Title: Suicide Kings
Author: Christopher J. Ferguson
Genre: Historical Mystery
As a young woman in Florence, Diana Savrano's life is a privileged one of elegant balls, handsome suitors and frivolity. But the sudden death of her mother leaves her adrift and abandoned. As she sobs over her mother's casket, another member of the procession reveals the awful truth. Before her last days, Diana's mother had joined a Luciferian cult. Despite knowing little beyond her pampered world, Diana determines to unmask those responsible for her mother's death. But someone does not want such secrets revealed, and they are willing to send assassins to keep her silent. Paranoia and loneliness set in as even her closest friends reveal hidden agendas. Worst of all, the further she follows the intertwined threads, the closer they appear to lead to her own father.
Firenze, February, 1497
Her breath came in rasps, and tears formed at the edge of her eyes, but these only froze into beads of ice, to drop away and mix with the snow. Behind her the Swiss mercenary kept pace easily, silent, watching, assuring she progressed to the Basilica unmolested.
At last the building loomed into view, the great Basilica rising high above the surrounding buildings. The marbles and other stones around the outside were designed in such a way the edifice radiated a faint combination of light green and faint crimson hues, particularly in the fading light. The face consisted of so many statues, frescoes, gargoyles, and etchings the building seemed almost coated in spines. Huge wooden doors promised mass inlet for the penitents of Firenze, although in practice only the smaller doors to the sides were ever actually opened.
Diana chose one of those now. She burst into the church, huffing and puffing from exertion, eyes blinded by the oppressive dark within. She stopped short, realizing she’d made too much of an entrance. She wiped her eyes, gave them a moment to adjust.
Candles struggled to light the interior of the Basilica. At the best of times, with midday sun streaming through the ungenerous stained glass windows, the nave felt cold and oppressive. Sculptures from the finest artistic talents of Firenze did little to assuage this atmosphere, for too often the themes of these sculptures focused on the suffering of martyrs and the ease with which life transitioned to death. Indeed most of the artwork in the church had been commissioned for the many tombs that lined the walls; the exalted dead of Firenze marking their passage with the finest, if morbid, decor.
One of those tombs now sat open, the funerary plaque not yet hoisted into place. Before the black void waited an open casket. As Diana’s eyes adjusted to the gloom, she could see a small congregation gathered around that casket. They turned to look as she entered. Most averted their eyes upon seeing who it was, no doubt made uncomfortable by the grief written on Diana’s face. Her father watched her without expression. After a moment he turned back to two luminaries with whom he seemed engaged in discussion. The congregants near the tomb milled about, speaking, or sat quietly in prayer in the wooden pews set up near the tomb. Cardinal Michele Lajolo had been asked by her father to officiate at the service and he now stood off to one side, conversing quietly with several mourners.
She sucked in a deep breath, one arm going defensively across her chest. She couldn’t make eye contact with the others present, tried to imagine there were no others in the room besides her. The least she could do was move forward to the sarcophagus and pay her respects. She could spend a little time alone with the dead, ask her forgiveness.
So she proceeded up the little impromptu aisle between the wooden pews, shivering in the cold. A nun stood as she moved past, a thin, sad bird of a woman. Their eyes locked for a moment, but it was the nun who looked away, seeming chastened somehow. Diana focused ahead, one small step after another, making her way forward to greet her mother who awaited her.
When Diana’s fingers touched her mother’s she found them cold and waxy. They felt unreal. Much unreality needed to be made real tonight. Instead of sitting side-by-side as they always did, fingers entwined as they prayed together for a dead acquaintance, her mother tonight had awaited her with the greatest of patience. For her mother lay in the ornate sarcophagus in quiet repose, her fingers cold because no more warm blood flowed through them. Her mother was dead. And it just could not be so.
“Mother?” Diana pleaded quietly, looking down into the sarcophagus. In death, Isabella Savrano wore the finest deep green dress with a string of diamonds around her neck. Her skin seemed the color of snow, set off against rivulets of dark hair, black with some strands of grey. Diana might have mistaken her for sleeping and hoped even now her quiet entreaty might awaken her from this deep slumber. A drop fell from Diana’s cheek down onto Isabella’s dress. A last gift from daughter to mother.
Diana collapsed to her knees beside the casket, her legs unable to hold her upright any longer. A great sob burst from her chest, the reality of her mother’s death inescapable. Never could Diana have believed this possible, even as Isabella Savrano had sickened with fever, Diana had believed fervently in her mother’s immortality. She’d been wrong to believe.
God had taken her mother, stolen her. Her death had come during the bitterest days of winter and the cold had taken away her life. Now she was gone. The thought of it still came as a shock. It could not be possible, still so beautiful, now dead. Marsh fever had been the cause. The disease had come on quickly, progressed fast and ended in these unimaginable consequences. Diana could not fathom that her mother died so, taken in the prime of her life by the natural and loving hand of God.
She wiped her eyes. Her breath trembled as she inhaled. Without her mother she felt lost.
A presence loomed behind her, a dark shadow. Diana ignored it. Nothing anyone could want from her would be enough to pull her from this deepest moment of despair. Let them speak with her father, whatever they needed. A moment passed. The figure remained, felt more than seen. Diana remained turned away, forehead against the marble.
A hand gently brushed her shoulder and she tensed. Still she didn’t turn to look. Perhaps they’d leave if she didn’t respond. Instead, fingers brushed her long hair aside from her right ear. She felt breath, warm and moist against her throat. Diana’s fingers gripped the lid of the sarcophagus in surprise. Otherwise she froze, unable to move, unable to turn. She behaved like a child hiding under covers in hopes not to be seen by some imaginary witch. The person, whoever it was, seemed to hesitate. A heartbeat passed. At last came the fateful words, whispered in Diana’s ear.
“Your mother was murdered.”
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What’s your favorite thing about the Fall season:
Halloween! I remain largely a kid inside still…
What inspired you to write this story:
When I visited Florence, I found the city beautiful but also menacing. It seemed the perfect city to die in.
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Runs September 1 – 30.
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Christopher J. Ferguson is a professor of psychology at Stetson University. Along with Suicide Kings he has written How Madness Shaped History and Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games is Wrong. He lives in Orlando with his wife and son.
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