10. Origins of a sin

Many many years ago, a guy who had nothing, heard about a treasure. He lived alone in a stone shack on the left bank of a placid river, in the vast Po Valley, and worked on a farm, earning his bread by sweat and tears. It was his friend, the sharecropper’s son, who told him about the hidden treasure of the Roaming Witch. The educated guy needed the money to pay for his studies and become a medical doctor but lacked the guts to engage the witch face to face. He knew that his friend Antonio though was hungry enough to grow by himself all the needed guts and some more.

Antonio listened to all the instructions his friend, Daniele, gave him and decided to see himself for the witch, before promising him a thing. So he laid in wait in the bushes not far from his miserable shack. Rumours said that the Roaming Witch used to stop her waggon by an enclosed clearing in the Southern Woods of San Martino, the tiny grove right behind Antonio’s home, and he knew the nicest of the clearings was there, surrounded by tall trees and provided of water by a hidden spring.

He found the witch’s waggon, all crooked and dirty, right where he had imagined to find it and hid in the bushes at sunset. He waited there until the moon was tired, but the witch didn’t come. He was about to give up and leave his cover, thinking the abandoned waggon was the cause of all the tales about a gipsy witch when a piercing groan froze him where he was. He tended his ears. What was the source of all that moaning?

The answer entered the enclosed space through the trees on the left, in the shape of a monstrous big black goat. Although considered from its hoofs to its withers, the thing wasn’t a bad goat, thought Antonio. It had solid paws and a shiny fur. Its head, as well, was well shaped, with nice pointy horns and a long thick beard. What was monstrous was the goat’s back. It was big, swollen, uneven. It had a coarse shabby fur, it stank as hell and it didn’t move accordingly to the rest of the body. Antonio was about to puke his sparse dinner when the goat’s back pulled out a human foot and the shock prevented his bread cheese from leaving the stomach.

When the goat reached the middle of the clearing, it stopped. Then its back produced also a hand, then a head and, finally, the entire witch. Antonio could not see her very well because the moon had moved behind the tree, but he evaluated that the witch should be rather tiny. Was she really a mighty witch? A witch able to conjure hexes and grant love wishes for a price, just as Daniele had told him? After all, she seemed to be rather miserable, living in a wicked waggon, wearing nothing but a consumed stinky cloak, her only companion a goat.

But then the witch started to sniff around and Antonio held his breath.

“Who’s there?”
Shouted the witch with a piercing sharp voice. But it wasn’t the voice of an old hag. Antonio thought it sounded more like the voice of a kid who’s pretending to be old and bitter but it’s only scared and hateful.

“Who’s spying me?”
Cried again the sharp bitter voice, and Antonio was then sure it was coming from a young girl’s throat. He pressed himself down and hoped the night was dark enough to cover him. But the young witch sniffed around again and took something sharp and shining from under her coat. She lifted her left arm high and Antonio could see the pale light of the stars shine along the curved blade of a pruning hook. He could also see that she really was wearing nothing but that old stinky cloak as she was approaching his hiding place. She was walking and sniffing, her nose pointing onwards, like the truffle of a bloodhound, but Antonio could not move. He was captured. What was keeping him entrapped, there, unable to move? Was it her glistening blade or her nude dark skin? He could not tell. A musical female voice whispered in his ear.

“You, swine”
The spell broke and Antonio dodged the pruning hook jut in time to avoid a cut on his right arm. He jumped upright and started to run. He ran away from the clearing with all his strength, without a single glance behind. Because he could hear the witch sneering and giggling at him. Because he could feel her eyes looking at him with disgust. Because the shame was flushing his face and beating his temples like could have done the flames of hell.

As he reached his shack on the shore, he didn’t dare to enter it but he plunged himself into the river to wash his shame away. He had looked the witch naked skin. He had stared at her young body with lust. He knew he had and he didn’t know how to wash the guilt from his mind.

The sun found Antonio asleep down the river, on the narrow sandy beach. Lucky him, the August storms had not started yet. Soaked to the bones, he climbed up the natural stone stairs towards the bank and reached his shabby home. Someone had broken in, cutting the rope he used to shut the front door with a sharp blade, and stolen most of the little he possessed. His best white shirt was gone, so was his new comb, the soap, the milk, and a bag of white flour. The only egg left was smashed on the floor and someone, the same one who had cut the rope, had carved the table.

DIRTY SWINE, WHAT YOU POSSESSED NOW IS MINE

He changed himself, putting on dry raggedy clothes, he took his old rusty bicycle with only one pedal and ride it to the farm. He had to speak to Daniele before he left for school. He needed to know everything about the witch. Antonio wanted to defeat her. He wanted her treasure and, even if he wasn’t keen to admit it, he wanted badly to see her again.

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