Today Leonardo comes home crying. When his father and mother hear what his school friend has told him, they understand that the day they have feared for a long time has come— the moment when they will have to start crushing his dreams. They speak to him, say that his friend is right; tell him I do not exist. But they are wrong.
I dream, therefore I am.
It is different every time, and tonight is not exception. Could unconscious minds ever be the same for everyone, after all? That’s where I live, confined in borderless worlds. Leonardo’s world, this time.
Leonardo’s dreams are lights that illuminate the rooms of a castle and filter through the glass in the dark night. One of the windows disappears from view; the first light has been turned off, my nemesis is already at work. I must hurry before nothing remains of the castle but a dark ruin. I move the wooden portal with the curved top of the crosier and enter.
I am the gleam in the eyes, I am the smile at dusk, I am the back that straightens up again.
I have been doing this for so long that my life seems to have always been this way. Yet I was a man once. When children in my village disappeared, I hunted and tracked down the culprit; our bishop, who aimed to gain his innocence back by feeding on them, on the eyes with which they looked at the world. I fought him and lost; he killed me. Wounds opened up on my clothes, staining them dark red. He pierced me with the crosier, then flung me from the top of the bell tower. A man, red with his own blood, on the roof of the church; it is curious how legends are born.
The bishop killed me, but I didn’t die. I didn’t die because, until my last breath, I didn’t stop believing that I could save those children. And I still do; I still believe in dreams. And I watch over mortals so that they do the same, from the first breath to the last sigh. I battle disenchantment, silence dejection, hold the downhearted by the hand. This is my gift for mortals. And not just one night a year, as their tradition says. None of them know what I actually do, but all of them need me to do it.
I am the happy ending, I am the first love, I am the other-side.
The lights of the castle are going out, one by one. When a dream falls apart, it is likely more will follow. As I walk, in every room I glimpse a sharply cut candle. That’s how it works, in Leonardo’s world; plain and simple. Each dream is a candle. A candle being blown out, slashed, one piece at a time, blow by blow. A candle each time shorter, until all that is left is darkness.
I move on and try to take courage by imagining I am still fighting the bishop who killed me; it would be easier. But I am well aware that the dream slayer is life itself.
I find my opponent in an empty chamber, empty but for the echo of a joyful laughter. On the wall, the smiling shadow of a child falls safely backwards into his mother’s arms. In Leonardo’s mind, my enemy is glabrous, white eyes, bony body wrapped in a dark costume, on his chest a symbol that I cannot decipher; he seems to have come out of a cartoon. He holds a double-bladed ax, dangerously close to the candle in the middle of the room. He notices me, tilts his head on one side, and stares at me for a moment with his lifeless eyes. Then he forcefully throws the ax, which begins to twirl. Instinctively I hoist the crosier in midair. I manage to dodge the ax, but one blade grazes my left cheek, dying my white beard red. I do not know what other weapons, skills, or powers he might have in Leonardo’s imagination, but I have no intention of finding it out. I jerk forward, and with the crosier’s tip I hit him in the forehead, just above the eyes. Then I watch him dissolve into ashes.
I am the dream, the hope, the trust. I am the eyes of a child.
I sense someone behind me. I turn around, already knowing who it is.
“Are you a superhero?” Leonardo asks me.
I do not know what I am, but I like how Leonardo sees me— yes, I am a superhero. I bend over, look him in the eye, and smile. Then I take him by the hand, and we start walking slowly, going room by room. We scratch off some wax, and light up what is left of the candles. Some have been cut higher, others lower; some more, some less, but they will all keep burning for a little longer. And when the dream slayer will return, because he always comes back, he will find me here waiting for him.
There is still one candle missing tonight, the first one that went out. It is in a room full of gifts wrapped in colored paper and curly bows. Under the decorated tree, an open letter; an uncertain handwriting frames a drawing that might look a little like me, if only the red of the costume were darker. There is nothing to do, the blade cut too low and left so little; this candle cannot be lit again. But it’s no surprise; nobody believes in Santa Claus forever.
Leonardo gives me a sad look and indulges in a hug.
“I won’t forget you,” he whispers in my ear.
Yes, Leonardo, you will forget me. I will become the smoke from a candle that goes out. But it does not matter. What matters is that you can always see a light in the dark.
I am the lighthouse keeper.
The original Italian version has appeared in 2020, as “Il guardiano del faro”, in Breve Storia Felice, Chiacchiere Letterarie, and Chiacchiere d’Inchiostro. Translated from the Italian by Sabrina Beretta and edited by Kate Seger, the English version has been published in May 2021 in The Dillydoun Review Issue 4. This is a new and expanded English version, re-edited with the help of Eugene Pitch.