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The Symbol
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-395-4
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Supernatural/Horror/Suspense/Thriller
eBook Length: 290 Pages
Published: January 2018



From inside the flap

Dr. John Polidori, an Italian born physician, moves to London in 1814. His life is thrown into turmoil after meeting the notorious poet, Lord Byron. He discovers that there are reports of mysterious disappearances around Byron’s old country estate.

Polidori takes over a story theme of Byron’s and begins writing his own story, The Vampyre. Traveling to Serbia to research his future book, he experiences terrible nightmares resembling those he’d had in his troubled childhood. When he returns to London, he is treated for the nightmares by his friend and psychiatrist, Alex Falding. However, the outcome is far from certain.

A brutal, perplexing murder happens in East London, and Scotland Yard encounters a strange symbol at the murder scene. Is this hideous murder connected to Polidori’s interest in vampirism? Do Londoners need to brace themselves for a serial killer?

This dramatic blend of Gothic horror, dark humor, and deep psychology sweeps you along to the story’s shocking conclusion. There, you discover the true meaning of The Symbol.

Reviews and Awards

“Peter Fratesi’s debut novel is an impressive contribution to the genre of Gothic fiction. He expertly mixes a classic tale of horror with period settings and well-developed characters. His use of real figures like Lord Byron and Percy and Mary Shelley is particularly interesting and often amusing. However, the oppressive expectancy of horrors to come is what makes this novel a true page-turner.” Allister Thompson, Editor.

The Symbol (Excerpt)


Prologue

Alex Falding had an interesting viewpoint on loss. "Loss is a part of life, and we are urged by others to get over it," he would say. "But do we really get over losing someone or simply get older with it?" He had a good reason to ask the question. His friend had been gone for many years now, yet the memories of him and his tragic situation were still fresh and vivid, as if they happened just yesterday.

His friendship with John Polidori began when they worked together as physicians in London in the early 1800s. Later, as profound disturbances unfolded in Polidori's life, Falding became his psychiatrist, as well. He didn't know if this was the most professional thing to have done, but he did know it was the right thing to have done.

He was now long retired from full-time practice, but his son, Jonathon, carried on the good work through his own practice as a psychiatrist in London. The two had become quite close since the death of Jonathon's mother years ago.

Falding observed each anniversary of the loss of his friend by proposing a solitary toast to him in his library and offering a few thoughtful words. However, it was now the twentieth anniversary, and he had thought it fitting to hold a special ceremony. He had invited two of Polidori's closest friends from the distant past to have a dinner together. The two had gratefully accepted the invitation for that evening.

Falding went into his library that afternoon and unlocked a hidden drawer in his time-worn oak desk. He carefully removed a book wrapped in a yellowed, tattered newspaper. It was his old friend's journal. He had acquired the journal many years ago, hoping to preserve some part of his friend in his life. He had read and reread his writings over the years, trying to understand this complex man and what had happened to him. Falding never ceased reflecting upon his memories and poring over the case notes of his treatment. His efforts to uncover the truth also drew upon others, particularly now retired Inspector James McLaughlin of Scotland Yard.

Falding unfolded the old newspaper. It was dated October 18, 1816. The front page screamed out:

BRUTAL MURDER IN EAST END OVER NIGHT!

Body mutilated. Police mystified. East Londoners afraid to leave home after dark.

Falding nodded knowingly as he read the headline. He had hoped that at tonight's dinner he would finally be able to reveal the full story of John Polidori. Yet he had his doubts about that. There was much the others did not know about their friend's strange and bizarre experiences. How could he explain that Polidori's life had become intertwined with a series of mysterious and horrific crimes in London, over twenty years before? How could he convey that the crimes were of such magnitude that they had prompted one of the most desperate and intriguing investigations in the history of Scotland Yard? How could he possibly explain Polidori's curious beliefs that there were ominous, supernatural influences in his life and in the London crimes? He bowed his head and lapsed into a stream of disturbing memories. Faces, voices, and shifting feelings swirled up within him from those long-gone days.

Part 1

"We know what we are, but know not what we may be."

-Shakespeare, Hamlet

Chapter 1

Giovanni (John) Polidori was born in his family's grand villa on a sprawling country estate just outside of Florence. It was June of 1789, and the forces of revolution were spreading through Italy and France. As it turned out, that summer of turmoil was a fitting time for his birth.

His parents, the Duke and Duchess of Florence, came from a long line of Italian aristocrats. By the time of his only child's birth, the duke had ruled Florence and Tuscany with an iron fist for some decades, always alert for any democratic stirrings among his subjects.

The marriage of Alessandro and Maria Theresa Polidori had been arranged, in the custom of the day for the upper classes. They had struggled to find love in their relationship, but love eluded them. Maria was no typical aristocratic wife, and that became a source of strife between them. For a long time, they managed to avoid serious arguments, but their antagonism finally broke out into the open in the winter of Giovanni's second year.

Earlier that winter, a caravan of Roma people had arrived in Florence from Serbia. This nomadic band had been driven westward by the unusually harsh winter that year. In the beginning, Florentines tolerated the people in the tents and wagons on the outskirts of their city. However, that changed after a series of mysterious disturbances and disappearances in and around Florence.

The authorities had been investigating for some time. Crisis finally struck on the night of January 30, 1791. Maria was awakened that night by the clattering of a coach in the cobblestone courtyard of the villa. She looked out her window to see the horses glistening with sweat and the Florentine captain of the guards disembarking hurriedly. She heard the door knocker thud and her husband being roused by the servant. She followed Alessandro down the stairs and listened at the gilded door of the drawing room as the two men talked.

Maria heard the annoyance in the duke's voice. "This intrusion had better be warranted, Captain."

"There has been another disappearance, sir..."

"Go on."

"It's the bishop, this time! His eminence was out for a stroll alone just before sunset. His aides became concerned when he did not return after dark. They went to search for him and were shocked to discover his cape on the river bank. We sent out a party to search by torch light but found nothing of him, I regret to say."

The duke exploded. "It's the damn Roma again. Since they've come here, there has been nothing but trouble!"

"Indeed, sir, the people have been very frightened. The strange lights and sounds at night in the Roman graveyards have been unnerving enough, but the tomb break-ins and the disappearances of townsfolk have pushed them near the edge. They believe the Roma have brought with them a ghoul or vampyre that's been preying on the people and is up to unholy things in the cemeteries. Now that a man of the cloth may have been taken, I fear their terror may soon transform to riot."

"Ghouls. Vampyres! Superstitious nonsense," the duke scoffed. "The Roma are behind this all right, but as thieves and murderers. They vandalize the old tombs for relics to sell on the black market. They murder citizens for their valuables and then get rid of the bodies."

Still listening at the door, Maria knew the duke's hatred of crime was second only to his loathing of democracy. At times, she had thought this was a reaction to the skeletons in his family's closet, the Borgias, who had robbed and murdered for wealth and power centuries before.

"Captain, I have orders for you and the guards. Move on the Roma at first light. Arrest their leaders and drive out the rest of the rabble."

"And if they resist, sir? They are accustomed to defending themselves."

The duke showed no hesitation. "Use whatever means are necessary to rid me of the problem."

After the captain had gone, Maria joined Alessandro in the drawing room. He stood facing the low embers in the fireplace, his back to his wife. "I suppose you heard it all at the door."

"I did," said Maria, the faint, reddish light of the embers accentuating her frown.

The duke sighed and turned to face his wife. "I expect you disapprove."

"I certainly do," Maria retorted, her voice thick with anger. "I've been following this matter since the beginning. There is no proof that the Roma are behind these crimes. You know that, Alessandro. You are looking for a convenient scapegoat. Someone to charge before the people's unrest turns to anarchy."

The duke shot an exasperated look in her direction. "Do you think it is a coincidence that all this mayhem began just after these wretches arrived? They have no visible means of support. Clearly, they're in the foul business of robbery and murder."

"Alessandro, I know you take no interest in my efforts to help the poor. This is why you don't know I have been doling out my own monies to help them. They also make jewelry and sell it at the market."

"And no doubt the relics they're thieving from the tombs."

"Alessandro, grave robberies have happened a long time before the Roma came. You know there may be a gang of such thieves in Florence."

"But capable of a dozen suspected murders like this? It is unprecedented. And now it's the bishop, for God's sake."

Maria looked down, her lips trembling slightly. "We have all lost a great spiritual leader and a good man who cared about the people."

"And don't forget, I've lost my political connection with the church."

Maria looked him directly in the eye. "You must cancel your orders to the captain. These poor people have had enough suffering this winter, and you would send them to God knows where? And because of false charges?"

The duke pulled himself up to his full height and stepped toward her. "You know I cannot rescind the commands. The social order rests upon them."

"Exactly. This is not about justice," Maria snapped. She began to stomp out of the room and then stopped and turned to her husband. She pointed an accusing finger. "You know how you hate to admit that the Borgias were your ancestors. Well, you are acting no better."

After the flare-up, the couple's disagreements quickly worsened. The duchess, like her family before her, was a patron of the arts, and she was a writer of some note herself. She had a rebellious streak in her. She would write poems and short stories satirizing the aristocracy, fortunately published under an assumed name. A confrontation arose when Alessandro discovered that he was one of the buffoon characters in her stories. However, the greatest disagreement arose in the fall of 1795, as the duke prepared to raise taxes on the people- again.

The duke sat in the villa's library at his ornate rosewood desk, signing the decrees to be given to the tax collectors. He squinted as its polished marble top reflected the early morning sunlight, and he rose to close the curtains.

The library's doors suddenly flew open. In marched Maria. "Alessandro, you can't do it," she protested. "They carry too much burden already."

"The city's coffers run low, Maria. What would you have me do?"

"I would have you spend less on your standing army, opulent city buildings, and luxuries for us, while the people suffer and have nothing."

"Maria, there are two classes in society: the rulers and the ruled. That's the reality."

She set her jaw. "Does that give you an excuse to exploit the people? You have the power and they don't!"

"I wield that power for the good of the state and, ultimately, for them too."

"You use that power to inflate your own importance and because you blindly carry out the traditions of the nobles. There is much more to nobility than power and wealth, Alessandro. It is also being an honorable and just person."

The duke massaged a furrow in his forehead. "Honor and justice!" he mocked. "These are the cries of those who do not have to stand at the castle walls. Do you think if I had no army to meet the Austrians, they would give us justice? And if the people had power, would they use it justly, even for a moment? Look at what happened in France when the mob seized power. They beheaded Louis and his gentle queen. You don't live in reality, Maria."

Maria remembered how her husband often woke up tormented by nightmares of the beheadings. He would see the bloody executions over and over again. He would find himself in the shadows of the guillotine, beaten, bound, and spat upon by the rabble, waiting his turn. She knew these dark images only fueled his paranoia toward the people.

She snapped back to the present. "But the people were oppressed and starving for years in France. Had they been given democracy and bread, they would have exalted the king, not executed him."

"Democracy! Empowering the people! These are more of your fantasies, Maria. They come from the liberal philosophers you read, not from practical experience of the world. Look at some of the causes your family has undertaken. Enabling Galileo's argument with the church that the sun and not the earth is the center of the universe? Helping artists to decorate the markets with their flowery paintings? Now these are practical matters!"

"I do not call support for Michelangelo's religious frescos unimportant."

Alessandro smiled wryly. "Well, I may concede that point. But, if these frescos are important, it's only because they strengthen the church's hold on the minds of the people. The church and the nobility stand as one. The power of the ruling class is what has made the world work. Government by the masses would be a political tower of Babel, an exercise in chaos."

His wife shook her head in protest. "The true meaning of the church does not lie in power but in its spiritual message. It lies in the teachings of love and compassion toward our fellow man, no matter what his situation."

"Love and compassion will not persuade the people to pay their taxes any more readily."

Her lips became a thin line as she changed her tack. "Think of Giovanni and what you teach him." She pointed to the old, elaborately covered books on hunting and war on a shelf behind the duke. "These are not about manliness and the nobles' honor- only the exercise of power without conscience and compassion! What will he grow up to be?"

The duke's eyes flashed with anger. "He'll grow up to be a proper ruler, if you let him! You can't teach him how to deal with the world with books on fairy tales, Maria, or by teaching him how to write poetry and draw. Poets and artists do not rule the world."

"No, but they inspire it, Alessandro. They are its heart and soul!" And round and round went the arguments between the two, with no resolution, no reconciliation in sight.