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Beating Heart

Novel Excerpt

By Kale RossPublished 2 months ago 10 min read
4

Sicily | 1943

“Start at the beginning,” Rosalie said.

“Soon after we arrived in Malta, we were kidnapped outside of a post office by a squadron of German and Italian soldiers - led by Nazi scientist and SS officer, Ulrich Kitzler and his bounty hunter - former German assassin - Nadine Holzer. They wanted the violin, and what we were smuggling inside of it. Our mission was to pass it along to a top-secret, international group of geological scientists who were embedded in Cyprus. Their existence was created to combat the occult, inappropriate, and world-dominating scientific expeditions of Hitler’s Nazi scientists. Luckily, the day before we were captured, we were able to mail the violin back to Canicatti.”

“To your two teenage children,” Garret said, defensively, “Knowing damn well who was hunting it.

“We couldn’t allow ourselves to be caught with the violin in our possession. If I had known that decision was going to lead to Corrado’s -”

He struggled to finish that sentence, and tears swelled in the corners of his eyes. Clement fidgeted, as the memories of his torture, and his son’s death replayed over and over in his mind. Rosalie cupped his hand in hers, allowing those memories to ease away.

“We were tortured and kept in solitary confinement for weeks. Three days ago, your mother and I, with the help of Amastan, finally fled Malta by boat. Due to the allied occupation of the Mediterranean, our captors evacuated the prison, making our escape fairly easy. We were stopped by the American Navy when we docked in Pozzallo, then, once I explained who we were to a very reasonable Navy captain, we were provided armored transportation to Canicatti. The first place we went was back to the house. After we found it in ruins, and riddled with charred truck parts and bullet holes, I began reaching out to my contacts. We soon discovered that Mr. Bova had been killed, as well as the Milici brothers. As the weight of what we had done by sending home the violin set in, we scrambled to locate you as fast as possible. We soon heard rumors of a teenage Sicilian girl on the run from the United States military. The rumors described the murder of an American soldier who was pushed from a second story window. I didn’t think anything of it at first, but when I discovered the location of the soldier’s death, I was able to make the connection.”

He paused, and looked at Rosalie, “La Lomia. It was your home away from home. Save for maybe the Milici’s vineyard. Sticking to the shadows, we followed the whispering rumors around town until we reached the factory. Everything happened so fast, we were cut off by the stampeding crowds. Once the gunshots finally subsided, and the citizens scattered from the square, we realized we were too late.”

Clement struggled to get through the next phase of the story, but he had no choice. Rosalie needed to know.

“I need you to know this, Rosie, Corrado was not alone in the end. I held him in my arms while he took his final breath. His face was painless, and he passed with grace.”

Clement tried to remain strong, but even a hardened war veteran was no match for the loss of family. He broke down, and cried. It sounded strange, as if this was the first time crying in his entire life. Rosalie untied the fabric wrapped around her arm wounds, and used the clean, non-bloody sections to dry her father’s cheeks.

“I’m so sorry, Rosalie. This is all my fault. If I had been a better father, both of your brothers would still be here. If I had been a better husband…Aida…would still…”

Rosalie embraced her father, and slowly rocked him back and forth - the same way he had rocked her as a child whenever she was sad or upset. A part of her was still furious with him, and she feared she would never truly forgive him, but he was still her father and the other part of her loved him unconditionally.

“Once the soldiers evacuated the area, what remained of the massacre were at least eight bodies. As I was carrying Corrado away from the factory, I locked eyes with Ulrich. He was standing amidst the buzzing crowds, smiling through his oval glasses. Your mother saw him too. She insisted on taking Amastan and with her to hunt him and Nadine down. Once they left, I escorted Corrado’s body back to La Lomia. The friars will prepare his body to be buried alongside Miceli in our family crypt. Soon after, Aida radioed me that you had been captured, and that she had a plan to break you out. I urged her to wait, but she insisted there was no time. When I finally arrived at the underground monastery, I found it in ruins, along with Father Burgio’s body.”

“We went for him for help. Corrado and I. We figured that since he was a priest with military experience, and that you fought alongside him in the Italian army, he could help us. We were wrong,” Rosalie said, “Did you know?”

“All I knew was that he was never the same man after he returned home from the alps. It wasn’t until I was in the middle of one of my electric shock interrogations when I overheard the German’s mention his name. According to them, he was working closely with Mussolini to acquire the location of the Mine before Hitler could. Aida was right to kill him.”

Rosalie could hear the dryness in her father’s voice, so she reached into her pack and pulled out the canteen. He drank from it vigorously, spilling a few gulps onto the brim of his shirt.

“She tried to radio you once we were free of the monastery. Amastan said he couldn’t reach you.”

“I had nearly caught up to you when Aida strategically decided to set off two charges within the church. She didn’t know that I was inside when they blew. I was nearly crushed to death. I don’t know how I made it out, but my radio and sidearm were gone. I wasn’t the only one who survived. Ulrich and Nadine slithered their way out just before the entire structure imploded. Considering I knew where you were going, I decided to follow Ulrich and Nadine. Knowing where they were at all times was the best way for me to keep you safe. Then, just before we reached Calsinetta, Ulrich and Nadine acquired the help of three, eager to please Mussolini loyalists. I tried to cut them off at Sant Agata, but Ulrich ordered his newly acquired Italian soldiers to open fire.”

“You were there?” Rosalie asked.

“I did what I could from the shadows,” Clement said, “I was able to distract them long enough for you three to escape. I eliminated the remaining hired loyalists, then disappeared before Ulrich nor Nadine had the chance to discover me. They were tipped off by a group of plain-clothed German soldiers who saw the three of you escape the church on bicycles. So I caused a little bit of a distraction to delay their pursuit.

“What did you do?” Garret asked.

It didn’t take long for nearby allied patrols to investigate the destruction of Sant Agata. Using my accent to my advantage, I was able to point the frantic soldiers in the direction of Ulrich, Nadine, and her German counterparts - who were all visibly armed with handguns and rifles. The soldiers immediately opened fire. The plain-clothed Germans, along with four Mussolini loyalists who decided to join in on the fight against the Americans, were killed by the allied platoon. Nadine and Ulrich used the firefight to get away. They commandeered an elderly farmer’s truck, then raced off in your direction. With the soldiers distracted by the fuming crowds, I was able to acquire the jeep. I kept my distance, and followed them to Enna. It took them little time to pick up your trail once we were atop the plateau.”

“If you had the jeep, why didn’t you take them out before they blew up one of Sicily’s holiest sites,” Garret said, prodding.

“There were too many civilians. As well as the three of you. I tried to flank them to get a better position, but they started shooting off rockets before I had a chance. I watched as the three of you jumped from Rocca di Cerere. I knew that If I was going to be of any use, it was going to be down at the service road where I could have a clear line of sight of the soldiers. As I pushed the jeep to its limits, I watched as you tumbled down the hillside. I watched as you fought for your lives against the swarming battalion of German soldiers. I watched as Aida stepped out into the light and kept the bastards at bay while you raced towards the service road. I watched as Garret carried Aida down the rest of the hill, evading a barrage of bullets.”

Clement fell quiet, and his head slowly arched in the direction of Aida’s grave, “But I wasn’t fast enough.”

“We need to finish this,” Rosalie said, “For mom, and Corrado.Our family has suffered a tremendous amount of pain, and loss. We’re the only ones who can honor their memories.”

“Tell us about Etna,” Garret said, trying to speed up the debriefing, “What happens if it falls unstable?”

“Hitler’s plan is to extract every last mineral in the caves beneath Mount Etna. If he succeeds, three things will happen. Hitler and his armies will acquire an incomparable cache of wealth - which they will use to fuel their macabre experiments around the globe. They will obtain enough arsenic and uranium to kill off half of the planet’s population. Then, once they have stripped the mines of their wealth, the cinnabar - which is embedded within the entire volcano, and has been highly pressurized by the magma for thousands of years - will erupt. The result would be nearly three times more devastating than Pompeii. Sicily, and the rest of the Mediterranean would be destroyed, and Hitler would escape into the world, conquering it with his endless wealth and natural weapons.”

“How have they not found the entrance to the mine? The Germans have occupied Sicily for quite some time now,” Garret said.

“They’ve tried, but it’s well protected. The active members of the cult of The Mother Goddess have been protecting the entrance for a millennia. They’re an ancient people, and are the architects for the Mother Goddess relic you received from Monsignor. They’re also the ones who carved the keyhole into the stone at Rocca di Cerere. Throughout history, they have been the only people allowed to mine the caverns. For the strict benefit of Sicily’s people. Last November, there was an accident. One of our miners dug too deep into the volcanic tube wall, releasing a minute plume of pressurized cinnabar. Everyone who inhaled the red dust died an extremely painful death. After the German invasion of our Island, Dr. Ulrich Kitzler -Hitler’s top scientist - the asshole in charge of all military research programs - heard a rumor about an extraordinary chemical accident killing a few miners excavating a cavern of immense wealth somewhere in the hills of Sicily. Word quickly reached Mussolini’s interested ears, and their combined excavation efforts proved to be fatally extensive. Many cult members, as well as innocent civilians were killed. Both dictators were ultimately unsuccessful at discovering the entrance.

“How do you know so much about all of this?” Rosalie asked.

Clement stood, and walked over to the edge of the castle wall, and peered out over the sun-kissed landscape, “I am a member of The Mother Goddess. Guiseppe Bova introduced me to the order when I returned home from the war. With the town of Adrano overrun with Germans, and nearly every remaining member of The Mother Goddess either dead or imprisoned, Guiseppe and I were the only ones who knew the location of the cave’s entrance, and the one remaining relic way-finder that unlocked the path. We smuggled it out of Adrano, and the plan was for me to take it to Mount Olympos in Cyprus - where the guild of geological scientists working to combat the Nazi scientists would keep it hidden from the light of day. Unfortunately, the plan did not go as we had hoped. I couldn’t send it to Cyprus. I couldn’t trust passing along the secret to anyone other than you and Corrado.”

“Why?” Rosalie asked, “What did you expect from us? How are we supposed to protect the secret of Mount Etna?”

“By destroying the relic, and becoming a guardian for Sicily’s beating heart. It’s the final existing marker to the cavern’s entrance. With it destroyed, the location of the caves would pass into legend, and you would be responsible for saving the lives of millions.”

“Why not just destroy the relic yourself?” Garret asked, “Why go through all of this trouble. Losing Corrado. Losing Aida. ”

“Etna is the heart of Sicily, Sergeant. The secret must not be consumed by time, yet it can never be allowed to be excavated by outsiders, and those who do not know of Etna’s deadly DNA. It needs to be passed down to those who will protect it. It has always been your destiny, Rosalie.”

The sun began setting over the hills, and the violet veil of night crept across the horizon. Rosalie had heard enough from her father, and took a few long moments alone to absorb her apparent fated destiny. While she basked in the calm embrace of the setting sun, Clement and Garret gathered all of their things, and prepared the Jeep for their final adventure. The tank had enough gas to reach Adrano, so Garret inspected the rounds in the machine gun while Clement surveyed the banged up tires.

Good to go, and with Rosalie mentally prepared to end their campaign, they all climbed into the Army Jeep one at a time. Garret mounted a position behind the machine gun, Rosalie nestled into the passenger seat, keeping her 1911 handgun on a swivel, and Clement revved the engine with his dirt-crusted boots.

Their destination - Adrano - the beating heart beneath the mountain.

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About the Creator

Kale Ross

Author | Poet | Dog Dad | Nerd

Find my published poetry, and short story books here!

https://amzn.to/3tVtqa6

https://amzn.to/49qItsD

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