that go cluck in the Night
from last week)
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…)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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,
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.
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!
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...!!!
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…..
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.
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…
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.