If Winter Comes
'If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?'
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley
you go! Rina's
Raffaella shouting to him in Italian to hurry
off to the hospital because Rina had been brought there shortly before,
sped away down the hill on his cycle. The door of the small damp flat
home had banged behind him when he had heard the news from his
As he gained
speed going down the twisting narrow road weaving
in and out of the houses attached to the hillside in the little green
heard Rina's huge Bergamask sheepdog, Torquato, running next to him
like a steam engine.
two of them arrived at the turning at
the same time and continuing their perfect synchronisation turned
where the crossroads were nestled in by a small fountain and ‘lavatoio’
of roofless and wall-less wash house) where the old ladies did washing.
cold early April air burnt Giovanni's
lungs as he started up the road climbing the east wall of the valley.
would have been able to hear his own laboured breathing if it were not
Torquato's now frequent and thunderous barking.
the two of them arrived at the top
of the hill where the nuns ran a nursery next to the church dedicated
who had lost their lives in the World Wars.
would have slowed more, perhaps
even stopped there at that point which to the left looked down to the
to the right the small valley where Giovanni lived ... But Torquato's
pulled him out of his reverie and they continued on. They passed under
of a building which spanned the road like the Bridge of Sighs in Oxford.
old cycle creaked and bounced on
the road's cobbles as gravity seized it and began pulling it down to
side of the hill towards the hospital where Rina was. The hospital was
part of the city that the locals called the 'lower town'. That is the
the bottom of the hill which housed a mediaeval acropolis which in turn
called the 'upper town'. Down they went, Giovanni clinging skilfully to
handlebar and Torquato barking in thunderous roars.
went into her room and slowly approached the bed. He took her hand
as she slept.
seemed like a sleeping baby there in
the gentle light of the small otherwise vacant room. Her brilliant
eyes were closed peacefully. She was so different from her regular
was not shouting at Torquato because he had peed in the sitting room or
reproving Giovanni because he always spent too much time with her
friends or schoolmates. Her face was relaxed and tranquil, without the
pressures of working as a cleaning lady all day. She seemed a child.
started crying. Before having come
into her room a sister had told him that she would not wake. He could
believe it. She had to wake sometime. How could she sleep forever? He
Rina was gone, but she was there. Giovanni could not quite sort it out.
not want to believe it. He would
Veronica had seemed so strange. She had been outside
the hospital entrance -- supposedly to visit Rina as well, but...
Veronica was a
girl about eleven --Giovanni's age -- who lived
in the same road as he and Rina.
was even more convinced of it as
he quietly sobbed and tried to make his head stop spinning. Standing
Rina's bed and still holding her hand he was nearly completely
convinced of the
fact that Veronica had come to the hospital, not to visit Rina, but ...
general knowledge to everyone that lived in their road that Rina had
brought to hospital. So by rights anyone coming to the hospital should
see Rina and not...
certain now. Veronica had come to see him.
had had this daft smiling face. It was the same that she had had for weeks. It seemed ludicrous, but he
believed it now. Why she had come to see him was still a
mystery though. Trying
to sort it out while thinking of a way to get Rina back since the
said she would always sleep and wondering if Torquato was all right
was waiting outside, Giovanni plopped down in a chair adjacent to
and fell asleep.
had started snowing. Now there was already a lot of it about. Giovanni
surmised the situation from Rina's window. He rubbed his eyes again
wring the sleep from them. He saw that Rina was fine. She slept
the luminous darkness of the room. He knew she was going to wake up
He just knew it – even if the sister was saying the opposite. He just
when. The white, white snow outside reflected all the available light
filtered it into the room. The small banks of snow forming in the
close were like Rina's form under the white bedclothes.
Giovanni was becoming more and more
cognisant, the snow storm outside intensified. There was a lot of wind
about outside now. All of the twirling outside made Sabbia's head spin.
realised that he felt dreadfully hot. He
touched his brow and found his palm full of sweat. He reached to the
window to open it. He couldn't breathe any longer and his eyes burnt.
struggled with the window handle while the storm outside shrieked.
twisted the handle and the two
halves of the casement window flew open. The snow and wind swooshed in
him away and towards the door. Within seconds the storm filled the room
blinding snow and deafening wind.
sister will really give me a rocket
now,' Giovanni yelped in its Italian equivalent fighting his way
open windows, the wind and snow pouring in to batter against his face
he closed the windows. His darkish
straight hair was filled with snow and his brown eyes were refreshed by
cool snow. The room was cool now. He breathed easily and almost in a
fashion until he noticed the room. It was covered in about two feet of
looked about incredulous.
this in itself wasn't so strange. Once
during a summer storm, the kitchen filled up with about eight inches of
because the window had been left open. And all the crops in the
fields had been devastated.
under the Alps, Borgo Vecchio, Giovanni's city, was
sometimes attacked by some very fierce weather. No, this was not the
bit now. What was strange was that Rina was gone.
Giovanni backed away from the window through the snow.
It was just now that he realised that the continuous noise he had been
aware of before was Torquato's wild barking. He was in the close under
window making a dreadful racket.
somehow found the door, pulled it
open against the barricade of the snow, then ran.
led Giovanni up the hill barking furiously at the
huge flurry of snow flying overhead in the white opaque sky which was
characteristic of winter snow storms. The two of them had been chasing
the flying mass since it had captured Rina and shot out the window.
They were just
coming up the steps to the nunnery and the
church. Giovanni's legs burnt and his heart pounded like a pneumatic
he continued running towards the path which led up to the highest part
surrounding hills where the castle was. The cloud was going there.
stopped, ran about in little circles, his blond
woolly coat glistening in the scarce light, and moved towards the
arcade of the
nunnery which was in the direction of their house.
stopped a moment, unconsciously thought about where he
had left his cycle hidden at the bottom of the hill -- the bike was not
use coming back up the extremely steep ascent -- gasped for air, and
realised that Torquato wanted him to follow him towards home.
--' Giovanni muttered gesturing to the
cloud which was flying ever more quickly towards San Vigilio the
of the surrounding hills on top of which the castle was situated.
and barked until Giovanni followed. This not
only set off the entire neighbourhood dog population barking, but also
lighting up of a good number villas since it was now about eleven
difficult because the falling snow was becoming shin-deep.
Giovanni was dripping was sweat but kept right on behind Torquato. They
under the arcade and started the steep descent to their decrepit villa
had been split up into flats decades ago.
A couple of
nuns caught in and greatly delayed by the surprise
storm eyed them curiously as they passed and then with great interest
slipped and began sliding down the hill.
slipping down the entirety of
the hill was a stroke of luck though. He made it down in record time. A
moments later he and Torquato were outside their flat.
silence about the decrepit villa was broken by the
slushing and tramping of Giovanni and Torquato. As they bounced in
arch of the villa gate, they made an effort to move about cautiously as
slowly approached Giovanni's window
which looked out onto the terrace and then onto the green valley below
in a veil of snow. Torquato stopped halfway to give himself a good
dripping with sweat and too hot
to feel the cold, arrived at the window just realising then that he had
absolutely no idea why he was approaching his bedroom window. Before he
think about it even for another second, he nearly jumped out of his
he had lightly touched the sill
something had brushed against his hand. Muffling a shriek, he saw that
only his two hamsters Dante and Beatrice.
he managed watching the two of them
scurrying back and forth on the sill.
strange than the fact that they had
somehow slipped their cage (but then again this was a feat they had
occasionally performed in the past) was the fact that one of them had a
in its mouth and the other a small bough of olive with six inches of
gave the little bough to Giovanni
having bunged it from the corner of the sill and having pulled it as
slowly put it in his shirt pocket
and then buttoned it up inside.
It was a tiny
bough of olive tree blessed by the local priest. It
was like the one Rina had used in the past to send away the hailstorm
ruined her poor geraniums.
It had been a
summer hail storm which had flown straight out of
the Alps. Rina had lit the bough and thrown it in the flower bed.
had in fact subsided, but not before destroying
all of her geraniums. Rina had cried and cried. Other than Torquato
the only thing she had.
Dante dropped the piece of string into
Giovanni's hand that was somehow automatically opened to accept it.
started making noises to go, whining and shifting
about. Giovanni wondered if he should not pull the string and so did. There was
immediately a slight thud at the
opposite end of his room. Giovanni pulled more and then saw that
the other end of the string was his bow case. It slid to him almost by
just like all his memories of his daily target practice in the meadow
the two walls of the valley came rushing back to him now.
pulled the case through the iron bars of the window
of the ancient and musty villa, Dante and Beatrice scurried away
cage. (The bars were a reminder of the long-ago days when the villa was
frequently under attack.)
the bow case under his arm and ran off heading
towards San Vigilio Castle with Torquato.
for the clouds to bring Rina, Giovanni
wondered about Veronica. What did she do on Sundays? Was it her brother
a wing? Her hair was very long. When he saw her last, he could see his
reflection in her dark eyes.
heavens flashed with lightning as
clouds swirled up onto the top of San Vigilio. They undulated up from
south-west wall of the rock fortress, the walls of which were perfectly
with the rocky outcrop of the very high hill. In fact, the castle and
seemed a single structure. The top of the hill crowned by the castle
flat, and encircled by a four-foot-tall parapet. It had been perfect
ancient warfare. Now the clouds obscured the eerie white snowbound sky
dancing macabrely about the flames of the wrecked lightening-struck
restaurant. Evidently it had fallen victim to the snow tempest and
weather. An arriving fire engine's siren wailed in the far distance.
mass had finished its ascent and was approaching Giovanni amongst the
trees. The hilltop was bare now, the violent winds of the snowstorm
away all of the usual trees. Suddenly
the snowy clouds drew back as if to fly away, but instead unveiled a
cumulus of snow in the midst of the rubble and smoke.
the milky transparent dome Giovanni
saw Rina sleeping in her hospital bed.
strange mass of clouds twisted round,
coiling, uncoiling, encircling Giovanni whilst the dome became milkier
figure slowly fading away under the increasingly
white and opaque shell out of the corner of his eye, Giovanni readied
But then he stopped, perplexed. He did not know where to aim. Where was
head, its heart?
The mass of
clouds whirled about him more quickly as if
sneering. He drew. He held
his breath and
closed his eyes.
He could feel the
thing swirl about him tousling his hair and making gooseflesh jump out
skin. In his mind's eye this monster -- and just now Giovanni had
it was a monster -- was protean: perhaps firstly a dragon, then a
with razor-sharp claws at the end of every tentacle, and then a huge
drooling poison ready to trample and squeeze him to its horrid body not
suffocating and crushing him but simultaneously injecting him with
its mandibles slowly, but precisely and continually ripped away the
his skull --
He released the
shrill parting whistle like a snake's hiss pulled behind it Torquato's
remembered that a clumsy altar boy had spilt a whole
jug of holy water on his bow and quiver the week before when he had
them at the local youth club.
opened his eyes and realised not
only that Torquato was beside him but that his barking had also been
the hill exploded in light, Giovanni
automatically loaded another arrow. It seemed like daylight as an
sphere sizzled in the air 100 feet above. All of its solar energy shot
it like an incredible short circuit while the clouds flew away to the
end of the castle, 150 feet or so distant from Giovanni.
fully understood now. He had shot
in the direction that Torquato's barking had travelled. He also
the holy water was a good thing now even though at the time when his
and arrows had been doused, he had been quite worried about them
warped. Evidently the holy water had reset his bows and arrows.
pulled the bowstring to his cheek and
looked up in the white opaque sky to where the clouds huddled.
no time and let the second of the seven arrows
fly. Upon impact the compact
mass fragmented into a million pieces. As the flash of the blast
luminous silver disc appeared above the splintered mass which was now
down innumerable streamers which encircled the acropolis.
started baying, but Giovanni had already realised
that the streamers had solidified into tentacles and the mass above the
of a huge squid which was now plummeting down on top of Giovanni and
its huge evil beak rapidly opening and closing making a horrible
noise. Giovanni quickly launched a completely vertical succession of
arrows at the squid before throwing himself down into the dungeon
adjacent. As he tumbled down the stairs Torquato bounded after him.
seconds later there was a horrendous
thud on the earth above which shook the entire hill. It
was a good thing that Giovanni and Torquato had tumbled down
into the dungeon because the goings-on they could see through a grating
horrific. There was a storm of flying swords, hammers, and lightning
pulverising, and frying the devilish squid-beast. Within a minute it
and liquid which was not only dribbling down the sides of the hill but
being absorbed into the white snow of the castle summit.
The two wasted no time and leapt back
up the stone steps to the ground level of the hill. A
strong wind was blowing which tousled Giovanni's hair and
Torquato's fur. The clouds were amassing and darkening on the southern
'Dai, dai, vieni
bastardo,' Giovanni said.
He drew. And in
the direction in which Tarquato barked there was a disturbance, a
the air which became a huge throbbing. A huge black heart appeared and
about it jumping
of infinity a dragon materialised. It roared and spit fire.
released. The arrow immediately
penetrated the scales on the dragon's chest. As it screamed and blood
heart began burning. As the dragon writhed, its enormous tail flailing
and nearly toppling the hill Giovanni thought about Veronica. Oddly there was a calm in his mind
Veronica wandered there. Then he realised that his heart was not
that the tiny bough of olive in his pocket was. He also realised that
had one arrow left.
the dragon vaporised into cold winter
mist and floated away, Giovanni pulled the tiny bough out of his
gently tied it to his last arrow with the length of thread that dangled
it. The little flame did not burn him and did not consume the bough.
the mist spread encircling the large
turret of walls which in turn encircled and crowned the hill. The
mist began solidifying as did the vertical cloud mass supporting it.
encircling part became massive arms and where they joined the vertical
monster was nearly completely
materialised. Its gargantuan baying shattered the heavens and the mere
its huge single eye seemed to batter the hill and castle.
completely solidified in a body of ice,
the Cyclops beat the hill with its Fiat-sized fists while its breath
the plants and shrubberies still left intact along the castle's rim.
Cyclops was opaquely transparent and
made of bricks of hail. Giovanni saw himself reflected in the thousands
bricks which made up the giant iceman like a fly sees myriad images.
it was only Giovanni a thousand times over – a very formidable
Because it was
vaguely transparent it seemed less consistent in
form than the other marvellous beasts. But it contained the force of
the wind --
the force which seems insubstantial because it is not seen, but whose
enormous when felt – like when you believe or refuse
to believe something.
fists swung side to side coming ever closer to Giovanni.
himself on the continually
quaking ground, Giovanni drew. The torch-like arrow vaguely illuminated
twilight of the arriving dawn and as if a beacon drew the Cyclops
He aimed for the monstrous pink, bloodshot, and blazing eye.
This trick of
the burning olive bough had worked for Rina
before: He hoped it would work now as well to send away this storm.
he ever so slightly relaxed the finger
aligning the arrow on the taut bowstring, Giovanni pungently remembered
the hailstorm had stopped, but not before having destroyed Rina's
even though she had so ardently believed it would. He hoped the flowers
be saved this time.
came closer. Its massive chest,
shoulders, and arms closed in. It was coming still closer to Giovanni
touching the opaque cubicle of ice and snow in which Rina lay.
eye zoomed in on Rina's small icy
prison. It grinned snickering terribly. The echoes of his voice and the
of his putrid breath monsooned about while he reached for Rina's opaque
the arrow landed in the huge
red, pink and white eye whilst its trajectory had left a blazing path
the arrow plummeted into the eye, the monster screamed in agony. It
the deadly stinger. And while the arrow plummeted down through its
transparent icy body, the Cyclops wretched in pain tearing at its heart
the flaming arrow stopped. Its fiery path was marked down the axis of
clear milky-marble body as the trajectory in the sky had been.
hailstone Cyclops was lost to sight as
its heart burst into flame. The flames engulfed the beast as it roared,
up, and pounded the hill with fists now drained of their force.
lowered the bow and a great sadness came over him as he
watched the Cyclops suffering so.
finished quickly even though the great flames from the
heart continued. But then Giovanni realised he was looking directly
sun as it rose from its easterly cot.
muttered and ran to Rina’s little icy dome.
Slipping, he fell on his knees and nearly
collapsed onto it. But he had stopped his momentum by pushing on the
dome and catching
himself as if doing an odd press-up.
The dome was
perfectly clear now and Rina lay inside sleeping
tranquilly and smiling. There was a white opaqueness all about her. It
type of milky mist of swaddling clothes.
dome reflected the immense light of the
rising sun. It ignited in light and blinded Giovanni.
closed his eyes for the pain and covered
his face with his hands moaning and groping. When the burning that
penetrated his eyelids and hands had passed, he immediately felt
him who quickly knocked him to the soggy ground while barking and
pulled himself up to his knees and
looked about his vision clearing. Torquato carried on with his usual
mud and water everywhere. The snow was all but gone now.
stood up wiping his face from the
onslaught of slush Torquato continued to kick up. Seeing clearly now,
expected not only to see Rina angry as a hornet because of Torquato's
mud-covered coat but to hear her swearing like a trooper.
was nowhere to be seen. Neither was
her icy cot.
the sister at the hospital together
with some other staff and a doctor arrived in Rina’s room and saw that
machine next to her bed had been bleeping in a continual type of low
that its illuminated graph had been flat as well for a few minutes.
did not understand where the young lad
had finished up. And they did not understand why the room was so
and filled with snow.
Torquato barked and whined at the
could hear approaching. Giovanni slowly backed away from the spot where
should have been and in doing so stumbled over his bow. He did not want
believe she was gone.... but sometimes disbelief
can be even stronger than belief and can even create monsters to slay.
his balance, he scooped it up and
unstrung it. Torquato, strangely sedate, led him away from the castle's
and exit as a group of people, firemen, and the owner of the hapless
the group entered Giovanni and Torquato
circled about some fallen trees and odd debris from the freak storm.
reconnaissance group was so intent on the damage they probably would
seen Giovanni and Torquato even if they had not been hidden behind the
bits while making their getaway of sorts. Going down the stairs the two
were engulfed by a crowd making its way up to the castle summit.
swarm of police, firemen, officials,
curious citizens and both professional and amateur scientists lured by
night's odd lights, sounds, and weather had not taken any notice of the
drenched dog and sopping lad, the two of them now mixed into the swarm
people as well.
minutes they had gone past the
hill's most remote villas and entered the small road that linked the
with the quarter below.
passed the flash pub and the cable
railway station which came up from the historic centre, it too on a
but lower than San Vigilio castle.
across the small piazza towards the tiny footpath that
started there between the pizzeria and the church and then weaved down
17th and 16th Century villas to the city centre.
bedraggled subjects were halfway across the piazza when
Veronica emerged from the footpath.
stared at each other in disbelief. Giovanni
was surprised to see her, Veronica quite bewildered at the ragamuffin
stood there dumbfounded, but
Veronica came to the middle of the piazza where he stood.
thirty-five girl guides filed out of the little via where
Veronica had come from and like her they were dressed in uniform --
only now noticed Veronica's attire because of the reinforcing stimulus
staring at each other as Veronica's passing girl
guide companions incited her to continue with them: 'Dai Veronica!
‘Get a move
on!’ ‘Off we go!’ they cried. And she finally did
when the old biddy nun carrying up the rear arrived giving disapproving
to Veronica and looks of disbelief to Giovanni.
you tomorrow at school,' Giovanni
managed as she moved off to join in with the Sunday walking tour.
replied hurrying to the long file of chattering
girls that immediately started teasing her.
continued staring at the parting
regiment with his unstrung bow poised on his shoulder. He exchanged
glances with Veronica until she disappeared round a corner.
Then Torquato nudged him brusquely and
barked telling him that it was time to go home.
© 2021 Gregory Santo Arena
Bio: Gregory Santo Arena lives in Italy.
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