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Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Eve of St. Agnes by Heather Parker

The young girl snuggled into the pillow, enjoying the storm raging outside. She wasn't frightened. She loved to hear the rain on the windowpanes, and the wild glorious song of the wind. It was romantic. And Alice was the most romantic girl in the fifth form. She devoured gothic novels. Adored the poems of Shelley and Coleridge. She never watched Top of the Pops and she scorned the latest computer games. Not for her the joy of text messaging.

“She's so old-fashioned,” complained Marie, ashamed of her strange sister. It was positively embarrassing at school. But her parents were busy people, and Alice's grades were good.

“She doesn't have any friends,” persisted Marie. “Everyone laughs at her. Honestly, she reads poetry during break!”

Obviously they should have realized this was truly perverted behavior. But they didn't, and Alice's peculiar habits were allowed to continue unchecked. She wasn't even offered counseling.

As far as Alice was concerned, she didn't care about anyone except David. Her classmates were mundane and uninteresting, and she met far more exciting companions in her imaginary adventures. She was Guinevere, loved passionately by two handsome heroes. Or a governess in a Victorian house with a satanic master. Alice became part of the world of her books. It was liberating, exciting, and above all, romantic. The hero in question always bore a resemblance to David…

There was just one problem. Of late she was finding it harder to return to the real world. She had no desire to live there and she began to lose sight of what was real and what was fantasy. Perhaps she knew the difference. She just didn't want to see it.

The wind savaged her windows, and Alice noticed the curtains move. The hour grew ever closer. Such a perfect night for the Eve of St. Agnes. When the English teacher gave her the famous Keats poem, she was enthralled. Naturally she knew it was superstition, but didn't these old stories have a grain of truth in them?

That night the young girl had done exactly as the poem said. Admittedly the candles were her own idea, but they gave the room a delicious, intimate atmosphere. She resisted the urge to look behind her as she undressed, and laid down on her back with her hands behind her head. If she could just fall asleep before midnight, she might dream of the man she would marry. More than that, he would come to kiss her. And feast with her. Alice wasn't sure about that bit. It didn't sound quite so romantic, and she was an innocent soul. She dreamed constantly of passion – but in an abstract sort of a way. She closed her eyes and thought of David. She nearly always did…

The words came to her as if from another world.

“Alice, wake up. Come with me.”

The low, urgent tone roused the young girl from oblivion. But not from the dream. The events of the night came flooding back, and Alice knew it was really happening. St. Agnes' Eve was not just a myth! David had come to her in the night, and she knew they must marry someday. Her joy was beyond telling and she reached up, put her arms round his neck, and kissed him passionately. Or what she hoped was passionately.

The young fireman had absolutely no idea what he should do.

Alice sat miserably in the chair in the corner of the kitchen. The fire hadn't been serious – a passer-by had seen the smoke and called 999. It had still taken the volunteer fire brigade almost an hour to sort the situation.

“What do you think started it?” asked her father, bleary and bewildered.

“The curtains in your daughter's room were blowing about in the draught. We think the candles caught them.”

Chris looked at the girl uncertainly, keeping his distance by the door. A bit forward for her age, that young lady. They didn't cover this sort of thing in training.

“Why did you have those candles burning in your room anyway?” asked Alice's mother. “What's wrong with the electric light if you wanted to read?”

Marie smirked spitefully. Hadn't she tried to warn them?

For Alice the night was a disaster. The fact her bedroom would need redecorating wasn't her only concern. Why hadn't David come to her at midnight - instead of that surly fireman? She flushed as she remembered the humiliating experience. Her mother told him she wasn't properly awake. She was worrying about her exams. But Alice knew what it meant. She took a furtive peep at Chris. He wasn't bad looking without the helmet, but she was too much in love with her English teacher to notice. Even though David had absolutely no idea she felt that way…

Alice eventually recovered from the terrible night and went on to study English literature at the nearby university. To her delight she found there were others very much like her - and people didn't even stare. All went well until the day her flatmate forgot the age-old advice not to put a boiled egg in the microwave. She was another romantic girl but not terribly practical. The fire tenders raced towards the campus, sirens screaming.

Everyone said it was the most romantic wedding they had ever attended. A pony and trap, and garlands of pink roses around the old church door. So he was a few years older than she was. What did that matter if they were in love? Alice's mother said three months was a very short courtship - shouldn't they wait a while?

“Some things are meant to be,” smiled Alice, and beamed lovingly at Chris.

For she remembered the young man who had appeared to her on that enchanted evening long ago. At midnight on the Eve of St Agnes. Was it magic or just mere coincidence? Alice knew which explanation she preferred.

And even Marie had to agree it was romantic.

About the Author: Heather Parker is a freelance writer. She has won several literary competitions, including the Benjamin Franklin House / Daily Telegraph Prize, and many of her stories have appeared in popular magazines and anthologies. Her romantic fantasy novel has been published by Drollerie Press, and her mystery novella by Wild Child Publishing.

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