THE MAYOR OF LA DESTINAZIONE
Everyone calls me Sindaco now, even my family and old friends I grew up with. Because I've been the Mayor of --il sindaco di-- this town for almost 25 years and it looks like I'll be stuck with the job for 25 more. Not that I mind, I love my job, I love my town. I love my wife, even though she never calls me Pipo any more, I'm Sindaco to her too. At least my kids still call me Papa, for now anyway.
It's a special job because La Destinazione is a special town; a lot of history happened here--all of it secret. Or unknown. Of course everyone who lives here has their own idea about what has been going on over the last few thousand years, but very few really know. I'm one of the few, and I'm still only guessing about most of it.
Here's a rundown: this town was built long before Rome, before Babylon, it was a last remaining outpost of a civilization that collapsed and is no more. It was built to support the ancient fortress up in the hills, popularly called la Villa della Strega because of the supposedly arcane and mysterious goings on there. I can't say that La Destinazione has existed under the shadow of that place, simply because it's too far away to see it from here (16 km), however this town has been both protected and accursed by its proximity, that's for sure.
I was told by Ulfo himself that the villa was built by priests from Atlantis over twelve thousand years ago, which would make it the oldest standing building complex in the world. But six years ago it was completely destroyed in a volcanic eruption, so it's gone now. Well, there are ruins, but they are all tumbled and covered with lava. And in the middle of those ruins now stands a very impressive volcanic cone that came into existence out of nowhere on that night 6 years ago.
That volcano is dormant, having spent all of its energy and fire and lava in one powerful blast that destroyed the villa and sent at least one huge stone flying through the air to fall onto an apartment building in the center of our town 16 kilometers away. One apartment--and only one-- was completely demolished. And who lived in that apartment? Why Tazio, the boy genius of our town, who had been born and raised in that Villa up on the hill. Coincidence?
No, of course not. How could it be? But this was the sort of thing that people in La Destinazione have always experienced: impossible things, magic, sometimes devastatingly evil magic, superhuman people coming into town from that villa, werewolves, angels, anything could happen--and did. For 5, 6, 7 (?) thousand years. But now it's over, as of 6 years ago. The villa is destroyed, all the Avatars are gone.
Merda, how I miss them.
Prego, maybe I'd better qualify that, because there's been a lot of merda coming down from that villa. Most of it happened before my time, but I've heard horror stories--from my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents--you get the picture.
No, let's paint the picture: medieval armies of Dark Templars led by the deformed and evil Baron Grotezco; especially nasty Nazis and Facists using that same villa for their HQ during WWII, continuing on well after the war had ended, wearing slightly modified black uniforms and flying around in unmarked black helicopters, led by an evil superhuman called Anton Artemis, who was rumored to be the reincarnation of Baron Grotezco and who claimed to be the very incarnation of Satan Himself.
I know it sounds like pure fantasy and myth--that's all I thought it was when I was a kid, the old folks telling rubbish to the next generation, who never got to see any werewolves. Or even just regular old-fashioned Italian facist. True, there were frequently black heavy-duty motor vehicles passing up and down the dirt road to and from the villa, and an occasional black helicopter passing overhead, but they never stopped in town or caused any trouble.
However, when I was 10 years old I learned that all those stories were true.
I was in school, we were studying matematica when four grown-up strangers suddenly barged into the classroom. Three were dressed in black uniforms with red trim and 5-pointed stars(pointing down) on their chests. Their commander wore instead an immaculate black suit, very spiffy. They were all impressive men, but especially him: huge, muscular, powerful, dignified, suave, handsome noble face, a trim beard. He looked like the Devil. That was Anton Artemis.
ANTON ARTEMIS, SATAN INCARNATE
Our teacher, a Signor Leppo, was completely flustered and nervous--afraid, actually. He could barely stammer words to ask why those men had come into his classroom. Anton smiled--a wonderfully charming smile--and Signor Leppo relaxed, smiled back. We all did. Anton said, "I wish to borrow your three best students for a little ceremony." Leppo's smile twitched, then returned as a crinkled version, along with the fear in his eyes, but he did not dare voice a protest. We kids barely noticed any of that, we were fascinated by the authority Anton projected.
Three students were chosen: 15-year old Rebecca Porfina (the prettiest girl in our school at that time), 13-year old Ettore Giancarlo (the best athelete); and I, the youngest at 10 (but the school's best scholar anyway, if I do say so myself). We were led outside to a huge black van.
The then-Mayor of La Destinazione, Sindaco Lorenzo, came half-running toward us along with two of the local policemen. They all stopped when they saw Anton, looking very unsure of themselves. Then the Mayor approached alone, but no longer running, almost stumbling.
Mayor Lorenzo held his hat in his hand and addressed Anton with his eyes to the ground, "Mi scusi, Signore, we heard that...that some men were taking students from our school during class time, so we had to investigate. But we did not know that it was YOU, Signore."
"Well, it IS me, sindaco, so I assume there is no problem?"
"Non, non c'é nessun problema, Signore! mi scusi, mi scusi. As ever, we are at your...disposal." He could not have been more obsequious, definitely groveling.
We kids were put into the van along with all those men in black, and driven up to the villa. We were not yet afraid, it all seemed quite exciting to be allowed to visit the famous villa where no one from our town ever went, almost an honor. Actually, we'd been entranced by Anton's power of psychic domination.
La Villa della Strega is--was--a very large and striking edifice: both ugly and beautiful; high unassailable walls with only one narrow portal, inside was almost like a city; a vast courtyard and buildings of all sizes, some large, most small, many in disrepair. We were taken to the kitchen in the Great Hall and offered food and wine, even though we were so young. No one mishandled us, there was apparently nothing to fear.
The people inhabiting the villa--all Dark Templars, I learned--seemed to be military; everyone wore that black uniform, even the few women present, and their collective attitude of discipline and obedience was tangible, even to us. They were obviously an Army, although there was no war going on anywhere near Italy at that time. Except the Cold War, but kids like us didn't take that so seriously, since nobody was getting shot--as far as we knew.
Ettore and I were going, "Wow, cool." Rebecca was checking out all the handsome men in uniform. Then we were led into the Headquarters Chamber of the Dark Templars and were really impressed: it was a huge room, long and wide, high to loft, bright red curtains against black walls, and up in the front, their upside-down star symbol in large red format.
It was Rebecca who whispered, "Isn't that kind of star a symbol for Satan?" But neither Ettore or I knew anything about that.
We were led to the front, where there was some kind of altar and a tall stand for a bust of what looked like a goat, apparently sculpted from the whitest stone, almost crystalline. I vaguely remembered something about a "head of Baphomet" from my grandfather's silly ramblings. This was interesting; I wanted to get closer for a better look.
When it spoke, everything fell into place. All the myths and stories, the superstitious nonsense, all come True in an instant. In its staccato metal voice the stone head said, "You-children-shall-be-sacrificed-to-the-Demon. Try-to-behave-with-dignity. Take-them-away."
I think all three of us started screaming. I turned to Anton, our gracious host, for help and noticed his eyes for the first time: they were like a cat's, or a snake; the pupils slits, inhuman. I finally understood that we were in trouble.
In fact, we were to be human sacrifices. We were taken to a chamber of cells and locked in, where we spent the next two days. Rebecca by herself, Ettore and I together. Ettore was not good company in a cell, he’d always been a big bully at school and often beat up smaller kids just for fun (like me), and since he was upset he took it out on me.
A Templar brought us food and wine again. He didn't harm us but had a mean streak just like Ettore, so he enjoyed frightening us, saying we'd be brutally tortured and horribly killed by a demon on the night of the Full Moon. That meant nothing to us, but scared us anyway, since the moon would be full in one more night.
The next day they took us outside to a small but solid block house with thick walls and massive iron doors. The Templars seemed afraid to take us in there, but Anton was not and he led the way. Inside the building it was very dark and stank of male musk. Something growled.
Anton had what looked like a samurai sword in one hand as he spoke out: "All right, Ulfo, you just stay back until I leave. I've got one of the sharpest swords in the world here and if you attack me again I'll hack you into tiny chunks. That may not kill you permanently, but it'll hurt like Hell--and more important, you'll miss out on this scrumptious little virgin I brought to slake your animal lust upon. And yes, she is virgin; I refrained from having her just this once."
As he spoke Ettore and I were locked into one small cell together, but Rebecca was shoved into the main room and released.
Anton went on, "The boys are for your demon-self, who said he required a human sacrifice for us to make a deal: well, here are two. Enjoy."
Anton turned to us and politely explained: "We've been having a lot of trouble with him and he won't stay dead, so now we're trying to appease him." He smiled wickedly and said, "Have fun, kids." He and the Templars left, the iron door to the outside world was hurriedly locked.
There was a shaft of sunlight in the middle of the room. Rebecca moved into it as it was safer than the darkness, but it lit her up like a Christmas tree. That's when we heard the monster snort. We couldn't see it, but could hear a long chain rattling, heavy breathing, ragged grunts. Pretty scary.
Rebecca whimpered and ran to us for protection, but we squeezed to the back of our cell and she couldn't get through the bars, so she was on her own.
It stepped into the shaft of sunlight and we all screamed "It's a Werewolf!" I remembered all the stories about werewolves under full moons, especially the local La Destinazione version. And this sure looked like one: basically man-shaped but shaggy with hair all over, large pointed teeth shining with foaming saliva, and the maddest, craziest eyes. But it was not a wolf, just an extremely primitive man. Definitely male, because it had a shockingly large erection as it moved towards poor Rebecca.
I wish I could say that we rescued her from a fate worse than death, but there was nothing we could do. It ripped off her clothes and raped her. And raped her. And raped her, until her screams became whimpers and she no longer fought for her virtue or her life. And still the beast raped on and on, tirelessly. All day long. She made no more sounds, we assumed she was dead. The monster finally lost interest in her body.
But then he--it--jumped up and tried to get us, growling like a rabid dog and shrieking like a monkey, snarling with animal rage, reaching into our little cell to grab and pull us up against the bars. But it couldn't quite reach us. We were safe! Which made me feel really guilty about Rebecca.
The shaft of daylight had moved across the room and then it was no more, the sun had set. The darkness was total at first. The only sound was the breathing of the beast. Then the dim glow of the Full Moon arrived. Becoming brighter until we could once again see the monster sitting in the middle of the floor, seemingly asleep. Then it coughed, a death-rattle gasp, and collapsed entirely. The breathing stopped. It seemed to be dead.
We thought we had a chance, maybe we could survive the night and escape once the sun came up. But a few minutes after the beast died we found out just how bad this night would be. An eldritch red glow grew around the dead body of the beast-man. We could see that it was already rotting, caving in on itself. Then the glow became a flame, a spectral fire, and then up from the burning corpse the Demon arose, a flickering phantom of ectoplasmic light. It was big, ugly, rays of light like Satanic horns sprouted from its brow, then it smiled at us with evil glee.
"Ah, my sacrifices, how nice. How I have missed being sacrificed to, as I so deserve."
Ettore and I had already both pissed in our pants, we were so terrified that we embraced each other for comfort. The Demon liked that.
"And now it is time to perform the sacrifice: one of you shall kill the other. If he does it with some panache and style I may let him live. All right, entertain me!"
We looked at each other, then I said to the Demon, "No! I won't do that!"
"Fine," the Demon said, "then you may be the victim. Other boy: kill him, but do it ceremoniously."
"Then you'll let me live?" Ettore asked. I looked at him with disbelief. He shrugged, a school bully incarnate.
"Perhaps," the Demon said evasively.
But that was enough for Ettore, he grabbed my throat with both hands.
I'm no fighter, and Ettore had beaten me up many times before without my ever hurting him, he was bigger, stronger, and much more brutal. But I did what I had to, kneeing him in the balls as hard as I could. Amazingly, he went down and rolled around in agony as I stepped away.
"You had better hurry it up, boy," the Demon said to Ettore, "I don't have unlimited time. The moon is moving on. I need that sacrifice pronto!"
"It hurts!" Ettore complained, holding his testicles.
"Compared to THIS?" the Demon asked, waved a smoky hand and Ettore screamed in what sounded like absolute agony. "Now get back to work, kid."
Ettore crawled and staggered to his feet. I didn't want to hurt him but couldn't let him grab me again, so I shoved him sideways and he went down again, hitting his head on the bars, crying out again.
"All right," the Demon said, "I'll give you a hand," and he waved that smoky hand at me. And yes, absolute agony is the correct description. Down I went, also screaming. Ettore had plenty of time to get to his feet and throw himself onto me, this time kneeing me in the same place I'd gotten him and locking his fingers tight around my neck. I tried to push him away but it was futile, and I started to black out.
In the rapidly fading background I could hear the Demon shouting, "Hurry, kill him NOW or I won't have time to savor the sacrifice! Come on, you useless fool, finish him!" It sounded frantic.
But Ettore had never murdered anyone before either, he fumbled around, I'd catch a little gasp of air every time he tried to get a better grip. He was winning, but not with style and certainly no panache.
The last thing I remember before blacking all the way out might have been the Demon screaming, "It's too late, I'm going! You've failed, miserable dolt, so here is your reward..." And then Ettore exploded.
When I regained consciousness it was very dark, the moonlight was gone. And so was the flaming Demon. I hurt from the fight, but seemed otherwise intact. And wet--finding myself soaked in Ettore's blood and guts. It was so gruesome that I threw up prodigiously. Something grunted in the dark, as if irritated by the noise I was making. I didn't dare make another sound. Somehow I fell asleep again.
In the early morning light I could see that the beast-person was alive again, its back against the bars of my cell. I cleared some of the blood out of my ears and could suddenly hear sobbing. I sat up, which wasn't easy, the floor so slippery with gore, and saw that the beast-person was tenderly holding Rebecca, who was weeping and therefore still alive.
I managed to get to my feet, hanging onto the bars. The beast-person turned to snarl at me, although not ferociously, and I saw that it had now become a woman. She was still shaggy with hair, but now had big firm breasts and wide hips. She was also naked, as was Rebecca, and I was just a 10-year-old kid who had never seen a naked woman in my life before, but it hardly seemed very important under those circumstances.
Eventually the iron door was unlocked and several Templars came in. They commented on the mess but had obviously been expecting carnage and were not surprised by it. But they were surprised to find Rebecca and myself alive, and wondered what they were going to do with us now. They discussed just killing us both, but then the beast-woman snarled at them and they backed off and out again.
Briefly, that woman got us out of there and since those men were afraid of her (she was incredibly strong and just as brutal as she looked) she made sure that Rebecca and I were allowed out through the portal, from where we could stagger all the way back to La Destinazione. Rebecca was severely traumatized-- we both were, but her more, I'll admit --and sore, but she could walk all right.
Once we got home and told our parents what had happened we were warned: never mention this to anyone. I was thinking we should call the police, but learned that the Dark Templars were too far above the law. Not even Ettore Giancarlo's parents dared complain. Let it go, everyone told us. I was morally offended about that.
But justice did prevail, in a way. A week after I'd come home there was constant rumble of black military-like vehicles coming down the villa road. They passed our town by and went off somewhere else, not to be seen again for many years
A few days after the New Moon a man stopped by my family's house and asked for me. He looked familiar somehow, although I couldn't remember having seen him before. But I had only seen one other man so impressively noble and wise-looking, so I guessed that he was from the villa and probably dangerous. I almost ran to escape him, but we ended up talking anyway. That was Ulfo, of course, still slightly in wise phase.
He'd come to tell me that the Dark Templars had been thrown out of the villa, for now anyway. And that it was thanks to me, because I had thwarted an agreement between the Templars and the Demon.
I didn't understand how that could be. Because I wouldn't commit murder? What's special about that?
Then he went to Rebecca's house to talk with her. To apologize and to offer her some therapy, I later learned.
Years passed. I never went to the villa again, but every so often I saw Ulfo in town. He seemed to make a point of checking in on me. So I noticed that he was different sometimes: seeming to be particularly wise, but next time slightly simple, then wise again a month later. But in another way he was unchanging; he simply didn't age. I didn't really notice that until I got older myself, because I certainly did age, lost my hair, had to get glasses, but Ulfo always seemed approximately 35 years old.
Of course I gradually figured it out, and finally asked him directly. In strictest confidence Ulfo confirmed that he changed with the phases of the moon; man to woman, angel to demon.
I don't know if I was more shocked or frightened. "Then you were that Demon? You raped Rebecca and murdered Ettore?"
"Listen, Pipo, I can't waste my life regretting what My Demon has done, that would consume me to no avail. I regret instead what it WILL DO if I don't use my wisdom and intelligence to foil it as best I can. That Demon is as much my enemy as it is yours."
But that revelation came later, when I was older. While I was still in scuola secondaria he'd check in on me and see how my studies were going. I've always been a good scholar, which pleased him, so once I graduated he offered me a scholarship. Ulfo was the richest man in town, I learned, so I accepted and studied at the University in Firenze.
Rebecca and I had never been friends before our experience at the villa, but afterwards we were the only ones who understood each other. She was 5 years older than me, so I couldn't be her boy friend, but she didn't want anything to do with sex ever again and I was young enough to be safe, so we got along. She liked that I was smart, I liked that she was beautiful. By the time I was 18 and she was 23 she'd gotten over the trauma and we started making love a lot. So she went with me to Firenze. Finally got married, 3 kids now, the ones who call me Papa.
Rebecca and I came back to La Destinazione when I graduated, mostly to visit our parents, being undecided about the future. I found that Ulfo had decided that for me: he'd recommended me to the City Council for the position as Mayor. "Recommended" means commanded that it be so. And it became so, I was Sindaco at the age of 23 and have been ever since.
I suppose you could say I came to the job easily, I was elected but maybe it was fixed, I'm not exactly sure. But the previous Mayor was so corrupt that I'm a saint. I feel I do a good job, it seems right to be here. And of course, I had a connection in the villa up on the hill, which is Alpha and Omega in this town.
As mayor I met with Ulfo whenever he came into town every month and he helped me with city planning. I say "helped" but really I implemented his plans because they were all sheer genius, generated while he was in his wise phase. If I had any problems with the City Council, he only had to say the word and it was solved. He was the richest man in town for a reason, and his decisions were always advantageous for the budget and the economy, at least in the long run.
I asked why he was so involved with the town of La Destinazione, since he lived as a hermit and was rich enough to have no need for more money. He said, "What I do need is to be of some use to other people, it would be a sin to waste a force of nature like me. Besides, this town is my hobby."
His special form of existence was also a limitation and he needed someone like me-- who never changed with the phases of the moon --to carry on business as usual. He could not negotiate deals in other towns, nor meet with a city council every Wednesday, I had to deal with all of that.
Sometimes he didn't make it into town until he was well past his wise phase, being either "just a regular guy" or maybe even a bit of a brute. That was usually all right up to a point, he could bring the notes he'd made when wise, and then we'd go out for a beer or two and have a fun evening. But once--and only once--he'd come to town three days before Full Moon and was so hairy and scary that I had to ask him to leave. I especially didn't want Rebecca to see him that way, for obvious reasons. The problem was that he could be quite belligerent in that phase, rowdy, looking for a fight. And he may have been an inferior intellectual version of himself, but he was still an Avatar and physically much stronger than any normal man. Add alcohol for a risky mix.
One day, about 19 years ago, after I'd been mayor for almost 10 of them, Ulfo informed me that Anton Artemis and his Dark Templars were returning to the villa. There was nothing he could do to keep them away, so we'd have to deal with it.
By then I had a pretty good idea of what Anton and the Templars were all about: crime, war, evil shenanigans. I knew about the Head of Baphomet— having heard it speak to me --and the Great Satanic Plan. I was not happy to have the Templars back, and I'd learned that it would be futile (and suicidal) to call in the police or the military. All I could do was try to keep them disinterested in visiting our town.
The Templars did come, several black machines crossed land and air, it seemed that la Villa della Strega was reoccupied. A full moon came and went, the next day the villa was abandoned again. Ulfo did not come to town after the new moon, as he usually did. I didn't know what was going on, but was not about to visit the villa to see. All I could do was wait.
A few weeks later the Templars returned en masse, in cars and trucks and helicopters, the villa road was once again busy with black traffic. Fortunately none of it stopped here. But I still had no idea of what was going on up there.
After another new moon Ulfo came to town again, as if everything was back to normal. He was in his mid phase, as "normal" as he could ever be. City Hall was a very busy place at that time and we needed to talk privately, so I invited him home for dinner. Rebecca made a very nice meal for our special guest; lasagna, steak, wine. We talked well into the night like old friends.
But what Ulfo told us was not small-talk: the Antichrist had been conceived in the villa. If anyone else had said that I would have dismissed it as superstitious rubbish, but I knew better. Anton and the Dark Templars were there to promote the Great Satanic Plan and implement the ascension of the Antichrist to World Domination. This did not sound like good news.
However, there was also some good news: Ulfo was in love. Perhaps I should mention that he and my wife had a rather special relationship; she was aware that he had been the shaggy monster who had once raped her, but had also been helped by his therapies and had forgiven him. She also valued Ulfo-the-wise as a friend of our family and our town. But she never forgot the sexual power she had experienced; it had traumatized her but also given her a taste of something she couldn't help wanting more of.
Rebecca and I had a pretty good sex-life, it's a lot of fun to bed a really lusty wife, but even so I couldn't always deliver what she sometimes craved. So there was always this controlled but ready-when-you-are flirt going on between her and Ulfo that I simply had to tolerate, since I loved them both. But now he was finally interested in another woman, so maybe they could relax-- and me too.
But it hardly sounded like an ideal relationship. The woman he now loved was the expectant mother of the Antichrist, a ravaged nun who had been raped by Anton and 400 Templars for that purpose. Another traumatized woman, another human sacrifice, who had no desire for any man at present-- including Ulfo. Her name was Mariangela.
Nine months later I heard about the birth of Theron, the supposed Antichrist. I was shocked to hear that Mariangela had given birth to a hairy, scaled, ferocious baby monster with a tail, who could already speak upon being born. A little tyrant with lethal psychic powers, completely uncontrollable and extremely dangerous. Oops.
The good news was that the Templars were keeping it a prisoner inside the villa until it learned some self-restraint. Although it didn't sound as if that thing would be easy to keep contained. Fortunately, Ulfo said that his female angelic self had cast some sort of "magical spell" over the entire villa which should do the trick.
And true enough, we had no problem in town for years, at least no supernatural evil from a baby Antichrist or Satan-worshipping Dark Templars. Our problems were the same as any other Italian town; corrupt politicians in government, expensive waste disposal ruining the city's budget, schools not teaching what modern students need to learn. And our patron saint genius, Ulfo, was too distracted by the chaos going on in that villa to contribute with as much wisdom as he had before.
So my job got harder, more time-consuming. Also because now that the villa was not so predominant in our town's politics, another breed of citizens yearned to gain power and influence, some with agendas for more personal profit and less common good. It became a struggle to remain in office. I had to actually WIN an election, which I did by a narrow margin, but it was clear that there were no more guarantees of unopposed mayorship.
But two years after the birth of Theron Ulfo announced that the child-Antichrist had twisted his powers to become an adult--in stature, if not maturity--and had thus become much more dangerous. We were to beware, if Theron should ever come into town. Although at the moment he was too busy playing god and abusing the Dark Templars to bother with us in town.
Theron finally did come into town, but he took a tour of Europe first, driving around in a black Mercedes with Anton and Mariangela and a dwarf named Buffone in tow. He cut a swath of death and destruction on that tour, destroying a hydroelectric dam in the Abaruzzi Valley just for fun and killing hundreds. I dreaded the day he might come into my own town, and was justified for dreading it.
It happened only once, and that was more than enough. I even met— well, saw him. According to Ulfo, Theron was only 3½ years old at that time, but he looked...well, he looked full-grown. But otherwise it was hard to be sure WHAT he looked like, as if my eyes were playing tricks on me: he was ugly, handsome, beautiful, horrible, all of those things at once. Taller than me, I'm sure of that, bug-eyed with snake-slit pupils like Anton had, pointed teeth, an oversized head, a serpentine tail, deformed body...or wait, maybe he was physically perfect? It's hard to remember, his image was so...slippery.
But it's easy to remember what he did on that day, that's all been documented: he seduced/raped 23 girls/women, killed Dino Moretti with a wave of his hand and with another wave demolished the church tower and assaulted Padre Giorgio (who fortunately fainted and was left to lie unharmed). No one attempted to stop him...except poor Dino.
Not even me. I'd heard about his rampage in town and was certain this was Ulfo's Antichrist. I rushed across the piazza to find him, hoping I could reason with him. But when I actually saw him--instantly recognizing that he was an insane Avatar-- I simply froze and was too afraid to act. I felt like a craven coward, but being one certainly saved my life.
When Theron had done enough damage to become bored by it, he drove back to the villa. He never returned, because according to Ulfo, Theron destroyed himself a few days later. Something about seeing himself for what he was, converting himself to ash except for his tail, which Ulfo buried in the earth. Then the Dark Templars left in a great hurry, having evidently had enough of being locked in with that monster.
I met Mariangela a few days after. She was leaving the villa, now free of her monster son. Ulfo had referred her to me to arrange a bank account and travel papers. I admit that I was stunned by her beauty and poise, I'd been expecting a defeated drudge who'd just barely survived the tribulations she'd been through. I'd been informed that Theron had constantly abused her, so I understood why she acted so hard and unemotional.
Mariangela was quite secretive until she realized that I knew about her life in the villa, and that I'd been Ulfo's friend over many years. I said he'd told me that he loved her. She admitted having feelings for him/her.
"Of course I do love Ulfo,” she told me, “but I also love her just as much when she’s Ulfa, so it's not really a man-woman relationship.”
That was strange for me to hear; I was aware that he/she was a woman half the time (I'd even SEEN her as the brute-woman, once when I was a kid), but it was hard to think of HIM that way.
"I would have made love to him as a man," she went on to explain, as if it were any of my business, "if Theron hadn't been so greedy and jealous. Although he did enjoy us doing so as two women."
Perhaps that was more information than I needed. I realized that Ulfo must have suffered about four years of sexual frustration, having never seen him seek out a woman here in town in all that time. He had had occasional flirts before, usually successful, even in his down phase, but not while he loved Mariangela. Then again, he was not like other men and was getting lesbian love while a woman, so what did I know?
While on the delicate subject of Avatar sex I must admit that I found myself EXTREMELY attracted to Mariangela, almost unbearably so. I kept my cool, but only because I refused to be unfaithful to my beloved wife or betray my friend Ulfo. I did, however, gain some understanding for Rebecca's urge to flirt with the divinely potent Ulfo: if she'd been as affected as me and resisted anyway, then I owed her an apology for any slightly jealous irritations of mine.
I’m certain Mariangela sensed how I felt and appreciated my restraint. She confided in me enough to reveal that she genuinely regretted abandoning Ulfo, but he couldn't leave and she couldn't stay. She simply had to get away from all the evil memories.
So she immediately left for destinations unknown.
I knew that meant poor Ulfo was alone again in that big empty villa, except for that mysterious dwarf who had seemingly popped up out of nowhere. I say "poor Ulfo" because I imagined him being lonely, although whenever I saw him in town he was usually in his wise phase and on top of the world, far too philosophical to be suffering over some lost love or his own cruel destiny. Physically he was to be envied: over 200 years old and seemingly the same age as myself, 36 at that time, superhumanly healthy and strong.
But 200 years of being trapped alone in that empty villa because he wouldn't allow the Demon to escape did not sound like a good life to me. I would certainly never have traded my own happy family life for his, not even for eternal youth.
I think the loneliness did get to him: sometimes he would stay in town for up to five days, which meant that he would change so much that people noticed. The wise and noble man who had arrived two days after the new moon would be replaced by a half-shaggy often rude low-life bar-crawler. But he always left town before people started screaming "Werewolf!" He was not completely alone in that villa, there was a young dwarf he had to care for, and--so he said--a ghost with whom he was friends. I wondered sometimes if he was going insane, but next time I'd see him he'd be wise and full of good humor.
Fortunately, about a year after she'd left, Mariangela returned to be with him/her. I didn't see her pass through town, but Ulfo mentioned that she'd arrived. He wasn't overjoyed about it though, because she had gone insane over what she'd found waiting for her.
It seems the dead Antichrist was not entirely dead: his tail had been planted in the ground, like a plant, and had grown a new body. Typical resurrection trick, seems to be something all Avatars do every now & then.
But it wasn't Theron, who at 3½ years had been adult-sized and deformed. This version they called Tazio and he was very much like a normal human boy should be at age 5: small & cute. Except for the tail and that he wouldn't wake up. He wasn't exactly in a coma, Ulfo told me that Avatars sometimes take a while to install a soul into their latest incarnation.
But no one knew exactly what this new incarnation would be like. Mariangela assumed the worst and dedicated herself to killing it, considering it her duty to save the world from an Antichrist she herself had spawned. She also became extremely--fanatically--religious: often crying "Mea culpa, mea culpa!"; moving up into the top floor of the villa's tower to get closer to God; flagellating herself; trying to murder the child whenever she got a chance to. Ulfo was rather upset by her behavior.
He felt that Tazio would be a good boy, a feeling he renewed every time he went through his apotheosis under the new moon, when he'd ascend to a godlike state and experience ultimate knowledge. But of course, no one really knew.
Finally, when the child should have been around 6 years old, Mariangela viciously stabbed it and it awakened to defend itself. It was fast and strong enough to snatch the knife away from her and snap it in two. It did not counterattack, but ran off into the night and was gone. Ulfo and Buffone tried to find the child, but it had escaped over the high villa walls and was hiding somewhere as would a wild animal.
The boy ran around free for several months, stealing vegetables and chickens from farmers, a genuine feral child. Ulfo finally found him, but had to become an animal himself to do so. In brute-phase he sniffed out the scent and followed it, finally grabbing the wild child, which fought like a demon with avatar strength. But Ulfo was a bigger avatar and more brutal, so he won and dragged it home to the villa.
This child could not yet speak as Theron had at birth. It was totally ignorant, but clearly intelligent. Ulfa began teaching it after the full moon, and although little Tazio wanted nothing to do with the brutish woman he became enchanted by the way she became more elegant and beautiful every day, and as she became angelic he was hypnotized by her every word, learning just to please her. Then She became He in a supernova of light (so I hear; I've never seen the transformation) and little Tazio was being taught by a god. He learned fast, evidently.
It was a couple of years later before I actually saw Tazio, when he was 8 and Ulfo brought him into town to enroll him in school. I was to help with the documentation it would take to make him an official citizen, since there had never been any sort of birth certificate issued for a Satanic spawning of the Antichrist. To tell the truth I was rather nervous; I'd met Avatars of the Satanic Race before, Anton and Theron, who had scared the shit out of me. Here was another one, perhaps to be the most powerful person on the planet--ever--if Ulfo's estimation was correct.
Ulfo brought him to my office and introduced us. Little Tazio had dark glasses on to hide his devil's eyes, his tail was tucked into his pants, so he looked quite normal. And sweet. I liked that little guy right away, and could tell there was no evil in him whatsoever. I'm not an idiot, I know anyone can BECOME evil if enough bad stuff poisons them, but at that moment he was a clean slate. I'd been quite AFRAID of meeting another Theron: an egomaniacal monster with no self-control and too much power. But Tazio was a nice kid (a young god) who really meant to keep a promise to his mother that he would never harm anyone.
So I watched him grow up in my town. It was here he would learn to be human, before his powers took him beyond us all. He was a genius in school, a star on the soccer field-- mama mia, could he play football!
Tazio was so scholastically gifted that he jumped from the scuola elementare to scuola secondaria (high school) at the age of 9, which made him eligible to play soccer with the school team. There was some discussion about allowing one so young to play such a rough sport with the bigger teen-agers, but since he was faster and stronger and more skilled than anyone else, he was allowed a special dispensation. Once Tazio joined the team they couldn't lose.
Everyone in La Destinazione became soccer fanatics, including me, our town's soccer team became famous. It was a real crowd-pleaser to see that cute little kid outrunning, outjumping, outplaying everyone else on the field. He could hopover a group of opponents and kick a goal from the other end of the soccer field. Maybe the other members of his team weren't quite so delighted about being constantly outshined, but the team certainly did win games. And sell tickets.
Sadly, the team suffered a tragedy while guest-playing one evening in the neighboring town of Montevecchio: one of our players died of a broken neck. Luigi Fontana. There had been an earthquake, a strange one, very local and very violent. It was assumed that the Fontana boy had been killed in the quake, but Tazio claimed that he had himself been attacked by "3 identical eerie men", who had murdered Luigi just to demonstrate how ruthless they were. No one believed him. However, an Inspettore Garazzi came visiting from Montevecchio to question people about Tazio, suspecting that Tazio was physically capable of breaking a neck. But he dropped the case after a conversation with Tazio.
Knowing what I know now, Tazio did not lie, those 3 identical eerie men do exist: the Hellmen. As for a localized earthquake...well, look what happened to the villa six years ago.
Tazio stopped playing soccer after that, to the dismay of the entire town. Maybe you can tell, I'm a soccer fan, and never-- NEVER --had I or anyone else seen such a fantastic player as him. Of course, I secretly knew he was so good because he was an Avatar, but I still got a thrill out of seeing him perform.
But Tazio continued to be a local star: as an inventor in the highly-competitive world of industry and finance. He was also the 9-year old kid who scored his adult school teacher, the beautiful blonde Scandinavian Jytte: now that's something we Italian men have respect for!
I myself had the honor and enjoyment of working closely with him on the new waste disposal project for the entire town, for which he had generated a mind-bogglingly brilliant design.
AS mayor I'm always looking for improved ways for dealing with old problems, and our city dump was maxed out, too full and too near the town itself. The City Council wanted to move it somewhere else but didn't really have the budget for doing so, nor for the added expenses of transporting waste farther away.
Searching for some new idea, I checked the Internet and found a new problem analysis web-company right here in town: DellaTerra Spa. I'd never heard of them but Googled the name and came up with several extremely favorable customer reactions. "We had an unsolvable technical problem: we sent a query to DellaTerra Spa and got the solution by e-mail the same day!" "Genius, absolute genius!" "Who ARE those people?"
So I inquired about modernizing our town's waste disposal system, sending an e-mail to DellaTerra Spa, figuring why not check it out? I hadn't made the connection between them and Tazio’s last name.
An hour later Tazio came in to see me. I started reminiscing about his glory days as a 9-year-old soccer star, jokingly complaining about what a shame it was he'd graduated and could no longer be on the school team. I was about to go on about how famous he might have made our town...
Tazio interrupted my ravings to mention that he had "an idea about garbage." He then showed me several very professional-looking technical drawings and blueprints. I've had university courses in design and architecture; I could almost understand what I was looking at, enough to realize that it was like being shown a brand-new page of sheet music from the hands of a young Mozart. The concepts on those pages hit me smack in the brain, again and again, one after another: DIO! I thought, not sure if I was referring to God Almighty or this boy beside me.
"...thus we can convert it into plastic and make bicycles out of it. If you want it, you can have it-- my gift to La Destinazione."
The project was a success, of course, the entire town has become famous for it, and other towns send representatives to study our city dump. As technological and economic models, nothing like it has ever existed before; words like "ecologically sound" and "innovative" do not do it justice. It’s Great Art! Yes, I do babble about it a bit.
As Mayor I have a busy social life, public and private, family and friends. I grew up in La Destinazione, so I know most people in town and have known many of them since I was a kid. Also knowing Ulfo and some secrets about La Villa della Strega, I was aware of how Tazio affected the lives of people around him.
NEW KID IN TOWN
First of all: people were affected by his mere presence. He had an aura of energy that rubbed off on anyone nearby-- and they became improved. Only slightly, perhaps, maybe just feeling a little better for a while. Maybe your cold went away. A pimple on your nose vanished. Your vision seemed better. At first people barely noticed it, didn't make the connection that Tazio had passed by near them, or maybe he wasn't even there now but had been a while before. It became much more noticeable if he actually touched you. Some people did figure it out and tried to be close to him-- although still careful because he was "one of those" from the villa up the road.
Another influence in several lives was that if Tazio commanded anyone to do something-- or not do it --they had no choice but to obey. He tried to be polite about that and was ethically committed to not turn us all into slaves, but sometimes people can be just plain assholes, and Tazio had the cure for that.
Alfredo and Sophia Marinello have to be among the most extremely affected citizens. Tazio raised Sophia from death when Alfredo murdered her. But that was hardly the most extreme result of the event.
I'd gone to school with Alfredo; he’d been the class fuck-up, always a little out of step with everyone else. Later on he drank too much wine and kept getting in trouble. He finally got his act together and finished his butcher's apprenticeship. I was already Mayor so I could help him with a loan for establishing his own macelleria. He'd never been lucky with girls, but ended up marrying Sophia, who'd also never been lucky with guys because she was so fat. They never had any kids. So Alfredo kept on drinking. But he was not drunk at all when he stabbed her with one of his butcher knives, again and again, completely out of control.
I might have snapped too if I'd been married to Sophia; not only had she gotten much fatter over the years, but also never stopped talking, usually about nothing. I really don't want to say she was stupid-- in fact I don't like to denigrate any woman at all, their sad lives are not always their own fault. But I need to give an impression of what Sophia was like before she changed. Sophia Marinello was an unsatisfied and unattractive housewife with little education or ambition, she had a drunkard for a husband and no children to love, facing an empty future. She had no real friends or interests, did not read books (but scandal tabloids, sí), the only joys in her life were food and TV.
Tazio heard her mortal screams all the way across town, came running at a speed that astounded witnesses on the street (also because he'd just jumped out of bed and was only wearing shorts, so his tail was visible). He arrived to find Alfredo still stabbing his wife, disarmed him and found that Sophia had just died. But she was still warm.
Tazio shouted, "Sophia, I COMMAND your heart to beat. You shall OBEY!" And she did. Then he performed a healing, so that when she stood up all her wounds were gone and she felt "wonderful".
When Tazio turned around he saw that the house was packed full of people, Sophia's screams had attracted the entire neighborhood. They'd all witnessed him performing a resurrection. Also, his tail was exposed.
He shrugged and said: "Ok, ok, everybody saw me tonight, I give. I could command you all to forget it-- but I don't like doing that to people all the time. Confuses them. And me. So I'm asking you all not to make a big deal of this."
Everyone present bowed their heads and spoke in chorus "Yes, Lord." A little girl said, "We knew you were special anyway." After that everyone was in on the secret. Tazio went back to life as usual, the townspeople respected his wish.
But not Sophia, her life was changed absolutely. Not only had she been brought back to life, she had also been transformed into something better. She lost weight rapidly, started reading books about culture and science, learned to use a computer, jogged around town to burn some of the energy she now had so much of. At first Alfredo enjoyed this, as she became more attractive, then quite beautiful, continuing to improve every day.
Alfredo had not been arrested for attempted murder, Sophia would not press charges and Tazio asked Officer Bartolomeo to forget it (later I learned from Ulfo that Tazio felt responsible for Alfredo's breakdown because of commanding him to stop drinking). Tazio visited them again and adjusted Alfredo's drinking from tee totaling to moderate. You'd think Alfredo would be happy at last.
But Sophia kept on improving, and Alfredo couldn't, not like her. No one could. Words like "beautiful" or "sexy" became inadequate, one of the very most desirable women in the world was walking around our town. She did not go unnoticed. Suddenly Alfredo had a lot of competition for his wife. Not that Sophia was behaving badly, she was too busy studying and learning voraciously, spending her time in libraries. She had no time for men-- including Alfredo, who was now inadequate in every way for her.
Others affected by Tazio:
Guido Giancarlo, who goes by the name "Coach Carlo", was an adept athlete like his brother Ettore (the boy who had died at the villa). He became a sports teacher and was coach while Tazio played on the school's soccer team. Like his brother, he could be an asshole, bullying his players and abusing women. When the blond and beautiful new teacher from Denmark, Jytte Øgård, started working at the school Carlo went after her rather aggressively, chasing away some competitors with threats of physical violence. But Jytte fell for 9-year-old Tazio instead and Carlo became quite jealous. They had words. After that Carlo became much more polite about women, so much that he won a new wife and is now a happy man.
Tico Fazanni is too young to be a childhood friend of mine, and I wouldn't have been friends with him anyway. He was from an abusive family and had a chip on his shoulder, the town's hardest juvenile delinquent. Arrested several times for assault, vandalism, theft. Finally Tazio had a word with him, and that was it: he got a job here at city hall, became a model citizen. Now he's working with me and is really good at his job. I think he's got a real future, but it wasn't the one he started out with.
Vito Gallano was an old man even when he was young, sickly and asthmatic. His son Giuseppe had been on the soccer team with Tazio, and when his father was about to die he begged Tazio to heal him. Old Vito now is an amazing specimen of fitness and health, often seen jogging around town to burn off excess energy.
Of course, the person most profoundly influenced by Tazio is also the one who influenced him more than any other, Jytte, his Danish girl friend. They lived together here in town for three years and everyone knew it. No one seemed to notice that a grown woman having a love-life with a young boy was illegal or scandalous, but then no one could possibly consider Tazio a normal “child”.
I know little about their intimate life, except that they were unembarrassed about being affectionate with each other in public. Jytte quit her teaching job to help Tazio with DellaTerra Spa, she being the one who could travel and had adult credentials. Between them, they're worth quite a bit of money because of Tazio's inventions and designs. Or they were, before the villa exploded and was gone in an instant.
A couple of weeks before that cataclysm I happened to meet Jytte and Tazio’s mother on the piazza. They were shopping, which was more than unusual: Mariangela had never left the villa in the eight years she’d lived there. Except for that one time Ulfo had sent her to me for help in leaving, I had never seen her in town.
This time she was nicely dressed instead of wearing rags, her crazy wild mane of hair was brushed and shining, she looked like a normal woman instead of a mad nun. She was still maddeningly beautiful, but standing next to Jytte that seemed to be a kind of normalcy. Every man passing by turned to stare at the two of them, stunned and muttering “Porca Madonna” or something similar.
Naturally, I asked them about my good friend Ulfo and seemed to hit a delicate subject they were reluctant to talk about. This was two days after the new moon, so I calculated that he was in his wise phase at that time, when everything should have been fine. But I wasn’t going to push them, not in the middle of a public place.
However, Mariangela mentioned something about Ulfo’s lunar phases anyway, but how we got on the subject of her sex life with Ulfo I’m not quite sure. For some reason Mariangela was explaining: "…he gets unbearably horny down phase, so I let him have me because I love him so much up-phase." Looking back, I think that was a message from Ulfo to me-- and Rebecca.
Six years ago, the 21st of March, the vernal equinox, Tazio's 12th birthday, a Full Moon. It seems that the stars were aligned for some cosmic event, and that's exactly what happened.
Everyone in town heard the eruption, at 02:22 and anybody sleeping was immediately awake. The blast was so loud the people of La Destinazione feared they'd been nuked. They were even more frightened when that one very large stone from the volcano came falling from the sky and smashed down into the middle of town.
It took a while to figure out what had happened, it was night and the villa was far enough away that no one could see the black smoke cloud until the next day, and by then the eruption was quite over and the volcano was dormant again. To us in town it was only the meteor-like stone we were aware of. Which had been significant enough. The shock of the impact had destroyed not only Tazio's apartment but the old palazzo blocks away collapsed as well. It was chaos: ambulances, fire trucks, blinking lights, the streets full of people wondering what was going on.
Fortunately no one was killed; there were injuries but amazingly few and all minor. Some assumed we'd been hit by a meteorite, although the stone itself was never found. Instead, there was a 3-kilometer deep hole punched down into the earth, which is impossible: that kind of impact should have generated an explosion instead. Since then many scientists have came to study that hole, as well as the volcano.
But on that morning, with the entire town gathered on the now-cracked Piazza Centrale in the early dawn, we first suspected that the blast might have come from the villa when one of those dreaded black helicopters came to land amongst us.
Tazio hopped out of it just before it landed, which was a surprise, and then he balanced the entire weight of the helicopter over his head with one hand as he ripped off one of the landing struts with the other; a display of impossible strength. He'd evidently been fighting against those inside the helicopter.
(I may have been the only one who noticed a subtle but shimmering glow surrounding Tazio and the helicopter: Ulfo had told me about the URR, the life-force of the planet itself Tazio can call up to augment his physical power, so I was specifically watching for it.)
When the big man in black stepped out of that helicopter there was a universal gasp of awe throughout the piazza. The younger generation was unaware of who he was, but were impressed by his sheer presence. The elder citizens recognized him, the religious crossed themselves: "É il barone vecchio!" "The Devil Incarnate!" "The Grand Master of the Dark Templars!" "God help us all, it's Anton Artemis!"
But Anton was not out to do us more damage than had been done, in fact he offered the people of this town an almost affectionate smile and said, "Buongiorno, bambini."
Then he turned his attention to Tazio, as if trying to appease the boy over the disagreement they had been having, which was very unlike the arrogant all-powerful Grand Master. But Tazio ignored Anton, more concerned about any victims under the rubble of il Palazzo Vecchio.
A cry for help rang out from inside the crumpled building: "Help, I'm being crushed!"
Tazio dropped the helicopter to the piazza floor, crunching it a little more, and rushed into the palazzo. Things became even stranger then, but there were many witnesses, so it must have really happened.
It had been Coach Carlo calling for help, but he came staggering out before Tazio got to him, saying that he was all right "thanks to your three friends, Tazio."
Tazio seemed confused, "My...three friends?"
Three giggles could be heard as three identical and eerie men stepped out of the shadows-- but not into the sunlight. "He must mean US," they spoke simultaneously. Anyone could see that they were not of this earth: spectral red faces, shrouded in ancient-looking black overcoats and hats, absolutely identical, moving and speaking in perfect synchronization.
I just knew that these were the same “3 identical eerie men” Tazio had met in Montevecchio, those who had murdered his teammate Luigi Fontana.
Tazio stepped back, then readied himself to fight. "Hellmen! Hardly my friends! Why are you here?"
"We knew these are your slaves, so we have rescued those who were in danger," three voices at once, although in 3 different tones, "as a favor to you, Master."
"Master?" Tazio looked even more confused.
"You have passed the demon-test. We serve YOU now, Antichrist. Command us and we do it."
Before Tazio could answer, Sophia stepped out of the crowd to confront him. "And I too, Lord Tazio! Command me-- please?" She was wearing the flimsiest of pajamas, evidently directly out of bed. Her enhanced sexuality was blatant, and every man present reacted to it, including Tazio.
"She begs for you to command her, Tazio." The Hellmen, speaking separately, "Yes, DO command her!" "May we-- snigger --watch?"
Tazio staggered slightly. I knew about Avatar lust, and could tell that Tazio was getting hit by it. "Umh... you're married, Sophia."
"Am I?" she asked. "Till death do us part: Alfredo killed his fat, stupid wife. You made me new, now I am yours."
"I did NOT make you mine."
"You made me too strong, too smart, and too sexy for any normal man!"
Vito Gallano also stepped forward, "I know how she feels, Lord Tazio: I was OLD when you made me new. My wife is still old. If you don't make my wife like me I must find a new one." He looked at Sophia and she looked back. Eyebrows were lifted.
Then the dam broke: everyone on the piazza swarmed toward Tazio, hands outstretched, supplicating. "Oh Lord Tazio, change us ALL!" "Heal me!" "Make me like you!" "Lord, worship, please, stronger, sexier, taller, younger, give me" --every request possible, all begging at once.
Tazio raised a hand and everyone was frozen in place. "But I don't WANT to be changing everyone into someone else! I don't feel that I have the RIGHT!"
Anton from the sidelines was amused and decided to play devil's advocate (being the devil he was), he called out: "Perhaps not, Tazio, but you DO have the power!" At which he laughed merrily.
"Well, I'm dealing with earthquake damage now," Tazio said, turning and dashing towards some smoke over another part of town, thus escaping the crowd.
Anton walked over to Sophia and looked her up and down, his lust was obvious. "He's just a boy, Sophia," he said. She did not seem disinterested.
Tazio discovered that the smoke he had run to was from his own apartment, which the flying stone had obliterated completely and with a precision that could not be coincidental. He asked the firemen and police on the scene if any of them had seen Jytte or Mariangela, but no one had.
They and both of his homes were gone.
I had a brief conversation with Tazio just before he flew away to Rome with the notoriously dangerous Anton Atemis, in yet another of his back-up black helicopters. Tazio was quite emotional, seeming very much like a 12-year old boy who'd just lost everything.
"The villa's gone. And so are Jytte and my mother and Buffone..."
"What about Ulfo?" I had to ask.
"I don't KNOW. Maybe they're all dead!" He wept profusely.
"Oh no, is there anything I can do?"
"Yes! Find them, alive or...not. I can't stay here now, I have to go for a while. Can I call you to check if they show up?"
"Yes, of course. And I'll send e-mails to your website if they do show up. But are you really going with...him?" I indicated Anton, who was obviously still flirting with Sophia. "I remember the hospitality he offered ME as a young boy..."
"He's evil, I know, but he's part of my destiny. I have to find out what that means. Besides, I can take him on if I have to. You have no IDEA just how dangerous I can be." He glanced toward the remaining black wisps of what had been a volcanic cloud on the horizon.
Then he flew away from La Destinazione and was gone for a long time.
I commandeered a police car to take me up to the villa. "But no one goes up there," was the common cry, which I answered, "Well, it's not there anymore!" Officer Bartolomeo, who did not grow up among the mythologies of this town, was willing. Then Vito and Giuseppe and Sophia hopped in the car as well, and off we went.
The road was bad, we couldn't drive fast, so it took half an hour to drive 16 kilometers. I hadn't been there since I was 10, 34 years before, and my heart was hammering with superstitious fear. But once we arrived I forgot about what happened back then; another era had begun.
The village was indeed gone. The destruction was absolute, and the volcanic cone jutting up into the sky was a new wonder, astonishingly high. A pile of scorched rocks embedded in hardened lava is what remained of La Villa della Strega.
12,000 years is a lot of history to suddenly just END. It struck me that All Things End, even this World; and by association reminded me that this was supposed to have been the cradle of the Antichrist.
We found no bodies or survivors; there were no clues to follow. After an hour we drove back into town. Once we told what we'd seen, several other cars drove up to the ruin site that same day-- everyone wanted to see it. Already some entrepreneurs were talking about tourism.
I found it hard to believe that Ulfo was dead. In fact, I didn't believe it at all.
There were also other dramas in town. Sophia and Vito, the two people Tazio had rescued and enhanced, began a torrid affair and were not discreet about it. It started up at the ruins, when they discovered that each was as athletic as the other; climbing, hopping running. They talked and discovered that each was as smart as the other; studying science and culture. They did not ride back to town with us but decided to jog back together. Then did not show up for two days. It was a scandal!
Alfredo was furious. He'd already been frustrated when Sophia lost any interest in him, but this was an insult to his manhood. He took to walking around town wearing his bloody macelleri apron and carrying his biggest butcher knife. He made people feel nervous.
Vito Gallano's wife, Constanza, was much more understanding. She was a rather frail 82-year old grandmother and had been quite upset when her dying 84-year old husband had suddenly become a youthful and virile muscleman who jogged and was horny. She wanted nothing to do with any of that.
But although Sophia was perfect for Vito, he was not allowed to keep her because Anton Artemis showed up a week after the catastrophe and swept her off her feet. Literally, grabbing and lifting her as if she weighed nothing, although voluptuous Sophia was anything but skinny. He smiled his most charming smile and she fell for it, and minutes later they had both flown off in his black helicopter. She never returned.
Vito was crushed, Alfredo become moody-- but still could not get drunk. Truthfully, many men were sad to see her go; just the sight of her did light up a man's day. But everyone was glad that Anton hadn't hung around town to court her, which probably would have been quite dangerous.
Months later, Sophia became world famous for her best-selling novel LA PUTANNA DI BABYLONIA. We could read about her in tabloids from Rome; living the fabulous jet-set life, having innumerable love affairs with millionaires and movie stars. By the year after that she was an international movie star herself, also in Hollywood. She became fluent in all languages, had a singing career, made the most successful art-pornography movie in history and eventually became hyped as “the Most Wonderful Woman In The World”. But all of that came later.
During the first few weeks after the catastrophe Tazio called me, as arranged, to see if there was any word of Jytte and his mother, which there was not. I knew that he was with Anton, so asked him if Sophia was there too. He said yes, but did not volunteer much more information than that. Knowing Anton's reputation I assumed that Tazio was too embarrassed to tell any details.
Let's go back to two weeks after the eruption. Someone came knocking on our door at 3:00 in the morning. Rebecca and I were startled, having no idea who'd be visiting at that time, but I was even more startled to hear a familiar voice through the door: "It's your old friend Ulfo, Pipo, and I need to borrow some clothes, please." Then he laughed, as if at some very funny joke.
I threw open the door to embrace my old friend, but discovered that he did indeed need to borrow some clothes, being quite naked. But alive! I pulled off the bathrobe I had just put on and gave it to him, so that now I was almost naked, but then we embraced anyway. Ulfo is bigger than me, but my robe covered him just enough so that when Rebecca called out "Who is it?" I could answer her, because I knew she'd come running to hug him as well.
It was shocking to embrace him--literally. He was charged with some kind of static electricity that tingled to the touch, and he had just the faintest glow about him. I knew what it was--this had been a new moon night, something I'd been keeping track of for years--although never before had I seen him so soon after his ascension to god-phase. He was still chuckling about the Great Cosmic Joke. Normally he can't function for a day, so it must have been a special effort for him to have walked 16 kilometers from the ruins into town at that time.
"Where have you been for the last two weeks?" we asked both at once.
"I've been dead. My ashes have been buried under the ruins of the villa. But when the new moon passed above the ruins, my angelic self awakened and levitated, passing up through stone and lava as if they were smoke."
After completing his usual transformation to Ulfo and laughing hysterically, he found that rolling around on the wreckage of his home was not that funny after all, and decided to walk into town. He could find no clothing in the burned-out ruins so went without. It was dark anyway.
We had an extra room since our oldest boy was studying in Perugia, so Ulfo stayed with us for a week. He had arrived so early in his wise phase that he could stretch it for a few extra days before getting shaggy. He had business to take care of, investments and accounts, especially since he would be leaving the area for a while.
"I have to go to the USA," he told us, "and I don't yet know for how long. There's something I have to take care of and I start there."
"Aren't you going to go find Tazio?"
"I can't, he's got to deal with his destiny alone for now. I..." he shrugged “...I must inform you that I am required to co-operate with My Demon for the near future. Perhaps you remember how these arrangements are made, deals negotiated? Well, I have served My Angel Ulfæon for many years but now it's the Demon's turn to run free. I don't like it, but have to go along with it."
Ulfo did not go into town the first day, he was obviously too godlike. He used my home computer to move funds around, designed a new traffic plan for the town, doing good all day long. The next day he went out into the streets and talked with people, all of whom were surprised but glad that he was alive.
When I asked what he knew of the others from the villa-- Jytte, Mariangela and their (?) dwarf --he said he'd received information that they were all alive and in safe places. He'd learned about them in her/his holy wisdom vision during transformation, but was also warned not to go to them yet.
It was a good visit, but after a few days Ulfo became less delicate about certain things and that old flirt-feeling between him and my wife became quite obvious. I sympathized, especially after having myself heartily lusted after Mariangela, and more recently the scrumptiously rebuilt Sophia. Rebecca was almost 50 by then, but still a good-looking woman; I knew Ulfo (himself 5 times older) was not immune to her charms--and less so every day. As moral people, we all simply gritted our teeth and endured it, but when he left it was time to go.
I was to administer his affairs here in town while he was away. Actually several of his affairs were tightly woven with my job as mayor, so it was a natural developement. We also arranged that a set of clothes packed in weatherproofing be hidden under a rock in the ruins of the villa, since he had some sort of "earth-bond spell" there. Then he was gone, for years.
Two months after the destruction of the villa I just happened to be looking out my second-floor office window when I spotted Jytte Øgård crossing Piazza Centrale. I ran down the stairs and across the piazza after her, shouting her name. She turned and smiled when she saw me, spread her arms wide and we ran to each other like lovers in a romantic comedy.
NEWS FROM OUT OF TOWN
Ulfo had said she was alive somewhere, but this was the first time I'd seen her since the catastrophe. She was in fact extremely alive, brimming with the kind of energy I recognized from Avatars and enhanced persons, including the usual hi-octane boost in sex-appeal. But I controlled myself, as usual. Cazzo, I think that gets less easy all the time.
I asked where she had been and if she knew where Tazio was. Jytte appeared to be conflicted and I sensed that she was pledged to secrecy about all that. But I simply had to say, "Last I talked to Tazio on the phone he still thought you were dead."
"I--I just sent him a message," she said, sounding so sad and guilty, as if it wasn't quite true. "But I haven't seen him since THAT night."
"Oh no--" I babbled, "you two were so perfect together, you haven't broken up, have you?"
"What?" She laughed, as if the question was absolutely absurd, "No, no--it's only temporary, we each had other things we had to do, different places we had to be, we still love..." At that point she broke down and started weeping uncontrollably. I tried to comfort her, you know, pat pat, there there...
Jytte cried for half a minute, then reassumed control, wiped her eyes and smiled to me. "Whew, that's the first time I've been able to cry since that night. I needed that. Thanks, Sindaco." She gave me a nice hug.
Suddenly Mariangela joined us in the middle of the piazza. I didn't know her as well as Jytte, so we only shook hands, although I was just as glad to see her alive. She had been to the bank to check on her account and was already aware that Ulfo had passed through town and was therefore alive. I told them about his week-long visit with Rebecca and myself.
I invited them over for dinner, but they had commitments and had to leave soon.
I had always considered Tazio and Jytte friends of mine, even though I was older if not wiser, and had sympathized with them as an older-woman/younger-man couple, much like Rebecca and myself (although their age spread was much more extreme--as was everything about Tazio). Both Mariangela and Jytte knew that I had been Ulfo's only real friend in town and therefore privy to many of the villa's secrets. But I could tell that I was not going to be allowed into the secret world they lived in now. That hurt a little, sure.
Years passed. La Villa della Strega and those who'd haunted it no longer cast a shadow over La Destinazione; our town was no longer accursed or blessed. Geologists were long done studying the completely dormant volcano up on the hill, but curiosity-seekers still drive up that bad road now and then. Not many archeologists believe the local myth that the villa was 12,000 years old, but tourists will swallow that every time. We get some cult people as well; the Knights Templars are still quite popular.
There are some very old houses and unique architectures here in town, but we've never advertised them in any tourist brochures. Maybe we should now, that volcano has attracted many visitors. The city council has been discussing paving the villa road.
Sometimes we hear about mysterious events going on out there in the world, reported on TV or in newspapers, and those of us in La Destinazione simply know: hey, that was Tazio.
A few years back everyone was concerned about a Jihad of warmongering Arabs under leadership of a fanatic called Achmet Khaddam. That was stopped by some kind of super hero, and then Israel mysteriously broke off from the Arab mainland and suddenly there was peace. No mystery to us.
A large-scale terrorist attack in Paris was quickly subdued by one young man with long hair (or girl, no one could tell). Then he wandered off into the sunset.
A nuclear missile was fired at Tashkent, but it never arrived. No one knew why, but a young long-haired hippy was seen leaving town.
A revolution against a dictator in an East European country succeeded because of a long-haired boy (or girl) passing through town, who took away all the weapons the dictator had, rolled all his tanks over onto their backs, and ripped open cells holding political prisoners.
Finally, about 2 years ago, Tazio passed through La Destinazione. He… well, perhaps "he" is not the right word, because Tazio had become "negasexed", and was neither male nor female. I was no longer in any loop within the Avatar world, so I have no idea what happened to...him (I refuse to call Tazio "it"). He was eerily emotionless; I couldn’t get a smile out of him, he seemed disinterested in anything or anyone.
Maybe that's not quite true: he had come to town trying to find Jytte, so he must have still cared about her.
He'd come to my office to ask if I'd seen her, otherwise he might have just passed through town without even stopping by. He wasn't visiting anyone else, although he was enthusiastically greeted on the street by Giuseppe Gallano. I told him about seeing Jytte 4 years before, but not since. It seems he already knew that she was alive, but couldn't find her because of some conspiracy against him. I didn't think he was wrong-- in fact I was pretty sure about that conspiracy.
But he did seem weird: Tazio must be a millionaire, but wore rags and no shoes. His hair was long and his face so beautiful that he was perfectly androgynous. He left my office and walked directly out of town, then hitchhiked onward. Nobody's heard from him since.
Suddenly after six years, Ulfo has showed up in town again.
GOT TO GO TO MEGIDDO
Just the other new-moon night, once again knocking on our door just before dawn. Both my Rebecca and I immediately knew who it had to be. He had clothes on this time.
It was shocking to see how young he looked: still in his mid-30's, while both my wife and I were now in our 50's. But not surprising, we knew his story. Although we were missing a 6-year chunk of it, so the questions flew thick and fast. Where had he been all this time? Why was he here now?
He told us that he had been held captive by a secret military organization in the USA, but had escaped last night as Ulfa. She had used her angelic connections to request a Solar Finger (which you might call a UFO) to deliver her/him directly to Italy. She/he landed at the ruins of the villa, targeted by that "earth-bond spell" mentioned before. Arriving just as he was transforming into Ulfo, and being in a hurry, he strived to ignore the Great Cosmic Joke long enough to find his hidden clothes and stagger into town.
Sure, it sounded absolutely bonkers, but Ulfo was with us, so we believed him.
"As for why I am here now: to speak with the two of you, nothing else. Then I must go, I don't have much time," he said.
When we barraged him with questions he said, “Some things I may not tell, for I am still under obligation to co-operate with my Demon and keep his secrets, for a little while longer."
"But why?" Rebecca had to ask, "if it is hatching some evil plan..."
I knew that Ulfo could not escape his Demonic possession whenever the full moon arrived, and that anything we said or did, it would know about.
But Ulfo did respond, "Oh, it certainly is, the greatest evil imaginable: the practical mechanics and details of the Apocalypse Itself. Destruction of Civilization, End of the World, and all that."
Rebecca looked shocked, asked, "Wh-when?"
"In two weeks, during the next Full Moon, of course, so that it can become personally involved." Then he laughed again. "Excuse me..." he waved a hand "...it's just funny, that's all."
"Still laughing at The Great Cosmic Joke?" I asked, still wondering what the punch line was.
"Yeah...hah!...but you have to have been there for it to be funny."
Rebecca was upset, "How can the End of the World be FUNNY?"
"Well, it..." Then Ulfo started laughing so hard that he couldn't finish a sentence. "It... no, I mean..."
"Stop it!" Rebecca shrieked, and he did, wiping his eyes.
"Yeah, sorry about that," he said, suddenly becoming quite serious, "listen: all of this is a game of strategy on the Cosmic Level and of course I have been working on outsmarting My Demon. I have a plan, but may not execute it; I need non-Avatars to do that. I need your help."
Later that day it was I who organized a public meeting on the Piazza Centrale and gave this speech:
"Citizens of La Destinazione!
"We all know some things about Tazio dellaTerra. The greatest athlete this town has ever seen, the boy genius who put this town on the map with his inventions and designs, the miracle-kid who healed and even raised the dead, the one with the tail. But very few of you know who or what he really was: our local god incarnate.
"Some of you feared him because he was from that villa up on the hill, and we've all heard stories about that place: monsters, devils, werewolves, facisti, evil creatures of the night. Some of you have met Anton Artemis, and even worse, Theron. But not everyone from La Villa della Strega was evil, many of you know wise Ulfo and what he has done for this town. And you all know Tazio. So I ask you: was he evil?"
There were shouts from the crowd. Giuseppe Gallano cried, "Hell no! He saved my father, even though we on the football team were mean and treated him like shit!" Tico Fazanni shouted, "It was ME who was evil, but then he fixed my life!" Others had praise for what Tazio had done for them.
Only Padre Giorgio spoke against him, saying timidly, "Well, I do believe he may be the Antichrist."
"But was he EVIL, Padre?" I challenged him.
"Hmmm...no, he was actually a very good boy" the Padre admitted, then mumbled half-to himself "...except for living in sin with that dreamy blond Viking beauty..."
"We all know that Tazio was not evil. As for being the Antichrist, well that's always a matter of interpretation. Many POPES have been labeled Antichrist throughout history. And that brings us to the point of this gathering.
"Two weeks from now there is to be a ritualistic multi-media event taking place in Megiddo, Israel; the ARMAGEDDON Festival. Our own Tazio is to play the part of the Antichrist, up against Christ and the forces of God.
"So you are all thinking, well we're on God's side, right? But are we? What is God's agenda, as we know it from the Bible?"
I waited for an answer. "The Judgement of Mankind." "The Seven Curses." "The four horsemen of the Apocalypse." "The New Jerusalem."
"Right, The End of the World," I finished the list. "Now I'll tell you Tazio's agenda, as it has been all along: to save this Planet from destruction and make it a better place.
"Since we saw him last, Tazio has developed incredible powers: you all remember the volcano that destroyed the villa six years ago, that was Tazio’s earth-power out of control. So, in a moral effort to control and not misuse those powers, Tazio has turned himself into a sexless drone without emotions or need of anything or anyone. He would abstain from all temptations.
"But now he must do battle for the survival of Mankind, although without passion, without desire, without love for anyone or anything anymore. He has been deprived of his family, of his friends, of any personal reason to make the efforts and sacrifices necessary to win the game of Armageddon.
"People of La Destinazione, Tazio needs your support. Signor Ulfo has arranged a bus tour to Megiddo in Israel, so I am calling for twenty friends of Tazio to accompany me to the Armageddon Festival and cheer for Our Local Hero. Who will come?"
There was a vast silence over the piazza, the entire concept was such a surprise for them. Of course, many had religious convictions to ponder, jobs to consider, duties to fulfill. I began to worry that no one would respond.
But Giuseppi and his father Vito shouted enthusiastically: "Sí, sí, we'll come gladly." "And me!" shouted Tico, and Coach Carlo, Esmeralda the piano-teacher, Bartolomeo the cop, Alfredo the butcher. Soon there were too many for one bus.
Still they continued: "We'll fly to Isreal if you can pick us up!" "This sounds like fun!" "Gotta root for the team!" It was wonderful.
Ulfo had asked my wife and I to arrange for people from La Destinazione to support Tazio at the Armageddon Festival as part of his plan to defeat the Demon. Then he had to go. But first he said, "I owe it to you to say goodbye. If my plan succeeds, this moon-cycle life of mine shall end at last."
JOURNIES, BEGINNING AND ENDING
"End?" Rebecca asked, "Does that mean--you'll DIE?"
"I die every Full Moon," Ulfo philosophized, "I don't fear it. I was born in 1764 and since then I have been a freak of nature, unable to live a normal life among others. Actually, I'm kind of tired of this existence. Time to try another."
"But...but," Rebecca stuttered, "...I...we don't want you to die!"
"Oh, don't worry, I'll be back, it's already arranged. Just not as Ulfo."
"But...I..." She looked at him and could say no more.
"Yes, I too," he told her.
I watched the two of them looking at each other, saying goodbye. I loved them both, they loved me, and they loved each other, it was as clear as the sunrise happening outside.
She looked at me, said "Pipo?" for the first time in years, "I need to ask a very...oh my...a very big favor of you..."
I'm an Italian man, a Mayor, a husband, a friend. I have pride, morals, honor. I try to be decent and expect it of others. And I try to be fair.
"You don't have to ask, my love. You two say goodbye, I'm going into town to arrange a bus trip."
I gave my wife one of many kisses, my friend Ulfo a last embrace, and went out the door
Ulfo was gone when I came back later that evening. She was waiting for me with dinner, kisses, sex. I was still a happy man, her goodbye had cost me nothing.
The bus is ready to go, and so are we. Rebecca and I are taking the kids with us--I call them kids, but they're quite grown-up now--they know about Tazio and Ulfa and wouldn't miss out on this for anything. It'll take a week just to get to Israel via Brindizi-Greece, then take another ferry from Piraeus to Haifa.
Everyone is up for this, it's an adventure no one ever dreamed of, and it's starting...well, right now.