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I'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!
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Illusion Novel # 1
Original title: Uno
Translated by Alexander Powell
© 2018 Illusion
© 2015 Stefano Pastor
Graphics: Angela M.
All rights reserved
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.”
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