It was the place where nightmares are forged.
I imagined spending the night there with the submerged faded paintings staring at me from behind the sheet of murky water. The pale moonlight would outline the huge old water tanks. The two or three surviving gold fish would nervously dart back and forth.
The thought chilled me to the bone. The vision would stay with me for weeks.
It had all started so innocuously though. Just like in all good horror movies, we had found the park of Villa Rossi in Santorso by pure chance.
Still new to our life in Northern Italy, we were spending our weekends exploring our surroundings and trying to get ourselves acquainted with as many towns, villages and sights as possible so as to establish some new points of reference for ourselves.
A short announcement on a website listing local events caught my eye the night before. It said simply that the park would be open for visitors and, unsurprisingly, I was immediately drawn to the name of the place – Rossi.
So, come Sunday, we piled in our little red car and less than half an hour later we were there laughing and joking and generally having a fabulous time.
The park of Villa Rossi was surrounded by a huge wall. The branches of tall trees were peeping from behind it waving us in. We walked through the heavy rusty gates and it was like we had stepped in a fairytale.
A big pond was stretching ahead of us, surrounded by trees. Its waters were green and yet they were shimmering in the light. It was quiet and strangely enchanting.
We walked further in, following the gentle curve of the pond. The sensation of being in a fairytale was still gripping us tight, swiftly followed by the impression that something was not quite right. Little details started leaping up at me and I thought: ‘If this is a fairytale, it’s for sure of the scary type!’.
I noticed for example that the roots of the trees were sticking out of the earth like outstretched hands and feet. It was like a macabre gardener had mutilated them and forced them to grow vertically for his own dark enjoyment.
And then, further down the path my husband suddenly said: ‘Don’t look!’ and, grabbing me tight by the hand, he walked me past the spot on which, he later told me, laid the mangled dead body of a tiny bunny.
A black swan looked at us from the opposite end of a lush lawn. To my relief, he was alive, but rather agitated though. So we gave him a wide berth all the way talking about swans and wondering where its partner was, as swans usually mate for life and are rarely seen without their other half.
But then something else caught my eye.
This stone outhouse was so reminiscent of the Spanish film Pan’s Labyrinth, that I wouldn’t have been surprised if the door to the underworld was secreted in it.
‘This is a strange place!’, I thought, but I wasn’t quite freaked out just yet.
For a little while we simply kept walking around the park. It all seemed decrepit and at the same time looked after just enough so as not to fall to pieces. The paths were crumbling under our feet. The vegetation looked semi-abandoned to its wild instincts. The water in the various water features appeared green from the numerous overgrown plants that had taken hold of the basins.
Strange faces observed us carefully. Some were attached to wooden bodies…
… and others were carved out of stone.
This face was the least disturbing thing here though. Walking through the park, we had come across another small building half hidden under a canopy of leaves. Its walls were cold and mouldy and its vaulted door led us into a scary place.