translated from Italian by
“What magazine did you tell me you were writing for, young man?”
“For Mystery, Miss Ceccarelli. It’s a monthly that deals with subjects that are mysterious, curious, and strange. And I’ll leave a couple of copies for you, if you’d like.”
“Oh, just call me Elena, Mr. . . Mr . . . ?
“Vecchiocampo. But Michael will do just as well.”
“Of course, Michael. So, have a seat, then. As if you were right at home.”
The young man sat down at the old table, looking around quickly and carefully to gauge the squalor of the place. He then removed a small tape recorder from his jacket, turned it on, and positioned it atop a dusty, cotton-knit doily.
“So, Miss Elena,” he began after clearing his throat. “Can I begin with my questions?”
The elderly woman, standing in front of a battered stove, smiled coquettishly through her wrinkles and the strands of hair otherwise gathered into an unruly bun. The light that gleamed inside her moist eyes was grey and gloomy, like something that was stagnating inside that small apartment, reeking of mildew and ancient spices.
“Oh, but of course you can, my dear. That’s why you’re here, right? Would you care for a bit of tea?”
Michael nodded. “Thank you, Miss. . . . So, as I explained to you before, I would like to write an article about that event known as . . . the Walpurgis-Night tragedy. Providing that it doesn’t make you too uncomfortable to recall . . .”
“Uncomfortable? No, certainly not, and why should it? At that time I was very much prettier than I am now, you know. And also so much younger. How many years have gone by? Twenty-two, if I’m not mistaken.”
“Twenty-two years, exactly. This very day,” Michael said, chiming in. “It was April 30. A magical date. Walpurgis Night. The night of the witches.”
Elena turned around to place a steaming cup in front of the young man.
“Yes, the night of the witches. Do you know, young man, that the people around here think that I might be a witch?”
Michael said nothing, preferring to sip a little of the tea and to scald his tongue rather than replying to that embarrassing question. Sure he knew it. That was why he was there.
“I was sick at that time,” continued the woman in her small, weak voice, as she in turn settled into her creaking wicker chair. “Very sick. And, understand, there was no cure. And that was why I was forced to kill them all. I was really very sorry about it, but I didn’t have a choice. It was the work of the devil. He gave me the idea.”
For several seconds the hum of the tape in the recorder and the dull ticking of the pendulum clock were the only sounds in the room. Then Michael summoned the strength to say, “So, they were . . . you . . . you killed them?”
“Exactly! They blamed the gas heater. And, in fact, it was the fault of the gas, although, you know, I was the one who tampered with the heater, and sealed the room tight, windows and door, and that way no one managed to escape. Only the teacher was spared, and that was me, of course. Poor little kids. The entire fifth grade class . . .”
Michael tried hard to swallow as the wretched woman stared at him, an air of languor all about her. Frankly, he had not expected a disclosure quite like this. The beat of his heart began to quicken. This was a scoop, big time!
“But why would you have done something like that?” he found the courage to ask.
“I already told you, my boy. I was sick. I had something very ugly inside my brain. I would’ve died within the year. But the devil gave me a chance. Don’t you know that the devil offers a year of life to whoever kills someone on the same day as Walpurgis Night? That’s right, one year for each and every murder. And, sure enough, I’m not dead. There were twenty-two students in that class, and I have had twenty-two years. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
The journalist stared at her for a few moments, trying to collect his thoughts. “And as a result . . . if I’m understanding you correctly, you should be dying this year, isn’t that so? Your twenty-two years are up.”
Elena, taking on a dreamy air, let slip a crooked, smug grin. “In theory. But I really believe I’ll be given an extra year.”
Michael was about to ask for an explanation, but suddenly a sharp spasm forced him to bend over in pain. It was as if a porcupine, without warning, had forced its way into his stomach.
“Yes, today is Walpurgis Night, my young friend,” said the woman, chattering away. “I certainly could not pass up such a golden opportunity. Your coming here to find me has relieved me of the need to roam the streets in search of goodness knows who. Did you like my tea, by the way? Did you like it?”
An active participant in the Roman Neo-noir literary movement, Nicola Lombardi has published the novels Gypsy Spiders (2010), The Black Mother (2013), and The Tank (2015), as well as six collections of stories since 1989. In addition, he has published novelizations from the films of Dario Argento (Profondo Rosso and Suspiria) and translated F.B. Long’s biography of H.P. Lovecraft, Dreamer on the Night Side, for the Italian market. “La Notte di Valpurga” originally appeared in the collection La Fiera della Paura (2004). A full bibliography of Mr. Lombardi’s work can be found on his website at www.nicolalombardi.com.
J. Weintraub’s work includes fiction, essays, translations, and poetry in all sorts of literary reviews and periodicals, from The Massachusetts Review to Modern Philology, from Prairie Schooner to Gastronomica. Weintraub is also a network playwright at Chicago Dramatists and has had radio plays and one-act plays produced throughout the country.