Blood tainted his hands; death lurked in every crevice of thought. Sea salt wafted over the rails, replacing the reality of a homeland redolent of jasmine and aster. The sun dipped below the horizon filling the sea with orange luminescence. This was his fate now.
Vito Cielletto sighed and brought a flask to his lips, draining the last stolen ounces of his father’s liquor. He grimaced. Though he had normally relished the taste, the farther away the ship traveled the more bitter it came to be. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve and quickly stashed away the flask in his coat pocket. And not a moment too soon, he thought, discerning the approach of a portly man.
“You must be harboring a heavy veight, freund. In all mein years, I’ve only seen zhat look on hardened soldiers. Vhat brings you aboard this vessel?” the man asked, the coalescence of languages showing through his foreign tongue.
Normally unaccustomed to social greetings, coupled with his insufficient mastery of English, the young criminal was imbued with a feeling of great embarrassment as he whispered his reply in a thick Italian accent.
“I…wish to start new life in fabled land of opportunity.”
“New life…? Nein, you are still very young! Vhy do you vant a new life vhen you have yet to live your own?”
“…I have…taken life. It is fitting punishment to give up my old one, no?”
“Ack, zhat is no way to zhink. Mein sohn vas very much like you. He left us many years ago to join the var effort. He zhought only of the peace he vould bring to our homeland. But, vhen he vas repatriated, he vas a different man. He seldom spoke to zhe wife and I. Your reasons are your own, but don’t let zhe past control your future. Ask yourself, ‘Is zhis the life I vant to have?'”
“I am long way from home already. There is no place left for me there.”
“If I may be so bold as to ask, vhere vere you born?”
“Ah…how do I say…? I hail…from Italy.”
His accompanying neighbor burst into boisterous laughter.
“I see, quite zhe vay from home indeed! You’re in good company, rest assured. Many refugees board zhis ship seeking solace for zheir minds. Und I’m sure, given enough time, you vill come to find peace as vell.”
He motioned over to the front deck, where a woman and her spritely young daughter gazed over the railing.
The child pointed past the bow, repeating the words, ‘Ellie Island’. Rozalin—Vito’s dear niece—appeared through the child’s innocent behavior. Upon further scrutiny, however, the underlying realism of stolen innocence became clear. Her tiny arms were riddled with scars.
Not only that, they seemed self-inflicted.
The smokestack bellowed as Vito cursed those who tainted a child’s purity to such a degree. A hand rested on his shoulder and took him away from his thoughts.
“Quite zhe disappointment for our encounter to be ordained a short one, vouldn’t you agree? Auf wiedersehen, freund. May you find inner peace on your journey.”
The stranger nodded and left Vito with a guileless smile. Such sanguine disposition briefly raised his spirits, but at the same time he questioned whether absolution was truly an option.
Cielletto disembarked with a feeling of curiosity, somehow managing not to be swept up by the maelstrom of colors stampeding through the port. Perhaps it was to be expected. His trek was an antithesis to everyone else’s. Eventually the large crowd diminished and sunlight grew scarce.
He walked past a tavern. The notion of partaking in foreign ale was tempting, but he decided against it. He needed his senses to be sharp for the moment. A well-known criminal awaited his arrival. It would be idiotic to be unwary of any uncertainties that would befall him. Even so, with his mind sharper than a blade, the anxiety hung thick in the air as he waited patiently at his predetermined destination.
He stifled a yawn. He had been unable to sleep a wink in weeks due in part to the wildly jibing ship. To be smuggled aboard and treated like cargo grated his nerves, but he had to thank Luca for providing him a way where he would no longer be on the run from the poliziotto.
While he was lost again in past memories, faint cries blew in from the direction of the tavern. In time they could identified as nothing else than screams.
“Help me! Somebody, please! No, get away! Nooo!”
Masculine instincts kicked in and off he went to identify the source of such pained shrieks. Peeking out from around a corner, he spotted a pair running, a woman and a brute in hot pursuit. Tattered clothing scarcely provided any decency for her body.
She noticed Vito and called out to him, only to be pulled back by the hair and trapped within his muscular grip.
“Where do ya’ think yer goin’, baby?”
He dragged his tongue along the side of her face, groping away at her with his free hand.
The sallow man was apparently inebriated, the umbrageous stench of liquor lingering on his presence.
“What do you think you are doing?”
“Huh? What are you looking at?” He pulled out a berretta. “This ain’t a peep show for you to get off on. Scram if you know what’s good for ya’.”
Vito raised his hands above his head. “I don’t want any trouble.”
“And I don’t want to waste perfectly good bullets on a little shit like you. Get outta here.”
Vito swallowed his indecisiveness and briefly glanced at the man’s captive, who pleaded for release with her eyes.
He turned his back to them and walked away, slowly reaching for an item in his coat pocket when the drunk paid him no mind.
Vito spun fast and threw his flask at the man. The gun flew out of his hands. Seizing the opportunity, the woman bit down into his forearm. With a growl of anguish, the man’s hold was broken and the woman escaped.
Vito charged and pinned the man against a wall with an arm. “Leave! Hurry!” he shouted at the woman.
Heroic though it was, Vito knew full well he was no match for a man almost twice his size, but he hoped it would suffice in buying time for her to escape.
“Goddamn brat!” The giant quickly overpowered him, slamming his head into the wall before throwing him into some nearby crates.
The woman scrambled for the semi-automatic, wheeling around the instant it fell into her fingers. The barrel’s sights were loosely locked on the attempted rapist.
“What are you gonna do with that, girlie? Eh? You gonna shoot me? Look at you, shaking with it in your hands. Do you feel like a big girl with that toy? Hand it over before you hurt yourself,” he said, thinking himself to be invincible.
He walked up to her and reached out.
“Don’t touch me!”
“No! Stop it!” Though still dazed, Vito sprinted to their location.
A bullet rang out through the night.
Time stood still. All three remained motionless until time flowed again alongside blood. The man persistently continued forward despite the bullet. She squeezed off another shot, piercing his jugular. He stumbled, taken aback, falling down on his back like a chopped down tree. He flailed his arms and franticly tried to patch his neck, beginning now to drown from the copious blood frothing from his mouth.
Vito ran over and pressed both hands on his other wound. “Mister! Stay with me! Come on! Don’t die here! I won’t let you die!”
Vito sensed a barrel pointed in his direction.
“Move! Or I’ll shoot you with him!”
“What are you saying! He cannot hurt you anymore! Put the gun down!”
Again she pulled the trigger, disregarding her would be savior and emptying half of the magazine in the man’s body long after he ceased moving.
The woman fell to her knees in tears.
As the color of the man’s eyes faded away, Vito was reminded of his inability to save his own family. He stood up, slowly rolling his scarlet fingers into fists before turning his head to the murderer.
Overtaken by emotion, Vito dashed in and tackled her. He wrestled the weapon away while she writhed underneath him.
“Get off! Let me go! Let me go, you creepy bastard!”
“Why did you kill him? WHY?”
“Asshole deserved it! Every single bullet.”
Her words resounded deep within the back of his head. Was it truly within mortal power to judge what was just?
“Sick bastards like him think they can have their way with me as they please! I’ve had it with being trampled on day in and day OUT!” She dug an iron heel into Vito’s stomach and kicked him off of her.
Vito winced and pushed himself up. He held his abdomen. “No one…,” he breathed in between gasps for air, “should have to die in such a way.”
“What the hell would you know? You’ll never understand what it feels to be treated like a cheap object!”
Vito’s eyes briefly hovered above her trembling knees, losing focus on a brief glimpse of cream-colored lingerie before denying himself. The woman crawled back and closed her legs, clutching her shoulders in shock. “I never want to go through that hell again—I WON’T!”
“You think yourself innocent? Go then.”
Permission was something she never considered. Vito watched as she left without gratitude.
He glanced at the weapon in his hands in vehement disgust. His grip grew tighter until the knuckles were white. With an anguished yell he chucked it as far as he possibly could, which shimmered bright silver at the apex of its arc. Right then, all he wanted was to reprimand himself for being weak. He shattered a few boxes in his frustration.
Vito knelt beside the man, as a friend would stay at one’s deathbed. Despite the man’s heinous act, it was insufficient incentive to spite him. Death is indiscriminate, it stood to Vito’s reason that compassion should be likewise.
“Riposi in pace.”
He glided a hand over the man’s eyelids to preserve his original image.
“You’re quite the lucky man,” came a sardonic voice behind him.
Sarcastic clapping entered Vito’s ear as he turned his head. A slender silhouette, unknowingly there from the start, entered his line of sight.
“Front row seats to this gritty reality show at your age? Color me envious.” The figure discarded its shroud of shadows, revealing a grizzled gentleman with dead, black eyes resembling a shark.
Vito furrowed his brows. He was in no mood for this farce.
“Ooooh, scary, scary. Why the glare? That’s a look unbefitting of someone your age,” the sharp-dressed man voiced. “Oh, I get it. ‘Don’t speak ill of the dead’, hmm?”
“…Are you the one they call Tenebrae?”
“I go by many names, kid. Mephistopheles, Diavolo, Tenebrae…but what does it matter? They all start to lose meaning after a while. The only one you should concern yourself with is “Sir”.
“And for the record, that life isn’t yours to give away so carelessly. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe you were expressly forbidden from dying. After all, it would save us the time and money of dragging you out of hell to repay your debt…”
Vito remained silent.
“Ah, but where are my manners? Welcome to America,” he announced with an ostentatious bow. “We do hope you enjoyed this evening’s performance, and look forward to your part in the next act.”
“So I am to be another puppet, to that?”
“Come now, you’ll come to savor the sovereignty this country has to offer soon enough. Those two gave you a mere glimpse of the entertainment to be had here.”
“The life you offer is far too bitter for my tastes,” Vito rebuked. “I promise you Sir, my loyalty out of thanks, but I won’t play the mindless doll like them.”
Tenebrae tipped his hat and smirked. “Such an interesting position you have. Let’s just wait and see how you fare…the real fun’s about to begin.”