Painting by Denise Stracey

Chapter 2

The Hounds of Venice

Later on, I read reports of what happened that night. It was the stuff of urban legend; not the kind that gets a government response, but the kind that gets a life of its own on the internet.

At the Café del Doge, where tourists paid small fortunes for thimbles of Americano coffee, a woman complained of dogs barking in the side-alley of Calle Consolle. She ordered her waiter deal with the animals, but neither the server nor his customer were prepared for the sight of seven Siberian timber wolves, two Alaskan huskies, and a trio of Pomeranians hurtling around the corner and ploughing through the tables. The standard scream-and-scatter followed, and those in the main café dived for cover when a wolf pressed its seven foot body to the window.

The only less-than-sensible reaction came from the aforementioned waiter, who lay underneath a parasol, cycling his arms and legs while screaming at the huskies. But his fear was uncalled for. The dogs had no interest in any of the patrons, and after sniffing the chairs and licking the windows the pack moved on to the next alley. They were not seen again for the rest of the night.

A similar event occurred further north across the Rio de Santa Marina. Two alleys, Calle Erbe and Calle Testa, became flocked with birds. Witnesses spoke of geese, turtle doves, ptarmigans, gannets and seagulls, barely a foot above the ground. One mother despaired when her son was swallowed up by the cloud. The toddler had gone into the alley while his mother baked, and fell down as feathers erased him. But each bird had parted ways, hivemind-like, and left the boy sitting in their dust.

That same night, a man named Luca Busato made a phone call to his insurance company to report no less than the complete destruction of his beloved home on the Rio del Piombo. When drawn on the details, Busato told the adjuster his windows had been shattered by a blizzard and his tile roof was now in his bedroom, having become twice as heavy with compacted snow. The adjuster explained that this wasn’t covered in the policy, at which point Busato carried the telephone receiver to his living room. To this day the call agent denies hearing the gibbon climbing over Mr Busato’s couch and up the chimney. The case continues.

Though strangest of all accounts was that captured on video at the end of the night. The phone uploads showed a dishevelled woman in a bathrobe stealing a gondola from the Canal Grande. Drunkards at Gritti Hotel would testify that she seemed panicked, as if her life was in danger. Some videos, in shaky close-up, showed the canal icing over from the foot of the hotel to the Dorsoduro inlet on the south bank. The freezing was rapid and seemed to chase the woman, almost spitefully. Audio picked up a scream as the gondola reached the main river, where waterways led to Lido and beyond to the Adriatic. The ice was only feet behind the woman when a violent flail of the oar sent her off-balance. She turned, reaching for a tote bag stowed under the seat, but both the seat and the boat around it were already tipping. In just her bathrobe, and clutching the bag, the woman plunged beneath the water.

The ice closed over her wake, turned solid for a moment then melted away.

The woman and her bag were never recovered. But when police dredged the water they brought up pieces of a painting, each beautiful fragment disintegrating as it broke the surface.

Khroma is a fantasy novel in which colours are personified as magical beings, on the trail of a deranged painter who threatens their world order. It is complete at 115,000 words, and writer, Greg Corcoran, is seeking representation for publication. Enjoy the first 5 chapters and know that your feedback, as always, is welcome.

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