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Chapter 1

Chapter 1 – Canto I, II – The Dark Wood – Fear and Despair



I gave the area the once-over to find myself in dark woods. 

Okay, Joe, what’s the gag?

I gazed skyward, but the forest’s canopy was so thick, I couldn’t tell if it was day or night.

It must be daytime, Joe.  At least it was when you ran into that weird light.  Who brought you here?  Argenti’s men?  Argenti was a pilot, so maybe he had access to some kind of silent aircraft.  That’s where the light must have come from.  So, they came up behind you while your peepers were on the light, cold-cocked you and dumped you here.  Makes perfect sense, Joe… yep… perfect sense… if you’re applying for a degree in Dipstick University!



A thick mist came up to my knees, flowing around me like cloudy water.  It reminded me of my time in England as I waited for D-Day.  I felt just about as nervous.

My Italian side took over, prompting me to respond with anger rather than fear.  “Argenti?” I yelled.  “It’s not going to work!  I’m going to find you!”

Joe, you marmaluke, why did you drop your damn gun?

I heard a growl.  I ducked into a low squat, all of my senses heightened.  I saw nothing but the soupy mist floating through the sea of trees.

“Damn,” I whispered.  When I’d squatted down, I’d noticed footprints through the mist. 

One guess, Joe.  Whose tootsies are those—Argenti!

The soft ground contained only one set of prints.  I felt compelled to follow them. 

When the growl grew into a chorus of roars, I felt even more compelled to run.


I reached the end of the forest and didn’t stop.  Instead of the marshy field typical of a foggy wooded area, I reached the top of a giant sand dune.  I tried to run, but I tripped and rolled to the bottom, gaining an education on the taste of sand.

I lay there for a while, half expecting the owners of the roars to attack and oddly unsurprised when they didn’t.  It would have taken something or someone crazed with hunger to chase me down that dune, and if they were crazed, they would have taken me down from the get-go. 

Several things registered all at once.  I realized that it was, in fact, daytime, which was why I could see the light through the trees.  However, I saw no sun and no clouds… only gray sky.  It was as if one giant rain cloud covered the sky and blotted out the sun. 

I got up, gazing from horizon to horizon.  I saw nothing but desert—flat, dry, and dusty desert.  “Well, isn’t this just lovely,” I muttered to myself. 

Who else was I going to gab to?  I was alone, and I felt the resonance of that loneliness.

Then I spotted the footprints again.  I thought it strange that footprints would be embedded into the parched earth.

On the ground, next to the footprints, lay my bracelet.  It must have dropped from my wrist when I fell.  I quickly picked it up.  Of everything I processed, the bracelet represented my only link to my family—my Beatrice and Anna.  Kathleen had died long before Anna gave me that bracelet, but it also reminded me of her.  I put it back on and smiled, forgetting for a moment my current predicament.

Looking back to the footprints brought me back to the fix I found myself in.

They were Argenti’s prints.  I felt it in my gut.  So, it was either climb back up the dune into the forest and face lions, leopards, wolves and God knows what else, or follow these footprints to Argenti. 

I’ll give you one guess which way I chose.



I followed the prints for hours.  I should have been thirsty but I wasn’t, which was okay by me since there wasn’t any water in sight.

The giant dunes were no longer even a speck on the horizon behind me.  Just when I began to regret my decision not to go back into the woods and take my chances with the mysterious roaring beasts, I happened upon a strange sight.

Hundreds, maybe even thousands of small wells lined the desert.  The wells were too small for a water bucket, but large enough to have an opening.  I peered into one of them, not at all surprised by the consuming darkness I encountered.

When I pulled my head out, a woman grabbed me and jerked me down to a squatting position. 

“What the… Where did you come from?” I asked. 

She didn’t answer, not in English anyway.  This dame was an odd bird, to say the least.  To say the most, she was a loon the size of a Buick.  I say that, not because of her, but rather because of her manner of dress and the way in which she spoke.  She wore odd-looking make-up and…ah, the hell with it.  The broad was a fruitcake.

I’m not a history buff and rarely read historical novels, but I did see The Ten Commandments.  She wore some kind of ancient Egyptian outfit, and she babbled in a language I’d never heard before.

I knew Italian, and I’d picked up some French and German in the war, but this lingo was a whole other ballgame.  All I could do was assume it was Egyptian or some African or Middle-Eastern dialect.

“Look, lady, I…”

She put her finger to her lips to shush me.  I guess shushing is universal because I certainly knew what she meant.

She grabbed my arm and pulled me into a trench, where five or six other people waited.  They jerked me down like soldiers pulling me into a foxhole for my own protection.

Everyone spoke at once in different languages.

I decided that I had to take control of the situation.  I put my fingers in my mouth and whistled like I was hailing a yellow top.  “All right, everybody just simmer down!” I yelled as I pulled out my badge.  “I’m Joe Dante, Boston PD.”  I pointed at my ID.  Boston!” I stressed.  “I’m looking for Filippo Argenti.  He’s a fleeing felon.  Anyone understand me?”

I noticed that a few of the men wore ancient Roman or Greek garb.  The rest, I didn’t even want to guess.  “I take it that’s a no?” I continued.  Everyone stared at me as if I was the lead banana in a fruit salad play, but I suppose everyone in a nut house would stare at the only sane man in the same way.

Suddenly, a small flag popped out from one of the wells, floated there for a couple of seconds, and then darted off.  It didn’t seem that windy, but the flag dashed violently back and forth.  The wind must have come from the well itself.  Of course, I was just guessing.

Everyone in the trench ducked down.  I couldn’t tell predator from prey.  A second later, all the wells spit out flags as if they were on sale at Gimbles.  One of the Roman guys finally stood up, screamed a warrior’s cry, and everyone in the trench leapt out as if in battle to chase after them.

As I stood there dumbfounded, the impact of the situation struck me.  These weren’t just five or six people in one trench.  Multitudes of people emerged from a whole slew of hidden foxholes to chase those flags, but their efforts reminded me of trying to pick up sand with chopsticks.  There seemed to be thousands of people in pursuit of those flags.  I’d never seen so many people focused on one trivial goal.

I continued to watch in amazement as people ran back and forth in this fruitless effort.  Several people blew by me, knocking the badge from my hand.  “Hey!” I yelled as others crushed my badge into the sand and dirt.

I’d finally had enough.  I grabbed a woman whom I thought had the best shot at speaking English.  At least, she wore what appeared to be more modern dress.  When I say more modern, I mean somewhere this side of the Middle Ages.  She blankly stared at me.

“Do you speak English?” I said.

She struggled to free herself, obviously desperate to chase those stupid flags.

“Parla Italiano?”  I continued in Italian.

If she understood, she didn’t care to answer.

“Sprechen sie Deutsch?” I tried again, but this time in German.

I suppose if I knew ancient Chinese, that would have been next, but finally, someone spoke to me in English.

“She cannot understand you.  She had been long dead before the language of the Brits dominated the land, and those on this level don’t attempt to learn from each other,” he said in a decidedly British accent.

There were just so many things wrong with what he’d said that I didn’t know where to begin.  I released the woman, focusing on the man who leaned against the large rock.



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