Only at night, Luchenis dreams of travels and poems he wanted to write push aside his assassination obsession. But he also dreams of "things" he wants to get away from but can't escape. ... Does he really have full control over his subconscious and the true reasons for what drives him?
(from "Luigi Lucheni – Ich bereue nichts" by Santo Cappon)
I first saw him when I was still a child. He did not only visit royalty, Death doesn't shy away from poverty and filth. As they say, we are all the same in the face of Death. And as he always did and always does, he chose his time wisely. I was about nine years old and lodging with the Nicasis in a village in Northern Italy. I just had had to leave the orphanage. My new "father" had taken me away from the orphanage, not out of charity, but out of greed. Children are cheap labour and he got a good monthly sum for the "pains" of bringing up a child.
So, one night, I was trying to sleep lying on the floor on a bag of rags, it was winter and I was desperately trying to get warm. I was thinking of my friends at the orphanage, and I wished I was back there again. The rules were strict of course and it wasn't paradise, but it had been a kind of home. And there I was with these people who wouldn't stop abusing me and each other. I was working all day and still I often had to go to bed hungrily at night. One minute I was looking at a dirty brick wall with all sorts of clutter piled up in front of it, and the next minute, he was there. A mesmerising creature dressed in a dark blue velvet coat and black trouseres, his blonde hair sweeping down over his shoulders, slender but not thin, an imposing figure through and through. Not for a moment did I doubt that this creature wasn't human. Blonde noblemen didn't enter the houses of have-nots like the Nicasis in the middle of the night.
I felt a shiver down my spine. I was awestruck but not really afraid, maybe because I knew that my life couldn't really get much worse anyway. For a while, I don't know for how long, I just stared at him. Time had no meaning any more, and I felt like I was dreaming and wide awake at the same time. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally found my voice again.
"Who are you?"
My voice sounded thin and shaky to me, not like my voice at all. The creature looked at me, and gave me a little half-smile.
"I have chosen you. You will be of great service to me."
At this, my heart gave a little lurch. Even though there was something terrible about this man, anything would be better than the Nicasis! I was used to being a servant, and to being pushed around, and didn't shy away from hard work. In the middle of the night I didn't even wonder about this strange suggestion. So I asked the first thing that came to my mind.
"Why me? How did you find me?"
He gave me another one of his little smiles, and tilted his head slightly, and suddenly he looked curiously like a bird of prey.
"I need somebody just like you for the task at hand."
I got up from my makeshift bed like in a trance.
"So you want me to come with you?"
He came up to me and put his hands on my shoulders – it felt strangely human, and I was completely taken by surprise by this warm gesture.
"Dont be so hasty. I don't yet know when I'll need you. But you will see me again, and you will learn more about me. For now, stay with the Nicasis. Your life here will be a very good preparation for your task."
I was bitterly disappointed. I would have gladly gone with him, with somebody who turned up in the middle out of night out of nowhere. The Nicasis had turned up in bright daylight and had taken me from the orphanage with the director's official permisson, and where had that got me...
"But Sir," I said, "I would love to work for you, I'm sure I could be useful. I'm a really hard worker, you wouldn't regret it."
He gave me another one of his smiles.
"I have no doubt about that, but it is too early. You have to grow, and to learn. But you will see me again."
He turned and walked away, seeming to melt away in the darkness.
I must have fallen asleep at some point. When I woke up the next day, I wasn't sure if I had only dreamed the whole thing, my common sense told me that I must have, but I think I knew even back then that it hadn't been a dream. I never had time to dwell on the whole thing, but I never forgot my nightly visitor.
My life went on as it had before, hard work day in and day out. When I was finally old enough I left the Nicasis. I found work here and there, I wandered all over Europe, I ended up as far East as Hungary where I worked at the railways, laying tracks in the scorching heat of the Puszta. I was getting fed up with that sort of lifestyle, and decided to make a change for the better. I joined the army. Well it took a while until I succeeded, without a regular income and residence, they kept turning me down. But I can be very persistent, and finally, I got where I wanted. I signed up and I served in the 13th cavallery regiment of Montferrato in Naples. Looking back, the three and a half years I spent in military service were good, the companionship and the strict rules reminded me of my time in the orphanage.
Any thoughts of my mysterious visitor had more or less been pushed to the back of my mind. After having served in the army you get the right to apply for a job with the state. I tried for prison officer – yes, an ironic choice bearing in mind what happened to me later but the thought of guarding law and order appealed to me. I applied several times but I never even got a reply.
I left the army after over three years and worked for the duke of Naples, who had led my regiment. I was to be his personal servant, not a bad position at all, and the work was a lot lighter than working on the railways. But I felt a growing unease at having to be obedient and humble all the time while the duke and his family could give us orders and basically could do what they wanted with us. One day, I got told off for not having cleaned the golden spoons that were on display. In my opinion, I had cleaned them spotlessly clean, but still I bowed and apologised.
That night, I woke up with the strong feeling that somebody was watching me. I slowly opened my eyes and sure enough, there he was – the blonde gentleman was back! He had not changed at all, same velvet coat, same glorious blonde hair, same imposing expression. Whoever he was, he was not subjected to the process of aging. I sat up in bed looking at him and I realised that I was not surprised to see him, I had always known he would come back. I looked at Giacomo, the other servant I shared the room with, and he was sound asleep.
"You're back" I said. He was standing at the end of my bed and smiled.
"Yes, and I've never been far."
He just looked at me with with his piercing blue eyes.
"Can you tell me now what all this is about?"
He ignored my question.
"You have a quick mind, Lucheni. That's why I'm so surprised to see you here. Are you really made to be a servant? This rich pompous creature of a duke with his golden spoons and silver plates – can't you see that he is mocking you? You and all the people, who are earning their living with their hands and with their sweat?"
On and on he went with this rousing speech, and the longer he went on the more I agreed with him and the more outraged I got at the duke.
Even my argument that it was secure and relatively easy work he pushed aside with one movement of his hand.
"Lucheni, don't disappoint me. It is time to stop being a servant, stop being a slave for these useless parasites. Never forget these words "Chi non lavora non mangia". He had said those latest words in my native Italian. "You can make a change to the course of the world if only you have the courage."
He didn't give me the chance to talk about what he meant with these words... before I could say anything he faded away in the darkness again as he had before.
I stared into the darkness. Well, he did have a point – a very good point! All these people who, like me, were slaving away with no hope for a better future, and on the other side the aristocrats, who spent their time doing nothing at all, living off the poor masses. I worked myself up into a right rage and became determined to give the duke a piece of my mind the next morning. A small voice inside my head warned me of doing this, not to put a secure and comfortable position at risk like that, but I was like in a fever, the little voice of reason was drowned out.
The next morning, I was a bit calmer and I didn't say anything to the duke, but my resentment hadn't eased at all. Things came to a head that afternoon – a well-known theatre group was going to be in Naples the next month and I wanted to go and see them – I had liked the theatre as a child in the orphanage, and hadn't been since. But the duke refused to give me that particular evening off. I lost my temper and quit there and then. The duke was surpirsed at first and then angry and called me ungrateful. I packed my things that very day and left, once more without any money or anywhere to go to. The words of the mysterious creature came back to my mind. "Chi non lavora non mangia". I was in a state of restlessness and agitation. I wanted to leave Italy, full of grudge against the country that had defeated me, so I took up my life of wandering again and walked towards Switzerland.
I ended up in Lausanne and found work on a building site. I felt a restlessness that just wouldn't go away. Whether I was working or eating or dringking or just walking around in the Italian quarter of Lausanne, deep down I had a feeling that something had to happen, and that something was going to happen. I tried a lot to release the tension, I went to reunions of the Salvation Army, and to other religious meetings, but nothing helped. On a sunny day in June, I found a poster of an anarchist meeting in town on my bed. I had no idea who had put it there. I went and I was intoxicated. Somehow, what they said about the aristocrats and that there wasn't a non-violent way to end the misery of the masses made complete sense to me. Looking back on it now, I was like in a feverish trance. Anything else in my life became secondary. I wanted to help the anarchist cause, do something to set me apart and to make my life worthwhile. One day, as I was pondering on the idea, a thought flashed into my mind. "Kill a well-known person!" It was an intoxicating thought I had no idea yet who it could be, but my restlessness increased by the day.
Sometimes, at night, or in a quiet moment, my fever and I asked myself what was happening to me, and I longed for some rest and a normal life. But that wasn't to be, the fever had me in its iron grip. I knew I would kill somebody. I wanted to be ready and get myself a dagger, but I couldnt afford it – the cheapest cost 10 Francs, and I only had 7. So I got myself a file instead and asked a friend of mine to "treat" it. He didn't ask me any questions.
One night in early September, I got an unexpected visit. A man clad all in black, with a huge hat covering his face. He introduced himself as Gustave Chiesi, one of the most well-known anarchists of the time. I was flabbergasted. He came inside and made me sit down.
"You are right, killing a well-known person will serve the anarchist cause like no other deed would. But it has to be the right person, and I am telling you who it is going to be – Elisabeth, the empress of Austria."
I don't know, what I had expected, but I wasn't pleased.
"I agree, it would cause great impact – but killing a woman seems so cowardish, and she's not really in any position of power. Wouldn't it be better to kill a man in a position of power?"
The man's eyes turned to steel. He tore off his hat and suddenly I saw who my visitor really was – the blonde gentleman. Even though gentleman wasn't really a good description for what I saw, he was completely unchanged physically, but it was what I sensed and heard in his voice – something incedibly old and dark and endlessly powerful.
"Don't try to argue with me, Lucheni! You will kill Elisabeth."
Despite my terror I hadn't lost my voice. I was doomed and I was going to do it, but at least I wanted to know what I was up against.
"Who are you?"
"I am Death."
I just stared at him, frozen in shock.
"You will kill the empress Elisabeth. Go to Geneva – you will kow when the time is right."
I can't remember what I did – I must have stuttered an agreement, and Death left me alone. After he left I went out into the streets, wandering about restlessly. Id never really felt like part of the human community, but now I was beyond it for good, the world had been lifted out if its angles and the only safe and possible thing to do was to think about my task. I had ceased to exist as a person. My mind was focused on the single one purpose.
You will have read or heard all about the assassination of the empress, Ill spare you the details. I did as I was told and then ran away. My strongest feeling was one of relief – I had done what Id been told to, and HE had no more power over me, or so I thought. Even my arrest didn't bother me. My trial passed in a daze. I ended up in prison. The years stretched on, and I slowly but surely realised that I had been led on. Anarchism was doomed to failure, my life had finished before had even started. I never saw him again, at least not in life. Remorse set in – had I murdered an innocent woman on the grounds of a hallucination? The only things that kept me relatively sane were my studies, I read a lot and wrote about my childhood. Occasionally I felt the urge to write about the true story of the assassination, but I never managed it. My head started spinning and my hands started shaking.
One day in prison, all my notes, my childhood memories had suddenly disappeared. I had tried to bring some order into my life, and, yes, maybe I was looking for a reason why I had been chosen, why and how an orphan boy turned into an assassin. I had been writing about my mother, Luisa. Can you believe I never knew her name until I went to prison? Nobody ever bothered to tell me where I came from. But after I did what I did my origins suddenly became of interest. That's how I found out who she was. A maid somewhere in the Parma region. When she got pregnant her fate was sealed, she lost her job and she could not go back to her family and bring shame over them. Her only chance was to leave me at an orphanage and forget the fact that I ever existed.
Losing my childhood memories felt like I'd lost my mother all over again.
That night I had a dream – I saw a young woman in ragged farming clothes, her face tired and worn out from hard work, but still incredibly beautiful. She gave me a sad little smile and stretched out her hand towards me. "Luigi. Come to me." she said. I knew at once who she was. "I am coming, Mamma." I have no memory of making any preparations for my death, but I must have, because I did die. All I remember is walking towards my mother until I was standing right in front of me. Very slowly and gently, she took my head into both of her hands and kissed me. A soft, tender kiss full of the motherly love I'd never known. I wanted to stay like this forever. I felt like I had just been born again, this time not an unwanted orphan but a happy child loved by his mother. I looked up to see her face to pour my heart out to my mother who had finally found me but she had gone. Instead I caught a glimpse of a familiar face before I sank into a deep blackness – Death had come to claim me.