Monday, February 10, 2020

The Face In The Floor

The marble floor tiles in Sergio's cottage had long been the envy of his neighbors. Legend had it that the irregular pieces were leftovers from an ancient quarry, expertly fitted by a quarry master to pay a debt. All this came to grief the day the face appeared in one of the tiles.

Sergio's wife Lorena made the discovery in the best wifely tradition: dropping a platter of food with a scream. What began as a vague visage acted like a stain that would not be wiped away. Each passing day brought the thing increasingly human features, if one could call it that. Lorena didn't. She thought it was a lost soul looking for redress of some grievance. That this had to happen in her kitchen was a source of much discomfiture. In desperation, Sergio tried defacing the square with abrasive, to no avail. When he pried up the tile, there appeared on the soil a chalky outline that seemed to have no limit to its depth.

"Someone is buried here," Lorena decided. She also decided not to be around when the lost soul acquired the ability to either come out of the ground or to speak. And so the couple moved in with her mother for the time being. Sergio consulted the village elder in his forest hut.

The old man puffed on his pipe, nodding at the details. "That's the old general's quarters. I'm surprised it took so long to come to this. You see, the Roman Fifth Hispania was once based here. The quarryman offered the general a  new floor if he'd stop pursuing his wife. But after the floor was done, the quarryman suffered a suspicious and fatal accident. The bereaved widow accused the general, who had her exiled. Increasingly, strange things began to happen, and the general insisted the place was haunted. One day, he was found hanging from a crossbeam. Suicide? Who can say."

Sergio, despite his fear, felt compelled to go back; he'd sunk all his savings into the place, and he couldn't abide his mother-in-law's sharp tongue. Better to test the spirits than suffer the death of a thousand pecks. He stole into the cottage one evening.

Now there were two images. One was a rough-featured peasant with his hands around the neck of a patrician in opulent robes. A phantom breeze troubled the place, carrying a cacophony of voices as if a spectral audience was cheering its favorites.

Sergio had the place torn down, though he got a good price for the used marble from a foreign buyer. In time, the cursed plot grew a verdant cover of grass. On still days, when the blades are untroubled by wind, a certain grassy spot takes on an eerie semblance to a pair of combatants locked in infernal struggle.

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