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They are the last of their race and are able to make dreams become real, but they are dangerous. Evil has come to the town of Ardesia and has a name: Lajos Fenner. It has come to find and destroy them. Only the 12 year old Stella has noticed it, only she can combat it. With the help of her teacher, Miss Virginia and a strange boy who appeared out of nowhere Peter, who is about to embark on the craziest of the adventures. Among dusty books, delicate porcelain figurines and old classical music records hides a millennial secret. Beyond time and space, an ancient pact is going to be honored and that will change their lives forever by erasing the boundary between reality and fantasy. A war that began in the mists of time is about to reach its epilogue, in the bloodiest of battles.
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Liczba stron: 209
Illusion Novel # 6
Original title: Stella
Translated by James Arwell
© 2018 Illusion
© 2016 Stefano Pastor
Graphics: Angela M.
All rights reserved
When evil befell Ardesia, the only one who noticed it was Stella. And since Stella was only a little girl, this did not have much influence on the events that followed.
Actually, you can not even say anybody noticed it, She collided into him. She immediately found him as an unpleasant, rude and insensitive individual. He didn’t recognize her, he hardly noticed her.
He had just arrived with the last train and was coming out of the station. He contemplated with satisfaction the small town that lay before him and will soon become his kingdom. He was in a very good mood, so he didn’t even get angry when that little girl careless bumped into him. He just pushed her away, almost as if it was a waste paper that had stuck to him. He had no time to waste.
Stella instead looked at him rather attentively. She found him gloomy. Yes dark, that was the word she was fond of it. His lips too thin, the eyebrows too thick, the sideburns too long.
And then the dress, so out of time! Jacket, coat and cloak, one above the other, almost as if he was afraid to get cold. Only problem was, it was in the middle of the summer and the sun shone in the sky.
He walked away, leaving her perplexed, with her brows furrowed.
Stella was a very perceptive little girl, because she knew about fantasy. Her father had taught her, just as he had instructed her to start reading from the age of four. After all it was not unusual: they were surrounded by books. For her father it was everything and even Stella felt the lure.
Their house was located right above the bookstore, which was her father’s kingdom. It was such an old shop that it did not even have a catalogue of what it contained. Only a small part was open to the public and the more you entered inside, the more the books became ancient and precious and consequently, fragile. You were not allowed to go into certain areas. Needless to say that Stella had completely explored it and that was a long time ago.
Stella was almost eleven years old. One more month and she would reach the stepping point of her existence: the moment she had to detach herself completely from elementary school and all her companions, to face middle school, which was laden with fascination and mystery, this frightened her a little.
Stella was not so fond of the changes and above all she hated leaving her teacher, Miss Virginia, who she valued so much. Over the years they had consolidated their relationship and it could not have been otherwise, since they both loved the same things: books, fantasy and roses.
Without any difficulty, Stella was always one step ahead of her classmates. She was the first in her class and for this reason Miss Virginia was very proud.
For years, Stella had been visiting her house but the visits had intensified at the beginning of the summer. Stella was always there, as the fear of losing her pushed her to stay with her more. The garden of Miss Virginia was a blaze of roses, because that was her passion and she did not allow anyone to touch them, except Stella.
Her father was happy with this friendship born on the school benches and destined to accompany her in life. A little less like her mother.
Mrs. Amodeo, as everyone called her, to the point that no one remembered her name, was very different from her husband.
First of all she could not read and that for a family was like a tragedy. She didn’t even work in the bookstore, because she didn’t have the aptitude. She was also not happy with the time that Stella spent: either with her nose in her books or in the garden of Miss Virginia to treat the roses. Mrs. Amodeo would have wanted her daughter to be like all the other girls, who cared about their appearance, who played carelessly and had so many friends.
She had been so young and although she loved her husband and had never regretted her choice, she still felt out of place in that temple dedicated to reading. She recognized that she was becoming more frivolous and not ashamed. Her happiness was turning to shopping and she was horrified that her only daughter hated her.
Stella loved her father. Even if she would never admit it to anyone, she liked him far much more than her mother; she even adored him. That little skinny man, with a pair of round glasses slipping down his nose, the incipient bald spot and the melodious voice, he was her idol. Her aspiration was to become like him, not physically, of course.
Theirs was a quiet life, pleasant and full of satisfaction; they lived in a typical small slow-paced rhythm town, like frogs basking in the sun.
Nothing ever changed and everything seemed unchangeable.
At least until that day.
The night when the tragedy occurred, Stella was in the bookstore.
Her father, Mr Amodeo, had been restless all day, almost as if he had a hint of an incoming storm.
The customers had been few and hasty and this had allowed Stella to keep herself apart, immersed in the reading of one of her favorite novels, in a universe populated by gnomes and orcs.
Although lost in her fantasy world, Stella could not help but notice that the agitation of the father had grown steadily and that now the man walked back and forth, increasingly nervous.
“What do you have, Daddy? Is something wrong?”
The man froze, as if paralyzed by those words and turned slowly to look at her. His face looked astonished, because he had forgotten about her presence there.
Then the amazement gave way to anxiety, which his daughter immediately realized.
“What’s the matter?”
“A book!” Mr. Amodeo said, with a hoarse voice. He nodded forcefully and added: “Yes, yes, I need a book, you have to go get it.”
Stella’s tension dissolved and the smile returned.
“That’s all? No problem Daddy, what do you need?”
It was one of the forbidden books. Of those rare and precious first editions that he guarded jealously in the darkest depths of the old building. Stella was astonished that he instructed her on such a task, but was also flattered. Mr. Amodeo explained carefully how to reach it.
“Hurry, hurry, I really need it.”
Stella did not understand the reason for all that haste. There was no customer waiting for him and it was almost time to close the shop. She did not however ask questions, as she never did when she was entrusted with a task.
She disappeared into the back of the real shop and immersed herself in a maze of small rooms and staircases, all full of shelving. She ascended and went up, because it was in the highest shelves where the precious books were kept.
She heard the tinkle of the bell from far and realized that a client had entered the shop. Certainly, the person who wanted that book, so she tried to hurry.
Mr. Amodeo did not like selling certain titles, no matter how high the offer was. He kept them jealously and only he dared to flip through them. Not even his daughter was allowed. What he had asked her to bring, a first original edition of Peter Pan and Wendy, dating back to a century earlier, it was also one of her favorites and it was unthinkable that he wanted to release it.
Stella guessed his intention was to show it to someone. Only that, because it had already happened in the past.
She found it on the top shelf, wrapped in a cloth, to protect it from dust. She flipped through it, despite the haste, because she had never been able to do it before. It was full of beautiful designs, depicting the story. She was even uncomfortable with the idea of separating from such a special book.
She went down with precaution, holding onto the book tightly with both hands and slowly crossed the corridors. Her father was talking to someone, she heard them arguing, though she could not comprehend the words. She slowed down to avoid disturbing them.
When the silence returned, she stepped forward. Then came the sound of the bell and then she ran, in fear of having wasted too much time and that the client had gone without what he was waiting for. She saw him through the window briefly, as he walked away. She had the feeling that she had met him before.
“Daddy?” she called.
She didn’t see her father anywhere.
“Daddy, I found it! It’s here.”
This made her nervous. She laid the book on a table without any regard and ran to the counter.
She saw his legs protruding, then all the rest of his body. He was lying on the ground and the first idea that occurred to her was that he had been attacked and that the man had tried to rob him.
Her father was trying to get up, stretching an arm to cling to the counter, but did not have the strength. Stella tried not to scream.
He had turned pale, he had also lost his glasses which was broken, his hair messy. He only managed to say two words: “My heart …”
Then he collapsed completely.
Stella was fast, because she was the practical type, despite her young age. She was quick in calling an ambulance explaining the situation. She also called some neighboring shopkeepers to stay in the bookstore with her father, before running home to deliver the sad news.
She handled the situation well, because when Mrs. Amodeo was informed of her husband’s condition she had a hysterical crisis.
Stella was afraid of going down to the shop to see how her father was, but Mrs. Amodeo had clung to her, sobbing and stuttering incomprehensible words, without even being touched by the idea of personally being under control.
Stella, who was aware of her mother’s emotional fragility, had a lot of patience with her, but as soon as some neighbors arrived she hastily transferred her to their care and slipped away.
The ambulance had arrived at last and they were trying to revive him. Stella had to struggle to be able to reach him.
He had recovered at least a little. Lying on the stretcher Mr. Amodeo looked like an overgrown child and his gaze was lost and frightened.
He grabbed her hand, though he lacked strength.
“Do not worry, I will always stand next to you”, he managed to tell her and those were his last words.
“Be rest assured, he is in good hands. He will be back soon”, a nurse promised before taking him away.”
But when the ambulance reached the hospital, Mr. Amodeo was already dead.
This sad event caused a big change in the life of the little Stella. Even Mrs. Amodeo was stricken, it could not have been otherwise, but for Stella it was a tragedy. First of all, Mrs. Amodeo closed the bookstore and put it on sale. For Stella this was another painful loss.
It was the death of the dream, the fantasy. The end of everything. Something from which it was impossible to recover from. As a result, it did not happen. In a single instant, not only did Stella loss her father, but between her and her mother, a gap that seemed to be unbreacheable was formed. The woman resumed going out, visiting people and friends, going to the parish, in hope that this would help her feel better. Stella, however, began to spend all her time at Miss Virginia’s house.
Although in her heart, she was not at all happy with it, Mrs. Amodeo had to admit that it was not at all pleasant to have her around the whole day, the little girl so sad and having to be under her accusing gaze, so she preferred to ignore it and not oppose. The distance between the two of them was increasingly clear.
Miss Virginia was a very sensitive woman, so she certainly knew when it was the case to intervene and when it was preferable to be silent. And in all those days she remained silent. Stella was always next to her, ready to help her cure her flowers; she was hardworking, helpful and equally quiet. Mrs. Virginia never asked her anything.
She had never known Mr. Amodeo in person, but Stella had spoken so much about him that even she felt deeply struck by the loss. It was sad that a little girl so smart as Stella had to endure such a pain at such a tender age. It was not easy to accept it.
It was almost a week before Stella opened up and started talking, but her immediate words made her agitate even more.
“There was a man, with my father, just before he died.”
Mrs. Virginia was not sure she understood.
“What do you mean?”
“Is it possible that she did not realize that he was ill.”
Stella had no doubts: when that man had gone out of the shop, her father was already lying on the ground. She had not heard him fall, she was sure.
“What do you mean? You’re saying he attacked him?”
“No, the doctors said. They said it was a heart attack, a sudden heart attack. I’m sure. It was a natural death.”
“Then I do not understand.”
Regardless of what might have provoked the heart attack, Stella was certain of one thing: that man had seen it happen. That man knew that her father was dying, yet he had done nothing to help him, he just went away.
It was not correct, absolutely not right.
Just two days later, returning home after spending a morning helping Miss Virginia, Stella found the door of the bookstore open.
The sign announcing the closure was still on display at the center of the window, yet there was someone inside. Stella felt that shop was her property, it was the legacy that her father had left and it didn’t matter if her mother had decided to sell it. So she had no hesitation about entering.
It was sad to see so much desolation. The lights were off and everything had remained identical to the evening when her father died. On one of the tables the precious book of Peter Pan was still lying there, which she herself had thrown without any care. She stepped forward, to go pick it up.
There was no one in the shop, but she heard distant voices. She recognized her mother’s and felt even worse. She immediately understood that the buyer had arrived and the definitive separation was coming.
She picked up the precious volume with discretion and caressed it.
His mother’s voice was getting closer and closer.
“Unfortunately, I can not provide you with an inventory, my husband was a little messy with certain things, but as you can see the shop is full of books of great value. My husband was a collector by heart, he suffered every time he had to deprive himself from one of his treasures. He has never been a shrewd trader, otherwise we would not be in this condition.”
Stella tightened her grip on the book, determined to fight.
Her mother appeared, without noticing her.
“I have realized that the furniture is not in good condition and certainly most of the books will now be unsellable, but I still believe that it can be a bargain for you. This shop contains several surprises.”
It was awful for Stella to hear her call it that way and even the tone which her mother used about it was unpleasant. She clenched her teeth, ready to explode. At that same instant her mother saw her and the man appeared.
Stella froze, her gaze fixed. Although she had seen him just for a moment, through the window, she had no doubts. Those sideburns and those bushy eyebrows. Those lips so elusive, the anachronistic cloak that he wrapped.
The words that came out of her mouth were not words that she had prepared and they amazed everyone.
“What is he doing here?”
Even the man raised his eyebrows.
Mrs. Amodeo was embarrassed.
“Darling, you shouldn’t have come in, it makes you feel bad coming in here. The gentleman is very interested in the bookstore. He has recently come to town and would like to have his own business.”
“Not him!” Stella shouted. “I don’t want him to have it!”
Mrs. Amodeo was so astonished that she could not intervene. Stella took advantage of it to come forward, still clutching the book her father loved so much to her heart.
“Why did you not help him? Why did you let him die?”
“What are you saying, Stella?” her mother shrieked. “You cannot treat the gentleman in this way!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about”, the man said.
Stella had already drawn her conclusions and was without appeal.
“You! He was with daddy that night too! He felt badly in front of him and he did nothing to help him!” He screamed: “You ran away.”
“I’ve never been here!” he replied. “It’s the first time I am setting foot here!”
Stella turned to her mother, furiously: “He allowed him to die and now he would also like to buy our bookstore!”
Mrs. Amodeo was confused, but also upset. She turned to the man: “Did you hear what my daughter said? Are you sure you’ve never been here?”
The man was relaxed, with an innocent look and a persuasive voice. “Madam, I can swear to you that when your husband died, I had not yet come to town.”
With those words Stella remembered. She remembered the meeting or rather the clash, which took place in front of the station. She remembered that face and that dress, she remembered the man. But above all she remembered when all this had happened.
“He is a liar!” she shouted. “I had already met him in the city and daddy was still alive!”
Mrs. Amodeo frowned.
The man let out a slight hiss and straighten, more imposing than ever.
“I’m not here to be insulted ma’am. I thought you were capable of handling a transaction. If my presence annoys you, I will leave immediately to end the inconvenience.”
Strutting he made his way to the door.
Mrs. Amodeo was almost tempted to call him back, then she met her daughter’s gaze and the words died in her throat.
The man crossed the room and walked to the door without saying another word.
Stella waited for a few moments to be sure he really left.
Strangely, her mother did not ask her any more questions, so she questioned her: “Who the hell was that man?”
Thus, this was how evil finally got a name: Lajos Fenner.
It was not easy, but not so complicated. Mr. Fenner left traces wherever he went.
In fact, he was buying the city.
Well, to say this was perhaps exaggerated, but within two weeks he had already purchased five commercial activities, among them the most diverse, from the shop of a barber to a butcher shop. And in each of these cases the owner had been forced to sell due to serious financial problems.
Ultimately Mr. Fenner was a shark. One of those unscrupulous entrepreneurs who thrives on the difficulties of others. Nothing illegal, basically nor particularly odd. The world was full of individuals like him.
To Stella, all of this was little importance. The reasons why that man wanted to buy their bookstore didn’t really matter to her. The only salient fact of that meeting was the absolute certainty that Mr. Fenner had lied and the increasingly growing suspicion that he had had a significant part in the misfortune that had deprived her of the father.
It had occurred during a quarrel because he refused to sell his business and a victim of a sudden and unexpected blow, however, Mr. Fenner had not helped him and therefore had to be considered as guilty of the tragedy.
Stella was more and more convinced.
Mrs. Amodeo never spoke about it again. Not only that, she did not even talk about selling the bookstore again. After that one incident, no buyer ever came to visit her again. Stella had found it strange but as it coincided fully with her desires, she had preferred not to talk about the subject either.
She had spoken only with Miss Virginia, confiding all her suspicions to her. She was very upset.
“Lajos Fenner”, she had repeated. “What kind of name is that? Where does he come from?” And then she added: “You can tell it’s fake from a mile away.”
Miss Virginia’s age could not be easily determined between forty and fifty years old. Depending on the days and state of mind, the balance swung more on one side or the other. She was a simple woman, who deep down did not appreciate herself. That’s why she had never gotten married and it was said around that she never had a suitor either.
She had an appearance which was too maternal which on one hand discouraged men and on the other made it perfect for the craft that she had chosen: The teacher. Her pupils adored her, though she was afraid to show herself as inefficient. She had no children and in spite of her twenty years in the profession, she was still not sure she knew how children were to be treated.
The Stella’s case was different, of course, because she was a special little girl. Despite her young age, she preferred to consider her a friend, especially now that she would no longer be her teacher. The fact that Stella had continued to hang out with her, despite this, filled her with pride.
For Stella, it was much easier to confide in her. Even when her father was alive, she did not tell him everything she would be ashamed, but with Miss Virginia it was much easier.
Now more than ever she needed her. Stella’s mind was in turmoil, full of unpleasant and daring thoughts. On one hand, she realized that the death of her father had upset her and that she was looking for someone to blame it on so she did not have to face it. On the other, however, there were too many unclear points in the affair.
But just when she needed her only friend, Miss Virginia, she was not around.
No, she didn’t die, absolutely not! It was more urgent and vital than ever. It was only Mrs. Mercedes who broke her leg.
Mrs. Mercedes, whom everybody had forgotten her surname, because of that even her mailbox had been canceled, had been a famous opera singer when she was young.
Oh God, who had been famous there was only her word to confirm it because neither Stella nor Miss Virginia had ever found someone who had heard her sing.
Mrs. Mercedes had had five husbands, according to some sources even seven, but at the end of her life she was now alone. At an unknown age that had to be around eighty years and just as many pounds overweight, Mrs. Mercedes was the only other occupant of the semi-detached house of Miss Virginia.
Specifically, Miss Virginia lived on the ground floor, with an adjoining garden of which she was the only owner, and Mrs. Mercedes lived above her, occupying the entire first floor.
Quarrels between two of them was always on the agenda.
Mrs. Mercedes hated her roses, in fact, she hated all the flowers to the great horror of Miss Virginia and Stella. To tell the truth, she seemed to hate any living, vegetable or animal being and the human specie was on top of her ranking, just a step above the roses. She didn’t miss a chance to damage Miss Virginia’s garden.
She had at least resigned to her appearance; Besides, Mrs. Mercedes was too old and full of ailments to be considered a real danger. Most of the time she was satisfied only with insulting, although in a way not so much suited to her decanted elegance.
Mrs. Mercedes, despite her advanced age, had always been self-sufficient. No one had ever entered her house to help her or anything else. We knew she had a nephew and who lived in the city, but the house was interdicted even to him. Christmas greetings were not even exchanged. So, whether it was for greed or independence, not even a maid had ever been hired.
And one beautiful day the inevitable happened: Mrs. Mercedes fell from a chair and broke her leg.
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