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Three fantastic novels:OneI'm one. Although I've got six bodies, although I live six different lives. I always was one, in each of my multiple lives, since the beginning. Separated in every continent, my bodies never met. No one knows my secret, no one could suspect it. Yet it had a beginning: someone is killing my bodies. In every part of the world. Someone is trying to extinguish me, to take me down. I don't know who might wish for my death. I don't know why. I don't know who to trust, who to ask for help. I'm trapped in a spiral of terror, but I don't know how to stop this bloodbath. I don't know how to survive. Help me!The Door to NowhereThe murder of a vagabond and the disappearance of a child plunges a small town into panic. Both are linked by a house where Harry, the missing child, lives with his mother and brother. An old house, built inside an abandoned cursed slate quarry, full of mysteries. In fact, there have been many homeowners who have disappeared in the last century without leaving traces. These were precisely the mysteries Harry was trying to uncover. One above all: the door to nowhere. A strange door that lead nowhere, built on a wall in the house. Zuck’s grandfather, the murdered vagabond, had gone through it and knew what was on the other side. It is Davide, Harry’s older brother, who collects his legacy. Only by finding the way to cross that door will he be able to find his brother. What lies there is a thousand-old mystery, which originated in ancient Egypt, but still reaps victims.The PrisonNico had nothing in life. A doped mother who sells herself, always on the move, looking for a fluke that will she never have. He loves and hates her; she is his conviction. A prison. But now there’s Max. He is his only help. That strange man who takes an interest in him, without asking anything in return. Nevertheless, he is about to lose him; his mother is taking him away. Because Max is wealthy, this could be the opportunity she awaited. When he learns that his mother is going to rob him, Nico has to make a choice, but it is not easy. Not even Max is what he says he is; there’s a guy chained in his basement. The whole House could turn into a prison. Another, from which it is impossible to escape.
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Illusion Omnibus # 4
Original title: Uno
Translated by Alexander Powell
The Door to Nowhere
Original Title: La porta sul nulla
Translated by Gaston Como
Original title: La prigione
Translated by Manuel Cecconi
© 2018 Illusion
© 2018 Stefano Pastor
Graphics: Angela M.
His hand was fragile and light, like a little bird’s wing. The moment had arrived, life was about to abandon her. The two of us were on our own, in that hospital room, with a monitor and a drip-feed between us.
I had told her goodbye, and I had done so much more two days earlier. Laura had died then, and we exchanged a final kiss. It was her choice because she didn’t want to suffer anymore. Thus the doctors had made her fall into a deep sleep with a medically induced coma, which she would never wake again.
I was watching over her body, a skeletal chubby body which had lost its beauty. And I still could not come to terms with it. I recalled her full of strength and life, a perfect porcelain doll, as she had been until a few weeks earlier.
I had loved her a lot, I truly had!
Two weeks had been enough to kill a complete life.
Two weeks earlier…
I was thirty-six years old and I was a financial expert, as my family had been for generations; bankers, industrialists, politicians, a series of eminent ancestors.
My wife came from the Valmonte family. Laura Valmonte. Her past was an eminent one, too. Among her ancestors was a queen, during Napoleon’s times. Her grandfather was a Romanoff’s relative, Russia’s last imperial family.
However, our lives were not made of past glories. Laura was intelligent, smart, sharp and beautiful. I had married her for love, and I was certain she had done the same. Together we had become a financial power, but it had only been a chance of our fates.
Yes, it's true our fortunes combined together put us above many others and gave us security which no one could ever scratch, or at least that’s what we believed back then.
We had been married for eight years, and our life had always been happy, with no kind of shadows. We were a perfect couple, and we could understand each other with a glance. But we were very busy, too much indeed. I was busy with my company, whereas she was busy with her multiple activities, and even when we were together we could hardly find some time for us, as though we were in each other's lives.
That morning we were having breakfast. We sat directly opposite each other, yet separated by our very long table; our maids served us flawlessly making no noise with a background music coming from far away. I read the newspaper as I sipped my tea.
Laura sent the maids away with a wave of her hand and as soon as we were alone she began talking.
“Marcello, I must tell you something; something important.”
Her tone had been colloquial, with no emphasis, and I answered with as much carelessly as I barely shifted my glance away from the stock quotes.
“Yes dearie, tell me.”
She dropped the bomb,
“I’m dying. I don’t think I’m going to live much longer.”
I stared at her, I did not know what to say. She was so calm and her behavior seemed to deny what she had just said. Then I realized it was not like that, she harbored something else behind her mask, a volcano ready to explode. I knew Laura very well and I knew she would never joke about such things. I inspected her face, looking for exterior signs of a disease, but I found nothing.
“Are you ill?” I asked her. “What’s the matter?”
“Cancer”, she immediately answered, without going into detail. “I don’t have much time left, a month at best.”
I shook my head because I could not accept it. The denial came immediately and I was already about to ask her the most common questions you hear in this circumstance’ was she certain about it? Has she heard other doctors’ opinion? Then I recalled who Laura was, how she had always fought for her life as if she had imposed on herself never to bend her head in front of anything. And I understood I truly was going to lose her.
I wanted to stand up and run to her, but I couldn’t. Then I tried to speak and hide my fear.
“How long have you known that?”
She didn’t even try to lie.
“Eight months”, she replied.
I took a long breath and almost felt a physical pain. Eight months on her own, fighting her illness without me, how could she hide that?
She interrupted me “I did everything, whatever was humanly possible. I already had three operations, and the chemo works no more.”
It was not possible for us to have separated so far, how could she pass through such an ordeal without letting me in on her state? I recalled she had been away for a couple of weeks in spring to pay her sister a visit, that was sometime in February or March, she had been to a convention of some kind. When was the last time we had sex? And when was the last time we did with the lights on?
Still, it was terrible that I never noticed, almost monstrous.
“You said nothing, nothing!”
“I would’ve still told you nothing if it were possible”, she replied. “I wanted no one to know of it, not even you. But things did not go the way I wanted, and I will soon have to enter in the clinic. I can’t avoid it anymore. I don’t think I’ll ever get out of it.”
I tried to stand up to reach her, but her gaze kept me stuck on the chair.
“Don’t do it! I don’t want your pity! I want nobody’s pity!”
“it’s not pity”, I murmured. “I love you.”
“I know, it’s not pity yet but it will be Soon.”
Her gaze stuck me on the chair again.
“Not now, I don’t feel like talking. I already said too much and it’s hard for me. This evening we’re going to talk when you get back.”
“How foolish!” I uttered. “Do I look like I give a damn about the administrative council? We’ll postpone our meeting, a phone call is enough! I’m not going to leave you alone.”
“I demand so”, she answered back. “I’ve got so many things to end before the recovery and I don’t to go with loose ends on my part.”
“There’s nothing to say, Marcello. That’s it! You can’t do anything to change what’s going on and talking about it is of no help to me; not now, I’m not ready yet.”
It was her, but at the same time it was not her anymore. Yes, Laura had always been rigid, but not so distant. Now she was different, her illness had taken her away from me. A bridge had risen between us, between the dead and the living beings, perhaps it had been so for a long time and I had not even noticed.
I stood up, but she stood up as well. She tried to escape me, moving back to the entryway, she did not want me to touch her. How could she think eight years of love was just pity? How could she believe I stopped loving her just because she was ill? I tried to approach her anyway, but she reached out her hands and stopped me.
“No! Not now! I can’t do it, not now!”
“When then; we’ve got so little time left!”
She shook her head. “Go away! They’re waiting for you, go away!”
“Why are you doing this to me? Don’t you believe I’m suffering?”
Her bitter smile got me upset.
“You’re going to live, I will die and you’ll keep living. No! You can’t understand what it means.”
She walked out of the room as she said these words.
I was too astonished to follow her.
Was there a mistake? A point where our lives had separated and I hadn’t noticed? No, I was certain it was not like that. Our love was the same, there has always been full freedom and mutual respect of the space between us. Laura had her life and her activities, we did some things together but not everything. It had always been that way but never has it disturbed us.
Her illness had taken her away from me. It had led her to another dimension, separating her from me. It changed her and introduced her to different emotions: fear, desperation, and loneliness. What can I do? How can I penetrate the freezing castle where she had locked herself?
Laura did not want to die, not so young, not at the peak of her success. She could not accept it and I understood her. I understood death itself did not scare her, but her illness, slow deterioration, and suffering did. The terror of not being self-sufficient and being dependent on others with pity scared her as well.
I had met death in the past; so many times I almost gave up. This did not lessen my love for Laura, I would have done everything not to lose her but yet I could not mislead myself about the future.
In my office at the last floor, I could see the city in front of me, through the big locked glass wall which was never open. The room was soundproofed and no noise came to me from the street underneath. I could only see them, thousands and thousands of working ants, who were born, lived and died but that was humanity!
“They’re waiting for us”, Franzi said as he entered.
He was my right hand man, the vice president; he did not bother to let anyone announce him. He carried a bundle of folders, unconcerned about the fact that there were tons of assistants for those tasks. He threw one on the desk, in front of me,
“Have a look at it, at least pretend you know what we’re talking about! Don’t make me do everything!”
I looked at the folder as if it was a roach, and Franzi frowned.
“What’s the matter? Anything wrong?”
He was not the right man for the job, he had no sturdiness nor charisma. He was too old, fat and always sweaty despite the air conditioning. He was technically boring and excessively punctilious. No one else would have chosen him, but I knew he was the man I needed, the one who could run the company without exalting. That was his task even though I was the president, decisions were up to him.
I picked the folder up but did not open it.
“You’ll tell me everything as we go.”
Franzi made a resigned gesture. “Listen to me! Please, listen to me!”
I was a forty-three years old farmer. My father had been one and so had my grandfather and every one of my ancestors I could recall. I grew rice, just rice. I still did it in the traditional way, because I had always abhorred modern contraptions. I loved my job because it gave me so much satisfaction.
For twenty years I had been married to Minji. We had had three children together and she worked the fields with me. Our farm was small and we only had a workman to help us. Cholsu had actually become part of our family. He had never been a smart guy and had always lived with his mother until she died, after which he went wild because he could not maintain himself. He was some kind of a vagabond, mocked by everyone because of his scarce intelligence until he landed here. I had been hit by his innocent look and childish face that I offered him a job and let him occupy the hut. He has been living with us for ten years and my children liked him.
I had three sons, and this made me proud. The youngest one was eight years old and the eldest fourteen. They were all still in school. Jin would finish very soon, and he was ready to come and work with us. He was a brilliant student and I was confident he would be promoted with the best grades. I had not talked about it with Minji yet, but I had already decided he should continue his studies. I knew well we could not afford it, we did not have enough money, but I wanted more for him, a long and happy life.
I could have explained to her where the money came from, make up some story or something, but it wouldn’t matter. My son will continue his studies, all of them will, if it's their wish. It had already happened and it would happen again. Minji would understand, I was sure of it.
Our little town was located near Gwangju, where nothing ever happens. Life went on monotonously and calm. That afternoon seemed like every other, but I was so careless I kept on making mistakes as I was too much immersed in my thoughts. I was looking for a way to speak with Minji, to tell her plans I had for jin and his future. I was looking for the perfect way to explain to her we had the money for him to attend the university and continue his studies if he wished to do so but I would have to explain how I came the money came into my possession which would be very difficult. I would have to make up a much more believable excuse than a sudden inheritance of a missing uncle.
Cholsu always was in the way and stepped in between every conversation. Every attempt to send him away led nowhere. It was almost time for Minji to leave us and return to the farm; our sons would soon return and I had not even tackled the speech yet, I still won’t be able to talk to her in bed at night because I didn’t want our son's eavesdropping. We had to settle this on our own without any distractions as a couple.
I had already gotten away with being in possession with money I should not own by deceiving her, told her a couple of lies which she eventually believed but that was because she was younger and more trusting then. This time was different, she perfectly knew our financial resources, she constantly kept an eye on me fearing I would spend too much. Sometimes I was tempted to tell her everything and tell her the truth but she will not understand, I was certain of it, she won’t trust me anymore and even if she did, she would hate me.
“Cholsu, couldn’t you…”
He seemed enchanted with his mouth wide open. He stared at the farm, I followed his gaze and observed a stranger standing at the edge of the field looking and pointing right at the two of us. He could not come over because his shoes would get wet. He was a westerner dressed up in formal and elegant clothes with his muscular and imposing physique. He looked more like a businessman and the briefcase he carried seemed to confirm it, but his face contradicted the idea; a stiff square-faced man with a short white blond hair almost white. He wore dark glasses. He was also with a service person who seemed like a policeman, perhaps.
I could not be sure about his nationality either. He could be a Russian, probably coming from some East country, but I would not be surprised had he been American.
“What could he ever want?” Minji asked. “Do you know him?”
I had no idea, we never get any visitors and he was the first Western man I had ever seen in the flesh.
She was quick, “I’ll talk to him; it’s time to return anyway.”
I made a face because my chance to talk with her had vanished, but I didn’t oppose. I saw her going away as she put her dress in order, her hair tied in a bun at her nape. She was a practical woman, and she knew how to assert herself. She was never afraid of anything she was faced with.
She walked to the stranger and began questioning him. She asked what he was looking for, whether he was lost but he did not answer. He opened the briefcase in front of himself and I guessed he was going to take some documents. I got worried and convinced myself he was a lawyer.
Instead, he pulled out a gun. It was shiny gun with a long black barrel. I immediately recognized a silencer, but I could not shout in time. Minji had seen it and had stood there in a shock. She couldn’t react as fast as she ought to because she was too near and had no chance to escape him. The man was fast; he pointed his gun at her and shot. He hit her head, I saw Minji’s head flying backwards then she landed between the rice plants.
The man let the briefcase fall and moved forward. I clearly saw his grimace when he entered the field and was forced to get his shiny black shoes wet. He did not wear rubber boots as we did. He walked quickly.
Cholsu’s mouth was still wide open; he was too scared to move. I understood I had no way out and trying to escape was of no use in our conditions. He wanted me, I was sure of it. He came to kill me. I looked at Minji’s body, immersed in the water, and was full of anguish. Soon, really soon, the boys would return, would he have them killed too?
I shook Cholsu and yelled: “Run! Go away!”
Perhaps the assassin was not interested in him. Perhaps he would have let him go forever.
The man was closer then I stood up and faced him. I asked him who he was and what he wanted. Since the man did not answer, I asked the same questions in English, Russian,French and German. I could go on, but I eventually understood. No, he was not a lawyer nor a policeman. That man was a killer and was only doing his job.
Cholsu was still there, he had not moved an inch as he was in shock hearing me speak different languages I did not know so much so that he had forgotten the assassin’s presence.
“Go!” I yelled again, but this time it was too late.
A dry syncopated hit with a hole opened right at the center of his forehead, almost as if a third eye had showed up. Poor Cholsu wilted with an incredulous gaze on his face.
It was over, my moment had arrived, the killer was already pointing his gun.
“Why?” I asked.
Then I realized I had no more time. I could not die that way. I had to prevent him from shooting in my face. I managed to move slightly as the man shot. The bullet
hit my right eye; I felt it explode and everything was black.
I had to resist, I mustn’t die, not yet. At least not until the transfer was over.
A second. Two. Three. Four.
Everything was stopping inside my body. Some part of my brain had been damaged.
I could not do it! I could not make it! I did not have enough time!
I was in charge of a multinational corporation founded by my grandfather. We had interests everywhere in the world. People around the table were there for me. I was doing something… yes; I was there to do something…
“Mister DeRenzi, are you feeling well?”
It was Giovanna’s voice, yes, it was hers.
“Marcello, what’s up? You trailed off.”
That was Franzi. Yes, Franzi, I was sure of it.
Eight seconds! Eight!
“Look how pale he is! He’s going to faint, do something!”
“Help him sit down!”
“What’s going on?”
Too many voices, I could not recognize them anymore. My mind was messy, I had to reorganize it and put it back in order.
Eight seconds had not been sufficient! I needed at least twenty! Anyway several parts of my brain had been injured; most of my memory was lost in a random way, with no criterion. If I had not been able to shift my head things would have been way worse.
They were touching me; I felt they were making me sit down. I struggled to gain my discretions back. I had no time to reorganize my memories and divide them and try to understand what had been lost. I would not make it anyway; if a memory had been erased, how could I understand what it was?
It was more priorities upon priorities; Yes.
My voice sounded unrecognizable. “A phone.”
I heard Franzi’s voice “Get a phone quick!”
I managed to move my hand and grasped his arm. I squeezed it, “A mobile.”
I could not use a public phone. I cleared my throat and said, “A non-traceable mobile.”
Franzi was astonished “What?”
I stared at his eyes, “I need a phone which won’t be linked to us. Is it too much?”
His eyes was confused, he was not used to those things. He was not a man of action and wore the soul of an accountant.
Miss Wong who sat at the end of the table got something from her folder and called one of her assistants. I saw her deliver a tiny mobile. She was responsible for the Asian section and came from Japan. She was about sixty years old, did not talk much, and bore an icy gaze. My eyes followed the mobile as it was taken to me in a hurry. The assistant was embarrassed.
“Miss Wong said…”
I blocked her with a gestured and almost yanked it off her hand. If Miss Wong said it could not be traced, I would trust her word. I did not want to make such a phone call right there, amongst all of them but I had no strength to stand up from the chair. I could have asked for their help, but that would make me waste precious seconds. I was too sick, my boys would return home at any moment and the killer might still be there. My only hope was that no one in the room knew Korean.
I dialed the number, which I knew by heart, then before someone answered, I told Giovanna “Find Brandi, quick. Make him come here.”
Franzi stiffened, but Giovanna wasted no time and ran to the door as she pulled her phone out of her pocket.
No one understood what was going on. Right before their eyes, I had trailed off right during a speech, staying frozen for about eight seconds and I was not acting like a fool.
The phone rang two to three times and I had my heart in my throat. That poor devil sure was in some pub getting drunk as usual. That was our policeman! Nothing ever happened in our town, that’s what he thought. Nothing had ever happened.
Seung answered, with a croaky voice. I knew him well; we had been together drinking and chattering until dawn. He was envious of me, my life and my family. I had never been married but he could not recognize me now, not with that voice.
I gave him no time to interrupt me.
“My name’s Lang, I’m Jung Park’s cousin. There was a tragedy at Parks’ farm, someone killed his wife and I think he was killed too.”
That was only the beginning, I had to insist I had to tell him that the assassin might still be there, the boys were coming back and he could have them killed too. He had never heard of me but I told him details that no one else could ever know and I convinced him that I truly was his cousin. The tone of his voice made me understand that he was beginning to believe me.
I told him I was talking with Jung on the phone when Minji had been killed. I had heard the shots and Jung had suddenly stopped talking. I said I did not live there but I lived in Daegu and I was a gardener.
I told him lots of lies, and he would undoubtedly realize it very soon there was no phone near Jung’s body and no cousin Lang existed. The only thing I cared about was my sons, and Seung had to arrive just in time to save him.
He eventually interrupted the communication because I made him so anxious that he did not want to waste any more time.
I stared at the off phone with my heart in my throat. Then I raised my eyes on the people in front of me.
“What language was that?” Franzi asked, astonished.
One of the thousand languages I had not studied and I should not know. Miss Wong was silent and did not even look at me, but I was certain she understood every word of my phone call. I saw two more astonished gazes, a young English manager and one of the assistants, most likely working as an interpreter. I did not care, after all, I was the one who paid their salaries and I wasn’t accountable to any of them.
“You go on”, I told Franzi. “I don’t feel well.”
I wanted to stand up but I couldn’t, my legs still did not support me. Franzi made a gesture and two security agents came to help me. They lifted me up with ease.
Franzi had a puzzled face but I shook my head.
They laid me down on the couch in my office and then I sent them away with a gesture. Only Giovanna stayed, and for once she was shaking as well. She had taken off her efficient secretary mask and did not hide her worry.
“Did you find him?” I asked her.
“She’s coming here.”
How long would it take Seung to get the farm? I shouldn’t have trusted him. If the assassin was still there he soon would have the upper hand on him. But he was the only one near enough. Anyone else would have taken too long.
Now the shock was coming; Minji was dead! My wife was dead! My mate, the one who had divided every moment of my life! It was too much in just a day. It was laura’s revelation at first; now Minji’s death. And I didn’t even know if my sons were alive!
Giovanna let down her confidence, which was unusual for her, she leaned towards me.
“Are you sick? What’s going on with you?”
She was not the prototype of the perfect secretary. She was ten years older than me and she certainly could not be defined a beauty. But she was an efficiency made person and I would be lost without her help. I was tempted to talk her about Laura, this would have explained my frame of mind but I knew that my wife would not approve. She wanted no one to know about her frame of mind.
I shook my head and stared at my watch.
Minutes went on five, ten, Giovanna did not know what to do; she almost went away, then she changed her mind and sat in front of me.
He must have arrived. Right then Seung had to be at my farm. Perhaps he had already found the bodies.
I dialed the number on the phone, I waited for five rings and then he answered.
“Not now!” he shouted.
I yelled as well before he hung up “I’m Lang! Did you find them?”
There was a moment of silence.
“How did you get this moment?”
Right, the number I had called was his mobile number, but I could not do otherwise. There was no way to explain how I could know him and I did not even try.
“The boys, how are the boys?”
I asked nothing about Minji and Jung, whether they were dead or alive, and this increased his suspection .
“How do you know certain things? Who are you?”
“The boys, are they fine?” I insisted again.
“You must tell me…”
I yelled, full of rage “Did he killed the boys as well?”
Then again another brief silent;
“There’s no boy here, only three bodies and no one is still alive.”
I breathed a sigh of relief, but anxiety soon returned. I looked at the time again and calculate the time zone difference; they should have arrived already.
Seung’s voice came, “No, no, no!”
Then I heard him yell, but he was not talking to me “Stay away, don’t get close, don’t look, return to your house!”
I heard a voice yell and recognized it as Jin. I immediately separated the phone from me and began crying.
Giovanna looked at me with her mouth wide open while I gave vent to all the tension I had amassed. My relief was huge, but there was nothing to rejoice for. I cried and sobbed; For Minji, Laura and Cholsu too, especially because my sons were still alive and because he had not killed them.
Then I felt the need to speak, to let steam off and I told Giovanna “Laura is dying.”
Brandi came ten minutes after. I didn’t even know his name, I had never asked. He wasn’t officially an employee of mine; we used his surveillance agency only in extraordinary cases to organize the protection of foreign visitors or to find delicate information. They had always provided an excellent service.
He was young, perhaps even younger than me, and had an anonymous face, hard to notice. He never asked questions, he only executed.
I wasted no time in pleasantries.
“You must leave for South Korea, Gwangju. I’ve got no time to explain everything to you, but Giovanna will fax you all the information you need as you’re flying. Your job is to protect three children very discreetly. Make sure no one hurts them. Their parents were just killed, so it’s possible they’ll be living with their mother’s sister. Yes, Yurim lives on her own, I’m sure she’ll take care of them. You must try to help them, do whatever is possible, but stay in the shadow.”
A slight motion of his eyebrows was Brandi’s sole reaction.
“One more thing, I’ll fax you an identikit too. It depicts the man who killed their parents. You must be sure he doesn’t get to them. Try to understand who he is if you can.”
I added nothing else. Brandi waited for a few more second and asked no questions. Then he glanced at Giovanna.
She managed to hide his confusion.
“Yes, come, I’ll give you the journey’s details.”
I didn’t even notice they were gone. Another life had been erased; Minji, Cholsu and my sons whom I would never see again. Yes, I would have tried to help them as much as I could without showing up, but I could never meet them again. I must resist the temptation, even though that was what I wished the most for because they might understand. Nonetheless, sons understand certain things. Their father had died and that’s how things had to stay forever.
How many memories had I lost in those twelve missing seconds? It was memories of them, their mother and also memories of my previous life. How many of my lives had I lost?
Who was that assassin? Why did he want to kill me? Did he want to kill me or Jung? No one knew of my existence, I had always kept it hidden to everyone. But he had aimed at my head, my brain. It must have been an happenstance, it had to be. A personal signature, he had done the same thing with Minji and Cholsu.
Giovanna came back a few minutes later. She knocked discreetly and leaned her head inside.
“The artist you asked for is here.”
“Let him in”, I answered
I couldn’t have any more news until the day after.Brandi should arrive Seoul in the first hours of the morning but I would not be amazed if before then he would have been able to put things in motion. He was a man with one thousand resources and one thousand acquaintances.
I could not stay in the office, I had refused to talk with Franzi and declined Giovanna’s help offer. Now they would lose themselves in endless theories about the bizarre occurrences they had witnessed. But I could not make it, I truly lacked the strength. I should have lied as usual because my story could not be shared with anyone. And I wished to stay with Laura, spend some time with her, trytalking with her.
Minji’s death had taught me a great lesson; it had made me realize how important spending time with people I loved was; Poor Jin, my dreams to make him study and make him go to the university. So many pointless worries vanished forever. Who knows what I could have done for him if he had ever been able to gain his happiness back.
Laura had lied to me or perhaps she had not been able to resist. I found her home, sitting on a bench in the garden. She looked at the blooming flower beds, a jubilation of life in front of her. I approached her and caressed her shoulder. This time she did not pull back, she grasped my arm and made me sit next to her. She hugged me and we stood there, next to each other without talking. I gave her lots of kisses and she curled up to me as if she was looking for protection.
“What’s dying like?” she eventually asked. “Do you ever wonder?”
I could have told her I had already died hundreds and hundreds of times but I doubted my experience could give her some solace.
“You’re not alone”, I murmured. “I will never leave you; I will always be at your side.”
She caressed my cheek.
“What are you going to do when I’m gone?”
I could not accept it; she still looked so beautiful, so perfect, it seemed impossible that she was ill.
I soon had to change my mind because as soon as we had entered our house, Laura felt sick and vomited;her vomit was as red as blood.
The day after I didn’t go to my office, I stayed in bed with her and held her close the whole morning except when I went to the bathroom to secretly call Brandi. Everything was going fine, he had arrived and my sons were still alive.
Perhaps the worst had gone.
I was fifty-six years old and a high school teacher. The subject I had been teaching was philosophy.
I had never gotten married but I had two significant relationships in the past. The first one was when I was still a young lady, with a married man older than me. It had lasted for four years and he left me devastated. I was older when I had the second one, with a colleague of mine, and it had gone on for eight years. Our mutual interest had eventually dried out with no drama.
I was slightly overweight but not too much; I had enough care of my physical appearance. I spent all my free time with concerts and performances, seminars and conferences. I tried to keep myself up to date with everything and I loved classical music.
I was not a bad teacher, as my students were satisfied with me. I was renowned for being absent-minded, but I thought there was no justification for it. I did not consider myself like that.
I lived in Sherbrooke, almost at the border with the United States. Despite my name being English, I spoke French. My little house was picturesque and during summer my garden was full of flowers.
Was my life a good one? It was a full life, yes, a life which deserved to be lived. But it was too late already. Even though I did not realize it; it was too late.
I was in the principal’s office chatting about fool things, waiting for the lesson to start. I happened to look out the window; I felt no feeling or foreshadowing, just a chance. I saw him get out of a car right in front of the school building.
The car was an anonymous cab but the passenger was unmistakable. I had not a second of uncertainty. It was the man who had killed me only the day earlier in Korea.
I froze. The fact he was already there was incredible, he must have caught an airplane for Canada right after the slaughter. But how could he know of my existence? It was impossible.
I had little time left, very little time to run away, I feared it was too late. I especially did not want him to find me there, nor in any other room of the institute, since I knew well that he would spare no witness. That school was my house, and I loved every student. I didn’t want to endanger them.
I abandoned Catherine, the principal, with no explanation, and I ran out of the office.
She ran behind me, afraid.
“What’s going on, Esther? What did you see?”
I could not stop, there was no more time.
“Call the police!” I yelled. “Make them come, quick!”
Then I began running.
A single idea in my mind: twenty seconds!
I was in Laura’s room when the transfer began. She was preparing her luggage to go to the hospital. A maid was helping her. It was a disheartening moment for me, I felt pointless.
Laura had accepted that I accompanied her; I had sworn I would never leave, not even for a second. When I saw the killer come to the school I froze but Laura and the maid noticed nothing.
I should have reacted, but fear of extinction was too strong. I executed the transfer.
The maid was the first to notice it.
“Sir…” she murmured, amazed.
Laura startled and stared at me.
“Marcello, what’s up? What’s going on?”
I could not answer, Esther’s life was flowing inside me, all her personal memories as well as the ones she carried. An endless mass of feelings and emotions,it was overwhelming. I began sorting them, dividing them, choosing the truly important ones, because I was not able to contain all of them.
“Oh my God! Oh my God!” the maid began shouting as Laura ran to hold me up before I fell down.
“Help me!” she yelled before shocking that incompetent who could only complain.
They made me sit in an armchair.
I counted the seconds, eleven, twelve, thirteen; Esther must have fallen down right during the transfer, and she was completely defenseless in that moment. Would I make it? Had I done anything wrong? Had I surrendered too soon, perhaps I was still in time to escape? The man was a professional; there was no way to escape him. How had he found her?
“Don’t stay frozen! Go and call a doctor!” Laura yelled.
She held me close and was upset.
“No, not you, please. Don’t get sick, don’t leave me!”
It must be a bad scene, but I could not answer. The transfer required all my senses, and thinking was hard.
I fell down on the armchair, and Laura yelled louder, “Quick!”
I was overwhelmed by memories, totally defeated. I was still dividing them and this would have frozen me for a few more minutes but there was no time, not at all.
“A phone”, I managed to murmur. “A phone, quick!”
Laura did not understand or deliberately ignored my request. She only increased her voice.
“So? Did she find it? Tell her to come now!”
I grasped her arm with the only strength I was left with.
“Give me a phone!”
It was there on the desk, a few steps from me but I had no way to reach it.
“You’re not able to”, Laura murmured.
She went and took it but she was confused and she looked so slow, too slow, to me. It was late; I would not be able to manage it. It was to happen again. I was to be killed.
I had fallen on the ground and many people stood around me; too many of them. Even Catherine had come, disregarding my request to call the police.
The killer must have entered by then he was in the building. He would have enacted a slaughter in order to reach me.
I tried to get up, but I was very weak. My memories were safe and this was the most important thing. I stumbled while trying to send away all those hands trying to help me.
God, it was full of guys and girls, my students.
“Miss Dickerson, are you feeling sick?”
“Call the infirmary!”
“Esther, what’s up, how are you feeling?”
Catherine would not let me go, she had grasped my arm. I stared at the hallway because that’s where the assassin would come from. It was too late, I had no way to escape from the building and every hallway was crowded.
“Let me go!” I yelled as I set myself free from their hands with rage.
The backdoor exit; I would have to pass through the whole building to reach it but I had no choice. I stumbled as I got away from them, giving no explanation. Catherine and one of the janitors followed me through.
“Esther, you should let the female nurse look at you. Perhaps…”
I ignored them and kept looking around me. Where was that bastard, why hadn’t he arrived yet? Had he understood my game? could it be that he was waiting for me in front of the secondary exit?
I passed through the building without slowing down. Catherine’s words were lost far away, I passed from one hallway to the other but lessons had not started yet and students wandered about everywhere.
When I reached the stairs I froze.
Up or down?
My assassin was probably waiting for me at the end of the stairs. Climbing up the stairs I would trap myself and I would have no way out but I could hide and wait for the police to arrive.
My life was at stake, a full life, something I did not want to give up. I decided and began climbing up.
I slowly put the phone down, I had my heart in my throat then I raised my eyes to Laura. She had sat down too on the edge of the chair and new wrinkles had shown up on her forehead.
“I did not know you speak French”, she told me.
She did not understand; I was certain of it. Perhaps a few words here and there; but not enough to understand the phone call. I had called Sherbrooke’s police, warning them that an armed fool had burst into the school. I had described it accurately. I said I was a teacher; I had given them the name of a professor who truly existed and was very well renowned in the area, so to be certain they would take my call seriously.
“How are you now?”
“Better”, I answered but it was not true, I was still exhausted, I had no strength to stand up and right then an unknown killer was about to kill me in the other part of the world.
“Do you need… I can fetch you your pills if you wish. Did your headaches return?”
It took me a few seconds before I understood what she was talking about then I recognized her tense face.
“No, no!” I hurried up to reassure her.
“Your doctor said they might come back.”
Was that her fear, that I had cancer too?
“It was just a cyst, Laura. Not a real tumor. Keep calm.”
We had experienced a bad time two years earlier when we were afraid a tumor had hit my brain. I had been operated on; everything had eventually gone well and the peril had been reduced.
“It’s not that”, I said again.
Laura was living it, ‘The cancer’ and she was very sensitive about certain things. I tried to reach her to grasp her hand but it was too tiresome.
“I’m sorry I’m giving you these worries right now But I assure you it was just a weakness; Nothing important.”
“Have someone visit you, anyway”, she answered. “You can’t feel sick now, not now!”
I finally stood up and I hugged her. She leaned herself on my shoulder and began crying.
I so much wanted to console her but right then I couldn’t, I was running to save my life, high, even higher.
I had reached the point of no return, I could go no higher. I was on the building roof.
There was a wide terrace surrounded by the sloping roof and encircled by a railing. Even though the last tract of the stairs was forbidden to every student, I found four of them smoking. When I caught them a guy began cursing; I wasted no time and spoke with my most authoritative voice.
“Throw them away and go to your classrooms!”
They obeyed, but they were slackers in doing so. Every second of delay might cost them their lives. If they were still there at the killer’s arrival, they would have faced the same end as mine.
“Move, Move!” I yelled and I almost pushed them with violence.
As I saw them enter I sighed with relief before I looked around for a hideout, but I found none. Climbing up the roof would have been pointless because I would not be able to do that. My body would not be, at least. I was too old and fat, unable to use all the memories I had amassed.
What was I living in the world for? I had no one who was important to me, not even a pet. I would only leave memories for those who had known me; Pleasant memories, hopefully. Was my existence reduced to that? It hadn’t been a great life, void of anything relevant. With years gone, my memories would have worn thin and I eventually would have been just one of the many lives without blame or praise, completely unproductive.
I grasped the railing and wondered how I had reached that point. Why didn’t I have a husband and children? Why had I only made my choices? Thousands of experience had been of no help, the human being was still fallible, always.
Perhaps in that moment, it was better like that. Knowing that no one would suffer for my death, no one would despair, was less painful.
The pain for my three children was too strong and so it was for the wife I had lost. It was better than no more will be added.
I did not turn when I heard the terrace door open. I already knew he had arrived. I thought it would be easier not to see.
“You failed, you know?” I said. “You still won’t be able to completely kill me. I’m already safe.”
No answer, then I had to turn around.
It was him and he towered over me. He was so tall, imposing and frightening. He wore the same dress I had seen him on in Korea or a very similar one. He had no briefcase but that damn pistol had shown up in his hand.
“Tell me why you do it”, I asked.
He would give me no answer, I knew that yet he spoke as he aimed his gun.
“One”, he said in English.
I did not understand.
“One?” I repeated, and asked in his language “What does it mean?”
His words overwhelmed me.
“Jung Park, Esther Dickerson, Miguel Figueroa, Amy Benson, Dominic Ferri and Marcello DeRenzi.”
I stared at him with my eyes wide open and he smiled.
“Does it mean anything to you? He wanted me to tell you before.”
“But… but…” was all I could say.
Then he pointed his gun between my eyes and shot.
I was dead! That was my second death in two days. There was more, that man knew all my six identities. It was a catastrophe or even Worse; the end of everything.
I began shaking and Laura noticed.
“You’re not feeling well yet’, she said. “Stay at home, I’ll go on my own.”
Abandoning her now? Letting her face the saddest moment in her life alone? I grasped her arm.
“I’m with you”, I said. “And I always will.”
Yet I desperately needed to use the phone, to call and ask for help, and I could not do it with her beside me.
What did that assassin’s words imply? He knew all my identities and would have me killed, one after the other. I had only four bodies left, four!
I picked Laura’s suitcase up but it was too heavy for me, I still felt weak. The driver soon came and helped me.
We walked out the villa, Laura and I, hugging each other. One held up the other, but I could not tell who did.
She turned around once again to say goodbye to her house and in that instant, a lonely tear fell on her cheek.
We got in the car and it soon left, with no need to wait for our orders.
I was thirty-two years old and I lived in Port Elizabeth, in South Africa. I was an interpreter, shared my house with just a cat Matisse. That day I was in love; just like a teen girl.
Fate had decided for me. After a continuous series of unfortunate relationships, he had arrived. He had begun living in my place for two weeks, right in the apartment next to mine. He was as old as I was and was an artist. He was a painter; a real painter actually. The kind that holds exhibits and gets to sell their pictures.
I had already infiltrated in his apartment, pushed by curiosity and it was magnificent. So full of pictures and colors; He certainly considered me intrusive but I could not help it. I had fallen in love with him the very moment I saw him.
He clearly did not return my feelings but I did not consider that as an insurmountable problem. I was certain I would be able to conquer him with perseverance.
His name was Ricky, his hair was long and a thin beard surrounded his face. He was the opposite of me. Tall and tan with black hair and eyes. I looked anemic and fragile next to him but I was certain we would become a perfect couple.
Even then, as I phoned, I kept an eye on his study’s window confining with my bedroom. I just had to stick my head out of the balcony to see him wandering around shirtless in the big room. I could not stop looking at him.
“Mister Brandi?” I asked, even though it was pointless. I had dialed his mobile number and very few people knew it.
“I’m calling you on behalf of Giovanna. I’ve got more orders for you.”
I could feign I was Giovanna, but he would not fall for it. He was always very careful with details and never forgot a voice.
“Where are you right now?”
The answer came rather late. A stranger voice must have surely him.
“You should know where I am.”
He was too far to do anything; Send him after the killer? No, he would still be late; Make him forerun the killer? Where though? I could make him come here in South Africa but would he get here in time? Wouldn’t I better focus on Dominic?
“You must return to Europe”
“Mister DeRenzi is in danger; his life is at risks and he must be immediately protected.”
There was a very brief silence.
“Where is he?”
“He’s at the Belmonti Hospital together with his wife. He’s staying there for some time.”
I could picture his grimace. A hospital was hard to defend.
“He won’t get out of his wife’s room”, I added, although I wasn’t certain it was possible. What if Laura wished to descend to the garden? There was just so many complications.
“You must arrange for his protection as fast as possible.”
“I’m already providing for it”, he answered coldly.
“And it’s necessary to arrange for three more protections. All the subjects’ lives are in danger. Do you think you can handle it?”
He bypassed my question, “Is it the same assassin?”
I could not be certain but considering what he had told Esther he had probably been hired to eliminate all the list’s names.
But why did he tell me? Was he so self-confident that he did not fear he could be stopped?
“Have you found out who that is, already?”
“I’m waiting for answers; there have been confirmation, but I’m not sure about their reliability.”
“Can’t you give me any preview?”
“Would having a name make any difference?”
No, it was not important. He was just a killer and he had been paid by someone. It’s just that no one in the whole world knew about my existence. Even though someone might have suspected in the centuries, he still had no way to discover all my bodies. Yet this time it had happened.
“The three people to protect are Miguel Figueroa from Buenos Aires, a ten-year-old boy, Dominic Ferri, a seventeen-year-old living in Nantes, in France and…” I added my name, trying to be impersonal.
I went on, “I suppose Miguel Figueroa will be hit at first.”
Then it would be my turn. The killer was clearly moving in a straight line from Korea to Canada, from Canada to Argentina then to South Africa. Even the list he had rattled off left no doubts. Yet…
Something was not working. As the crow flies, Nantes was further than Italy, then why was Marcello going to be the last one? Because he was the richest and most powerful; the only one who could defend himself? I doubted it was that simple. Something was escaping me.
Why warning me? It would have been logical making all converge to an only point, escape before the killer could arrive. Was he making us being looked after? Did he know where we were any moment?
The questions haunting me were increasing. Why hadn’t we been killed at the same time? Surely who wanted us dead had the ways to do it; Yet, we had been warned. Should I go to Italy? Should all of us converge there? So far it had never happened in my whole existence, to have contacts with any other body of mine. Was that what he wanted?
I shook up, my silence must have agitated Brandi.
“Miguel is going to be hit first, I’m sure of it”, I said again.
“And it’s a boy.”
“Yes, a boy.”
This made everything harder, his resources were limited and so were his abilities.
“He’ll try to hide, until your men will arrive”, I added.
“Does he know he’s in danger?”
I was trapped in that body, it would not be easy at all.
“Hurry up”, I just said. “Giovanna will supply you all the information you need.”
Perhaps I had betrayed myself, perhaps Brandi had understood I was not any common secretary and I had a power he could not understand.
“Where is my presence most necessary?”
This was another important decision I should take. Which body was essential? Not mine, I was sure of it; Miguel or Dominic? They were too young. Important, yes, but lacked the necessary power.
“Go to Rome and take care of mister DeRenzi’s safety.”
I hung up the call and added no more words. I glanced at Ricky before I made another phone call. It was a bad thing, truly bad that all these are coming up right at this point that I had found the proper boyfriend and could be happy.
I made a face before dialing the number.
“Giovanna? I’m calling you on behalf of mister DeRenzi…”
I was ten years old and I lived in Buenos Aires. I was very overweight but no one ever mocked me, perhaps because my father was an army general. I was not very loved in my family or among the servants. At school I was hated as well, among both the teachers and children.
I was not evil neither I was a monster. There was just a lot of rage inside me because I was living a life I did not like. I could not easily adapt to the discipline I was forced to because I had too much knowledge more than anybody else and I was just a child.
It generally didn’t happened; each time I had accepted my new existence with pleasure, adapting to the situation. I did not take advantage of my knowledge to stand out or to surpass the others. I was happy I lived every single stage of growing up.
But not in this case, I could not be a child even if I had wished so, not with a father like the one I had, not with a so weak mother. The rebellion which should have made me count had actually made me a pariah. Even my teachers were impressed by my knowledge so much so that they had told my father to make me study a little bit less. My schoolmates made fools of themselves in front of me and that’s why they hated me. I suffered, even too much because I understood that I was doing everything wrong but could not stop.
How many times had it happened in my existence? How many mistakes had been repeated ad infinitum? I was human after all and human beings never learn what really matters especially children.
“Come with me!” I said to Pablo. Actually, I ordered him.
Pablo was nobody, the son of dad’s driver. He was fifteen years old but I considered him an idiot. He never did anything but upside down reading comic books the whole day until someone caught him and dressed him down. He had stopped going to school and his father jumped through hoops to make us hire him to assure him a future.
As foreseen Pablo stood up, ready to obey. He was afraid of me even though I was young. He knew that any words of mine could send him and his father away.
He was timorous because he was not allowed to walk inside and he knew that he would be scolded even though he had been ordered by me.
I did not know who else I could talk to. True, I could walk outside, run away and hide somewhere at least until Brandi’s men came then I would know how to get to them. But I couldn’t forget the fact that I was just a ten year old child and life out there was not safe. If I had found myself in danger I would have no way to defend myself, none of my servants would help me in that situation. But I was certain I could control the kid as I always did.
When Pablo froze, I ran and took his hand.
I pulled him upstairs along the white marble steps to the house’s main entrance. He could not go against me.
When we entered in the atrium we found two servants washing the floor. I kept dragging Pablo amongst them, soiling the wet floor.
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