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the macleod clan

enzo's biographer

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the critic
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There is a smell among the vines.  Of grape juice and leaves and trodden earth.  And something else.  A black smell edged by the yellow of the harvest moon, which spills its light across the neat, manicured rows that march side by side across this gentle slope. 
A smell which has none of the sweetness of fruit at maturity.  It is rotten, and carries the unmistakeable stench of death.
The air is warm, soft on the skin, and full of the sound of grapes dropping into plastic buckets.  A gentle plop, plop.  A rustle of leaves, the snipping of secateurs.  Beams of light from flashlights on helmets, criss-cross in the dark, then pierce the sky as if searching for stars as heads lift for air.
Annie is young.  Just sixteen.  It is her first vendange.  A night pick by hand to harvest the cool, white mauzac grape for the vin mousseux.  She knows nothing of how it is made - a secret stolen centuries before by a monk called Dom Perignon, and made famous in another place on the far side of France.  She is young, and ripe like the grapes.  Ready for picking.  And she knows that Christian is watching her, biding his time with growing impatience.  He is in the next row.  She can hear him breathing as he examines each bunch in the light, before paring away any mould and then dropping it in his bucket.  They have made a tryst, to meet at the source of the stream that tumbles down the hillside to water the vines, clear and sparkling in the moonlight.  A place in the woods where lovers have met for hundreds of years, in the shadow of a château that is no more, beneath the abandoned church that dominates the hilltop. Far below, the river Tarn is a seam of gold traversing the night.
It is almost time.  Annie glances at her watch.  Just after three.  And then she hears the tractor as it makes its way back from the chai to collect the next load of grapes for the pressoir.  She looks down the row.  The others are dragging their buckets towards the big red bins for loading on to the trailer.  There is an urgent hissing, and she turns to see Christian signalling through the leaves.  Her heart nearly fills her throat and her breath comes with difficulty.  They’ll never miss us, he had said.  We’ll just switch off our lamps and drift away in the dark, like ghosts.
With sticky fingers she finds the switch and darkness wraps itself around her.  She ducks beneath the wire and feels his hands pull her through, sticky like hers, sweeter than sugar.  And his lips find her lips, and she tastes the grapes he has been eating as he picked. 
They lock hands, and crouching beneath the level of the vines, scamper away up the slope towards the dark line of the trees above.  This is fun.  The fear has gone now, to be replaced by the thrill of anticipation, the approach, finally, of womanhood.  She laughs, and he presses a finger to her lips to shoosh her, and she hears him fight to restrain his own laughter.
They are far enough away now to rise above the vines and run for cover.  But even as they turn towards the woods, a figure casts its long, dark shadow towards them, arms outstretched as if to block their way and herd them back to their task.
They stop, and she hears Christian curse.  Putain!  They are caught.  But the man does not move.  A long gown hangs from his arms, stirring in the night breeze, a harbinger of the vent d’autan to come.  White gloves catch the light.  A strange, triangular hat shadows his face.  And still he does not move.
‘Who is it?’ Annie whispers, an odd foreboding descending on her, like the darkness of the night as a cloud momentarily masks the moon.  The light from Christian’s lamp pierces it, startling and bright, and finds a face, sunken and wrinkled, and stretched back across an impossibly prominent skull.  Black holes where once there were eyes.  Skin, teeth, hair, the deep, red colour of grape juice, matching the crimson of the gown.  The mouth hangs open as if frozen in some dying scream.  But it is Annie’s scream that fills the night, full of the fear of mortality that comes with a first encounter with death.

number one

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