The Onset of a Paranormal Romance
by Bruce Sterling
Lover A: The Haunted Hotel
Gavin squeezed glare from his jet-lagged eyes and stared into the sea. “Capri is Paradise.”
His sister wiped at her runny mascara. “I guess it’s okay. But I’ve seen better.”
“Check out those giant rocks, down in the breakers over there. They’re awesome.”
The little Capri park was perched on a cliff top, like a bursting flower-basket in scarlet, violet and orange. Beneath them, an ocean vista in peacock-blue. Eliza was dressed all in black. Long black sleeves, a long black skirt, and black eyeliner-out-to-here. Black lipstick. Black combat boots.
Eliza plucked her black iPhone from her black laced bodice. “Those are the Faraglione Rocks down there.”
“Wikipedia,” Gavin nodded. “Wikipedia on wireless broadband. Wow, what a handy service that is.”
“I keep telling you that iPhones rule the universe! You gotta get an iPhone right away, Gav!”
Gavin smiled as he shook his head. He used a solid, dependable Blackberry.
Eliza squinted at her screen from under her droopy black hat brim. “A Roman Emperor built this place. He built this garden that we’re standing in, right now. The great Emperor, Augustus Caesar. Two thousand years ago.”
“Oh yeah, Italian life is all about emperors,” nodded Gavin. “Aren’t you glad I brought you over here?” He stretched his arms out and spun a little in the dazzling sunshine.
Gavin did a lot of his business in Italy—but with his little sister at his side, the charm of Italy touched him where he felt it. The past and future wheeled around them as they stood here. Past and future, future and past, all clean and winged and airy, like two island seagulls.
Or, maybe that swooning sensation was jet lag. Gavin dropped his arms and staggered.
That plummeting, swooning sensation had seized the core of his body. He couldn’t make it stop.
Yeah, that feeling was jet-lag, all right.
A chattering crowd of tourists brushed by him, trampling the garden paths. Sweaty, sunburned foreigners, in flowered shirts and shorts. Other tourists rambled in clusters past the marble fountains and the rust-specked iron benches.
These foreign tourists were the native livestock of Capri. Like sacred cattle, they roamed wherever they pleased. Some took a stony walkway that zigzagged down to sea-level, like the tortured path of a video game. Others rambled uphill, into long green ridges dotted with white vacation villas.
Down in that foamy, sun-sparkling surf, the Faraglione Rocks beckoned to Gavin. Unearthly, primeval, majestic towers. Like the ghosts of a past life, or the figments of a future life. The regrets of a past life that haunted the promises of a future life... anyway, a different life.
“I wonder,” said Gavin, “I really wonder, how many people, for how many centuries, have looked at those giant towers. Those huge stone pillars, just wading out there in that beautiful blue ocean. There must have been millions of us looking at them. Just, billions of human eyeballs.”
“Aw come on, Google gets a billion eyeballs every day.” Eliza tucked her iPhone away. “Gav, look at me now. I’m gonna stare at your big rocks there like nobody else ever did!”
Eliza lifted her sharp chin. She pulled in a breath and threw her narrow shoulders back. Eliza had the serious, bone-deep glumness that only seventeen-year-old girls could achieve.
Then Eliza glared at the ancient rocks. With a burning, churning fit of teenage rage. As if she could crack them to bits with the force of her will.
Gavin watched his little sister in bemusement. Why did Eliza always do things like this? What was she trying to prove? That witchy, sullen, kill-the-world thing, that Goth Chick business...
Where did this weird expression come from? Somebody should look like that. A ferocious look belonged on somebody’s face. A Gothic girl.... But not a modern Gothic girl.… An ancient Gothic girl!
A Gothic princess in the garden of a Roman Emperor!
Gavin grinned. Yes! Right! Of course! The Gothic girl, and the Gothic girl!
Gavin felt blessed by this sudden flash of insight. Gavin was a techno-futurist and venture capitalist. He worked on budgets, statistics, and market buzz. Sometimes, though, a deep insight hit him, a burst of smarts when he just nailed it. This was one of those pleasant moments.
Once, yes, there had been a different Gothic girl—an ancient Gothic girl, standing right here. Standing in this very garden, on this very spot. A living human being, from the distant past. Not a ghost, not a figment of imagination. Not a phantom, not even a futurist’s hunch. A teenage Goth princess who was as real as any other human being. So real that Gavin could practically smell her reek of pagan patchouli.
And she was a ticked-off Gothic barbarian princess, glaring at those towers of Capri. As if she could destroy the Emperor’s favorite rocks, just by resenting them.
Because she had plenty to be upset about, this Gothic princess. Ancient Goths and ancient Romans had a very rough and intimate relationship. Very human, very “love-hate.” You could bet that this Gothic princess of Capri would love to topple the Emperor’s rocks. Not because it was the rocks’ fault. Because of who she was.
A sea-breeze hissed up the cliffside and lifted Eliza’s hair in coal-black tufts and wings. Suddenly, she looked up at him, and she was not angry at all. She smiled at him. She was happy.
The beauty of the world had made her happy. Gavin sensed the great importance of what was happening. He could feel that, even if he couldn’t put words around it. This was a transition of some kind. A major trend, taking off. A cycle, returning. The past is a future that has already happened.
What a pretty smile Eliza had. As pretty as any Capri garden full of flowers. Up to this very moment in her life, Eliza... Well, Eliza had just been his kid sister, her usual slouching, petulant self. But they were far away from Seattle. Far from their parents, far from all the aching pressures of their lives, nine time zones distant...
A trip to Capri was good for her. Eliza was feeling happier already. Something joyful had broken loose in her dark little soul, now that she was free. Some more genuine Elizabeth Tremaine was slipping out of her shell.
Eliza looked so grown-up to him, suddenly. She’d jumped years in an instant. Maybe this was the last day in his life when Eliza would be his “kid sister.” Someone he could treat as a child.
Gavin placed both his hands on the cold iron railing of the overlook. “Eliza, I want to tell you something,” he said. “When I was seventeen—just like you are now—I made some big decisions about my life.”
Eliza turned her head to look him over. “You found out that you were an accountant?”
“Well, yeah, I am an accountant. But no, that’s not what I’m trying to tell you.”
“I don’t want to have a business career like yours,” sniffed Eliza. “You know what I want, when I grow up? What I really, really want from my life? Because I already know.”
“I’m eager to hear this,” Gavin told her.
She looked him in the eyes. “You’re not teasing me?”
“I would never tease you, Elizabeth. I want you to tell me about that. Because I study futurism, and I think that I can help you.”
“Well, in the future, I want to be a princess.”
His little sister wanted to be a princess. What a fairy-tale notion. A six-year-old would laugh.
“I see,” he said.
“No, you don’t see! I mean I need to be like royalty! Because I need to be awesome just for being me! That’s the most important part! Whenever I make the scene, everybody has to stop whatever they’re doing. They all just look at me! Just because, wow, it’s me: Elizabeth Aimee Tremaine! Or whatever cool name I have, in the future: Madonna, Shakira. One of those one-name names that only superstars can have.” Eliza’s shoulders suddenly slumped. “Every dorky chick in this world is named ‘Elizabeth.’”
“So, uh, you want to become an entertainer? That’s a pretty tough life.”
“Probably more like Paris. I mean, Paris Hilton. Paris is famous and powerful, and she gets all kinds of international respect. I don’t know why, but she sure does.”
“Look, Paris Hilton is in movies. Paris had her own TV series. Paris cut a record.” Gavin had closely studied the career of Paris Hilton. Because Paris Hilton was very trendy, and trends were of supreme importance to futurists. “I don’t think that you want to get famous the way that Paris Hilton got famous.”
Eliza opened her black satchel. She pulled out a portable CD player. “Gav, look at this. Once, I loved this machine so much. Because it plays all my CDs. But nobody buys CDs in music stores any more! They just steal mp3s! Even I don’t pay for music, and I’m rich! I took my CD player everywhere... now I’m carrying a zombie in my purse!”
“Well, yes, that platform has become obsolete now, but a new business model will arise for music.”
“No it won’t! That’s a lie! Nobody will ever pay! The music business is the walking dead! Just don’t lie to me!” Eliza stuffed her doomed, archaic device back into her furry black purse.
Gavin rubbed his chin. “Your Digital Native generation really has some issues.”
“The music business is over! That means someone has to raise the dead! Me! I’ll do it! Why not me? I can raise the dead! Elizabeth Aimee Tremaine, the princess of music, the Gothic superstar! I would do that! I’d do anything, to do it.”
Gavin nodded, rocking from heel to toe in his Timberland brogues. “Okay. Sure. I get it. Any girl who could pull that stunt off would be a major-league princess for sure.”
Gavin felt pleased to see his sister taking such an interest in technology issues. He’d been afraid that his geeky lectures on those subjects had flown right over her head. But now he saw that Eliza understood him. Just, in her own way.
Eliza pulled at her wind-tangled hair, which was blonde at the roots but dyed the lifeless color of coal dust. “When our music scene dies in Seattle,” she told him, “our town will become a dead city. Everything will be quiet and evil and covered with thorns.”
“Aw, come on, that’ll never happen to Seattle! We’re an inventive, creative city. We love the arts!”
“Well, I love music with all my heart, and I have to watch music die every day.”
Gavin didn’t know how to respond this dreadful lament. He knew that he should say something. Something very older-brother style. Something that was good, wise and cheerful, that would make everything better for her.
Here was his sister, finally spitting up the real source of her misery. Confiding in him, and trusting him. Yet he couldn’t console her. He had nothing to tell her. He lacked a prepared position statement.
“Back home,” Eliza grumbled, knotting her fine blonde brows, “we have that huge skyscraper tomb thing, that’s like that stupid Rock and Roll Museum that Paul Allen built.... But there’s nothing in there now but science fiction weirdness. That totally sucks!”
Gavin cleared his throat. “Well, the music industry does have other potential revenue models. There’s subscriptions, merchandise sales...”
“Gavin, are you stupid? That’s not reality! That is a fantasy! When the money walks away, money never comes back! Not by itself! And when all the money’s gone, there’s nothing left but zombies. Zombies and vampires!”
Gavin was completely thrown by this bizarre remark. He truly didn’t know what to say to her. He’d been doing pretty well with Eliza on this trip, but now the gears froze solid in his head.
Whenever he talked to Eliza, there was always some moment where she jumped into a kinky flight of fancy, where he couldn’t follow. This was another one of those unhappy, broken moments.
All that he could do was try to show her that he loved her.
“Eliza, I’m glad we’re having this discussion. I know that you have some strong concerns in this direction. I, just, never heard you frame them quite like this.”
“Can you talk to Dad about this for me? I mean, about me and my plans to save the soul of music?” Eliza kicked at the rocky path with her combat boot. “I know my life, as, like, a ‘music superstar princess’... Well, I know, that doesn’t sound very realistic.”
“Well,” Gavin hedged, “we’re here in Capri to attend a futurist conference. There are five hundred famous international experts coming here, here to get ahead of planetary trends! You couldn’t ask for a better place to work on your issues! You can attend all the panels, and watch them plot and scheme about futurity, and master the world of tomorrow! So, if you can show me that you’re serious about your plans... sure, I’ll talk to Dad for you.”
“Dad will hate my ideas. Dad wants me to mind my grades and study law. If I tell Dad that I love music more than anything, he’s gonna start yelling at me again.”
“Listen, never mind that. Dad should have come out here to Capri himself. Dad really needs a vacation. This finance crisis has got Dad all keyed up.”
Elizabeth shrugged. “Money isn’t everything.”
“Of course it isn’t,” Gavin said. “I agree with you. That is a fact. Just take Detroit, for instance. Over at Cook, Bishop & Engleman, we just held a big futurist workshop about contemporary issues in American urbanism. Detroit is totally broke, and yet Detroit’s also a great city for American music production. See, that’s a vital data-point for you, right there.”
“Gavin, you do sort of understand this, don’t you? I mean, you understand some parts of it. In your own way.”
“Yeah, sometimes I do,” he said. “Yeah, sometimes I really do understand the future.” That didn’t mean that he was happy about it.
“Gavin, everybody says that you’re way ahead of your time. You started Fettlr, and you sold it to Yahoo for 20 million dollars! And you did it in, like, two weeks! That was so totally great! Everybody talks about our Dad being this so-called ‘great businessman’—but Dad never did anything like that.”
Gavin silently looked at his Omega wristwatch. “Are you hungry?”
“I could eat.”
“We got maybe an hour before the conference opens. Let’s grab a couple of sandwiches.”
They hiked up the steep, scaly pavement, which wriggled over Capri like a concrete snake. A hotel lurked on the blossoming peak of the ridge.
This hotel commanded a view over Capri that was divine. Capri looked divine because Capri was divine. The sea around the island was doing all kinds of surging and sparkling things that mere seawater was never supposed to do. The azure sea was jeweled with yachts. Capri was classically divine, like the goddess Venus. Capri had divinities the way lesser islands had oysters.
The sky over Capri had hundreds of rich, distinct tints of blue, like a dome of blue art-glass. Paragliders were swooping and fluttering up there. Young athletes like angels, graceful and fearless, zooming over Capri with bright colored fabric and string.
The Capri hotel had a somber, crooked dining room, with a grandmotherly Italian waitress. She led them to a creaky wooden table tucked in the room’s darkest corner, so that Eliza’s kinky Goth gear wouldn’t alarm her other customers.
This Capri hotel had nothing to eat that was “fast.” Patrons of majestic old Capri hotels were supposed to eat thoughtfully, in a civilized, European fashion. First, a nice little snack with a drink. Then the first real course. After that, a good, solid second course. Then a sweet. Then some brandy, nuts and cigars.
After a polite debate in his college Italian, Gavin managed to order them a couple of salads, an overpriced bottle of mineral water, and nothing else.
Gavin carefully spread the hotel’s linen napkin over his cargo pants. The hotel’s parquet floors looked spotty and warped. The inner walls had been rebuilt so many times that they leaned at odd angles, like a stage set for a silent film. Everything in this old hotel had been patched or painted over, bored-through, re-wired, re-furbished, then buried in enamel and lacquer.
Eliza busily flicked at her iPhone, her burgundy fingernails skidding on the screen. “Hey Gavin, wow, an arms merchant built this hotel. He was this rich German guy who made cannons in World War One. I bet his corporation killed a million people.”
“Yeah, welcome to Europe, Eliza.”
Eliza glanced up at him, her blue eyes full of wicked satisfaction. “This place has just got to be haunted.”
Gavin had a bite of his Capri hotel salad, a leafy construction that featured capers, olives and anchovies. He’d expected a quick tourist salad to be pretty mediocre, but this was a magnificent salad. It was likely the best salad Gavin had ever eaten in his life. It was like an opera in a bowl. Miracles could happen in a place that had such salads.
Gavin sloshed pink vinegar from a cut-glass cruet. “‘There is nothing new except what has been forgotten.’ Marie Antoinette said that.”
“I said Marie Antoinette, Eliza. Marie Antoinette was a princess.”
“Oh, yeah, her, Marie Antoinette! She was in that Sofia Coppola film with that techno soundtrack. Great movie, I totally loved that movie! And I love this hotel, too! Can we check out of our lame modern hotel, and move into this cool, old hotel? This cool, old, haunted hotel? Please, Gavin, just for me, please please?”
Lover B: The Convent of Crossed Destinies
Farfalla had jumped the train without a ticket, from Milano all the way to Napoli. Six and a half hours of avoiding the conductors. Then Farfalla had jumped a bus in Naples from the railway to the ferry to Capri. She paid nothing for that, too.
She had no way to sneak aboard the hydrofoil to Capri. The ferry only had one gangplank, and two sailors were watching it. So Farfalla had to pay the ferry fare.
So she finally arrived in Capri, tugging her roll-aboard suitcase, completely broke.
Well, almost completely broke. Not quite completely. Farfalla had one stray two-euro coin stuck deep in the lining of her purse. She also found one twenty-eurocent coin. A coin with a beautiful statue created by an Italian Futurist.
To find the Futurist coin meant good luck for Farfalla. At least, she had to believe that Futurism was her good luck.
The Capri Trend Assessment Congress was a paying gig for Farfalla. She was there to translate for the foreign speakers, and to run errands for Babi, who was a conference organizer. That work would pay her in cash, under the table of course.
But Farfalla wouldn’t see any money from Babi until the event was over.
That meant that Farfalla had to survive for three days in Capri with two euros and twenty cents.
Farfalla had her iPhone, her conference badge, and a couch in a stranger’s apartment. Farfalla could probably manage with that. She had managed with less than that, in worse places than Capri.
So, hello again, Capri! Beautiful, gorgeous, divine Capri! Lovely Capri, charming Capri, Capri, the island of tender romance! Capri could be a very romantic place—if you were a princess in disguise, like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. Italian men hitting on Farfalla often told her that she looked like Audrey Hepburn. Farfalla Corrado was nobody’s Audrey Hepburn.
Farfalla dragged her rolling luggage through the narrow Capri streets. Purring housecats, fresh fried fish, and boutiques smelling of cologne and sea-salt. Wobbling on her heels in the rugged cobblestones, Farfalla hiked to her accommodation. This was a spare couch in the small, cigarette-stinking apartment of one of Babi’s many personal friends.
Farfalla’s new hostess, Eleonora, was a washed-up Italian television showgirl. Eleonora gave Farfalla a spare key to the flat, and then talked at her for half an hour. Eleonora talked just like Italian television: which meant that she was loud and colorful, and she had nothing much to say.
Farfalla abandoned her rolling bag next to the couch, packed her purse, and left the apartment. The Capri Trend Assessment Congress was taking place in two different buildings, downhill, five blocks away.
One building was new, tall and strong. The other building was old, low and ruined. The future had joined them together. Nobody could pry them apart.
Farfalla took a deep breath and invaded the shining five-star conference hotel. She found it very posh. The official conference hotel had towering palms and rippling balconies, spas, gyms and swimming pools. It had glass elevators, brass staircases, and a cellar full of fine wine and fine luggage.
This glorious Capri hotel was a sleek machine for taking credit-cards from wealthy foreigners. The cheapest room in the place cost 220 euros a night. This was exactly one hundred times as much money as Farfalla had.
Farfalla snagged two perfect apples from a hammered silver bowl in the hotel. She stuffed her purse with the hotel’s giveaway soaps, shampoos and body lotions. Farfalla would eat, and she would have a pretty good hair day. Here in the future, her life was already improving.
On her way out of the hotel, Farfalla saw a local cabbie harassing an old woman.
Old Lady Tourist wore a sturdy houndstooth cloth coat, Anne Klein gloves, and a hairnet. She looked close to tears. “He won’t accept American Express,” Lady Tourist lamented in English. “He wants to drive me to a bank machine to get him euros.”
Farfalla confronted the cabbie at once. “Che cosa ti sta succedendo, tu ladro succhiatore di sangue? Cosa sei, albanese?”
“Me, Albanian? I’d rather be dead!” the cabbie protested.
“You Rumanian vampire, you’ll steal fares from my conference people like the dirty bandit that you are, and cheat your blessed grandma here? Get lost! I can call my old man at the Tourist Board, and he’ll break both your legs!”
The driver ducked behind his wheel and slammed his door. He fled the scene of his crime.
Tourist Lady had tumbled her heavy bag from the taxi’s trunk. She watched the taxi rumble down the tilted street. “Miss, you seem to have saved me thirty euros.”
“Ma’am, a trip from the ferry costs ten.”
“Well then! I don’t think my driver was entirely honest!”
“He is a clandestini. An illegal foreigner. Not like you!”
Farfalla helped Tourist Lady lug her ungainly bag up the stone stairs toward the hotel’s registration. Tourist Lady’s bag was very old-fashioned, solid and square, all brass buckles and leather. No wheels on it! How old did a lady have to be, to have a travel bag with no wheels?
Farfalla had warm, protective feelings about tourists and travelers. She felt a sacred bond with them, a need to make their lives easier. Guests should always be treated kindly. Because, after all, you never knew who a “foreign guest” really was.
Farfalla herself was a foreign guest in the world, most of the time. Nobody knew who she really was, either.
Especially, nice little old foreign ladies—helpless old ladies were especially sacred guests. Old ladies should be watched-over and comforted and protected at all times, in Italy. Because Italy had more than a thousand dark surprises for nice little old foreign ladies.
Tourist Lady announced herself at the hotel desk. It seemed that Tourist Lady was an American professor from a university in Virginia. She had a reservation in a room for two.
“So, Professor Milo,” said Farfalla to Tourist Lady, “you must be here for my Trend Assessment Congress! Benvenuto! Let me show you to our venue.”
“No, thank you,” said Professor Milo, removing her hat with a prim little nod. “I came here to Capri entirely for private reasons.”
Farfalla blinked. “For ‘private reasons’?”
“Yes, private reasons.”
How private could her reasons be? thought Farfalla at once. Was this stout, blue-haired American professor checking into this fancy Capri hotel for some frolic with a secret lover? Or, well, why not? Maybe she was old and gray, but when was love ever likely?
Farfalla politely shook Professor Milo’s dainty gloved hand. Then she left.
Farfalla ventured past the tall glass panes of the Capri tourist-traps. They peddled kinky lingerie, odd-shaped limoncello bottles and necklaces of ragged red coral. She walked a narrow, winding lane, between walls overhung with dark, crooked, odorous fig trees.
The site of the Trend Assessment Congress was a wreck. The venue was a former medieval convent. This old convent had been built on the stony ruins of some even more ancient Roman structure. Southern Italy was full of layer-cake buildings of this kind. Italian earthquakes made that a local way of life.
Babi claimed that the convent had probably been a brothel, once. Babi was from Naples, so Babi had incredible street-smarts. You had to be from a woman from Naples to realize that a brothel and a convent were basically the same enterprise. As Babi pointed out: as long as big stone walls locked the men out, you could make a pretty good business of it, either way.
This medieval convent did have big stone walls. It also had a tall forest of marble columns within its inner courtyard, among the crumbly ruins of many small cells. Here the wimpled nuns had passed their sunlit days and their starry nights, in solemn prayer. Quietly reading Holy Scripture, and growing heaps of pretty flowers. Peaceful Italian women, entirely free of the bellowing demands of Italian men.
Farfalla had to envy this quiet life of female spiritual contemplation. Farfalla had grown up all over the world, mostly in Brazil. Farfalla had always lived out of her suitcase. Farfalla had never had one spot on Earth to truly call her own.
Worse yet, although Farfalla was spiritual—very, very spiritual—her spiritual life was not very Italian. Farfalla’s spiritual life was mostly Brazilian.
Farfalla knew that she would have to work hard inside in this futuristic-medieval-ancient venue, so she had a good look around the place. This convent had a stone chapel, the one major part of the ruin that was still standing up decently. This big chapel was the speaker’s venue for the Capri futurist conference. The government of Capri was an official conference sponsor. The Capri state government had to stuff big events into big empty buildings that Capri had handy.
The chapel’s gloomy stone walls featured half-decayed plaster murals of Biblical prophets. The chapel’s ceiling swarmed with cherubs, or rather “putti.”
Farfalla despised Italian putti. Putti were flying winged baby heads. Sometimes the putti had a baby body attached. Putti were supposed to be the sweetest, cutest, most harmless things in the world, sort of like Hello Kitties. But Farfalla had never trusted cherubs. Never. Because cherubs were baby ghosts.
Cherubs were spirits who would never grow up, never become men and women. Cherubs were fossil babies frozen forever in time. How could that possibly be good? There was something ghastly about that.
Thanks to her Brazilian heritage, so there were aspects of Italy that Farfalla had never taken for granted. Evil aspects of Italy, mostly. Farfalla had a very keen sense of evil. Mostly because she had so much of it inside herself.
Italy had whole evil swarms of sweet rosy-cheeked cherubs. Italian cherubs always appeared in the places in Italy where truly dark and awful things had happened in history. The dreadful sites of martyrdom, massacres, torment and hideous slaughter. It took a while to catch on to this creepy fact about Italian cherubs, but it was the truth.
Farfalla studied the chapel’s faded blue ceiling. These nunnery cherubs, buzzing around up there like so many bluebottle flies, had a king cherub. He was some kind of cherub-mafia mob boss. This decaying angel was obviously very old. He looked older than Italian dirt. Yet he had a perky, scary, juvenile-delinquent smirk on his ancient face.
Farfalla plucked her iPhone from her bargain Versace purse. She examined the dozens of applications that she had downloaded and installed. She found one that told her the absolutely correct, atomically registered time. The local time was ten minutes and eleven seconds past six pm. Ten minutes past time to start the big Futurist Congress, and to get on with the serious business of foretelling some future.
This Futurist Congress would be a very grand event, or so she’d been promised. It had high-tech “thought leaders,” who were American Internet types. It had modish European fashion celebrities. It featured pop-stars, mostly trendy Brazilian ones. This was a dazzling crowd fit to do Capri proud.
None of them were here yet, though. Because none of them had shown up on time.
All these futuristic beautiful-people were in Capri already, but none of them were doing any honest work. Instead, they were off having a Campari somewhere. Gossiping with each other. Dawdling over the cashews in their five-star hotel bar. Her futurist chapel was as empty as a vampire’s tomb.
Farfalla was all alone.
Farfalla felt miffed and bitter. Why was her life always like this? Why? Here she was, all the way from Milan, after untold risk and trouble to get here. Her nails were done, her teeth brushed, and her hair was done. She was ready. No one else was.
Farfalla was also dressed in a particularly creative and appropriate Milanese outfit. Farfalla’s new silk dress featured a vibrant and beautiful Futurist print by Fortunato Depero. Nobody was noticing Farfalla’s extremely apt and tasteful choice of this thematic clothing. Maybe three random German tourists. In Capri, three random German tourists counted as nobody.
Farfalla thought wistfully of the years she had spent in the United States. Farfalla often dreamed about distant America. America was a grand country, where people drove huge cars and ate colossal meals. Better yet, Americans always showed up on time. If you said “six,” Americans came at six. In Italy, “six” meant six thirty. In Capri, it was worse. In Capri, “six” was printed on some useless tourist brochure that nobody even bothered to read.
Farfalla stalked across the chapel’s stage, with its pale translucent plastic podium and its giant projection screens.
The niche behind the stage was a scene of total chaos. The Web people had taken over, back there. The backstage was crammed with cascades of colored cables and blinking media boxes.
The Web people were the worst. Farfalla went to a great many tech conferences, because they paid their translators a lot to suffer through all the computer jargon. It paid pretty well, but it was awful.
Every year, there were more Web people at conferences. Every year, the Web people said crazier things. Every year, more people watched conferences on the Web. So that the conference became mostly ghosts, watching on the Web. Even undead baby cherubs were pretty wholesome, compared to the Web people.
The Capri Trend Assessment Congress would be live-streamed over the Web. Not a good omen, thought Farfalla.
A pasty-faced Web geek emerged from his unruly heap of glowing hardware. Farfalla put her hands on her hips. “Che cosa è successo a tutte quelle casse vecchie che sono state qui?”
“I’m from Brazil! Do you speak any English?”
“Okay, dude, no problem, onde estão os fones de tradução para o grande evento?”
The Brazilian geek grinned in surprise at her Portuguese, and he shrugged. “Eu também gostaria de saber. Estou tentando conseguir os projetores pra essa atividade!”
How useless! Worse and worse! With a clouded brow, Farfalla left.
Premonitions were crawling all over her now. She sensed a mounting wave of bad vibrations. Why had she ever agreed to come to Capri? She could have stayed safe in Ivrea, in her abandoned typewriter factory.
Farfalla felt her head swimming. Something was coming that was bad, big and bad. Had they poisoned that apple that she stole from the hotel? Was a thunderstorm about to break? Something awful was about to happen.
Farfalla trusted her premonitions. She had no choice about that, because her premonitions were always right.
A stranger had arrived in the chapel. He was the first from the incoming crowd of futurists. He folded his tall frame into a conference chair, in a slanting beam of golden Capri sunlight. This glow fell on him like a blessing.
The stranger was tall and handsome. He was ominous and fatal.
He was the One! Here he was, yes, him, the One! He had burst into her life out of nowhere, like a golden mushroom.
Farfalla had been expecting the One since the age of twelve. In São Paulo, a fortune-teller had read Farfalla’s fate. This witch had told Farfalla all about the One. She had known what to expect!
When you met the One—her mentor the witch told her—well, that man was your One. That man was your only One. That was why he was the One. He was the only One you would ever truly love! He was yours, and you were his. And that was destiny!
It was the most beautiful story in all the world. And a very popular story, too. Women adored that story. Unless you were a fortune-teller, the kind of woman who could see her way through a beautiful story. That was the worst part of being with a witch. When she really started telling you how witchcraft worked, how stories put their spells on people.
Yes, he is your One! But consider this, the wise woman urged: after that, all other men become useless to you! You have your One. He’s the only One you care about. Huge armies of useless men inhabit your world, suddenly. That’s a setback in a fortune-teller’s business, to say the least.
Because the poor fortune-teller also had a One of her own. She loved her One with a passion, she was the slave of her One, and she had no other One. That was why she was a miserable fortune-teller, instead of having some kind of real, paying career.
Now the fortune-teller’s prophesy had come true, as Farfalla had always known that it would. That feeling was very ominous, huge and cloudy and fatal. It lived in the beating core of her heart.
Farfalla turned her back on the One, pretended to study the speaker’s podium, which was made of sleek high-tech plastic. She turned around again, to sneak another look at her One. Yes, she felt just the same way about him. This One was indeed her destiny.
This was a terrible thing to know. Her destiny. Something terrible about that very word.
Now, another even worse sensation emerged. The extremely creepy feeling of having been here before. Of having lived this already, somehow.
Her premonitions of futurity had left her now. The déjà vu had her, cold and numbing, right to the bone, like a snakebite. Farfalla was extremely given to déjà vu. Her déjà vu was her personal curse. She’d suffered déjà vu for twenty years before anybody got around to telling her what déjà vu was.
Farfalla knew in her soul that she had already met this man. She hadn’t “met him” yet, because he didn’t know that she existed. Yet he had somehow, terribly, always been around her. He had always been in her life, and until this strange moment in Capri, she had never been able to perceive him.
He had to be her One. He wasn’t just some normal guy. She wasn’t normal, either. A normal woman’s One was some lovable guy that she fell for, and did anything for, and just had to be with. Farfalla had it figured that she could probably handle a romance like that. She’d told herself that, probably, it wouldn’t be so bad! Because even if she was struck with complete, heart-choking fits of true love over him, her One would just be some dumb everyday guy. While she, Farfalla Corrado, was a woman who could foretell the future. So, probably, she would be able to deal with him. Somehow.
But this guy wasn’t like that at all. This guy was much worse than that.
The two of them had a future together, because they already had a past together. Farfalla couldn’t quite seem to remember their very personal history, but it lurked in her like a recurring nightmare. It was very deep in there. It was heartache-deep. Deep in her soul like a buried splinter, too deep to get her mental fingertips around.
She and this tall man in his pretty beam of sunlight, they had a long, colorful history together. They had a too-long, too-colorful history. They had a history like Italian history.
Thank the Madonna, he hadn’t seen her. Not yet. Thanks to her clairvoyant spiritual powers, Farfalla had foreseen this trouble before it had happened to her. She had felt a premonition about it. Her romance hadn’t actually happened to her yet. Her burning, flaming, abject, passionate love was not going on. So far, she was still being spared.
Her knees trembled with the urge to flee.
The One did not realize that she was standing there, trembling, and staring. He did not know or care about her. He did not even bother. He had his tourist camera in his hand, and he was snapping shots at the host of evil cherubs bustling on the convent’s peeling ceiling. He looked like any other Capri tourist. He looked happy and thoughtless and slightly stupefied.
Farfalla made one dainty move to creep out of the place unseen. But it was too late. Suddenly, like a tide, futurists were arriving for the conference. They were crowding through the church doors in a mass.
A damp-faced, gangly creep of a Goth girl slouched into the chapel, along with the crowd. She saw the One, and she moved at once to join him. She flounced down in a shadow next to his beam of light.
From the tender look on his face—he was blond, slightly sunburned, quite good-looking, though kind of big, with a big nose—he worshipped this hopeless Goth girl. He was all urgent and attentive about her. In response, she had this insufferable, teenager, eye-rolling look. She was a mess.
Suddenly the two of them looked up at Farfalla. They both took full, surprised notice of her. They were a brother and a sister, because they had the same fatal blue eyes. They had four eyes that pierced her like four blue ice-picks.
Farfalla was pinned to the stage.
She found her willpower, and she ran to hide.
About the Author
Bruce Sterling is a well-known futurist, science-fiction writer, and blogger. This story is adapted from his novel-in-progress, Love Is Strange.Bruce just finished a second stint as "Visionary in Residence" at Art Center College of Design, where he taught a course on augmented reality.
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