Denysé Bridger & Vincenzo Chiofalo
Calogero loved to walk the ancient paths and roads that connected Destino to the outside world–not that his home was truly connected to the rest of world in many ways. Destino was a small town tucked safely away in the Valley of the
The village was ancient, and remained strangely untouched by the passage of
time; the residents were genuinely content to live their lives in the enchanted
area seldom visited by strangers.
At sixteen, Calogero had rarely ventured beyond the outer boundaries of the town that was his home. He was content and happy to be where he was; even if he did go hungry occasionally. The people of the town looked at him with fond indulgence. He knew they considered him something of an oddity, but their affection was genuine. The only real disapproval he encountered was when they knew he had been to the garden on the edge of the town. Calogero often visited the garden of I guardiani
destino eterno, much to the
dismay of those who lived in Destino. They believed the garden to be a holy
shrine, and frowned upon his intrusions. Calogero knew there was nothing to
fear in the garden, and in truth, he felt more at peace there than in the town
The day was lit by the brilliance of unrelenting sunshine and azure skies, the heat warming his skin until it tingled. He smiled, his heart soaring with the joy of being alive, and he laughed as he spread his arms and whirled around, spinning until he was dizzy.
He thought again about the people of the town, and he shrugged. He didn’t mind if they chose to laugh at him, because he was happy with himself. Calogero was still stumbling a bit from his spin when he heard the thunder of hoof-beats and turned to stare. His eyes widened when he spotted the carriage that was racing along the narrow road. He stepped off to the side and shook his head when the horses flew past. The carriage lurched when it hit a large stone in the road and a box slipped from the rear storage space, tumbling onto the road. The driver pushed on, oblivious to the mishap.
Calogero rushed out and picked up the box, shouting after the carriage to try and stop it. His voice was lost in the wind. He looked down at the box in his hands, curiosity putting a thoughtful smile on his face. What could be inside?
The carriage was rapidly being enveloped in a cloud of dust, and Calogero knew it would be impossible to ever find the owner. He looked down at the box, testing the weight of it. Shrugging, he decided to bring his new-found treasure home. He tucked it under his arm, balanced carefully against his hip, and headed to the rocky edge of the town. His father had built their home against the side of a mountain, and Calogero had never known another home. He was alone now, his parents gone, and there had been only a sister before him. Giada had left years ago, married and living in
Palermo. It often took real concentration for
Calogero to remember his beautiful sister, he had barely started school the
last time he'd seen her.
* * *
A short while later, Calogero put the carton on the table and sat in front of it. He was undecided for a while about what to do with it, and decided he'd have dinner and think more about how he could return the box. He checked his cupboards and found there was really nothing substantial to eat. He sat down to contemplate the box again and shrugged after a few minutes. He cut the cord that was holding the box closed, then turned back the flaps, his eyes widening when he saw the contents. Nestled amid shredded packing material were jars and packets of delicious treats to eat, things Calogero had rarely seen in his lifetime. He picked up the items one at a time and examined them with care and near reverent awe. Each item was set aside, until all that remained inside the box was a foil wrapped package that was almost perfectly square. The flickering light from the lamps he'd lit glinted off the gold and silver wrapping, like tiny sparks of stars. He lifted the package out of the box, pushed aside the plain container, and set the foil covered square in front of him.
For several moments he simply looked at the box, then he smiled when he caught the faintest whiff of sweet, tantalizing scent. Curiosity aroused further, he leaned closer and inhaled deeply, excitement quickening his heartbeat as he drank in the unfamiliar aroma that was so tantalizing. He reached to untie the bright ribbon that crowned the package, but drew back. Whatever was inside might be valuable enough that someone would come looking for it? He gathered the other things he'd taken from the box and quickly prepared a small meal. When he sat down to enjoy his unexpectedly rich dinner, his eyes strayed constantly to the bright package in the middle of his table.
Inquisitiveness burned within him.
He wanted desperately to taste what was inside this beautiful treasure. He knew it would be unlike anything he'd ever sampled before. He felt the thrill of holding something forbidden in his possession and it intrigued him all the more.
He resisted the lure of the box for another hour as he ate his meal and tidied up his home. The place was cut into the stone side of a mountain; the multi-room house was something like a cave, carved archways led to a series of four rooms. He was high enough that standing at the windows gave him a perfect vantage to observe the town a short distance away. He loved to sit in the alcove at the window of his bedchamber and stare out, basking in the warmth of the sun while he watched the activity of Destino below him.
The floors of Calogero's home were covered with soft rugs woven by his mother's nimble fingers, and the torches held in sconces cast warmth into the stones, and heated it in the colder months of winter. Furnishing was sparse, but he was comfortable. He was a cabinet maker, and his work was praised by everyone who employed him, though he wasn't always able to work as much as he would like.
He decided to take a walk and watch the sunset. The box on his table was still beckoning to him, and he was determined to resist its tempting presence.
* * *
An hour later, as the last rays of the sun were slipping beneath the horizon, and the weakening tendrils of gold were being smothered by darkness, Calogero walked back into his home. In spite of his intentions to ignore it, the box on the table drew his gaze, the bright, shiny foil of the wrap glittering as it drew the fragments of dying light and tossed them outward to snare his imagination again.
He lit a torch and set it in a wall sconce, then walked to the table. Long, tapered fingers brushed over the smooth paper and he hesitated a moment more. With a shrug, Calogero relented and he pulled the ties, allowing the ribbon to fall away from the package. He pushed the paper aside and sat to contemplate what was in front of him.
The sweet scent teased his nose and he smiled as its delicate but intoxicating aroma breathed on him. He took out the pocketknife he carried and broke the seal that held the lid in place, then he opened the box. He closed his eyes and a tiny frisson of pleasure rushed up his spine and made him shiver. The smells merged, vanilla, cocoa, milk… all things he recognized, but had never before experienced in this unique way. He cast into his memory, and the name came to him after a moment's thought, this was chocolate… He had heard of the confection many times, spoken about by the wealthier residents of the village, but poor boys rarely sampled riches like this.
He reached in and folded back the tissue paper with exacting care, and he leaned closer, inhaling the sweetness, his mouth watering at the thought of tasting the exotic concoction. He looked over his shoulder, feeling guilty despite being alone in his house, then reached inside and drew out a thick, square shaped piece of the chocolate. He brought it up so he could smell the rich, alluring aroma. It was irresistible and he succumbed to the temptation, popping the sweet into his mouth and leaning back in his chair.
He sucked slowly on the melting chocolate, savouring the incredible taste, letting it slide down his throat as the flavour burst into his consciousness. Each swallow was more delicious than the last, and he didn't stop eating until all that remained was a single square at the bottom of the box. Surprised, Calogero pushed the container away from him and stood up. The sweet ambrosia of the chocolate was sticky on his lips, and he licked them, loving the taste, torn between taking the last piece and saving it for another time. With real effort, he walked away and went to his bedchamber.
He smiled as he undressed and went to his bed. He decided not to brush his teeth, he wanted to enjoy the lingering traces of the chocolate on his tongue. Like most of his days, this one had been long and he soon fell sound asleep. Before long, dreams invaded his mind and swept him into another world.
Calogero twisted in his bed, his senses attuned to every subtle nuance of sound and scent that occupied the house with him. He sensed something new in the air, a presence he'd never felt before. He tried to see, but the darkness covered him like a blanket and refused to grant him vision. He yelped in surprise a moment later when the touch of a hand on his naked chest set his heartbeat roaring in his ears.
He opened his mouth to speak and no sound emerged… The bed rocked very slightly as someone settled beside him, and he turned his head, eyes peering intently, desperate to see through the shadows that were deeper than he ever remembered them being before. The whisper of touch filled his senses again, sweet, whispery fluttering that made his skin tingle and his heart race. He closed his eyes and the waves crashed over him with new intensity, fire raced along the paths of his veins, each pulsing beat of his heart was matched by a building fury of desire centered low in his body.
Slow, wet kisses followed the glide on the hands that stroked and explored the curving contours of his muscles, and in his head, Calogero heard the moan of agony and ecstasy that tore from him. His body answered the seductive, sensual touches, reaching out for the woman who was so close but so distant. He could feel her soft breasts against his chest when she leaned over him, and he inhaled the scent of wildflowers in her hair. He wanted to taste her and touch her, but he wasn't able to move. Sighing, he let the dream envelope him, and the sweep of sensual pleasure filled his being...
The first faint rays of the sunrise woke him, the warm like a finger brushing over his lips, a kiss that told him it was time to come back to reality. He forced his eyes open and groaned. He was alone. He was always alone, he reminded himself. The village girls looked at him, giggled, and ran off most of the time. They thought he was strange and wanted nothing to do with the odd boy their mammas told them to stay away from. He scrubbed at his eyes and tossed aside the blankets, letting the shock of cool morning air chase away the last remnants of his sleep.
He bathed and went to the kitchen to get breakfast. As he came into the room and lit a torch, he spotted the box in the middle of his small table. He went to it and peered inside – one last piece of chocolate. Shrugging, he picked it up and popped it into his mouth. The exotic sweet was probably what had caused his strange dreams, he decided. It hadn't been unpleasant, but in the light of the new day, it had left him feeling isolated and lonely.
He ate a quickly prepared breakfast from the other items he'd found in the carton that had fallen from the carriage, and decided to take a walk in the garden of the gargoyles. Whenever he felt at odds with the world around him, he found solace in the company of the stone sentinels. They were not the most beautiful of the gods' creations, but Vulcan had shaped them eons earlier at the behest of Diana – her gift to the people of Destino – charged with the task of protecting the village, as they had once unknowingly protected the goddess.
The day warmed as he walked and a short while later he stood in the farthest corner of the garden. He stared at the hollowed out, sheltered fire pit all but hidden in the darkest part of the sprawling landscape. Often he imagined he could see the burning embers of Vulcan's forge casting glowing warm up from the depths of the earth. Each time he had glimpsed the fiery red shadows, a new guardian came into being, and a new arrival joined the populace of Destino.
He was sipping wine from the skin he carried when he spotted a flicker of red and turned to peer intently at the haze that emanated from deep in the pit. His pulse pounded furiously in his ear and he started to inch toward the glow, wondering if he could get close enough to see anything this time. A blast of heat flung him back and he hit his head on a tree root, stars twinkled in the descending darkness, then gentle hands caught him and lowered him into an abyss of nothingness.
Calogero woke a short while later to see a gleaming new gargoyle watching over him. She was shimmering alabaster, and untouched by the weather or time. She was new. The taste of chocolate filled his mouth, and his body warmed with the memory of his dreams, and the lover who had come to him in the darkness–the two most exciting things he'd ever known. His heart leapt in his chest, and his mind raced. He clamoured to his feet, laughing as he realized a new girl would soon arrive in the village.
His dreams, the new guardian, the sweet seduction of the chocolate and his unknown lover… he wouldn't be alone anymore… He left the garden and began to run toward Destino…