<%-- Page Title--%> A Roman Column <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 127 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

October 24, 2003

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or Things that go cluck in the Night

(continued from last week)

Neeman A Sobhan

(In a 300 year-old Umbrian farmhouse/home, a fiend, in menacing Italics, awaits four innocent visitors who after settling in have gone to the village for dinner…)

Our late afternoon walk around the medieval, fortified city of Perugia makes us hungry and we return to the village of Umbertide and ask a passer-by to give us directions to the Abbazia restaurant situated inside an old abandoned Abbey. The sun is sinking over the hills and valleys of Umbria as we take a lonely, winding road and come across a clearing in the midst of which, glowing amber as only a pile of old stones can do when lit-up from within by candles, stands the sprawling structure of an old building with a bell tower.

As we approach it, the shadows from the building loom larger and the absence of any human presence makes the silence knell like bells in a cobweb-filled belfry. We skirt the place and unwillingly leave the warmth of the car to explore. We approach a lit doorway and peeking inside, find ourselves in a chapel. There are fresh flowers near the altar and some tapers have been recently lit. But no one is around; only our own shadows flit on the walls eerily. We walk out of the chapel to a blue night sky, starry and as serene as a cathedral, but this is no time for poetry. Our stomachs growl but no restaurant is in sight. Treading the gravel paths around the building, touching the brick walls sprouting grass and weeds, we come upon a great oaken door and enter a cavernous, unlit room. From the gloom a face emerges.

“Si?” The voice is curt. We mumble, “Isn't this the restaurant? We are here for dinner…” “We open in another hour. Come back then.” Relieved, we decide to go back to Ginda's house and wait there. Earlier when we had just arrived, the steep, curving roads past the vineyards and the stone house itself had been bathed in the golden light of the afternoon sun. Now the darkness had swallowed up the scenery and the road ahead like the gingerbread landmarks of Hansel and Gretel leading to their cottage. The only light came from the car's headlights groping its way through the now unfamiliar terrain. A hush had fallen in the car.

In the distance I heard car tires. From the shadows of the studio where I hid, I saw the arc of light in the path below leading up to the house. I merely blinked a few times. Then I saw the car retreat. I was hungry but I could wait. Enjoy your meal, I smiled to myself; I'll enjoy mine, later. I tucked my face into my chest and dozed off again.

Someone in the car suggested we turn back to the village piazza and sip aperitifs there while waiting for the Abbey restaurant to open. No one opposed the motion. Within the lights and warmth of village life, we started to relax and laugh. Soon we were having a riotous time, telling each other ghost stories till it was time to go for dinner.

By now the moon had come up and the Abbey looked even more ghostly. But there were several cars around the restaurant, and inside the ambience had transformed from a dismal place to a cosy one. The bustle and chatter made us feel we had been drawn up to a fire-lit hearth. We ate heartily and chattered on about ghosts and spooky things. It only added to the charm of the place. On the way back, as we left the village behind and only the moon held out its lantern to light our path, the conversation suddenly shifted to sleeping arrangements. The headlights fell on the ivy covered studio door with shapes and shadows around it, and its glass panes reflecting in the moonlight,

“Does the studio have any internal access to the house?” One of my two guests who had earlier clamoured to sleep in that charmingly pre-Raphelite room asked with a controlled tremor in her voice. “No, its separate.” Pause. Then the other guest remarked: “It is romantic, ideal for a couple.” I nodded absently then realized in horror that my husband and I were the sacrificial couple being alluded to. My husband sucked his pipe non-committally and it was settled that the two ladies would sleep in the house, while the 'romantic' couple would be thrown out to the cruel, dark world.

I rather liked the terrified looking woman with the man as they opened the studio door. Would she be my first victim, or should I go for the other one that just scooted inside the house? The couple checked the lights in the studio and then went inside the house again, evidently to say goodnight to the other two.

“Why doesn't the kitchen door lock properly?” One of my guests asked rattling the door outside which, the garden sighed and swayed as a blustery wind rose among the pines. “Why is one of the panes in the bathroom open?” another said. “What was that shadow that went past the living room window?” I whispered. “Lets have a cup of tea before we retire to the studio,” my husband's suggestion seemed like a postponement of the moment of turning in. Then one of my two women guests wailed, “Wait a minute, doesn't that mean we women will be alone in the house, each rattling in a separate room, while you two are outside?”
and “Er…is the double bed big enough for two?” gulped the one who had preferred twin beds. Then we all broke down. “No one leaves the house. All of us sleep inside.”
Oh! Crumbs! Women are so silly!

The next morning, everyone is slightly cranky because no one has slept properly, doubled up in double beds. And in the morning light the spectres of last night have vanished like cobwebs to the broom. I step out to the garden near the studio to take a breath of fresh air, drag a chair and sit down with my tea when: SQUACK! THUD! AAAH! HELP! OH! MY GOD...!!!

She had a piece of toast in her hand and was about to sip her tea when I jumped from behind and landed on her lap, my eyes hard and mean, my beak glistening, my claws sharp…..

“Oh! My God! Look, it's a chicken. How cute!” My guest, the animal lover, coos as I scream hysterically, “Get this foul creature off my lap, right now!” “A foul fowl creature indeed!” Laughs the other guest, the witty one, “
And what shall we call this Henny Penny?” “Its not a hen it's a cock” My husband waxes while I'm flapping my arms in death throes, and the evil bird is clucking menacingly. “Lets name him or her Osama Bin La Hen!”
People are rollicking away while I grimly think of an easy recipe for chicken roast.

My son emails me: “Nice try Mummy. Try again.” I write back: “Aha! But you haven't read the ending yet.”
So while the chicken-livered one faints and spills hot tea all over my feathers and the coochie-coochie-coo one scatters birdseeds at me and the other one cracks 'chicken-licken' jokes, little do they know that when they return to their homes, I will be waiting in the shape of a…

I haven't heard from my son. I hate being ignored. Maybe I'll turn this story into a…hmmmm…lets see…how does one spell it, an epiphenomenalistic fable (take that son!) concerning the Curator's Curious Curried Chicken. Or maybe I shall just give up. THE END, promise.



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