Blahdy Blah, somewhere in Italy, it doesn’t really matter. November 22nd, 1985:
A little after midnight, when the clock had finished its toll and the little village Paura had rolled over and gone back to sleep, something broke the silence.
Father Demetre, head of the village church and orphanage, slowly pushed open one of the large, wooden doors of the church and peered out into the snow. As he pushed it open wider, he shivered as the cold wind blew light snow inside. He stepped out on to the front step, and closed the door behind him.
Blinking a couple of times to try and rid the snow that had latched onto his eyelashes, he wished that he had thought about lighting the lamp before heading outside. But it was too late now, opening and closing the big door might wake the children, and talking of children…
Not far off in the distance, somewhere around the back of the church, crying could be heard.
Father Demetre was not the sort of person to be scared of heading into the cemetery at night, but then, he had never had to.
He wasn’t old, but he wasn’t young either. He wasn’t old to this business of being head of a church, but he also wasn’t new to it. He was in every aspect, in the middle, and he wasn’t sure if what he did was what he should be doing.
He always had a hard time making up his mind on anything. He could just never decide if what he was doing, or going to do, would be the right thing.
For the last hour he had battled over in his head whether or not he should go outside and find who was crying. In his mind, in what he knew was right, he would never leave a child in the cold. Not on a night like this. He remembered something his mother -May she rest in peace- had once told him: ‘if you wouldn’t want this done to you, don’t do it to others.’ And that was it.
He stomped his feet as he walked to keep the circulation in his body going. He had finally managed to light a flame on a match and stick it inside the oil lamp before the wind blew it out, and now with it he could see where his feet were going. Yes, but now he could also see the shadows dancing around the tombstones of the long dead.
Sometimes short and fat, sometimes long and thin. He wasn’t sure if it was his imagination or not, but some of them seemed to have holes in the shadows for eyes, and some of them had mouths that opened and closed. The wind whistling past his ears could also in a way be classed as screaming, or growling. He sped up. The sooner he finds the source of the crying the better.
The crying was louder now that he was deeper in the cemetery. Placing his lamp down on to the top of a weathered stone tombstone, he cupped both hands around the sides of his mouth and called out.
‘Hello! Anybody out here?’
He waited for an answer, stomping his feet on the ground and swinging his arms and slapping them against his sides in an effort to warm himself.
The crying had stopped suddenly after his call. He decided to try again, in case the reason the crying had stopped was so that it would be easier to hear him call.
‘Hell-ooh, is there anybody out here? I’m here to help? Won’t you come out?’ there was a sense of pleading and panic in his voice as he called. Anything could be out there, and if it was bad, he didn’t wish to be out there with it.
With again no reply to his calls he decided that maybe he had imagined the crying, it was after all possible. Maybe it was just one of the children in the orphanage he had heard? That was also possible, which just meant that he was out there for no reason at all.
How silly I’ve been! He thought angrily as he picked up his lamp and stomped off towards the faint light of the church and to his bed.
It was only after he had taken half a dozen steps that the crying started up again. Father Demetre stopped and spun round to face where the cries were coming from. He waved his lamp at arm’s length, hoping to catch a glimpse of the crier, but all he saw were the shadows watching him, they seemed to be laughing.
The crying had paused, and then it suddenly started up again. Father Demetre ran forwards, stumbling in the thick snow in his haste to get to the source of the crying before it stopped.
At last he came to a stretch of cemetery ground that he hadn’t been in before. It was part of the new block of land that had just been bought. With only a thin strip of flat land before it turned into dense forest. The forest was to be pushed back to allow more room for plots.
He turned around in a circle, swinging his lamp to light what was there. He paused suddenly as the light fell over a small form huddling next to three, freshly filled graves, marked only by three pieces of wood made into crosses. Peering by the light, he saw it to be a child.
Father Demetre rushed forwards, pulling off his jacket, and placed it around the shoulders of the child, who, at a closer look by the lamp, was a boy.
The boy’s eyes were red from tears and his cheeks were blotchy. His nose was blue and running, and he was shivering with the cold.
Once Father Demetre had made sure that the boy was wrapped firmly in his jacket, he picked him up and held him close to his chest. Picking up the lamp with his free hand, he ran as fast as he dared back to the church.
The boy started crying immediately as soon as he saw that he was leaving the graves, but Father Demetre didn’t stop to wonder why the boy was there in the first place, all he cared about for the moment was getting the boy inside and close to a fire. Father Demetre was dressed in long pants and his black robe, but with those on he was starting to freeze. The boy had only a pair of shorts and a t-shirt on, and Father Demetre didn’t know how long the boy would last.
By the time they had reached the church and Father Demetre had woken up one of the older boys from the orphanage, the boy seemed to be fast asleep.
‘Rush over to Doctor Faloni’s home, tell him to come immediately!’ he told the boy.
The boy grabbed his coat and Father Demetre’s lamp, and rushed out into the snow.
Left alone now with two other older boys that had also woken up by the fuss, Father Demetre didn’t know what to do. He had never had to handle a situation like this before. Sure he had taken in children from the cold before, but each time he always forgot what Doctor Faloni told him to do. Thankfully it wasn’t long before the doctor arrived though and took charge of the situation.
Doctor Geronimo Faloni lay in bed listening to the sound of the wind as it blew through the cracks in the window. It wasn’t too cold in his room, and if it was he didn’t feel it for he had just made himself a hot water bottle.
It was twelve fifteen by his wristwatch, late night or early morning depending on whom you were and how you looked at it. He himself looked at it as what it was, early in the morning.
Just as he was beginning to doze off in the warmth of his bed, a loud pounding on his door re-woke him.
Sighing, he pulled back his blankets and slipped his bare feet into a pair of slippers and headed downstairs.
He opened his front-door to find a shivering young lad of about sixteen standing on the front step. The boy mumbled something through chattering teeth and pointed up the street.
‘I beg your pardon?’ Faloni told him, frowning as he tried to make sense of what had been said.
‘I said there’s a boy up at ta church. Father Demetre just brought ‘im in, wants you ta take a look at ‘im right away!’
Faloni gazed past the boy and up the street. He could just make out the bend in the road up ahead through the steadily falling snow. He turned back to the boy.
‘All right,’ he said. ‘You’d better come in. I’m off to get into something warmer, and I’ll be with you soon.’
He ushered the boy inside and closing the door quickly behind him, turned and rushed up to his room. He guessed he wouldn’t get to spend the night with his hot water bottle after all.
Geronimo Faloni was a man in his early forties. He had a light build, and brown hair that showed no sign of becoming lighter and grey. He had a pleasing smile which always made him welcome to see by patients, and while most men might complain about being woken up at mid-night and being asked to come out to inspect a child, Faloni didn’t mind. It was part of his job as a doctor to be ready for any emergencies.
He and the boy both reached the church five minutes later, and Faloni pounded on the door. A fretful Father Demetre answered a moment later.
‘What’s this all about, Father?’ Faloni asked, pushing past him into the dark church foyer where it was slightly warmer inside than out, and glanced around at the empty wooden pews and the lone alter on the stage.
‘There’s a child,’ Father Demetre told him. ‘I heard him in the snow; I don’t know how long he was out there for but he’s inside now. He’s asleep. I didn’t know what to do!’ he cried in despair.
‘It’s all right, Father, just take me to the child, it will be all right,’ Faloni assured his friend as he patted him on the shoulder.
Father Demetre set off through the line of pews and Faloni followed, the boy that had called him trailing behind as they made their way to the back of the church and then into the connecting orphanage.
‘He’s in the kitchen, there’s a fire there,’ Father Demetre told him and he nodded in reply.
They found the boy in a bed that Father Demetre had instructed the two other boys to set up next to the fire.
Faloni dumped his bag on to the floor and knelt down next to the bed, pressing his hand against the child’s forehead as he did so.
‘Right,’ he said looking up at the nervous Father a second later. ‘I want a hot drink for the child and more wood on the fire,’ he instructed.
Father Demetre turned to boys still in the room from making the bed. ‘Well?’ he said expectantly. The boys turned and moved out of the room and Father Demetre turned back to watching Faloni who was rummaging through his bag for something.
‘Well?’ he asked, a concerned look resting on his lined face.
‘Well it is good that you found and brought him in when you did, Father, any later and I’m afraid that we might have lost him.’
Father Demetre sighed in relief, and after the boys had returned with a hot drink and firewood he realised that he wasn’t needed and left the room.
Outside the door he sighed again and mentally kicked himself for lying about in bed that whole hour while he decided what to do. True the child would be okay, but he would have been better if he had been reached earlier.
At one o’clock Faloni exited the room, finally finished with the boy’s check-up.
‘How is he?’ Father Demetre asked the moment he saw Faloni heading towards him.
‘He is well. He will get better.’
‘I am glad of it. God has his eye on the child.’
Faloni nodded in agreement and together they walked to the vestry.
‘How old do you think the boy is, Faloni?’ Father Demetre asked idly as they walked.
‘At a guess I would say he is about four, maybe five.’
Father Demetre nodded. Most of the time the boys that were orphaned were younger than that, it wasn’t often one was given away so old.
Of course, Father Demetre called them orphans, but he never really knew for sure. They might not have been. How could you tell? The boys were never able to. Sometimes a note would be found with them, telling him their name, and sometimes, the reason why they were placed on the steps.
Doctor Faloni coughed to get Father Demetre’s attention; he seemed to have been trying to say something.
‘There are some things I would like to tell you, if you don’t mind, Father. Alone,’ he said.
‘Oh not at all,’ replied Father Demetre. ‘Will the boy be all right alone?’
‘Yes, he should be fine on his own for a few minutes. He’s sleeping.’
‘Very well, then. If it’s safe to leave him.’ Father Demetre opened the door of the vestry and entered.
Once Faloni was inside he closed the door. Shortly thereafter, a tea cup shattered on the ground.
‘I-I don’t quite understand,’ Father Demetre stammered as he bent down to pick up the broken pieces of his cup.
‘It’s quite simple,’ Faloni told him, moving a leg and pushing a piece of shard towards Father Demetre. ‘The boy will never be able to talk again…What I think you said you heard was not only the boy crying, but him trying to speak, and not succeeding…It is a tragedy, and I do not know what hardships he will have to face growing up.’ Faloni shook his head sadly and placed his cup onto the table next to him as he thought about it.
‘So what do we do?’ Father Demetre asked as he placed the broken cup into a bin.
‘We? I, I go back to check on the boy and then I’m going to bed myself,’ he yawned and stretched, ‘just like you should do. In the morning I will come round and check on him again, and then we will talk about what should be done with him. I would also like to have a look around at where you found him, if that is possible. It might lead to telling us something more about the poor boy.’ He shook his head again. ‘It is really a shame,’ he murmured sadly.
He heaved himself from the comfortable chair and headed towards the door. ‘Goodnight tonight, Father, or, as it really is, good morning,’ he said smiling. ‘I will see you again later.’ He tipped his hat and then made his way back to the boy.
The boy was still asleep when he arrived and everything seemed fine.
‘Good,’ he murmured, ‘but sad.’
Picking up his bag he made his way to the front doors of the church and started home.
He shook his head again in disbelief as he walked. It really was a shame, a poor boy like that, never going to be able to speak again. The spoken word is almost as powerful as the written word, which is why if the boy cannot write now he should learn as soon as possible.
By the time he arrived home he had already formed a plan in his mind of how to help the child. That was provided no-one came forward to claim him, even though he highly doubted there would be anyone to claim him.
As he undressed and got ready for bed he wondered what exactly had happened to the boy. But that he thought, he might never find out. The boy could tell him, but how long would it be before the boy was able to? He wasn’t sure because he didn’t know. But he had a feeling that whatever happened to the boy was not good. The boy held proof of that.
The doctor shivered at the memory of what he saw. As a doctor he shouldn’t have been that shocked by what he saw, but he was. It wasn’t the sort of thing you normally see, especially on a child.
Rolling over onto his side and hugging his half warm water bottle close to his chest he closed his eyes.
Tomorrow would bring, however small and unhelpful, a reason for tonight. He just wished he knew now.
Back at the orphanage Father Demetre was sitting watching the boy sleep. He was still thinking about what the doctor had said. How could it have happened? Why did it happen? What was the reason? And was it all part of a larger plan? Seeking for a peace of mind he gazed upwards and closed his eyes in prayer.