I grew up on Poveglia Island, a small island in Italy located between Venice and Lido in the Venetian Lagoon. The land was so small in fact that my family were the only residents.
A small canal divided the island into two separate parts and waves reluctantly lapped at its darkened shores washing up the bleached bones of the dead used as its very foundation.
When the bubonic plague arrived scythe in hand and journeyed through Europe, the number of dead and dying in the city of Venice became agonizing. The bodies piled high and the stench oppressive. The local authorities decided to use Poveglia as a dumping ground for the diseased dead.
The dead were hauled to the island and dumped in large pits or burned in blazing bonfires. The plague swung the scythe of death relentlessly and in a frenzy the people dragged away anyone showing the mark of his approach upon their flesh were dragged screaming to the island. Not even women and suckling babes were spared from this fate. They were tossed into the pits with the rotting corpses and left to die in agony. Even now I can hear the painful moaning and whaling in the distance.
Our home was a large former insane asylum and I was told that it origins were as far back as the 1920’s. It has been in my family ever since although I cannot recall ever hearing or reading when we had acquired it. Maybe from a distant relative so long ago. What I do know about this estate is brief. It was once a mental hospital. The doctor in charge was of the insane variety who has murdered several of his patients before jumping from the bell tower above. Some say a mist rose from the cold ground beneath the bell tower and strangled him. Personally, I think the patients walled him inside the tower in some act of rebellion. I can hear him as well. A thud of a body slapping against the pavement and the dragging of his body, the creak of the rusted doors opening, and the whispers of the patients.
Before the madness took my father he told me that once carried through the expansive corridors you would never lose your way. I think he was right as I knew every nook and cranny this house harbored. There was a certain unmistakable magic here but I will delve into that at a later point.
My home was an extremely large estate made of stone—chipped over time giving it a worn appearance. Henri always claimed he would begin some sort of maintenance but never got around to it. I on the other hand adored it for its old world rustic charm. The back yard was just a long stretch of a walkway that led from the rocky boarder between the land and sea surrounded by a dark green saltwater colored grass and black ash soil. The white rocky walkway led directly to the large lime stone steps that took you up its many layers until you reached the large redwood bolted doors.
Once inside you would see smoky black marble floors and nothing but empty space until you reached the dark mahogany staircase. Of course, I knew of its many secret passage ways that traveled around the entire structure as well as all eight upper levels and even caverns deep underground. I remember when I was nine I used to sit in the tearoom and look out the window toward the backyard and see the dock and the waves crashing against the land rocking the large ship parked there back and forth.
Looking out the window… that was all I could do back then.
Look out the window and dream. Dream of running toward the sea, jumping on that ship, and sailing far away from here, but even I knew that it was an almost impossible dream. I spent my days and nights in this house with my only servant, Henri. He cooked for me, cleaned my room, dressed me, helped me brush my teeth, he was my personal tutor, and he played games with me.
He was my life.
Other than him, no one else lived here besides my father and me. When I was a baby, I never thought of how lonely this place could be, so silent I could hear the tiniest scratching of a mouse and at night I could hear the crickets as if they were in the very walls.
I could walk the large halls soaking in the scent of dust and run my hands down the dark red cold walls and walk up and down the large marble stone stairs and get lost without ever seeing another soul. There was no other sound here but Henri’s footsteps, the bell tower which rang solemnly and randomly, and the moaning of the dying.
My father occasionally wailed at a full moon deep within the upper halls—a place my butler Henri told me never to trespass.
Naturally, being a curious child I ignored that warning one night.
I wish I had not.
I remember wanting so badly to see him as I had not seen my father in so many years. I ate alone, slept alone, and studied alone. I was ten when I decided to disobey his rule and catch a rare glimpse of him. I guess when I think back on it I wanted to see if I looked anything like him, a man who howls at the moon, what was he like?
All of my life I mainly knew of Henri—tall, slender, but so young and strong, and he looked no more than his mid thirties and I remember his long sleek black hair tied back and held together with a purple ribbon. He always dressed as a traditional butler with perfect posture and grace he moved with lightening speed and agility, but he never sat down and conversed with me beyond a tutoring session so I could never tell what he was thinking at any moment. Only occasionally, I would hear him instructing my father to get dressed or hear his soft voice sing to him gently. Why was he able to enter my father’s chambers and I was not? I guess when I think back on that time I was so jealous, it was as if Henri was my rival for my mad father’s love.
Nevertheless, how could I know of such things when I have never had it for my own?
Anyway, I wanted to see my father, speak to him, and maybe be the one who could enter his room and relax the way I believed Henri always did. On the other hand maybe I just wanted to see him bay at the moon. I waited until midnight and crept out of bed, the only sound was the creak of the door. I peeked out and saw no sign of the always alert Henri, the floor boards were impossibly loud as I lightly stepped to stand at the bottom of the staircase at the end of my chamber hall. I took a deep breath and clinging to the wall I made my slow climb of the stairs. When I reached the top, it was if I could feel the rays of the moonlight beaming down as the entire hall was basking in the glow of this serene light. As I looked up, I saw that the entire ceiling was made of clear glass windows and the entire night sky was visible and the moon shined directly overhead in all its radiant glory.
I honestly had no idea where to go next, the hall was narrower than the rest of the house so it was just a matter of going left or right. When I decided to try going left, I heard a faint whisper in the distance and a tittering laugh.
I could have sworn I heard that. Being a child who barely understood fear, I could not tell if it was my own mind or the fear of ghosts many children believed existed.
I turned right down the hall; my heart began to pound as I crept deeper into the bowels of the eerie light. As I came closer and closer I heard another voice whispering softly but I could not make them out. I felt that I was at least on the right track and this was my father’s room, but I was not sure until I heard for the first time the true pitch of his ringing cry. I covered my ears as if they were going to burst and bleed if I did not squeeze them to my face. I finally found it, a large blue Gothic era door that stretched high to the twenty-foot ceiling. A large multicolored wheel that reflected the light was its only decoration. Another howl rung out and this time I clung to my ears and slipped to the cold hard floor hoping that I could turn my body into a protective ball. I could have run away and call it a night, but I had come so close I did not want to let this moment to pass me by. For some reason I had convinced myself that if I turn back I would never muster the courage to come here again. Once the howling ceased again I placed my small hand over the large etched knob and felt the intricate design of our family crest. The howling wolf entangled in a mass of roses.
I turned the knob gently, surprised when it gave so easily and turned for me. I pushed on the tall door with all my strength and managed to crack it just a little. I tried to squeeze as much of my body through in hopes that I could use it to stop the door from slamming shut. I finally managed to get my head through. Inside I saw a man with long grey hair loose and flowing down his back pacing back and forth before holding his hands high in the air as if worshiping the moon.
The mixture of darkness and light blinded me to his features. He swayed naked before folding his arms around himself as to protect himself.
I heard what I knew to be the voice of Henri. As I heard the footsteps coming out of an adjacent room I quickly moved into the room using my foot as a door stopper to gently close the door, then I stayed low and crawled under a table near the far wall of the room getting a perfect view of the rest of the room. It was certainly Henri, his long hair also loose and his body unclothed.
“But are you sure?” The wobbly reply came from my father.
“Yes. Come to me before this body gets too withered from lack of care.”
Henri held out his hand so gracefully for my father to take. Although my father was taller and looked far more imposing than Henri, even with his near frail body he looked to be the child and Henri the parent. He took Henri’s hand and allowed him to lead him pass the soft blue drapes surrounding the bed to the bed itself.
The moment their bodies touched the cushions I heard baying wolves outside the window as if issuing a warning.
That had to be impossible, how could wolves exist on such a small island? But then again I had never left this house, I did see a small forest area from my window but I could never tell if it was as expansive as I always imagined in my dreams when I am playing outside and running the fields along the shore.
The wolves cried repeatedly becoming more distant until I could hear them no more.
My eyes darted from the gloomy window to the bed as both men swayed wrapped in each other’s arms. That was all I could remember. I awoke the next morning as if I had dreamed the entire event. The only reminder of the existence of that night was the pain in my chest, most likely from squeezing my body through that weighted door.
Henri came to me as usual and slid open the drapes to let the sun in to wake me from my bed. He helped me brush my teeth, bath me, dressed me, served me breakfast, and began our daily tutor lessons.
This time I noticed an unmistakable gleam in his eyes and I could have sworn I had seen him touch his gloved finger to his lips before quickly moving back to the kitchen. After my lessons were completed, I traveled downstairs to see the house filled with servants lined up and receiving instructions from Henri. When the group of servants dispersed to their various assigned stations, Henri turned his attention toward me.
“It’s time to show you to your room.”
Although he spoke to me in the same warm tone he always used I could not help but feel a sense of foreboding. My mind flashed back to last night, to my father and Henri in bed together.
‘But how did I end up back in bed as if nothing happened?’
To this day, I do not know why I never questioned Henri; after all, I already had a room of my own. Still I let him lead me up the stairs and then up to the next level and down the hall toward my father’s room. The hall, the door, although different from the evening as golden rays of the sun pierced through, it was just the same as in my dream. As Henri unlocked the large blue doors I heard a whisper down the opposite direction—the left side I almost took last night.
Henri stepped in front of me and opened the doors wide and using the black rubber stoppers to hold them in place. The first thing that struck me was the smoke and the smell of burning incense. He led me into the room and once I entered I knew that last night was not a dream, but what happened to those missing pieces of that night? A part of me wish I never knew.
Henri opened the window drapes allowing the sun to shine in the dark smoky room. He gestured for me to follow. He led me around the large and old-fashioned decorative room. The wide reddish brown canopy bed in the center, massive white wolf rug in the center of the floor, the entire area looked as if it never left the 17th century. With its golden French console, Dark wood walls, and antique furniture even the bathroom with its brass and gold fixtures, standing mirror and copper colored double slipper claw foot tub. However, the one thing that caught my attention the most was the dark worn chest with the thick padded lock.
Once we entered the main room a maid was putting my clothes into another large chest as expeditiously as possible. I wanted so desperately to ask what was going on but I felt so passive and helpless to Henri’s will. I had no idea where my father was and for some reason I could not bring myself to ask. The thought then came to me that last night was the last time I would ever see my father and for a moment I wanted to shed a tear but I could not. They would not come.
“You will grow to become a fine man.”
Henri patted my head before leaving me alone with the maid who was putting away my belongings as other servants brought them to my room.
Later that night I slept in the bed that once belonged to my father with a mixture of apprehension and fear. I thought that I would soon become like him, I also did not know where he was or what happened to him. I tried to think hard about the other night and what had happened in this room and why I could not remember. The next morning I woke up to the same routine and the next night Henri came to my room and this time he slipped off his uniform until he was naked and climbed under the sheets holding me in his arms.
“It must be so lonely for you now.” His deep soothing voice finally sung me to sleep the same as it did my father.
The same night I had a terrible nightmare. I was hiding under the table in this room watching my father and Henri sway in one another’s arms. Henri has finely sculpted face soon buried in my father’s neck, I watched as he clung to Henri and let out a gurgled sigh. His body shook violently as he let out a grunt. Henri laid his body onto the bed and I saw his face. His eyes were bleeding black and his slender fingers seemed to grow claws as he used them to tear open my father’s chest and rip the still beating heart from its connecting tubes. Then I heard something I have never heard in all my years. Henri laughing a dark and sinister laugh as he rubbed the smoking heart across his chest and watched as the blood drizzled down his toned naked body. He then held it up and chanted something that to this day I could not understand before unhinging his jaws with a great whine to reveal a row of sharp canines and razor teeth before devouring it whole. The heart spurted as he took his first bite spraying the headboard crimson.
I gasped at the sight and his head swiftly turned toward the table where I hid, he was in front of me in an instant and flung me onto the bed on top of my father’s bloody corpse. I could not move nor speak—how weak I thought I was back then. He was on top of me and I remember kicking and flailing about trying to get him off.
“You belong to me now. You’re father was too weak.”
“No Henri!” I begged.
“Silly little boy will you continue to cling to false dreams?”
For the first time I looked around me and saw we were not alone. Shadowy figures surrounded the bed. I thought that this was the end for me and the same thing that happened to my father would happen to me. Stripped bare I heard Henri’s laughter. I turned my body and confronted my father’s visage for the first time.
It confirmed my thoughts that he looked like a strong man with a strong jawbone and very handsome to boot… if his face were not sunken in. I tried to climb over his body and off the bed. There! A vent near the bed and if I guessed correctly it would take me inside the walls. I clawed at the slimy entrails and blood soaked sheets. I felt Henri’s nails dig into my flesh as I made it inside. I quickly crawled through the vent leaving a trail of blood behind me. My chest was pounding, my breath shaky, every muscle in my body tense and trembling I had to get out of here, and I did not want to die!
I continued through the vent until I came across a hatch. I opened it and it led to a room I had never seen before. I looked about and saw the walls stained with dried brown-crusted blood, strange writing on the wall, and small holes where candles burned all around me. The only thing in the room was a stone slab lying in the middle of the floor and in front was a small balcony.
I ran from one end to the next but I could not find the stairs that led to the brown door inside the balcony. The same door soon opened and the shadowy figures walked into the room and took a seat as if attending a show.
“What’s going on? Please don’t kill me!” I shouted as the tears began to flow.
I felt powerless to events that were far and beyond my control. Henri entered the room and seemed to drift in front of me until he was standing before me naked and the blood that dripped down his chin so profusely now crusted and flaked off. I remember facing him and before I could stop myself I reached out and clung tightly to him as if he could be my savior.
The both of us were naked, me in complete horror and he…
Taken to lie on the slab and for the first time I saw the true height of this room and the many gargoyle statues that decorated the walls. I stared intently at one wishing that it could swoop down and carry me out of here. It did not last long as Henri was soon hovering over me and running his hands along my chest. I thought that this was it; he leaned down and placed kisses on my chest and stomach, then licked and suckled my nipples.
“So young and so sweet.”
He rose up to straddle me and I remember how I could not breathe with his weight pressing against my abdomen. I soon saw my worst nightmare come true as his great jaws stretched open and his razor fangs pierced my throat, I felt them enter my flesh and heard him suck as he took a deep breath and slurped the pool of blood into his mouth. I could feel the presence of the others watching over, I could feel the weight of their desire. He soon lifted his head to reveal meat tissue dangling from his mouth he cracked his jaws and jerked his head up to bring the meat into his mouth and he chewed with delight.
For a moment all of the air knocked from out of my system as the overpowering scent of blood hit me but I could not scream. I watched as he chewed on the meat in his mouth delighting in every juicy bite. My eyes rolled upwards and I saw the statues move making their descent toward me. I felt Henri’s claws burrow into my waist and my hips hoisted and entered quickly. My body soon registered the pain but nothing was reacting on time. I placed my hands on his chest as if to push him off but soon gave in as he dove into my throat for another bite. I felt the hot liquid pour from my body creating a thick pool around us and his thrusts were wilder as he grunted and took a chunk from my shoulder the weight of his entire body was on me as he drank and pumped his body into mine. I remember finally screaming as loud as I could. Once his body spent and he shook with pleasure he lifted me to the figures and began to devour me. I screamed and fought as he tore chunks of flesh from my body. My head became woozy and it swung about without my having any control over it. I willed myself to stay awake and alive. The larger Gargoyle which was no longer stone but a mass of scales and leathery flesh approached us and Henri soon held me down once again. The creature thumped behind me the stench of its body was unbearable; I felt a tear in my hole, entered again. I noticed the blood pooling the floor and could not believe that all of this came from me and I was still alive—I was still on my knees with my face buried in my own blood and I heard the great cry of the beast and I was soon awake in my old room.
“Forget this night and live in blissful ignorance.” Henri whispered in my ear before closing the door.
Copyright 2014 Rochelle H. Ragnarok. All rights reserved.