Romeo & Juliet Fan Fiction

A Plague on Both Houses

by Meg Merriet

 

The streets of fair Verona were forever stained in blood. Five young people had lost their lives in a petty feud of civil hate. The image of the lovers embracing in that tomb haunted me. My son was pale and stiff, curled in against his wife.

Silence fell over the city after that. I couldn’t bear to look in my husband’s eyes, for fear of facing our mutual guilt. I had to shut myself away. Once or twice, I plunged into a catatonic trance. My maidservant went so far as to tell my husband I was dead. She faced terrible humiliation when I was not. I am no shrunken flower that might die from grief. I have thrown myself in front of my husband’s sword to stay his temper.

The pain in my heart had a remedy. It required powerful inebriation and uninhibited fits of crying. My sanctuary of fine linens and heavy curtains became a sort of cocoon. A servant brought me my meals, but having no appetite, I often sent her away. I drew my shutters, and did not a candle burn. Bottles of wine lined the side of my bed, some empty and some half drunk. Memories of my only son filled all my thoughts. How desperately I wanted to hold him as a babe, close to my heart, to restore that warm joy that I had lost forever.

Since before he could walk, Romeo loved to climb. At first it was only furniture, but as he grew he escalated to trees and twisted columns. He could scale walls in an instant and dash over rooftops as fearless as a cat. I caught him many times, sunbathing on a timber roof or balancing on a chimney.

Night had fallen when a furious rapping sounded at my door. I sat up in bed and pulled back the embroidered hangings of my canopy.

“Who goes there?” I called. The voice of Benvolio, my nephew, startled me.

“I beseech thee! Open this door!” Had my maids not stopped him? I was indecently garbed in a night dress, my hair untidy like that of a slattern. I pulled on a linen cotehardie and laced the dress’s front. The moment I unbolted the door, my nephew pushed in and sealed the passage behind him.

His torch exposed the state of his clothing. Blood stained his shirt. His bi-color stockings were torn in the knee, and he had lost his waistcoat entirely.

“Thou art bloodied!” I exclaimed.

“By another’s wound.”

“I’ll send for my husband.”

“Only we remain, Cathalina,” he told me. “Hast thou heard the screaming in the streets?”

“In faith, I drifted in a dreamless sleep.”

“The lovers Romeo and Juliet have returned from their crypt, but not themselves,” Benvolio said, his voice low and tremulous. “They moved like tangled puppets, the limbs dragging and the eyes soulless. They did wander aimless ‘till by chance the sexton found them. They followed him into Verona’s heart. Kin of Capulet and Montague alike did fill the streets to offer silent vigil to the dead.

“How amazed the people were to see the miracle of resurrection. They fell to their knees, singing and filling the night with a chorus of mirth. The friar kissed the hem of Juliet’s dark gown, and I bore witness as her idle lips curled into a sneer. The child grabbed the friar and sank her teeth into his throat. As she feasted, Romeo mauled another, and did tear the flesh from off his bones. Those they felled returned to life. The corpses were slow to move, stiffened by the grip of Death, but they did move. The affliction spread fast. With every bite and every scratch, all the people of the square became afflicted. I scarce escaped. They come, mistress. They come, and they will devour all.”

“Benvolio,” I said. “Tell me this is some fool’s game.”

“’Tis dark magic. A curse.” Benvolio shuddered. “When Tybalt slew Mercutio, our wounded friend cursed both our houses.” Benvolio lowered his torch and hung his head in despair.

Suddenly, something heavy thundered against the door. My face went white, and Benvolio leapt into action, handing me his torch. He found my ornate bookcase and pushed against its side. The artful cabinet scraped against the floor and I heard a swell of voices in the hall. The plagued ones moaned with the anguish of hunger.

“Hast thou a weapon?” Benvolio asked, nudging the furniture against the door.

“Aye.” I went to the trunk at the foot of my bed and retrieved my husband’s sword. Touching the silver hilt, it dawned on me that my husband must be dead. Benvolio looked at the blade with a scornful gaze.

“A rapier will not do. Hast thou a saber?”

“I have not.”

“The head of every serpent needs be removed, or the brains dashed out with a bludgeon. ‘Tis hideous business, I know.”

I slung the sword belt across my shoulders in spite of his advice. Fists pounded against the door, shaking the very drawers from my bookcase. The hands of Hell burst through the door, and lumber flew about the room.

“Thy chamber door will fall!” my nephew cried. Benvolio grabbed a floor candelabra wrought in iron and launched it through the window frame. Glass exploded into the courtyard and the iron clattered against the cobblestone below.

Lifting the torch, I finally saw the abominations as they broke through the passage. Their mouths hung open, the hinges of their jaws detached. Their yellow eyes bulged out of their heads. My very skin crawled at the sight. They shoved the bookcase out of the way and came around the side. Benvolio lunged at them with his saber, lopping off any of the arms that grasped at his tunic. He took their heads off with beautiful alacrity, but their numbers soon overwhelmed him. They seemed to pour in endlessly. Romeo’s man Balthasar surprised my nephew and nearly scathed him with his teeth.

With a scream, I shattered a bottle of wine over Balthasar’s head, knocking him back. The wine sprayed across the floor and Benvolio withdrew. I dropped the torch into the red liquid and as fire erupted, the abominations hissed and retreated. They let up long enough for us to throw our weapons out the window. Benvolio descended the wall’s uneven stones. When he was grounded, I hung myself over the edge and dropped into his arms.

“Oof,” he exclaimed, catching me and getting a face full of skirts. He set me down and handed me his saber, explaining that he had experience with a rapier. I handed him my lord husband’s sword, a family heirloom once intended for Romeo. We equipped ourselves and fled through a small arcade.

The series of stone arches let out on a street by the river. Sparsely scattered about the streets were more plague ridden corpses. As we passed a stable, I glimpsed shadows against a wall of those things gorging themselves on a fallen horse.

Benvolio pointed with the rapier to a gondola up ahead of us, and as he did, I spotted two figures huddled against the Romanesque walls of the abbey. One of them was Romeo, my tender child, the boy who cared not for swordplay, but for poetry and song. He held his blood-stained Juliet. A silver crucifix ravished her eye socket. The holy cross had destroyed enough of her brain to put her weary soul to rest. I went to my son.

“Cathalina!” Benvolio called after me. Romeo looked up, and his blue eyes hardened. This perversion of Romeo was not my child.

“O Romeo.” I unsheathed the saber from my betwixt my shoulder blades and with a swift thwack, sent his head rolling. The body fell across that of Juliet. I scooped up his head, pressed the eyelids shut, and whispered, “Goodnight, sweet boy.” I placed him in Juliet’s lap, and as I did, I heard the voices on the wind die out, as if the entire city had exhaled.

Benvolio hurried me to the gondola. Having sustained myself for days on only wine and little bits of bread, I nearly fainted in the boat.

“Fare thee well, cursed city,” Benvolio scorned. “Verona, thy wickedness be weaved by the hideous crones of Fate. I damn thee, city of death and pestilence. To the belly of Hell with thee and may I waste no further efforts on thy cause.” He pushed off and we glided down the Adige river. I gazed up at the starry sky, listening to the water. Before I fell asleep, I whispered a little prayer for my child’s soul to find its way to heaven.

 

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