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Once Upon A Lie[]

Chapter 1: The Case of Pinocchio

“Pinocchio! Time for supper, then bed, okay, mister? You have school tomorrow!” a woman tells her child. “Sí, mother,” says a young boy with rosy red cheeks, a short nose, blue eyes, and freckles occupying his face. His curly hair bounces slightly as he sits down. He takes off a thin blue coat, puts a napkin over his white pants, and removes the satchel over his shoulder. Once he removes the satchel, he puts it on the back of his chair. Under his coat is a black t-shirt, on which he puts a napkin. He looks at the food his mother prepared: baked potatoes with a grilled pork chop, his favorite meal. He eats quickly, trying to get to bed. “Slow down, your food’s not gonna get away,” his mother chuckles. “Sorry, mother, I’m really tired,” Pinocchio says while chewing. “Where’s father?” he asks. “Still at work at the bank,” his mother answers. Pinocchio finishes his meal and washes his plate. “Goodnight, mother,” he says to her, walking away. “Goodnight, baby,” she says back at him, a warm smile spreading across her face. The next morning, a heart-shattering scream echoes through their small village of no more than 90 people. “Pinocchio! Where did you go!?” his mother wails. Several people go to her, and a man walks up to her and asks, “What happened?” “My son... He’s...” She could barely speak. “Don’t worry, madam. We’ll find him,” the man reassures her. And so, they search. For over two weeks, they search each and every corner of the village and nearby woods with no luck. They call Florence’s police department, and they file a missing person report. Two days after the report is filed, a man in a black coat with a police badge pulls up into the village and knocks on the mother’s door. After a while, she answers, eyes sunken, and her face wet with tears. “Ciao, I’m Detective Giovanni. I’m here to find your child. Rest assured, ma’am, we’ll find your son, and I won’t rest until we get your child home safe and sound.” She nods. “Please, officer, come in,” she says, opening the door wider for him. He lowers his hat and enters. “Would you like tea?” she asks. “No, thank you, miss.” “Was there anything unusual about what happened? Did he have any bullies or people who disliked him that could’ve done this?” “No, he was a very liked and smart boy. He was nice, and everyone loved him. I have no idea who would’ve ever done such a terrible thing.” She begins to sob. Her husband consoles her. “Is there anyone else I should talk to that may know anything?” the detective asks. “I would ask Emilia. Her daughter was a friend of Pinocchio,” her husband tells him. “Thank you, sir, I’ll go do that,” he says, standing up. He leaves the house and finds a woman doing laundry on her lawn. “Are you Emilia?” he asks. “Sí. I heard what happened to Pinocchio. Terrible...” “Would you know anything about the situation? Did you see anything?” “No... No one saw anything. It’s like he just vanished out of thin air,” she says, staring into space. “My daughter was heartbroken though. I tried consoling her, but I couldn’t stop her grief. I feel awful for her,” she says. “May I go speak to her?” “Be my guest,” she says, opening her door. The detective walks up the old wooden steps to get to their front door. Every step causes the steps to creak under the strain. He opens the front door, and it creaks loudly. He walks through the small home down a hallway, where he sees a wooden door. He knocks on it, and at first, there is no answer. So he knocks again, and then a small girl opens the door. She couldn’t be older than 11. “Hello, sweetie. I heard that your best friend has gone missing. And I’m here to find him and put the mean person who took him in jail, okay?” the detective tells her. The girl nods at him. “I just need you to tell me anything you may know about the night he vanished. Can you do that?” She nods, and he pulls out a clipboard. “The night he vanished, I saw movement in the nearby woods, but I was so tired... So I didn’t think much of it. So I rolled over and went to sleep. I woke up early this morning to his mother screaming,” she manages to get out between sobs. The detective nods as he writes down what she says. “Where in the woods was this?” “I-I don’t remember.” “Okay, honey, I really need you to think. Where can you remember the best?” the detective says. “Just near my house. I saw it right before I fell asleep.” “Okay, thank you. You’ve been really helpful,” the detective says, putting his clipboard back in his satchel. He leaves the house. As he walks through, he sees a young man doing a puppet show for a group of children. “Ciao, sir. Do you live here?” the detective asks the young man. “Sí. All my life.” “You heard what happened to the young boy, yes?” he asks him. “Sì, sir. I know all about it.” “Do you have any information?” “No, but I’d ask the old man. He sees all throughout the village.” “Old man?” “Yes. He was the one before me who did these puppet shows. But his age has gotten the better of him. He’s a really nice man, I’m sure he can tell you something.” “What’s his name?” “Geppetto. He lives up in the mountains.” “Grazie, sir.” The detective goes to his car and starts it, driving to the mountains. After a while, he sees a large manor covered in vines and vegetation.

Chapter 2: The Manor 

The detective opens his door, taken aback by the sudden bitter cold. He walks up the small flight of stairs; with every step, the stair creaks loudly, its age getting the better of them. Before he even knocks, the intercom next to the door activates, and a deep, but comforting and trustful voice rings out from it. “Ah, ciao, Detective. I’ve been expecting you. Allow me to open the door for you,” the man on the other side says. After a few minutes of waiting, the detective hears the man unlock the several locks on the door and opens it. On the other side of the hard wooden door, a tall, thin, and old man greets him, the snow landing on his neatly trimmed beard, his grey cotton coat swaying in the wind. “Greetings. Would you like to come in for tea?” he asks. “You are Geppetto, yes?” the detective asks. “Sí. Did the new puppeteer send you? Talented boy he is.” “Yes, he said you may know something.” Geppetto gestures for the detective to enter, leaving the door open. Inside, the detective sits on an aged, worn sofa, noticing the dusty shelves and the smell of old wood. After a few minutes, Geppetto comes back with two mugs and a large kettle of tea, the scent of ginger and cinnamon filling the air. He puts the tray down and serves them both. He takes a big, hearty sip. “Aah… Ginger is always nice for these bitter colds.” “We really should get talking about Pinocchio,” the detective prompts, leaning forward slightly. “Ah yes. Right. The young man told me through the telephone. You want to know if I know anything about it, yes?” he says, putting his tea down. “Sí. Have you seen anything?” “No, I could usually tell you what this person did at this specific time. But… whatever happened to the young boy eludes me.” “Are you sure, sir?” “Yes, unfortunately.” “But anyways,” Geppetto says as he struggles to stand, a loud groan escaping from his lungs. “I do hope you find the boy. Get him back to his mother. Poor woman must be devastated. And be careful, detective. You have no idea what dangers could be an obstacle for you.” The detective tilts his head at his response. As Geppetto grabs his cane and uses it as a decorative add-on to his steps, rather than utility, he walks to a hard wooden door with a sign saying ‘Workshop.’ “If you excuse me, I have a lot of work to do. I make puppets for the young man to use, and I really must be getting busy. Please see yourself out.” The detective nods and stands up. “May I see your workshop?” the detective asks suspiciously. “By all means. Go ahead and look. Get any thoughts of suspicion out of your head.” The detective walks into the workshop ahead of Geppetto. As the detective enters, Geppetto turns on the light to reveal a wooden puppet which lacks personality. No paint, and no specific carvings. The scent of sawdust lingers in the air. As the detective looks around, he sees a small wooden door, and he walks towards it. Geppetto taps on his shoulder. “There’s nothing in there except rats and old biological specimens.” “Biological specimens?” the detective asks him. “Old rat and mouse brains and organs,” Geppetto reassures him. “And why do you have those?” “In my youth, around Pinocchio’s age, when I lived in the village, my classes would have me and all the other children dissect rats, and over the years, I’ve gained an attachment to them, as they are what got me into the field of science.” “Interesting... Well. Thank you, sir. I think I’ll take my leave now.” “Goodbye, Detective. It was nice chatting to a professional. Please drive safe,” Geppetto says as he carves the mannequin. The detective leaves and goes into his car. Before he leaves, he stares at the manor for a good while. After he’s done, he turns on his car and drives back towards the village.

Chapter 3: A Sense of Unease

He pulls into the mother’s driveway, and as he gets out, she bursts through the door and runs to his car. “Did you find my boy?” she asks urgently. “No... mi dispiace, signora,” he says, looking down sadly. She trembles slightly, slowly putting her face into her hands. He can hear a slight sob from her. “Ma’am, do not worry. I will find your son. I have a possible suspect.” She immediately looks at him, tears running down her face. “Who!?” she yells in the tone that only a hurt mother would use. “Geppetto from the mountains. He talked about how in his young days, he would study anatomy. He also keeps the corpses of rats in his house.” “No… It can’t be him… He’s a very nice man, albeit strange, but I’ve known him my entire life, and I’ve never seen him violent. But if you really think he did it, please, please, please, do whatever you can to get my son back.” She grabs his hand and looks into his eyes. “Bring my little boy home…” He lets go of her hands and nods. He gets into his car, but as he does, he experiences an intense stomach pain. He waits until the woman goes back into the house, and when she does, he springs out of his car and promptly vomits. He hasn’t eaten in days, so the vomit is just a mixture of saliva and bile. The taste lingers in his mouth for a while before he passes out in the snow, his head hitting the ground hard. What feels like hours later, he wakes up in the mother’s house, resting on an old sofa. His head has a large bump, and he winces as he feels a pounding headache. He looks next to him to see a well-taken-care-of household; the smell of clean furniture fills his nose with a somewhat pleasant smell. He struggles to get up, using the sofa's armrest to stand. He rubs his scalp, feeling a painful bruise. He cannot remember what happened, but as he digs more through his memory, he recalls that he suddenly passed out. Without a word, he runs out of the house into his car. As he backs out, he looks into his rearview mirror and sees the mother looking out of her window at him. As he approaches the mountains, he feels nauseous and gets loopy again. While he tries to regain his senses, he nearly crashes into a tree, but he swerves just in time. He pulls up to the manor and slams on the brakes. He rushes out of his car, and as he approaches the door, he nearly passes out, stumbling backward. He falls off the first step, the snow catching his fall, and he gets back up and pounds at the door… No answer. He pounds again, and yet again, no answer. He is about to pound at the door again, but he hears footsteps behind him. He swings around and sees Geppetto carrying a brown bag of groceries. Geppetto gives him a pleasant smile as he looks at him. “Good evening, Detective. Can I help you?” he says. “Did you poison my tea, Geppetto?” “Excuse me?” His smile turns into a frown; he’s offended by the detective's accusations. “Your tea is the only thing I’ve had in days, Geppetto, and when I got back, I puked and passed out. The only answer is your tea.” “That’s preposterous, my friend. You’re starving. If you haven’t eaten, it’s likely you’ve been too active with too little nutrition. Come in, my friend, and I’ll make you a nice dinner.” The detective thinks for a moment, questioning the safety of the situation. “I promise you, it will not be poisoned. I’ll be cooking for myself as well; you can watch me make it if you like.” He chuckles. The detective nods slowly. Geppetto opens the old wood door, which creaks loudly, and allows him to walk in. Geppetto walks in behind him. “Sit, sit! I’ll have dinner ready soon.” The detective reluctantly obeys, sitting down on the old loveseat. He sits there in silence for a short while until he hears Geppetto getting busy in the kitchen. “Detective! What is your name?” “Giovani,” he responds. “Giovani, huh? I like it. It suits you. After all this is over, I hope we can be colleagues.” The detective remains silent, as he does not know what to say. After a few moments of agonizing silence, Geppetto brings out a plate of grilled fish and asparagus. He puts it in front of the detective. He takes the fork from the plate and reluctantly takes a bite. The savory fish touching his tongue gives the detective an unwelcome feel of comfort. He watches Geppetto bring his own plate to the table. Geppetto takes a bite of the fish. “So, Giovani, what do you think?” “It’s not bad. I’m quite fond of cod.” “Ah, a man of culture, I see. Yes, it’s one of my favorite meals, as my mother made it for me when I was young before she passed.” “I’m sorry for your loss,” the detective says, offering his condolences. Geppetto chuckles. “Don’t be. I’m old myself. It’s the natural order.” The detective nods as he finishes the fish and takes some of the asparagus. He puts his fork down and gets up. “Thank you for the lovely meal, Geppetto, but I must be going.” “You’re welcome. If you ever get hunger pains again, I welcome you to a hot meal.” The detective smiles slightly at him and leaves. He sits in his car and stares at the manor yet again. This is becoming a routine whenever the detective visits his home, a sense of suspicion growing larger and larger. He thinks to himself, trying to come up with a reasonable excuse to get a search warrant. With his thoughts collected, he starts his vehicle and goes back to the village.

Chapter 4: 

Conducting a Search Back in the village, the detective sits in his car. He pulls a pen and paper from the glove box. The smell of ink faintly fills the car, and the sound of writing echoes in the confined space. He writes a request for a search warrant: "I am writing to request a search warrant for the residence of a man known only as Geppetto, who lives in the mountains. I have reason to suspect he is responsible for the disappearance of the missing boy, Pinocchio. Since I visited the suspect on the first day of my investigation roughly 27 hours ago, he has exhibited signs of suspicious behavior. During my visit, he offered me a cup of tea. Approximately one hour after consumption, I experienced extreme nausea and projectile vomiting. Due to this, I have reason to suspect I have been poisoned. Given the circumstances and the potential threat to the missing boy, I urgently request a search warrant for Geppetto's residence. I request a response as soon as possible. Sincerely, Detective Giovani." He folds the letter, places it in an envelope from his glove box, and seals it. Starting his car, he embarks on the long drive back to Florence. Throughout the journey, an overwhelming sense of unease and urgency gnaws at him. When he finally arrives, he hands the letter to a courier. “Make sure this gets to the judge, okay?” Giovani instructs. The boy nods. The detective rents a hotel room for one night and, while waiting for a response, lies down, embracing the much-needed rest. The next morning, he wakes up and checks out at the main desk before heading back to the courier. The boy hands him an envelope. He opens it and nearly collapses as his heart sinks into his stomach. In big bright red letters, it reads “DENIED.” In frustration, he rips up the warrant and storms back to his car, slamming the steering wheel in anger. He sits there, thinking for a moment before turning the car on and driving back to the village as the sky fills with clouds and small droplets appear on his windshield. He speeds most of the way, breaking several speed limits. Ignoring the town, he drives straight up into the mountains. Leaving his car and approaching Geppetto’s manor, a sense of worry, anxiety, and dread builds up in him. He bangs on the door. Geppetto answers, looking worried. “Everything okay, detective?” “Where is he, Geppetto?!” the detective yells. “I assure you, I’ve done nothing to the boy.” The detective shoves past him. “WHERE IS HE!?” he yells, his voice reaching a crescendo. “I would like you to leave,” Geppetto says, his voice darkening. “I’m not going anywhere, not until I find the boy!” “…So be it,” Geppetto says eerily. Before turning around, the detective pulls a small Beretta revolver from his coat. As he swings around, he sees no one. No Geppetto, no one. He goes to the front door and jiggles it. No movement. The door is sealed. “Merda…” the detective whispers under his breath. He turns slowly and walks toward the workshop. He slowly opens the door and steps into the brightly lit room, which now feels like a chamber of dread and terror. He approaches the small door and opens it. The small door leads to a dark and large staircase. He slowly descends, the wooden stairs creaking loudly with each step.

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