Chapter 6: GIOVANNI ROMANO
04 FEBRUARY, 2020
I diligently prepared a hearty stew as part of my ‘meal prepping’ for the week. The food I prepared wasn’t for my consumption; however I needed to grant myself some sense of normalcy after two centuries. It was surprisingly therapeutic to pretend to possess an ordinary outer shell. As per my ritual: I filled a stockpot once a week, divided it into seven one-man servings and then delivered it to the neighbor at apartment 1C. Its resident was an elderly woman about ’one third’ my age; she was a ‘fresh’ widow.
It was a dull—quiet evening. I was alone, but unrestricted from common human burdens such as a family. My life was free of agitations; I couldn’t complain. The chopping of my knife filled the stillness of my apartment as my thoughts loped inside my head. I ran my blade in a repetitive motion as I diced a variety of fresh vegetables from the market, including carrots and celery. The setting sun slipped through my muslin cloth shades and dappled the new living room set I had transported from Manhattan. Their slate-dyed fabric complimented the other gray tones in my apartment.
I tilted my ceramic cutting board and guided its contents into the large stockpot in my sink with the straight edge of my knife; the medley rapped the bottom of the stainless pot. I then stepped to my fridge to retrieve the broth I made earlier when I heard a series of knocks on my front door. Their pattern was upsetting; I did not want to be disturbed. I quickly scowled; left my broth in the refrigerator, and marched toward the sound of the continuous racket. No one ever bothered me; I kept to myself and was a mystery to all, but two of my neighbors. I unlocked my door chain and swung it open to reveal Paige’s lone shape in the middle of the hall.
“How did you get my address?” My voice hissed. I felt hostile from being bothered.
“I wanted to return your laptop,” she presented me my personal computer in one piece. I stepped forward and acquired it from her small hands; it was surprisingly well mended. Paige then gently removed a bottle of Merlo from beneath her left arm, and fixed her hair behind her ears.
“Thank you,” I took notice that she was alone, “how did you arrive here?”
“My father dropped me off at the I.T. shop when your computer was done, and I walked the rest of the way. He wanted to gift you this…” she offered the Merlo to me.
“You walked from where? Where was this I.T. shop? A girl your age should not be walking the streets alone—especially in the evening.” I glanced at the emptiness of the hallway; the late-afternoon sun was almost gone, “come on…” I lead her into my apartment with my free hand.
I anxiously pushed Paige past me so I could relock my door; I did not need my neighbors gossiping about her presence. She noiselessly strode down my narrow entrance-hall; then came into my kitchen and dining area. It was an open floor plan. Its island consisted of a raised bar and sink with ample countertop ‘footage’ to prepare food; it separated my spacious cooking-space from my tiny dining room and living area.
Centered within my kitchen was an additional island that housed a new-fangled glass-top stove and oven. An expensive hood completed the modern range. I only ever used the set-up to cook for my elderly neighbor; it would be a luxurious kitchen for one who took pride in the culinary arts. It was a shame it came into my ownership.
I flipped on the pendant lights that dangled above the bar since the natural lighting was diminishing. They filled the room with a soft ambiance. Paige spun to face me, and timidly tapped her painted finger tips on the bottle of Merlo. I walked past her and returned my laptop to its appropriate place within my study; while doing so, I took notice of her mature appearance. Paige was dressed reasonably nice; she wore her favorite red, polyester vest overtop of an egg-shell knit sweater. The school-bag draped over her shoulder contrasted her pleasing attire. Below, she sported a pair of fitted black leggings which showed off her youthful glutes. She did not own the wide hips of womanhood, suggesting that she was just barely of legal age.
“Why did your father wish to give me this?” I spoke as I reemerged from my private study and took the bottle from her nervous hands. “I thought we agreed to never repeat yesterday’s happening to anyone,” I turned the Merlo over and examined its vintage-looking label.
“He wanted to apologize for the laptop. I only told him about the laptop,” she answered as she amused herself with her wavy hair, and teased its velvety strands against her plump lips.
“Oh…thank you. It is, unexpected,” I commented as I rested
the bottle’s rump on the granite bar top. I mentally prearranged to deliver it to my neighbor when I completed her stew, since I cringed at the thought of drinking its contents.
“You’re welcome, my father wanted to make-up for the trouble that I had caused. He figured it would be something that you would enjoy…since you both share a similar heritage.”
“What does he know about my heritage?” I remarked as I resumed my place in the kitchen and shielded the vegetables inside my stockpot with its paired lid. I attempted to use my cold body language to convince her that she interrupted something important—though she didn’t, I just wasn’t in the mood to entertain. She already over-spent her welcome, though I let her in.
“You’re Italian aren’t you?” Paige slipped her smooth bottom into the seat of one of my high-backed barstools.
“Oh… well aren’t you going to try the wine?” My pupil put me on the spot as she rested her full bag on the stool beside her and unzipped it. I noticed an aged paper scroll peeking from inside. Nausea accompanied my thoughts; I desired to refuse her offer, considering the agony wine would inflict upon my cancerous stomach.
If I were to consume it, I would be in for a night of certain distress. However, I felt somewhat guilty from the scare I caused Paige a day earlier. I was not one to apologize, but taking her offer would permit me to personally make even with my actions. I silently bent down, opened the cupboard built into the bar and removed a pair of long-stemmed wine glasses. Paige’s eyes widened as I placed one before her.
“You’re..?” She seemed shocked by its presence as I took a corkscrew out of the drawer and began to dislodge the cork from the bottle.
“You are going to try it with me… then I shall take you home.” I remarked as I filled the bottom of our glasses.
“Alright, but while we are here, I’d like to ask you about what happened yesterday. We can’t pretend that I didn’t see what I saw. You burned my grandfather’s journal—with your bare hands, and nothing else. You’re one of them, aren’t you?” She picked up her glass by its stem and took a sip of the Merlo. Her nose crinkled slightly from its overpowering taste. Paige tried—though she wasn’t a wine drinker.
“One of them—the Inventors?” I hesitantly drank from my glass; the Merlo burned on the way down; it settled like acid in my stomach.
“Yes, my grandfather wrote about their mythology after he met a woman named, Paige. She was so influential to my grandfather that the name was eventually passed to me.”
“She…who was the Bear,” I openly commented, accepting what she learned through her grandfather’s writings.
“The Bear… So, you are one of them? You knew Paige?” Modern Paige swirled the wine around her in glass and took another gulp of it while holding her breath.
“I knew of her, but I did not know Paige,” I educated her. I was expelled from the Inventor Council for all eternity in the year 1821. The modern Inventors were informed of my existence, but I was never to associate myself with them—or the Inventor of the dimension in which I was imprisoned. The only Inventor I could communicate to was my jailor, Arthur Wellesley. I was a nemesis of the Council.
“Can you translate something for me?” Paige removed the brittle scrolls from her bag and unrolled them across the surface of my bar.
The aged parchment stunk greatly of mildew. I stepped near and positioned a couple of kitchen utensils on their edges to encourage them lay flat. The scrolls were written in our ancient language; they conveniently contained the straightforward details of my imprisonment. My past had caught up to me, and was glaring me in the face. Bear was directly informed about my existence—who I was—why I was expelled, and who was responsible for me. She was the first dimension Inventor in the mid-twentieth century. Paige already knew too much for an average civilian; I was not going to introduce her to our politics.
“No,” I replied after skimming through the scrolls.
“No? No, you won’t, or no, you can’t?”
“No, I won’t. You already know too much—this is forbidden knowledge for an average civilian. For your own protection—no, I will not translate them. Please, take what you already know, and seek no further knowledge on this subject.” I drank the rest of my wine and slammed the glass down; cracking its delicate base.
“Then why did Bear willingly tell my grandfather nearly all that she knew?” Paige finished her drink, stole the bottle of Merlo and refilled her glass.
“She was a traitor. She should have never repeated our secrets,” I snarled; aggravating Paige, who then shot from my barstool.
“So, you are implying that the woman whom I am named after is a traitor?” The wine was already affecting her; I could sense its influence by the change in her tranquil demeanor. She was overly defensive; I did not contribute her snippiness to the content of our conversation.
“I am not implying that she was a traitor. She was a traitor.”
“Who are you to make such a bold statement? And based on what?”
“The truth,” I remarked as I felt my stomach growing sour. I gripped my abdomen momentarily as severe pain nearly rid me of my breath. My left hand struck the countertop in the form of a fist; its flesh was growing raw from my nails digging into my palm. I winced as my misery came in waves.
“Professor Romano?” Paige quit debating me as she grew concerned by my unexpected distress.
“You must leave immediately. Let me be. See your wait out!” I huffed in agony; I knew the wine was a mistake. I stepped away from the kitchen island; blood forced its way up my throat and into my mouth. My lips grew wet from its presence; it had been a while since I tasted its metallic flavor. Faintness overcame me as I wiped my lips clean with the back of my hand. I had to escape Paige’s view.
My ailment was one of my best kept secrets and greatest weakness. Sweat gushed out of my pores, I couldn’t tell my exact position within my apartment—what room I was in—or what occurred moments before. Ringing consumed my remaining consciousness, and contributed to my sudden blackout. My body collapsed in a heap within the narrow hall to my bedroom; my bloodied hands left smeared imprints on my freshly painted walls.
“Professor Romano!” Paige rushed to my unconscious body
and turned me over. I respired quickly like I had exerted a tremendous amount of physical energy. Her petite hands sat me in her lap as she worked off my over shirt; exposing the tank top I wore beneath, and the O’ri branded on the left side of my throat. Paige’s eyes widened at its presence as she began to softly wipe the blood from my lips with my black clothing. She then extended her fingers to my flesh and gently traced the mark on my neck—shocked by it. “So, you are one of them…” Paige detected my gilded medallion strung across my collarbone. The pure gold pendant rested in the short hair of my chest and bore a more realistic shape of the O’ri.
“Only one is more powerful than the mystic O’ri—she is called Gaea. The heart and soul of the universe,” Paige spoke to herself as my flesh commenced darkening in color; the brand on my neck began to spread across my skin, until my body was completely consumed by darkness. “Huh?” Terror immobilized the sophomore as my humanity slipped away. My human body appeared to disintegrate into a shadowy haze. Paige hurriedly pushed herself from my previous location now that I was absent from her lap. The ominous haze matured until it consumed the hallway. The fine particles reassembled into the menacing profile of a towering O’ri.
“P…rofessor Romano?” Paige gulped as she was trapped in a state of pure horror. Thousands of hair like tentacles climbed the walls and crawled across the textured ceiling until the young girl was completely surrounded by my monstrous presence.
Paige struggled to breathe as I closed her in on the floor; my body spread until every section of my five-room apartment was consumed by tentacles. The walls rippled with my lively appendages. Paige’s brown eyes danced until they fell on my center. The exterior of my body bore a resemblance to the ‘earthly form’ of a mollusk. My soft core rose and fell with my every breath. Its surface blinked with millions of scattered, different sized eyes—one large one sat nestled amongst them. Its eyelid slid open; its golden iris focused directly upon Paige.
“Argh!” She bellowed as the conjunctiva and the corneas of her eyes sizzled like they had been slapped on a blistering frying pan. Her unforeseen anguish forced her to look away from me—tears ran down her face in the form of blood. “No!” Paige screamed, her eyes were cursed to cry blood for all eternity after looking upon me directly. “Professor Romano—Giovanni!” She bawled as her fluids oozed onto my white carpet.
“Righu ne ti…” (Who art thee?) I spoke in our ancient dialect; my voice was glassy, but powerful. The weakened state of my human body forced me to slide into the shape of my true form. During my transformation, I fell victim to temporary amnesia. I couldn’t recall the identity of the girl before me—or where I was. “Ei ri’sna trk hanei?” (Thou ist not worthy?) I questioned my appearance before an average civilian.
“I…I cannot understand you,” the girl wailed as she rubbed her eyes. Though the resulting damage was permanent; she did not glance upon me long enough to suffer complete blindness. Paige writhed on her knees as she struggled to summon the knowledge of her grandfather’s journal. “Giovanni…” She looked through her distorted vision and focused on the scrolls unraveled on top of the counter.
“Wait… the language of the ancients,” Paige then rose to her feet and stumbled to the bar top. She desperately flopped over it while surrounded by a sea of my tentacles; they began to consume the bulk of her limbs.
“Righu ne ti riht trk hanei?” (Who art thee who is not worthy?) I demanded. The young girl stared with all of her might—hoping to make sense of the alien scripture. Her vision was blurred and practically useless.
“Please pappy, please give me something…” fresh blood ran down her neck and began to stain the collar of her sweater. Paige ran her hands along the side of the document and knocked away one of the kitchen utensils that held it flat. Beneath it was a scribbled line in her grandfather’s handwriting. It was a single word--Sil’nei.
Paige observed it with every ounce of her determination as I
slithered my interdimensional body down the hallway—coming nearer. “S..Sl..Sli… Sil’nei?” Hope flooded her, “Sil’nei”, she mouthed. Paige recalled a segment written by her ‘pappy’, “the O’ri—this is an Inventor in his truest form. He is the most powerful in this state, but also the most vulnerable.” She eyed the stainless, reflective, lid of my stockpot in the sink, “the most vulnerable…to himself!” She dove for the lid and curled her fingers around its handle.
“Sil’nei!” Paige screamed and presented me the base of the lid so I could observe my reflection. I instantly ejected a dreadful screech upon viewing my appearance; the surface of my eyes crackled as the girl’s did before.
Instead of going blind, I retreated to the safety of my bedroom. My entire body released its hold on my apartment as I vanished and slammed the door. The word that the young girl spoke was my name—my foremost and truest identity gifted to me by Gaea herself. It was my name as an O’ri.
Paige sighed a breath of relief after I disappeared; my blood splattered the walls and was found smeared on various surfaces throughout my apartment. My influence lingered. She swallowed and stepped away from the kitchen while using the walls as a guide until she came to my bedroom, then bravely opened the door. I was human again. She cautiously approached my collapsed frame, with wonder and dread in her heart.