“Night may conceal many things but on this night of February the 3rd 1860 it cannot conceal the evil that hangs insidiously in the air. Nor can it conceal the pungent smell of hate and ignorance that flow freely, assaulting the nostrils of the seven people hiding in the cold, damp, dark cave.
‘In here! Look in here!’ Evil longs to cry out, knowing that to do so will lead to one of its many manifestations—death!
The people in the cave stay quiet, though terrified, they pray silently that the Night-riders will not discover them. Their prayers, though quiescent, are powerful and make their way up to Heaven, where they lay expectantly at the Feet of God.
The resonant sound of the hooves of horses gets louder and louder as the Night-riders, brandishing lit torches, move nearer and nearer, in pursuit of their scent-aroused dogs. The Night-riders stop a short distance away from the entrance of the cave; their dogs bark ferociously at the feet of their horses. Up and down and up and down the dogs jump, crazed, almost as if they dance to the tune of the drums that evil beats. Boom boom-boom! Boom boom-boom! Boom boom-boom! Each beat taunting them, drawing them nearer and nearer to the entrance of the cave.”
Silence ensued. Then suddenly, the male voice continued with the story.
“‘You think dey in there?’ Wilson, one of the Night-riders asks, as he peers into the cave from a safe distance.
‘Something sure spooked dem dogs,’ the head rider replies as they all dismount, ‘Only two of dem dogs are mine. The rest are mostly your crazy dogs Wilson, you go check,’ he orders and spits out foul, green, tobacco-riddled, phlegm.
Reluctantly, Wilson cautiously walks to the mouth of the cave where the dogs are now snapping at each other, as if rabid and possessed. He tries to pull the dogs away but, almost immediately, they turn on him. Startled, he drops his lit torch and curses angrily as he tries to control the dogs and stop the dry brambles that partially cover the mouth of the cave from catching fire. The dogs move in on him, biting at his hands and legs; he screams for help. The other riders rush to help him; they shout, hit and kick out at the dogs. Amid the furor, their horses strain wildly against their restraints. Suddenly and unannounced, there is silence. The Night-riders pause; the dogs freeze in the middle of their ferocious attack and the horses stand dead still …”
The storyteller, Maxwell Anthony Kempalos, fondly known as Antonio since he was two years old, looked at his children and noted their excited eyes and opened mouths as they waited for him to finish the story. Tonight his antiquated American accent had been more pronounced than usual. He glanced out of the large bay window and looked at the visible, succulent, Sicilian valley, spread below like a luxuriant carpet. The opened window allowed the fragrant citrus smell of the lemons, growing in the groves below, access into the room. Just for a moment he was captivated by the sheer brilliance of the night-light, the moon. He was tranquillized by its tantalizing illumination. Smiling, he closed the old journal, which had been in his family for nearly a hundred years. Almost immediately the children started to protest, their voices pulled him out of his transient, tranquil state.
“But Papa, you promised you would read to the end of the story this time,” his eldest son, Julius Maxwell Kempalos, protested.
“I know, Julius, but it is late now and tomorrow is a big day, no?” He consoled.
“Si Papa,” Julius replied, his compliant nature and fortitude as always, endearing.
“Boom boom-boom Papa, Boom boom-boom,” Laurellina whispered as she stared at her father. She had not understood all the words he had said but she knew something scary was supposed to happen in the story.
“No!” A voice suddenly screamed. “No Papa! More Story! We want more!” A recalcitrant Johnatus protested as he jumped up and down on the bed and waved his little fists angrily in the air. This incited his little sister, Laurellina, who, in reckless abandonment, also jumped up and down, but in addition, screamed at the top of her voice in excitement. This, of course, exacerbated the situation and caused Antonio to cringe away from the noise.
Mrs. Kempalos rushed into the room, fearing that something terrible had happened. She took one look at her husband’s panic-stricken face and immediately took control of the situation. “Julius, please take your father downstairs. You two be quiet now! What has got into you both? You know Papa does not like noise. Get into your beds.”
“Si Mama, sorry Papa,” they chorused, as Julius helped his father out of the room.
“It’s okay little ones, all is okay. Papa is okay,” Antonio said, as he waved a hand reassuringly at them. But as Julius escorted his father down the stairs to his bedroom, he could tell from the way his father’s hands trembled that all was not okay. All was very far from being okay.
“What year is this, Julius?” Antonio asked.
Julius refrained from answering; instead, he concentrated on settling his father into his favorite chair by the fireplace. He then placed the customary glass of cold water with a straw next to his father on a side table. Since his return from war, Antonio had developed very sensitive teeth and could not drink cold water directly from a glass, but could not go to sleep at night without drinking a glass of cold water.
“Julius?” Antonio persisted.
“It is 1947 Papa,” Julius lied, as Grandpa Kempalos had ordered him to do many times before. He had warned Julius that if he didn’t comply, Antonio would be put in a room with no windows forever. This frightened Julius because he knew how much his father loved to look out of the window and upon the Sicilian valley. His young mind could not comprehend how his father would cope if this one thing were to be taken away from him. His grandfather had said that his father would die in the room and his widowed mother would be thrown out onto the streets and the responsibility for this predicament would fall solely on Julius’s shoulders. So he told this lie to keep his father alive and his mother safe.
“Tomorrow is a big day, no?” Antonio asked.
“Si, Papa, tomorrow is a big day.” Julius knelt down and held his father’s hand against his little face. He did this often; it was his way of telling his father that he was there with him and that he loved him. He stood up and kissed his father’s cheek, then turned to leave, “Buonanotte Papa.” He glanced back. Antonio sat, stoical. He was staring into the flames. Julius guessed that his father’s mind had probably already left the room and was visiting one of his many peaceful, pre-war locations. In reality, Antonio’s mind was visiting the battlefield where he had witnessed so much death, deformity and dismemberment. Where he had seen many languid soldiers filled with hate and consumed with fear. Where he had witnessed the constant flashing of lights, heard the never-ending sound of gunfire. Where men with whom he had eaten his meals and with whom he had laughed one day, sat injured, screaming in pain and crying at the death of another soldier the next. Boys as young as fifteen, boys that should never have gone to war, traumatized and crying like babies for their mothers. These were the realities of wars, the realities from which he had tried to escape, but of which he was constantly reminded. He recalled the story he had read once written by a soldier in 1914 who, on the 24th of December, had taken part in the Christmas Truce. Prior to this date, the soldier had been taught that the enemy he shot at were evil men and deserved to die. Then, on Christmas day, he got to meet the enemy. He had been shocked to find out that the enemy he had shot at, and that had shot at him, were young men just like him. They were not painted red, they did not have two heads and horns, what they did have were mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts—family—just like he did. Antonio’s mind left the battlefield of war and visited what was now becoming the battlefield of his once beloved country. One blood-curdling vendetta followed another now. Violence that had once only encroached, now completely engulfed his Sicilian town, violence that was the ‘Mafiosi’ also known as ‘Cosa Nostra’. Antonio sighed again as his mind quietly came back to the present. He had felt his son kiss his cheek mere seconds ago and looked up. He was stunned to see Julius already standing by the door.
“Good night, Julius,” Antonio said, just before the door closed gently behind his son.
“What is wrong with you, Johnatus?” Julius asked angrily as he pulled the cover sharply off his little brother. “Why did you do that?”
Johnatus’ eyes flew open in shock and then anger settled in “He never does what he promises, he always says he will do something then no! Puff! He does not,” he extenuated. Tears formed. In horror Johnatus blinked them away, not wanting to show his big brother that he was weak. “The Kempalos men are supposed to be strong from birth and no excuses are accepted!” Grandpa Kempalos had constantly indoctrinated.
“Papa will get to the end of the story one day, Johnatus. Please just be patient, okay.”
Johnatus looked at his brother; in his mind his brother was more of a father to him than Antonio was. His brother always did what he promised he would do. “I am really sorry Julius I didn’t mean to upset Papa or make you angry.”
Julius pulled the cover back over his brother and tousled his hair. “Go to sleep little one, I will see you in the morning. Just make sure you apologize to Papa again tomorrow okay.”
Johnatus nodded, “I promise I will.”
As Julius turned to leave the room, he saw that his father had not taken the old journal downstairs. His father never left the journal unprotected. It was always kept in protective wrappings and only retrieved occasionally when Antonio wanted to tell his children a story.
“This, my grandson is an heirloom, a very important part of your family history. My father, Governor Gustaf Kempalotini presented it to me many years ago. It must always be protected and kept safe so that our history remains alive!” Grandpa Kempalos had told him on the day the journal had been given to Antonio. He had also told him of the many wonderful stories that his own father, the Governor, had read to him from the journal when he was just a boy, nearly fifty years ago. Gently, Julius picked the journal up. He held it away from his body not sure if it would get dirty if it touched his clothes. He walked slowly out of the room with it and proceeded down the stairs. As he got onto the middle step, his mother’s voice could be heard. It seemed somewhat strident. He waited, not sure who she was talking to then he heard his grandfather’s voice.
“No Maria, I will not allow this, Antonio must never be told.”
“But Papa Kempalos, maybe it will help him understand.”
“I said no!” Grandpa Kempalos warned again.
Maria’s defiant voice continued, “The other day Johnatus was caught beating an immigrant Asian worker with a stick. He nearly broke the young boy’s arm because he said the boy teased him about his dark skin complexion and strange blue-green eyes. Antonio caught him and was so distressed with what he witnessed that he locked himself in his study all day. Antonio was so angry Papa, so hurt and angry that his own flesh and blood could behave in such an evil, sadistic manner. I think he already suspects that Johnatus may not be his child! He is not the same man that went to fight in the war Papa. That man left me and never came back. Antonio is not the same man! He has nightmares, night-sweats, he hears voices, he has flashbacks, and he detests sudden movements and noise. He does not even know what year this is. You have forced the children and I to lie to him constantly, Papa Kempalos, you threaten us—”
“Come now Maria, war changes everyone, no one that has seen battle, death and destruction, can be the same. I fought in World War 1, my father before me fought in a war and his father before him. This is what we men do, it makes us stronger.” He tried to condescend.
“Antonio is not like you, he never was. We married when we were both eighteen. Even then I could see that he was different. He is of a gentle disposition. He should never have gone to war!”
“Enough Maria, I will not stand for any more of this nonsense talk. To the point, it must never be revealed that Johnatus is not his son. Do I make myself clear? Antonio will not understand that the baby you were carrying when he went to war died and we adopted Johnatus from that Asian immigrant family. This secret must go to the grave. The doctors have said that Antonio’s mind is very fragile, very intricate, he doesn’t have a clear conception of time or even where he is sometimes, anything can set him off on a downward path—”
“Do you love your son Papa?” Maria interjected.
“It is precisely because I love him that he must never know. Now tomorrow you are all leaving Sicily for New York. We can no longer stay here with everything that has happened. Now it is a crime to be ‘Cosa Nostra’, my Grandfather and Father were ‘Men of Honor’. They returned from Spain with much wealth. They helped the people of Sicily. Their people! My father, God rest his soul, was a Governor! Now Crime and Murder surrounds and contaminates everything he and my grandfather stood for and we must leave. Soon the rest of us will join you in America, and things will be new and better for all of us, especially Antonio.”
“You think we do not know about your activities Papa Kempalos? Antonio and I want nothing to do with them or the elusiveness that you hide behind. We have all changed our name from Kempalotini to Kempalos. What do we have to do next? You think what you do will not follow you? For thirty pieces of silver you betrayed Luciano Gambono, you betrayed your friend! I could understand if you did it for the right reasons but you did it for more power and more money! All you want is to eliminate all of your rivals and gain full control of the shipping ports then you will gain full control of the American connections. Do you think that Gambono does not know this? Do you think that his men will not follow us to America? Or are we to be the scapegoat for your crimes? Is this why you send us first? Directly or indirectly, you killed Gambono’s family. You started this secret vendetta that has led to the death of his mother, wife and his children, Papa Kempalos, or should I say, Don Kempalos—”
“Be silent Maria! You know absolutely nothing! You will say nothing!”
They moved further into the room and Julius could no longer hear what was being said. But he had heard enough. As he stood quietly on the stairs, he clutched the journal to his chest. Shocked, alone and confused, he turned and walked back up the stairs to his room.
In the sanctuary of his own room, Julius looked at the photograph of the three of them taken not long ago. ‘The Kempalos children’ was written on the back, in his mother’s exquisite penmanship. He often thought that Johnatus looked different from Laurellina and himself: now he knew why.
As he sat and stared at the photograph the words of his grandfather and mother replayed in his mind. He knew that the words were now forever imprinted on the walls of his heart. Everything had changed in a matter of minutes. Suddenly his heart stopped, thoughts came into his mind. ‘What about me?’ ‘Whose son am I?’ He stared at the small copy of a family portrait his mother had given him when he had gone to visit one of his numerous cousins in Palermo last month. The answer to that question was visible even to his childish eyes. But all of a sudden, the thing that was not lost had now been found. With this secret came the price of silence. For now he had two people to protect, his father and Johnatus. This was a secret that had to be kept, remain untold, because he loved his mother, he loved his father and he loved Johnatus. He paced around his room as thoughts of this shocking revelation bombarded his mind.
Thirty minutes later, unable to sleep, Julius did something he had never done before: he gently opened the journal that contained written-snapshots of his family’s history and placed it on his bed. He saw that a number of pages were torn and worn, some looked burned and not all of the pages were attached. He looked at the words; some were faint but most still legible to him. He read some of the entries. Turning the delicate pages one way then another, he jumped in and out of his family’s history. He paused for a few moments as his young but highly intelligent mind digested the implications of what he had just read. Shocked and with hands that trembled, he turned the pages to the beginning of the journal, then read from an entry written by his great, great, great grandmother in 1859…
Ebooks from GLL Publishing available at Amazon, Smashwords etc – Books also available via www.gllpublishing.com
Despite all odds: A Dream Fulfilled Part 1
Despite all odds: A Dream Fulfilled Part 2
Truths, Lies And Untold Secrets
Blood Borne Connections
U Murder U (Suicide)
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