from you?”

The woman peeped in at the door, looked at me, and I tried to smile. She was an old woman; certainly, she was more than seventy years old, a lovely and well-curated person. An aura of elegance surrounded her.

I stood up and introduced myself.

She came into the library. “What do you want from my son?”

The man followed her. “Nothing, mom. He’s just doing an investigation. He wants my opinion.”

“On what?”

I wasn’t sure to behave in the right way; I didn’t want to get into trouble that man. “Your son has shown great civic sense, Ma’am.”

I saw her stiffened and realized I made a mistake. Even the man winced, but he came and sat in front of me. The woman did not intervene.

“What do you want to know?”

I was mildly embarrassed, conscious of having old woman’s eyes on me. “You… take care of them.”

“I do what I can,” replied the man.

“You do a lot, as I could see.”

“Nonsense, more than that is required.”

“From how long do you take care of them?”

“For a while,” replied the man, very vague.

“Not…”

The old woman interrupted me. “He’s taking us to the ruin, and he knows it. But he continues the same.”

“Mom!”

She came forward, and I couldn’t help but stare at her. “It is from two years that he goes on. He thinks I don’t know, but he sold nearly everything we had. All the houses his father had left to him!”

The man had paled. “It’s not like that.”

“Yes, it is. Soon it will not remain anything except this one. Fortunately, on this one there is still my name, and he cannot take it away.”

“It’s not like that, mom, and you know it. And then you agreed, we talked about this!”

She escaped my eyes and her son’s eyes; she reached the desk and began to stack the books. “Yes, we talked about it.”

I tried a few questions to break the awkward silence. “How did it all begin?”

The woman replied again. “With that bitch.”

The man leaped up. “She was not a whore! Barbara wasn’t a whore, and you know it!”

“Barbara!” repeated the woman, with disgust. Then she went to the door. “You hurry up,” she only said, on her way out.

The man slid into the armchair, as exhausted.

“Who’s Barbara?” I asked him.

“I don’t want to talk about her,” he replied, and immediately attacked me. “What do you want to know?”

There were a thousand questions to ask, and I didn’t know where to start. “How many of them are there?”

“The number is always changing.”

A ready answer.

“What do you mean?”

“Some come, some leave. They never stay for long.”

“Some die,” I added myself, but he made no comment.

“How many are there now, do you know?”

“A couple of hundred, I guess. More and more arrive. That is why it is so difficult.”

“Help them?”

“Accept it.”

Another cryptic response.

“And have you been helping them all the time? Why?”

“Someone has to do it.”

“Yes, but why you?”

Silence again.

I needed answers, real answers. “They are fragile,” I said, and it was not a question.

“They are fragile,” he repeated.

“Are they sick?”

“No, they are perfectly healthy.”

No hesitation.

“Are there any drug addicts among them?”

“No.”

“How can you be sure?”

“It’s not a necessity for them.”

“What?”

“The drug.”

“Do they drink?”

“Not for their choice.”

He answered my questions, this was no doubt, but at this rate, I would not have discovered much. “What that does it mean?”

“We believe that they need. So we give it to them.”

“I still do not understand.”

He sighed. “Sometimes, seeing them in that condition, someone thinks of what they need, and then gives it to them. He gives them a bottle of wine or a beer.”

“That’s all?”

“That’s all.”

I decided to venture into a minefield. “There are also prostitutes.”

“It’s the only job in this world, where there is no need for intelligence.”

Again, he had left me speechless. “What?”

He pulled another sigh. “What do you want? Make an article? Forget it; no newspaper will publish it ever. And if you succeed, which I doubt very much, everyone would have laughed at you behind.”

“Why?”

“Because no one believes in such things! They don’t even want to hear about.”

“What things?”

Another long silence.

But I needed answers; I desperately needed them. I glanced down. “I was there three days ago when that boy was hit. I’ve seen everything, I saw you too, I also spoke to you.”

I waited to no avail a reaction, and then I continued. “I enquired information; he was not the first one. Others died. They do not even do the autopsies; they bury them only. How is it possible? What was inside those first autopsies?”

“Do you think that this is the problem?”

I looked at him and realized that he was smiling cheerfully.

“What do you mean?”

“Maybe they found something strange; I do not argue. But do you think this is the explanation?”

“That’s why I came. To understand.”

“You did wrong. I’m not the one who has to give it to you.” He stood up. “Ask your cop friends, the reason! I am sure you will find something interesting.”

6

I frown. “The police? What does it have to do with that?”

“Do you want to know why I do it? Why am I reduced to this life? Ask them.”

“What should I ask them?”

“Forget the autopsies. There are other the questions you should make. You’ve seen them; you know that there are. You also know how many they are! Did you see any policeman around? Does somebody disturb them? Many complaints are filed, no one can no longer endure them. Why don’t they intervene, then? Did you ask that yourself?”

Yes, I asked myself, maybe not in those terms, but I wondered. “Do you know?”

“I can imagine, yes.”

“You will not tell me, though.”

“You wouldn’t believe it if I were to tell you. It is better to hear it directly from them.”

“I have to ask them why don’t they intervene?”

His voice became bitter. “Oh, but they have intervened! At the very beginning, almost two years ago. They came here with patrols and jeeps and made a raid. They have taken away more than forty of them.”

I was speechless.

He went on: “Ask them what happened! Ask them why none of those people ever returned, because no one heard anything about them anymore. Ask them why from that day no cop has never been seen in this neighborhood, not even when they were called! Ask them, and then, if you still want, return here.”

I had put my nose in something big. So big to make me almost afraid. Nevertheless, I was a journalist, and I could not ignore it.

“I will,” I said.

He had already started to walk towards the door. “And now I’m sorry, but I have to ask you to leave. It’s already late, and I still have to eat.”

I followed him silently.

In the hallway, I heard a strange creaking, and I slowed down, looking around. They spun like lightning strikes, making me jump.

They were just two guys who were running; they did not even care about me. A couple. She stepped into the room laughing, and he ran behind her. I leaned my head to spy on them.

In the room, there were two other guys, sitting on the couch, one male and one female. The two playing hopped around the room, and then he joined her and began to kiss her. In a few moments, the embrace became fiery. The other two, sitting on the couch, did not even notice them.

The man realized that I was not following him and came back. He just tossed a glance into the room. “Come, Mr. Landi. Pay no attention to them.”

How could I? The most beautiful girl in my life sat on the couch. It was probably too young for me, but I couldn’t help but admire her.

The man closed the door, depriving me of the show. “Come.”

I couldn’t help but ask him. “Barbara is…”

He shook his head. “No, Barbara is dead.”

I found myself outside, with so many questions unanswered.

Too many for my taste. Should I ask the police? But ask what? What did they have to do with the forty boys arrested? I picked up the phone and called the newspaper. I didn’t mean to disturb an editor; I didn’t want to share that investigation with anyone, just a secretary who had a liking for me. I asked her to search me, and I remained in line.

It took her a few minutes.

“No,” was the answer.

“No? but…”

“No.”

“But no? How is that possible?”

“No, that’s all.”

It was impossible. “Not even a paragraph? A mention to the roundup, to the complaints received?”

“No. But are you sure that it happened?”

I was no longer sure of anything.

She sketched. “Perhaps it was not considered an important news.”

Maybe. However, usually, the police wanted to show off when performing actions like that. And something had to have happened if those guys had disappeared into thin air.

“Thank you,” I replied, and I hung up before she could ask me anything else.

7

I couldn’t go to Sergio; I couldn’t put my foot down to the police station. Not with that kind of allegations. They would not say anything to me. I would perhaps also got into trouble.

I remembered of Santi, and I spent an hour wandering the pubs to find him. He had retired for a year now, and I had no idea where he lived. Santi had never been a great cop, he had trouble with his back, and for years they had put him in reception. Maybe it was for what we had become friends. During night shifts often I was the only person he could talk to.

I felt guilty because since he had retired, I haven’t searched for him anymore as if I didn’t need him anymore, which was the truth. However I tracked him down, and on the phone replied his wife. She said that at the time he had gone for a ride but would be back soon. She was happy that I was coming because they did not often receive visits and lately he had become grouchy and grumpy. I hoped that he was not like that with me.

An hour later I knocked on their door. Santi himself, who was unaware of my arrival, opened the door. I didn’t see the wife, she was to be out. It was an awkward half hour while I was asking about his ailments and his life in retirement, trying to hold back the impatience.

He noticed. “What the hell do you want?”

I did not expect anything else. “The Carletti.”

“Fuck! Has it came out?”

I did not know how to answer; I felt very close to the truth. “It was inevitable.”

He tossed a whistle and sat in his favorite armchair. He was still impressive, even though the bacon had grown a bit too much. “How are you involved in it?”

“I am a journalist, remember?”

He did not feel the response as appropriate. “Some things should be forgotten, for the good of all.”

“I need to know,” I said, sitting in front of him.

He studied me for a long time. “It’s a bluff; you do not know anything.”

“I already know enough.”

“What do you know?”

I was risking big, but I wasn’t going to back down. “I know that two years ago there was a raid at the Carletti where more than forty homeless were arrested and disappeared into thin air.”

I heard him hold his breath. “And then?”

“I know there were problems with the autopsies. That…”

He interrupted me. “You know nothing.”

“I know enough to want to go to the bottom of this, and you know me, you know that I won’t rest until I do.”

“Why did you come to me?”

“Because you were there at that time, and…”

“Do you think that because I retired I have nothing to lose?”

It was just so, but I denied.

“It wouldn’t do anything. Whatever you found out, you could not publish the same.”

Even him the same words. “The newspapers…”

“The newspapers are with us. Everyone was there when it happened: the mayor, the city council, the police chief, and all the newspaper publishers. They have decided to cover up everything, to let it go.”

A similar maneuver in front of my nose? Was it possible that I had never had signs of it?

“Are you saying I’m getting into trouble? That I might be in danger?”

“No, No, no one is going to lay a hand on you. Don’t you see, nobody wants to know, they prefer to continue to ignore it. That’s not what you risk.”

“What then?”

“You are liable to get them laughing behind you. You risk losing your credibility. And you know that for a journalist it is everything.”

“But if…”

“There is no evidence. Even if I were to speak, it would be just your word against everyone else. Nobody would believe you.”

He was ready; it was all too easy. Maybe he wanted nothing more; it was two years he wanted to confine himself to someone.

“Never mind,” I said. “I need to know.”

It was right, by now it had become a physical need, beyond the journalistic scoop. Curiosity devoured me, I never found myself in such a situation.

“There is nothing left. They were all cremated. No evidence.”

Those words were taken by my mind gradually; such was the enormity of what they implied. “Are they dead? Everyone? All forty of them?”

“Forty-three.”

I was suddenly afraid which I had not been in years. Fear for me, for my life. And little mattered his reassurances.

“Why?”

He shrugged. “Who knows? Because we took them away from there, I guess.”

“From the Carletti?”

He nodded.

I struggled to think. “Did not you kill them?”

“Are you nuts?” he yelled.

“Then… why hide it?”

He sighed. “You can’t understand.”

“Explain it to me, then! Before I go crazy!”

I managed to pull a smile from him. “We had received a lot of complaints from residents. Robbed traders, ordinary citizens who no longer dared to leave the house because of the homeless, had settled in their doorways. Right-thinking people upset by the rampant prostitution. And then there had been that tragic accident. That thief killed at the greengrocer. I mean, everyone would realize that there was something strange, instead…”

He drew a long sigh. “The captain refused the autopsy; he sent it back, saying they had smoked something to write that shit. And we went ahead. Yes, me too, because that night they recruited me too. It had been a large operation, the kind that the nice impression in the newspapers.” He winked. “And the newspapers had already been warned. The real journalists, of course.”

I was not offended. Many people consider us freelance as second choice journalists; they don’t want to accept that someone can be attached to his freedom.

“It has been easy to catch them. They did not even try to escape or complained, they came with us without resistance, yes, a real easy job. We could have taken more, but the trucks were already full, and we did not want to exaggerate, we were sure that the next day those escaped at the arrest would all flee. There were photos, you know, and interviews. The captain himself participated in the action, and he was ready to take the credit for it.”

The enormity of the situation took consistency in my mind. How could be that so many people have been silenced? And even my colleagues!

“When it happened they managed just in time to block the newspapers before disturbance. They had to invent a strike to explain that delay.”

“When happened what?”

“When they died.”

“And when did they die?”

“Two hours after their arrest. They were in their cells when it happened. There were also other detainees with them, and they were the ones to raise the alarm.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Not even us, we could not understand, at first we thought they were beaten, so it seemed, at least, but the other prisoners swore that they had not touched them, and then it happened just before our eyes… their bones… broke, crumbled. They had internal hemorrhages; their skin also split as if cut by an invisible razor, it was a horrible, hallucinating death, you can not imagine what it meant to be there at that time, to witness certain things, to be able to do nothing to prevent it! Jesus Christ, they were boys! Maybe they were on the wrong path, they were thieves and drug addicts, but they were always boys! “They died in a terrible way, and we could not do anything. We did not understand, but even if we could, it would be too late.”

“Understand what?”

“We shouldn’t take them away from Carletti.”

8

It was crazy, yet I noticed a logical element. “How did you understand it afterward?”

“It was the only logical explanation, don’t you think?”

“Did they have… a disease?”

“I don’t know.”

“You will have investigated, I hope!”

“And how?”

“I don’t understand. Have you covered it up? For what reason?”

I stared into his eyes. “We had forty-three dead kids, inside our cells. And not just dead; every bone in their body fractured, bled to death, scarred, bruised as if killed with punching and kicking. What should we have done, tell me?”

“Did the journalists lend themselves to this?”

“They were there! All of them! The captain was still making the press statement. They rushed, them too, have seen it all!”

“But …”

“How we could explain it, tell me. What should we have written in the newspapers? Can you imagine what would have happened?”

I could imagine very well. Whatever statements they would make, dozens of human rights organizations would have arisen. The fact that those people were dead like that in the cells was not something that favored them.

“There were girls, younger than my daughter. You cannot understand.”

Instead, I began to understand, even the words of that weird man. “Why did not you do anything after that?”

“What were we supposed to do?”

“Find out why it had happened! Find the cause, cure them!”

“They are not sick.”

“But …”

“They are perfectly healthy. They are normally like this.”

“What does it mean?”

“Do you think we were just disinterested? Of course, we sent doctors to check, but it didn’t help at all. They have no disease.”

I felt more and more confused. “But they live on the road! Couldn’t you do something at least for that?”

“They opened a shelter to welcome them. But it did not solve anything; they never went there. And then they are not the same.”

I’ve already heard this before. “What does it mean?”

“Just what I said! They are never the same, they merely change. The old ones leave, and the new ones arrive.”

“Where do they go?”

He shrugged. “They disappeared, and before you ask, we don’t have a clue where they came from. They just come.”

He remained silent for a few moments. “The only solution was to leave them there. There was no way to take them away. We tried to soothe tempers, to persuade residents to be more tolerant. There was nothing else we could do.”

“And you haven’t discovered who they are?”

Total silence.

My idea was so absurd that I felt an idiot expressing it. “Are they… aliens?”

He didn’t laugh at all. “I don’t know. No one coiuld figure out anything about them.”

“But they did not try to…” I was going to say talk to them, but at the last moment I realized that this was impossible. “… to communicate with them?”

The response of Santi froze me. “They are not intelligent.”

“They don’t understand?”

He shook his head. “A dog is a lot smarter than them. No, this is not in dispute, they are not intelligent.”

Almost I didn’t recognize my voice. “All of them? It is not possible!”

He nodded only.

“What a fucking story!” I said.

“Nobody would believe it if I told it. Anyway, what’s the point? It is best to ignore it, not to know it.”

My mind galloped. The card castle I had built was going to pieces. An alien invasion? Of so little progressed creatures who were probably afraid of the fire and did not know the use of the wheel?

“But they ask charity!” I said.

“Oh, they do even more. A dog brings back the stick that you throw, for that matter.” He grimaced. “They are the first to have no idea what they are doing here.”

Who said anything about intelligence? I remembered the words of the man. “Do you know by chance a certain Domenico Lamberti?”

He stiffened again. “What does this have to do with it?”

“He lives at Carletti.”

He remained silent.

“Did you see him? Did you meet him?”

Finally, he answered. “He came to us, yes.”

“And what did he tell you?”

“He came to press charges.”

“When?”

“Oh, a long time ago, more than a year and a half.”

“What kind of complaint?”

He did not answer. “How is he?”

“Huh?”

“Did he… calm down? Or is he still crazy?”

“Is he crazy? I don’t think so…”

He shook his head. “We could not explain to him. And then, that absurd story!”

“What story? Do not force me to get you out the words one by one again!”

He smiled. “He came to report a missing woman.”

I understood. “One of them?”

“At first we didn’t understand. He told absurd things.”

“Barbara,” I muttered.

“Yes, he called her Barbara. But it was a name that he had given to her; he had no idea who she was.”

“And what did he tell you?”

“That darkness has come, and it took her away.”

9

It was nine o’clock in the evening when I arrived at the Carletti and was almost entirely dark. Thunders, they were far away, a sign that a storm was approaching.

The last words of Santi did persecute me, and it was the first time in my life that the dark made me uncomfortable. I’d always been a nocturnal animal, but at that moment I realized that in the area there were not enough lampposts and the few present did not make enough light.

In front of the building, I realized. By day, in bright sunlight, it was not noticeable, but now a glimmer of light leaked from all the windows. Inside the entire house was lit, always. Each room. And this made me even more nervous.

I had to ring three times before someone came to open, and I found myself in front of the old woman.

She was very nervous; she lacks the poise and refinement that had flaunted a few hours earlier. “This is not the time,” she said immediately. “Come another day. Now we can’t.”

But I needed answers. “Your son told me to come.”

“Now he cannot receive you. Not now.”

A rumble of thunder came, closer, and I noticed that the woman’s hand was shaking. “You can’t stay there, go away,” she said, then she added: “Go away! Away from here!”

I was sure she was not referring only to that house, but to the entire neighborhood. “Is your son at home?”

She answered as thunder covered her voice. I watched her move away from the door and back away, then turned to the hallway and began to yell: “It is coming! The darkness is coming!”

Those words paralyzed me; I had not the courage to turn around. It was hard to reason. “Let me in!” I screamed.

There was nothing to stop me; she was also too far away. Then I threw myself into and hurried to close the door behind me. Although it wasn’t my house, I couldn’t resist, and I locked all the locks.

The old woman was hysterical. “Again! Again! When will it ever end?”

I passed near her. “Where’s your son?”

She pointed me in the direction.

He was in a lounge, which I had never seen, right next to the library, and the man was not alone. There were also the four people that I had met a few hours earlier.

He assaulted me as I entered. “Shut the door! Don’t let them get away!”

He was sitting on the couch and hugged the couple I’d seen frolicking. The situation was so absurd that I didn’t understand even his words.

I heard him yell and I managed to grab just in time the person that was trying to get out. Took him instinctively by the arm, but then I remembered everything I discovered and I didn’t dare to tighten him. He glided away.

“No!” shouted the man, and seemed desperate.

There was the girl in front of me, more beautiful than ever, and just looking at her, she could astound me. She wanted to escape, too, but I blocked the door, and so she roamed around timorous.

“Get him back!” the man yelled at me. “Don’t leave him alone!”

He was crying like a fountain and did nothing but make me even more agitated.

“How do I do it?” I asked nervously. “If I move this one runs too.”

“Close the door!” he shouted. “They are not able to open it.”

I lost myself in the eyes of that beautiful girl in front of me. She had a cute expression, agitated, couldn’t conceive that she was one of them, that she was like they had described to me.

“Move!”

I ran back carefully, always careful to block her the passage, and I closed the door, while she came ahead. Then I stood for a few seconds to look at the handle, but no one was trying to turn it.

“There!” the old woman pointed.

Even she was distraught and was crying. Another thunder came, very close.

“Hurry up!” she cried. “I can’t do anything.”

I followed the pointed direction as the thunder go close. It seemed that the storm was located just above the house.

I found him hiding behind a curtain, in a small studio. He was on the floor, but one leg was visible. He was almost pathetic in his hiding place.

He was just a boy, the youngest of them all; it seemed he wasn’t even eighteen years old and he was trembling. I tried to talk to him, although I knew it was useless, I had no idea what to do. All those words on the fragility of their bones obsessed me. I was afraid he wiggle out of me and hurt himself. Then I knelt in front of him and tried to approach him without intimidating him.

His reaction left me speechless. He clung to me, hugging me, and trying to hide his head under my jacket. He clutched me like I was an anchor, and kept on shaking. I had to respond to the embrace.

We remained like that, while over our heads the storm raged. Each thunder made him trembling more and more.

I was shocked, that situation had no sense. However, I held him close the same, trying to calm him down.

Can’t remember how much time passed, to me, it seemed an eternity. Then came behind me the voice of the man. “Leave him; there is no more danger.”

There was also the mother, beside him, still upset, but she had stopped crying. I tried to tear myself away from the hug, but it wasn’t easy.

“Mom, help him,” said the man, then he left us and walked out of the studio.

“It’s gone! It has passed!” repeated the old woman as a chant, trying to knock off the boy’s arms.

She succeeded, but he stayed on the ground, and there was no way to get him up. “Go with my son,” said the woman. “Here I can do by myself.”

Go where? I had the answer immediately. The man entered the room and threw me a couple of coats. “Put them on.”

I remained speechless. Even him had worn at least a couple more and seemed suddenly got fat.

“What does it mean?”

“If you want to know additional information, follow me quietly.”

He left me alone again.

I was watching those two coats and wondering what to do. At what point in my life I had abandoned the logic to fall in the mirror of Alice?

“What does that mean?” I also asked the old woman.

She was able to raise the boy, that overhung her. It was her who had to support him. He was still shaking.

The woman’s voice was agitated. “He wants to pursue it. He does it every time.”

“Chase what?”

“The darkness.”

The storm was moving, but very little, now the thunder came from the front of the house.

“Chasing darkness,” I repeated.

And she said, “It will never end, ever! This nightmare will never end!”

I made the decision hastily, and I wore an overcoat on top of each other, then ran in the corridor in search of the man, without even saying goodbye to the old woman.

I reached the living room, and this time the door was open. There was the girl, right on the threshold, and I could see behind her other two of them hugged each other on the couch.

I asked her, without thinking: “Where is he?”

She seemed a bit calmer but not too much, uncertain whether to exit from the room or not. I felt an intense desire to be able to touch her lightly at least. I had never seen anything more beautiful.

“No, not her,” said a voice behind me, and I turned around. The man continued: “Not her, don’t do that. Her time is running out.”

Then he did not give me the time to think about his words and passed me a bag, which I imagined full of sandwiches.

“Because you want to know it is correct that this time you give me a hand as well.” He passed me directed toward the entrance. “Hurry up.”

The darkness was everywhere and seemed to absorb the wretched streetlights. I had trouble walking without stumbling, and I was also encumbered by too many clothes and by the bag. The man held me by the arm and paced fast without any problem as if he could see through that black night.

“What happened? What are you doing?”

“Not now. Not now!”

I froze. “I don’t do another step unless you tell me where we’re going.”

I heard him sigh. “Hurry up; he’s leaving.”

“Who?”

He did not answer. The dark or something that the darkness was hiding? It did not seem like it was moving away, we were in that damn dark blanket. The thunders were no longer over us; they had moved a little. And they were the ones we followed. “Is it dangerous?”

“Not for us,” he replied immediately.

I believed him, and then I didn’t do obstruction anymore, and I let him lead.

There was none of the homeless, but this wasn’t indicative since I couldn’t see anything.

“Why…”

“Not now, be silent!”

“Can you tell me at least what are we looking for?”

If he dressed me like that, like a clown, there must be a reason for it.

“You will see it soon.”

10

I saw it, not even five minutes later.