Chapter One Graverobbers
I decided to go to southern Italy in the summer and found myself in Taormina Sicily. Staying at a nice, reasonably priced hotel clinging to the hillside with a clear view of smoldering Mount Etna. The last bit might be poetic license it was probably just normal clouds clinging to the peak. I had a pretty mundane day and decided to go out at night for a walk. I took the path up from the hotel up the hill toward town and I took a wrong turn in the dark and ended up in a small cemetery.
The path had clearly led up to the cemetery but when I had done the same trip twice during the day I had not seen any sign of a cemetery. Just hotels, stone steps, and rocks. I looked about puzzled. It was a small cemetery. Not more than twenty graves in the plot surrounded by a brick wall. All of the gravestones looked old. Some did not appear to have names on the stones.
Then I heard the distinctive thump of a shovel digging into the dirt. I froze. Someone was digging a hole. In a cemetery. In the middle of the night. This had gone from mildly amusing travel anecdote to seriously scary.
I realized I had frozen at the sound and was not moving. Barely breathing. Everything was quiet. Even the normal sound of cars on the nearby winding road had stopped. The shovel noise was probably just my imagination.
Then I heard it again and someone speaking in hushed tones in a latin language. Which I knew all of two words so I could not make out anything. It sounded like “sestito qualcosa”? I held my breath for a moment.
“Niente,” came the gruff reply as clear as day. It was off to my right. Looking I could see a number of tombstones covered in overgrown weeds. And a mausoleum. A dim, flickering light reached around the edge of the mausoleum.
Before I had time to think things through clearly I had shuffled forward near the mausoleum and stopped behind a tombstone. Peering around its edge I saw two men armed with shovels busily scooping dirt out of the ground and laying it to one side. On a nearby tombstone was a red lantern lighting the scene.
Real graverobbers. I could not believe it. This could not be happening in the present day. I reached down for my cell phone. I needed to call the police but I could not recall the number for police in Italy. Maybe I could just take a picture and run to the police. I always had my cell set to vibrate so there was no fear of making a noise. Positioning it carefully I opened the camera app and pressed the button, and then the flash went off!
I dropped the cell phone in surprise and scrambled to run. Behind me, I could hear a cry of astonishment and more shouts of what I assumed were “get him” or “kill that guy”. I put my head down and ran. Straight into a tombstone at ankle height. I slammed my foot into it and went down hard. Pain lanced up my leg and I could feel that I had scraped my knee and elbow as well. A weight dropped onto my legs. I struggled and kicked but could not move. They had me.
There was a loud crack followed by a groan and suddenly my legs were free. Then another thwack and the sound of a something big hitting the ground. I rolled over onto my back to look. Both graverobbers were lying at my feet dead to the world. Standing over them was a man armed with a shovel. He was dressed like a renaissance gentlemen like the pictures I had seen in a museum in Palermo. A jaunty hat on his head. And most importantly, I could see right through him.
The “man” said something to me in thick Italian. I stared at him in shock. He also seemed taken aback and reached out toward me. I flinched and scrambled back and small a smile appear on his face.
“Well, Englishman you can see me, No?”