This One Time, 114

This one time I was in the catacombs under some old, old buildings in an Italian metropolis, half-blind and hallucinating. I was exhausted and thirsty and, though a complete stranger here, being relied upon to find our way to help. The half-blind problem didn’t matter too much when there was so little light to work with anyway, but the rest didn’t make sense to me either. I was so far out of my element I was no more useful than a little child.

The woman I had in tow had completely collapsed, or maybe she was actually worse off than I thought she was in the same way I was — blind and hallucinating, clinging tightly to someone she knew would never hurt her. I knew for a fact she was smarter than I was and at least in theory more familiar with where we were and what we were likely to find. I couldn’t deny it was possible that she was incapacitated by phobic reactions to our scenario, unable to see, wandering underground, lost in places where people stored the dead.

In our recent experience it was also where people stored wine and old furniture. That last was just a matter of convenience, but I’ve always wondered if people recruited those buried down here to defend their booze caches from children or others with overactive imaginations. I liked to think of myself as someone who wouldn’t lie to children and propagate myths, but I could see it was an easy, tempting solution to a difficult problem.

A house full of children is a house full of curious primates of a species famous for problem-solving. Conventional locks wouldn’t hold for long. Lies and emotional manipulations and sheer silverback dominance were just different kinds of locks to some people.

It was time to take a break. There was a stack of cardboard boxes that was only partially collapsed and lightly dusted with mold. I shooed the intangible dead away with a free hand and took a seat, pulling my companion into my lap. Her grasp of English had been brutalized by her emotional state, but I was able to ask her some gentle questions and understand enough answers to determine that we had likely left the university grounds and were probably on the property of the nearby cathedral, of which the university had originally been an outgrowth.

She buried her face in my neck and asked, in Italian, if I didn’t see the dead people. “I see them, but I don’t know why. The why of it bothers me more than the fact, but that’s just another thing I don’t know.” I wrapped both arms around her. “Even so, I don’t see how dead people can hurt me. They can only hurt you through memories, and I don’t have any memories of these people.”

“They are jealous of our life. They want for us to be dead,” she said.

“I’m touched. They seem like nice people, but they will have to wait.” She seemed a little shocked by what I said, but I wasn’t on top of my game enough to work out why.

“I am sometimes worried that you are dead and that I am letting you lead me away from the living world. I am worried that I am dead, and that’s why I can see them.”

“I don’t feel any different. I feel warm. You feel warm. I don’t think it would feel as sweet to hold a dead woman as it does to hold you,” I replied. She shook a couple of times, coughing into my neck.

“Are you laughing or crying?” I asked.

“I can’t tell,” she answered. “Both, maybe.”

“I’m thirsty. Let’s have some wine. Maybe it will be be safe to come up when the sun sets tonight. If it is, then we may as well try to come up in the cathedral. In the meanwhile, there is no point in being miserable.”

As I struggled with one of the bottles we had stolen a couple of hours back, she snuggled closer. “What about the dead people?”

“There’s more wine in the cellars we came through. They can find their own.” This time she supplied an audible laugh.


April 24, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


Leave a Reply