The moth

Original Italian translation here.

This is a work of fiction. All the characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, or real events is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2016 by Stardust a lost alien
All rights reserved.

Freely inspired by: “A Pyre of Black Sunflowers” by :Of The Wand And The Moon:

Heath. A sweltering, oppressive heath; a heavy cloak which plugs his pores, presses on his temples, stagnates in his nostrils. That heath of summer evenings, when one would expect to find finally some refreshment from the sun which has beaten down for the whole day, drying the soil out and scorching the skin. And instead, when finally the sunset draws near, instead of cool, of some clean breeze, the cloak comes.

He walks in the cornfield. The ears of wheat sting his calves, irritating his skin already vexed by the heath, the dust and the salt of his sweat. Mosquitoes too sting his calves, mosquitoes sting everywhere, and he doesn’t even try to shoo them away any more; he lets himself be devoured by that mischievous host with a sort of calm resignation. He keeps on walking, sweating, making his way with difficulty through the golden stems which take on a reddish hue now that the sun is low and covers the sky in blood. He raises his eyes, to admire that sight: just some shreds of a cloud whose borders glow and down on his right that fire ball that is the sun, red, red, too red. Almost unsettling. A hellish sky. In spite of the heath, a shiver runs through his spine. He doesn’t understand the reason of his restlessness; he should be fascinated by such a view, in awe, enraptured. But summer evenings, the boiling and oppressive ones – not the stormy ones, no, for those it is different – have always laid a certain uneasiness on him. He doesn’t know why. Never known. It’s as if they bring along with them the premonition of something inauspicious, mysterious, or maybe more than a premonition it is a remembrance, something hidden between the folds of his past, in the obscure memories of his past. Maybe it’s both a premonition and a remembrance.

He shakes his head, annoyed by the droplets of sweat which trickle down on his lashes and eyes. He has the feeling that his face is melting. He squeezes his eyelids for the burning when the salty liquid gets into contact with his eyeballs. He runs a hand on his forehead, through his hair to pull it back, and looks forward, fixing his eyes on the smoke column towards which he’s going. He’s curious, even if he’s conscious that probably it’s a pyre of weeds and branches work of the farmers of the area. But he wants to go and see it, even if the thought of getting near to something even more scorching presses his chest in an anticipation of the heath that will hit him.

He continues plodding on. Finally a gust of air comes, warm this too. He feels a run of goosebumps coming, maybe it’s the sight of the sun lower and lower and more and more vermilion on his right, while on the left the sky is turning from light blue – whitish to a faint indigo tone. If he looks carefully, he can glimpse the glimmering of the first star. It’s going to be a starry night. It’s going to be full of stars, especially in that area, so isolated, so dark. He feels like crying, and he doesn’t know why; he feels like starting to scream like a lunatic and running in the grip of terror, and he doesn’t know of what. He advances toward the smoke column. The smell of burnt greenery stings his nostrils: it surely is a pyre made by farmers. It almost looks like he can distinguish its blaze, reddish. Crickets have started chirping among the ears of wheat, their sweet and croaking chant rises in the air. Again that shiver. Again that fear. A flickering in the stomach, a just quickened heartbeat, a sweet sting deep down in his throat. He looks around frenetic, positive for an instant to be observed by something malevolent and powerful.

Idiot. He’s letting himself be influenced by the almost unearthly aspect of the landscape. He keeps on walking, while the sun warms up his right cheek and arm, its caress still hot but softer than in the first hours of the afternoon. The smell of burning is more piercing and stings his nose; at this point he should be almost there. A dark shadow passes by quickly above his head, without emitting a sound: a bat. He stops for a second, following it with his gaze, and in that moment he becomes aware of the silence which surrounds him. No, it’s not silence, the breeze makes the wheat rustle, crickets raise their light singing into the air. It’s human silence. No trace of humanity around him. Only him, immersed in that natural peace, or maybe unnatural. He feels lonely. Exposed. Menaced. Bewitched. Again that shadow of a memory.

He keeps on walking, and now he has almost reached the pyre: he hears the crackling of the flames and he can also see them clung to the blackened vegetation piled in that heap, while sparks flutter in the air, in a swarm. The cornfield opens without notice in front of him, into a perfect circle in the centre of which the pyre is built. There’s no one. Absolutely no one. He looks around agitated: it’s not good to leave a blaze unattended, especially not in a field, especially not with that scorching heath. There’s no one, only the chant of crickets, the bites of mosquitoes and the rapid flights of the bats which eat them. He brings his gaze back to the pyre. Something curious alerts his attention, but he can’t understand what. He observes the flames, the plants which are burning and he realizes that they aren’t weeds and dead branches: principally, the pyre is composed by sunflowers, many of them already black due to the fire. Those which haven’t already been burnt have empty corollas. The seeds have been picked, the sunflowers cut and now they’re being burnt. The view sharpens that feeling of melancholy. Again he looks around, shivering. He looks at the pyre. Then around himself again. Then the pyre again. Then finally he understands what doesn’t fall into place: they’re not sparks those which rise around it. They’re moths. A swarm of moths flutters around the heap on fire, the wings enlightened by the flare of the flames, to which they fly near. Too near. He breathes, inhaling warm air and smoke which makes his eyes water and stings his throat. Everything stings, his throat, the mosquitoes, the smoke in his respiratory tract, the sweat in his eyes. Hot. Really too hot.

He stares fascinated and horrified at the moths which flutter around the pyre, lured by the light; what a terrible joke of nature. The bloody colours and the very long shadows sharpen his sense of horror, and again that shred of a repressed remembrance threatens to wriggle out. Darkness gathers under the spikes, giving him the annoying feeling that something is hiding in the wheat. Again, he feels observed. He gets his sandals off and lays his feet on the dry and levelled grass of the circle; now the soles of his feet sting too. It’s a good feeling. Real. He flexes lightly his knees to plunge his feet more into the undergrowth which sting him, craving for it, for that handhold to reality which now appears elusive and changing, like the flames which dance in front of him and around which the moths dance in turn. It almost makes his head spin.

And while he watches it happens, and even if he expected that he cannot help suppressing a scream and planting his nails in the palms of his hands: one of the moths, a great big one, has drawn too near to a flame. For a second it too becomes a little flame, the wings flaring up, and immediately after it drops into the pyre, black and curled up. He thinks he has heard its sizzle, a crunchy hiss when the moth has caught fire, but he shakes his head trying to swallow through his shut throat; it’s not possible he has heard such a faint sound above the crackling of the flames. He doesn’t want to have heard such a thing. The black corollas of the sunflowers hang down limp and it looks like they’re sneering at him, making fun of him. It looks like they’re staring at him. He looks around trying to contain the increasing panic.

He’s being observed. There’s really something crouched down among the spikes of wheat. There’s more than one of them. He can barely discern them, dark and shapeless masses signalled only by the glistening of their eyes. He staggers back, trembling uncontrollably, crouching instinctively as though he too wanted to hide among the spikes, but there are no spikes to protect him, he’s in the circle of well-trod soil with only the pyre at the centre of it, and nothing can offer him shelter. He turns towards the direction from which he has come and realizes immediately that running back is unthinkable. The thought of treading on one of those things by accident is intolerable.

Alone. So alone. The sun is about to touch the horizon, and the sky is on fire eastward and of a lugubrious blue westward, a blue which gets him cold only by looking at it, even if actually he is still sweating copiously. Crickets are chirping. He would like to not be so alone. And as if she had heard him, his mother appears at the end of the field. His mother? Yes, of course it’s his mother. How can he have forgotten her? Of course she is with him. Of course he’s not alone. For a second, he wonders how he could have just even thought to be so alone; it’s obvious he’s not alone in the world. The cornfield was deserted, but outside it life swarms, comforting, known, earthly. Firm. His mother comes toward him and he waves an arm to greet her, he smiles at her and the smile freezes on his face when he begins to distinguish the face of her. He couldn’t even tell what’s wrong in it. Maybe it’s the smile which seems unnatural to him, too large, too stretched, almost a slanting snigger, or maybe it’s because more than a smile it looks like a grimace of pain, fear, or maybe even anger and hate. It’s the most terrible smile he has ever seen. Or maybe it’s the eyes: there’s warm in them, but it’s a fake warm, shallow, and it seems that they’re not looking really at him but through him, behind him, or maybe they look at an image of him which belongs only to them but which he doesn’t know. Of a think he is positive: they’re not truly looking at him. Or maybe it’s the features – which certainly are those of his mother elsewhere how could he have recognized her? – which twist and distort as if the face was of overheated plastic. It doesn’t seem to him that his mother has ever had such a look. Or maybe yes, maybe it’s him who’s kept on deceiving himself up to now. Maybe it has always been like this. She keeps on getting nearer, waving her arms towards him to call him to her with grotesque movements. He lowers the arm, frozen, regretting of having greeted her, of having beckoned her attention. He looks away from that nightmare face, only to notice other people around him on the field. He notices his father first of all, with the same atrocious semblance of his mother but in contrast to her he’s not moving towards him, he’s not trying to reach him; his gaze is fixed and lost into space, almost cruel, and he is forced to ask himself with a stab of grief which propagates from his chest if he isn’t dead, although he’s standing. He lets his gaze wander on the others, and the more he sees of them the more his feet seems to be plunging into the dry and stinging stalks, the more his heart seems to be plunging into his chest like the heath cloak which weighs on his shoulders. Relatives. Friends. Acquaintances. Also people whom he’s never seen but who yet look so normal and reassuring, the kind of people whom he was thinking of before, in that moment of illusion when he didn’t feel lonely. They look, indeed. Because all, all of them are horrific now, scary and nauseating, and what’s worse is that they’re not monstrous; despite the faces which melt and those hollow eyes and the distorted expressions they’re still the people of his life and of his world, still terribly and atrociously normal. Humans. Not monsters.

The sun sinks into the ground, big and red and bad, and from the other side an obscurity too dark and vast swallows the world. Around him the green – pale blue small lights of the fireflies turn on, so many, so many, he doesn’t remember of having seen so many in his whole life, a vault of intermittent stars in motion, at a meter or slightly more from the ground. It’s beautiful. He directs his face toward the sun, squinting his dazzled eyes, trying to ignore the eyes which twinkles among the spikes more than the fireflies and even more than the sparks of the pyre, unaware of the tears which stream down his face with black stripes. Something brushes his left ear rustling against him and he screams, a brief hoarse scream, and flails around panicked before realizing that it was just a moth, which now flits about in front of his eyes.

But he knows he has snapped something. He has screamed and snapped something, the precarious balance has been broken, and now all the horror which he has been beholding up to this moment seems to tower on him, threatening, overwhelming. The eyes in the corn glimmer sinisterly, guarding his every move, even judging him maybe. The people around him seems nearer, and his mother moves and looks at him and calls him with more urgency, but from her mouth doesn’t come a sound. Only the chirping of the crickets, the buzzing of the mosquitoes, the sigh of the wind and the crackling of the flames.

He staggers backward, while his heart beats so hard as to choke him. He turns toward the sunflowers on fire, consumed by now, he moves close. He turns his head back for a moment, looking at those faces, so familiar and natural and deformed. He throws a glance to those menacing glints amongst the spikes which mingle with the twinkling of the multitude of fireflies. And he goes on, beyond, stepping into the pyre.

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