A pale three-quarter moon lit up the state highway at two in the morning. The road connected the province of Taranto to Bari, and at that time of night it was usually deserted. As it ran north, the road oscillated, aligning with and diverging from an imaginary axis, leaving behind it olive groves and vineyards and short rows of industrial sheds that resembled aeroplane hangars. At kilometre marker 38, a service station appeared. It was the last one for a while, and aside from the self-service pumps, vending machines serving coffee and cold food had recently been installed. To promote the new attractions, the owner had installed a sky dancer on the roof of the auto repair shop. One of those puppets that stand 15 feet tall, pumped up by powerful motorised fans.
The inflatable barker fluttered in the empty air and would continue to do so until the morning light. More than anything else, it made one think of a restless ghost.
After passing that strange apparition the countryside ran on, flat and unvarying for miles. It was almost like moving through the desert. Then, in the distance, a sizzling tiara marked the city. Beyond the guardrail, in contrast, lay untilled fields, fruit trees, and a few country houses nicely concealed by hedges. Through those expanses moved nocturnal animals.
Tawny owls traced long slanting lines through the air. Gliding, they waited to flap their wings until they were just inches from the ground so that insects, terrified by the sudden tempest of shrubs and dead leaves, would rush out into the open, sealing their own fates. A cricket, perched on a jasmine leaf, extended its antennae unevenly. And, all around, impalpably, like a vast tide suspended in the air, a fleet of moths moved in the polarised light of the celestial vault.
Unchanged over millions of years, the tiny, fuzzy-winged creatures were one with the formula that ensured their stability in flight. Tied to the moon’s invisible thread, they were scouring the territory in their thousands, swaying from side to side to dodge the attacks of birds of prey. Then, as had happened every night for the past twenty years or so, a few hundred units broke their link with the sky. Believing they were still dealing with the moon, they homed in on the floodlights of a small group of detached houses. As they approached the artificial lights, the golden angle of their flight was shattered. Their movements became an obsessive circular dance that only death could interrupt.
A nasty black heap of insects lay on the veranda of the first of these residences.
It was a small villa with a pool, a blocky, two-story construction. Every night, before going to bed, the owners turned on all the outdoor lights. They were convinced that an illuminated yard discouraged burglars. Wall-mounted floodlights on the veranda. Large oval polyurethane lights at the foot of the rose bushes. A series of faint vertical light fixtures lined the path to the swimming pool.
This kept the cycle of moths in a state of immanence: carcasses on the veranda, tortured on the scalding hot plastic, in flight among the rose bushes. Just a few yards away, as it had the night before and the night before that, a young stray cat was moving cautiously across the lawn. It was hoping for another garbage bag left out by mistake. Beneath the branches of the rhododendrons, a snake was splaying its jaws as it struggled to devour a still-live mouse.
Read a longer excerpt of FEROCITY in The White Review.