Andrea Peirone – In Spirits

A large crowd of disciples had gathered on the high-backed chairs of an old theatre and curiously leaned forward towards the centre of the scene. On a lower stage, Ippolito Giuliano turned his exhausted but satisfied face to the people present. Near him, on an old wooden plank-bed, lay the corpse whose brain he had just dissected. The fruit of all his efforts was held tight in his left hand: a very small portion of cerebral matter. He raised his arms covered with blood and exhibited a small sphere.

“The pineal gland”, he declamed, “wherein lies the human soul”.
His eager eyes swept the crumbling joists of the structure. He lowered his arms, cleaned the bleeding fragment with a cloth and put it on a tray, among the sharp surgical instruments.
“The man that I have just dissected in front of you was hanged about two days ago”, he continued, “yet, I will show you that his vital essence has not yet left his body. To tell the truth, the soul will lie there until the organs that control it have completely disintegrated. Please, watch!”
He dried his hands, fumbled among the boxes on the table and extracted a ball of golden wire. He unrolled a thin length, separating it from its hank with a firm jerk; then, he thrust one of the ends into the calcified surface of the gland, rolled the remaining part around, shaped it into a spiral and left the other end free. He held the bundle of flesh and metal between two fingers and, with a pair of pliers, he extracted from one of the boxes a very thin leaf of gold. He brought the thread nearer to the gold leaf and the latter started to twist as if an invisible wind gave life to it.  
An astonished cry rose from the stalls while Ippolito Giuliano came closer to the front rows carrying the miracle at a few centimetres from the onlookers’ incredulous eyes. He answered some questions, then he went back to the plank-bed and he put the objects back, rubbing his hands on his overalls. He bent over and then began to put down the tools. The crowd gathered near the exits and streamed out in an orderly fashion. In a few minutes the theatre was empy.
The old man heard a voice calling him from behind and turned round. A man whose head was covered with a black cape, approached the stage. “Ippolito Giuliano, don’t you fear God’s judgement?” he asked.
The old man, not at all frightened by these words, shook his head: “One day my studies will allow those who are worthy to continue their work throughout the world”, he answered, “Why should God punish a doer of good like me?”
The man looked amused. “The things I have to listen!”. He raised his hands and, with a theatrical gesture, bared his white-haired head.
“Cardinal Tarca!”, Ippolito Giuliano cried. “How did you find this place?”.
“The Holy Office has been investigating your behaviour for a long time”, he answered. Then, noticing thatt the old man’s glance lingered on the cleaver lying  among the instruments, he drew his sword from his cape. “ I do not want to confront you, you heretic!”, he burst out. “You will be taken to court and condemned. Not now, not here, but soon”. He lowered his sword and concluded: “An abjuration will not be enough to redeem you”.

In Bellini’s reverent hands, the small ampoule full of a greenish fluid looked like an old relic. The rector bent over the whitish orb resting in the bottom of the container and observed it. “Is that it?”, he asked.
The professor and his two assistants assented in unison. “Ippolito Giuliano’s pineal gland “, Bellini said. “After almost four hundred years, it has arrived intact up to the present day”.
The rector doubtfully scratched his head: “Well, it’s unbelievable”, he whispered. “But are you sure this is not a fake?”.
“We did all the necessary check for the dating of the evidence and for the authentication of the documents that were found with it” Bellini confirmed, standing proudly in his white lab coat. “Ippolito Giuliano was persecuted by the Inquisition and before taking his life charged his followers with removing the pineal gland from his brain and keeping it in a safe place, blindly believing that one day scientific progress would allow him to come back to life”.
Bellini put down the ampoule and surveyed the lab equipment . “A gesture of madness, to the mentality of those days, but forward-looking if we think of today’s possibilities”, he concluded.
“A remarkable discovery”, the rector said. “We should inform the press”.
“I don’t think we should”, Bellini said. “Not yet”.
The rector was taken aback. “What do you suggest, then?”, he asked.
Bellini massaged his bald head. “We could use the sample to check some hypotheses on how the pineal gland works”, he suggested.
“Please, be more explicit”. The rector encouraged him.
“Many scholars”, he began, “think that one of the functions of the pineal gland is to compress and store pieces of information.  As an analogy, a sort of backup disk that the brain uses to fill in memory lapses that have been caused by different types of injuries”.
The rector doubtfully shook his head: “I have never heard of anything like that”, he said.
“This is because we attended different schools”, Bellini continued. “You see, the process of transplantation a memory matrix from one pineal gland to another one has already been proposed in theory but no one has ever had the courage to put it into practice”.
“I’m not surprised”, the rector burst out. “It would be a loathsome action! Even if your theories were correct, in order to transplant the mind that has been preserved in this ampoule you would need a body and I doubt that anyone would volunteer for the experiment”.
“I don’t need to look for a volunteer”, Bellini said and turned to his two assistants : “Seize him!”.
The rector was immobilized. “You are crazy”, he shouted “That is only a piece of flesh preserved in alcohol”.
Bellini rubbed his hands and ordered: “Tie this heretic hand and foot”.

An outraged whispering spread among the cardinals. The Pope’s glance, at first stern, melted into a furious smile: “Well, my old friend, you are either the craziest or the most devoted son of a gun that I ever met!”.
After a moment’s confusion, Cardinal Tarca regained all his composure and authority. He lifted the ampoule full of the greenish fluid above his head and announced: “My venerable brothers, this is Ippolito Giuliano’s pineal gland. That coward took his life before we were able to judge him before this council and he charged his followers to carry out the most abominable satanic rites so that his soul could find a new body to possess. Only God’s will gave me the courage to fetch this satanic fetish from among the circles of Hell where it was preserved”. He lowered his arms, his face wornt but toughened by years of austerity. “But that is not all! The heresy is still alive and the trafficking of souls will continue. It is the duty if this consistory to intervene. Let me deal with it and I will not disappoint you”. He bowed and exhaustedly sat down.
After some minutes of silence the Pope bent forward. “I have known you for a long time, my old friend. Enough to know that you have not gone insane”, he said. Then, he turned to the others and added: “Follow this man’s example and, maybe, one day you will earn your place in heaven”.

The rector’s deep-set eyes opened with a look that was not his usual one. He whirled his head around and saw the apprehensive faces of Bellini and his assistants.
“Welcome Ippolito Giuliano” Bellini smiled. “You have been brought back to life, O worthy one!”.
The man lifted his livid face. “Good evening” he whispered, then he nodded to the straps that kept him tied to the plank-bed.
“Of course!” Bellini burst out, happy to notice such determined signs of consciousness. “Release the Master”, he ordered  his assistants.
As soon as they had released him, the man sat bolt upright and punched them in a wild fury. He stood up,  jumped on Bellini and clung to his neck.
“I am not your Ippolito Giuliano!” he shouted. “I am Girolamo Tarca, Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church!”. His lips curled in a satisfied smile. “ In the name of God, I shall be your judge and your executioner”.


Translation by Paola Roveda (edited by Roma O’Flaherty)