This is the latest in a series of posts featuring speculative flash fiction in translation. This series highlights both new and established speculative fiction writers from around the world.
Loredano Cafaro lives in the hills of Turin, Italy, with his wife and two children. He is basically a man of few words.
“The Lighthouse Keeper” by Loredano Cafaro, translated from the Italian by Sabrina Beretta
Today Leonardo comes home crying. When his father and mother hear what his school friend has told him, they understand that the day they have feared for a long time has come— the moment when they will have to start crushing his dreams. They speak to him, say that his friend is right; tell him I do not exist. But they are wrong.
I dream, therefore I am.
It is different every time, and tonight is not exception. Could unconscious minds ever be the same for everyone, after all? That’s where I live, confined in borderless worlds. Leonardo’s world, this time.
Leonardo’s dreams are lights that illuminate the rooms of a castle and filter through the glass in the dark night. One of the windows disappears from view; the first light has been turned off, my nemesis is already at work. I must hurry before nothing remains of the castle but a dark ruin. I move the wooden portal with the curved top of the crosier and enter.
I am the gleam in the eyes, I am the smile at dusk, I am the back that straightens up again.
I have been doing this for so long that my life seems to have always been this way. Yet I was a man once. When children in my village disappeared, I hunted and tracked down the culprit; our bishop, who aimed to gain his innocence back by feeding on them, on the eyes with which they looked at the world. I fought him and lost; he killed me. Wounds opened up on my clothes, staining them dark red. He pierced me with the crosier, then flung me from the top of the bell tower. A man, red with his own blood, on the roof of the church; it is curious how legends are born.
The bishop killed me, but I didn’t die. I didn’t die because, until my last breath, I didn’t stop believing that I could save those children. And I still do; I still believe in dreams. And I watch over mortals so that they do the same, from the first breath to the last sigh. I battle disenchantment, silence dejection, hold the downhearted by the hand. This is my gift for mortals. And not just one night a year, as their tradition says. None of them know what I actually do, but all of them need me to do it.
I am the happy ending, I am the first love, I am the other-side.
The lights of the castle are going out, one by one. When a dream falls apart, it is likely more will follow. As I walk, in every room I glimpse a sharply cut candle. That’s how it works, in Leonardo’s world; plain and simple. Each dream is a candle. A candle being blown out, slashed, one piece at a time, blow by blow. A candle each time shorter, until all that is left is darkness.
I move on and try to take courage by imagining I am still fighting the bishop who killed me; it would be easier. But I am well aware that the dream slayer is life itself.
I find my opponent in an empty chamber, empty but for the echo of a joyful laughter. On the wall, the smiling shadow of a child falls safely backwards into his mother’s arms. In Leonardo’s mind, my enemy is glabrous, white eyes, bony body wrapped in a dark costume, on his chest a symbol that I cannot decipher; he seems to have come out of a cartoon. He holds a double-bladed ax, dangerously close to the candle in the middle of the room. He notices me, tilts his head on one side, and stares at me for a moment with his lifeless eyes. Then he forcefully throws the ax, which begins to twirl. Instinctively I hoist the crosier in midair. I manage to dodge the ax, but one blade grazes my left cheek, dying my white beard red. I do not know what other weapons, skills, or powers he might have in Leonardo’s imagination, but I have no intention of finding it out. I jerk forward, and with the crosier’s tip I hit him in the forehead, just above the eyes. Then I watch him dissolve into ashes.
I am the dream, the hope, the trust. I am the eyes of a child.
I sense someone behind me. I turn around, already knowing who it is.
“Are you a superhero?” Leonardo asks me.
I do not know what I am, but I like how Leonardo sees me— yes, I am a superhero. I bend over, look him in the eye, and smile. Then I take him by the hand, and we start walking slowly, going room by room. We scratch off some wax, and light up what is left of the candles. Some have been cut higher, others lower; some more, some less, but they will all keep burning for a little longer. And when the dream slayer will return, because he always comes back, he will find me here waiting for him.
There is still one candle missing tonight, the first one that went out. It is in a room full of gifts wrapped in colored paper and curly bows. Under the decorated tree, an open letter; an uncertain handwriting frames a drawing that might look a little like me, if only the red of the costume were darker. There is nothing to do, the blade cut too low and left so little; this candle cannot be lit again. But it’s no surprise; nobody believes in Santa Claus forever.
Leonardo gives me a sad look and indulges in a hug.
“I won’t forget you,” he whispers in my ear.
Yes, Leonardo, you will forget me. I will become the smoke from a candle that goes out. But it does not matter. What matters is that you can always see a light in the dark.
I am the lighthouse keeper.
[The original Italian version appeared in 2020 as “Il guardiano del faro,” in Breve Storia Felice, Chiacchiere Letterarie, and Chiacchiere d’Inchiostro. Translated from the Italian by Sabrina Beretta and edited by Kate Seger, the English version has been published in May 2021 in The Dillydoun Review Issue 4. This is a new and expanded English version, re-edited with the help of Eugene Pitch.
“Not Tonight” by Loredano Cafaro, translated by Sabrina Beretta
I fear the night.
Thoughts coming to life in the dark.
Reality disguising itself as a dream. Or a nightmare.
“Another sleepless night?” asks Sara.
Marco does not answer and quickens his pace.
“You’re silent this time,” she continues, walking beside him. She looks up at the sky, and a flash of lightning reflects in her eyes; immediately, the rain falls.
Marco stops, turns, observes her.
“I thought you wanted more atmosphere,” she says.
“Stop it,” he retorts.
The rain stops instantly. Marco halts in front of a puddle and studies his reflection, which scrutinises him in turn and then changes, becoming a child who, on his knees, looks after a dog wounded in one leg.
“You were so cute,” Sara smiles.
“He’s not the one I’m looking for. You know that,” Marco cuts her off.
“Sure, you were cute anyway. But is that the dog that then bit you?”
The fog lifts suddenly.
“I told you to stop it.”
Sara snorts, and the disappearing fog reveals an alley where a bright-eyed boy slips with his back against the wall until he curls up on the ground; in front of him, the gang points at him and laughs. A red Guzzi V7 arrives and stops between him and them. The boy riding it takes off his helmet and gets off.
“I remember that bike. You still had it when we met.”
“It’s not him I’m looking for either.”
“Yeah, but he’s the one who gave you that scar on your chin.”
Again the fog lifts. Again Marco turns to stare at Sara.
“Sorry,” she murmurs as the fog dissipates in the glow of a streetlamp.
The yellowish light is replaced by the sun, and Marco and Sara are on a mountain road bordered by a low stone wall. A group of motorcyclists speeds down the hill. A grey Tipo car emerges from around a bend and climbs towards the roar of engines.
“It’s him: he’s coming,” Marco announces.
A girl on a white Vespa, halfway between the bikers and the car, pushes the limits and braves the climb. “Let’s go away, please,” Sara pleads as the Vespa jerks over a pothole and hits the low sidewall, sending the girl tumbling onto the asphalt.
“Go straight, don’t swerve,” Marco blows through his teeth. “Don’t swerve!” he shouts at the approaching grey Tipo. He is now behind the wheel of the car, and Sara is sitting next to him. Pounding bass invades the vehicle and Robert Smith’s voice echoes on their lips. And they smile. The parade of motorcyclists coming down from the opposite direction has just flanked them, when through the windscreen they see the girl fall off her Vespa, right in the middle of the lane.
“Marco!” shouts Sara.
The ABS hammers on the guitar riff.
“There is no room!”
A handful of moments, not enough to stop the car, but enough to make a choice. Marco swerves and avoids the girl lying on the asphalt; the car breaks through the low side wall and takes off. The music fades out. Marco finds himself sitting on what is left of the wall, staring at the grey Tipo rolling down the cliff and stopping against a beech tree. He opens his left fist and the sun shines in the palm of his hand.
“You should have buried the engagement ring with me,” whispers Sara, sitting next to him.
“I’m sorry, Sara,” Marco whispers, as he keeps staring at the grey Tipo at the bottom of the cliff. “I chose to help her, ignoring the consequences for us. I chose to save her!” he hisses, tightening his fingers around the ring. “I understand your hatred.”
“It’s not mine,” Sara replies, resting a hand on his. “Even if you want to believe it is.”
The low wall becomes a wheelchair, sky, and mountains the walls of a hospital room; the cliff the glass of a window; illuminated by the moon, reflecting Marco’s bruised face.
“Your spirit has always been great; I could not have loved you otherwise. Don’t let it be lost.” Sara curls up on Marco’s legs and lays her head on his shoulder. “You have to let me go.”
There comes a time when you think about your path, your choices, who you aspired to be, and who you really are. You look back. And you realise that your life could not have been any different.
Marco rests his head against Sara’s and tries in vain to find their tears chasing each other in the pitiless reflection on the glass. Then he slightly lifts his eyes, looks out of the window, clasps the ring in his fist, and speaks to the moon.
“Yes, I have to let you go. But not tonight.”
[Edited by Kate Seger]