Creatures - Stefano Pastor - ebook
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Four fantastic novels:SlaughterhouseThe day my father died, I witnessed a murder. It happened at a movie theatre, during a screening. The victim was an obnoxious person – my cousin Giulia. Maybe I only dreamt it, because she was eaten by the rest of the audience – by everyone. Then it happened again, at the amusement park, and this time it couldn’t have been a dream. The assassins were the same people. I followed them. I went there, to the Municipal Slaughterhouse. They work there, I’ve been spying them for a while. By day they seem absolutely normal people, but by night… I must do it. I must get in there. They’ve put up a sign, they’re looking for a guy just like me. I need to discover who they are and what they do. Why do they kill?The Chalk GardenA villa abandoned for more than a century, an immense park. Amongst the trees hundreds and hundreds of statues, sculpted from chalk. Originally they depicted monstrous Creatures, but by now no one can see them. With the passing of the years they deteriorated, decomposed, and now a white blanket has covered the entire garden, erasing life itself. An old blind military man goes to visit the garden every day. Waiting, for a long time. Waiting for a woman, Angelique. The beautiful nurse who, over fifty years ago, in Indochina, devoured his eyes. He knows she will come back one day, because that is her home, and he is ready to face her. He is willing to sacrifice anything to get his revenge, even becoming a murderer.Palm TreesAt the end of the city, at the bottom of a ghostly street, which only one year ago was inhabited and full of life, there was a tall black wall. That place is where she would like to go, something about that wall attracts her. Something so strong that can make her rip her life apart and go to a tropical island. On a beach surrounded by palm trees where the sand is pink. These moments of losing consciousness are destroying her life, she would do anything to block them. Also get into the factory where everything started. Only one year ago there was a catastrophe of enormous proportions, the consequences of which are still evident. It looks abandoned but it is not, its enemy is there. Something unexpected, totally alien, deadly and dangerous, which cannot forgive her, because its only desire is to devour her.LuceLuce is beautiful as the sun. Luce is fragile and delicate. Luce has everything she lacks. Pina hates her, even if she’s her sister. Luce has Vito, the guy she has always wanted. She is only missing something, only one thing. Anything that can make her become human, because she is not. When the secret is discovered, Pina becomes conscious of the terrible life her sister has had until now. Segregated, un-protected. Supervised, a stranger to the whole world. If there is an only hope for her to lead a normal life, it can only be found there, in that lost convent lost in the mountains, where she was born. A temple where the Mother is worshipped and not the Son. Where she could find total loss or salvation.

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Illusion Omnibus # 1

Slaughterhouse

Original title: Macello

Translated by Eleonora Passelli

The Chalk Garden

Original Title: Il giardino di gesso

Translated by Robin Pedrazzoli

Palm Trees

Original title: Palme

Translated by Tea Todorovik

Luce

Original Title: Luce

Translated by Andrea Suárez

© 2018 Illusion

© 2018 Stefano Pastor

Graphics: Angela M.

SLAUGHTERHOUSE

1

I was helping dad in the garage when the police came.

I swear, a car complete with blazing sirens, just like in the movies. Dad cleaned up his hands and told me to stay where I was, then he walked towards them. There were two agents, I heard them asking if he was Mr. Ambrosini, then nothing else, because they all lowered their voices.

When dad came back, he told me he had to leave with them, that I shouldn’t worry and that I should go back home. He closed the garage on his way out, and I did worry.

Back home, I discovered what happened: they’d arrested grandpa! But there was worse, much worse – they said he had harassed children. That’s right, harassed!

Luckily, everything winded down pretty soon. Grandpa’s only fault was that he had relieved himself. Only that he had done so on the ball that two kids were playing with. What’s more, they were really little, only three or four years old.

We’d gotten used to that, at this point, we wouldn’t have even noticed it, but those kids’ parents didn’t take it very well.

We knew grandpa was like that – when he had to pee he would do it where he was, we were always very careful to never lose sight of him. They quarreled too, that night, mum and dad. Grandpa was my dad’s father, but mum was the one who had to take care of him. However, that day mum had left for an errand and he had escaped from home. Dad said it had been happening way too often, and he was right, after all: grandpa had mentally regressed, just as if he were a small child, and he had fun behaving badly with everyone.

Anyway, it wasn’t easy getting him out of the commissary’s office and dad lost a full day of work. Then, back at home, more problems came. The neighbors, started talking, and I learned the meaning of words that had been unknown to me until then, such as ‘maniac’, and even worse ones.

The thing would have gone on for who knows how long, if dad hadn’t been feeling unwell. Initially we thought it was because of too much work, and too much worrying about grandpa, but the exam results arrived soon enough. Dad had a bad illness that had struck his liver.

The cancer killed him in no time. Two months, to be clear. Mum’s brothers came to help her, because at the hospital they hadn’t done anything, they’d just sent him back home to die. They helped closed down the garage and began helping Mum put Dad’s affairs in order.

Mum tried to keep me out of everything. I would see dad very rarely, always shut in his room, and they found every possible excuse to send me out. I had to go to school, too, I was in the sixth grade, and my grades weren’t really good.

Finally, one evening, my mother confided in me: she talked about dad, about his illness, about the situation we were in. She said he would die. “How long?” I asked. In the movies, it was always months, minimum six.

“One day”, she said, “maybe two.”

The shock was unreal. I didn’t sleep much that night.

When the dying hours started, all the relatives came to his death-bed: dad wouldn’t have died alone, we were a big family.

My troubles started when cousin Giulia arrived.

It was precisely I who took notice of her: we hadn’t done anything, that night, but welcome visiting relatives, so I was always next to the door. That’s how I heard her shrill voice on the landing. I rushed to open the door, as I didn’t want the  doorbell to disturb dad.

She was there chatting with Rosa, our neighbor.

“I came for the funeral”, she was saying, real calm.

Rosa was astonished, and also a little offended that we hadn’t told her.

“He’s not dead!” I shouted. “Dad is not dead!”

Giulia nonchalantly shrugged her shoulders. “Why, after all it won’t be long, will it?”

Rosa stared at her slack-jawed, not knowing what to say. In a hurry, I pushed cousin Giulia inside the house.

She, unflinching, continued talking, with an even more shrill voice: “They told me he was almost done. How long can he still have to live, one hour, two?”

I turned pale, without managing to reply. The door of dad’s bedroom was open and he hadn’t lost consciousness yet, it was possible that he’d even heard her.

My mother arrived, breathless. “Ah, Giulia.”

For a moment, I thought she’d kill her. Giulia deserved it, after all. That’s the way she was, nobody could stand her, and everyone tried to avoid her. She slipped in every event; weddings, christenings, confirmations, but she definitely preferred funerals, she loved those. She could say anything about the deceased without fear of contridiction. She had a sharp tongue and surely her IQ wasn’t an excellent one.

My mother managed to contain herself, though not as far as to flaunt a smile. “Giulia, darling, there was no need for you to come, too.”

“Have you already decided the date of the funeral? You know, just to be able to organize myself.”

My mother had a greyish complexion, maybe even worse than dad’s. I was surprised that none of her brothers had come to save her, but I knew well that they didn’t wish to collide with Giulia.

“He’s unwell, really unwell”, said my mother with a low voice. “It’s the end.”

Giulia made a routine expression of sadness. “Yes, I understand.”

Then mum looked at me. “This isn’t the place for a kid. Not in a moment like this.”

“Yes, yes”, said Giulia, who didn’t care at all.

“You could be of great help to us, Giulia. Why don’t you take him out? Go somewhere, go to the movies.”

Both of us looked at her slack-jawed. “But… but…”

At the end, I understood what my mother was asking me: to take her away, to keep her occupied, to let dad die in piece.

“But he’s a child!” said Giulia, evidently disgusted. “I don’t know… At the movies, you say? Do you think it a good idea?”

“For once, yes”, said my mother. “Take him to the movies, have fun.”

And so it was that, while my father was dying, I found myself kicked out of my home, with the most obnoxious relative we had.

Giulia said she was thirty, but we all knew that she’d been past forty for a while. She still dressed like a teenager and wore excessive make-up. She didn’t have a man, she’d probably never had one. Her only occupation in life was busying herself with others, destroying their lives, if possible.

She was pissed off that evening, quite a bit. Being forced to babysit was slanderous, right during what could have been her moment of glory.

I knew that I was doing this for Mum, that my sacrifice was important, so I kept quiet and behaved myself.

Giulia discarded a funny comedy, thinking it inappropriate, an adventure film I’d really have loved to see – maybe that’s precisely why she discarded it – and went straight to the venue where they screened an old horror movie about zombies. She considered it adequate for the situation.

The room was almost empty, only about ten men scattered here and there. Giulia took me to sit right in the middle, where the view was the best.

The red velvet seats were in a dreadful condition, full of tears and burnt patches. The colour itself leaned more towards brown. On the floor, stains of every kind had corroded the parquet. “Sit up straight”, she snapped.

She never tried to talk to me, maybe because she was mad, more likely because she didn’t consider me to be at her level. This couldn’t but please me. I was confused and scared. I knew that right in that moment my father was dying and I hadn’t been able to say goodbye to him. All this because of this faded version of Lana Turner sitting next to me. I hated her and I wished she were dead.

When, finally, they turned the lights off, I tried to focus on the film, even if the sight of all those decomposed corpses wasn’t inviting at all.

After a few minutes, someone came to sit next to us. Next to cousin Giulia, to be precise.

At first, I didn’t even notice him, then, when I heard Giulia giggling during a scene that wasn’t at all funny, I turned around to check.

There was a man sitting next to her. He was very young, he must have been twenty or a little over that. I looked at them carefully, but he had his gaze pointed towards the screen and eventually I persuaded myself I had been mistaken.

After a while, Giulia started giggling again.

I was consumed with rage. How could she do something like that? Starting to snog with someone who could have been her son, and while sitting next to me?!

I looked around:  the auditorium was nearly deserted, and certainly there was no one else near us. Why had that man gone and sat right there?

When cousin Giulia started being restless on the seat, I briefly glanced at her and I immediately looked away. What they were doing was horrible, and right in that moment!

I tried to focus on the film, to avoid hearing anything else, I even went so far as to raise my hands to the sides of my head not to be tempted to look.

In front of me, a gang of lustful zombies was eating the routine absent-minded blonde, with a sucking noise that was very similar to what I was hearing next to me.

At the end, I couldn’t resist anymore. Dad was dying and I was there, listening to that whore’s sexual exploits! I suddenly turned around and I grasped her arm. “Enough! Stop it!”

The projected images lighted the scene with a blue tinge. The blood seemed to be black. What I saw seemed like an exact replication of the scene on screen: that young man sitting next to her was eating her.

At least that’s how I saw it. There was nothing sexual in that scene, Giulia was limp on the chair, her eyes were glassy and staring, and her mouth was half open. There was a lot of black everywhere, and I thought it was blood. The man was eating one of her shoulders, I saw him sinking his teeth, I heard him chewing. There was a lot of black on his face, too.

I leaped up and I started shouting: “Leave her alone!” Then I turned towards the rest of the room, covered in darkness. “Help! Help!”

I stepped back, under that man’s eyes, who kept eating unflinchingly.

“Someone help me!” I shouted again.

Only then I noticed that the other spectators had stood up. “Quickly! Quickly! He’s killing her!”

I don’t know why I said those words, I knew there was nothing to be done anymore.

Those silent figures started converging towards us, but with extreme slowness. I couldn’t understand why they behaved in such a way.

The screen was now showing a night scene, and in the room the darkness had shrouded both Giulia and her killer.

“Turn the lights on!” I shouted, and I stepped back again.

I banged against something. Someone, actually. I turned around suddenly. It was an imposing man, tall and sturdy, about thirty years old, with a fixed, icy gaze, and it seemed as if he hadn’t even noticed me. He was completely bald and his shiny nape reflected the images projected on the screen.

“There! There!” I pointed.

The other spectators had reached Giulia and were now bending towards her. She was shortly completely hidden from my sight.

“What’s happening?” I shouted. “What are you doing?”

There I succumbed, what I was seeing was too much, and I ran. I started running like a madman, I reached the closest emergency exit, running into heavy velvet curtains, and I rushed out, careless of any alarm I might have triggered.

I ran, I ran for an infinite amount of time, without even being able to think. At the end, I found myself sitting on the ground, in an alley, without knowing how I had ended up there.

Bit by bit, I regained myself, and the questions started. What was I doing there? What had really happened in that movie theatre?

The zombies had eaten cousin Giulia.

No, no, that’s impossible, I told myself. Zombies do not exist. And besides, that young man was really alive, he was anything but a zombie. All of them were quite alive. Cannibals?

Or was it me? Was I hallucinating? Dad dying, that bloody scary film, cousin Giulia had started doing… certain things! Maybe I had misinterpreted things, I had just seen what I wanted to see. My imagination had done the rest.

It wasn’t possible, no. Not in our city. No, no, no.

I stood up and I went back to face the world.

It was night by then, and I really didn’t know what to do. Should I go back home? To talk about zombies and homicides, about cannibals? To go to the police? What about Dad? And Mum?

They would have said about me what they were already saying about grandpa, I knew that.

And Giulia, what had happened to her? I went so far as to persuade myself that I would find her in front of the cinema, waiting angrily for me.

She wasn’t there: even the last screening was over, and the theatre’s doors were barred.

All this must have meant something, mustn’t it? If they had found a corpse, the police would have been there.

I walked around, until I reached the emergency exit from which I had escaped. The door was just half-opened. I must have left it like that, in my rushed escape.

I gained all the courage I had left and I stepped forward.

In the room, the lights were on. I hid myself behind the curtains and I spied. There were just two cleaning ladies.

“Come and see here, won’t you look at this!” said one of them, and I noticed she was right where we had been sitting.

“Ew”, said the other.

“I wonder what they must have poured to bring them to this!”

“Ah, but I couldn’t care less, we can’t make miracles! After all, they had to be thrown away even before.”

“Why don’t they do such things at their own place?”

I didn’t listen to anything more, because I was already running away.

I kept to the centre of the street, checking every side, but I didn’t see any of those strange men.

It wasn’t a dream, something had really happened! Someone had hurt cousin Giulia. They had… I didn’t know what they’d done, I wasn’t sure of anything anymore, I had really no idea what to do.

2

At the end I went back home, because I couldn’t do otherwise. I still hadn’t decided what to tell, how to explain that I had come back home by myself, and so late, even. But I didn’t need to explain anything. I found the house door wide open and I went in, heart in my throat. The lights in the entrance and corridor were low, mum walked towards me in tears and she hugged me. I had understood, even before she started talking. “Dad is dead.”

Then my aunts and uncles arrived and they hugged me, too. They even let me see him, but only from far away, not to upset me. It was a long time before my mother asked me. “And Giulia?”

How could I have talked about zombies and cannibals in such a moment? “I persuaded her to go back home”, I murmured.

My mother kissed me again. “Thank you, you did really well, I knew I could count on you. I really couldn’t have managed to stand her, in this moment.”

After that, I put Giulia out of my mind. There were other things to worry about, and I must’ve been mistaken.

At the funeral, grandpa tried to throw himself on the coffin, moaning that it wasn’t right for a son to die before his father.

The garage was put on sale and my aunts and uncles went back to their homes. I had to study a lot because I had missed several school days. I passed the year, despite my fears, maybe more because of the tragedy that had fallen upon me than because of my skills.

Mum had remained alone to take care of grandpa and it wasn’t easy for her. Nevertheless, she always refused my help, encouraging me to go out as much as I could. She talked about how I could find a summer job, at least not to burden on the house expenses, but I kept beating about the bush.

Over a month after Giulia’s disappearance, nobody had been looking for her. Nobody had noticed or, more likely, if they had, they would have thanked heaven for it. There were already rumors that she had escaped with someone she’d met all of a sudden. Her house always remained closed.

The mystery would have remained such for eternity if fate hadn’t decided to make us meet again. It happened one night at the amusement park, where I had gone with my friends.

While I was binging on cotton candy, I saw him walk right in front of me. It was him, with no doubt, the same young man who had sat next to cousin Giulia, the one who had…

I was so shocked that even my friends noticed. “What’s up? What’s the matter with you?”

He wasn’t alone, there was a girl with him. She was the only one talking, non-stop, without pausing even to take a breath.

I found an excuse to get away from my friends  and followed them. I knew it was risky, in any case I wouldn’t have been able to do anything, but I felt it was my duty to do it.

I kept looking behind my back, to be sure that his accomplices weren’t there, too.

Soon enough, I noticed that his companion wasn’t a girl at all. Well, she was female, but like Giulia she dressed and wore makeup like a girl, but I figured she was at least thirty, and in all likelihood, she was even older than that. She was actually rather plain, a dull person that no one would have deigned to look at twice.

I shook my head in front of that woman’s heedlessness. She was the one who tried to take initiative. The young man never spoke, he smiled at most, but he had one arm placed across her shoulder, with a possessive gesture.

They slowly walked away from the amusement park and I realized they were directed towards the viewpoint, a usual meeting place for couples. In a normal situation, I would have never dreamed going to such places, but that wasn’t a normal situation at all.

I kept following them, keeping myself hidden, and I allowed them to get further away from me.

When they reached the viewpoint, they sat on the bench. Below their feet, beyond the rail, the whole city spread out, and the view was beautiful, lit by the moonlight.

They were hugging and the scene was really romantic, to the casual viewer. But I didn’t intend to be swindled, I knew very well what would have happened, so I didn’t lose sight of them.

Something was looming over that place, something terrible that put me in a state of agitation. I looked around me and I saw one of them, just ten meters away from me. It was one of the men I had already met in the cinema, a bald giant of a man. We were really close, but he hadn’t noticed my presence.  His gaze was fixed on the couple. Paralyzed by terror, I realised he wasn’t alone: about ten more men appeared out of the darkness and started slowly converging towards the bench.

What should I do? Should I have started screaming? Would have that been of any use? It was just us, we were too far away for anybody to hear us. In the cinema, screaming had been of no use. That woman was done for, whatever I decided to do.

So I remained there and watched, trying to hide myself as much as I could.

It was something indescribable, so weird that it seemed unreal. The men got closer and closer, until they hid the bench from sight. . Then they all bowed, surrounding her, a compact mass of bodies. I didn’t hear a scream, not even a moan, I heard no noise at all. Those men remained there, apparently motionless, for a few minutes, then they stood up and started slowly going away. There was no trace of the woman sat on the bench. She had literally disappeared.

I remained there, mouth wide-opened, too surprised to even think. I saw them separate, everyone going their own way. Only when I was certain they were far enough away did I risk exiting my hiding place and reaching the bench.

The woman wasn’t there anymore. Her dress wasn’t there, not even her purse. There was instead a big stain that looked black under the moonlight, right where she had been sitting, and even on the ground at her feet. What had they done with her? Where was she? Had they… completely eaten her?

It seemed absurd, impossible.

I stared long at that bench, but at the end I recovered and I wondered what I should do. Go to the police?  To tell them what? That a group of cannibals was eating people. They literally ate her, bones and clothing included! They would have laughed, I was sure of that.

Acting as if nothing had happened, forgetting it? How could I have done that? I would have never managed to!

When I was about to leave, driven by an impulse that I didn’t understand, I chose the path taken by the young man. His face was fixed in my mind, I would have recognised him anywhere. It wasn’t the face of a monster, far from it: he was rather good looking, one of those that easily attract girls. He really looked like a good guy, completely different from his bald accomplice, who only struck fear.

I quickened my pace, without a real reason. When I saw him in front of me, I realised that my search was over. I wanted to follow him, discover who he was, what he did, even if I realised perfectly what they were capable of doing.

He was alone, they had divided, but I still shouldn’t let my guard down. Silent as they were, his accomplices could have suddenly reappeared.

Following that young man was very useful, but it left me with a heap of unresolved questions. That evening, I discovered the real reason of the verb ‘to idle’. He, in fact, didn’t do anything at all, he just sauntered about.

He would walk around the street, stop, look at a shop window or at a street lamp, even at a letter box, for minutes and minutes in a row, perfectly still. Then he would rouse himself and start walking again, but really slowly, waiting for something else to catch his fancy. Was it this the way crazy killers behaved after a murder? It was stressful to follow him, terribly stressful. He was just wasting time, maybe he was waiting for someone, or for something to happen. In half an hour, we had barely walked three hundred meters. At the end, I even stopped hiding myself, as I was sure he wouldn’t take notice of me. He hadn’t turned around once.

After another half hour, they started converging.

Gasping, I saw one of the other man arrive and come up beside him. After a while there were three of them, then four. They didn’t wander around anymore, they walked as if they had a destination now, even if always slowly. Shortly, others arrived, too: I counted as many as eleven of them. The one I hadn’t seen yet was the bald giant.

He was waiting in front of a big building. He was there, still, and they reached him. It was in that moment that everyone turned around to check. I rushed behind a parked car, fearing it was too late and they had already taken notice of my presence. I waited gasping, dreading to see them appear around me, ready to make me completely disappear too, but nothing happened. I risked leaning my head out.

They were all going inside the building, one after the other. The bald man was keeping the door open and it seemed to me that he was the one in charge. He went in last and he closed the door behind him.

I remained there waiting for over an hour, heart in my throat. I was certain that sooner or later they would have come out, but it didn’t happen. I then got together a bit of courage and I walked forward. The building was ugly and the plaster was falling to pieces. There were a few windows covered by iron bars and the whole area was permeated by an unpleasant smell. I stopped in front of the door they had gone in through; it was anonymous, made of iron and without handles. It could have only been opened with a key. I sure had no intention of getting in there.

It was already night time, mum would have been worried for me. I wondered if they had a family, too, and how they could justify those night outings.

I walked forward, trying to figure out where I was. On the other side of the building there was a big writing, right on top of a bolted shutter: MUNICIPAL SLAUGHTERHOUSE.

And so, I became an amature detective.

The following day, I left with a good pace, right after waking up, and I lay in wait close to the building, to watch over it. If I had hoped to have been a morning person, I had to think again, the slaughterhouse had been opened for hours and there wasn’t much to see. Things got better with time when lorries started arriving to pick up the goods. I saw them taking out beef quarters and any kind of offal packed in containers, as well as other types of meat that I wasn’t able to recognise. The workers in charge of this job were always the same, and one of them was precisely my young assassin. I guessed that the others, too, could have been his accomplices, but I couldn’t be sure of that from a distance.

I was sure of only one thing: I had found them, they were all there!

Crazy butchers? Mass insanity? Some kind of… sect? The sect of the crazy butchers? No, no, I was the one who was becoming crazy.

I checked the newspapers, that morning, and the following morning, too. I did it for the whole week, while I kept spying on the assassins. But there was no trace of the disappeared woman, they never wrote about her.

I wondered how was that possible. How there could exist people so devoid of ties that nobody would notice their disappearance, or they would lose interest in it. People like cousin Giulia always avoided by everyone, and that other woman too, in all likelihood. But it was like that, unfortunately, there did exist people that no one would have looked for, ever. People that, by disappearing, would have only made the world a better place. Useless, ignored people. Was it by chance that they had been the ones to be chosen? That for both the victims had been so similar?

In that movie theatre they had ignored him, they’d let me run away. Why? Because the disappearance of a boy would have been noticed immediately and that wasn’t what they wanted. They knew that if I had denounced them, no one would have believed my words.

I prepared myself and I borrowed from a friend a small pair of binoculars. In this way, I could position myself in a safer place and I could have a better view.

But what I saw was strange, very strange. That young man was a hard worker, always laughing, he was friends with everyone and everyone knew him. Even I would have found him nice, if I hadn’t known he was a murderer. One evening, I followed him home and I discovered he lived with his mother and two younger brothers. He had lost his father, too, just like me. On that occasion, I also discovered his name: Aldo Righi.

There were moments when I wondered if I wasn’t the one who had gone completely crazy, because it seemed impossible that those men were monsters.

Then, one day, I noticed a sign on the window. I had to get closer to be able to read it and I froze pensive in front of that writing: APPRENTICE WANTED.

“It’s not for you”, someone said to my right. “You’re too skinny.”

The voice was playful and I turned around to answer back. I remained paralysed when I saw the young man right in front of him.

It was impossible that he wouldn’t recognise me, I had given myself away! I should have never gotten that close!

But it didn’t happen, or anyway, he managed to hide it well. “Sturdier persons are needed for such a job”, he continued. “I say this for your sake, it could be very tiring.”

I forced myself to speak. “Do you have… do you have to kill animals?”

He burst out laughing. “No, you don’t have to kill anyone. Even I wouldn’t able to do that. There are other people for those duties.”

He had done much worse and I knew that. “Is it difficult?”

He shrugged his shoulder. “To be sure, you don’t need a degree. Are you at least motorized?”

“Pardon?”

“Do you have a scooter?”

“No, but…”

“Can you drive one, at least?”

I nodded.

“You’d have to do a lot of deliveries, you know? To the butchers’ in the area. Small things, but a few could be heavy.”

I was almost disappointed. “Is that all?”

He laughed again. “So, you really want to do this?”

I was almost tempted to nod again. “I need to talk about it with mum.”

He shook his head. “Then she will never let you.”

“Why?”

I discovered the reason all too early. When I talked to mum about that job, she looked at me horrified, as if I had said something obscene. “A slaughterhouse?”

She started shaking her head, without being able to stop. “Do you realise that that’s where they kill animals? Is that what you want to do?”

I tried to explain her that I would only have to handle deliveries.

“Going around the streets with a scooter all day long, with all the traffic there is? You’re crazy! And besides, you don’t even own a scooter!”

I explained to her that dad had taught me to ride a scooter and that they would have given me the transport.

“No, no, no!” she persisted. And then: “Try at the pizzeria at the corner, they need an assistant, too.”

But I had a way different aim: that was my investigation and I had decided to go on with it. I was absolutely certain that that young man hadn’t recognised me, so why should I miss the occasion to infiltrate right in the middle of the enemy?

3

It wasn’t a short fight, the skirmishes between me and mum went on for two more days. At the end, we reached an agreement. I promised I would give her all my earnings, showing that I would be sensible. I didn’t really care about the money, and not even about the job itself. She agreed, but she still said again: “How can you want to do a job like that? What have I done wrong?”

I had her permission now, but this didn’t mean they would hire me. For example, maybe the place wasn’t available anymore. And so, the next morning I showed up at the Slaughterhouse, all clean and tidy. The ad still hung over the window.

I knocked, opened the door and I leaned in. The place wasn’t open to the public, the window was darkened not to let people see what there was inside. I saw butchers’ counters and men working there. A man wearing a white coat came towards me. I spoke fast, before he even asked me anything. “For that job…”

He understood immediately. “You need to enter from the back, you can’t get it wrong, there’s just one door.”

I turned pale, because that was precisely the door from which I had seen the murderers go in.

I went there anyway, but I froze in front of the closed door. What was wrong with me? I knew already that they were in there! That young man hadn’t recognised me, but would it have been the same for the others, too? Was I not risking my life?

I knocked, before I changed my mind.

The man who threw the door open could have been one of the murderers, too, but I wasn’t sure of that. I explained again why I was there. He assessed me with a glance, without making any comments. “Come in.”

As soon as I stepped in, I froze. In front of me, mighty and huge, was the bald man, the boss of the entire gang. Our eyes met and his seemed icy and alien.

“Come on, move it, you idiot! What are you looking at? Stop wasting time!”

I jumped, heart in my throat, before realising that they weren’t talking to me. The bald man turned his gaze around, then he started cleaning the floor again, with indifference.

The man who had opened the door mumbled: “He’s of no use, by now we’re keeping him just out of pity. He’s completely bewildered, that one.”

I observed the extremely slow and poorly coordinated movements with which the bald man did his job, and I felt even more confused. “Is he… disabled?” I dared ask with a low voice.

“Yeah, you could call him that. For me he’s just an idiot! Why, Rico, what are you? Tell the boy what you are!”

The bald man started looking again towards me, without replying. He must have been Rico. I realised that his eyes weren’t icy and terrifying, but just stupid. They showed a total lack of intelligence, and this caught me off guard a little.

“Keep going straight”, the man told me, pointing at a corridor. “Up to that door down there. Ask about Mr Villa.”

The entrance was bleak, it was just a porter’s lodge, so I guessed the man to be a sort of porter. Besides him there was just Rico, cleaning the floor. I turned around and I entered the corridor.

I looked across the opened doors: I passed a changing room with the employees’ lockers, showers, and a sort of dining hall. At the end of the corridor I found the office that I had been directed to. There wasn’t a secretary or anything, I had to announce myself on my own.

Villa was the director, he was the one taking care of everything. During the few minutes I spent there, we were continuously interrupted, by phone calls or by workers.

He wasn’t really subtle, he asked me very little, he just told me that in that period they had a lot of work and they needed help. I guessed I had been the only one to reply to the job announcement. He asked me if I was a sensitive type.

“Why?” I stuttered.

He laughed. “Don’t worry, you won’t even see the animals. We don’t send young boys to the actual slaughterhouse. I just want to be sure that you won’t leave us in trouble in two days.”

I explained to him that I wanted a job for the whole summer. By the end we reached an agreement, four hours every morning, five days a week. This was more than good for me.

“What do I need to do?” I asked him.

He raised his hands. “Ah, I’m not the one taking care of these things!”

I was handed over to the hands of Alfonso, the head of the butchers’ building. There were over twenty workers in that building, so it was impossible that they were all implicated, and I had seen the murderers only briefly, in the middle of the night. I had recognised with certainty only two of them, Aldo and Rico. It was useless to continuously wonder who the others could be.

If I was expecting a stimulating job, I was wrong. Alfonso took me to the packaging department and he made me package all types of offal. I had to fill up the bags, weigh and label them. It was a bit disgusting but I quickly got used to it. I was disappointed, anyway, there was only an older man with me and he never spoke to me, except to give me advice that looked more like a scolding. I remained there for almost the whole morning and I started feeling depressed. This was way different from investigating, or from making deliveries around the city, this was precisely the boring job that I loathed so much.

Aldo arrived in the late morning. He immediately recognised me and he nodded at me, then he went behind the counter. “I’ll steal him for a bit, do you mind?”

The old man shrugged his shoulders. Aldo made me take my coat off, then he guided me outside. “You came!” he said.

I didn’t know what to say, he seemed rather happy. “What an asshole!” he continued. “He already put you in there, on your first day. It seems he doesn’t like you.”

He started shouting. “Al! I’m taking the boy, I need help.”

I heard a voice from afar. “Do as you please!”

He winked at me. “Well that’s sorted! Come.” And he made me go out, under the sunlight.

We were in the loading zone, all tiled, but there was no vehicle waiting.

“What do I have to do?” I asked, with an unsure voice.

He burst out laughing. “Nothing at all! I just said it to make you go out! Let’s have a smoke!” Then, amused by my expression: “I’m smoking it!” He put a hand in his pocket. “You’ll have to do with these.” And he threw a pack of chewing gums at me.

He lit his cigarette. “Did they at least give you a tour, or did they just lock you up there?”

I shook my head, more and more agitated.

“Slave traders! I’ll take care of it, just let me finish my cigarette. You’ve worked enough for today.”

“A tour… where?”

“Don’t worry about it”, he said. “There’s nothing scary. Not at this hour, at least.”

I must have turned pale, because he added: “They do some things early in the morning, before even we arrive to work.”

Now I was really stuttering. “What sort of things?”

“Why, killing the animals, of course! This is a slaughterhouse!”

He was having fun! The bastard was trying to scare me. In fact, he burst out laughing. “Come on, don’t take it too seriously, I was just kidding. But it is the truth. Don’t worry, when you’ll arrive here to work it will all be over already. You can reassure your mummy, you won’t have to see a thing. By now, they’ve cleaned up everything.”

It was getting harder and harder for me to speak, and he noticed it. “Why did you come working here? I had warned you, it isn’t a place for you.”

Was he threatening me? I couldn’t understand. “You…”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I was born here. My dad worked here, when he died I took up his place. I know everyone, they saw me grow up, they love me.” He winked again. “That’s why they always turn a blind eye.”

“What does that mean?”

“What about we take some time off?”

He threw his cigarette to the ground and he stomped over it with his foot, then he took me by the arm. “Come, let’s have a tour.”

He didn’t bring me back into the building; he headed towards the back, to the part that wasn’t visible from the street.

I was terrified. On the outside, Aldo was cheerful and lively, he was acting like a good friend, but I remembered well what he had done to Giulia and to the other woman. What if he had actually recognized me and he was just pretending not to?

On the back, they had the enclosures for the animals. I wasn’t prepared for this. “Do you keep them here?”

“Sometimes”, he replied nonchalantly. “When there are too many, but they quickly disappear.” He pointed at a fence with about twenty calves. “Those will be gone by tomorrow.”

I had certainly regretted my decision, I couldn’t wait to escape.

I saw some horses, too, and I grew pale.

“You’re lucky”, Aldo continued. “There are way worse periods of the year. When they bring the lambs in, for example. Those are really harrowing. When I heard them for the first time, I couldn’t sleep for one week. Then you get used to it. You can get used to anything.” He jumped to sit on a fence and he showed me to sit next to him. I struggled to reach him.

“You do eat meat, don’t you? You aren’t a vegetarian, are you?”

I shook my head.

“Then you do know that the steak was a living animal, not long before. You accept that, you know that someone must have killed it before it arrived on your plate. So it’s almost as if you had killed it, isn’t it?”

He made me turn around. Inside the fence we had sat on, there were a dozen of pigs, rooting. “Can you see those? From there you get salami, hams, cutlets, any sort of delicacy. How many animals do you think you’ve killed in your life? Think of all the times you’ve eaten their meat.”

I was silent, so he continued. “You need to get over it, that’s how life is. It’s necessary. There will always be someone needed to do this job.”

“But the act of killing…”

“What do you want to know?”

“How do you kill?”

“For some, it is easy, it’s a job like any other else. I can’t do it. Dad did it, but I can’t.”

“And…”

He jumped off the fence. “Come, I’ll show you the slaughterhouse.”

Was he doing it on purpose? Was he trying to terrorize me so I wouldn’t come back anymore? I wanted to be strong, I didn’t want to give in, but when we arrived in front of the big door from which they let the animals in, I froze.

“There’s nothing there”, said Aldo. “By now they’ve cleaned everything and they’ve gone back home. They work a different shift. There’s no one there anymore.”

The thing scared me even more. To get inside a slaughterhouse. With him. On my own.

“Are you scared?”

I couldn’t face his gaze.

He took me by the arm. “Come on, hurry up.”

He almost had to drag me, because I was really stuck.

“See? It’s all here, nothing scary.”

It looked like a bathroom, all paved with really white tiles, it must have been cleaned recently because it shined. I saw shower tubes along the ceiling.

“For the calves, it’s easy, just a blow on the head, they don’t even notice. For the pigs, it’s worse, you should hear how they scream. The lambs… those are really sad to hear. But what can you do, everyone likes their meat.”

I stiffened, risking to betray myself. “What do you want to do?” I asked directly. “Why did you take me here?”

He was uncertain, for a moment, then he cracked a smile. “I shouldn’t have, should I? My father did it with me, when I was a kid. To understand what I was made of, if I could live up to it.”

“I have no intention of being a butcher!” I shouted. “This is just a summer job!”

He burst out laughing. “Ok, ok, I got it.”

“You said I would have had to do deliveries! Just that!”

He sighed. “Did I say that? Do you want to do deliveries? We’ll make sure you do those.”

His ironic smile made me uncomfortable.

The following day, I did deliveries, and the next one, too. They gave me a scooter and only after several days I discovered it was Aldo’s. Shortly I knew all the butchers’ shops in the area. But things at the Slaughterhouse had changed, too. Thanks to my new role, I often had to go around the various departments and I was able to meet many of the workers. They were all kind with me.

Mum eventually reconciled herself, too, maybe because grandpa and his manias occupied every moment of her time. As if he had just discovered telephones, grandpa had started doing pranks to phone numbers randomly chosen on the phone book, and mum lived in the constant fear that sooner or later someone would denounce us.

One week after starting my job, I had settled in and after all I had nothing to complain about. My investigations, however, were slow.

Aldo was right, everyone liked him. They thought him a little weird but they loved him. He had a strange sense of humour, he was often ironic, but never mean, and I didn’t know what to think anymore. I even went as far as to secretly follow him, after work, but with no result. Aldo had a girlfriend, but he would see her only on Saturday nights. They went dancing  somewhere with friends. For the rest of the week, he would stay at home with his family, every night. He would never go out.

Rico lived at the Slaughterhouse. He was an orphan, the social services had found him that job, many years before, and he had turned into an institution. Not even a greedy person such as Villa had the heart to throw him out on the street, even if there would have been many reasons to do so. He was a slacker, he would try to work as little as possible, he couldn’t even understand the orders that were given to him. The person I had thought to be the boss of a gang of serial killers was actually a poor idiot. Unless he wasn’t faking it, but that seemed impossible, too, as he had been in those conditions since birth. I really couldn’t find a logic to what was happening.

Those two women were dead, I knew perfectly well who had killed them, didn’t I?

One day, I found myself in Aldo’s company, who had been avoiding me for a week. I thanked him for the new job.

“Do you want to take care of the animals?” he asked me.

I wasn’t sure I had understood. “Which animals?”

“They need to be feed, the enclosures need to be cleaned, do you think you can do that?”

I started stuttering. “Why?”

“You can’t grow fond of them, do you understand? It’s just a job. You just need to feed them.”

I was happy to be a delivery boy, it was even fun. The task that Aldo was offering me was definitely more tiring, almost hateful.

“Why should I do it?”

If I had accepted, though, I wouldn’t have been always going around, I would have had more free time, which would have helped me in my investigations.

“Do you want to see if I can do it? If I’m capable of doing it?”

“Something like that”, he replied.

“But you’re not the one who decides! You’re not the boss.”

He winked. “Is that so?”

4

And so, I found myself relegated to the role of groom. Even worse, a stable-boy! He was indeed the one who decided everything! The next day, the scooter had disappeared and I found a dung fork in its place. I feathered excrements for the whole morning, until I became like an Indian, able to recognise any type of feces. I damned Aldo in any possible way.

I didn’t become fond of the animals, no, but it was still hard. For example, when I would find an empty enclosure in the morning. The animals arrived and disappeared all too fast, I wouldn’t have been able to become fond of them even if I had wanted to.

Except for…

I asked Aldo, when he came to see me. “Why are they always there?”

He looked at the pigs in the enclosure and he burst out laughing.

“Oh yeah, Villa’s wild pigs! A really sweet deal, that one!”

Then he explained. “He had them arrive from Russia, praising their special meat, unique in the world, but when he saw them in front of him, he started cursing. They were skinny, what am I saying, they were starving! You’d pity them if you looked at them. He obviously couldn’t slaughter them in those conditions, so he force-fed them.”

I looked at them, perplexed. “I don’t think it worked.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I would agree”, said Aldo. “It was really a waste of money.”

I didn’t love the animals more because they stayed and they were the only animals living there. Their enclosure was disgusting, the excrements were noxious, I would always find an excuse not to clean it. Luckily, some of the workers would sometimes come help me when they noticed my difficulties.

There finally came the day when I couldn’t find anyone to substitute me and I was forced to enter the enclosure on my own.

I started raking that pigsty, keeping away as much as I could from the pigs. While I distrusted them, I hadn’t fully realised what Aldo had told me. Up to that day, there had always been adults with me, when I had gone in there, imposing men, who weren’t scared of anything. But I was thirteen and skinny, too, as everyone always noticed. The pigs surely didn’t find me threatening.

When they started going around me, only then, I remembered Aldo’s words: wild pigs. ‘Wild’ meant that they didn’t know humans, that they had been captured, that they were… dangerous? I could have left, I would have made it in time, but in an absurd way I didn’t want to result a coward. Maybe I was getting scared for no reason. I tried to shoo the pigs away with the fork, then, when I saw them leave, I started working again.

Unfortunately, they came back almost immediately, more menacing than ever, and this time I was literally surrounded. They were way too silent, when they run their attack. One pushed me to one side, then another one. The third hit me with his snout right in the middle of my stomach, hurting me. But when I felt that my leg was being bitten, then I forgot every hesitation and I started screaming, terrified.

I tried to escape, to find a way between those smelly bodies, but they were so close to me that they were crushing me, they impeded my breath.

Suddenly, someone hit the back of the pig closer to me with a belt, and the swine screamed in pain. Then the belt hit again and again, with loud cracks, and the pigs started separating with shrill noises.

My saviour was Aldo, who had taken off his belt to defend me. He took me by the arm, pushing me outside of the enclosure. “Go! Hurry up!”

Finally outside, I collapsed to the ground, gasping, while he carefully closed the fence. “It is time to kill these!” he mumbled. “It doesn’t matter if they aren’t fat enough!”

I looked at him and I couldn’t think about anything else. I even said it out loud. “You saved my life!”

He tried to joke about it. “What are you talking about? They wouldn’t have killed you!” Then he noticed that I was still bleeding and he checked my leg. “Blimey, that is a serious cut!”

I couldn’t understand, the more I stayed there, the more I couldn’t make sense of all the things. How could he have been a murderer? How could a poor idiot like Rico be a murderer?

He took me to the slaughterhouse, where he cleaned the wound and he tried to bandage it. The bite that had hurt me was very deep and he insisted that I go to a doctor. But I knew that mum would have gotten angry if she had discovered it and would forbid me to go back there. I absolutely had to hide it from her. I was forced to tell Aldo about it and to ask him not to tell it to anyone.

He looked at me gravely. “You haven’t had enough of this yet?”

What did he mean?

I was ill during the night. My leg throbbed continuously. I got up in secret and I filled up with antibiotics. I still couldn’t fall asleep and when I went back to the slaughterhouse the next morning I was in a very sorry state.

That day was terrible.

I found a goat, tied to the fence, probably because no one knew with which animals to put her. Only one, and very young.

I tried to ignore it, while I was doing my chores, but she didn’t let me. She baaed continuously and struggled to free herself.

I disobeyed my orders and went as far as asking one of the workers what she was doing there. He shrugged his shoulders. “You can put her where you want”, he told me. “She won’t be long here, after all.”

I tried, I swear, I really tried. I untied her, I tried to take her to the lambs’ enclosure, but she had other intentions. She wanted to play. She tried to eat my shirt, she would jump here and there, she didn’t want to enter any enclosure, just to stay near me. That’s exactly how it ended: I took her with me for the whole morning and she would do all she could to disrupt my work.

Never get attached, never. I remembered Aldo’s words, I had them fixed in my mind in capital letters, but they were crumbling at every moment.

When it was time to go back home, I felt really unwell. I hadn’t seen anyone for the whole morning, Aldo hadn’t even come to say hi. I would have really needed to talk to someone, maybe it was the first time in my life I felt such a need. Instead, I was alone. Just with a goat.

“Baaa!” she said.

And I, like an idiot: “I can’t do anything, I’m sorry.”

I forced her to get in the enclosure and I closed the door.

“Baaa! Baaa!” she continued.

I didn’t turn around, but my eyes were filled with tears.

I ran away, as fast as I could. I didn’t even go back to the slaughterhouse to change clothing, I only walked around the building not to see anyone and then I went away without stopping, almost as if I was being followed.

Aldo was right, I wasn’t fit for that job, I was too sick. And it was useless, it was just a waste of time. How could I care about cousin Giulia? I didn’t even know the other woman, maybe she was an obnoxious type, too. Why should I waste my life for them? Mum was right, it wasn’t a job for me. Only because I had set my mind to be a detective? To reveal who knows what secret conspiracy?

Life is strange, almost absurd. I liked Aldo, really, he had helped me, maybe he had even saved my life. I really hated cousin Giulia. Why should I have cared what he had done to her?

I was kidding myself, that wasn’t the problem, the real problem was the little goat, who would have died by the following day.

I cried like an idiot for the whole afternoon, and the night, too. I was certain I wouldn’t have slept, instead, the piled-up tiredness burst out and I fell like a rock.

The next morning, I woke up late and it was a tragedy.

Mum stared at me without understanding. “It’s just half hour late, why are you making such a fuss? Are you worried you’re going to be fired? You’ll find another place, don’t worry, maybe it will be for the best.”

But I ran and ran, without even knowing why. Once again, I didn’t walk through the interior of the building, but I avoided it.

The workers that killed the animals hadn’t finished their shift yet, I saw them walking around with their transparent plastic aprons dirty with blood. The showers weren’t running yet.

There, for a moment, I told myself that that was for the best, I wouldn’t have stood to see the goat once more, then she started baaing and I burst into tears.

They had left her, or forgotten her, or maybe it wasn’t her time yet. I run into the enclosure and I tied her more far away, hidden from sight by all the calves in front of her. But she keeping baaing and baaing, without stopping. I was forced to keep her company, while the workers washed themselves and left.

When I was on my own, too, I had no time for resting. The goat kept calling me, continuously. Eventually, I had to free her and she started following me like a dog. I only waited for someone to come scold me, yet, I didn’t see anyone that morning either.

There, sat on a step playing with the goat, I made a decision: I would quit. My investigations had reached a deadlock, I hadn’t made any progress even now, while I was a stable boy. Maybe I didn’t even want to do it, maybe I didn’t care to show that Aldo was a murderer. Maybe I didn’t care about anything anymore.

I didn’t want to be there when the goat would die, I didn’t want to put Aldo in jail, I didn’t want to become a great detective.

How much could a goat cost? Had I saved enough money? Would mum have helped me? Would they have sold it to me? And why not, but then what would I have done with her? There was no talk of bringing her home. Where would I have put her, how could I have done it…

It was impossible, they were just dreams. Aldo knew it would have happened, he had put me to the test. He always knew I wouldn’t have made it, that I would have escaped, and this time I agreed with him. No, I didn’t want to continue, I had nothing to demonstrate. I had never felt more disheartened.

I hugged the goat, before leaving. Then I tied her again to the back of the fence, in the most hidden spot, with the hope they would forget about her.

I told her goodbye.

That day, I went back to the building and in the changing room. I changed my clothes and combed my hair. Only Rico was there, pretending to work and spying on me continuously. I ignored him, because it didn’t matter anymore. Then, stock-still, I went straight to the director’s office to resign.

I was really positive, I knew I was doing the right thing. It was a definitive goodbye to everything. I would have never gone back there.

But Villa wasn’t there, he’d gone back home.

Sad and depressed, I felt desperate like a Romantic hero, misunderstood by everyone, and I started a process of self-deprecation, locked up in my room, laying on the bed looking at the ceiling.

Mum opened the door without knocking. “Ah, as you’re not going out today, would you look out after grandpa, I have to run out for an errand. Be careful, don’t let him escape!”