An Ode to Saint Valentine

As it is St Valentine’s Day, arguably the most romantic day of the year, I thought it only fitting to pay homage to this scarcely known, yet widely celebrated, Saint, by penning a love story of my own.

Now, before you close your browser in disgust, please remember this is me, dear reader, so how soppy is it really going to be?

Before I share with you my tale of love, I thought it would be fitting to mention a few historic events that have taken place on St Valentine’s Day, over the years. Now, there are hundreds of such events and so I have picked my three favourites, the first of which is yet to be added to the annals of history.

14 February 2013 – sees the release of BONDS, the debut novel for Dark Fantasy author, Marie Anne Cope. With the help of all her friends, family and followers; BONDS is set to make it onto all the Best Seller lists (well, a girl’s got to think positive!!).

14 February 1994 – saw the execution of Andrei Chikatilo, a Soviet serial killer known as The Butcher of Rostov, The Red Ripper and The Rostov Ripper. Chikatilo murdered a minimum of 52 women and children between 1978 and 1990. He confessed to 56 murders and was tried for 53 of these in April 1992. In October 1992 he was convicted and sentenced to death for 52 murders and was executed by firing squad on St Valentine’s Day, 1994.

14 February 1929 – saw the St Valentine’s Day massacre; the name given to the murder of seven mob associates, as part of the prohibition era conflict between two powerful criminal gangs in Chicago – the South Side Italian gang, led by Al Capone and the North Side Irish gang, led by Bugs Moran.

It is said that the intention had been to kill Bugs Moran, but Moran had been running late that day and had witnessed the police arriving at the scene and had fled. The victims, all members of Moran’s gang (or associates of him), had been executed inside a garage at 2122 North Clark Street in the Lincoln Park neighbourhood of Chicago’s North Side. The gunmen were from Capone’s gang – two of whom had been dressed as policemen; the rest in suits, ties, hats and overcoats.

Public outrage at the massacre had marked the end of Capone’s influence in Chicago. Moran, on the other hand, had managed to keep control of his territory until the early 1930s, when control had passed to the Chicago Outfit, under Frank Nitti. Nitti had also taken control of Capone’s organisation, after Capone had been incarcerated for income tax evasion in 1931.

So, as you can see, dear reader, momentous historical events take place on this Saint’s day and here’s hoping that this day proves as fortuitous for BONDS.

It is now time to unleash on you my ode to St Valentine; a tale to pull on your heartstrings maybe, but a tale told in true Scary Ramblings style. Enjoy.

May fear protect you when the darkness comes.

Til next time.

Marie

EMBERS

I shivered as I stood in the middle of such devastation. The stone walls, blackened by the fire, remained steadfastly in place, their pride preventing them from giving way to the horror that had engulfed them.

The charred embers crunched beneath my feet as I picked my way through the remains of what had once been my home; our home. The acrid stench of fire and death still permeated the air and as the early morning breeze rippled across my skin, I closed my eyes, remembering that night.

The banqueting hall had looked wonderful and I had shaken my head in amazement at how Marco had managed to do all this without my knowledge. Candles had burned from every conceivable nook and cranny, casting the room in a romantic glow. The heady scent of lilies had clung to me as I’d swept through the room; the arrangements majestic on their pedestals. Two hundred guests had been there that night for the “party of the year”, according to the society pages.

‘Juliet, my dear, you look stunning and the ceremony was beautiful. I didn’t realise Marco was so romantic,’ Lady Ashford had said as she’d grasped my gloved hands in her own.

‘Thank you, Margot, you’re too kind,’ I’d replied. ‘Marco has definitely outdone himself this time.’ I had smiled at the older woman and had nodded politely before moving on.

Opening the door to the kitchens, the succulent aroma of roasting pork had invaded my nostrils. The spit had twisted noiselessly over the open fire as the skin of the swine had hissed and crackled.

‘Mrs Brown, how is everything going in here?’ I’d said. ‘Do you need any more help?’

‘No, Ma’am, we’re doing just fine,’ she’d replied, straightening her apron across her ample bosom. ‘You go off and enjoy your party. Everything is under control in here.’ She’d smiled at me then, her rosy cheeks dimpled as a twinkle had appeared in her soft brown eyes.

‘Off you go now and don’t worry,’ she’d insisted, pushing me out of the kitchen towards the throng of the party.

I’d smiled to myself as I’d headed towards the ballroom. Mrs Brown had been a real asset to the household. I’d been so pleased when she’d agreed to come and run the house for us. She’d always run a tight ship and I’d trusted her with my life. After all, she had been with me all of my life.

The ballroom, like the banqueting hall, had been decorated with candles and festoons of flowers; roses in subtle shades of white, pink and crimson, their delicate scent filling the room. A string quartet had played at one end of the ballroom and the guests had been dancing, their tinkling laughter ringing out above the waltz.

I’d been awed by the sight before me. Marco had decided on a masquerade ball. Everyone had been dressed in the most exquisite costumes of brightly coloured satin, heavily embroidered brocade and gentle shifts of silk. Hats and feather boas had been everywhere; it had reminded me of a rainbow.

‘Do you like it?’ a deep husky voice had whispered in my ear, sending goose bumps across my skin. My breath had caught and my stomach had flipped as I’d turned to face him.

‘Oh, Marco, it’s wonderful. Thank you,’ I’d said, gazing up into his sapphire eyes. He’d smiled at me then and had taken my hand.

‘Would you like to dance, Madam?’ he’d said, his dark hair shining in the candlelight.

‘Why yes, kind Sir, I would be honoured,’ I’d replied, curtseying demurely before collapsing in a fit of giggles.

Pulling me into his arms, Marco had kissed me. His lips had been firm as they’d pressed against mine, igniting a fire deep within me. I’d been breathless as we’d drawn apart and my chest had heaved within the confines of my bodice. As Marco had traced a finger along my swollen lips, I’d closed my eyes and had moaned softly.

‘You look breath-taking, my love,’ Marco had whispered, nuzzling my neck as we’d clung to each other on the dance floor. ‘Let’s get out of here, shall we, and leave them to enjoy the party without us?’

Nodding, I’d followed him across the dance floor, through the brightly clad mass of bodies, to the hallway and the stairs. My senses had been in overdrive. I’d been aware of my shallow breathing and of the pearl choker at my neck that had felt as if it had been strangling me. I’d been able to hear my skirts rustling as I’d climbed the winding staircase, the nets chaffing my skin, while the ivory satin had glinted in the dappled moonlight.

Marco had closed the bedroom door and had turned towards me. His fingers had been icy against my clammy skin as he’d begun to release me from my ivory cage. My own fingers had fumbled with the buttons of his shirt before I’d ripped it open in frustration and had run my shaky fingers over the contours of his lean body.

‘Don’t be afraid, my love,’ he’d said as he’d carried me to the four- poster bed and had laid me down on the crisp white sheets. Standing before me, he’d removed the rest of his clothes and my heart had skipped a beat as I’d taken in the details of his body and his desire for me. He’d climbed onto the bed and had lain down next to me, tracing the lines of my body with his fingers, exploring every inch, in a way that had made me cry out for him.

‘Your turn now,’ he’d said as he’d taken my hand and had guided me in my discovery of his body.

Slowly and gently, Marco had made love to me, taking me through the initial pain to the ecstasy I’d heard so much about. Sweating and spent, we’d lain wrapped in each other’s arms, gazing at the full moon through the open window.

‘Beautiful, isn’t it?’ Marco had whispered and I’d nodded and had nestled deeper into his arms. ‘The night is so much calmer and exciting than the daytime, don’t you think so, Juliet?’

I’d nodded again, not really listening to him, still tingling from our lovemaking.

‘How would you like to share the nights with me, forever?’

‘Oh, Marco,’ I’d said, ‘I am yours now, you know that. All I want is to be with you.’

Turning me round to face him, he’d smiled at me. ‘I love you and I want us to be together, forever.’

‘So do I, Marco. So do I,’ I’d whispered, closing my eyes.

He’d leaned in then and had kissed me hard before his lips had traced along my jawline and down to my neck, settling just below my left ear. A ripple of pleasure had run through me as longing had flooded my body once again.

Marco’s grip had grown tighter and tighter as he’d held me to him. I’d felt as if I’d been suffocating; I just hadn’t been able to get the space to get any air in. My heart had begun to pound and alarm signals had been firing in my brain. I’d tried to pull away, but he’d been much too strong. I’d cried out as his teeth had pierced the delicate skin at my throat.

The initial pain had been like a pinprick compared to the fire that had soon torn through my body. I’d pushed against him with all my strength, but I’d just been growing weaker. The longer he’d drawn on me the less energy I’d had to fight; to fight the man I’d loved; the man I’d just married; the man who’d been draining my body of life.

When I awoke it had still been dark, but Marco had been gone. I’d felt groggy and my neck had throbbed. Pulling myself up into a sitting position, I’d swung my legs off the side of the bed, having immediately regretted it as the room had spun and my stomach had flipped. I’d gripped the sides of the bed to steady myself and had pushed myself up to standing.

Wrapping my robe around me, I’d wobbled towards the bedroom door; the wall my prop in case the dizziness and nausea had returned. What had Marco done to me? The thick oak of the bedroom door had felt like a tonne weight and I’d had to use my whole bodyweight in order to open it.

As I’d done so, the sound that had assailed my ears had been like nothing I’d ever heard before. It had sounded like I’d always imagined the mythological wailing banshee to have sounded. I’d winced as I’d moved onto the landing, the keening of the guests piercing my eardrums.

Beneath the crying; beneath the screams, though, I’d thought I’d heard something else – male voices; angry voices. I’d tried to focus as I’d staggered to the top of the stairs, but my vision had been blurring and my head had started to throb.

‘Marco, where are you?’ I’d whispered and had slumped onto a stair halfway down. I’d rested my head against the wall, the cool stone having acted as a balm against the pounding inside my skull. ‘Marco?’ I’d said, more loudly. ‘Marco, where are you? What’s going on?’

‘Ssssh! be quiet, Juliet! They’ll hear you,’ a gruff voice had sounded from the bottom of the stairs.

Stumbling down the last few steps, I’d been able to see Marco peering into the ballroom through a gap in the doors.

‘What’s happening?’ I’d said as I’d reached his side and he’d hugged me to him. I’d jumped and felt Marco’s hand clamp over my mouth as another scream had erupted from the room, followed by the stench of burning tissue.

‘Where is he?’ one of the intruders had demanded.

‘I-I-I d-d-don’t k-k-know,’ one of the guests had replied.

‘Where is he?’ the intruder had said again as the sizzling sound of flesh being burned had reached us in the hallway.

‘Oh God, Marco, do something!’ I’d whispered; horrified by the scene I’d been able to see through the doors. ‘What are they here for? Who are they?’

‘They are hunters and they’re here for me. After all this time, they have finally found me,’ he’d said; his voice devoid of emotion as he’d watched through the doors.

‘Hunters? What hunters? What are you talking about? You’re not making any sense..,’ I’d drifted off then, the sentence unfinished, because I’d known – deep down, I’d known – who these men had been. As I’d raised my hand to touch the puncture wounds on my neck, Marco had grabbed my wrist.

‘Listen to me, Juliet,’ he’d said, fixing me with a stern look. ‘You’ve got to get out of here, tonight.’

‘No! I’m not leaving you,’ I’d whispered as my eyes had filled with tears.

‘Yes you are. I want you to be safe. They don’t know about you and so they won’t look for you. Dress quickly and go down the back stairs, at the other side of the bedroom, and out through the kitchen. A horse is waiting for you there. Ride as fast as you can and as far away as you can. I will come and find you.’

‘No! I won’t leave you. I want to be with you, please,’ I’d said, but he’d shaken his head.

‘Go, Juliet. I will come and find you as soon as I can.’

‘But how…,’

‘I just will. I need to know you are safe. Now, please go and remember; I love you.’ He’d kissed me on the forehead before he’d swept into the ballroom, leaving me staring after him.

Not wanting to disobey him, I’d run back upstairs and had dressed quickly. I’d crept down the back stairs and out into the yard where my horse had been waiting. Mounting her as quietly as I could I’d left and I hadn’t turned back; not until I’d reached the shelter of the forest.

There I’d stopped and, taking a deep breath, I’d turned around. The whole house had been ablaze. People had been fleeing, alight with flames, only to be killed by the men on horseback, who’d been waiting in the grounds. The cries of the dying and the wounded had rolled towards me through the night air. Tears had flowed down my cheeks as I’d sat and watched friends and relatives killed; slaughtered; all because they’d known Marco.

I’d sat there for what seemed like hours, hoping to see him ride out of the carnage, but he never had. Finally, I’d decided to keep going. I had to; before the hunters had left the scene. I’d needed to distance myself from there, just as Marco had said, and then wait for him to come and find me.

He’d promised he would find me and I had known that I’d wait for him. No matter how long he’d take, I would wait.

I opened my eyes, fresh tears having dampened my cheeks at the memories. I had waited for him; waited for over a hundred years, but he never came. I gave up hoping a long time ago, but there was always that little part of me that hung on.

He’d been the love of my life; my only love. I looked around me at this broken shell that had once symbolised the start of my life with Marco.

He hadn’t survived the fire, I was sure of that now, but I could still feel him in this place. I could feel his touch on my skin and could feel my body begin to respond. Shuddering, I turned to leave, my heart heavy.

‘Juliet, my love, don’t leave,’ his voice echoed through this carcass and as I turned, I swear I could see a figure in the shadows.

‘Marco?’ I said and started towards it.

‘Juliet, where did you go? I couldn’t find you,’ his voice continued to echo through the space.

‘For goodness sake, Juliet, have you lost your mind? He’s gone; forget it; just leave,’ I chastised myself and closed my eyes. Opening them again, I stared ahead of me at the blackened stone wall. There was no one there now; he was gone.

‘Goodbye, Marco,’ I said as I turned and walked away, dousing the embers forever.

© Marie Anne Cope 2002 (updated 2013)

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