Welcome, stranger, welcome. To the first edition of Storytime, a place to rest your weary soul, sit around an (imaginary) fire and let me tell you the stories and adventures you can find yourself in when you dare to venture outside of the comforting familiarity of the known world.
Drama, excitement, pursuits, hiding, danger, scars, passion, all with a hint of drunkenness, just for good measure. There is a whole world out there, hidden in plain sight. So allow me to tell you the first of many stories.
Italy, 2014. I was as inexperienced as they come.
“And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” – Nietzsche
The dark has a narrative of its own. It is as living and breathing as we are, because it is each and every one of us. Like a morbid blank canvas, it beckons us to paint upon it with all the colours of our fears. You always know when the painting is done – in the pounding of the heart, in the quickening of the pulse, in the sweat rolling down the forehead, in the shivering of the hands, in the scream that lies curled up in the throat, stuck, waiting for release. It awaits, patiently, silently laughing at the internal tortures we inflict upon our minds, not knowing that there is nothing in the dark but a projection of ourselves. But that day…the dark had a voice.
The blood and sweat were glistening in the early afternoon sun that burned my skin. Even though the path we were following distorted itself into an unrecognizable hell of thorns that mercilessly cut the flesh, we finally reached the door and stepped into the soothing darkness disturbed only by an occasional bat. “I’m going to go check upstairs”, he said, panting heavily. I nodded, unable to do much more but put down the gear and evaluate the damage. My shirt – wet to the last thread. My arms – bleeding. After what seemed like hours of bloody anguish, we were here. “Hope it’s worth it.”
My moment of solitude was disrupted by fast-approaching footsteps and a worried look on my partner’s face: “I heard sounds”. “Sounds?, I asked, as the word echoed through my mind, “what kind of sounds?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t know. And I saw fresh wooden planks piled up on the floor.”
I looked back at the thorns and the path we created through them. How could’ve anyone managed to carry in huge wooden planks through that hell surrounding the villa? After a moment of consideration, we pressed on, in search of a very specific room. One corridor came after another, the rooms became a blur of dark-lit gray decay. Until we found it – the room of a painter, all dressed up in blue and rust. The sun cast its harsh light onto a pile of toy airplanes on a shaky wooden table. I wondered about whose hands touched them before I ever laid my eyes on them, while my partner rushed on about discovering the perfect angle.
Click clacks of tripods. Click clacks of shutters. Soft creaking of wood. Dust hovering in the air. Footsteps.
My body went completely rigid as I heard that ominous sound, not knowing from whence it came or if the footsteps were approaching. My partner froze in his movements as well and in a moment of silent communication, it was obvious that I was not alone in hearing the sound.
More footsteps. A cough. Soft humming.
“We bail out”. He nodded in agreement. During the bone-chilling agony of the journey back downstairs when every shadow held a new danger, thoughts kept racing through my mind. The sun blinded me as we stumbled out, almost tripping over each other.
We were out, headed once again for the thorny path. This time, I welcomed the pain.