Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

John Swann probes blindly with his heavy boot. The lamp at his shoulder sears a bolt through the gloom but he can still not see the path at his feet. Is it a path, or is it obsession that has sculpted this barely there ledge?

Retreat? The ship. He’ll lean his bell-jar helmet into the shale storm’s whip and make his way back. The lake. Its endless depth consuming the dark ink of the night. Beautiful nothingness. The pull of home.

“Mondo Oscenità’s a lie!”, he screams into the fog of his visor.

But how? She’d stowed these exact coordinates into her very last breath. This fabled place to shed and renew. Dear sweet Sonja, her name now but ink on his chest.

Oxygen thins.

Suddenly a door hewn into the stone.

An elevator descends, as does Swann to his knees. His helmet falls and sobs rip at his empty lungs as he inhales the warm oily gush of the plunge.

Naked. A mist hovers. Euphoric high never once had. Pores eased open, coaxed to empty their weight. Cleansed. Dirt rolls and drips through the grate in the floor.

Dressed. Elegant. Exquisite perfection.

A corridor and a young woman with smiles that beam from her eyes.

“Welcome, Mr. Swann.”

He is drawn to the youthful puff of pearlescent skin that cups beneath her chin. Golden-brown hair plays bunched at her shoulder. Skin… something about her skin.

“We’ve met?”

“We’ve not”, she blushes, filling her creamy cheeks with swirls of purple. An artist’s dipped brush in a jar.

“I know you.”

“You do?”

“The nymph. William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s ‘Nymphes et un satyre’, 1873. Oil on canvas.”

“You believe me a nymph?”

He reaches for her face, she retracts and fingers are left playing the air.

“Synthetic? Projected? Only I see this? The other guests see someone else, right?”

“No. Though the idea does have fascinating commercial implications. The distance travelled to get here plays with perception, Mr Swann…”

Sonja. The warm autumn sun pierces the curtains and casts a ghost of its lace across her bare breasts. So vivid, so cruel these thoughts. Cold dead things in the reeds. Blood on her wrists, her waist and across the gentle roll of her hips. Why?

“…your suite awaits.”

They enter his room and Swann immediately smiles. Slowly, he claps.

“The Nightmare, Fuseli, 1781. So exactly perfect. Unmade bed. Table, mirror, phial, book. Red velvet curtains. Is there a hell-eyed hack to peek out from behind their fold?”

“We’ve a strict ‘No horses’ policy.”

“You missed something.”

“Do say?”

“A beautiful woman to flatten these rumpled sheets. And a daemon…”, he says unbuttoning his shirt and flexing the muscles that tighten the names on his flesh.

“Bed.”

She is naked. His hand slips her hip and up to the base of her breast. Pale skin puckers, folding into itself. He recoils at the scent of linseed and wet death. Paint drips from his fingers, as frosting scooped from a cake.

“I’m Sonja, no Frances, or… what’s the name of that girl wrapped in carpet and sunk in the lake?”

He makes for the door.

“No door.”

“I’m on the mountain. Oxygen gone.”

“No… Hunger will eat you.”

“Stop!”

“Nobody will miss you.”

“Shut up!”

“I will, but madness will dine. You’ll beg me to speak. No sleep. Silence will roar and you’ll smash your head to the wall. No death. Fragments of your skull will float and click behind your eyes. You’ll watch me turn to dust. Eternity alone, Mr John Swann. We here at The Mondo Oscenità Deluxe are so very glad you came.”

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