Pietro Barbino stumbled through the forest, chased by visions, his head swimming from wine. It had been years since he’d last seen Giovanni – in the flesh – but the boy followed him everywhere now.
“Please,” Pietro cried to the misty trees, “leave me in peace!”
Still, Giovanni staggered doggedly behind.
The boy never spoke and his face never changed – it was bruised and unblinking, the tongue swollen, thrust between chipped teeth and bloodstained lips – but his judgment was clear enough, and Pietro wept to look upon him.
“If you must following me, I beg you, say something. Castigate me, curse me – but leave off with this dreadful silence.”
Pietro let the wineskin fall to the ground where it sank in the leaves. The drink only made it worse anyway. Whores were little comfort; stealing and gambling brought no relief; and even when he killed, which was often enough, it was a hollow thrill. Gouts of fresh blood could do nothing to wash away his oldest sin.
“Fine,” Pietro said at last. “Fine.”
There was one thing he hadn’t yet tried.
He found a stream and followed it down hill, to where the rills and burbles, brooks and trickles came together and rushed in a great confusion toward the sea. Here he knelt by the water and splashed his face, and opened the bag he’d carried these many miles.
His hand first found a pocket watch, snatched from his master’s chambers. He cast it to the tide. Then he found an apple, brown and small with rot, which he tossed aside.
And then he found his knife, pitted and scored, black to the hilt with too much blood. He studied for a moment its keen blade, until it, too, he gave to the hungry waters.
When he took the Rosary in his hands, his fingers were numb and clumsy on the beads, counting the Mysteries.
“I believe in God,” Pietro began, “the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth…”
Giovanni watched in silence.
This is my response to this week’s Trifecta Writing Challenge, Hollow [false, meaningless]. It is the third and, I should think, final story featuring Pietro Barbino. To see where he got his start, and how he got himself into this particular mess, check out the entire series:
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