by

Kamen Pavloff

Miles traveled with a large suitcase he didn’t need. He would be in Italy for two days if the job went according to plan, but he had been on work trips that did not go according to plan before, so he learned to be prepared for things to go wrong. Thanks to the suitcase, he’d be prepared to stay in this alien country for up to two weeks if the situation demanded it, but thanks to TSA prohibitions against traveling with sharp objects, the suitcase contained nothing that would help Miles deal with any potential vampires.

Immediately after departing from the airport in Florence, Miles boarded a bus that led him across the open Italian countryside. The highway cut through farmlands and uncultivated hills, unveiling—whenever the trees lining the road were willing—the full scenic magnificence of Tuscany.

While staring at the unfathomable beauty of the world, Miles had the Monster of Florence on his mind. He read the story and was aware that the cases were just several ordinary (albeit terrible) serial murders, likely not even committed by the same person, but knowing this didn’t stop Miles’s paranoiac mind from imagining a gnarly monster roaming the rolling hills of Tuscany in search of prey. Vampires weren’t that much different from cannibals in principle, after all, and frankly, Miles would rather encounter neither.

The woman next to Miles sneezed several times—harsh sneezes. Miles glanced at her puffed-up face, red and swollen; it looked like a severe case of the flu, but the flu wasn’t one of the many things that mortally terrified Miles, so he quickly averted his gaze and continued to stare at whatever happened to be passing by.

In twenty minutes, the woman died. She went with a lot of noise, hacking and spewing blood all over both of them, disturbing the light doze Miles slipped into despite the seven hours of sleep he’d caught on the airplane. The news of the lady’s last breath soon reached the driver, who stopped to call an ambulance. Miles complained that his suit was ruined, but no one could or would help him (or even so much as listen), so he threw his hands in the air and sulked in his seat.

As soon as Miles arrived in town, he hurried off to a public restroom to change. It was about as hygienic as a raccoon’s butthole. He picked out a suit, almost identical to the one he was wearing, and slipped into a cubicle to put it on.

When he came back out, his suitcase was gone.

Miles ran into the street, spinning around like a dancer, looking for the suitcase thief. He caught a glance at the tall, lithe pickpocket—and his suitcase—before they disappeared around a corner.

Miles sped toward the man with hardly a thought to spare. Yeah, sure, maybe a vampire had stolen the suitcase, and maybe if he followed, he would get eaten alive. But the contents of the suitcase amounted to thousands of dollars in suits, and there was no way he would let a filthy vampire-turned-robber get away with it.

As he came to the corner and turned, the man he was after—whose picture probably accompanied the dictionary definition of vampire—looked back over his shoulder and, seeing Miles, quickened his step. Miles yelled after him, “Stop, you bastard! Stop!” The thief looked back again as he crossed the street—and got hit by a bus.

The suitcase (an item whose importance to Miles deteriorated rapidly) went bouncing, end over end, across the sidewalk and smashed into the window of a flower shop. People screamed. Miles halted. He took a step back, mouth agape, then turned and went back around the corner, trying his absolute best to appear as nonchalant as possible while his heart tried to smash through his chest like a bus through a vampire. Miles could still see the dude’s head exploding, his brains splattering, as one, then two—then three—sets of wheels ran over it. The driver had kept on driving.

Clearly, someone up above helped Miles out and saved him from a bloodthirsty Dracula. Scrubbing the memory of the incident would be tough, but at least he was safe now. He could live through the loss of the suits, too. He would just proceed with his assignment and then get the hell out of this country tout de suite.

After stopping at a café nearby for a cigarette and coffee to calm his nerves, Miles got to work. He asked around for directions to a villa belonging to a local woman, supposed to be about a twenty-minute walk from town. The estate was not on Google Maps.

People looked at him funny—trying not to stare and staring anyway. Sure, a disheveled foreigner was an odd sight to see in this otherwise run-of-the-mill Italian village, but Miles didn’t like the looks he received. He determined that more than thirty percent of the town’s population looked positively vampiric—a number too high for comfort. On top of that, of those that spoke English, none knew how to get to the lady’s home. As the day grew longer, Miles felt certain that Maura Ricci, the lady he was looking for, would be the one to eat him alive in what he imagined as her mansion of a home—if she existed at all.

By the time he discovered where Maura resided, he had encountered two more deaths. When asking a lady for directions, she got carried away with chatter—a lovely gal, she had seemed—until she tripped and fell into a gaping manhole, breaking her neck, dying instantly. Miles silently slipped away from there before the police arrived.

Then, later on, an old man whom Miles had approached to inquire about the location of Maura’s villa lifted his walking stick in frustration, yelling at Miles in Italian, and suffered a heart attack. Once again, Miles retreated inconspicuously.

And maybe no one else had started noticing these sudden premature deaths, but Miles couldn’t miss an obvious connection to himself. It was now four times in the same day that someone he interacted with died. No one was safe; the next person he talked to could be another victim of the curse. Maybe the vampires, led by their leader Maura, were somehow causing these deaths to make him lose heart, not to mention his mind. But more and more, he doubted it. No one had attacked him yet, and he was vulnerable, defenseless. What were they waiting for?

No, Miles felt sure of it. The vampires weren’t here. Maura might be one—he still hadn’t ruled her out—but there were none in this town. Although he did not seem to be in danger, Miles worried the people around him were. He didn’t want to be the cause of a massive plunge in a rural Italian town’s population, so he resolved to get away ASAP. If he hadn’t found Maura’s place by sundown, he’d go on his not-so-merry way.

He found a woman reading out in her garden and asked if she could tell him how to get to Maura’s house. As soon as she heard Maura’s name, she smiled.

“Maura, I know, yes, Maura I know,” she said. “You go east to exit town. Then go second road to the right. Maura lives there.”

Miles thanked the lady and turned to go. He walked away sweating, praying that nothing bad would happen to her.

It was getting late, so he retired to the small house he had booked for the trip and passed the time by methodically making his way through a six-pack of some local brew and flipping through the channels on the living room’s TV set, all of which were in Italian. He found passable entertainment in the Italian version of MasterChef and was dozing off when a knock came at the door.

“Hello, sir,” the man said in heavily accented English. He flashed his badge. “I am a detective. I’ve come to ask you a few questions. If you would please come outside for a few minutes.”

The blood thumped in Miles’s ears. He stepped out into the cool, windy night; the wind brought a cluster of dark clouds.

“Yes, officer? What is it?” he said.

“I think you know why I’m here,” the officer said, his expression grim. “Why are you here?”

“I’m here for work.”

“What sort of work?” the cop asked, eyeing him up.

“I deliver messages to people in person.”

“Sounds like an odd job in this day and age.”

“It sure is, no doubt about it,” said Miles.

“You left the scene of several fatal accidents in the village today. A man you were chasing was hit by a bus, a woman you were having a conversation with fell into a manhole, and an elderly man collapsed in the street and later died after having a heated exchange with you. Now, it doesn’t seem like you had anything to do with these incidents; in fact, they all seem like terrible coincidences, but—”

Miles heard a strange click. The hair on his neck stood up suddenly. Then everything went white.


Miles regained consciousness to the scent of bacon, his neck and head throbbing. With a grumble and a moan, he looked around at the house’s driveway, empty and perfectly normal looking if you were willing to overlook the crispy, smoking corpse lying in the middle of it.

Miles had been thrown back by the blast. He pushed himself up on his elbows and slowly rose to his feet. Surely the police wouldn’t blame him for this, would they? It was so obviously an accident. It would be ridiculous if they still maintained he was somehow involved.

But since he was, seemingly, somehow a suspect in multiple coincidental deaths, it would be wise to do something with the cop’s body, right? Not anything crazy, just take it out into the field or something, where it would take longer for it to be discovered. It wouldn’t look any less like an accidental lightning strike, right? Maybe they’d wonder what the cop had been up to in the middle of nowhere, but Miles would be long gone by then. And if it ever came to an investigation, he had done nothing wrong, aside from moving the body. He had nothing to worry about.

Miles was still trying to convince himself that this was a rational idea after stuffing the cooked cadaver into the police car and driving off. Five miles from the town border, he parked and pulled the reeking corpse some dozen paces into a sprawling field. He realized with a heavy heart that he would have to walk back to town. So, he got to it, trudging to his rented house in the pouring rain.


The next morning, Miles walked to Maura’s villa. He wanted to get this job over with and get home. How could he be sure whatever curse had befallen him on the way here would leave him once he was gone? Did it even matter?

Miles thought back on the years on his job as a messaggero fatale, something like a harbinger of death in reverse. He didn’t believe in fate or predestination, but it was a fact that his full name was Miles Ewan Singer. On official work documents—the Messages—he signed his name as M. E. Singer, and he loved the sweet mockery in that. He had always been able to find the amusing side of things, and in this job, that was an invaluable trait. No matter how hard he looked, Miles couldn’t find anything funny about his current situation.

Maura Ricci’s house loomed over him, but it was not nearly as large as it had been in Miles’s overactive imagination, and the villa definitely didn’t look like the home of a vampire. Still, as he made the last few steps to the front door, an insurmountable dread caressed him. Maura would most likely take the news very harshly, and given Miles’s recent track record, that didn’t bode well for her health.

Knock.

Knock.

Knock…

The hinge creaked, and the woman’s ashen, crumpled face looked out with distrustful eyes.

?”

“Hello, madam. Do you speak any English?”

Che cosa? Non ho capito.”

“Ah.”

Miles handed her the Italian version of the Message.

Dear Ms. Maura Ricci,

You have received this letter courtesy of the Unresolved Bets Resolution Agency, or UBRA, in particular its Bets Unresolved Due to Fatal Accidents Subdivision, or BUDFAS. It concerns one Sante Ricci, your son, and a student at the University of Pittsburgh in the state of Pennsylvania.

On September 7, Mr. Ricci made a bet with his group of college friends. The bet was for the sum of $200 (two hundred United States dollars) conditional upon Mr. Ricci jumping off the Smithfield Street Bridge. Mr. Smith jumped off the Smithfield Street Bridge at 15:33 on September 7.

Mr. Ricci did not survive the jump. According to the rules laid out in the contract, as Mr. Ricci did in fact meet the requirements of the bet, the unresolved payment of $200 (two hundred United States dollars) is to be made to yourself, Mr. Ricci’s mother.

Our Messenger shall now offer you our condolences and the payment.

We hope you have a great day.

Yours sincerely,

A. Faulkner
CEO of UBRA

M. E. Singer
Messenger at UBRA, BUDFAS

Miles made certain to be bowing somberly when Maura finished reading the letter, but he jerked his head up when she screamed in anguish. He tried to say a few comforting words—in ordinary circumstances, he was very good at this part—but before he could speak a word, Maura had a gun aimed at his chest.

He raised his hands and blurted, “Whoa now! Where the hell’d you get that, Maura? Easy now, put it down, please!”

Maura shouted a lot of Italian words in his face, one of which was bastardo, the rest of which sounded just as bad. In her defense, though, none of it sounded like something a vampire would say.

“Ms. Ricci, I assure you, you do not want to shoot that gun at me. If the last two days have taught me anything, it’s that. Please put it down. We can talk this through.”

Maura pulled the trigger. She missed, but Miles still screamed like a little girl.

Jesus Christ!” he shouted. “Okay, you got that out of your system. Great! Really great. Now if we can—”

Maura shot again, somehow missing him a second time.

Miles was done negotiating. He turned and dashed down the dirt drive, his suit jacket flapping in the wind. Maura chased after him, gun bopping in her hand. For half a mile, they ran aimlessly down the road, infuriated hunter and terrified prey. Then, Maura stopped, incapable of maintaining the sprint any longer. She stooped, put her hands on her knees, and panted monstrously.

Miles turned to look at her. He was far enough away for her to appear immobile, a surreal subject painted to the backdrop of the endless Tuscan landscape. Now that Maura’s rage seemed burned up, Miles felt compelled to return to her and apologize. Just as he started, the gun in Maura’s hand went off. The bullet ricocheted off a boulder on the side of the road, and the back of her head exploded.

MOTHERFUCKER!” he yelled as the woman’s body tipped and fell into the dirt. “Why me? For the love of God, why is it ME?” He sustained the last word for the better part of a minute, his voice turning higher and shriller. It echoed in the still air, the only sound for miles.

Miles stomped over to Maura’s body, the fury bubbling inside him. He picked up her gun, aimed it inside his mouth, and pulled the trigger. The barrel clicked, begging for a bullet. Miles yelled again and flung the gun away with rage; it struck the road and fired a bullet into the hills.

He looked around in helpless wonder, then cackled an incredulous guffaw. Something in his brain snapped, and Miles felt overcome with a wild, feral energy. He ran mindlessly into the open countryside, tracing a never-ending, self-intersecting curve all over the surrounding region, laughing like a maniac all the while.

He became a Tuscan legend: The Wanderer of the Hills, a running, cackling harbinger of death in a ragged suit. The Wanderer became more notorious than the Monster of Florence, but none knew the truth. The shell of Miles Ewan Singer still races through the Italian hills, leaving corpses of birds and rodents in his wake, possessed and powered by whatever supernatural force cursed him in the first place.

Kamen Pavloff hails from Bulgaria originally, but he's currently based in Manchester, UK, where he's pursuing a bachelor's in computer science and math. You can find another short story from him in the July 2018 issue of Fabula Argentea. When he's not writing or studying, you'll most likely find him enjoying a book, an RPG, or prog metal.

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