Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Relic Hunter Chronicles

This is chapter 1 of a new work I have started. It is about a woman named Giovanna Scarletti who is a tactile empath. She is recruited by the Vatican to locate missing relics. It is a work in progress and unedited. I hope you enjoy.

Chapter 1

I was nine years old when my “gift” was discovered. I was attending mass with my mother. I remember sitting there listening to the priest drone on in Latin. Everyone around me lowered their heads in the quiet repose of worship. My mother’s lace covered hand grabbed my knee, a her signal to stop swinging my feet.

There was nothing extraordinary about that day. In fact, it was like any other. The sunrise that had given birth to it would do so again the next. That day would blend seamlessly with another one all coalescing in a lifetime of similar days.

But for me that seamless tapestry of days would end. Nothing would ever be the same again. I still have not decided if that is a good thing or not. If nothing else I have learned to accept it.

After mass let out I stood with my mother while she chatted in rapid fire Italian with all her friends. I was what was known as a cambiamento di vita per bambini, a change of life baby.

So, while all my mother’s friends were bragging about grandbabies, she was still dealing with bruised knees and broken vases. In short, me.

I was bored and my mother’s grip on my small hand had loosened. I glanced up at her, she was fully occupied, deep in to gossip with her friends. I slid my hand free and stepped back. She glanced at me and gave me “the look”. The one mothers everywhere have that says “stay out of trouble”. It’s universally understood, no matter what language is actually spoken.

A flash of gold caught my attention, and like a raccoon, entranced by all things shiny, I gave into my curiosity.

The relics of some long dead saint were on display. A crimson velvet rope kept the devoted from getting too close. Most people respected that barrier. Unfortunately, I was nine. And as you will see, I was not most people. I cast a glance around me. No one was looking.

Quickly, I ducked under the rope. I reached towards the a golden chest that was supposed to contain the saint’s ashes. I paused for just a few seconds with my hand hovering over the lid. That inner voice, that sounded a lot like my mother, reminded me that what I was about to do was forbidden.

But children are not known for thinking things through. My hesitation vanished like mist under the morning sun. My outstretched fingers brushed along the jewel encrusted lid and just like that, my life changed. Nothing would ever be the same again.

The world tilted, I was falling. I cried out, my voice lost to the black void I found myself in. Almost as soon as it began, it ended. I reached out to break my fall, my hands smacked the ground sending up a plume of dust, choking me. I coughed. Voices buzzed around me like a hive that had been raided for it’s honey.

Sandaled feet stepped too close to me, like a crab I scurried away. The church was no where to be seen. I looked around, my mother was gone! My breathing became ragged, my heart rate accelerated. “It’s a dream!” that voice shouted, and with that revelation, came a sense of calm. And, as is the way with dreams, I suddenly knew that it was the year 1280.

I stood and walked through the crowd, towards the center of the dusty town square, where a woman was tied to a post. I heard the angry voices demanding that she be burned. I smelled the oil from the lamps as the touches were dipped. I heard the whoosh of the flames as they caught. But that was not all I heard. I could also hear the woman’s thoughts.

She was looking for her daughter. Praying desperately for one last glance of the child yet at the same time praying that she was safely hidden. She gave no thought to her own fate, only that of her child, and the man she had loved, still loved. A man that stood amongst the mob with a torch of his own.

As the heat from the flames grew she began to pray in earnest. It was the sweetest most heartbreaking prayer I had ever heard, even though I could not tell you what she said.

When the flames singed her robe she faltered, but did not stop. It was not until her toes began to blacken that she cried out. The man that had been her lover, still held his torch, while tears streamed down his face.

I awoke to the sound of monks singing from somewhere nearby. The room I was in was a concrete cell. Bare, unpainted. A single wooden crucifix adorning one wall. As I lay there memories of the dream flashed through my mind. I gasped when flames licked my feet. Franticly, I sat up beating at the covers only to discover that there were none.

That was when I also discovered that I was not alone in that room. The rocking chair creaked as she stood. Her movements disturbed the dost motes that danced in the filtered light from the window placed high on the wall.

She was an older woman. Perhaps slightly older than my mother. My mother had once been a great beauty. This woman, while beautiful as well, was more classical in appearance.

She seemed to wear her age as though it was a mantle set upon her shoulders. My mother wore hers in tiny lines carved by countless smiles. This woman’s face did not hold that network of lines. Yet there was kindness about her. I remember feeling very comfortable with her.

“What did you see?” she asked quietly.

“Fire,” I whispered back.

“Ah,” she said. That one little word held more meaning than all the words in the dictionary. The narrow cot that I lay upon dipped as she perched beside me. A great carved wooden cross dangled from a necklace of jet beads clasped around her neck. It was unpainted, yet intricately carved with vines and flowers.

I reached out to trace my fingers along the vines. As I did so I noticed a minuscule hummingbird caught forever midflight as it flitted from flower to flower.

“He made this for his daughter,” I said quietly. “He loved her very much”

At her gasp I dropped my hand, realizing what I had done.

“How did you know?” she breathed. The cast of the light caught the tear that traveled down her cheek and then dropped to the woolen blanket covering my knees.

“My father made this for me. How did you know?”

I shrugged. There was no explanation that I could offer. She stared at me as though she was trying to see inside me. I met her glance as candidly as I could. After a few seconds she sighed as if she had come to a conclusion.

“I will be right back,” she said. When she returned a few moments later she carried with her two items. A small jewel encrusted bible and a stapler.

“Take this,” she said handing me the stapler “Tell me what you see”.

I took the metal stapler, and sneezed. It had been made in America with a huge machine. In the back of my mouth I could taste the hot metal. Smell the oil that kept the machine moving, I sneezed again. I told her what I saw, what I felt, about the machine that had stamped the pieces and then pressed them together.

She nodded and removed the stapler from my grasp. Then she handed me the bible. Once the book touched my hands, the small stone cell with the narrow cot, evaporated. I was in an ancient scriptorium. A scribe carefully copied meticulous lines in Latin with a quill that scratched upon vellum. Somewhere, in a dark corner, a rat squeaked his last as a cat pounced

When that scene faded and I saw a monk with the same bible, now bound, meticulously setting sparking gemstones onto the cover. As he set each stone I traced my fingers along the cover mimicking his efforts.

The image faded and I was once more looking into a pair wise eyes.

“Tell me what you saw.” So I did.

My mother, devotedly religious and deeply superstitious had found me thrashing on the floor of the cathedral with the chest that contained the ashes.

Convinced that I had been possessed by a demon she had whisked me off to a convent to have that demon expunged by whatever means necessary.

I was entrusted to the care of Theophanu, Abbess of the Convento del Santissimo Cuore, Convent of The Blessed Heart. Mother Theophanu had watched over me as I slept. Silently waiting for any sign of possession. None had ever come. Now, confronted with my gift she sat on the cot with me as mercurial thoughts flitted across her face.

“God has given you a gift,” she stated simply.

“Can I return it?” I asked. It is best if I just point this out now as you will undoubtedly discover it soon enough. I have a penchant for saying things that pop into my head before I fully think about it. This was one of those times. I sighed, my small shoulders sagged as I braced myself for the lecture about being grateful for God’s gifts. I was ill-prepared for her laughter.

I looked at her in shock. I did not know that nuns were allowed to laugh I thought.

“Yes we are,” she chuckled. I guess I had said that out loud.

“You are not what I expected,” she said as her laughter dissipated.

“I get that a lot,” I shrugged. I had heard that from my teachers, neighbors and even my mother.

“Different is not bad, it is just different,” she said kindly. I smiled at her in gratitude. From that moment on she had my deepest love and loyalty.

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