It was coming, on footsteps lighter than feathers, darker than death.
He had been warned. Now it’s coming for it. His prized possession. His legacy. Abe rushed from one corner of the paper-strewn room to the other, taking hold of as many notebooks and pieces of parchment as he could, stuffing everything inside a large leather wallet. The room was dimly lit by a low fire in the grate, cackling like the old crones who ruled fate. Abe could feel their watchful gaze, their cold fingers trailing their icy way down his spine, like a cold drop of sweat. The shadows lengthened on the bare, rough-hewn walls of his room. They lengthened and grew darker than the pits of hell as the last rays of the sun were engulfed by a merciless night.
“God help me,” he muttered, with bated breath. But God had no part in these dealings. Abe stumbled forward, knees knocking out of fear. He clutched his chest and closed his eyes. Flashes of that terrible day one year before appeared in front of his eyes like a lightening bolt. He had been a respected scientist, revered and envied by his peers. At the age of 18 his formulas baffled his professors, disproving theories and discrediting renowned researchers. At the age of 20 his publications were flying off the shelves from every bookstore south of Trento. His name, Abramo De Santis was on everyone’s lips. He was patted on his back and smiled at, while behind his back everyone contrived to find flaws in his diagrams, a loophole in his discourses. He had made fools of people who had lived on the back of white-washed notoriety. And no one enjoys being made a fool of. Alas, to no avail. They could not match his intellect, let alone outwit him. They brew discontentedly in their own jealousy, oblivious to the fact that Abe was battling his own inner demons. Demons which kept him awake at night with their whispers of greed, lust and power.
Abe went into seclusion. He pored over ancient texts and scrolls, some of which had been paid with blood and screams. His young wife watched him through fearful eyes as the man she once loved and who had loved her transformed over the months into this strange beast whose sole pleasure in life seemed to have become his books, his papers, his potions and the demons with whom he conversed more and more often. The things she heard and saw frightened her to the point of madness. She shrieked, screamed, implored and begged him to tell her he loved her still but when he looked at her through the blood shot eyes of a raving man she flinched and shivered. His grating voice, like the scratching sound of a badly tuned record player, managed two words. “Get out,” he whispered, before turning his back on her. She was last seen heading out of his house in a daze, like one possessed. She hadn’t taken anything with her, her clothes were dirty, her hair in a disarray and she walked through everyone like she couldn’t see them. Her body was found floating in the Tiber two days later.
But Abe was losing his battle with his demons. He could not, had not enough knowledge. Never enough. He wanted more, he craved to know more. His weakness angered him, he tore at his clothes and his hair and the rush of blood to his ears only subsided at night, when the whispers took over. They spoke of a great power, one that could help him achieve his ends, one that would make him knowledgeable beyond compare. Hush, hush, he would chasten weakly. I cannot. I must not. But his will was fragile, his thirst unquenchable. He made a pact with a dark and terrible entity while the demons danced and the crones watched. The dark being pressed its lips against his ear and spoke its terms. All the knowledge this world has to offer and more I shall grant you but Death will claim your most prized possession, all you have left on this Earth. Death will claim your legacy. And no blood curdling screams will ever bring it back. You have 12 moon cycles.
Abramo chewed at his lips. He knew that this “prized possession” would be his intellect, his beautiful mind. Would it give him the knowledge only to take it back? But the cold and dark sliver of a being would say no more. And Abramo accepted. It vanished, leaving behind it the putrid, decaying smell of Death.
But it kept its promise. For the next year, it felt to Abe as if something in his mind had been opened, like he finally had access to a labyrinth of information, a mine of knowledge just waiting to be discovered. Theories flowed from his quill like water gushing through a fissure in the rocks. For the first time in years he ventured outside the four walls of his study. He saw everything with eyes brighter than the sun and everything seemed suddenly more meaningful. His lips cracked the first time he tried to smile, so rarely had he used them for that reason. He learned to grow fond again. To love. I have been, so very, very blind. The demons had abandoned him, his nights were calm and comforting, his days spent walking about, thinking, arguing. He realised however that his discoveries were too ahead of his time. Fearing retribution, he wrote everything down in his journal, his prized possession. His legacy. And the moon waned and grew and waned still, all too soon. All too soon.
The room smelled of mould, of burnt paper and wax. The fire died until only a few embers remained. There was no moon outside. All was dark and quiet. But in Abramo’s head, the demons were wailing and clamouring. He had to hide it, all his writings. He had to save them, safe guard them in case his head would empty of all that had made him so powerful. He couldn’t lose it all. Not now that he had tasted what it felt like to be God. I must know. I must know. He scanned the room wildly for anything else he could hide somewhere, anywhere. The door creaked open and his heart stopped in its frantic beating for what seemed like an eternity. A small figure appeared in the shadows.
“Papà?” she said. Abe stopped in his search, gazed down upon his daughter. “Papà, non posso dormire. Ho paura.” Papa, I can’t sleep. I’m scared. Abe’s arms fell to his side, dropping whatever he was holding in his hands. They made a terrible resounding noise in his ears, as if the paper had turned to lead in his arms.
“Giulia,” he whispered. He looked at his daughter like he was seeing her for the first time. The beautiful child looked up at him through large brown eyes, questioning, always questioning. So much like his own. His legs would not move, they were stuck firm to the ground like they had grown roots. His arms outstretched, shaking. He called to her again. “Giulia, vieni qui amore.” His daughter smiled. A dimple appeared on her left cheek. He knew it would. He had kissed it often a long time ago. A lifetime ago. Oh Abe, what have you done? His legacy… his prized possession. But Giulia never reached her father’s arms. A cloaked figure stepped out of the shadows, his scimitar gleaming faintly in the dimness. The shadows in the room gathered around it. For it was master of shadows. It was Death. And although it had no mouth to talk from, a voice issued forth from the darkness, surprisingly soft but hollow. I have come for what is mine. It is time. And with that it placed a bony hand on his daughter’s shoulder and opened its cloak, dark and fearsome. And in one swift movement, Giulia was gone. Her face was a mask of confusion; there was no time for fear to contort her features and her small fingers, outstretched towards her father, were the last thing he ever saw of her. Death took her and the shadows retreated back to the walls. All was quiet in the room once more. No cheery patter of small feet, or childish laughter echoed in the halls. Sounds he had long put at the back of his mind and which he now cried out for. He gazed around, utterly lost, his mouth forming senseless words until he grabbed at one.
“Esmeralda,” he whispered in the dark. But his wife was gone too. He looked down at his papers and realised with a sickening jolt that no formulas or potions would ever bring his beloved back. That he had wasted his pathetic existence into pouring out his soul for his own gain and in the process he had killed his family, the only two people who had once cared for him. He still had his knowledge and his papers and his books. He still was the most powerful man on Earth. And yet, he was alone, he was utterly and completely alone, surrounded by people who yearned to tear him down. The fire had long been extinguished and the room was cold. Abe trembled, feeling the sudden weight of what he had done crushing him to the ground. He lay there, sobbing and retching on his damned papers until nothing was legible any more and the ink smudged into blurry shapes which in the darkness looked faintly like dancing demons.