Bedtime Tales by Nicola Lombardi


By then only the light from the lamp sitting on top of the old worm-eaten dresser was left, forsaken even by the delicate touch of the sun that, up to only a moment before, had tinted the dusty windows of the attic with a red haze. Giacomo and Chiara were lying flat, blissfully, on their stomachs, their elbows well-anchored to the floor, their small faces sunk between the palms of their hands.

Now that the fateful words, “ . . . and they lived happily ever after,” were softly fading into their ears, the silence returned, cradling in its quiet the rhythmic creak of the rocking chair.

“That was great,” mumbled Chiara, moving her head grotesquely since, given her position, it was impossible for her to lower her chin.

“Good, good . . .” remarked their grandmother, moistening her dry lips with her tongue and continuing to rock back and forth. “I’d say that it’s now time to go to bed, don’t you think?”

Chiara looked at her brother who, being a year older than she, probably had greater experience with delaying the retreat into the bedroom. And, in fact, Giacomo did not disappoint her.

“Just one more!” he exclaimed. “Come on, granma, tell us one more only, and then we’ll go to bed!”

Chiara nodded eagerly.

“Look, children, it’s already dark, and if your Mom and Dad come back and find you still . . .”

“No, no, don’t worry,” Giacomo said, interrupting her, sure of himself. “They never come back before eleven. There’s still time. Come on, just one more story!”

Their grandmother smiled wearily, passing her hand over her eyes.

“This is really the last, and then you’ll go like good little children right to bed. Promise?”

“I promise!” the two children blurted out shrilly in a single voice.

The rocking shadow of the old woman continued to sway through the flickering yellow puddle cast by the lamp against the sloping beams of the attic, and the now invisible spider webs prepared to capture the words that were beginning to weave another story in the silence.

“So . . . once upon a time, there were two children, two wonderful children, brother and sister, who were named, just like you, Giacomo and Chiara.” A tried-and-true technique, and always effective in drawing the audience directly into the tale being told. The eyes of the two children glimmered in the shadows.

“By now it was getting late, and yet still they did not want to get into bed. Their grandmother, with great patience, had already told them a wonderful tale, and yet still they were not happy. ‘Another one! Tell us another one,’ the two children repeated in chorus. And so the grandmother, although old and tired by then, began once more to tell a story. Evening had fallen all about the comfortable and quiet attic, and Giacomo and Chiara were listening in fascination. At a certain point, though, the grandmother, who was very, very old, let out a deep and profound sigh . . .”

And here, seasoned by years of dramatic storytelling, the woman stopped short and resoundingly sighed, as if to impart an even greater depth to her narrative; then she completed the sentence left hanging:

“. . . and then she died.”

Both children shivered, and respectively they exchanged glances, instinctively consoling one another from the shock caused by that unwelcome and unexpected twist. Their grandmother, persistently rocking back and forth, continued:

“The two children, at first, did not realize what had happened, and so stayed quietly in place while their grandmother continued to tell her story. But before long both Giacomo and Chiara noticed that their old grandma’s voice had changed, that it had grown a bit deeper, as if it were coming from far away . . .”

The children lay there still, mouths wide open, almost frozen with fear. Their grandmother was play-acting, brilliantly, and yet was her voice now actually coming from the depths of a well dug into the night, into the black spaces around the attic? The effect, in any case, was chilling.

“The children were then overcome with terror,” the grandmother continued; and as she was speaking those words, her rocking chair—which already for some time had begun to slacken its tranquil roll—stopped with a sharp and sinister groan.

The woman did not make the slightest movement. She remained quietly seated there, with the circle of yellow light cutting across her face, leaving a portion of it at the mercy of the shadows.

The first to recognize what was happening was Giacomo, who, moving very slowly, brought his knees together, preparing to abandon the floor. The grandmother kept sitting there, her jaw hanging low enough to display, ominously, the arch of her teeth, and yet she continued to speak.

“Even though she was dead, the grandmother wanted to please her beloved grandchildren, and she continued to tell her story . . .”

As slowly as possible, Chiara followed her brother’s example, curling up like a snail, ready to jump to her feet. The flickering light of panic began to gleam ever more intensely in their little eyes—wide-open and riveted to those withered lips that framed the black crevice of her petrified mouth.

In the meantime, the grandmother went on, undeterred. “Giacomo and Chiara, horrified by this calamity, stood up from the floor and got ready to leave. By now they understood that this was not just some joke, and that their grandmother was really dead!”

It was in that same instant that Chiara stretched out a small trembling finger, silently directing her brother towards that stiffened mouth. A little spider, having emerged from behind the woman’s neck, through her hair, was making its way across her wrinkled cheek; after a moment’s hesitation, it decided that the cavern on the other side of those teeth, ought to furnish an exceptional den, and it went inside. This was the final straw.

Chiara cried out as if possessed, and Giacomo could do no less than copy her.

“Then the two children ran screaming into their bedroom, crawled under their blankets, and stayed there like good little angels until their parents came back from the theater.”

The grandmother’s dead voice continued echoing among the attic’s beams as the children’s shadows disrupted the calm that had been prevalent just a few moments before. Bumping awkwardly against the bureau, risking almost sending the lamp shattering to the floor, Giacomo and Chiara burst out from that infernal loft and rushed to hide themselves beneath the blankets in their room. But their grandmother’s voice, deranged and cavernous, was not going to leave them, and it continued to reverberate throughout the house.

“Despite the fact her grandchildren had finally gone to bed, the grandmother, however, still had many tales to tell, yes, very, very many tales to tell.”

Their parents, upon their return, found Giacomo and Chiara wrapped in their blankets, moist with sweat and tears, both in the grip of a nervous trauma that prevented them from forming coherent sentences.

“Your grandmother, where is she?” their mother asked in a low, moaning voice.

Neither of the two managed to reply. But there was no need.

From the attic the hoarse words simmering around the corpse by now stiffening in its rocking chair thundered mournfully like a curse from above.

“And the grandmother continued to tell her tales, tell her tales, tell her tales. No good carrying her away from the house and burying her. Her stories would be shadowing the nights of her beloved grandchildren for ever and ever.”


translated by J. Weintraub

Nicola Lombardi is an active participant in the Horror Writers Association. He has published in Italy the novels The Gypsy Spiders, Black Mother, Night Calls, The Red Bed, The Tank and Strigarium, as well as seven collections of stories since 1989. In 2021 Tartarus Press published The Gypsy Spiders and Other Tales of Italian Horror. Full bibliography at


J. Weintraub’s work includes fiction, essays, translations, poetry along with dramatic work produced in the USA, Australia, India, and New Zealand. His translation of Eugène Briffault’s classic gastronomic text Paris à table: 1846 was published by Oxford University Press.


Published 5/12/24