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The Halloween Project 2018 Day 13: Cinque Terror - Monterosso al Mare

 
The Cinque Terror Quintet - A Ligurian Ghost Tale Part IV - Monterosso al Mare - year 1871

 

Marco missed the living. He spent more time near the sea, crossing from village to village. By October the grape harvest was complete and the vineyards were pruned and prepared for the dormant months to come. Those months that Marco was not in the world. High above, on the trails he traversed, hundreds of grape terraces, abandoned by families over the centuries through death, decline or immigration, began to overgrow with weeds and vegetation. The bones of the terraces poked through into the world, but the harvesting of grapes decreased with each hillside from town to town. At the seashore, fishermen still thrived. His spirit passed through narrow alleys, cobbled divides between walls and gardens, glided through restaurants and settled on churches, small chapels, and always, the cemeteries, high above each town. The church in Monterosso attracted Marco beyond his understanding. He found himself there often. Staring at the gigantic crucifix used in street festivals and ceremonies he hovered near the sacristy and the candles, perpetually lit.

Adjacent to the church was the Mortis Et Orationis Confraternitas -The Brotherhood of Death and Prayer. An equally large and impressive chapel decorated with skulls, statues of dead bodies and reminders of mortality. A tradition for more than 300 years Marco was brought to a memory. The Brotherhood of Death and Prayers was an ancient order. Their purpose was to remind every person, every man, woman, and child in Liguria that death was not far off. All would someday pass to judgement. The Oratorio was dedicated to helping the church with burial for the poor; those without families, those forgotten, those left alone on the hills. The members raised funds, at least the meagre minimum of funds, said prayers, provided for funerals, and paid the cemeteries to inter those who were destitute. They reminded all that death would come beckoning. One evening under a dark, but moonlit sky, Marco sensed a noise outside, a rhythmic drumming accompanied by brass horns. Moving to the doorway, a street parade slowly passed by as he watched, his figure remaining unseen in the shadows and unnoticed by the disinterested. The ceremonial march of Oratorio had commenced. Older men in dark robes marched ceremoniously behind a pallet carried by stronger youths. Atop its candled platform was a figure of the Blessed Virgin comforting the fallen Christ. Townsfolk followed in close order: children, the aged with their canes, families. The band followed but its music was measured, steady and ornamental, not festive. The crowd stretched for several blocks. Marco watched through the clear, dark evening. The subdued, yet knowing crowd, talked and sang with a combination of acceptance and resignation. Marco sensed a memory. He tried to recall a time when he attempted to do good. A time in the distant past, a time with Franchesca. Something about florins and darkness, ransom and boys. A boy.

When the sacred parade ended, the crowd turned noisy and louder. Tables were set up in the narrow byway laid with bread and wine, steaming pasta bowls drenched in pesto, platters piled high with anchovies, local cheeses from the goats that ranged high in the hills. Laughter everywhere. Torches and lamplight, augmented by candles from each doorway, window and balustrade illuminated the smiling faces. Older women nodded their heads to each other as the townsfolk tasted their best dishes. Children scampered about, running between table legs, and were scolded by their elders. Wine flowed. The band stepped up the cadence diving into it's repertoire of folk songs and tarantellas. Older men and women danced off to the side in the small spaces provided. The Oratorio signatories acknowledged each other. A distinct dozen men, they looked at each casually, then smiled, as many citizens of Monterosso came to them, shaking hands, full of thanks, respect and obeisance. They were the powerful men of the village, men of wealth and status. Despite the slow decline of the vineyards, they were untouched by the vagaries of the years. These men maintained fleets of fishing boats, promoted trade with Genoa and Spezia and talked about the coming of the railroad. Most of the men in Liguria worked for them. Their status as Oratorio created an atmosphere of royalty, akin to the priests of the church. In the last century they built their own chapel and adorned it with the skulls, deaths heads and bones that were meant to remind each villager of their short time on earth. Marco made his way along side streets, watching the revelers. He understood the message hidden in the festivities. Death comes for everyone. But not for them, not that evening. And it had not yet come for Marco. Death, the release that he had hoped for, had never come. He watched the Oratorio caught by their pompous self-importance, their knowing confidence that this celebration, however momentous, was but a small gesture of their beneficence. He was pulled by the boldness, the true disregard for the villagers, hidden by a mask of concern. As the evening rendered down to quiet and all began to return to their homes, Marco stayed observing the Oratorio. Gestures flashed, a toss of the head, pointing in the direction of the chapel. The women would clean up after the feast. Marco followed as the darkly clad dozen made their way down the streets, leaving the last revelers to finish their evening. In a back room of the the large chapel a huge oak table provided 12 heavy chairs and enough shadow for Marco to hide. "My brothers, you all are aware that we have a problem," an older man, white-haired and lined face, Piero by name, intoned. Members, seated attentively, looked at each other, nodding in reluctant agreement. He continued, "A festival once a year will not keep us in the minds of our brethren in the town. In the region. Our charge is to help the indigent, the poor, the sorry members of our community. But there are too few of them. Yes, we control much of the commerce of these villages, but it is religion, our good faith in the word of the Lord, that commands all. We need to re-establish our importance. Many of the poorest have left the hills and moved to larger cities. We need a solution." There was quiet that entered the chapel. Breath came shallow. Marco leaned closer. "We need," Piero paused, "We need...more...death." And the quiet in the room descended lower, a shroud over the 12. "We need to be seen more often. Very often. We need to provide ceremonies for a greater number of the townspeople. They need to be more beholding to us. We need to have our brethren embrace us and they will do that, gladly and thankfully, by embracing the death that surrounds them." "And how will this be done?" one Oratorio, Giacomo, questioned. "I have people. Acquaintances. Not from Liguria. Men who will do anything for a price," he replied. "And how will this happen?" the Giacomo asked. "We will choose. The oldest. The weakest. The poorest of the very poor. Have you not noticed the beggars in certain alleys? Come down from the hills with nothing and reaching out a palm for our largesse. They will be relieved of their suffering and in their passing will move on to a better life. The sickest children. The old and feeble-minded." "This is a sin and will doom us," Giacomo stated. "I do not believe that," replied the leader, "we are providing a needed service and will continue to do so. We will help nature in her design." "I will not be a part of this." Giacomo provided, standing and looking at the other Oratorio. They glanced from man to man, some turned down their gaze, but none stood. The next morning Giacomo was found dead in his bed. Old age, perhaps a heart attack. But he was only the first Oratorio to die. Marco saw to that. Three more this very October. Two next year. Three more the following. Early deaths, accidents, boating mishaps, falls from a balcony or high stairway. Death in their sleep. In future decades the Oratorio still provided its service to the poor. New members replaced the dead. They washed and prepared bodies, said the rosary, paid to have the Mass said and the graves dug. But only for those villagers that met death on their own terms. In their own time. #