part I: chapter 3

Two Steps From Hell “Impossible” (feat. Merethe Soltvedt) (click here to listen)

Gaia loved nightly walks through the city. Somehow they calmed her, set her mind at ease in spite of her being a self-proclaimed scaredy-cat. Walks through the dim labyrinth of Venice made her feel an almost narcotic thrill she couldn’t resist like a junkie, craving the almost hypnotic scent of security and safety floating in the air of the city, that became much more intense at night.

This night Gaia stepped through the front doors of the palazzo that housed her apartment and straight into the open arms of curiosity. There was a strange feeling in the cold winter’s air, some sort of vibration that reminded her of something she had been trying to block from her memories. She pulled her gigantic scarf of the softest wool over her head, turning it into a hood, and headed across the bridge on her right.

Following the vibration like a thread Gaia headed deep into the maze of the silent, sleeping labyrinth of calles. Sometimes the thread disappeared, making her return to the spot where she last felt its vibration, and head into a different direction. After a while dimly lit calles started looking the same and all dead ends of San Polo had seemingly lined up for her to examine them tonight. Gaia realized what she was doing was highly unreasonable and probably absolutely insane, but she couldn’t stop following the thread of this strange vibration that appeared to be tied to her very being and kept on pulling her ahead, pulsing stronger every time she considered quitting this wild goose chase as if to say “keep going, keep going”. Ridiculous. Yes, it was ridiculous, and still she kept on going.

Looking back, it was the very same vibration that had preceded one of the scariest experiences Gaia had ever had in her life at that point in time. One night before Christmas she had walked up the steep slope of the Rialto Bridge and leaned on the wide stone banister. A smile had lit her face as she had looked up at the sky where her gaze was met by an immense world without any boundaries, a world so close and yet so infinitely far away. She had stood in the middle of the bridge that was free from tourists and felt as the owner of the world because at night the world became this city and she liked to think it belonged to her alone.

There had been about an hour left before the clock of the basilica of Saint Mark would strike midnight. Sweet, delicious music of silence, that gained its rhythm according to somebody’s footfall, had filled the night and Gaia had closed her eyes. The air had been getting cooler by each moment and those delicate, icy hands of winter’s night had been insistently trying to get into a way too intimate embrace with her.

Gaia’s gaze had been gliding over the facades of ancient buildings enjoying their nap on the banks of the city’s main canal, once in a while stopping at some curl of a stone lace, some old balcony or at some crack in the shutters where the light tried to escape.

Suddenly her eyes had grown wide. Gaia had swallowed and this very natural bodily function had caused her searing pain. Her mind had refused to accept what her eyes had just seen. Her gaze had been glued to the building the ground floor of which was occupied by the self-service restaurant. She had stared at some point on its wall. What she had seen a moment ago had been something absolutely impossible and she would have been completely lost for words if somebody would have asked her to explain it that very moment.

“That man walked into a wall,” Gaia mumbled under her breath, walking down yet another dark calle, partly realizing it sounded like musings of a lunatic. The words, spoken aloud, made her shiver as though the sound of them held some menace. She wasn’t scared of the idea that she had seen a ghost. What frightened her was this creature – or whatever that thing was that had walked into the wall – looking so very human, so solid. She had looked around, her eyes desperately trying to find somebody to remind her brain what a real human being with flesh and blood looked like, but there had been nobody around. The silence of the Venetian night had enveloped her completely. There had not even been the tiniest sound of water splashing against the gondolas, buildings or the docks. The inky water of the canal had resembled a dark, perfectly smooth Murano mirror. That night had turned out to be a long and sleepless one for Gaia. No dreams had been left in the air to make her forget.

Suddenly something yanked Gaia from her thoughts forcing her to stop. There was a sound in the night. The sound of a crowd’s chatter so typical for a busy Venetian day. Gaia frowned. Normally at this hour – some twenty minutes before midnight and especially in winter – Venice was asleep and lost in one of its beautiful and surreal dreams. Only some event might have lured people out of their warm houses on such a freezing night, but there was nothing planned for tonight. Everyone was concentrating on the carnival and saving all their best tricks for the two weeks to come.
And then there was music. It was even more unbelievable than the chatter. It would have been surprising in summer, but for such a late hour in January it was downright bizarre.

Gaia was both perplexed and curious. The desire to see what was going on so late at night was overwhelming, so she gave in and headed in the direction where the music and the crowd’s chatter came from.

She followed the sound of the melody, that gave the night a surreal feeling as though planes of reality were shifting, and soon realized it was leading her to the campiello Mosca. For a moment Gaia considered turning around, but the curiosity and the pull of the vibration’s thread had become way too strong by now. Curiosity killed the cat as is well known and I’m about to become that cat. She felt cold shivers all over her body, but they did not ease the curiosity possessing her. There was just one corner left between her and the mysterious event.

What appeared before her eyes, when she approached the edge of the small square, stunned her. The campiello was full of masked people. They were dancing in what looked like a grand dress rehearsal of a carnival ball.

Gaia stood completely mesmerized by the mysterious happening, her eyes wide open. She was unable to move and it was very much possible she was gawking.

The spectacle on the campiello was impressive with masks dressed in outfits made of the most luxurious and rich fabrics accessorized with precious gems turned into intricate masterpieces – unique and unbelievable – by the best jewelers. Each costume was an elaborate embodiment of perfection.

As the first shock let go of her, Gaia slowly stepped onto the campiello and walked through the crowd of dancing masks, who seemed oblivious of her presence as if they existed in some other reality. For a moment Gaia was unsure if this was not just some incredibly vivid dream she was having. It had to be. There was way too much that made it all completely surreal, impossible almost. She looked at the dancing people, she felt the light touches of their exquisite costumes against her jeans and woollen coat, but there was something that kept her on a look-out for illusion. She saw their lips moving as they spoke to one another, she heared their voices, but was unable to understand a word that was said. The sounds never formed any recognisable value.

On the side of the campiello a band of musicians performed some earily beautiful music casting a spell-like atmosphere over this place which for some inexplicable reason was still awake while the rest of the city was peacefully asleep. Gaia had heard this melody before, but couldn’t recall where or when. She listened. It was so captivating, so light, so alluring, so elevating. For a moment she imagined it to be a dream captured in music by some magician. Gaia smiled at the thought.

Suddenly there was another sensation. She frowned in an attempt to associate it with something familiar and then glanced over her shoulder in the direction where the sensation led her. Warm breeze touched her cheeks when her gaze was met by that of a man leaning against a wall on the opposite side of the campiello. They looked at each other through the crowd for a moment that may have lasted a second as well as an hour, but memory of his face kept on slipping from her mind like water or sand in the wind.

He smiled.

Her breath caught, and her lips – now pale from cold – reflected his smile.

They both started moving at the same time as though pulled by the same force but in different directions, so they reached the opposite corners of the campiello and disappeared into the maze of narrow streets.

Finding herself about ten steps away from the bridge that led to campo S. Pantalon Gaia stopped. She whirled around and walked back to the campiello. She had to see it all again to truly believe it. She wanted to hear the music again which seemed to have vanished as a mist. She had to go back.

As she entered the campiello Mosca, it stunned her again.

The space with the water fountain in its centre was empty. There were no masks, no musicians, nobody. The only living beings there were a few pigeons lazily walking around. Gaia stared at the empty space in front of her feeling cold overtake her and she knew it had nothing to do with weather. She knew this was another kind of cold. It was the cold of fear. She was frightened more than ever before in her life. Even the man walking into the wall, insane as that had been, had not scared her to this degree. How could something that had felt so real disappear as if it had never existed? How could a crowd of people just vanish? But were they really people? Or were these just some jokes her mind had decided to play on her? How? Why? Everything was way too confusing, but above all it was incredibly terrifying. Suddenly this city, which had so far been a personification of serenity and safety, seemed possessed by some evil power.

The next thing she knew she was running. She didn’t know where, she just knew she had to run because what she had just seen was scaring the living daylights out of her. She ran across countless bridges and bumped into way too many brick walls when her boots slipped and corners turned out being sharper than anticipated. She was out of breath, her heart thundering in her ears, but she couldn’t force herself to stop. She had to get as far away from that campiello as she possibly could. Finally slowing down to a fast paced walk Gaia glanced back as if to make sure nobody was following her and grabbed the phone from the pocket of her coat and looked at the clock blazing white on its screen. 02:37.

“Dammit.” She muttered under her breath, her hands trembling.

There was just one person who could possibly calm the storm of panic raging inside her, only one person who wouldn’t laugh at her or call her insane if she told him about what she had just seen, but it was way too late to disturb him. She knew he would most likely welcome her with open arms if she barged into his studio at this hour, but she couldn’t force herself to do that. After all this wasn’t a matter of life and death. Was it?

However, there was another thing Gaia was sure of. She knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight even if she tried. She was certain there was no sleeping potion in the whole world which might lure her into dreamland. Sighing at her grim thoughts Gaia slowed down till she was walking at a normal pace again, and headed home across Accademia Bridge, through San Marco and across Rialto Bridge, putting as much distance between herself and campiello Mosca as was possible.

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