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Sunday, 15 September 2013

Revelation in Safi Sanatorium, Malta

Here's an extract from Chill of the Shadow (previously Death is Another Life): Maltese-American Maria Caruana, investigative journalist, and Sergeant Attard are interviewing a patient in Safi Sanatorium, Malta.

The matron shook her head and smiled condescendingly. “The doctors don’t believe her ravings – vampires indeed!” She eyed the wan Elena. “That’s more of a central European folklore tale than from the Mediterranean, or so Dr. Soldanis says.”

            “I see.” Attard introduced Maria and added, “Miss Caruana would like to ask Elena a few questions. Is that all right?”

            “Please yourself, Sergeant. But you won’t learn anything new. She’s barking.”

            Though she was incensed by the matron’s attitude, Maria let that last comment go and leaned forward to make eye-contact with Elena. They began by chatting about clothes and family. After a few minutes, Elena seemed comfortable talking. Maria continued to probe gently.

            Haltingly, Elena told her story about the wedding and the honeymoon in St. Paul’s Bay, and of that terrible night. “My Carmelo fought the creature so bravely...” She sighed. “But nobody believes me! They think I killed my Carmelo!” she ended forlornly, her hand going back to the neck-wound.

            I believe you,” Maria said earnestly.

            Behind Maria, Attard whispered, “Try getting a description of the man – the vampire.”

            She nodded. “I know the memory hurts, Elena, but we must find this monster, and lock him away. Can you tell me what he looked like?”

            Screwing her eyes tight as she thought, Elena said, “He was tall, very tall. He towered over me and he had gray eyes, eyes that seemed to shine. And a a hooked nose. Vvery pale skin” She cried, shaking, and clasped her arms round her bony frame, as if trying to hold in what little self she had left. “Smooth, gentle hands. Black hair, swept back long and curling at the neck, I think...” She started, grabbed Maria’s arm, her fingers digging in. “His face! I’ve just remembered!”

            “What about his face, Elena?”

            “Carm threw that vile bat at him it cut his cheek!” She shuddered, eyes wide and red-rimmed. “There was so much blood! He must have a scar” And Elena touched her right cheek. “Here, it bled so much!” She shuddered at the memory.

            Experiencing a horrible sinking feeling in her stomach, Maria said in a voice that had suddenly grown deeper, “That’s very good, Elena. Thank you.” She stroked the distraught girl’s tear-streaked cheek and unthinkingly touched her own. Then she stood up and turned to Attard. “When did this happen?”

            “A month ago.”

            “So his scar wouldn’t have healed yet?”

            The matron had been attentive throughout. Now she said, helpfully, “Most likely the scar would still be pronounced. If there ever was such a person, of course. Vampires, werewolves, goblins, many of our inmates have seen them all, I can tell you! Some even think they are these creatures!” She made a sound at the back of her throat, as if about to spit. “You’d think in this day and age they wouldn’t believe all this superstitious nonsense! Our doctor says the myth of vampires all started in the Middle Ages when the medical profession was inadequate – they couldn’t really determine death properly. Sufferers of catalepsy and other strange ailments were consigned to a premature burial. Grave robbers often found the graves scratched and bloodied by the poor person who’d been buried alive.”

            “Is that so?” Maria responded woodenly. Shaken, she walked to the window. Elena’s description of her husband’s murderer could fit almost anyone. Yet the image Elena conjured up closely resembled Michael Zondadari even to the scar on his cheek. His scar was still fresh.

            “Anything wrong?” Attard asked, his tone full of concern.

            Her mind in turmoil, she composed herself and turned, shook her head. “No it’s just this place,” she whispered, truthfully enough. “It gives me the creeps.”

            For some reason best known to her darker inner self she kept quiet about her thoughts and fears concerning Michael Zondadari. She would not betray him. Had he hypnotized her? No, she was convinced that her thoughts were her own though now she was doubtful if her heart was.

            “Can we leave, please? I need fresh air.” Absently, she touched her mother’s crucifix around her neck.

- Chill of the Shadow by Nik Morton (p140)
Available as a paperback and e-book from Amazon here

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